Referendum vote is "Ireland's second chance": Leo Varadkar's speech in full

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has heralded Ireland's landslide abortion referendum as a "quiet revolution" which has brought Ireland into the modern era and thrown off the last shadows of our conservative past, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent.

In a short speech to the media moments after the official result of the historic eighth amendment referendum was confirmed to be 66.21% yes to 33.79% no, Mr Varadkar said simply: "A quiet revolution has taken place".

Mr Varadkar said the overwhelming yes result across all regions, 39 of 40 constituencies, almost age groups and both men and women shows "we are not a divided country".

Saying "I believe everyone deserves a second chance, this is Ireland's second chance", the Taoiseach said "for 35 years we have hidden the realities of crisis pregnancies being our laws" and that the vote "changes all of that".

Mr Varadkar - who did not take questions from journalists - said "today will be remembered" as the moment Ireland "came of age as a country" and threw off the last shadows of the nation's conservative past.

Quoting US poet Maya Angelou, he said history cannot be un-lived but, with courage, it does not have to be lived again.

Mr Varadkar's full speech on an iconic day in Irish history can be read below:

Today is an historic day for Ireland. A quiet revolution has taken place, and a great act of democracy. A hundred years since women got the right to vote. Today, we as a people have spoken. And we say that we trust women and we respect women and their decisions.

For me it is also the day when we said No More. No more doctors telling their patients there is nothing that can be done for them in their own country. No more lonely journeys across the Irish Sea. No more stigma. The veil of secrecy is lifted. No more isolation. The burden of shame is gone.

When we went to the polls yesterday, some voted yes with enthusiasm and pride, but many others in sorrowful acceptance, with heavy hearts.

The ‘X’ marked on the ballot paper represented so much more than an individual vote.

In 1983, 841,000 people voted to insert the eighth amendment into our constitution.

In 2018, almost every county, every constituency, men and women, all social classes, almost all age groups. We are not a divided country. The result is resounding.

This gives us the mandate we need to bring forward legislation and secure its passage by the end of the year.

We voted:

• For the 200,000 Irish women who have travelled to Britain since 1983 to end their pregnancies.

• For the couples who shared their stories of returning home with tiny coffins.

• For the young and the not so young women, who spoke their truth.

• For those whose stories have still not been heard.

I said in recent days that this was a once in a generation vote.

Today I believe we have voted for the next generation.

We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink.

We have voted to provide compassion where there was once a cold shoulder, and to offer medical care where once we turned a blind eye.

At the beginning of this campaign I called for a respectful debate, one that was never angry or personalised. I think that by and large we succeeded.

Our democracy is vibrant and robust and can survive divisive debates and make difficult decisions.

To those who voted NO I know today is not welcome. You may feel that the country has taken the wrong turn, is no longer a country you recognise.

I would like to reassure you that Ireland is still be the same country today as it was before, just a little more tolerant, open and respectful.

I would like to thank all of you who brought us here – the members of the Citizens Assembly, the Oireachtas All-Party Committee, the leaders of all the main political parties, the Independent Alliance and independent Ministers, those involved in the civil society campaign who have been working on this issue for many,many years, especially those who opened their hearts and shared their personal stories.

As leader of Fine Gael, I would also like to acknowledge the role of Senator Catherine Noone, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, and Minister Josepha Madigan.

Above all, I would like to thank the citizens for coming out and voting in such numbers.

Listening to the arguments on both sides over the past few weeks I was struck by what we had in common, rather than what divided us. Both sides expressed a desire to care for women in a crisis, both sides wanted compassion, both sides wanted to choose life.

We all want to ensure that there are fewer crisis pregnancies and fewer abortions. Thanks to sex education, wider availability of contraceptives and emergency contraception, abortion rates are already falling and teenage pregnancy is at its lowest since the 1960s. We will continue to improve access to sexual health and education to reduce crisis pregnancies and abortions further in the year ahead.

We will also continue to make Ireland a better place to raise a family. We’ve made a good start with two years of free pre-school, free GP visits for young children, subsidised childcare, paid paternity leave and increases in the Working Family Payment and Home Carers Tax Credit.

In the years ahead we will build on these policies so Ireland will become one of the best places in the world to raise a family. Families of all forms.

Everyone deserves a second chance. This is Ireland’s second

chance to treat everyone equally and with compassion and respect.

For 35 years we have hidden the reality of crisis pregnancies behind our laws. We have hidden our conscience behind the Constitution.

This majority decision changes all that.

I believe today will be remembered as the day we embraced our responsibilities as citizens and as a country.

The day Ireland stepped out from under the last of our shadows and into the light.

The day we came of age as a country. The day we took our place among the nations of the world.

Today, we have a modern constitution for a modern people.

I want to finish with one of my favouritepoets, Maya Angelou.

‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’

The wrenching pain of decades of mistreatment of Irish women cannot be unlived. However, today we have ensured that it does not have to be lived again.


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