Sunday 21 January 2018

Government plans for big same-sex vote campaign

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald plans to play a strong role in the campaign according to insiders
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald plans to play a strong role in the campaign according to insiders
John Downing

John Downing

GOVERNMENT ministers fear complacency could lead them to lose the referendum on same-sex marriage planned for next spring.

Ministers in both parties say they will definitely not be relying upon surveys, which have indicated a huge majority of people will vote in favour of extending marriage rights to couples of the same gender.

One survey in April suggested that almost 70pc backed the planned change while just 21pc said they would vote against.

But senior politicians have said that the experience of referendum campaigns delivering unexpected results has taught them that a successful campaign must be almost as hard fought as a general election.


Party backroom strategists also say that, while opinion polls can be relied upon to predict general election outcomes, they are not often reliable when it comes to referendums.

The most recent referendum, in October 2013 when Taoiseach Enda Kenny sought to abolish Seanad Eireann, had been predicted in surveys as a big Yes vote.

But in the event the proposition was lost, and other campaigns in 2012 and 2011 were also not called very well by the pollsters. Strategists say that opinion polls used in referendum campaigns are not as finely tuned as necessary to be a useful guide.

One senior government source said that the planning for the same-sex campaign will begin soon.

"Already work is far advanced by officials in the Department of Justice to prepare under-pinning legislation which would follow a Yes vote.

(Justice Minister) Frances Fitzgerald is also prepared to play a strong role in the campaign," the source told the Irish Independent.

Another senior government figure also stressed that nothing will be taken for granted in approaching the campaign.

"It is true that opinion polls have not been an accurate guide in campaigning and it is true that a whole host of other issues, not least low turnout, can influence a vote outcome," the source added.

The issue is extremely important for Labour's standing within the Coalition, with the general election expected in spring 2016 at the latest.

Labour will be trying to get its members out to put in a strong campaign.

The Government decided last November that the referendum, recommended by the Constitutional Convention, would be held. A date has yet to be fixed.

Three referendum votes in total are also likely next spring.

One relates to reducing the voting age to 16 and the other urges an end to the 35-year minimum age requirement to stand for election as President of Ireland.

Irish Independent

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