EDITORIAL: Implement the will of the people

June 3rd, 2018 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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Last weekend's referendum on the long-standing issue of whether the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland should be removed was resoundingly decided

LAST weekend’s referendum on the long-standing issue of whether the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland should be removed was resoundingly decided, not just by the margin of victory of those in favour of repealing the 8th amendment, but also the size of the 64.13% turnout – the average turnout for referenda tending to be about 52%. When the figures were counted, 66.4% of voters were in favour of replacing the wording of Article 40.3.3 with ‘provision be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy,’ while 33.6% were against the proposal.

This means that our politicians are charged with introducing legislation that will allow abortion in Ireland so that women from here who wish to avail of one will not be forced to go abroad, although some may still do so in order to ensure their privacy is not compromised. They will have that choice and this, essentially, was what the referendum on whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment was all about.

There were many people who voted Yes who are not personally in favour of abortion, but did so in order not to deprive those who might need to have that choice for themselves of the option to have an abortion in Ireland. Clearly, the vast majority of people felt that it was time to stop forcing women who wanted or needed to have an abortion to go abroad for it. 

There is great credit due to the government for grasping the nettle on this contentious issue and tackling what former Labour Party TD, Kathleen Lynch from Cork, described as ‘last taboo subject in Ireland.’ While they initially hid behind the Citizens’ Assembly, once its recommendations were considered, tweaked and largely endorsed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris acted quickly and decisively to set up the referendum and publish the heads of the Bill to legislate for abortion in Ireland.

Politicians need to respect the decisive Yes vote and enact the legislation as close to what has been proposed. There will obviously be a minority of diehards in the Oireachtas opposed to it, with the availability of abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy still proving contentious.

Interestingly, according to the uncannily accurate RTÉ exit poll, only 52% of those asked were in favour of allowing abortion purely on demand, whereas 73% were in favour of it in cases of rape or incest and 71% where fatal foetal abnormalities are detected. The speedy implementation of the legislation must be the priority now as there are still women going to the UK and other jurisdictions daily to procure abortions; this has to be stopped as soon as possible to reflect the will of the Irish people.

As a campaign lead on the Yes side, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty stated after the referendum, in deference to the 33.6% who voted against repeal, that it is incumbent on the government to do everything it can now to reduce the need for abortions. When the outcome of the referendum seemed delicately poised beforehand, many expected that what was termed a silent No vote might manifest itself on polling day, however as Jim Daly told The Southern Star, that turned out to be more of a silent Yes vote.

The Fine Gael Minister of State was the only one of Cork South West’s three TDs to declare for the Yes side. His constituency colleagues, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (Fianna Fáil) and Michael Collins (Independent), took a stand against repealing the 8th amendment, and it would be rather disingenuous – to say the least – if they tried to block the legislation that the referendum has given the mandate for.

A total of 64.51% of the people of Cork South West who voted were for the repeal of the 8th amendment with 35.49% against. The massive 67.35% turnout was the strongest for years and higher than the national figure. 

Many young people – the future generation that the repeal or otherwise would have affected – flew in from abroad to cast their votes to ensure that they would have the type of country they would like to return to in time to rear their own families. While most politicians put their heads above the parapet and others kept a low profile, the campaign was very much people-led, which accounts for the high turnout.

Of the various age demographics, the RTÉ exit poll revealed that the 65 and over group was the only one where the majority (58.7%) voted no, with the younger voters most in favour of repeal of the 8th amendment. Another interesting statistic was that more than 75% had made up their minds long before the campaign started and 82% said they did not have their minds changed about how they intended to vote, so it was very much people’s private and personal decisions.

It is now time to start implementing this decisive decision of the Irish people, as there will be a lot of logistical difficulties to overcome, so the sooner this work is started the better.

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