Country divided on adoption rights for gay couples
Senior government figures have expressed 'alarm' over the consequences for the gay marriage referendum of serious public unease over giving gay couples the right to adopt children.
In what will come as a surprising finding to many, today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll has revealed high levels of conservatism when it comes to gay adoption.
More voters (45pc) have some or a lot of unease over the adoption of children by gay male couples compared with 42pc saying they have no difficulties.
In the case of lesbian women adopting, 44pc have issues while 45pc having no concerns with the matter.
Senior figures told the Sunday Independent "the two issues of adoption and marriage are absolutely unconnected.''
However, they also conceded that "the fear is that this may spill over into and affect the campaign".
Today's results will intensify existing concerns in both parties that the final result in the gay marriage referendum will be far closer than the polls currently suggest.
In today's Millward Brown poll, after 'don't knows' are excluded, the Yes side retains a strong lead of 76pc to 24pc. The lead, however, has narrowed from the previous Millward Brown poll which showed the Yes side with an 80pc to 20pc advantage.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney warned that a Yes victory is ''anything but a formality".
"You would want to be absolutely naive to think anything but that," he said. "The No side will be very strong and well financed."
The leading Labour campaigner, Aodhan O Riordan, said: ''Whilst there appears to be a new positive mood abroad, within the country the reality is we are split 30pc Yes, 30pc No and with the remaining 40pc being minded to vote Yes.
"We cannot, however, take that for granted," he said.
Today's poll also confirms the view of Mr Coveney that Taoiseach Enda Kenny will play a key role in securing the cautious middle Ireland votes required to pass the vote.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Coveney said: "The role of Fine Gael in this referendum will be vital: we are needed to reassure the middle ground. In that regard, the role of the Taoiseach, who has been on a very similar journey to me and others, will be even more critical.''
Today's poll result will add further force to warnings by Mr Coveney and Mr O Riordan to any Coalition TDs and Senators who were planning to 'coast' through the campaign.
Within Leinster House, a significant body of government TDs and Senators have claimed they have absolutely no intention of 'getting out of bed' over an issue that is so distant to the concerns of their voters.
Mr Coveney, who said he would be personally 'gutted' by a defeat, has anxiously dismissed claims that a lot of TDs were planning to vote No and to refrain from campaigning.
''That is rubbish, having spoken to my own party, my perception is that the view is hardening for the better," he said.
"This is something Fine Gael wants, not because it is in the Programme for Government but because we, ourselves, genuinely believe this is the right thing to do. We have come to the view of live and let live."
Mr Coveney conceded there were varying levels of enthusiasm in a big party like Fine Gael.
But, he also said: ''Anyone who thinks the Yes campaign will be driven by Labour, Sinn Fein or Independents alone are wrong. This campaign needs the engagement of the largest and most sophisticated party in the state in terms of infrastructure to win.''
Within Fine Gael, "you will see more of a focus and an effort than people expect''.
Mr Coveney also expressed his concern that a defeat would ''send out a message that gay partnerships are second rate.''
In contrast: ''By extending the privileges, rights and responsibilities of marriage to the gay community, we are bringing in a whole cohort of people to all that marriage offers," he said.
Mr O Riordan also warned: ''Public representatives have a responsibility to be energetic. It is a government proposal and a proposal from the people's constitutional convention. We should respect that.''
The Labour minister added: "(A defeat) wouldn't be great for the Coalition, would be even worse for the country, but worst of all, it would send a terrible signal to gay people across the country that they are tolerated but not accepted.''
Ultimately, he noted, the biggest blow ''would be to people, ordinary Irish citizens who are in love and want to get married''.
The Labour minister also told the Sunday Independent: "It may yet be the case that if things tighten it will be up to straight people, and men in particular, to get us across the line.
''When I was in school homosexuality was a crime. On the cusp of 2016, I think we are in a better place now but we will only know for sure after the vote.''