People in the Republic of Ireland have voted overwhelmingly to lift their ban on abortions. There won't be a single extra abortion as a result.

This is to my mind the most persuasive argument in favour of their decision. Abortion happened anyway - women either went to England for them or bought abortion pills over the internet. It's better that it's done safely in Irish hospitals, under medical supervision, than in the home or across the sea.

And maybe it'll take a little pressure off our hard-pressed NHS . Nine Irish women were coming here for abortions every day.

However there will be no change for women in Northern Ireland. They'll still have to leave the province for an abortion.

It is now the only part of the UK or the island of Ireland where abortion and gay marriage are still banned.

You may or may not agree with that. But it's an astonishing turnaround. Southern Ireland is now the liberal, secular part of the island - and it's in the north where a hardline, religiously-inspired social conservatism dominates.

It was never meant to be like this.

When Ireland first sought independence from Britain , many Protestants were alarmed at the prospect, fearing that the Catholic church would wield a lot of power.

And since the Protestants lived mostly in the north-eastern corner, Ireland was partitioned. The north-east remained in the UK while the rest became independent.

It soon became clear that the Protestant fears were well founded. Divorce and abortion were banned in the Republic. Contraception was very restricted. Priests and bishops ran schools and hospitals.

Yet in the past 30-odd years everything has changed dramatically. Divorce is legal, contraception is widely available, gay marriage was voted through in a referendum in May 2015 and three years later abortion has followed.

One Irish commentator wrote that Ireland was ruled by England for 800 years and then by Rome for the next 70. It's only recently that it's become truly independent.

A number of factors have led to this. A liberal-left government in the 1990s and Father Ted were part of it.

Most of all, the horrific revelations about paedophile priests and the Magdalene laundries undermined the moral authority of the church. In the early 1970s, 91 per cent of Irish Catholics attended Mass every week. Now only 30 per cent do.

It's no surprise that people ignored the church's instructions to vote against gay marriage and abortion.

Yet both are still banned in the north. And now there's more religious involvement in politics up there than in the south.

A pressure group called the Caleb Foundation has been set up to lobby against abortion and same-sex marriage from a fundamentalist Protestant angle.

It also argues in favour of creationism. It believes the earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago - and demands that public bodies give at least equal coverage to creationist beliefs as to the scientific evidence of evolution.

So the foundation lobbied the Ulster Museum to feature creationist theories in its displays.

It has a lot of members, and a lot of influence, within the province's largest political party, the Democratic Unionists .

The foundation persuaded two DUP assembly members - one of them party leader Arlene Foster - to ensure creationist theories were included in displays at the Giant's Causeway visitors' centre.

Sunday trading and Sunday sport are also among the foundation's targets. And it wants creationism presented in schools as an alternative theory to evolution.

It would be like the notion that babies are delivered by storks being presented as a valid alternative theory in sex education classes.

The fact is that many Christians these days don't believe in the literal truth of the account in Genesis and accept evolution as fact. It's doubtful whether the authors of Genesis ever meant it to be taken literally either.

And yet many of Northern Ireland's assembly members want to impose this outlook on the province.

It's not for governments to tell their citizens what to believe and to impose religious doctrines on them. They should be a free choice.

One part of Ireland seems to accept that at last. It's a shame that my part doesn't.