Under the green gaze of John Mandeville, a red-faced man roars at a pregnant woman that she is a murderer.
In the Square in Mitchelstown, on the Sunday evening before the referendum vote, a middle-aged man exits a pub and verbally abuses Together For Yes volunteers. We are standing in the square, holding our signs aloft, and returning the waves of passing motorists. (The reactions of one or two drivers remind me of George W Bush’s joke to Bono about people waving with one finger, but mostly the reaction has been warm.)
“Baby-killers,” he growls at my visibly-pregnant friend. He stands aggressively close to her. She backs away. He repeats his charge. She tells him he is entitled to his opinion, and so is she. He says worse.
I intervene, and tell him he can have his say on Friday, when we’ll have the same say. I can smell the drink. He’s very angry. He asks if we ever heard of condoms, and then, pointing at one volunteer, he shouts “That girl was born out of wedlock.”
In Cork’s Fitzgerald Park, one misty morning two weeks ago, a young woman in a REPEAL jumper is crossing the Shakey Bridge. An older man, a complete stranger, walking toward her, stops and fixes her with a look of utter hatred. “Go f*ck yourself,” he spits.
She walks on, frightened and upset.
It’s nine days to go, and I’m getting the jitters. I message a friend in RTÉ who’s been out on the doors. “What’s your sense?” I ask.
“Yes will win. End of story. Let’s stop doubting who we are and how far we’ve come.”
In Fermoy, the night before the vote, a priest addresses a girls’ graduation Mass. Students and parents have asked him not to talk about the referendum. They want this to be the girls’ day. He begins to speak about children born with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome Ireland has begged all sides not to make pawns of people with Down syndrome, but the priest – like many on the No side – ignores them. Warming to his theme, he starts on the evils of abortion.
One man in the congregation stands up and shouts angrily that the priest is a disgrace. The man receives a round of applause, and several people walk out. It’s claimed around the town later that the applause was for the priest. Those clapping deny that.
It’s a sunny Friday morning in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, and the President of Ireland has just cast his vote. He and his wife have got into their car, when the President spots an old friend, Irish Times journalist Miriam Lord. He and Sabina get out of the car and go over for a chat.
Lord reminds him that in 1983, the then Senator Michael D Higgins was a vehement opponent of what he called the ‘callous’ Eighth Amendment. He had condemned TDs promoting it for being ‘monumental in their hypocrisy’, and had quoted Michael Davitt: “If the Irish had a weakness worse than drink, it was moral cowardice.”
President Higgins smiles, and in a soft voice says “I’m above all that now.”
Miriam Lord will tell her readers: “But I swear, I know it, there were tears in his eyes.”
At 10am, at my polling station, a woman who usually shares my politics looks at me with genuine sorrow and says “If only there was a third option.”
I don’t know what to say.
When I cast my ballot, I retrace the X three times. Something chimes, but I don’t make the connection. I check again that I have definitely voted Yes.
Twelve hours later, polls have closed and the turnout has been astonishing. It’ll be a long hour and half until the RTÉ exit poll will be announced on The Late Late Show. I look at my phone for news.
The Irish Times/Ipsos/MRBI exit poll is predicting a landslide for Yes. Yes 68%, No, 32%. That can’t be right. Can it?
Eons later, Ryan Tubridy welcomes journalists Lise Hand and David McCullagh to the Late Late to discuss the RTÉ/Behaviour and Attitudes exit poll.
McCullagh issues the standard boilerplate, this is an opinion poll, and opinion polls may not always be correct. Margin of error, he says, and all the rest of it.
“Which may not concern us that much with this one,” McCullagh concedes.
This exit poll says 69.4% voted Yes, 30.6% No.
Hand then says something which resonates with me.
“When I was in the polling booth today, you know, making my X in the box, it kind of struck me that there was a poignant symmetry to it, because really this campaign started in 1992 with X Case. It all stretches back to that.”
Next day, a forlorn John McGuirk is telling RTÉ News No voters will have to campaign for “the next 20, 35, 40 years to undo this level of change”. He doesn’t commit to doing it himself, mind, but then the Save The Eighth communications director had promised during the campaign that if Dublin Central voted 75% Yes he will never again take a political job.
On Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra, barrister Noel Whelan pointedly asks William Binchy – architect of the Eighth Amendment – “Isn’t it time for somebody to apologise for the Eighth Amendment?”
Binchy replies to the effect that it won’t be him.
It’s over. This is our Ireland now, and let us be kinder than they were when this was their Ireland, from whence 200,000 women were exiled, and where actual, born babies were allowed to starve to death and be cast into septic tanks because they were too ill to sell to wealthy Americans.
But still, none of us is equal if one of us is unequal.
Let’s make pregnancy a matter of private healthcare and not public moralising. Let’s do everything we can to prevent crisis pregnancies. Let’s get serious about sex education. Let’s make contraception free. Let’s make consent classes mandatory in our schools. Let’s get serious about health, about mental health, about disability and about respite care. Let’s make sure lone parents never again feel the despair of being without help and support. Let’s make every citizen, regardless of our different abilities, beloved by our country and proud to be Irish.
Let’s make this an Ireland where women are trusted, respected, and safe.
It’s six weeks to the referendum, and Portlaoise is festooned in lurid, graphic No posters. A ten-year-old boy called Jamie tries to make sense of it all. He asks his mother, and she does her best to explain.
Jamie’s Mam is moved to tears by his reaction. He wants to donate €10 to Together For Yes.
“I might be only ten,” Jamie says in his message to Together For Yes, “but I know how important this is, so I’ve asked my Mammy to donate some of my pocket money. This is for my Mam who looks after me on her own, for my aunties, cousins and friends, so that they can have the same rights as I do.”
Turn-out: 2,159,655 (64.1%). Result: 1,429,981 (66.4%) Yes. 733,632 (33.6%) No.