‘Life is precious’: Donegal quietly defiant after voting no in referendum

In Donegal town on Sunday, it was not immediately apparent that Ireland had just held one of the most significant votes in its history.

The morning after it emerged that Ireland had voted by a landslide to liberalise abortion laws, the campaign posters still blanketing the rest of the country had already been taken down, and the badges so prominent in other counties were nowhere to be seen.

Donegal stood out on Saturday as the only constituency in Ireland to have voted against repealing the eighth amendment, which had given equal legal status to the lives of a foetus and the woman carrying it.

The country overall voted with a two-thirds majority: 66.4% yes to 33.6% no. In Donegal, the result was 48.13% yes and 51.87% no – with just 2,532 votes making the difference.

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Yes campaigners in Donegal town were taking heart in the result, however.

“We had said as a campaign team that 40% was a victory,” said the local independent councillor John Campbell, who campaigned for a yes vote. “So the result here takes a little bit of shine off the national result. But I don’t think anyone is too disappointed.”

Donegal town voted against same-sex marriage in 2015 by just five votes. It voted yes on Saturday.

“We’ve moved on too,” says Campbell, whose constituency includes the town.

Yet on Sunday, many residents were unwilling to talk about the referendum. Many of those who did speak to the Guardian, and said they had voted no, said they did not want to be named.

“I don’t like murder,” one woman said, when asked why she voted against the change. “I know you have to consider cases like rape and young girls, but I think that should have been legislated for separately.”

“I feel very sad about this as I think the next thing they will do will be euthanasia. They will stick a needle in us and we’ll be gone.”

She didn’t want to reveal her name, worried about the backlash from others: “I don’t know what way other people think.”

Q&A

Abortion in Ireland – what happens next?

Abortion will not immediately be available to women within Ireland.

The eighth amendment – article 40.3.3 of the Irish constitution – which prohibited abortion, will be replaced with a clause stating: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”

The Irish government is planning to bring legislation before the Dáil, providing for abortion on request up to the 12th week of pregnancy, with a three-day “cooling off” period before medication is administered.

The prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said he wanted the new law to be enacted by the end of the year.

Between 12 and 24 weeks, abortion will be available only in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, a risk to a woman’s life or a risk of serious harm to the health of the mother. After 24 weeks, termination will be possible in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

There will be provision for conscientious objection among medical practitioners, although doctors will be obliged to transfer care of the pregnant woman to another doctor.

A resident of the town said Donegal’s vote against the change made him feel “proud” of the area.

“There are special cases, like when a girl has been raped. But at the same time I just think life is precious and now they’re just throwing it all away. I know that might be kind of a silly attitude, but I think life is precious.”

“I wouldn’t tell a lot of people that I voted no because a lot of people have a one-track mind,” he said.

“The government will do what it wants to do. If it hadn’t been a yes vote they would have had another referendum down the road in six months’ time.”

Ross Horron said he chose not to vote in the referendum: “I think it’s a decision for women to make.”

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