I woke up on Saturday (26th May) morning and grabbed my phone. Were the exit polls correct? Had the referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment been carried with as much of a majority as was being predicted? The polling station had been incredible busy when I had gone to cast my vote the previous morning. Young, old, men, women, all steadily streamed in, in larger numbers than I had ever seen before.
Was I dreaming? Was it in fact a landslide?
As the day went on, the answer was a resounding yes. I sat glued to the TV as commentators talked about ‘watershed moments’, ‘quiet revolutions,’ ‘the silent yes voters’ and a ‘gender earthquake.’
People gathered in count centres around the country as the results kept coming in, each largely in line with one another. As the day went on, people arrived in the courtyard of Dublin Castle to take in the news. There were tears, there were hugs, and there was an overwhelming sense of relief to be felt in every corner.
66.4% Yes to 33.6% No.
It was the news that Ireland had changed. Forever.
In many ways it was a reversal of the referendum 35 years ago. It showed us that so many attitudes we thought were deeply held had been completely reversed, that people around the country were ready to see a change.
How had it happened? Did the No side implode? Did the Yes side run a better campaign? I don’t think you can boil it down to something so black and white, because the issue itself was not black and white. I think, in the end, it came down to personal testimony from so many brave women and couples who took the step to speak out about their own experiences of how they’d been treated in Ireland when faced with abortion for whatever reason.
It was real people sharing stories that changed minds and it had been something that was happening for many years, not just in the few short months of the campaign. People had been working tirelessly for so long to help change attitudes and it seems as if people went into this referendum with their choices already firm in their minds. It was at last a sense that Ireland was ready to right some of the wrongs inflicted on its women for decades. It was about trusting women with their own bodies, about choices, about accepting women in our own country no matter what they were going through.
By the end of the year, choices will be available. Women can make informed decisions based on what is best for them and they can do it in their own country.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever see this day, but now it’s here and I hope it will lead to Ireland being a safer, more compassionate place to be a woman.