Belfast Telegraph

‘All changed, changed utterly’: Ireland feels seismic shift in social attitudes

The winning margin for anti-abortion activists 35 years ago – 67% to 33% – appears to have been turned on its head.

A wind of social change sweeping over Ireland in recent years appears to have turned into a gale.

If confirmed, the suggested margin of victory for campaigners to liberalise what is one of the strictest abortion regimes in Europe represents a seismic shift in attitude in little over a generation.

The contentious Eighth Amendment that effectively bans terminations – a constitutional provision now destined for the history books – was only voted into the state’s legal framework in 1983.

It is remarkable that the winning margin for anti-abortion activists 35 years ago – 67% to 33% – appears to have been turned on its head on Friday, and then some.

The likely result will be delivered three years after the country voted to legalise same-sex marriage – another landmark moment in Ireland’s tectonic drift from “social conservatism” to “progressive liberalism”.

While the margin in 2015 was emphatic – 62% to 38% – the Yes vote in 2018 looks like being even larger.

  • 67% to 33% - the winning margin for anti-abortion activists in 1983
  • 62% to 38% - the winning margin to legalise same-sex marriage in 2015

The RTE exit poll suggests 70% of citizens voted to ditch an amendment that was so resoundingly endorsed by the public three-and-a-half decades earlier.

The dramatic reversal in opinion seems to have been driven by the younger generations.

People under the age of 53 would not have had the chance to vote in 1983.

In this year’s referendum the support of those age groups for reform seems to have been overwhelming.

Almost 90% of voters under 25 appear to have voted Yes.

Those aged 35-49 endorsed repeal by around 73%, the exit polls indicate.

The only age group to vote No was the over-65s, indicating that those who backed the amendment in 1983 largely retain their opposition to abortion – they are now just outnumbered by younger generations committed to reform.

The diminishing role of the Catholic Church in the social fabric of Ireland is undoubtedly a factor in the changes being wrought.

Damaged by a welter of child abuse scandals in recent decades, during the abortion referendum campaign the church was reduced to just one voice among many in the campaign, rather than the all-powerful institution of authority it once was.

As the exit poll data started emerging on Friday, it was little surprise many reached for a famous line of poetry from one of the nation’s literary greats, William Butler Yeats: “All changed, changed utterly …”

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