Ireland abortion referendum: TV debate sparks criticism and complaints as Yes and No campaigners clash


Ireland goes to the polls on Friday 25 May to vote in a referendum that could end the country’s ban on abortion. Voters will be asked if they want to repeal the eighth amendment of the country’s constitution, which recognises the equal right to life of both mother and unborn child, effectively banning terminations.

This amendment has been in place since 1983, and the campaign to repeal it has rapidly picked up steam in recent years, spurred on by cases such as the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012.

If the amendment is repealed, it will allow for the Irish government to legislate on abortion as they see fit, most likely up to 12 weeks. The two biggest parties in the country, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, are allowing members to take a free position on the issue, while Sinn Fein and Labour are officially backing a Yes vote.

We will be following the campaign across the next few weeks on our site and on our Facebook group. So join us as we report on the debate and discussion this issue is sparking in Ireland and around the world. 

Follow the latest developments below:

Live Updates

5 hours ago

TV debate sparks complaints and criticism

A debate on the upcoming abortion referendum broadcast on Claire Byrne Live last night has drawn complaints, and been roundly criticised on social media.
The programme, hosted by the Irish state broadcaster RTE was raucous and angry at times, with politicians and doctors arguing over facts and leaving some of the key issues unresolved. One member of the Irish senate described the show as “like a circus”.


For many, the main problem was the cheering, clapping and booing from the studio audience, which was deemed inappropriate for the topic being discussed.




The debate – which was watched by some 650,000 viewers – came with just 10 days left in the campaign, and neither side of the argument landed a decisive blow during the programme.
Today, RTE responded to complaints about impartiality with this statement.

“Impartial analysis of Claire Byrne Live Referendum Special will show that when the number of speakers on each side of the referendum question and the airtime afforded to them are both taken into account, the programme gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views,” a spokesperson said.

“While the programme did its best to include as many voices as it could, it was not possible to speak to everyone and it was made clear to every audience member in advance that there was no guarantee they would get to speak on the programme.”

You can watch the debate back in full on the RTE Player.

1 day ago

Isle of Man abortion laws to change
The self-governing crown dependency would go from allowing terminations in very extreme circumstances, to a law which would allow abortion up to 14 weeks on request, up to 24 weeks in cases of foetal anomaly or serious social reasons, and after 24 weeks in rare circumstances where the life of the mother or baby is at risk. 

2 days ago

Saoirse Ronan leads celebrities in video for Yes
Oscar nominated Irish actress Saoirse Ronan stars with other celebrities in a powerful video released this week supporting a Yes vote. ‘In Ireland Today’ asks voters to consider the reality already happening for women around the country, and the need to make sensible legislation which will help them in difficult situations.
The video also stars Cillian Murphy, Poldark star Aidan Turner, cast members from Derry Girls and The Young Offenders, and many other Irish stars.
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3 days ago

Round up of latest polls
With just two weeks to go until referendum day, I thought I’d take a look back at the three polls published in the past fortnight, have a look at the trends, and see what we can ascertain from them.
28 April: Ireland Thinks/Daily Mail
Undecided: 16%
Refuse to say: 8%
29 April: Red C/Sunday Business Post
Undecided: 21%
6 May: Millward Brown/Independent on Sunday
Undecided: 18%
The two polls taken in the weekend of 28-29 April delivered similar results, implying they were fairly reliable. The poll taken the following weekend showed a noticeable dip in Yes support, with a rise for No, and less undecideds.
Late polls in the same sex marriage referendum, when compared with the final result, showed that the undecideds largely went for No in the end. If that was repeated here, No would win.
All has changed this week with the decisions by Facebook and Google to clamp down on ads, and it will be interesting to see if that has made any difference to the polls coming out in the next week or so.
With polling day just over two weeks away, there is still time for the result to go either way.

4 days ago

Courteney Cox supports a Yes vote
Courteney Cox has shared her support for repeal the eighth on social media.
The actress, best known for her role as Monica on Friends, is now spending more time in Ireland because of her relationship with Snow Patrol musician Johnny McDaid, with some speculation she may move there permanently.
Cox retweeted a video by the Yes campaign, with a message of support, and later, she was pictured in Derry with a Sinn Fein politician, who also said that she had voiced her support.

5 days ago

Yes campaign welcomes move from Google
The tech giant says they have made the decision because of concerns about election integrity. It was immediately criticised by various No supporting groups as an attempt to ‘rig’ the referendum.
In a statement, Together For Yes say the end to Google ads “will ensure a level playing field between both sides.”
They added, “We believe this referendum will be won on facts, and now when undecided voters are searching online, they’ll see the most relevant answers to their questions – not the ones that are paid to be put in front of them.”

6 days ago

No campaign calls Google and Facebook move ‘an attempt to rig referendum’
In an emergency press conference this afternoon, groups supporting a No vote have said Google and Facebook’s decision to clamp down on advertising spending is “scandalous” and “an attempt to rig the referendum.”
Appearing together, Save the 8th, The Iona Institute and Pro Life Campaign Ireland said the move was not because of “concerns about integrity” but about “concerns that the No side might win.”
They added, “This decision has been taken because one side in this referendum is afraid it is losing, and wants to prevent voters from being informed.”
The thread containing their full statement is included below.

6 days ago

Google stops all ads about abortion referendum
Google has announced it is stopping all ads about Ireland’s abortion referendum, amid worries about the integrity of the vote.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson said
“Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment.”
It comes just a day after Facebook stopped receiving ads from foreign advertisers, over fears that international groups were attempting to influence the outcome.

6 days ago

Catholic bishop warns of ‘culture of abortion’
Dr William Crean, ​the Bishop of Cloyne, has warned of a ‘culture of abortion’ if Ireland votes Yes in the upcoming referendum.

In a letter passed out around 46 parishes, and read at many chapels around Cork on Sunday, he says, “The concept of termination was so vigorously promoted that a ‘group-think’ has come to the fore, whereby those who questioned the consensus were dismissed and ridiculed. This is regrettable. It has now fallen to the ordinary citizen to defend the right to life of the unborn.” 
While he described the difficult situation faced by some women as “sad and painful”, he advised people to consider the “culture of abortion as a routine medical procedure”, which he feels would be “horrendous to contemplate.”
The Catholic Church are fundamentally opposed to abortion, but their role, and their voice in Ireland’s referendum has been greatly reduced when compared to the 1983 campaign which delivered the abortion ban.
The church lost a great deal of moral credibility with the child abuse scandals which emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, and mass attendance has dropped dramatically in recent decades. When Ireland voted for same sex marriage in 2015, the Archbishop of Dublin said the church needed ‘a reality check’, acknowledging that they were no longer in step with Irish social opinion.

6 days ago

What is the eighth amendment and what happens if Ireland repeals it?
The fundamental question in the upcoming abortion referendum is whether or not Irish voters want to repeal the eighth amendment of the constitution. I’ve written a full explainer on the amendment, and other key things to understand around the debate. You can read it here.

1 week ago

Facebook to stop accepting foreign ads in abortion referendum 

Facebook has announced it is to stop accepting ads relating to the Irish abortion referendum that come from foreign based advertisers.
They have made the decision after concerns were raised about organisations and individuals attempting to influence the campaign from outside Ireland.
In a lengthy statement, Facebook explain the measures they have already taken to ensure transparency in this referendum campaign, including the ‘view ads’ feature which they launched in Ireland on 25 April, so users could see where funding for an ad originated. Clearly, they have now felt a need to take things further.
“We understand the sensitivity of this campaign and will be working hard to ensure neutrality at all stages. We are an open platform for people to express ideas and views on both sides of a debate. Our goal is simple: to help ensure a free, fair and transparent vote on this important issue.” 
Facebook is under increased pressure around its role in elections, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and a widespread view that fake news was allowed to slip through the net in crucial recent polls such as the Trump election and Brexit.
With an issue as politically sensitive as abortion, it was widely expected Ireland would become a target for pro-life and pro-choice groups from outside the country.
Today’s move from the tech giant comes just under three weeks out from the referendum which will be held on 25 May.

1 week ago

Final day to register to vote
Today is the final day Irish citizens can register to vote in the referendum on the eighth amendment. If you are not yet registered, or want to check if you are eligible to vote, check on
There are just 17 days left until the vote on Friday 25 May.

1 week ago

Latest poll shows gap closing between Yes and No
A new poll today shows the Yes campaign on 45% and the No campaign on 34%, with 18% still undecided.
The Millward Brown poll, published in the Sunday Independent in Ireland shows the Yes campaign holding its lead, but it continues to diminish in each published poll, while the No campaign makes gains. Undecideds still make up for almost a fifth and could be crucial in deciding the result.
The poll also noticed a strong urban-rural divide, with 51% in favour of repeal in Dublin, while only 37% were in Connacht/Ulster.
Commentators have noted how difficult it is looking for the Yes side to get over the 50% line.


In 2015, during the same sex marriage referendum, it was noted that many of those who said they were ‘Undecided’ at this point in the campaign ultimately became No voters (as outlined below). If this trend is repeated this year, the No side will win.

1 week ago

Fianna Fail divided over referendum
Fianna Fail, one of Ireland’s two main parties, is divided over the abortion referendum. 31 of the party’s TDs and Senators posed for this photograph yesterday, showing their opposition to repealing the eighth. This means over half of the parliamentary party are supporting a No vote.

While neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael are advocating official positions, a vast majority of Fine Gael TDs and Senators are supporting a Yes vote, meaning Fianna Fail are the only party with such an obvious division. Both Sinn Fein and Labour are officially backing Yes.
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin sparked controversy when he initially announced he was against repealing the eighth, before changing his mind and voicing his support for it in January. Many commentators have suggested this week’s photo call was the thinly veiled beginnings of a leadership challenge to Martin.
Fine Gael are currently the ruling party in government, but they rely upon Fianna Fail for a confidence and supply arrangement that is expected to expire at some point this year. The party may seek to replace Martin as leader before contesting the impending general election.

1 week ago

Margaret Atwood shares satirical Handmaid’s Tale story
A story from Irish satirical website Waterford Whispers News went viral yesterday, claiming that Irish women were watching The Handmaid’s Tale to ‘escape grim reality’ and ‘to distract themselves from the daily grind of Irish life’.
Today, the author of the classic dystopian novel Margaret Atwood tweeted the story, much to the amusement of Irish Twitter – and the delight of Yes campaigners.

1 week ago

Legal expert says Irish abortion law would not be like Britain’s 
One of the main concerns in the referendum debate is that removing Ireland’s abortion ban would open the country up to the more liberal abortion laws in place in Britain, including late term terminations. Varying claims and statistics around this are being used by the No campaign to sway undecided voters.
The government has said that in the event of a Yes vote, they will legislate for abortion up to 12 weeks, or in certain circumstances, such as risk to the life of the mother, or fatal foetal abnormality – but No campaigners believe this to be too vague.
Speaking at an event organised by Together For Yes, Professor Fiona De Londras from University of Birmingham said that “in terms of grounds, time limits and process, what is proposed in Ireland could under no circumstances be described as unrestricted abortion,” the Irish Times reports.

1 week ago

Music legend Mary Black supports Yes
One of Ireland’s best loved singers, Mary Black, has come out in support of a Yes vote, while performing at a Together For Yes event tonight at the Olympia in Dublin.
Singing her classic song ‘A Woman’s Heart’, she told the audience, “I’m proud to support this event. I’m proud to be Irish.”

1 week ago

No campaigners empty chair absent health minister
Love Both, an official group campaigning for a No vote in the referendum, have held a debate this evening in which they empty chaired health minister Simon Harris.
Mr Harris was invited to debate with the pro-life group, who tonight shared their concerns that the government is not being honest about the legislation they plan to put forward in the event of a Yes vote. In particular, they expressed their fears that repealing the eighth would allow for terminations of babies with Down Syndrome.


1 week ago

Cervical cancer scandal engulfs Irish government
With just four weeks until the referendum, a major political scandal regarding women’s health is causing shock waves around the country.
It has emerged that over 200 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer in recent years should have received earlier intervention, and that 17 of those affected have since died.
The government has agreed to launch an investigation looking at all women diagnosed with cervical cancer over the past decade.
Addressing the issue in the Dail today, taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “This country is one that hasn’t always treated women very well – so I am determined to get to the bottom of this.”
The scandal piles pressure on the minister for health Simon Harris, who is advocating a Yes vote in the referendum, and will be responsible for introducing abortion legislation if it passes.

2 weeks ago

U2 back Repeal
Tonight, legendary Irish rock band U2 have tweeted their support for repealing the eighth, urging people to vote on 25 May.

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