Knock­ing on doors

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - CARE­FUL CON­SID­ER­A­TION

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.

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