On Friday, 25th May, Ireland is holding what looks set to be a knife-edge referendum on Irish abortion law, which will decide whether abortion is legalised in the country. Irish citizens living overseas don’t have the right to vote abroad – and so the country’s expats are coming home in droves to have their say in the historic poll.
Ireland is gearing up for a vote on the country’s draconian abortion law, a constitutional amendment that effectively bans terminations apart from when their life is at risk. In the referendum, voters will decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment – and so allow abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy - or to keep the law as is. Currently, women who seek or obtain abortions can face a jail sentence. This means that thousands of Irish women travel to the UK every year in order to get an abortion (in 2016, 3,265 Irish women left Ireland to have a termination in another country).
Another idiosyncrasy of Irish law means that Irish citizens don’t have the right to be on the electoral register if they live overseas, and not even postal voting is possible – which means that for elections and important referendums such as this one, Irish people living abroad have to make the trip back to their country of birth in order to vote.
Cue the hashtag flooding Irish social media: #HomeToVote. The hashtag reveals hundreds of Irish citizens travelling from all corners of the globe, from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires to Toronto, to come back and cast their vote.
People are also coming out to offer support to get those Irish voters home on time. Some people are offering lifts in their cars via the hashtag #VoterMotor, and even offering to pay transport costs for Irish people trying to travel back to the country.
And it looks to be a close vote: the most recent polls put the Yes vote (Yes to repealing the amendment and legalising abortion) slightly ahead at 56-58% of the vote -- but the 14-17% of undecided voters could tip the balance.
It’s not the first time #HomeToVote has been used. In 2015, Ireland held a referendum on whether to legalise same-sex marriage, and in typical cheery fashion, Irish expats and travellers thronged airports, ferry terminals and train stations as they headed back to vote. The result? Same-sex marriage was legalised.