independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

How did we make our voices heard? By staying silent . . .

Well, there's a first time for everything, I suppose.

This week I became a member of a club I'd never been in before – the majority club.

Yes, I'm a 67pc-er.

I am one of the 67pc of the Irish electorate who chose to sit out last Saturday's referendum.

Why would I do such a thing?

After all, I love voting.

I genuinely mean that. I still remember the sense of excitement when I cast my first vote at the age of 18 and I haven't missed a vote since.

And I still get a thrill every time I leave the polling booth, having exercised a franchise that is still denied to so many millions of people around the world.

Until Saturday, that is.

Why?

Well, there are a number of reasons, some more complex than others.

For starters, I wasn't prepared to buy what either side was trying to sell me.

I'd read the literature and came away none the wiser.

I read the comment pieces and interviews with protagonists on either side . . . and came away none the wiser.

In fact, it eventually got to the point where I was becoming increasingly infuriated at the patronising tones adopted by both sides who seemed determined to demonise anyone who had the temerity to hold a contrary point of view.

Frankly, for a referendum with such a paltry turn out, the levels of cynicism on display by elements of both the Yes and the No campaigns covered neither side in any glory.

If you were listening to the No campaigners, then if there was a Yes vote, every house in Ireland would face mandatory spot checks from fanatical atheist social workers who would snatch your children away from you and simply give them up for adoption. And you would never see your poor, precious little children ever, ever again.

In fact, some of the more excitable No campaigners warned that you wouldn't even be able to bring your kids to the hospital if they hurt themselves while playing because some nurse would immediately report you for abuse.

If you were on the other side of the argument, then you argued that the No side was comprised of religious zealots who would rather allow children to exist in a 'House of Horrors' style domestic situation involving appalling abuse than allow the State to intervene.

So, like 67pc of my fellow citizens, I just became sick to my back teeth of the spin, the deliberate obfuscation from both sides and the general sense that we, the public, were being taken for mugs.

And the bullying and hectoring from the victorious side in the wake of the low turnout vindicates that position.

In fact, it hasn't just been bullying and hectoring, there has been a sense of barely disguised fury from politicians, campaigners and commentators who were for the Yes proposition.

I've rarely seen a victorious side so livid. Perhaps it's because they knew that it was ultimately a Pyrrhic victory – all the money spent, all the media manipulation, all the moral blackmail and the public still wouldn't have the wool pulled over their eyes.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a decision I took lightly and myself and my wife spent quite a while discussing it – I know, rock and roll, eh? – but I didn't trust the Government's position.

There have even been calls from some of the more excitable people on the Yes side to introduce some form of mandatory voting system. Which – when you think about it for, oh, about a nano second – is a complete oxymoron. After all, forcing somebody to vote, prodding them into the polling booth under threat of sanction if they don't, is anathema to the very idea and culture of democracy, don't you think?

Because as far as I'm concerned I was actually being a good citizen last Saturday. Your vote is a precious thing.

It counts and it makes a difference.

And seeing as I genuinely wasn't sure about either side of the argument, I didn't want to cast a vote that I might later come to regret.

Was that the right thing to do? Who knows.

But I know that I feel that, as someone who stayed away from the polling booth for the reasons I stated above, I performed a more responsible piece of civic responsibility than those who voted just for the sake of voting.

The majority of Irish people decided to make their voice heard on Saturday – by staying silent.

Sometimes that can be just as effective.

Irish Independent

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