Friday 24 January 2020

Forget campaign hype -- it's the vote that counts

TODAY the nation votes in a referendum that had -- up until Thursday of this week -- failed to capture the public imagination.

It took a challenge to the Supreme Court to ignite this interest and kick-start the sort of debate that was so sorely lacking in the Children's Referendum.

The highest court in the land ruled in its judgment that the Government had neither been fair, equal nor impartial in the poll information it had produced during the campaign.

This has led to intense debate in the 48-hour run-up to today's vote on whether the referendum should even be held at all today, whether the decision would affect the turn-out, or whether there would be a legal challenge to the result in the coming weeks, months or years.

Those arguments and debates are all important, of course, but on the day when the Irish people go out to vote only one thing matters and that is the vote itself.

Today isn't about what advice the Attorney General gave to the Government, what Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald did with that advice, or what may be in the Supreme Court's full ruling when it is issued on December 11.

Today is about the wording in front of us and whether or not it would improve the position of children in the Constitution and in our society.

The answer to that question is a simple yes.

There is no need to rake over an endless litany of scandals and failures that have shocked and shamed this nation. Both church and State have been profoundly negligent and wanting.

Suffice to say there are no fewer than 17 official reports cataloguing how Irish society failed to protect our most vulnerable children from abuse and neglect.

The 2009 report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is a chilling example.

The Constitution was flagged in that report, and others, as being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

As it stands at present, the Constitution only includes two child-specific rights: the right to primary education and the right to be protected when parents fail in their duties.

And the Constitution only allows the State to intervene in serious cases of abuse or neglect. Thus problems like those faced by children in long-term foster care, in relation to adoption, have never been clarified.

These are the sort of issues that today's referendum seeks to address.

Some critics on the Yes side suggested that amendment didn't go far enough and that a great opportunity was being spurned.

Indeed, there were mutterings that this directly led to the apathy and fog that surrounded the campaign and vote.

The No campaign, on the other hand, never mounted what could be described as a coherent opposition to the pro campaign.

Instead of delivering a consistent range of counter-arguments, all that emerged from the No side was a watery stew of ill-focused and tangential complaints.

If there really was a persuasive reason to vote No today, the anti-amendment advocates never promoted it.

But while we urge a Yes vote, for the reasons outlined and many more, it is even more important than people bother to engage at all.

The most important thing today is to make that decision, and then make the effort to go out and vote.

It has been said countless times but bears re-iterating: our right to vote was hard won and it is not something that should be taken for granted.

We can complain about our elected politicians but they are elected and we can fire them.

We can moan about the failings in our laws but we can change them.

We can rail against the inequalities in our Constitution and we can amend it.

Today is one of those days when you, as a citizen, have the right to make a difference.

Exercise it.

Irish Independent

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