In Dublin, KSMU Announcer Witnesses Historic Referendum

May 31, 2018

KSMU announcer Brendan Diedrich and his mother, Susan Wiley, traveled Ireland during the country's historic referendum on abortion.
Credit Brendan Diedrich / KSMU

When our plane touched down in Dublin earlier this month, my family and I weren’t aware we would be a part of Irish history.

We left Dublin almost immediately and headed north, locating family members' graves and taking in the beauty of Giants Causeway.  We hugged the coast in our rental car, and the views of rolling, emerald hills and thousands of white sheep will stay with me forever.

Abortion has been illegal in Ireland since 1861, during British rule over the island with the Offences of the Person Act of 1861, which criminalized the “unlawful procurement of a miscarriage.”

In 1983, long after Ireland's independence from Britain, a referendum was held, establishing the 8th Amendment, which recognized “the right to life of the unborn…equal [to the] right of life of the mother."

But last Friday's referendum took the issue of abortion back to a countrywide vote in the traditionally Catholic island country.

During our travels we had seen a number of signs arguing a “Yes” or “No” vote on the repeal of the 8th Amendment. We heard radio commercials urging Ireland’s citizens to get out and vote.

As someone who loves following politics and history, both American and throughout the world, the mere fact I was in Ireland during an important vote was astounding.

A part of me thought I’d see more demonstrators throughout the country. Yet, even in Galway, a lively college town, I only saw one “Yes” petitioner handing out flyers. If you were visiting, unaware of the vote, you likely would have had little knowledge of the referendum.

As my family and I walked around Dublin, searching for the Chester Beatty Library, we stumbled upon a crowd of people.

Following them, we found ourselves in the courtyard of Dublin City Hall,  where the Irish prime minister was giving the final tally of the referendum:  Ireland had, by a strong margin, repealed the 8th Amendment, meaning the longtime ban on abortion will be lifted.

The emotion of the crowd was electric; at least in Dublin, the people appeared victorious.

Supporters of the repeal applaud in this rally in Dublin Friday.
Credit Brendan Diedrich / KSMU

I broke away from my family to take photos of this historic moment, seeing members of the Irish administration. After some of the fanfare died down, I met members of Angels for Yes, a grassroots group donned with angel wings.

“The images [in the campaigns] have been getting very visceral and inappropriate, and it’s very upsetting, that's why we are the angels to counteract that,” one demonstrator told me.

From their voices, I could tell that they were excited and shocked by the outcome.

Retiring to my family, I found them conversing with an older gentleman who was giving them context to the historic nature of this moment. I estimated he was in his late 50s or early 60s and had clearly lived through a changed country.

From The Troubles in the late 1960s until the late 90s, to the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage and now this; he told me he felt that Ireland had become a changed country, for the better.

In a short 35 years,the percentages voting for each side switched since the last referendum on abortion, with the 2018 referendum receiving 66.4% Yes vote and a 33.6% for No.  Clearly, Ireland has changed it’s attitude and direction.

Read NPR's coverage of the referendum legalizing abortion by clicking here.