Pat Leahy: Abortion vote will not upend Irish politics

The referendum has not changed the world, but it has created opportunities for women

Politicians and campaigners from the ‘Yes’ camp arrive at the RDS to a hero’s welcome. Video: Enda O’Dowd

Inhabitants of Leinster House and its environs, the village-y cockpit of national political leadership centred on a few acres in the south city centre of Dublin, were taken aback by the size of the winning margin in last weekend’s abortion referendum.

It was not the outcome that surprised people, rather it was the landslide for Yes, which lit up the political firmament on Friday night after the Irish Times exit poll was revealed at 10.01pm. It was confirmed when the boxes were opened on Saturday morning.

A great wave for repeal swept the country, delivering majorities in (almost) every constituency, in every age group under 65, both genders, in urban and rural Ireland.

The referendum dominated conversations around Leinster House as people tried to make sense of it. Needless to say, politics being politics, and politicians being politicians (and campaigners being campaigners), there have been mighty claims altogether made about the referendum – most of which served the agendas of those making them. But that’s to be expected.

Inevitably there were claims of a new political dawn and so on. I have my doubts. Whether mistaking a single-issue campaign for a new political movement is just wishful thinking or self-serving analysis is moot, really. The point is that it is a mistake.

The result of the referendum will not upend Irish politics radically, any more than it will “change the world” as some of the more hyperbolic repealer analysis had it.

But it will change Irish politics; it already has. The parties are scrambling for women candidates. The Social Democrats announced three women repealers as candidates only last week (the fourth is also a woman and has spent 10 years sailing around the world, if you don’t mind; then again, she is in Malahide).

“We have some very, very impressive women candidates,” a senior figure in the machine end of Fine Gael told me when we exchanged pleasantries on the way into Leinster House last week. All to the good; the calibre of the women in Leinster House is on average, higher than the men. Most of them have had to work harder to get there, I suppose.

Sixteen constituencies…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.