Ireland looks set to legalise abortion after an exit poll showed a referendum to remove the constitutional protection for the unborn passing by an overwhelming 68% Yes to 32% No.
Although the move was backed by the leaders of all the major political parties, the predicted margin of victory is larger than had been expected.
According to the Irish Times exit poll, 77% of the public in Dublin voted Yes, followed by 66% in Munster and 59% in Connacht. There was huge support among young voters, predicted to be 87% in the 18-24 age group, as well as expectations of a majority in all age groups under 65.
The seismic change in Irish attitudes to abortion over the past 35 years can be gauged by the fact that in 1983, the 8th amendment was originally backed by 67% to 33%. An additional measure was included in the constitution in 1992 to allow women with unwanted pregnancies to travel to Britain for an abortion.
A surge in support had become noticeable in the last two weeks of the campaign, particularly among young people and via social media, as the campaign broadened to encompass demands for greater equality for women in Irish society.
A debate is now likely to take place over the nature of the legislation. If the exit poll is borne out by the final result, it will increase pressure on the Dublin parliament to implement a liberal regime.
Counting of votes begins tomorrow morning at 9am with an official result expected to be declared in the afternoon. Turnout is expected to be even higher than the previous referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015, which passed by 62% to 38% on a turnout of 60%.
Speaking at the close of polls, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald thanked party members from across Ireland and all those who campaigned for a Yes vote.
“The campaign created a space for Ireland, North and South, to look at the experiences of women and I believe that we are all better for that,” she said.
“The voices of these women have been heard and can no longer be silenced by guilt or neglected by government.
“Ireland is changing and this is evident in the vibrant Yes campaign headed up by women and young people. I want to thank each and every one who voted and campaigned for Yes.”
A full report on the result will be carried in our regular weekly edition tomorrow.