Voting remains very slow in children's referendum
THE government will be hoping for a late surge in voting before the polls close at 10pm tonight to justify the decision to hold the children's referendum on a Saturday.
Voting has continued to be very slow across the country as the public determines if the Government's plans to enshrine children's rights in the constitution should be accepted.
Polls opened at 9am on the back of a politically-damaging Supreme Court ruling over the misuse of public funds to inform the electorate about the campaign.
More than 3.1 million people are eligible to cast their ballot with polling stations open until 10pm.
However, few of the polling stations were reporting a turnout of more than 20pc by mid-afternoon, despite the stated aim to increase participation by holding the vote on a Saturday.
According to RTE News, most places have recorded a very low turnout of between 10pc and 20pc, and it remains to be seen whether there will be a evening surge - as would be expected if the vote was on a weekday as people finish work - to up the figures.
Unless there is a surge in voting between now and 10pm, the Children's Referendum could be in contention for a record-breaking low turnout.
The lowest to date was the 28.5pc recorded in a referendum in July 1979.
Among those who have cast their vote was President Michael Higgins, who attended St Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park with his wife Sabina.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who had been canvassing in her Dublin Mid West constituency, tweeted her progress throughout the day.
"Bumped into the Currie family on my canvass of Lucan. They're voting yes. Hope you make time to vote," said Ms Fitzgerald in one update.
Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty also tweeted, saying he had cast his Yes vote, while Labour TD Joe Costello appealed for people to exercise their right.
"Low turnout so far. Please come out and vote Yes," he tweeted.
While the overall turnout to date has been very low, there has been big variations at various ballots. For example, the turnout in Blackrock in Dublin has touched 30pc but it is less than 9pc in Jobstown and 10pc in Smithfield.
In Offaly, rural areas are reporting a 24pc turnout compared to 18pc in the towns.
In Munster and In Connacht Ulster, the turnout has varied between the low and high teens.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said earlier be believed the amendment would be passed with the public grabbing the chance to contribute to the further protection of children.
"It gives many people who have been upset and outraged by revelations of child abuse of the past an opportunity to do something positive, to put provisions in our constitution to try and ensure we provide better protection for children in the future," he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment looks at a number of areas of children's rights including adoption, protection, state intervention in neglect cases and giving children a say in their own protection proceedings.
Forty-eight hours from the vote, the Government's use of public funds was held by the Supreme Court to have been wrong, with extensive passages on information leaflets said to breach rules on fairness.
The judgment, in the case taken by Dublin-based engineer Mark McCrystal, found the Government wrongly used a €1.1m fund in some of the publicity put out by the Referendum Commission.
The court did not consider the actual constitutional amendment itself.
Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein back the children's rights reforms. But five TDs wrote to the Government on the back of the court ruling urging that the vote be delayed.
Mr McCrystal's case, based on the 1995 McKenna judgment, contested that public funds cannot be used to promote a vote one way or another in a referendum.
Fewer than half the 2,000-plus islanders eligible to vote off Donegal, Mayo and Galway went to the polls early in the week as stations opened to avoid bad weather hampering collection and counting of ballots.
Counting of votes from the 43 constituencies takes place on Sunday from 9am. Results will be fed through to the referendum returning officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile at Dublin Castle.
The first indications of the outcome should be known before lunchtime, unless the vote is split by a narrow margin.
There have been 24 amendments to the constitution following referendums and nine proposals rejected by voters, the earliest of which was on voting rights in 1959.
Leading children's charities have thrown their weight behind the proposed constitutional reform on children's rights, including the ISPCC, Barnardos, the Children's Rights Alliance and lobby group Campaign for Children.
Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, who was the first to call for a children's rights referendum following the notorious Kilkenny incest case in 1993, campaigned alongside the Children's Rights Alliance under the umbrella group Yes for Children.
Those in the No camp include journalist John Waters, who has campaigned on the rights of fathers in the past, former MEPs Dana Rosemary Scallon and Kathy Sinnott, and the Parents for Children group.
The proposed new Article 42a calls for the first time for children's rights to be recognised in the constitution to ensure their protection:
- It will allow for state intervention if parents neglect or fail in their duty to their children, regardless of whether the couple are married;
- A child's own views could also be taken into consideration during child protection proceedings;
- A child would be eligible for adoption, where their parents have been found to have continually failed in their responsibilities;
- In some cases, the reforms would enable parents to voluntarily put their child up for adoption;
- Custody, guardianship and adoption of a child will be determined by the best interests of the child.
Opponents of the amendment expressed concerns over the extent adoption rights may be reformed and that the state could have preference over parents' views.
Mr Shatter, a family lawyer, said he had dealt with dreadful cases while practising.