Yes campaigners proud of Laois for voting to trust women in abortion referendum

Grassroots campaign credited by Laois yes campaigners

Conor Ganly


Conor Ganly


Yes campaigners proud of Laois for voting to trust women

A grassroots movement born on social media and developed over coffee by two young Laois women played a big part in the convincing an 'overwhelming' yes vote in Laois.

The Laois Together for Yes campaign group celebrated a historic victory at the St Mary's Hall count centre in Portlaoise on Saturday.

Just over 60% of Laois people voted yes.

It was set up after the abortion referendum was called when Elaine O'Neill from Portlaoise and Gearóidín McEvoy from Timahoe met on twitter.

Soon afterwards the group was founded over coffee by the two young women.

"It is very overwhelming," Elaine told the Leinster Express in St Mary's Hall.

"We've had mixed reactions during our campaign so I am just delighted that Laois trusts women and that Ireland trusts women finally, and we are given the right to choose," she said.

Elaine said the Laois campaign was 'friendly, open and honest' in the face of sometimes hostile reaction.

"There have been a lot of hostile reactions towards us. I know that the no side has been saying it has been a clean debate. It hasn't been at times. We've witnessed that as we have been canvassing. We never lowered oursleves once and stayed gracious through the whole fight," she said.

She said the women's experiences told on the campaign were surprising.

"When we founded this campaign people told us stories that we weren't prepared for. They found solidarity with us," she said.

The campaigners said the response in rural areas was as strong in favour of a yes vote as in towns. They believe this is due to a strong feeling among ordinary people.

"This is grassroots movement with local people in Laois feeling strongly about this," she said.

Ms O'Neill was critical of Laois politicians and TDs of all parties for not giving more support to the campaign. They agreed that politicians are out of touch.

"Absolutely," said Jean Dermody.

Elaine agreed.

"I just don't think they know what their constituents want and they weren't listening. The people of Laois were listening and we were listening. We told the truth and fought really hard for this - for the 42 women who were forced to go to England in 2016," she said.

Aisling O'Rourke also played a big part in the campaign. She believes conversations won the day.

"It was conversations on doorsteps, over pints, over tea. People sharing their stories who did not have to but did it to make Ireland a better place. We are so indebted to the bravery of everyone who told their stories," she said.

Elaine said more work has to be done by the politicians.

"I don't think they can ignore this high volume of yes votes. The legislation has to go through and we are going to keep at them until it goes through as quickly as possible. Nothing can change until the legislation goes through. This referendum is just the first step," she said.

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Above The Laois Together for Yes Campaign group in St Mary's Hall. - Picture Tom Cullen

Aisling and Elaine said the result also showed the power of young voters whom they believe were dismissed.

"We are told all the time we don't care about politics. We clearly do. We care about women and we care about how this country treats its people," she said.

They said the views of older people were also discounted. 

"I think older generations were taken for grantite. People cared about their grandchildren and their children and they came out in solidarity with us even though it might not affect them anymore," she said 

Elaine and Jeanne agreed that every age group backed change.

Aisling said the result has mobilised people who have never been involved in political campaigns heretofore. 

Elaine said she was also motivated by a lack of balance in the media.

"The no side had an advantage in the media here. There was noone questioning what they are saying so I felt I had to say something," she said. 

They said the vote can be a catalyst for more change.

"I think this has shown that the church does not have the same hold over people anymore. From the marriage referendum to this, it has shown that Ireland is a more liberal society," said Elaine.

Aisling agreed saying: "They can't scare people anymore. Ireland is compassionate and loving. I have never been so proud of Laois. I am so proud".

They believe that the campaign amounted to public support to a private mission.