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Intimidating voters June 22, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights, media.

Rev Dr Vincent Twomey’s piece in the Irish Times on Monday last has lots of points, and both letters to the editor later in the week and comments under the article on the newspaper’s website dismantle the article, with a few defenders in the mix.

One point Twomey made twice in his article piqued my interest: that voters were intimidated.

He makes this claim first in a broad way, saying that there were threats — and he does use the word ‘threats’ — about how the world would see a ‘no’ vote. That is over-stretching the concept of intimidation in an electoral context, and Twomey should educate himself what real intimidation means from the reports of international election monitors (available at the website of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights).

In his second use of the term, he claims that “[t]he entire Yes campaign … was intimidating”. (In the part of that sentence that I have replaced with ellipses, he lists organisations actually behind a ‘yes’ vote — political parties and trade unions — and an official distinctly not part of the ‘yes’ side: the Chairman of the Referendum Commission, Mr Justice Cross.)

Twomey goes on to ask “How many of the 40 per cent of those registered to vote (more than 1.2 million!) failed to vote because they were intimidated?” The numbers who stayed at home was not high for an Irish referendum which either undermines his point or suggests that intimidation has been an unnoticed feature of Irish referendums for a long time.

Nor does the number and size of organisations on the ‘yes’ side mean that debate was restricted or the opportunity for the arguments against to be presented to voters. Indeed, it was the ‘yes’ side who consistently complained during the campaign that the ‘no’ side refused to debate the real issues and instead brought in matters such as surrogacy and and parenting.

It’s not the first time that a claim of intimidation has been made in the debate on marriage equality. In April 2013, the Convention on the Constitution voted, by secret ballot, by 79 percent to recommend that the Constitution be changed to allow for civil marriage by same-sex couples. The following day Senator Rónán Mullen claimed that he had witnessed members of the Convention being bullied into voting yes, but refused when asked to provide details.

At the level of the individual voter, our electoral laws are very tight on voter intimidation. The reason any extraneous writing on a ballot paper results in it being spoilt and not counting is to prevent voters being pressured to reveal their vote through an agreed code being put on the ballot paper. It is the reason why there are protections in place for those who cannot vote in secret because they are blind or illiterate (for example, restrictions on who and the number of times a person can assist a voter).

At the collective level, it is hard to see how an argument about how the world would see a ‘no’ vote can be construed as intimidation. Not can the weight of support from civil society. The No side had equal time on broadcast media, was afforded space in newspapers to make its case in op-ed columns and in letters, and mounted a substantial postering campaign (and made great play of a small number of those posters being taken down).

In fact, the only collective intimidation I saw came from Twomey’s colleague in holy orders, Archbishop Eamon Martin, who said during the campaign that the Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland would need to consider if their priests would continue to undertake the civil marriage procedures as part of its church weddings if the referendum passed. The threat, although the Archbishop denies it was a threat, of course, was the inconvenience for many couples, who would be required to go through two ceremonies, one religious and one civil. It would also have implications for the state, which would need to increase significantly the staff assigned to conducting marriages.

Twomey has misused the term ‘intimidation’.


1. EWI - June 22, 2015

A very prominent Irish right-wing commentator made suggestions of a backlash if gay marriage went through: that homosexuals would be sorry. Now, that was real intimidation, not this made up bollix.

Liked by 1 person

2. Kandice - June 22, 2015

The entire effect of these rugs to a room should be
considered when purchasing one. * Edwin Hubbel Chapin once said, “Every action of our lives touches on. Nitrogen-deficient grass invites the growth of moss.


3. WorldbyStorm - June 23, 2015

I can’t help but think Twomey’s entire piece reveals weakness rather than strength. There’s the obfuscation, the misinterpretation (I’m being kind) and so on. Very very telling.


4. Logan - June 23, 2015

Yeah, I know I am biased against him, but I thought that even from an even-handed perspective the level of the argumentation in that article was piss-poor.

I wonder if that was the level of discourse the students of Moral Theology in Maynooth received from Professor Dr. Fr. Twomey? (please forgive me if I left out a title there)

Or is it just a dumbed-down versuon of the official line, meant to be digestable by the faithful?

It would be a pretty poor show from one of Ratzinger’s doctoral students if it were the former.


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