In hostile territories
It is a beautifully sunny Tuesday evening and Dalkey is looking especially resplendent. Shops are closing on Castle Street — the prosperous coastal town’s main drag — and crowds are gathering outside The Queen’s Bar and Restaurant to enjoy an al fresco drink. Just before 6.30, a row of cars drive into the church car park and soon a group of 15 gathers. There are eight women and seven men and while there is a healthy proportion of senior citizens, some are in their 30s too. Red bibs bearing the logo of Save the 8th are put on and the group — under the leadership of local woman Mairead Hughes, founder of Cherish All the Children Equally, talk about which parts of the town they will canvass tonight. Armed with a stack of flyers each, they leave the car park and head for the pretty residential streets immediately behind The Queen’s.
They are strategic about how many houses they can visit in 90 minutes — the feeling is that 8pm is about as late as they can knock on doors. Paul Twomey, who is out with his wife Elizabeth, has studied the maps carefully and issues friendly orders.
The campaigners go to each house in pairs — usually a man and woman — and there’s no answer in about half. But when the door is opened, and the occupier sees the canvassers, there’s politeness, irrespective of whether they intend to vote yes or no.
Donegal native Claire Duffy says she enjoys the experience of canvassing and advocating a no vote. Like her colleagues, she does not try to convince those who say they will vote yes, but thanks them for their time and wishes them well.
Few people are undecided, but it seems as though at least half of those who open their doors say they will vote against the right to have an abortion. Most of them are older people. Duffy urges them to encourage similar-minded friends to get out to vote and asks them if they would like to take a car sticker promoting a pro-life message. Most accept one.
Dalkey is in the heart of what’s long been regarded as the country’s most liberal constituency, Dún Laoghaire. In 1983, 58pc of voters here rejected the amendment to the constitution that gave equal rights to the unborn child and the mother. It was one of just four constituencies in the country that rejected the amendment — all were in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire was by far the highest.
The same sex marriage referendum of 2015 saw almost 72pc of voters in the constituency give a yes vote — significantly higher than the 62pc national average. But it wasn’t the most liberal constituency — other Dublin areas with a younger age profile voted yes in higher proportions.
“I don’t like the word ‘liberal’,” says Bernard Roche, an 80-year-old volunteer who has been canvassing in the Dún Laoghaire constituency for months. “What it is is permissive.”
The sunny weather has lifted the spirits of everyone. “It’s lovely tonight,” he says, “but I’ve been out in all weather. I think it’s important to get our point across because there are so many undecided people out there.”
The latest opinion poll, published in the Sunday Independent last weekend, showed that 18pc of respondents are undecided and the proportion saying they will vote yes has declined sharply, and now stands at 45pc.
Like many in the group, Roche says he encounters people every day who are concerned about what’s being proposed. “It’s not just repealing the amendment,” he says, “it’s allowing abortion
Save the Eighth: Elizabeth Twomey with campaigners for the No vote in the upcoming referendum on the 8th Amendment, canvassing in Dalkey.
Therese Kelly used to be pro-choice, but is now canvassing for a No vote.