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Johnny Fallon: Government nail-biting gives way to relief as soon as ballot boxes are opened


Counting of votes begins in the City West Conference Centre, in Dublin. Photo: PA

Counting of votes begins in the City West Conference Centre, in Dublin. Photo: PA

Counting of votes begins in the City West Conference Centre, in Dublin. Photo: PA

WHATEVER bit of excitement there was in the fiscal treaty referendum came on the back of a low turnout last night. Immediately people began to wonder what it meant for the result. For the first time those on the ‘Yes’ side began to bite their nails.

There was a lot of talk about voter apathy, but the truth is that on this occasion, indecision was as much a factor as apathy in the voters’ decision to stay away from the polls.

As the ballot boxes were opened there was quite a lot of hope on both sides. The nail biting didn’t last overly long. The seasoned tally people were on hand to give us a flavour. There are some rules which everyone looks for. An early indicator was rural Ireland. This is where traditional parties like FF and FG and organisations like the IFA hold influence.

In the past when the Yes side is having a bad day they only score narrow victories here or even sometimes lose. If you are not winning your base you are in trouble. From the first few boxes opened it was clear that the ‘Yes’ side was holding up very well in rural areas. The government owes them a debt of gratitude for delivering what they asked.

The next and biggest battle is that of the urban vote. Numerically this is the one that will decide things. There was not much surprise to find that better off middle class areas were backing yes by a large margin. These are the people with jobs, with some security and who know that changes such as defaulting on debt or leaving the euro could make things a lot worse for them.

On the other had working class areas and places suffering the ravages of austerity and unemployment were veering towards a strong No vote. This was no surprise either. For voters here, what is there to lose? In their minds things cannot get any worse no matter what we do so any change would be good change.

In the clamour to get on with the result the government should ponder long and hard about these areas and what this result is saying. Now is not the time for Ireland to become an ever more divided society.

The urban constituencies that form the middle ground are the final area to watch. Here, the Yes side seem to be consistently edging ahead and with the rural areas giving them a solid base that would be enough to deliver a result. That is why some people could call a result 20 minutes into counting.

Of course, things can always change and there can be shock turnarounds but patterns tend to stay. If the tally figures continue to hold as of now then this result points to a number of things. Firstly, the people remain confused and indecisive, that begs a question of leadership, which it would seem the electorate have decided is still lacking. Secondly, a majority want Ireland to stick with its current approach at least for now, they want some security.

The danger here for the government is that they cannot assume this is an endorsement of the EU itself or a free rein for the future. The vote was reluctant in many cases and unless the EU changes it’s approach I would not hold out much hope for another referendum being passed if the people had to vote. The government must not follow, instead, having secured this vote, our government must now lead the way in Europe and become the nation that can bring others together and knock some heads together until the EU negotiates a policy and a future than works.

The vote is over, the battle is just beginning.