Varadkar: Yes vote would remove 'legacy of shame'

Leo Varadkar has said a Yes outcome in the abortion referendum would help remove Ireland's legacy of shame.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

The Irish premier said if the referendum was not passed it would send out the wrong message, not just to women but about Irish society.

He made the comments alongside his Fine Gael ministers as they called for a Yes vote on the final day of campaigning on the issue.

Ireland will decide on Friday whether it wants to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn, and allow parliament to legislate for abortion.

The polls opened on some islands off the west coast on Thursday.

If the referendum is passed the Government has drawn up legislation to introduce what it calls a safe, doctor-led regulated system for terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, which will be more restrictive than the UK system.

The Taoiseach said the fact that Irish women had to travel to another jurisdiction to end their pregnancies, and sometimes do so in secret, had created a legacy of shame.

"I hope that a Yes vote will help to lift that stigma and help to take away that legacy of shame that exists in our society," Mr Varadkar said.

"If there is a Yes vote Ireland will be the same place, just a place that's a little bit more compassionate and a little bit more understanding than it has been in the past."

He said he was not taking a Yes vote for granted, despite opinion polls suggesting a victory.

Mr Varadkar said opinion polls had been wrong before.

"We're really encouraging everyone to come out and vote on Friday in what is a once-in-a-generation decision for the Irish people," he said.

Culture minister Josepha Madigan also urged people to get out to vote.

"We've seen the catastrophic consequences of the Eighth Amendment over the last 35 years," she said.

"I think that the nation is holding its breath at this stage, and we hope to have a collective sigh of relief on Saturday, but we cannot take anything for granted."

She said that as legislators the Government had a duty to protect Irish women and, by voting Yes, the people would be giving them the mandate to do that.

More than 3.2 million people are registered to vote in the referendum.