Belfast Telegraph

Savita’s name rings out across Dublin Castle as campaigners celebrate victory

Savita Halappanavar’s death in an Irish hospital has become emblematic for advocates of reform.

Her name had drifted across the courtyard of Dublin Castle all day, but in the moments after the result was finally confirmed it rang out louder than ever.

Savita, Savita, Savita.

For the thousands of pro-choice campaigners, the landslide victory in the abortion referendum was for Savita Halappanavar, the expectant mother whose death in an Irish hospital has become emblematic for advocates of reform.

Among the Irish tricolours and Repeal posters, a framed picture of the 31-year-old, who died when refused an abortion during miscarriage, was held aloft amid the cheers and tears of celebration.

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A supporter holds a photo of Savita Halappanavar (Niall Carson/PA)

While there was poignancy, joy was the overwhelming emotion as the huge crowd reacted when the declaration came through on a barely audible tannoy.

Of course, elsewhere there was anger and despair as anti-abortion activists reflected on a vote that for them has seen Ireland turn its back on the rights of the unborn.

With a much closer margin expected, it was anticipated both sides in the emotive debate would gather amid tense scenes at Dublin Castle to await the outcome.

Friday night’s conclusive exit polls put paid to that, with those who argued passionately for the retention of Ireland’s near blanket ban on abortion leaving the stage clear for what turned out to be a day-long celebration for the Yes camp.

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Leo Varadkar (left), Simon Harris (right) and Senator Catherine Noone celebrate at Dublin Castle (Brian Lawless/PA)

Health minister Simon Harris was greeted like a rock star returning for an encore as he emerged on the platform minutes after the national result was announced.

As one woman held up a placard declaring that she fancied a minister who has become an unlikely pin-up of the repeal campaign, the Co Wicklow TD conducted the crowd in a rendition of “Yes we did, yes we did, yes we did”.

Such moments of public adulation are rare indeed for health ministers anywhere, never mind Ireland.

A similar frenzy met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he was greeted in the courtyard hours earlier by a Kardashian-esque media pack, swarming round him as his aides tried to chart a way across the cobblestones.

A moment of perspective was offered by one inquisitive international news reporter who when told the name of the popular arrival, responded “Leo who?”

Elsewhere in the throng, a woman was handing out After Eight mints, a nod to the new era ushered in by the demise of the Eighth Amendment.

Others were less subtle.

“Get your rosaries off our ovaries,” chanted a group of enthusiastic reformers in a pointed message for the Catholic Church.

“We need support, not the airport,” another verse implored.

More familiar songs broke out in other pockets of the crowd.

Molly Malone, the Fields of Athenry and the Irish national anthem Amhran na bhFiann got an airing as the expectant thousands awaited the declaration.

One campaigner even got a hearty cheer for holding his dog in the air.

Clearly encouraged by the reaction, another crowd member followed suit minutes later, lifting a startled pet aloft to a similar roar of approval.

It was in keeping with the upbeat mood of those who had spent eight draining weeks on the campaign trail.

But amid the cacophony of noise as the declaration came, amid the spraying champagne and roars of jubilation, it was still the name of Savita that reverberated loudest.

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