Irish News

Thursday 24 July 2014

Dismal poll turnout puts Saturday vote in doubt

Fionnan Sheahan and Michael Brennan

Published 12/11/2012|05:00

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SATURDAY voting appears to be dead in the water after the Children referendum recorded one of the worst turnouts in history.

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The turnout of barely over one in three voters, at 33.49pc, was the lowest in a decade and a half, and the third-worst referendum polling day of the past 75 years.

Only the 1996 bail referendum and the 1979 votes on Seanad reform and adoption orders, which took place on the same day, had a worse turnout.

Ministers were immediately sceptical about going with Saturday voting again, but opinion was divided about whether to try it again after such a substantial failure.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said she was "not personally" convinced by Saturday voting.

"I think if Saturday voting were to continue as the norm, we would need an enormous campaign," she said.

"A lot of very experienced polling officers said to me that they experienced a big rush of votes generally for people going to work and particularly people coming home from work, and also people after 10am Mass.

"Normally, you could double the voting percentage from 5pm to 9pm because of the effect of people coming home from work. Saturday voting represented a change," she said.

But Transport Minister Leo Varadkar defended Saturday voting, saying he wouldn't read too much into the low turnout.

"I think there was a low turnout because of the nature of the referendum and not the day of the week it was held. So I wouldn't close the door on Saturday voting just yet.

"There are other advantages to Saturday voting -- it's much cheaper to hold the referendum on the weekend and it also meant we didn't have to close down the schools and impose the cost of childcare on parents. It's something we're going to have to think about definitely," he said.

Youth groups also said it was too early to dismiss the idea of Saturday voting. Youth Work Ireland's Michael McLoughlin said Saturday voting should not be made the scapegoat for the low turnout.

"Moving away from Saturday voting on the basis of one campaign which was lacklustre due to the nature of the question is premature," he said.

Young Fine Gael president Patrick Molloy said dismissing future votes held on a Saturday would be a "knee-jerk reaction and would reflect a general contempt for the needs of young people who want to use their voice in our democracy".

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the Government had to examine the Saturday vote.

"We didn't want to close the schools again, we didn't want to take young people out of school, we felt that a Saturday had been called for for a long time, particularly by students, we thought it would be a family-friendly day, but in fact we'll have to examine that and people are used to the routine of voting in Ireland before they go to work, if they work, and after work," he said.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he had expected a 35pc turnout because a lot of people did not engage in the referendum. Mr Shatter said no one would ever know if it would have been a higher vote.

He said that the only way to find out would be to hold the referendum again on the same subject on a Thursday or Friday.

Mr Shatter thanked all those who did come out to vote.

Irish Independent

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