Irish citizens are getting crowdfunded flights home to vote in the abortion referendum

“I can't sit back and watch it unfold from across the world.”

by David Gilbert
May 25 2018, 1:54pm

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CORK, Ireland — Flights are being crowdfunded on Facebook so that Irish citizens living abroad can make a last-minute dash home to vote in Friday’s “once-in-a-generation” referendum to overturn the country’s restrictive abortion laws.

Niamh Waldron, an Irish woman living in Abu Dhabi, got in her car Thursday and drove to the airport. She didn’t have a flight but decided to take a chance.

She posted her intention to the Abroad for Yes Facebook page, saying that while she couldn’t afford the flights home, she also “can't sit back and watch it unfold from across the world.”

Some 56 minutes and dozens of donations later, Waldron had enough money for flights and will land back in Ireland at 3 p.m. Friday — in time to cast her vote.

Waldron is one of the thousands of people who are returning to Ireland to vote in the referendum, and one of more than 100 who have had the price of their flight paid for by members of the Abroad for Yes page.

READ: Facebook has not stopped dark ads undermining Ireland's abortion referendum

“It’s been phenomenal, all of the admins have been pinching ourselves,” Cíara Ní Mhaoilmuid, an administrator on the page, told VICE News.

The group was set up in March by three Irish students studying abroad who didn’t think they would be able to get home to vote. However, in the last 24 hours the popularity of the page has exploded, with membership more than doubling as people seek help for last-minute help with travel.

Many Irish citizens are traveling from the U.K., but the page has also helped people living in Australia, Vietnam, Argentina, the U.S., Canada, other parts of Europe. “There’s even someone coming from Uganda,” Ní Mhaoilmuid said.

Ireland is voting on whether or not to remove — or repeal — the Eighth Amendment from its constitution. This affords equal rights to life to the embryo or fetus and to the pregnant woman.

As a result, abortion is illegal in Ireland in all but the most extreme cases where the life of the mother is at serious risk. Ireland has among the most restrictive abortion laws in any developed country in the world

Just as happened in 2015 when thousands of people flew home to vote for the gay marriage referendum, Irish diaspora from around the world have been landing back home this week ahead of the vote.

As well as crowdfunding on Facebook, U.K. universities have set up bursaries to help students return for the vote — no matter which side they are voting for. Many individuals have also set up GoFundMe pages to raise money from family and friends.

While initial opinion polls showed a strong preference to repeal the Eighth Amendment, in recent weeks the gap has closed. An opinion poll published by the Irish Times last week showed 44 percent in favor of repeal, 32 percent in favor of retain and 17 percent undecided.

Cover image: Activists from the 'Trinity Together for Yes' campaign canvass in front of the main entrance to Trinity College, urging a 'yes' vote in the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution seen in Dublin's City Center on May 16, 2018. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on VICE News US.