THE CHILDREN’S REFERENDUM has passed, and the result has been overwhelmingly welcomed by politicians and groups.
With a low turnout of 30 per cent, provisional results show that the Yes vote was 58 per cent while the No vote was 42 per cent.
So what happens next?
When Fine Gael’s Director of Elections for the Children’s Referendum, Minister Leo Varadkar TD, welcomed the Yes vote, he noted that a number of other things should follow on from this.
It is incumbent now on us as a Government to follow through on this historic decision by giving practical effect to the children’s amendment. This will include passing legislation to bring about equality in adoption law, enhancing child protection laws, the closure of St Patrick’s Institution, and the reform our family courts, among other measures.
The Houses of the Oireachtas has proposed to amend the Constitution 30 times prior to today, with the first amendment taking place in 1939 and providing for a state of emergency to secure public safety and the preservation of the State in time of war or armed rebellion.
Other referendums that passed covered issues such as the European Economic Community (1972), adoption (1979), the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the death penalty (2011), and the Nice Treaty (2002).
No campaigner John Waters said earlier today that there could be a challenge to the vote, if the referendum was passed. Though no announcement has been made yet, this is still a possibility.
Last week saw a Supreme Court ruling which upheld the Mark McCrystal challenge to the Government’s website and booklet on the referendum as being “not fair, equal or impartial”. This could continue to be an ongoing concern to those in power – and those who opposed the passing of the referendum.
Also earlier today, Dearbhail McDonald, the Irish Independent’s Legal Editor, predicted “huge sighs (of) relief” in the Government if the poll is passed, considering their “blunder”. It remains to be seen if those sighs are replaced with sharp intakes of breath should the referendum result be challenged.
The very low turnout of 30 per cent is sure to be a concern for the Government going forward. Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald described it as a “democratic issue” and said that turnout is a big issue.
The low turnout could be blamed on a combination of a number of factors:
- The day
- The lack of political opposition
- The campaigning
- The fact it was a referendum
Referendums traditionally have a lower turnout than elections, so this would partly explain the turnout. But the issue was further complicated by the fact that the referendum itself had overwhelming support from the government. This lack of conflict within the government was one of the reasons Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said there was a low voter turnout.
In late October, an Oireachtas Committee even had to call off plans for a formal Yes campaign event after fears that it could breach the McKenna Case Supreme Court ruling, which found that it was unconstitutional for the government to use public funds to campaign for a particular vote in a referendum, as this was “an interference with the democratic process and the constitutional process”.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan took the step of asking RTÉ to reconsider its usual protocol of ensuring equal prominence and airtime to both sides of the debate, but we showed how both sides would get 50/50 coverage.
Still, there were complaints from the editor of Alive magazine that campaigners on the No side did not get a fair hearing on various media, with some broadcasters allegedly choosing to use some campaigners more than others.
Will future referendums be held on Saturdays? One person who wants them to be is Fine Gael TD for Dublin North Alan Farrell, who feels weekend voting is so important that he has introduced a Bill to the Dáil to legislate for it.
He said this is on the basis that it will have less impact on public services and schools, and that it allows the opportunity for students and people working away from home to engage in the democratic process.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said today on RTÉ Radio that the government was “conscious that [Saturday voting] was something that was relatively new”, and that the government may have to look at it again.
It may well be that people’s voting pattern works better with their working pattern than it does with the routine families have on a Saturday.
Earlier this month, the Tánaiste said that the future of voting on a Saturday would hinge “to a great extent” on yesterday’s turnout.