Gerald Howlin makes a number of perceptive points about the potential for hidden depths in the upcoming Referendum..
If what is proposed passes, I doubt it will have much effect on voting intentions in a subsequent election.
For what it’s worth, I am inclined to think that we will not have an election in 2018. I may eat those words, but fundamentally, the greater distance between the referendum and a subsequent election, the less backwash that is likely.
The enactment of legislation, after successful repeal, to implement the Oireachtas committee’s and now the Government’s recommendation lengthens the timeframe when this is a politically active issue.
If there is no clear majority in the Dáil for proposed legislation after a yes vote, that would be a political crisis. It would definitely be the substance of a subsequent general election, and perhaps the pretext for one sooner rather than later.
If challenging, the path forward from a successful referendum is relatively straightforward. What would radically change events, including the impact on a subsequent general election, is defeat.
The referendum may seem well set, but it is not a certainty. The legislation will be the debate and that hasn’t been published. It’s all very well to muster a majority for some change because the status quo is not approved.
It’s a different matter to get a majority on the day, for specifically stated change. There is a middle ground. It is reticent and even shy. It was there and underestimated in the marriage referendum and I believe it will be more significant now.
On marriage we took our fundamental decision in allowing divorce in 1995. Expanding access to an institution, already fundamentally altered, was a small step in hindsight. It played as much to the always-on quest for respectability in middle Ireland as anything to do with equality.
What was sitting awkwardly in the sitting room now had to be regularised, because it could no longer be marginalised. This is different. Abortions require clinicians, not wedding planners.
The stakes could not be higher for Leo Varadkar. They are as high for Micheál Martin. It will be business as usual in victory, but a roiling mess if visited by defeat. Times have changed. There is a substantial, energised constituency in favour of abortion.
The blame game will be on the morning after. It will feed into the subsequent general election campaign, perhaps hastening it, and possibly defining it. There is something called momentum in politics. It’s the domino effect of things going right and gathering kudos as the run continues. A bad fall shatters confidence. It disrupts plans, and it even changes the ultimate flow of events.
The Fine Gael Taoiseach will rely on a weakened position of the Catholic Church, and the narrow 12 weeks window. But that will need courage from the Taoiseach and his party to be crystalline and clear on how the legislation will look.
As Newton Emerson so rightly says, the once thought of as ‘backward’ Republic of Ireland becoming more progressive than conservative North. But it is only by ever so gentle increments. This isn’t Roe vs Wade or anything like the UK’s 1967 Act.
But the slightest fudge early on could help paint it as such.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty
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