A joyous mood was beginning to build all over Ireland, especially among young people, as exit polls commissioned by the Irish Times and RTE indicate a resounding victory for the campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment
It ain’t over, as the old saw goes, till the nicely rotund lady sings. This we have to acknowledge.
But there seems to be little doubt that, tonight, Ireland stands on the brink of one of the most remarkable changes that any modern democracy has witnessed. Because two separate exit polls – commissioned by the Irish Times and RTE respectively – indicate that the proposal to repeal the 8th Amendment will not just be passed – it will be passed by an overwhelming majority of Irish people.
The Irish Times were first out of the blocks, with a poll which took even the most ardent Yes campaigners pleasantly by surprise. They estimated that support for ‘Yes’ in the referendum had reached a startling 68 percent, with 32 percent voting ‘No’. The gap might have been sufficient to convince even the most anxious repealer. But there was still a feeling that the counting of alleged chickens before they’re hatched might be a very bad idea indeed.
An hour later, RTÉ delivered the results of its exit poll. It’s estimates were even more pronounced, with 70 percent saying “Yes” against 30 per cent “No”s.
At which point, it is fair to say that a marvellous feeling of vindication was impossible to quell. The scale of the victory is not a complete given. But the gap in the exit polls is such that it is inconceivable that the final result will be anything other than a victory for Repeal.
In so many ways this is a magical and truly historic moment. In Hot Press, we have campaigned consistently over the past 35 years, since the scandalous text of the 8th Amendment was originally inserted into the Constitution of Ireland, for a more liberal, open, tolerant, inclusive and caring society. In the Hot Press Repeal the 8th Special, I wrote about the extraordinary journey which Ireland has taken since 1983. Back then, this was a narrow, bigoted, theocratic society, run for the benefit of Roman Catholics, in which women were routinely squashed under the heel of the patriarchy. They were abused and betrayed. They were marginalised and discriminated against. They were treated like dirt.
Now, I said in an editorial, Ireland is the envy of democracies all over the world for the openness and pluralism which is everywhere in evidence. But there was one more big step to be taken…
On Tuesday, I was preparing to speak at a pro-Repeal gathering organised by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and looked over at what I had said in that editorial in the cold light of a different day. Suddenly, it seemed vital to qualify its assumption that the transformation was secure. “Ireland is widely considered to be a far more open, liberal and tolerant place,” I said. “Well, that proposition is about to be put to the ultimate test on Friday next, when people go to the polls to vote in the referendum on Repealing the 8th. I hope that Irish people will not be found wanting.”
All I can say now is that I am truly proud of Ireland, and of the Irish people – as never before. We have just been through a campaign in which every trick in the book was tried by the anti-choice mob – and even some that aren’t in any book at all. They lied. They bullied. They bent the facts. They distorted the figures. They engaged in a horribly cynical campaign of disinformation. They even roped in the Pope, to say that he was coming to Ireland later this year. And 'indulgences' were put on the table.
At times, seeing the likes of Ronan Mullen and Maria Steen and Cora Sherlock bullshitting to beat the band, hogging airtime and generally conniving desperately to appeal to the very worst in people, a current of fear was impossible to eradicate. What if voters believe this – or even some of this – horrible propaganda? Might these odious foot soldiers of a moribund old Ireland succeed in worming their way into people’s hearts and play effectively on their deepest anxieties and fears?
You couldn’t entirely dismiss the possibility.
But tonight, it is possible to say, barring the most extraordinary failure in the history of exit polls anywhere in the world, that Irish people saw through the cynicism, the scare-mongering and the deceit, perpetrated in so many ways by the “No” side.
The RTÉ figures are almost mind-boggling. Over 72 percent of women are estimated to have voted to Repeal. It is, by any standards, an extraordinary statistic, reflecting a complete change in the complexion of Irish society – because, in the past, women had been seen as the quiet bulwark of Catholic hegemony in Ireland. Almost 66 percent of men also voted “Yes”, confirming that a deeper kid of seismic shift has taken place.
But the most important figures are probably these: 87.6 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds are likely have voted “Yes”. And the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds is almost as high at 84.6 per cent.
Even if those figures shift by as much as 5 percent (and the margin of error is reckoned to be less than 1.6%), it is still clear that the old Ireland – against which Hot Press fought every step of the way – is dead and gone: it is with Archbishop McQuaid in the grave.
There is, of course, still a lot to do here in this small island off the west coast of Europe. We need to create a health care system of which we can all be proud. We must wrest control of the schools from the religious orders, whose dead hand is still at the tiller in this crucial arena. We must find a way of addressing deprivation and inequality. We must address the democratic deficit in all of the various ways in which it is manifested. And so on. But tomorrow morning, when the ballot boxes are opened, we will be entitled to feel good about the country we have participated in creating.
In Hot Press, we said that a “Yes” vote would be a vote for freedom. A vote for care. A vote for compassion. A vote for equality. A vote for women. Well, this is what Irish people have chosen.
All the indications really are that we have finally left behind the kind of brutal, repressive, paranoid attitudes of the past, which dominated this part of the world in relation to sex and sexuality. We have embraced openness and equality. We have chosen respect. We have chosen love.
I feel a great sense of joy and vindication tonight, to know that we in Hot Press – all of us – worked hard, consistently, and in every way we knew how, over the past 35 years, to win hearts and change minds. We desperately wanted to help to build a better country. The equality agenda has always been a central part of our mission.
And we are now, it seems, about to step over the threshold, into a future in which our women are empowered in a way that would have been almost unimaginable 35 years ago.
Let us wait till the ballot boxes have been opened to break open the champagne. But I will not lie. I received calls and texts from family members anxious to share the news tonight. I hugged friends and strangers alike and could not stop the tears of joy that trickled down my cheeks. What a glorious night to be alive. And the future can only get better.
A huge thank you to everyone who voted yes. Thank you in particular to all of the people who fought so hard to bring about this change. Thank you to the great citizens of Ireland. I feel, finally, that we are a Republic at last.
Not a perfect one. But we can work on that. In the meantime, this surely is a moment to savour.
And we will…
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