News Comment

Saturday 30 August 2014

Dearbhail McDonald: Instead of celebrating our children, we ignored them

Published 11/11/2012 | 15:29

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IF the anaemic turnout for the children referendum proves anything, it proves that the Irish find social change hard to deal with.

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If this is what we are like for a referendum, backed by all political parties and almost all established civic society and children’s rights groups, what will we be like when we have to confront perennially divisive issues such as abortion, IVF treatment, stem cell research or equality for same sex couples?

Both the Government and the extraordinarily well funded Yes side must examine why their information campaign did not yield a higher turnout.

The No side (miniscule in comparison) will congratulate itself on the benefits of guerilla marketing and the rule requiring a 50/50 playing field on television and radio.

The issues confronting the electorate were legally sophisticated and complex: the potential for confusion was significant, the need for clarity even more so.

The Government, in particular, must examine why its own information campaign was deemed unconstitutional – despite apparently major efforts to ensure its information campaign was compliant with the McKenna rules requiring impartiality where public monies are used.

The Supreme Court’s ruling that extensive passages in its children’s referendum website and booklet were biased (towards a Yes vote) halted many voters in their tracks.

The ruling came last Thursday, on the virtual eve of the poll, and the edict forced the Government to shut its website not once but twice in 24 hours.

The ruling reinforced the general distrust of many people towards the Government, a distrust that was reflected in the massive no-shows. We have had an appalling, at times watershed record of failing children.

It is a pity that a day that should be one of celebration is one of ambivalence and indifference instead for many of our citizens.

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