WHILE researching a preview of how Clare would vote last week, it became obvious that even the closest observers of local politics weren’t sure where the county’s votes would go.
Friday night’s exit polls showed that the country had voted heavily in favour of yes. Then when tallies from rural parts of Clare all showed strong support for repealing the Eighth Amendment, it became apparent on Saturday morning that Clare had also voted yes, and by a sizeable majority.
As it turned out, Clare was very close to the national average in more ways than one.
This county’s percentage turnout was 64.37%, while the national turnout was 64.13%. Clare voted yes by 64.28% to 35.72%. Ireland did so by 66.4% to 33.6%, showing this county was an accurate barometer for the country overall.
Taking a long-term perspective one can see that Clare has become far more liberal on social issues.
In the 1986 and 1995 referendums, large majorities of Clare voters were against divorce. In 2002, Clare voted in favour of a referendum to tighten the constitutional prohibition of abortion. At that stage 57.79% of Clare voters voted on the pro-life side, with 42.21% were against.
Somehow the pro-choice side has increased dramatically in size in 16 years, with the pro-life vote collapsing.
Last weekend’s vote also shows that handy assumptions about rural-urban divides in Clare don’t withstand scrutiny.
Tallies were carried out on more than 150 Clare boxes and just two had No majorities, Furglan in Ennistymon and St Kierans in Labasheeda.
In many other rural areas there were very substantial yes votes. For example 71.6% of voters voted yes in Kilshanny, 82.5% did so in Kilbaha and 71.88% in Ogonnelloe.
Clearly the county has changed significantly in a generation, with liberal views on social issues now holding sway.
In the space of three years Clare has voted in favour of allowing same sex marriage and legalised abortion, a situation that would have been almost unimaginable less than 20 years ago.
Religious decline, information revolution
The decline in the numbers regularly attending religious ceremonies and the Church’s loss of authority after countless scandals, has been accompanied by a sea change in voters’ views on social issues.
Besides the decline of religion there may be other factors at play also. Prior to the economic implosion there were frequent complaints of apathy about current affairs, particularly among younger people. But recent years have seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets to protest against water charges, there were large public celebrations following the same sex marriage referendum, and earlier this year thousands protested the result of the Belfast rape trial.
At the count centre on Saturday morning, Gardai said that huge numbers of young people had been coming to stations in recent weeks, as they registered to vote.
Apathy, like nostalgia, is not what it used to be.
Also, people in 2018 have much greater access to information than in 2002, when Clare voted in favour of tightening the constitutional prohibition on abortion.
Most people get their news online these days and the personal stories of women- which played such an important part in the recent debate- are much more accessible that would have been the case when Ireland went to the polls 16 years ago.
It is a very different county now to what anyone over the age of 30 would have grown up in, with people more likely to have their opinions influenced by Twitter than by religious dogma.
Divorce, homosexuality and abortion were among the main issues dividing liberals and conservatives in years gone by. With these battles seemingly won by the liberal side now, other areas of contention could now begin to emerge
Perhaps the Church’s role in education or religious education in schools could be next.