Looking for a Yes in the county that said No in 2015 referendum
When a householder says she doesn’t want abortion in any circumstance, other than when there is a risk to the life of the mother, the canvassers politely thank her and move on.
The Yes canvasser Briege Fullam from Roscommon town shows no animosity towards those who take an opposing view, and dislikes the way Roscommon has been portrayed as a conservative outpost.
“We know our friends and neighbours and many of them have conservative views, but they are very good people,” says Briege. “It doesn’t make them any less worthy.”
Among the definite No voters, a woman of African background says she does not want to see an “abortion free-for-all”, particularly if teenagers become pregnant.
The canvasser suggests that the average age of women having an abortion is older, but there is no budging this voter on her view of abortion.
Doireann Markham says: “At first, when the campaign started, people were very reticent about talking about the issue, but that has changed as the campaign has gone on.
“People are much more prepared to open up about it now.”
The approach of the Yes campaigners is to emphasise that abortion is already happening — either through women travelling to England, or by women taking unregulated abortion pills.
That was the strategy of the Yes side in the referendum debate on The Late Late Show, and it is similar as the canvassers go door-to-door.
Doireann Markham tells a voter: “Instead of women having to travel to England for an abortion, or take illegal pills, they would be able to do it safely in Ireland through their GP. We think it is better if she is properly taken care of by her doctor.”
This strategy of offering a choice between abortion in England or illegal pills, and regulated abortion in Ireland, seems to have resonated with voters such as Maggie Harney and her daughter Aileen. They stand proudly on the doorstep of a bungalow with Aileen’s nine-month-old baby Patrick.
Maggie says: “People are going to have abortions anyway — so why give money for it to another country for them to do it.
“It’s awful that they have to go to England, and even if they don’t they can buy the pills. I find the whole thing horrendous. Hopefully it will be changed on May 25.”
Some of the high-profile cases — such as that of Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis after being refused a termination — are having an influence on voters.
Apologising for the yapping of his dog, a man in his fifties out in his garden operating a leaf blower, said: “There have been some terrible cases. I believe a woman should be allowed to have an abortion when she is sick.”
There is also an attitude among a considerable number of men that they should not be the ones who decide if a woman can have an abortion.
Indicating that he was a Yes voter, a mature gentleman on his bungalow doorstep said: “Last time I looked, I wasn’t able to have children. So why should I have a say in it?”
On these doorstep canvasses, younger voters are hard to reach — and most of those who answer the door are over fifty. Roscommon has an older age profile than most other counties, with a large number of younger voters leaving to find work or to go to college.
While the under-thirties are considered the strongest supporters of Yes, the core group of campaigners out on Wednesday evening were mostly over thirty. Women outnumbered men by about five to one.
The core group of Roscommon Together for Yes canvassers were joined by supporters from across the Shannon in Westmeath, allowing the team of over twenty sweep through the large residential area in a couple of hours. While Sinn Féin and smaller parties are out campaigning for Yes in Roscommon — and the canvass was joined by independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan — there is no sign of a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael presence.
Many of the canvassers, such as Julie O’Donoghue, have never been on a campaign before, but feel strongly on this particular issue.
Carrying around her six-month-old baby Ailbhe on the canvass, Julie says: “I just believe that women should be able to make the decision themselves and deserve healthcare through their doctor.”
By 8.30pm, with the sun beginning its descent over the gentle hills of Roscommon, it is time for the Yes canvassers to head for home.
Experienced campaigners advise that by this hour, it is best stop knocking on doors and ringing doorbells.
As Doireann Markham puts it, “There is one sure way of guaranteeing a No vote, and that is by waking up a sleeping baby.”
“Many of our friends and neighbours have conservative views, but they are very good people. It doesn’t make them any less worthy”