Sunday 18 March 2018

Kevin Doyle: Repeal bid at risk of defeat despite polls

Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The polls don't show it but there are plenty of reasons to believe the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment is heading for defeat.

To date, the Government has set a suitably calm tone, bringing almost everybody around to the idea that we should at least have a vote on arguably the most contentious issue in society.

But with the starting gun now fired on a campaign, the narrative is about to change dramatically.

Come May, the stories of enlightenment and ministers taking 'personal journeys' will mean little.

In the heat of campaign, the Government needs to be sure the public have a clear understanding of what is at stake, and what a Yes vote will mean.

As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar often says, "you can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts".

That is why the approach being adopted by Simon Coveney sets a dangerous shift in the debate.

Aside from the bizarre scenario where the Tánaiste finds himself subscribing to the same policy position as Sinn Féin, it is likely to confuse voters.

Telling voters they should repeal the Eighth, without thinking of the consequences, goes against logic.

It is a difficult personal decision for Mr Coveney, and he needs to be true to himself. But he also needs to be honest with voters.

It is not compatible to say on the one hand that the Eighth Amendment needs to be deleted from the Constitution, but on the other that he won't follow through on the context in which people will vote.

At frequent points over the next four months, there will be confusion in this debate, so it is incumbent on those in senior office not to add to it.

Likewise those who have championed repeal need to realise they can't scoff at people like Mr Coveney who struggle with the issue.

This will not be like the marriage referendum. Many people simply won't feel comfortable sitting down with their grandparents to explain the issues.

And there are very real human stories on both sides of the debate.

A poll last week showed 56pc in favour of repeal, compared with 29pc against. Just 15pc were classified as 'don't knows'.

That final figure seems extraordinarily small at this stage of the debate - so it's worth reflecting on where we were at this point in the marriage debate. A resounding 71pc were saying Yes compared with just 18pc No and 12pc were 'don't know'. Remember that on the day, the Yes side dropped to 62pc versus a No of 38pc.

Irish Independent

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