The polls have narrowed so much that a result once nearly taken for granted now hangs in the balance; the media are under fierce attack for bias; and questions are swirling about foreign influence and online ads. As Ireland heads into the last week of campaigning for its historic referendum on abortion, the long shadow of two recent surprise election results – the Brexit referendum across the Irish sea, and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential poll – is hanging over Irish voters. They will decide on Friday whether to repeal an amendment dating back to the 1980s that enshrined in the constitution a near-total ban on abortion. The controls are the strictest in any western democracy, meaning that the battle has been closely watched by anti-abortion activists across the world.
The campaign began with a clear lead for the Yes campaigners, who support a repeal. But in a country where tradition and the church still have strong influence, the No camp has gained ground. Now the final result is expected to hinge on the one in five voters still undecided.
“Obviously, we look at Brexit and Trump and think the media don’t always get it right any more. Or they are projecting one way to advance their own goal,” said Emer Tóibín, of the Meath for Life campaign, which opposes a repeal.
She believes the narrowing in polls is due in part to campaigners sidestepping newspapers and television to reach voters more directly. “So much of the country had been fed one side of the story,” she says in a cafe near her home in the county town Navan. “Freedom of speech is not alive and kicking.”