News Analysis

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Lise Hand: It's a big 'Meh' from electorate as result brings only some relief

Published 12/11/2012 | 17:00

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THE people have spoken, and they said "Meh". Whether the two-thirds of the voters who steered clear of the ballot boxes didn't understand the proposed constitutional amendment on children's rights (a confusion propounded by the introduction of the Supreme Court into what was an already complex equation), or whether they thought that a Yes result was certain and their vote wasn't needed, or simply that the prospect of exercising one's franchise on a Saturday was just too exhausting, this was a Mehferendum, and no mistake.

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Within a short spell of the boxes being emptied on to tables in count centres around the country yesterday morning, the Government should've been observing the Sabbath by reclining on both its laurels and on a comfy cushion of a 70pc to 30pc vote in its favour.

But instead it had a bit of a worry-filled wait. Unlike the frenetic kick-off of a general election count, there were no hordes of tallymen and women doing the sums over the barriers, and it was swiftly clear that the No vote would be bigger than most predictions.

However, even that small balloon of tension subsided when it became apparent that the Yes side would indeed get across the finish-line -- albeit at a hobble rather than a canter. Only three constituencies rejected the referendum: Dublin North-West, and both Donegal North-East and South-West.

Dublin Castle was bereft of politicians and campaigners until almost 1pm.

Eventually, a trickle of Oireachtas members entered the hall exuding an air of relief rather than exultation. The poor turnout was nothing to celebrate.

Much of the post-count chatter was about the experiment of a Saturday vote. Joan Burton reckoned it had been a failure.

"The Saturday vote was clearly unsuccessful," she explained. "I saw it for myself in the constituency -- people were driving their kids to tap-dancing and matches, and dad was watching the rugby. They were everywhere except at the polling stations."

Fine Gael's director of elections Leo Varadkar wasn't ready to give up on weekend voting just yet. "I 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 because of the day of the week on which it was held. So I wouldn't close the door on Saturday voting just yet," he declared.

So, it was a result for the Government, but hardly a resounding endorsement.

But given the slightly close shave the Government had this time, even when it held almost all the aces in terms of support and funding, today's children may well be all growed up before another referendum is let loose among the electorate.

Irish Independent

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