Thinking about the reaction after the referendum

Seans considers how some people may feel depending on the results of the referendum

Written by Sean Flynn


At this point, with less than one week to go before the referendum vote, there is a collective understanding that it could go either way. Polls have shown a declining lead for the Yes side. For me, this is a testament to the spendthrift attitudes of the Save the 8th side in securing the services of Kanto Systems, a London-based political consultancy firm with links to ultraconservative causes, as well as uCampaign, an outfit responsible for the powerhouse Trump app aimed at the Republican youth vote.

The Yes side have largely been denied such consultancy and donations, but we also need to accept that the Yes campaign in Dublin has largely ignored the rest of the country. In my opinion, Dublin organisations have subconsciously taken responsibility for all of Ireland’s electorate. They assume they are the voice which speaks for Ireland. Are they deluding themselves? Cities are naturally youthful places where one feels in communion with their side. Their sheer population density aids in this ideological vacuum.

However, that's the problem in this country. Ireland’s population is so scattered that cultivating a stronger door-to-door canvassing scheme in rural areas would have done a great deal to encourage a Yes result. It is there, but it’s not enough. The Yes campaign’s influence has generally been concentrated in the cities, but the countryside is where all the steam of the vote is. This sense of delusion, I feel, oozes with social tension that has the potential to bitterly divide the country.

Denying abortion rights is to mistrust pregnant people and perpetuate a cycle of shame, the Yes side feel. But an abortion is a barbaric act, proponents of the No side will tell you. It is indeed an emotive vote. Yes side proponents will often claim to feel a sense of injustice or betrayal at the disservice paid to women who must go off alone, shivering on flights to Manchester, believing it comes from a place of national cowardice. With emotions running so high, is there potential for some sort of civil unrest in the face of a No vote?

In the ‘X case’ of 1992, the government wished to prevent a pregnant, suicidal rape victim from getting treatment abroad. She was fourteen years old. What had for so long remained unspeakable, what had for so long stayed behind a smokescreen of oppressive institutions and communities, had erupted valiantly, ripping from its mouth the duct tape in screams and shouts for transparency. We should be squeamish to admit that Ireland is the only country in the European Union (apart from Malta) that does not allow abortion except when the woman’s life is at risk, making us part of a club of 65 countries that prohibit abortion. Other countries like that include Afghanistan (15th least developed according to the Human Development Index).

A reliance on social media has deluded Yes voters as to the state of this country’s electorate; it is not unthinkable that a No vote would incite feelings of moral betrayal as powerful as the reaction to the Trump presidency.

There is a very plausible reality that the Yes electorate, on receiving a No result will respond with anger. Wouldn’t anybody feel betrayed if they received a popular vote that excluded their sex from gaining full equality of rights?  In the wake of the heavily-covered Jackson rape trial, women in this country are internalising a feeling that they are systematically ignored and undervalued. And it’s not like this feeling is new. Ailbhe Smyth, Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, mentions that when the 1983 amendment campaign began, it was “much more brutal and violent”. Ireland itself, she says, “was much more oppressive, was much more judgemental.” What will the Yes organisations do if they don't get what they want, dissolve? No. Their cause is too important, and they will remain united under an umbrella aim to re-initiate a referendum. That’s when this embering tension, matched with a distrust of a system that doesn’t respect the needs of women,  could ignite into a clash.

Would I be satisfied with a No vote? Chances are probably not, and chances are there are people with greater passions than I, who would be less than satisfied to slouch in a pub somewhere glumly kicking themselves. I’m not saying we should prepare for some kind of social breakdown, but we need to prepare ourselves mentally to enter an unthinkably restrictive culture in which mistrust has become a principle between men and women, and women and government: a state divided. We won’t be anywhere near done with this after a No vote. Not by a mile.

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