Knocking on doors
On the streets in Roscommon, campaigners for a Yes vote in the abortion referendum are annoyed by the county’s portrayal as Ireland’s conservative backwater. The constituency was the only place to vote against same sex marriage in the referendum in 2015 — and there would be no surprise if it voted No on abortion on May 25.
But rather than leaving the Yes campaigners downcast and disheartened, the No vote in 2015 has made them more determined to win the hearts and minds of voters on the abortion issue.
As she joined a large and well-drilled group of canvassers on the Roscommon side of Athlone on Wednesday evening, Doireann Markham from Ballinlough said: “We were not embarrassed by the vote in 2015, but we are more motivated in this campaign as a result of it
“There was a patronising and condescending tone to a lot of what was said about Roscommon. You have to remember that the Yes side only lost by 1,000 votes in the marriage equality referendum.”
Back in 1983, when voters first went to the polls in an abortion referendum, up to 84pc in Roscommon voted for the eighth amendment to the constitution, and just 16pc were against.
How far has the vote swung towards repealing the amendment less than a fortnight before the poll on May 25?
In a warren of housing estates and along rows of bungalows in the Monksland area, voters now seem more evenly matched between Yes and No, with a large number of undecideds and inscrutable voters who are non-committal.
Approached by the Yes canvassers in the Slí an Choiste estate, a woman in her fifties on the doorstep was typical of voters who are carefully weighing up their options.
“I believe abortion should be allowed in a case where a woman has been taken advantage of — like when she has been raped, or if someone was handicapped.
“What would incline me to vote against is the fact that you are killing something — and I think that is wrong.”
Across the road, retired soldier Frank Lacey is also giving the vote careful consideration, but is reluctant to let on which way he is going as a neighbour looks on.
“You don’t hear of much abortion around here. I am trying to figure it out — all I know about it really is what I see on the posters.”
Wearing a crucifix, he describes himself as a Catholic and he has listened to what the Church has said on the issue.
“They’ll say what they say, but I haven’t decided yet.”
At times, the public face of the referendum campaign can be hard-hitting, particularly on social media — with both sides trading insults and accusing each other of bad faith, improper motives and sinister outside influences.
But at ground level, when campaigners meet up with voters, the tone is courteous and respectful, even when there is a sharp difference of opinion.
Repeal the Eighth: Canvassers for the Yes vote Natasha Kenny and Julie Daly talk to Frank Lacey in the Monksland area in Co Roscommon.
Julie O’Donoghue with her six-month-old daughter Ailbhe in Co Roscommon.