Thirty-nine of the 40 constituencies of Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment from the Irish Constitution, but Donegal was not one of them.
It voted no by a majority of 51.9% to 48.1%.
The constituency has an electorate of 118,901, 67,839 of whom turned out to cast their vote. With a tiny percentage of spoiled votes, just 154, 35,091 people voted against repealing the Eighth Amendment and 32,559 voted in favour of repealing.
Like Roscommon-Leitrim in the 2015 marriage equality referendum, Donegal was the only constituency to buck the trend as votes were counted on Saturday.
However, in that referendum, Donegal South-West voted yes by just 33 votes.
While the constituency make-up has changed since 2015, with Roscommon- Leitrim now forming parts of Roscommon-Galway and Sligo-Leitrim, no other electorate came close to Donegal’s no percentage on Saturday.
Of the 39 other constituencies, the next largest proportion of no votes were found in Cavan-Monaghan, with 44.54% of their electorate voting to retain the Eighth Amendment. Following that constituency was Mayo, which voted 42.93% no.
Donegal Together for Yes, the volunteer group that campaigned for a yes vote, said it would celebrate the 32,559 yes votes in the constituency, considering that in 1983 just 15% of the county voted against the Eighth Amendment.
Michael Barron, a former director of BelonGTo said: “Only 15% Donegal voted against the 8th in 1983. In 2018, 48.5% voted to repeal it — that’s a 33.5% swing which is one of the biggest in the country.”
Meanwhile, Noel Sharkey a junior doctor who co- directed the Donegal Yes Equality group, defended his constituency with a lengthy thread on Twitter. He said that many people originally from the county are now living and working elsewhere and so would have cast their vote near their new homes.
“Donegal is the most deprived county in Ireland, with the highest unemployment rate and not even a train service to connect us with the capital,” he said. “Donegal people are forced to live and work elsewhere. Many of our Yes voters cast their vote in Dublin, Galway, etc, where they also canvassed and leafleted.”
He said that, because of the new constituency boundaries, the county’s vote was dispersed.
“More than 2,500 of our Yes votes in South Donegal were added to the Sligo-Leitrim total because of redrawing of constituency boundaries,” said Dr Barron.
He asked the rest of the country not to sneer at Donegal because it was the sole outlier, and pointed out that the geography of the county made it a difficult place to canvass.
“A lot of canvasses involved going up back roads and boreens,” he said. “The scenery was beautiful but it took hours to get small numbers covered. Despite this, the team never gave up.”
Meanwhile, Independent senator Mary Alice Higgins, congratulated the yes campaigners in the constituency.
“Well done to all in the Abortion Rights Campaign Donegal whose commitment, campaigning, conversations and compassion brought 49% of the people of Donegal to cast their vote for Yes,” said Ms Higgins.
Government chief whip and Fine Gael TD for Donegal Joe McHugh said he would bring his constituency’s view to Government.
“When this legislation comes before the Dáil, I certainly will be reflecting a very strong point of view, even from those who were marginally on the yes side that they don’t want a liberal regime in this country, and I certainly will be reflecting that,” he said.
Independent TD Thomas Pringle said his constituency was becoming “more progressive,” but said he was “disappointed”.
“Donegal is gradually becoming more progressive,” he said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed it wasn’t an overall yes, but, I will take a 49% yes, given where Donegal is coming from, because that’s vitally important, and it’s important in the context of the national figures as well. In reality, Donegal is not an independent state so it ties in with the overall national figure.”
On the other side of the debate and welcoming the no vote, Tim Jackson, the anti-abortion activist who went on partial hunger strike over the issue in September 2017, said he was glad of the result.
“I am glad that the people of Donegal have seen sense today and voted against killing their own children but for the rest of the country to vote en masse for killing human beings for generations to come, long after they are gone, to me makes this the darkest day in Irish history,” said Mr Jackson.
Overall, it was a close vote in the constituency, with one ballot box containing 122 Yes votes to 122 No votes.
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