While the outcome was inevitable the minute the first boxes opened began to confirm Friday night’s exit poll results, hundreds of campaigners filled Cork City Hall to see the evidence of how people voted in the two mainly-city constituencies.
There were 69% and 64% Yes votes in Cork South Central and North Central, based on valid polls of 58,209 and 52,547 voters respectively. The size of the majority told some pro-repeal campaigners that many people who declared themselves undecided at the doorsteps were silent yes voters, rather than the other way around, as some had feared.
“They didn’t feel, for whatever reason, comfortable vocalising their yes vote. There’s been so much secrecey and shame about this issue,” said Together for Yes campaigner Donna Rose.
Ms Rose had been campaigning since starting college around the time the 2013 Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act became law, and knowing friends who had been affected by the issues.
While it was after 6pm before all of Cork’s five constituencies had declared, the three non-city constituencies also strongly backed the referendum proposal. It was 64% among the Cork East and Cork South West electorates, while Cork North West voted 60% yes.
Although the lowest backing for repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the city and county, it was stronger than Cork North West’s 58% support for marriage equality in 2015.
At City Hall, it was just before 1pm when official declarations for the two city constituencies confirmed the story already told by the piles of ballot paper. As cheers and applause subsided, the (mostly) women in a sea of green of ‘Together For Yes’ t-shirts and black ‘Repeal’ jumpers turned to one another; not so much in celebratory hugs, but in long, tight embraces like those of friends marking the end of a long struggle shared.
Among them was Anne Mulcahy, who spent six weeks knocking on doors around Cork suburbs.
“It’s just such a wonderful win for the women of Ireland to ensure they are taken care of in the State and that we’re not exporting women for the healthcare they deserve and have a right to in this State,” she said.
“The Irish people who voted yes were aware of what was being proposed, there was a clear proposal of a 12-week limit and they voted for that, they weren’t under any delusions.”
Elsewhere in the hall, the no campaigners were more sombre since the morning’s tallies showed Cork had voted no differently than suggested in the exit polls.
LoveBoth spokeswoman Maeve O’Hanlon said campaign debates focused too much on women who have been raped or get a diagnosis of a life-limiting fetal condition, and not enough on awareness of support services for women who have abortions for other reasons.
“The legislation allows for abortion on demand, but the debate was about restrictive abortion and I believe that’s what people voted for,” she said.
But, as decisions now move from voters to politicians, no campaigner Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath said he would not stand in the way of the legislation being passed.
He had opposed the constitutional amendment because of his concerns about the 12-week limit being proposed, but acknowledged that people voted with the facts of what they were being asked.
“I don’t think people voted blindly,” he said. “I think the people voted in the full knowledge of the way the Government intended to legislate in this area.
“I think it’s indirectly an endorsement of the Government bill by way of a popular vote of the people. I think it would be very difficult to dispute that.”
Cork Together For Yes chairwoman Kathy D’Arcy said the people have given an unmistakable mandate and that the Government needs to move immediately to enact legislation to give women the right to safe abortion care in this country.
“Today is a beautiful day for the people of Ireland. We got there at last,” said Ms D’Arcy.
“We stepped away from shame and judgement and towards care, and we made this country better for everyone.