Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Referendum result cannot be ignored

Editor's Viewpoint

The massive Yes vote in the Irish Republic's referendum on Friday to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution was a resounding verdict from the voters.

The margin of two to one in favour of more liberal abortion laws in Ireland surprised many observers, including the leaders of the campaigns, who expected a closer result.

The voting showed that without doubt there has been a fundamental shift in the attitudes to abortion in the Republic.

The historical grip of the Catholic Church has demonstrably loosened, and it is clear that a new and more tolerant Ireland is emerging.

Remarkably, only one constituency in the Republic - namely Donegal - voted No, and obviously the Yes vote crossed all the traditional urban-rural divides. The result was also fuelled by a massive support for repeal from younger voters.

One significant result for us here is the growing groundswell of opinion for a change to the strict abortion laws in Northern Ireland, and this is gaining momentum from some prominent British politicians.

It is a controversial issue which is clearly the remit of our local politicians, but this situation - and much else - is greatly complicated by the continuing deadlock at Stormont.

Politicians in London must studiously refrain from rushing to usurp our devolved powers, and Prime Minister Theresa May, who is in yet another tight corner, must tread very carefully in this one as she tries to find a way ahead.

Many people here, including politicians from all backgrounds, are opposed to liberalising the abortion laws, and this was reflected by the opposition of our Churches to any repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

This thorny issue continues to create problems for Ulster's unionists, who now find themselves out of step with the rest of the UK, and being portrayed in sharp contrast to a more "progressive" Irish Republic.

This image will be seized upon, no doubt, by the Sinn Fein propaganda machine. The unionists also need to relate better to the younger voters, who have shown in the Republic that they want more liberal abortion laws.

Unionism and its supporters must have open and honest conversations about abortion legislation, which will meet the needs of our women, but ultimately this pivotal issue must be decided by our political representatives here, and not by anyone else.

Belfast Telegraph

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