So why did the yes campaign win so convincingly? Guardian Ireland correspondent Henry McDonald offers his first take, identifying four key reasons:
The first is the loss of political power in the pulpit since the early 1990s when a series of scandals stared to beset the Irish Catholic hierarchy. From Archbishop Eamon Casey raiding the funds of his diocese to look after his lover and his son, to the Irish state trying to prevent the extradition of a serial paedophile priest for his crimes in Northern Ireland, the last decade of the 20th century charted a catastrophic loss of trust and authority on the part of the bishops and cardinals.
Worse was to come as a raft of public inquiries revealed the industrial scale of sexual and physical abuse as well as the naked economic exploitation of young children in the Catholic church’s care in the state. It was telling that by the time of the referendum the majority of no campaigners on public platforms and media outlets were lay people rather than priests, bishops or cardinals.
Secondly, there were the hard cases where the grim realities of abortion choices came up against theological-moral objections – from the 1992 X scandal where some in the pro-life movement wanted to prevent a 14 year old girl from travelling out of the state to have an abortion after being raped, to the plight of Savita Halappanavar who died from sepsis in the womb in an Irish hospital six years ago after medics refused to grant her demand for a termination, prompting the UN to denounce the practice of forcing women to leave their country to obtain terminations as “cruel and inhumane.”
Thirdly, there appears to have been an underlying message coming from the doorsteps and on the canvass from most voters in the campaign. The Irish electorate recognised finally that this referendum was not really about if women were having abortions but where they were taking place.
Yes campaigners reported that the view that if women were already getting terminations, then they might as well have them at home rather than abroad was common place. Irish people had become more pragmatic and less theocratic in the way they viewed the question.
And finally, there was the strategic ineptitude of the No camp. Aside from accusations that anti-abortion campaigners were being financed by the American Christian right, there was undoubtedly evidence that they had tried to adopt the electoral tactics of US conservatism, appearing to believe that if the Irish Catholic conservative heartlands could be equally fired up to vote in large numbers, the anti-abortion coalition would have enough to just marginally win.
What they appear to have overlooked s that this base is much thinner and less ideologically inclined than the bible belt millions of the American south and midwest. The Irish version is an ageing, declining population.
Seismic, stunning, emphatic and overwhelming are some of the words being used to describe the projected result in Ireland’s abortion referendum on removing a 35 year old ban from the constitution.
With two exit polls from the Irish Times and RTE showing around 70% of the country voted yes, the anticipated referendum outcome seems indicative of profound underlying change in Irish society that was taking root long before campaigning started eight weeks ago.
Fresh details on the RTE exit poll showed the only group voting to save the eighth amendment were the over-65s. Farmers and rural voters, traditionally considered more conservative, all voted yes:
Reaction, too, from Amanda Mellet, one of three Irish women who successfully persuaded the UN to denounce Ireland’s abortion ban as “cruel and inhumane”, who says the expected yes vote will represent “real closure”.
Mellet and her husband James took a case in 2013 against the Irish government to the UN’s Human Rights Committee after the couple were forced to obtain a termination for her pregnancy in England.
Had she remained in the Republic she would have been forced to give birth to a baby who would be born dead as she was suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality in pregnancy. She also became the first woman in the Republic to receive financial compensation from the Irish state. Speaking from Kilkenny, Mellet said:
Even when we won our case at the UN in June 2016, it never felt like any proper closure for myself or James. We were not even sure back then that the government would even hold a referendum.
When James and I voted on Friday morning it did finally feel like real closure for the both of us. We had campaigned along with so many in the Terminations For Medical Reasons group for change and now we are, hopefully, going to get it.
Whilst I am superstitious normally I think that it will be a yes vote and for the first time in a very long time I feel comfortable here in Ireland. We all put so much energy and emotion into the campaign over the years but now we can say a chapter in our lives is finally closing…if as it looks it’s going to be yes!”
Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage on what looks set to be a historic day for Ireland as votes are counted in its abortion referendum.
Last night’s shock exit polls suggested a landslide vote for change, with an overwhelming majority of voters backing the repeal of a 1983 constitutional amendment that has led to one of the strictest abortion regimes in the world.
An Irish Times/Ipsos poll forecast a margin of 68% to 32% in favour of repealing the eighth amendment, while a poll for the national broadcaster RTE predicted an even bigger margin of 69.4% to 30.6%.
Turnout was on course to prove one of the highest ever for a referendum in Ireland, possibly topping the 61% who voted in the plebiscite that backed same-sex marriage in 2015.
Acknowledging an equal right to life for both the unborn child and the mother, the eighth amendment effectively prohibited termination in almost all cases, including rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.
Abortion when a mother’s life is at risk has been permitted since 2013, but in all other circumstances doctors performing unlawful abortions face up to 14 years in prison.
As a result, about 3,500 Irish women have travelled abroad, mostly to the UK, each year to terminate their pregnancies, and an estimated 2,000 more buy abortion pills online, administering them at home without medical supervision.
If the exit polls prove accurate and the eighth amendment is repealed, the government plans to table a new law allowing abortion on request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Terminations will be permitted up to 24 weeks if woman’s health is threatened.
We will be bringing you live reports, analysis and reaction through the day until the result is confirmed (it’s expected some time this afternoon), including from our reporters @lisaocarroll @_EmmaGH @sineadbaker1 and @henrymcdonald .