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Political correspondents of Ireland’s various news organisations wrote this week about the campaigns being launched in advance of the abortion referendum on May 25th.
Smiles flickered on their faces as they finished off their latest insightful piece. But much of what they were trying to say had already been touched on – the public had beaten them to it.
In many cases the public have already talked about what these journalists have just gotten around to putting in ink. Worse still these cutting pieces have been lacking in both accuracy and a general understanding of the nature of politics itself. For some correspondents, it could be a worrying sign that they may be out of touch.
“No,” says Paul O’Connor-O’Rourke of RTÉ, “it’s the public who are wrong. Politics is what takes place inside Leinster House. That’s it. Why would we speak to or about anybody else?”
As of this week the journalists are kicking their reporting on the campaigns into gear. They’re talking to TDs, senators, parliamentary assistants and even the occasional special ministerial adviser. They’ll be meeting the long-time leader of the repeal campaign, Fine Gael’s Josepha Madigan, later this week.
While members of the public have been quick to point out similarities with the marriage equality referendum of 2015, journalists have shot down such comparisons. “There wasn’t really a ‘No’ campaign in that one, right?” asks O’Connor-O’Rourke. “All the parties supported it so I don’t understand who you could be talking about.”
By contrast, there are very well-informed and well-motivated people discussing the referendum at home, in the pub and online.
“These articles aren’t that important” says Laura Flaherty, coordinator of a repeal Twitter account, “but just one acknowledgement of a world outside Leinster House would show some understanding of how the country actually works. Years of campaigning by organised members of the public is what got us here, not politicians.”
In fact, groups such as the Abortion Rights Campaign (founded in response to an anti-abortion billboard campaign in 2012) and the National Women’s Council of Ireland have been actively campaigning for the repeal of the eighth amendment for years. They are now part of the umbrella referendum campaign group Together for Yes.
Catching up with O’Connor-O’Rourke in the Dáil bar, this was put to him. “Years? No, the Dáil only voted for the referendum two weeks ago. That Yes poster out on Kildare Street just showed up on Monday. Years? Don’t be ridiculous.”
Privately and also quite publicly, some members of the public say they’re a “bit mystified” by the reportage so far.
Nervous political correspondents entirely disagree with them as they themselves are the sole authority on these matters.