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'Democracy in action': Campaigners react to exit poll predictions in abortion referendum

With counting of votes in the historic eighth amendment referendum beginning across the country, two landslide exit polls predict it is a near certainty the public has chosen to scrap the abortion ban, writes political correspondent Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Here is a re-cap of a momentous night and morning for Ireland that has reverberated around the world:

  • an Irish Times/Ipsos exit poll of 4,000 voters last night has predicted a 68-32% victory for the yes side to repeal the eighth amendment
  • a second RTE/Behaviour and Attitudes exit poll of 3,000 voters has also predicted a 69.4-30.6% victory for the yes side
  • the RTE poll found 72.1% of women and 65.9% of men voted yes
  • it also found all age groups except for those over 65 voted yes, including: 18-24 age group (87.6%); 25-34 age group (84.6%); 35-49 age group (72.8%); and 50-64 age group (63.7%)
  • the only age group to vote no was those aged over 65, where the split was 58.7% no and 41.3% yes
  • the RTE poll also found 79.8% of people in Dublin; 67.2% in Leinster; 63.3% in Munster; 62% in Connacht/Ulster
  • 72.3% of urban voters and 63.3% of rural voters backed a yes vote
  • among class breakdowns, 76% of middle class voters backed a yes vote, 65% of working class voters and - crucially - 52.5% of farmers
  • and, of huge interest and implication for Ireland's political parties, among party voters 74.9% of Fine Gael supporters backed yes; 74.5% of Sinn Féin; 80.3% of Labour; 88.9% of Green; and 82.1% of Solidarity-People Before Profit voted yes
  • In a fresh headache for Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, who despite staunch internal party opposition strongly backed a yes vote, 50.3% of Fianna Fáil supporters backed a no vote and 49.7% said yes
  • Renua supporters surveyed all rejected any suggestion of changing the eighth amendment
  • 76% of those surveyed in the RTE poll said they were always going to vote yes; 8% said Savita Halappanavar's death in 2012 convinced them; 1% said it was following last year's citizens' assembly; 1% said after last year's cross-party Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment; and 12% said it was during the eight week referendum campaign
  • Importantly, 43% said people's personal stories in the media convinced them; 34% said experiences of people they knew; 10% said campaign posters; 7% said direct contact with campaigners; and 24% said 'other' factors
  • Reacting to the landslide exit poll victory prediction on a special edition of Morning Ireland on RTE Radio, Together For Yes campaign co-ordinator Orla O'Connor said the result shows "the people have spoken and this is a resounding roar" by the country to repeal the eighth amendment.

    Amnesty International director Colm O'Gorman said the "scale of the result is phenomenal", thanked pro-choice politicians including Health Minister Simon Harris and said Ireland has now decided to "wrap" women in crisis situations "in compassion".

    Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night said history will be made on Saturday after it was predicted Ireland will vote emphatically to remove the eighth amendment 35 years after the divisive abortion ban was introduced.

    In a short statement on Friday night after the RTE and Irish Times exit polls predicted a 69-31% and 68-32% victory for the yes campaign respectively, Mr Varadkar said he believes change is now coming to this country.

    "Thank you to everyone who voted today. Democracy in action. It’s looking like we will make history tomorrow," he wrote on social media website Twitter.

    In a similar statement on the same website, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin threw down the gauntlet to pro-life opponents within his own party who have sought to undermine Mr Martin's decision to publicly and consistently back the yes campaign.

    Saying the Government should now move quickly to introduce the planned 12 weeks unrestricted abortion laws in the event of a yes vote, Mr Martin said:

    "With exit polls published, it looks like #8thRef has been emphatically passed.

    "Important though that we respect and count every vote. If the exit polls are accurate, the view of our Republic is clear and we as an Oireachtas should move efficiently to enact the will of our people."

    The comment is likely to come into sharp focus in the coming days as Mr Martin seeks to reclaim complete control of his party after more than half of his TDs publicly opposed his decision to support repealing the eighth amendment.

    Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has said the referendum vote means "we have woken up in a country where no longer will couples facing a crisis" will be forced to travel abroad for help.

    Speaking after two exit polls predicted a landslide victory for the yes campaign, Ms Doherty said "we have a very clear and resounding mandate from the Irish public" and that "our role is to make sure" 12 weeks abortion legislation is now passed.

    "The thing I'm probably most grateful for is the size of the mandate now to pass legislation," she said.

    Meanwhile, in another statement last night, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said simply "Ireland is changing".

    “I want to thank Sinn Féin members from across Ireland and all those who campaigned for a Yes vote and for the leadership of the Together for Yes Group.

    “This campaign was marked by the woman who came forward to share their personal stories of dealing with tragic circumstances.

    “The campaign created a space for Ireland, North and South, to look at the experiences of women and I believe that we are all better for that. The voices of these women have been heard and can no longer be silenced by guilt or neglected by Government.

    “Ireland is changing and this is evident in the vibrant Yes campaign headed up by women and young people. I want to thank each and every one who voted and campaigned for Yes," Ms McDonald said.

    In a statement this morning, the pro-life Love Both group said the result "paints a bleak picture" for modern Ireland.

    Group member Dr Ruth Cullen said:

    “If the exit polls are borne out today, it will represent a sea-change on abortion in Ireland and sadly pave the way for an abortion regime that has nothing to do with healthcare and everything to do with abortion on demand.

    “As a group, we stand over all the claims we made during the campaign about what repeal would mean.

    [quote]It’s most regrettable the Taoiseach, Minister for Health and some leading medics received a free pass from scrutiny in pushing for abortion, thereby depriving the public the opportunity to hear them defend their pro-abortion positions.[/quote]

    “We will hold the Taoiseach to his promise that repeal would only lead to abortion in very restrictive circumstances. He gave his word on this, now he must deliver on it. No doubt many people voted for repeal based on the Taoiseach’s promises in this regard.”

    Similarly, Love Both member Cora Sherlock - who pulled out of RTE's live TV debate on Tuesday night and has not spoken publicly since - wrote on Twitter:

    "Exit polls, if accurate, paint a very sad state of affairs.

    "But those who voted No should take heart. Abortion on demand would deal Ireland a tragic blow but the pro-life movement will rise to any challenge it faces. Let's go into tomorrow with this in mind," she said.