Tuesday 20 February 2018

Difficult to cast informed referendum vote


JUST LAST week I spotted the Referendum Commission's booklet on the Lisbon Treaty. It was on a table at home. I had kept it with the intention of rereading it. Of course I haven't. I do know how I voted in the referendum and think I have a fair idea how I have voted in most referendums. If you asked me right now what the Lisbon Treaty was about, I don't think I would score too many points.

On November 10 we are being called to vote in another referendum. This will be the 31st time that we have been asked to change the Constitution.

There are just over two weeks to voting. Have you made up your mind how you will cast your vote?

At first glance and listening to people, usually respected for their common sense in society, it would seem that Yes is the only way to cast your vote. And then, at least in my case, you begin to read around the topic and listen to people debate the issue, and you realise that it might not at all be as simple as it looks.

In an opinion poll carried out for last Thursday's Irish Times, over 33 per cent of those polled were in that nebulous category of 'don't knows'. It seems Fianna Fáil might be on the way back and Sinn Féin losing.

Within days of the referendum being announced Archbishop Diarmuid Martin came out in support of it. But then I see that former Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty has suggested that the referendum might simply be unnecessary in the light of existing constitutional provisions and the laws of the land designed to protect children.

Ombudswoman for Children Emily Logan is supporting it as is the Chief Executive of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay. Columnist John Waters and former MEP Kathy Sinnott are opposing it. And the Catholic Voice and the free sheet Alive are also opposing it.

As a superficial and smart alec throw-away comment I could say those line-ups are enough reason for me to vote Yes.

Are we being asked to give the State more power while at the same time the State is refusing to train enough people to use that power well and morally? Many informed people say that social work supervision is in crisis.

Two things happened to me in the last few weeks. A woman whom I know, a great mother, intelligent too, is voting No and has asked me to consider voting No. She believes that the State very often can get things wrong and this referendum would be giving the State/HSE more power, a power they do not deserve to have. I hope I have parsed her argument correctly.

About two months ago Helmut Schmidt, a former German Chancellor and now in his 90s was on a television programme with the current German President, Joachim Gauck. Schmidt is greatly respected in Germany. He has been one of Germany's great post-war chancellors. Indeed, he is so respected that he is allowed break all the rules and is always permitted to smoke when appearing on television. There you go; even the Germans break the rules.

The programme was discussing the crisis in the EU. Both men are strong believers and supporters of the Union. But Schmidt tut tutted any idea of a referendum in Germany on any issues dealing with the EU. He argued that topics or subjects, which contain highly technical issues or deal with emotional topics, should not be put to the people in the form of a referendum. That strikes me as great common sense. Indeed, I often wonder how well informed I am and what informs me when I cast my vote in referendums, indeed, in all sorts of elections? By changing the opening hour on referendum day from 07.00 to 09.00 the State is saving €600,000. How much would it save if the referendum never happened?

Just over two weeks to go, I don't know how I am going to vote.

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