Politicians choose bridge over troubled waters

Bridges unite, but unseen currents and troubled waters are often never too far away.

And so, despite weekend polls suggesting the tide is with the yes side ahead of Friday’s referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin stood shoulder to shoulder on a landmark Cork bridge yesterday and said they are taking nothing for granted, four days out from polling day.

At an early-morning, cross-party canvass on Trinity Bridge in the city centre, the Tánaiste said: “You never quite know until the end. This is a very divisive referendum for many people. Lots of families, I think, are having really in-depth conversations about how they should vote.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney pictured canvassing in Cork city on Monday morning for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the regulation of termination of pregnancy. Pic: Diane Cusack
 

“Of course, there are people who are very clear on one side or the other. And then I think there is a big middle ground in Ireland who are teasing through the issues, looking at the facts as they see them, and I think the majority of those want to see change.

I don’t think the status quo is acceptable any longer, whereby we knowingly see thousands of woman travel to Britain every year because they can’t get health supports and healthcare here. We’ve tried to deal with this issue in the Constitution and it hasn’t worked.

“As a result of efforts in the 1980s, we’ve seen many women in tragic and difficult circumstances having to deal with those circumstances on their own, abroad in an abortion clinic somewhere, where they are not known.

“Not just as a politician, but as a father of three daughters, that is not the kind of Ireland I want them to grow up in.

“Modern Ireland should be a compassionate place, where we look after our women through a proper structured healthcare system in a compassionate and professional away, instead of sending them abroad because we can’t deal with it here.

I don’t think that’s appropriate any more in modern Ireland and I hope people will give us permission as a government to change that through appropriate legislation that deals with the complexity of what we need to do here.

The pair were flanked by Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer, junior minister Jim Daly, Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune, and Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher, as Fine Gael city councillors, Green Party activists, and Cork Together for Yes activists stood nearby handing out leaflets.

“Jaysus, ’tis like the Battle of the Boyne,” one man quipped as he made his way through the small army of canvassers.

Jim Daly, TD Fine Gael; Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin; Julie O’Leary, Fine Gael; Deirdre Clune, MEP , An Tanaiste and Foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney, Billy Kelleher, TD Fianna Fail; Kathy Darcy, chair of the Cork Together for Yes ; Laura Bogue, Green Party and senator Jerry Buttimer, Fine Gael all canvassing for the Yes vote in the forthcoming Abortion referendum at Trinty Bridge in Cork yesterday Picture: Eddie O’Hare

Mr Daly was quick with his response. “It’s like a bridge over troubled waters,” he quipped.

Trinity Bridge is a key pedestrian access route for those working or studying on the city centre island.

Many of those crossing signalled that their minds were already made up. Of those who commented publicly on their voting intentions, most said they would be voting yes on Friday. A handful of people who stopped and engaged with the politicians said they were undecided.

Mr Martin said many find themselves in a “genuine quandary” on this issue.

“People want to bring some degree of compassion into the legal framework that governs this area,” he said. “There is a significant majority who don’t want the status quo to remain, and there are people who have issues with the alternative, but I think they are edging towards a yes.

At the moment, essentially people are trusting British politicians who have created a regime in Britain to which Irish women go. And it’s a much more liberal regime than what’s being proposed here.

“It is a restricted legal framework that is being proposed here, that I think is in line with best practice, in terms of the recommendations we have received from our obstetricians and our gynaecologists.”

Mr Martin said he doesn’t believe a yes vote will trigger a “cultural transformation”.

“I don’t believe Irish women will become serial abortion-seekers overnight,” he said.

“I don’t believe Irish gynaecologists or obstetricians will become serial abortionists. I think we need to trust ourselves a bit more, and certainly we need to trust Irish women more, and Irish medical professionals more.”

Mr Martin said the proposed legislation emerged following detailed parliamentary process and enjoyed cross-party compromise consensus.

“I don’t really see any great degree of deviation from that,” he said.

Mr Buttimer said the proposed regime is not as liberal as some have suggested, pointing out that it will be a doctor-led process, in line with 21 of 28 countries in the EU.

Sitting huddled beneath a blanket just feet from the canvassers was a young man holding an empty coffee cup for donations.

One young woman, who spotted him, turned to the politicians said: “And ye might look after the homeless crisis too.”


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