Opinion Comment

Thursday 21 June 2018

Coveney an unlikely poster boy for repeal

People like certainty and vote no in referendums for that reason - or so the old theory goes, writes Eoin O'Malley

Doubts: Simon Coveney is uneasy with the legislative consequences of a pro-abortion vote. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Doubts: Simon Coveney is uneasy with the legislative consequences of a pro-abortion vote. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Eoin O'Malley

If you don't know, vote no - that's a mainstay of referendum campaigns, and one many people believe works to thwart proposed changes to the status quo. The idea is that people like certainty, and if they're uncertain about what a proposed change will bring, they will prefer what they know, the status quo, to some uncertain alternative.

It looks like it will be used by opponents of repealing the Eighth Amendment currently prohibiting abortion in almost all circumstances. They will seize on Tanaiste Simon Coveney's announcement that while he'll vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, he is uneasy with and will not support the legislation that the Government is likely to propose enabling the Oireachtas committee's recommendation that abortion be allowed unrestricted by circumstances up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The suggestion by the second most-senior ranking politician in the country that it is too liberal for him might give others pause for thought.

Then we are being asked to vote for something that is still not revealed. And so voters lack certainty, and so they will vote to retain. That's the standard line. It's also probably wrong. The 'if you don't know, vote no' line was used recently in the Australian same-sex marriage referendum, where it didn't gain traction. It was also used in the referendums on the Nice Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty, the Seanad abolition and Scottish independence.

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