It’s a supreme test of objectivity to be here in Ireland writing about the abortion referendum. Because the issue is so personal, so sensitive, I’d rather provide analysis than commentary – and having met the people canvassing for legalisation, I have to report that they are overwhelmingly decent.
I went with them to a working-class estate in south Dublin, where they seemed to get a friendly reception on the doorstep. Very friendly. Far friendlier than I’ve ever seen during an election in southern England. People actually came out of their doors to talk to the canvassers; you couldn’t get some of them to shut up.
At the end of the day, I interviewed one of the pro-choice activists on a patch of grass in the middle of the estate. Word got around and a crowd gathered. We were suddenly surrounded by children. They didn’t interfere, they just watched from the sidelines with their parents, who kept them in check with an occasional “Calm down, Conor” or “Behave yourself, Mary.”
And I felt so sad. This is what’s really at stake. Old Ireland still exists, clinging on by its fingertips. It’s not Catholic the way it once was: Mass attendance is way down. But these are friendly, lovely people living lives that in many cases are almost unchanged. The pro-choice canvassers said that the most influential anti-abortion locals, the ones they couldn’t persuade, were the “settled people”. The phrase meant old folks who had lived in the same area for a long-time – the Irish equivalent of those ancient admirals and retired plumbers who are supposed to have caused Brexit by their stubborn refusal to die.
Towards Britain, feelings are mixed. The pro-choicers resent English chauvinism, of course, but see us as “light years ahead”. There’s a palpable exhaustion, embarrassment even, with Old Ireland among young liberals. And yet, on that patch of grass, it looked rather idyllic. Like England was before it became obsessed with money and spiritually barren.
This is the bottom line: if you legalise abortion, the population will change. We abort around 180,000 babies every year in England. What do you think the effect is? Fewer poor people; shrunken communities. And the vanishing of the disabled, too. Ireland is full of disabled people, particularly those with Down’s, whose ubiquity here is a tragic reminder of what we in Britain sacrificed in the name of “choice”. If the pro-life side wins, it will partly be because their literature focuses overwhelmingly on the impact on anyone who isn’t “perfect” or “wanted”. That’s the creeping culture of death, and so many Irish voters appear to be willing it upon themselves.
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