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Just a few thoughts on the referendum… November 12, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

… no real time to write now, but a couple of points and questions struck me.

Firstly that while the measure passed this is something of a defeat for the government. Now it wasn’t much of a campaign, and I’d be one who found the claims of the No side, such as it was, alarmist. But even still this doesn’t work well for the government. They come out of the campaign with a Supreme Court judgement that at the very least is negative for them. And this feeds yet further into a perception of a government that seems much less assured than it once did. Not good.

Secondly that it might – stress on might – suggest yet disenchantment (and again, that’s putting it mildly) in areas that the government, or rather one party, might hope to look for support, that being Labour. Working class voters (at least as defined by the media) appeared less than ecstatic at the proposal.

Thirdly, what effect is this going to have on future campaigns. Saturday voting doesn’t appear to have been a positive in terms of turn-out, but then again perhaps this simply didn’t exercise most people much one way or the other. The relative closeness of the result may be a factor that many people figured it was in the bag, but what of other referendums? Will this somewhat soften the enthusiasm for the government on other measures (note how a head of steam in opposition to the Seanad abolition is beginning to develop in the media and elsewhere) which they might conceivably lose? After all the opposition to the referendum was pretty much the further reaches… as I’ve noted previously when Rónán Mullen is on board on the Yes side one can take it pretty much as read that there’s a broad orthodoxy on a measure. What happens if they come up against a better organised and more vociferous opposition in further votes?

One further thought. In this vote the left, broadly defined or not, was pretty much notable by its absence (calling for a YES vote in almost all instances). Does that have any implications for the future?


1. Richard - November 12, 2012

I posted this comment on the IT website:

‘Perhaps people did not go out and vote because this time they knew there would be no wrathful God Of The Markets standing ready to exact brutal punishment should they fail to vote Yes.

To say that there was a wide public consensus in favour of the Yes vote is not saying very much, because the scope and wording of the amendment was carefully crafted so as to ensure that more conservative sectors of Irish society could not oppose it, and more progressive sectors could not argue against it. So the overall position of the Family as the ‘necessary basis of social order’ remains unassailable; the ‘as far as practicable’ clause means ‘within reason, as decided by ‘the markets’’; and the provision appears only to apply to those children in Ireland whom the constitution recognises as Irish citizens. Where you have a widespread sense that very little is at stake, it’s hardly surprising if the turnout proves low.

But the low turnout in this referendum ought to be seen against the backdrop of a broader trend in Western societies. Social provisions and entitlements, supposedly guaranteed in constitutions, are being stripped away, under an offensive conducted by elected governments, acting not on behalf of their electorates, but in the interests of major financial powers.

When this offensive, which is entirely anti-democratic, requires a constitutional change, electorates are either ignored, as was the case recently in Spain, or they are threatened with the apocalyptic violence of the markets, by government, business groups and sympathetic media organisations, to make sure they vote the right way. This was the case in Ireland with the Lisbon Treaty and the so-called Stability Treaty referenda .

The political effect of this offensive is a widespread disenchantment with the existing political system, alongside the emptying of constitutions of any meaningful content in practice, in terms of social and democratic rights. The social effects, among other things, are unemployment, hyper-exploitation in the workplace, deprivation and hopelessness. In Ireland, political and media establishments have no interest in addressing the political effect, and routinely present the social effects –as with the upcoming budget cuts- as an inevitable economic necessity. In this context, it should hardly come as any surprise if most people switch off from what they have to say about the importance of rights and constitutions.’


CMK - November 12, 2012


It’s interesting that RTE reports a turnout in Waterford of 26463 voters out of a total registered electorate of 75470 on Saturday for the referendum. On the same day at 15,000 people (some suggest it was closer to 20,000) marched in Waterford City to protest against the downgrading of the Regional Hospital. Not sure if there is a connection here but the downgrading of the hospital, another cut to please ‘the markets’, appears to have resonated far more than a referendum. It’s likely that thousands who marched didn’t vote in the referendum, which suggests that something is afoot that isn’t necessarily being accurately tracked by opinion polls or political analysis.

And to link in with the point IELB makes below, events in Wateford highlight the emptiness of the referendum considered from a materialist perspective. In Wateford, at least, but elsewhere too, a constitional advance occurs simultaneously with the downgrading of a vital public service.


2. irishelectionliterature - November 12, 2012

I voted Yes, but it seemed to me that unless it was backed by the provision of extra social workers and other services it wouldn’t really make any difference bar the exception of the most extreme cases. Given the current governments economic policies of Its unlikely we’ll be seeing these extra services.
I know a few people who voted No and none of them would be readers of ‘Alive’ or have views along those lines. They felt, rightly or wrongly that it was an almost cynical exercise by the political classes to feel good about themselves.
Re the actual campaign, My house wasn’t canvassed bar one FG leaflet dropped in the door, I didn’t bump into any canvassers despite working in town and being a regular at supermarkets, sporting fixtures etc… I had to write to the parties looking for material and even then, not all sent me stuff.
Its fairly clear too that where there was canvassing it was used as an opportunity by Councillors or ‘Area Representatives’ to have their names on leaflets. I’d hazard that it was the handiest canvass they ever had as few if any were going to accost them.
Theres another thing too with regard to the turnout and the result, the number of voters with blind loyalty to a party line must be dwindling.

As for Saturday voting, I found it strange voting on a Saturday but I dont think the day impacted on turnout.
Now I may be a lone voice here but I think lack of activity around polling stations also impacts turnout. In the past polling stations were hives of activity with leaflets etc being given out outside, politicians there to greet you as you went in, now they are much less exciting…. at times you wouldn’t realise there was anything on at all.


PaddyM - November 12, 2012

I decided not to vote; while unobjectionable in principle, putting this stuff into the constitution at exactly the same time as the education, health and welfare services required to make it meaningful are being stripped away struck me as being complete hypocrisy.

(I did actually briefly consider a No on Thursday after watching the combination of Alan Shatter’s performance on the evening news in response to the Supreme Court judgement and Enda’s Thunderbirds Are Go impersonation in Berlin, but I couldn’t stomach being on the same side of an argument as John Waters and Dana.)


3. Ian - November 12, 2012

If you define the left narrowly and take it as meaning SF/ULA/others they seemed very silent and absent

There could be several reasons for that; 1 – laziness of journalists just running to gov; ministers and backbenchers

The limited airtime for yes was just dominated by government

Perhaps some of the Left on the Yes side sensed that their voters and supporters were unhappy with the government and they cynically decided to just tactitly support the issue but remain relatively silent.

From what I can see – working class urban areas voted strongly no – these areas are generally where Sinn Fein is strong –

Perhaps some of the yes side – wanted a yes vote but don’t mind the fact there was a strong no “protest” vote and they can cynically say to their supporters – “ah well you know that was really just a government thing”


4. D_D - November 12, 2012

This result (42% ‘no’) has surprised everyone. Me anyway. I expected that the Catholic far right would be isolated on this one and that the ‘No’ side would be less than 10%. I was thinking about a result like the Good Friday Agreement, 94% for in the South, 81% for in the North.

What happened? Don’t know. Certainly there was an extremely weak and isolated campaign against the amendment. So that wasn’t a big factor. The Supreme Court judgement was a factor, but that a big a one?

Perhaps the turnout reflected a growing alienation of large numbers from the official political process. Perhaps many ‘yes’ voters expected that it was a schuu in and didn’t bother to vote, while many of the ‘no’ voters were expressing a more active protest vote. Or perhaps many of these were really persuaded against the amendement and are reflecting a rightward thrust to some of the disenchantment, like the bizarre Quinn campaign?

The coincidence of the Waterford (pop. 51,000) referendum turnout of 35% and an equaly surprising march of 15,000 on the Regional Hospital says something about the offcial process and about protest too.

That a progressive measure was supported by only 19% of the potential electorate offers some food for thought.


LeftAtTheCross - November 12, 2012

It should provide food for thought for the LP leadership who have forsaken the working class and moved to what they imagine is a socially & economically liberal middle class base. There’s no electoral future for them in putting their eggs into that basket at the expense of progressive economic policy.


WorldbyStorm - November 12, 2012

I know quiet a few who because of the point Blissett made below about not being very significant who felt easier about voting against as a lash against the government. That’s a real problem.

+1 LATC re the social liberal tilt as against economic. At a time like this whatever the merits of the former there’s little doubt the latter will inflect perceptions of the former and sometimes negatively.


Joe - November 12, 2012

Just a quick correction there DD. The Good Friday Agreement was carried with a 71% vote for it in Northern Ireland.


5. Blissett - November 12, 2012

possibly sounds counter intuitive, but I think the Government made a mistake in having such a mild wording. While it was positive in many respects to have such a broad consensus (Joe Higgins to Ronán Mullen and all in between) the fact that the amendment was, while not inconsequential, not a very significant change. There might have been more enthusiasm for a yes vote (as opposed to an aversion to voting no) with a stronger wording


WorldbyStorm - November 12, 2012

I think that’s very true Blissett. It could well have solidified the yes vote.


6. Frank Street - November 12, 2012

One small observation on the Waterford protest. I was beyond delighted to see such a turn out and hope it gives the government pause for thought. But one can never be sure of a protest’s effectiveness.

Might there be scope for introducing a ‘Pledge Booth’ at such events? For example, a place where protesters could pledge that, if the government implement a particular cut, they will never again receive a vote from them. Ever.

Their pledge might even be videoed. Would it be effective?


WorldbyStorm - November 12, 2012

Very interesting idea. It’d be worth a try, even to sort of firm up attitudes.


7. Roddy - November 12, 2012

I don ‘t think that the Sat. voting was a problem. Most people presumed that the ref. was going to be carried by a landslide and the campaign was non-existent. I know several people who didn’t bother to vote even though they were in favour of it. I reckon that it would have been even lower on a weekday as many coming back from a days work would have said feck that, no one is going to vote no. What’s on Tv.


WorldbyStorm - November 12, 2012

Could be right there Roddy. There was definitely a sense of ‘it’s going to be won so why bother’.


EWI - November 13, 2012

I’m interested in the phenomenon of this Saturday voting, so rare.

I think it might be worth curating some of the utterances of politicos on justifying this (to maximise turnout), when they so steadfastly work to otherwise ensure that elections and referenda take place during the week so as to depress the youth and working vote.


Ivorthorne - November 12, 2012

I think you have it right Roddy.

The bottom line is that people don’t vote when they don’t think that staying at home will make a difference. Yes supporters (including those who didn’t vote) always believed that result was in the bag.

No-supporters had a different standard of victory. They were casting their votes as much in protest at the change than in expectation that they would win.


8. sonofstan - November 12, 2012

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a workmate who didn’t vote, and who was surprised that I had, and shocked a disappointed that I’d voted yes.

This guy is the sort of person the average IT reader rarely meets socially. Left school at 14 and barely attended much before that, constantly picked on by the cops, ‘troubled’ family background, capped by doing time for something he says he didn’t do (I believe him in this regard: I know some of his mates who were proper villains and they think he was innocent)

Anyway, he says he never votes because he hates the government: when I asked ‘this government?’ he said ‘all of them, they’re all *****’ For him, the teachers who barely bothered to hide their contempt, brutal cops, judges, a health service that badly failed his family, and a social welfare system that treated him like dirt, are all ‘the government’ and the idea of voting for anything that would give them more power to interfere in the lives of people like him is to be resisted – he thinks that the affirmation of the rights of children would end up being a license for the state to take kids away from people like him for the sort of trivial, ‘do-gooder’ reasons that seem so important to professionals in the system.

Like I say, he didn’t vote, but it might offer a clue to some of the attitudes underlying the ‘surprising’ no vote, especially in working class areas…..


RosencrantzisDead - November 13, 2012

He is also the target demographic of the Tir Na Saor/Sovereign Independent/Freeman set.

This is hardly surprising though given the levels of inequality and poverty in Ireland. Why would you trust the state if all they did was screw you over?


sonofstan - November 13, 2012

Yes. All that Freeman stuff is much talked about in circles that would be below the radar of the MSM, who would, rightly, dismiss its rationale, but thereby also fail to see its appeal.


crocodileshoes - November 13, 2012

Reminds me of a friend of mine, Liberties born and bred, whose hatred of the guards was so deep that he could not conceive of any good in them. If the Gardai were going down Meath St handing out tenners he wouldn’t take one.
There are two aspects to such deeply-engrained hostility to state authority, it seems to me : one is a genuine and justified alienation. Less desirable is a tendency to wilful self-isolating – ‘don’t know anything about that sort of thing and don’t want to know’.


ghandi - November 13, 2012

I am continually surprised at the “surprised no vote” it was clear to me from the scores of meeting I spoke at and debates I took part in that there was a huge section fo society who were opposed to it. SOS’f friend puts it quite wellm, those who know the system and have been targetted by Social Workers or their friends & families had were strongest in their opposition.

Also many legal professionals whom I spoke to were voting No, that is those not in the pay of the HSE and who have first hand experience of what passes for Justice in care proceedings.

It also beggars belief that the so called left have again abandoned the people they claim to represent in the pursuit of so called progressive measures.

As the campaign which was only 3 weeks built up teh NO side was gaining,. my own belief is that if we had anothjer week we would have won, at the start I would have thought 30% No was a good result, but as it built under the radar it was clear it was going to be higher.

From a campaign point of view a dozen motivated people wwer eable to tap into that discontent and deliever 445k No votes, whilst the state could only deliver 17% of the electorate using millions of euro and the whole establishement along with fasle information as found by teh Supreme Court. I also think that teh Supreme Court added to those staying away more so than those voting NO.


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