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We asked people in Dublin city centre if they're ready to vote on Friday. Alamy Stock Photo
March Referendums

We hit Grafton St to ask people if they understand Friday's referendums... mostly, they don't

If you’re confused, you’re not the only one.


HAVE YOU DECIDED how you’re going to vote on Friday?

If you haven’t yet, you’ve got quite a bit of company.

In fact, uncertainty seems to have grown as polling day approaches. Over a third were unsure how they will vote in the ‘Women in the home’/Care and Family referendums – up 12 points in a month – in the latest Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks poll taken over 1-2 March. 

Uncertainty was also the overwhelming response when The Journal asked people on Dublin’s Grafton Street this afternoon whether they understood what they were being asked to vote on, and whether they had decided yet which way they would vote.

Amid a pretty desultory Yes-Yes campaign to date by government and correspondingly muted media coverage, voters said they did not feel they had heard enough yet to make a decision, with several saying they would need to sit down and do their own research before Friday.

Here’s what people told us.

‘I’ve just got a vague idea’

Just three days out from polling day, several people brought up the fact that they had not yet received the information booklets everyone is supposed to receive from the Electoral Commission.

Brian from Dublin was among them.

“I’ve just got a vague idea of what the referendum is about,” he said, adding that he was worried about the consequences of extending the definition of a family unit and how that could create opportunities for people to “game the system”.

In the Family referendum, we’re being asked to vote on whether to extend the definition of a family from that currently in the Constitution – that it’s based on marriage – to encompass families based on “other durable relationships”.

“It’s very unimpressive the way this thing has been rolled out. I haven’t seen or heard any real debate,” Brian said.

There will be a debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time this evening, with Tánaiste Micheál Martin and conservative lawyer Maria Steen expected to argue for Yes-Yes and No-No respectively. There have been some head-to-head debates on radio, although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Senator Michael McDowell of the No campaign appeared separately this morning on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Claire (38) also has not yet received her information booklet. She said if it turns up two days before polling that was not enough time, as people needed time to take in its contents.

She said she did not understand the two referendum questions.

“I haven’t seen much written about it and that’s because I haven’t been searching for it but then usually, by osmosis, you do find out what the wording is, and what ‘yes’ is for and what ‘no’ is for?

“At the moment I don’t feel like I’ve got that,” she said.

“I feel like I need to go and do a bit of digging and find my own information.”

She said she had seen people flyering for Yes in her constituency yesterday, the first time she had seen campaigners out from either side.

Fergal (30) said: “I’m going to vote but I feel like I’ve had almost no useful information.

“I appreciate you have to go past the headlines and read up, go through the Electoral Commission [information], but I feel like there’s no real impetus for this one so no-one’s really giving the answers.”

He said he had received his information booklet.

The Journal / YouTube

Older voters and the care referendum

Traditionally, older voters are more likely to turn out to vote.

How do older women, many of whom stayed at home to mind their own children, and who may themselves need care in the coming years, view the upcoming Care referendum?

This will replace the articles – long derided by feminists – that refer to women’s “life within the home” and to mothers’ “duties in the home” with new wording aimed at recognising that care by family members benefits society and asking the state to “strive” support this care.

You can’t vote to take the “duties in the home” stuff out without voting the new care stuff in, however – the government has rolled them together as one vote.

The proposed Care amendment has been criticised as too weak by many carers, as failing to respect the rights of disabled people by Inclusion Ireland, and as ineffective and “implicitly sexist” by the Free Legal Advice Centre. By contrast, the National Women’s Council of Ireland says a ‘yes’ vote will both remove sexist language from the Constitution and recognise care, sending a message to government to support all forms of care.

On Grafton Street, one older woman who declined to give her name said: “I’ve done my best to try and understand it and I don’t know how I’m going to vote.” 

Another said she would “definitely” vote yes, viewing the proposed wording as a “reasonable attempt to address the problems of the 1937 Constitution, which is the ‘role of women’”.

“All my all my life we have been really unhappy about that reference in the Constitution. I think they’ve done a reasonably good job on that and they’ve explained it reasonably well. I think they’ve done much less well on the family one.”

Both these women said they were unsure how to vote on the proposed wording on the family and durable relationships, which they correctly understood was likely to require further interpretation by the courts.

“If it’s vague enough to require interpretation by the courts, I think that’s unsatisfactory,” the second woman said.

The Explainer / SoundCloud

Momentum for Yes-No

Younger voters on Grafton Street also said they had struggled to gain a full understanding of the issues they were being asked to vote on, but several noted momentum towards a Yes-No vote: ‘yes’ on the family referendum and ‘no’ on care on the basis that the proposed wording is not sufficiently progressive. 

Chris (40) from Dublin said he had been getting his information on the referendum from social media, and had also been influenced by the stance taken by Senator Tom Clonan, who has argued that the use of the word “strive” renders the Care referendum meaningless.

Chris noted “momentum that has built around [Clonan] and a few other people”.

Ava (20) said the additional perspectives being voiced on the Care referendum had given her pause.

“I feel like there are lots of sides being brought up, like [to do] with disabilities, that I’ve only just learned about around the wordings, and how it affects not just women,” she said.

Along with her two friends, she has not yet decided how she will vote. All three said they wanted to vote in a way that was feminist but also fair to vulnerable people in society.

“You’re hoping you make the right choice,” Ava said.

Polls open at 7am on Friday and results are expected to be in by Saturday evening. 

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