There are far more than three billboards outside Roscommon, and their opposing messages indicate an intensifying battle for undecided voters in the historic referendum on abortion this month. On the roads into this quiet town in the middle of rural Ireland, it is impossible to miss the laminated placards fixed to lamp-posts. Some have one from each camp, vying for the attention of passersby in a polarised campaign in which voters have to make a binary choice between yes and no. A few hoardings have been torn down in the night, in a sign of strongly held beliefs. But mostly, the people of Roscommon are holding their views close, unwilling to discuss with each other – let alone a stranger – where they will place their cross on 25 May.
Three years after Ireland, where historically the Catholic church has been the undisputed moral authority, became the first state in the world to endorse same-sex marriage in a popular vote, people are going to the polls again.
This time, the Irish are being asked whether they want to repeal the eighth amendment – a clause in the constitution that protects “the right to life of the unborn”. The amendment means legal abortion is impossible in Ireland, even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality, although about 3,500 women travel to the UK each year for terminations and another 2,000 illegally order abortion pills online.