Marriage referendum: The kids will be fine May 6, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Human Rights, Inequality, Marriage equality.
[Update: in the comments, CMI1991 points out that I misread the 67 percent figure I cite — and badly. I apologise for that, though my underlying point remains valid.]
It looks like children will be key in the marriage referendum. The last Red C poll (PDF here) showed a combination of views that must cause some anxiety in both campaign HQs: support for the referendum was at 68 percent, but 67 percent agreed with the statement “It is inappropriate for children to be raised by gay couples”.
The standard Yes Equality response so far has been to point out that legally, the referendum is not about children, that legal issues concerning them have already been dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Act which will still require that the best interest of the child is the primary criterion when it comes to applying the act to parenting, guardianship, adoption, and so on, whether the referendum passes or not.
At a meeting last week I watched an exchange between a representative of Yes Equality and a woman unhappy with same-sex couples becoming parents, in this case through surrogacy (though that was not her only concern). The Yes Equality representative thanked the woman for asking the question, and for doing so at a meeting where she was in a minority, and then he answered her question. He outlined the legal situation with surrogacy (unregulated, it happens), and that the government will be free to regulate surrogacy — including introducing a total ban if it chooses — whether the referendum is passed or not. He also that the reality is that in Ireland surrogacy is availed of mainly by different-sex couples, not same-sex couples.
If there were a textbook for this campaign, it would be a textbook Yes Equality answer: it was polite and respectful, and it provided accessible legal analysis and empirical evidence which showed that the woman’s concern was misplaced. But yet, but yet … I came away thinking it was missing something.
The May issue of Alive! has an article which highlights that missing element. The article — the Media Watch column — asks about the right of children ‘to be brought up, as far as possible, by a mother and father’. Actually, it’s not true that children have such a right. The previous week, Conor O’Mahony, a lecturer in child law and constitutional law at UCC, had tweeted that he had ‘Been searching legal databases all afternoon for a law that gives children a legal right to a mother and father. Results: zero‘. But even though it’s not true, it feels like it could be or ought to be. And that’s because it appeals to our emotions. There is a world of a difference between ‘a right to a mother and father’ and ‘a right to your mother and father’. For the fortunate majority of us, the latter concerns real people, and the feelings we have for our mother or our father — and for both in most cases — are a hugely important and positive part of our life. It is easy to slide from that positive felling most of us have about growing up with our mother and father, via a false claim about a non-existent universal right, to believing that both a mother and father are an essential part of a healthy, loving childhood. However, not only is not a human right: the empirical evidence shows that to grow up loved cared for and develop and mature does not require the presence of both a mother and father; and the empirical evidence also shows that growing up with same-sex parents does not affect a child’s well-being or development.
The no side — Mothers and Fathers Matter and the Irish Catholic Bishops in particular — have appealed to voters’ feelings (both positive and negative); on the question of children, Yes Equality has appealed to their reason, hoping that the legal analysis and empirical evidence will be enough to persuade voters who have concerns about children. A month before polling day, Red C found that 67 percent were not making that connection, and two and a half weeks before it, Senator Katherine Zappone said it is hard for people she is talking to to move beyond the traditional concept of family.
It is ironic that campaign formed by and led by lesbian and gay people should be struggling to get this message across. So many of us who are gay have deep personal experience of the conflict between feelings and reason in the period before we came out, and we had to let go of our deeply held fear. A challenge for our leaders in the next two weeks is to see if they can find a way to encourage and help enough of the 67 percent to make a similar step and let go of their irrational fears. The task is to ensure enough voters realise that the kids will be fine.
A month out, the campaign April 22, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Human Rights, Marriage equality.
We now have a month to go to polling day in the Marriage Equality referendum, and in September I noted challenges that the Yes Equality campaign faces.
Referendum outcomes can be difficult to predict. Certainly, the 80 percent poll ratings were a boost to morale over the last few months, but as David Quinn of the Iona Institute has noted, support for a referendum often drops significantly once the campaign starts.
Although there is a long month left, it is clear that the Yes Equality side has organised an outstanding campaign, albeit not all of the challenges have been overcome.
Yes Equality has had a problem that although support was highest among the younger voters, these were least likely to vote and also most likely to not be registered. With the Union of Students in Ireland, Yes Equality ran a voter registration campaign in October and November that has been reported to have added 40,000 young people onto the register (20,000 through the USI campaign in colleges, and 20,000 by the main Yes Equality coalition outside the colleges). The last few weeks have seen a ‘booster’ campaign targeted at that group, this time asking them to pledge to vote, and thus encouraging a sense of ownership of the issue. And the registering of students has continued, with 1,500 added to the register last week.
But Yes Equality recognised the need to appeal as much as possible across all age groups and demographic groups. The ambassadors have been varied and include:
- Babs Keating, the Tipperary hurling manager;
- Mary McAleese, the thinking Catholic’s Catholic;
- Charlie Bird, the retired journalist;
- Eamon McGee, the Donegal footballer;
- Brighid and Paddy Whyte, the Co Louth Roman Catholic couple married for nearly fifty years;
- Jack O’Connor, the SIPTU General President (still not smiling);
- Gay Byrne, former Late Late Show host;
- Brian O’Driscoll, the rugby player.
Yes Equality and its allies has so far used many of the standard campaign tools: radio and television debates, letters to the editor, press events and statements, celebrity endorsements, public meetings, a rally on Dublin’s O’Connell Street (where Brighid and Paddy Whyte received a super-star roar of welcome when they came on stage), stands at events like the union conferences over the last few weeks, badges, car stickers, and street art. The Yes Equality posters have yet to be deployed, although Sinn Féin has started its postering. And Yes Equality plans to take a ‘battle bus’ around the country in the next month.
Organisations that have supported a ‘yes’ vote include IBEC and Congress, all Dáil parties, and Bohs, the Dublin football club.
They have also used tools that are not so familiar in Irish political campaigning: heavy and sustained use of Facebook, Twitter and the Web (including some very moving and inspiring online videos and, separately, a Yes Equality ‘twibbon’), online fundraising, and a ‘phone your granny’ drive. And this week, SIPTU’s LGBT group started operating a phone bank to call their union comrades in order to ask for their votes.
Seven months ago, Yes Equality had no local network, and none of the three organisations in the Yes Equality coalition — Marriage Equality, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties — had any experience at grassroots organising. But now, Yes Equality has teams canvassing in every constituency (some more intensely than others). And it underpinned that local connection some months ago when the civil partnership data was published, providing local newspapers and radio stations with localised press releases on the take up of the ceremony in their county.
At this stage, Yes Equality has done everything it could to this time to secure a victory this day next month.
The support will be tested and challenged by the No side in the coming month. Probably the most significant difficulty Yes Equality faces is the use of incorrect and spurious arguments, particularly when they are used on a live radio or TV programme with a large listenership. For example, last Sunday on Marian Finucane’s programme on RTÉ Radio 1, it was claimed that passing the amendment would make it impossible for the Oireachtas to pass any laws regulating access to surrogacy or donor-assisted human reproduction in the future. It took two days before that claim could be legally assessed and responses by Amnesty International and by Conor O’Mahony of UCC Law School published, but it is unlikely that the responses can have the same effect as the original claim.
The next month will tell us if Yes Equality and its allies have effective campaign strategies to deal with the disinformation tactics of the No side.
Even by its words shall we know it April 20, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Africa, European Union, Human Rights.
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Most of the attention has rightly been on the presence or absence of meaningful action, as against words, to prevent further drownings in the Mediterranean Sea. But the words of some of the institutions do reveal.
Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, had this to say on twitter:
Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued a press statement that was given a headline that expressed the horror of what happened:
At a global level, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the following:
New Mediterranean boat tragedy may be biggest ever, urgent action is needed now
Whatever power they have to force Europe’s institutions to act (damn all, in truth), those leaders recognised the awfulness of what has happened.
The EU has stronger powers to act. The words its leaders have used reveal that we need to be alarmed.
Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, gave the first sign that the human response was second to a careful policy position. The headline on his statement said:
At least the first sentence of his statement recognised the nature of what happened:
“The renewed tragedy off the Libyan coast, in which possibly up to 700 people have lost their lives, leaves me speechless
But the European Commission’s statement is shocking for the way it hedged the central, awful fact of what had happened. Here is its headline
And even when it does get around to mentioning human lives, in the third sentence of the statement, it avoids the awfulness of what happened:
These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act.
By the time that statement was issued, 700 lives were no longer “at stake”: they had been lost.
When you’re wrong, admit it March 8, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Democracy, Human Rights, Inequality, Irish Politics, LGBT.
Five years ago, the government of the day made an unusual decision: it withdrew an appeal to the Supreme Court, accepted that a new law needed to be introduced, and set in train a process to prepare that legislation. Since then, however, the actions of the various governments have been clumsy, poorly informed, and at times offensively insensitive to the people affected. The specific issue is legal gender recognition for trans people, but the history of how it has been dealt with illustrates a deeply embedded flaw in our governments — both current and previous, and both elected and permanent.
The bill to fill the gap in Irish law was dealt with by the Seanad in February, and last week the Dáil held its first debate on the bill.
Among the amendments in the Seanad were two from the government which only make sense when you realise that the government knows it is wrong but does not want to admit that. What is depressing is that, in the case of one those amendments, trans people will be humiliated and, in the case of the other, strung along for some years, and in both cases this is in order to spare the embarrassment that the policy makers — it is unclear in this case if that is the elected politicians or senior civil servants — would face by doing the right thing.
The purpose of this post is not is not to re-state the problems with the Gender Recognition Bill, but one of them is the subject of one of the government’s amendments. That amendment concerns the process for applying for a gender recognition certificate. Originally, the government intended that obtaining a gender recognition certificate — a legal document — would require a trans person to obtain from a psychiatrist or endocrinologist (but not their GP — that particular exclusion is the focus of another battle to amend the bill, with two professional medical bodies weighing into the debate) a certificate confirming that “based on a medical evaluation of the applicant” the psychiatrist or endocrinologist is satisfied that the applicant fully understands the consequences of his or her decision to live permanently in his or her preferred gender.
Activists object to the pathologisation of trans people and opposed this provision. Having been pushed on the issue during the committee stage debate in the Seanad, the government introduced an amendment at the final (report) stage to delete the phrase “based on a medical evaluation of the applicant” from the bill, while still requiring a psychiatrist or endocrinologist to provide the certificate. In doing that, it was grudgingly admitting that the administrative procedure of obtaining a gender recognition certificate is not a medical matter. But it left in the bill the humiliating, and unnecessary, obligation on trans people to get a medical professional to certify that they are who they say they are.
The second amendment that reveals the government’s incoherent position is a new clause to have the legislation reviewed two years after it comes into operation. The original proposal to do this was made by Senators Averil Power and Katherine Zappone, who recognised early that the government would not budge in any meaningful way on a range of problems with the bill. Their manoeuvre was designed to ensure that these problems with the bill would be revisited. However, the details of the government’s decision to accept a review clause raise questions about how this legislation is seen by the government. Power and Zappone proposed two reviews, the first within two years and a second within five years. Their original proposal was that the reviews would compare the new law against “international best practice in the field of gender recognition and [the bill’s] compliance with national, regional and international equality and human rights standards”. That standard has been stripped out by the government’s proposal, as has the second, medium-term, review.
Despite all that, one thing is clear: the principle that a review is to be undertaken is an odd one for the government to accept if it is so sure that the legislation is as good as it can be or ought to be.
The government’s behaviour on these amendments can probably be explained by problems within the group of those who are making the key decisions, though I do not know if those problems are the result of tensions between different ministers or between ministers and officials, or are the result of ministers not mastering their brief and being in control, and accepting substandard ‘compromise’ proposals from their officials. What is clear is that this problem arises because TENI, the organisation that has been leading the campaign to have the bill improved, has mounted one of the most effective lobbying campaigns, creating from nothing a strong body of support from opposition and backbench government politicians. And the support has come from sources that would have surprised many. A month ago, who would have predicted that Paschal Mooney would propose or that Labhrás Ó Murchú would vote for an amendment to give trans school students a legal right to wear a school uniform appropriate to their preferred gender? (It was defeated.)
The willingness of TDs and senators to speak on a bill that is never going to be a vote winner and the shortcomings of that bill can be traced to differences in a single factor: human contact. When the 2010 government decided to abandon its Supreme Court appeal and to legislate, it set up an advisory group to prepare proposals. The intention was worthy, but the content was fundamentally flawed. The advisory group consisted entirely of representatives of government departments. Not only did it not have the ultimate expert, a trans person or somebody nominated by trans people, it didn’t even have the a psychiatrist or endocrinologist, experts whose role the government sees as central to the operation of the legislation. The result was well-meaning but utterly inexpert officials blundering around preparing proposals on something they misunderstood. Instead of looking to best practice or human rights standards, they looked across the Irish Sea and took out-dated UK legislation as their model.* In contrast, senators and backbench TDs on all sides have said in the debates that they have had the benefit of meeting trans people and of hearing them explain their experiences and why the bill imposes indignities. And they listened.
The mess we now have shows the need for our policy making processes to be changed. Those who will be affected by legislation need to be brought to the table at the start, and to be at it throughout the process. It is unhealthy for our democracy that civil servants can draft proposals with limited understanding. In addition to that over-arching change, at this stage for this particular bill, they and their political masters need to be told to follow Ogden Nash’s advice to new husbands: “When you’re wrong, admit it; When you’re right, shut up.”
*It’s not the first time we have copied the British. In 1983, when the legislation to establish Telecom was being debated, the late John Kelly complained: “Naturally we have to dress it up in a little green jacket, with silver buttons, a dudean in his mouth and a caubean on his head and call it Bord Telecom Éireann.”
A thought on the “Yes Equality” campaign? February 19, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Human Rights, Inequality, LGBT.
Two of the principles that the ‘Yes Equality’ coalition — the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, and Marriage Equality — have decided they will follow in the campaign on the referendum on marriage equality are (a) they will run a positive campaign and (b) that the referendum is not about children, as the question of children is being dealt with by the Children and Family Relationships Bill (which is to be published today).
It will be a difficult task. Their opponents are using negative campaigning and have insisted that the Children and Family Relationships Bill is at key part of the issue.
And by negative campaigning, I don’t mean merely critiquing the case for marriage equality, but insinuating stereotypes about gay men.
Last weekend’s RTÉ Radio 1 programme Saturday with Claire Byrne dealt entirely with the Children and Family Relationships Bill. It is a long and complicated piece of legislation (the most recent draft that has been published before today is 123 pages long — PDF here) and it covers a myriad of possibilities in how a child might be conceived and raised. One of the participants in Saturday’s programme was Bishop Kevin Doran. During the programme, Claire Byrne asked him to identify the substantive problem he sees with the Bill.
The core of his argument, and the Roman Catholic church’s, is that, when the genetic mother and father are not in a position to raise the child, it is preferable for a child to be brought up by a man and a woman. He picked one — and only one — example to elucidate why he thinks this is important:
Let’s just put it very simply. Take a young woman of 14, 15, 16 years of age growing to maturity and her two parents are two men. They may be the most loving, caring people in the world, but how can they respond as two men to the human, personal and feminine needs of a young woman growing up?
When he finished, the host, Claire Byrne, responded: “OK. There are probably some men who feel quite offended by that if they are bringing up a child, say a female child, on their own”, before turning to another panelist.
His opponents on the programme were three TDs: Alan Shatter, Róisín Shortall and Sean Fleming. Bishop Doran and the other “anti” panelist on the programme, Ben Conroy of the Iona Institute, were vigorously challenged about a different claim that lone parents are less than ideal when it comes to adoption, in particular by Sean Fleming whose father died when he was in school and whose mother raised him and his siblings alone.
However, none of the TDs challenged the homophobia in the bishop’s comment, none of them challenged the bishop’s assertion that two gay men would unable to respond to their daughter’s ‘feminine needs’ when she reaches puberty. And it is a theme Bishop Doran has returned to this week when he delivered a speech to a meeting in Sligo on Tuesday evening:
Bishop Doran’s attacks are crying out for a “mini Panti moment”. The next time he is on radio or television, the bishop needs to be asked what exactly is it about two men, and two gay men in particular, in contrast to a widower, that is less than ideal when it comes to raising a daughter? How does he think widowed fathers deal with the onset of menstruation in their daughters? Does he think that two gay men raising daughters are shunned by their sisters, leaving their daughter without an aunt who can take her niece to get her first bra? Indeed, does he think heterosexual fathers with wives ought to ignore their daughter’s ‘feminine needs’?
I do not know if the Yes Equality coalition declined an invitation to take part in Saturday’s programme or were not invited, but they have been notably silent this week while the suitability of two gay men to be parents has been attacked in the debate about the Bill that will, among a myriad of other things, make that possible for the first time in Ireland. However, the explicit homophobia in the broader debate needs to be challenged, even if that means modifying a commitment to be positive and an intention to focus only on the referendum. However much GLEN, Marriage Equality and the ICCL may not like it, the question of children is now part of the debate. We saw on Saturday that we cannot depend on straight allies to expose the homophobia, but if it is left unchallenged, it will damage the Yes campaign.
Ireland breaches human rights laws on workers’ rights January 29, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Collective Bargaining, Council of Europe, Employment Rights, Human Rights, Ireland, Labour relations, Trade Unions, Uncategorized, Workers Rights.
Ireland fails to meet nearly half of its legal obligations on workers’ rights under European human rights law.
Legal conclusions (45-page PDF here) by the European Committee of Social Rights concerning workers’ rights were published by the European Committee last week. The Committee assesses compliance with the Revised European Social Charter.
The findings show Ireland is not in conformity with the human rights requirements on workers’ rights in 10 out of the 22 provisions that Ireland has ratified. Ireland is in conformity with 11 of those provisions, and the government did not provide enough information for the legal situation on the remaining ratified provision on labour rights to be assessed.
The 22 individual provisions are spread across eight articles in the European Social Charter, which is the main sister instrument to the European Convention on Human Rights. The provisions that were examined govern standards in just conditions of work, fair remuneration, workers organising, collective bargaining, worker participation in determining and improving working conditions and working environment, dignity at work, protection of workers’ representatives in their workplaces, and information and consultation in collective redundancy procedures.
Ireland’s minimum wage rates were found to breach European human rights standards because people on the lower bands did not earn enough to have decent standard of living, which is defined as half of the average net wage in the State.
A further illegality was found because the Payment of Wages Act does not place an absolute limit on the total amount of deductions from wages by an employer and because the Government failed to show that the act is applied in practice in a way that preserves workers’ means of subsistence. “Situations in which the portion of wages remaining after deductions may not be adequate to ensure the subsistence of workers and their dependants may consequently still exist”, the Committee found.
The lack of domestic laws requiring overtime work is paid at a higher rate than basic pay was also found to be a breach of the Charter. The Committee was told by the Government that overtime rates are negotiated at the level at which basic pay and conditions of employment are normally settled — meaning in an individual firm or across an industry or sector. No evidence was produced to show how this works in practice, despite the Government being asked to provide the information following a previous assessment of the legal situation in 2007.
Curiously, although the European Committee did refer to the Haddington Road Agreement for the public and civil service in assessing other aspects of the Charter, it did not mention that Haddington Road breached European human rights law on overtime because it required certain categories of worker to provide the first hour of overtime not only without a higher rate of pay, but without any pay. That part of the Haddington Road Agreement expired in 2014.
The European Committee identified three ways in which Irish law on sacking workers breaches human rights requirements. The notice period in the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act are inadequate. The Committee said that this illegality was identified as far back as 1973. It also said that the scope of the illegality on this point has been expanded since Ireland was last assessed because the law on minimum terms was extended to cover civil servants. A third breach was found concerning instant dismissal of a worker for misbehaviour. The European Committee found that the standard that is contained in Irish law is too weak, and that instant dismissal can be justified only in cases of “a serious offence” and not the lower threshold of “misconduct” set out in the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act
In examining the situation here on working time, the European Committee warned the government that contracts where workers must be available for work but are later regarded as resting if they were not actually given work are illegal under human rights law. It asked the government to give the Committee information on the rules that apply to on-call service when Ireland next reports on the right to just conditions of work. However, the Committee did have enough information to find that Ireland’s laws do not conform to the human rights standard on hours of work because it allows workers in the merchant shipping sector to work 72-hour weeks.
A separate breach was identified by the European Committee because there are inadequate safeguards in Ireland to prevent people working for more than twelve consecutive days without a rest period.
A number of Irish rules on trade unions were found to be illegal under the Revised European Social Charter. Although some forms of closed shops have been unconstitutional since the 1960s, the European Committee found that the right to freedom of association was not fully protected because pre-entry closed shops and post-entry closed shops when they apply to newly recruited employees are not definitively illegal.
Irish laws on the licensing of trade unions breach human rights law in a number of ways. The Unfair Dismissals Act is inadequate because does not protect workers from being sacked for trade union activity if the union does not have a negotiating license. Another breach is that under Irish law a trade union that does not have a license — and the union’s officials and members — can be sued by an employer, and an employer can sack all employees in an unlicensed union for taking part in a strike.
The ban on the garda staff associations such as the AGSI and GRA from joining Congress was also found to be a breach of human rights law, re-iterating a finding in 2014 in a case take by the AGSI (42-page PDF here). A number of other specific breaches of human rights law for gardaí from the AGSI case were also found to be still relevant in the new conclusions, including the complete ban on any Garda ever striking.
Although the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 applies to all workers, Ireland does not conform to European legal standards because the government did not show that workers exposed to occupational health risks are entitled to appropriate compensation measures such as reduced working hours or additional holidays.
The conclusions were published last week, some time after the work on drafting them and equivalents for 40 other countries had been completed. In the intervening period, the legal findings of the European Committee for Social Rights were described as “non-binding” by the Minister for Defence in the Dáil. It will be interesting to see if they European Committee responds to that attack when it next publishes conclusions or a decision on a case from Ireland.
The Revised European Social Charter contains 31 articles and under the reporting procedure, the European Committee of Social Rights states’ compliance with approximately a quarter of the articles each year.
Although the 2014 conclusions on labour rights were published by the European Committee last week, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has not publicly responded to the findings.
The minimum wage January 23, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Human Rights.
Tags: Minimum wage
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Page 12 of this:
puts item 27 of this:
Or, in reverse order:
From the legislative programme for the Spring/Summer Oireachtas term:
27: Minimum Wage (Amendment) (Low PayCommission) BillTo put in place a body that will make recommendations to the Minister on the appropriate level of the minimum wage andrelated matters
“the situation in Ireland is not in conformity with Article 4§1 of the Charter on the ground that the reduced national minimum wage applicable to adult workers on their first employment or following a course of studies is not sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living.”
The EU Court blocks human rights December 20, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in European Union, Human Rights.
Two days ago, the EU’s Court of Justice delivered a ruling that blocks the EU from signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Technically, the ruling concerns a draft agreement between the EU and the Council of Europe, rather than accession itself, but the commentary by European human rights lawyers in the last two days makes clear that the underlying problem is that the EU’s Court of Justice is not prepared to be subject to the human rights standards set by the European Court of Human Rights.
Two things occur to me.
(1) I haven’t seen anything about this in the Irish media. (They did report a ruling the same day on whether obesity can be a form of disability in certain circumstances, so it’s not that domestic issues took their eyes off the Luxembourg court on Thursday.)
(2) The EU’c court ruling is deeply undemocratic. Whatever your view of the merits of the Lisbon Treaty and the merits of the “vote again” referendum we held in Ireland, the fact is that it was adopted by democratic processes in each of the member states, and requires that the EU accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. It is not for the EU’s judges to create complicated arguments for overturning that decision.
Marriage equality – 85% and complacency September 1, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Equality, Human Rights, LGBT, Marriage equality.
In the speeches outside the Department of Justice at the end of the March for Marriage Equality on Sunday week (24 August) Laura Harmon, President of USI, warned against complacency in the referendum campaign next year.
That might seem unnecessarily anxious. Sure, hadn’t the previous week’s Sunday Times’s poll (PDF here) shown that approval of gay relationships has reached 85%, up from 76% in the Sunday Business Post & RTÉ poll in February (PDF here) — heck, at that rate it would reach 94% by next February. If the referendum was passed with that majority, there would be one heck of a party.
RED C, who conducted the February 2014 poll for the Sunday Business Post and RTÉ, reached the same conclusion.
Despite the high figures in the two polls, the ‘no’ side have the easier task in the referendum campaign. The proposal is to change the law, and the pressure will be on the ‘yes’ side to show why that is needed. To win, the ‘no’ campaigners need only cast doubts in enough minds — a constitutional “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. One particular objective will be to dissuade those who are ‘soft’ yes voters from voting that way, whether by voting ‘no’ because of their area of doubt or by staying at home.
Before turning to that RED C analysis, it is important to note that the Behaviour & Attitudes poll for the ST did not ask about support for a constitutional amendment. It asked “Please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong”. A list of fourteen items was then read to the survey participant, and “gay or lesbian relations” was one of them.
Further, as doctorfive pointed out here a few days ago, polls on abortion referendums have not been an accurate predictor of actual outcome. Add to that the difference between the actual result and the opinion polls in other referendums, such as the recent proposal to abolish the Seanad, and you have to be cautious, if not downright doubtful, about the accuracy of a figure of either 76 or 85 percent support for lifting the ban on same-sex marriage. In fact, the bread-and-butter polling of levels of support for parties is known to be inaccurate, and companies apply techniques to deal with that. Behaviour & Attitudes asks a question in polls on party support about who the survey participant actually voted for in the last election. The company later combines stated level of support for each party with the actual outcome at the previous election to modify the raw data in a poll to generate what it believes is a better measure of the actual current support for each party.
Even without statistical adjustments for accuracy in stated intentions compared with actual behaviour, neither the 85% nor 76% figure is likely to be a realistic indicator of the vote to amend the constitution. Both polls asked a second question, about adoption, which show the folly of relying on the headline figures. Both polls showed lower support for adoption of children by gay couples. But the rights of children with same-sex parents is at the heart of why lifting the ban on same-sex marriage is needed and why civil partnership is inadequate. In light of the lower level of support for gay adoption, campaigners against marriage equality would be stupid not to exploit the concerns that result in lower support for adoption.
The small number of people who will directly benefit from lifting the ban on same-sex marriage is likely to be a factor in how each side campaigns. Some on the ‘no’ side may use the small number of lgb people in the population as a campaigning point. The campaigners of marriage equality will be painfully aware that lgb people will need to rely on the support of hundreds of thousands who have no personal stake in the issue of equality in marriage for same-sex couples.
The polls do give them some information on where the support lies. For example in the Behaviour & Attitudes poll, when broken down by party, opposition to gay adoption is highest among Fianna Fáil voters and those who voted for “independents and others”. And those “might not vote” or “definitely would not vote” show the highest support for the view that gay adoption is morally acceptable. The need to persuade those passive supporters to become active supporters is probably the reason that a coalition of lgb campaigning groups spent the weekend at the Electric Picnic running the Marriage Equality Tent.
Nevertheless, GLEN and Marriage Equality will need something stronger than the promise of a favour if, on a rainy polling day, a 30-something heterosexual parent on the way home from work is to stop off at the polling station if they have two hungry kids in the back who would need to be “unloaded” from the car and “reloaded” so Daddy or Mammy can do their bit for equality. That particular inconvenience may not be the issue, but those kinds of everyday routines will deter many voters who were very certain when the man from RED C or Behaviour & Attitudes asked them the question in that poll they did back in 2014.
The opponents of equality also have the advantage of the experience of battle from running other referendum campaigns. They were not always victorious, but the nitty-gritty of a campaign targetting voters are familiar to them. The lgb organisations, in contrast have never had to rely totally on the public before. In some — but not all — of their successes to date, public opinion has mainly served to show policy makers that there is sufficient demand to justify them paying attention to the issue at hand.
The ‘no’ side has another advantage in the media. Two of its key strategists, David Quinn and Breda O’Brien, are weekly columnists in papers with circulations that are the largest (Quinn) and fourth largest (O’Brien) in the country. While there are columnists in national papers who are supporters of marriage equality, none are at the heart of planning the campaign and able to use their columns to synchronise messages with that campaign. And the opponents of equality have won key battles in how the broadcast media will deal with or be allowed to deal with the debate, with the RTÉ payouts in the “Pantigate” affair and the recent advisory note from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland following the complaint about the Mooney Show on RTÉ.
On the other hand, GLEN has applied some findings from the polls in its media work. In the last month, it has been the source of news stories on local papers and radio in Sligo and Leitrim, in Donegal and in Kerry on local data on the number of couples who entered civil partnerships in those areas. Them gays are not all up in Dublin, you know.