Abortion referendum exit poll results trigger calls for Northern Ireland to follow suit

Telegraph Reporters
Messages are left at the foot of a mural of Savita Halappanavar put up on the day of the Abortion Referendum on liberalising abortion laws in Dublin - REUTERS

The apparent landslide in favour of liberalising abortion laws in Ireland has prompted fresh calls for similar action north of the border.

If exit poll data is confirmed and Irish citizens have voted to radically reform the state's strict abortion regime, Northern Ireland will soon become the only part of Britain and Ireland where terminations are all but outlawed.

The UK Government's International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt was among those referencing the situation in Belfast as she pointed to the historic events in Dublin.

She tweeted: "Based on the exit poll, a historic & great day for Ireland, & a hopeful one for Northern Ireland.

"That hope must be met. £HomeToVote stories are a powerful and moving testimony as to why this had to happen and that understanding & empathy exists between generations. £trustwomen".

Reacting to the polls, former shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Labour's Owen Smith, tweeted: "Wonderful news, if true. And a powerful message to Northern Ireland. We need change across the whole island of Ireland."

Leader of Northern Ireland's Alliance Party Naomi Long said: "Eyes will now turn to us: yet again a place apart. Behind GB. Behind Ireland."

Abortions are currently only legal in Northern Ireland if the life or mental health of the mother is at risk.

While political leaders south of the border were at the forefront of efforts to liberalise the law during the referendum campaign, a majority of politicians in Northern Ireland do not favour the radical law changes now proposed in their neighbouring country.

Though there has been intense debate over whether terminations should be allowed in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and rape - an issue that has been parked amid the ongoing powersharing crisis - there remains significant opposition at Stormont to unrestricted abortion access.

Emotions run high as bitter divides are laid bare in Ireland's abortion referendum

But campaigners for the extension of Great Britain's 1967 Abortion Act insist those politicians are out of tune with wider public opinion in Northern Ireland.

The issue is also not one easily divided along traditional orange and green lines, as there are socially conservative unionists and nationalists who are equally committed to preserving the lives of the unborn.