Thursday 18 December 2014

Referendum turnout one of lowest in our history

Published 11/11/2012 | 05:00

Vote struggles to reach 30 per cent in capital after 'botched' campaign

A confused and apathetic electorate ignored last minute pleas to "get out and vote" and sent out a clear message to Government that they had botched the Children's Referendum.

Despite good weather, voter turnout was embarrassingly low in many parts of the country in the first Saturday referendum vote since the second Nice Treaty more than a decade ago.

At tea-time last night it appeared that voter turnout nationally was between 10 and 20 per cent, with significant variations around the country.

The question now arises whether the Government's information blunder - and subsequent Supreme Court ruling - contributed to the low turnout.

But from 9am when the polls opened -- an hour later than normal in a move designed to save some €500,000 -- it was clear that the turnout would be abysmal.

Former Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty -- an early and vocal opponent of the need for a children's referendum -- said it was impossible to say why turnout was so low but it was clear that many voters were confused.

"I said my piece that I felt this referendum was unnecessary and that all the protections required are be found in an existing article of the Constitution."

Asked if he felt that people were unclear, he said: "I am sure that is so."

Polling was described as "the slowest and lowest on record" in the border constituencies, with less than 6 per cent recorded across these constituencies by lunchtime.

It was expected a percentage turnout of between 10 and 15 per cent would be recorded in the region by tea-time.

In Dublin Central there was a similarly apathetic response to the referendum.

By 9pm last night, just one hour before polls closed, turnout in certain areas had improved on early afternoon but remained well below 50 per cent.

Despite repeated calls from politicians on social media like Facebook and Twitter by the times polls closed, some areas in Dublin South and West reported turnouts as low as 20 per cent.

In Dublin City, by 9pm, turnout was running at 29 per cent, while Dublin County turnout was running between 29 and 39 per cent.

Voters had to resort to casting their ballot by candle light and mobile phone lights in some polling stations in south Co Dublin, because of a power failure. The ESB say a fault caused power outages in parts of Blackrock, Monkstown, Foxrock and Leopardstown.

In Cork, turnout was between 30 and 38 per cent in the city, while in Cork county the average turnout was one in four.

The turnout in North Tipperary averaged at between 28 and 30 per cent, while in Co Waterford the average turnout was 30 per cent. In Sligo/ North Leitrim the average was 20 to 30 per cent.

Across Galway, the figures were between 17 and 30 per cent, while in Wicklow average turnout at 9.30pm was at 30 per cent.

Average turnout in Donegal South West was 23 at 9pm, while in Donegal north east the averages were much lower at between 12 and 20 per cent.

In Co Kildare the 9pm turnout was between 17 and 28 per cent, while Limerick city averages were among the highest at 34 per cent.

Cavan/Monaghan turnout was much lower at 18 to 25 per cent, while in Co Wexford the turnout was between 19 and 30 per cent by 9pm.

In Co Clare, the turnout was 25 per cent at 9pm, Carlow/Kilkenny reported turnout of 32 per cent, while Co Longford reported just over 20 per cent.

On Friday, the Government was forced to take down its referendum website for a second time after the legal team behind the successful challenge in the Supreme Court warned it would apply to the court again to shut it down.

The campaign website, childrensreferendum.ie, was removed on Thursday but a shortened version was later published. Solicitors representing Dublin engineer Mark McCrystal, who took the challenge, wrote to the Government demanding it be shut down again.

A No result and even a narrow vote in favour will result in serious political recriminations over the fiasco -- not least an examination of the role of Attorney General Maire Whelan in clearing the wording of the information booklet, that was successfully challenged in the Supreme Court.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald will also come under the spotlight, as will legal advice given to to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Senior ministerial advisers and civil servants who prepared content for the website and booklet that failed Supreme Court scrutiny will also be in the firing line.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be pressurised in the Dail this week to make a full statement on the information campaign.

A result is expected by lunchtime today but the confusion that has marked the referendum continued even on polling day.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) vetoed a planned discussion on the campaign due to take place on the RTE 1 radio show Saturday with Claire Byrne.

Ms Byrne explained to listeners that while they had not planned to discuss the substantive issues of the referendum, the BAI had decided that a discussion on the circumstances surrounding last week's successful constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court could breach the broadcasting moratorium.

Earlier yesterday a complaint was made to RTE by a prominent No campaigner over early morning news bulletins which stated: "Voting is under way on the Children's Referendum, which proposes amending the Constitution to recognise and affirm the natural rights of all children."

Richard Green of the Christian Solidarity Party said he complained to the RTE newsroom through the duty editor that this was, in their view, an inaccurate and partisan summary of the referendum, biased in favour of a Yes vote.

Later RTE radio bulletins and the station's website were amended and the phrase "which proposes amending the Constitution to recognise and affirm the natural rights of all children" was absent.

Sunday Independent

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