Reflections on a Referendum- 13th November

Bank Holiday Tuesday published on the 13th of November, reflecting on the Children’s rights referendum that took place the Saturday before.  Despite support from all major political parties and children’s charities, controversies over the biased nature of the publications (finally upheld by the supreme court) and confusion as to what the amendment would actually do led to a stunningly low turnout- less than 40% of the electorate – and an incredibly narrow victory for the ‘yes’ side.

The original column can be found here

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The Three amigos

Oh fuck, John Waters is reading his poems again….

With one of the lowest turnouts in the history of the State, it’s safe to say the experimental Saturday ballot has failed miserably.  Guys, we are officially not allowed complain about being disenfranchised as students anymore because we seem to have blown it quite badly.  Less than 40% of the electorate came out on Saturday to vote and there are reports of ballots being spoiled with ‘Free Sean Quinn’ slogans.  As a nation, Irish people don’t trust the state, the government or the church.  And who could blame us?

We’re rubbish at teaching civics.  Remember doing CPSE?  Did it engage you at all, did it encourage you to be involved in public life in any meaningful way?  Of course not – it was the exam with a ‘poster design’ question.  As a fifteen year old girl I had to bring colouring pencils into a State exam.  As children of the Celtic Tiger boom and bust all we know of our politicians is that they’re corrupt or deeply incompetent, and many are both.

Thursday’s supreme court ruling underpinned how incompetent our government can be.  Because as I said all along, they had this in the bag.  The only opposition they had was either (a) criticising the amendment for not going far enough in the protection of children’s rights or (b) Dana and John Waters scaremongering.  Support was at 75% for a yes vote until the ruling.  All this does is reinforce the perception of government as under handed, corrupt, out of touch and it gave credence to a deeply extreme and paranoid no side.   It’s a massive blow to a country where people still shrug and say “sure if we vote wrong they’ll just run it again.” People’s faith in referenda is at an all time low after this ruling and the disaster of Lisbon II.

We’re rubbish at teaching kids to be critical.  Last week when reading coverage of the US election I came across an account in the Evening Herald from an Irish man in San Francisco who on election day went walking in the hills of San Francisco with what a group of middle class professionals in their 20s who weren’t voting.  They felt uninformed about the real issues of the US election and instead were just abstaining.  I’m sorry, what?!  You’re telling me a group of middle class, college educated, working people in their 20s in one of the biggest cities in the US felt uninformed about their election?  I am 5,000 miles away sitting in a classroom in Kildare and I felt informed about at least the basics of the US election.  This attitude doesn’t stand anymore and you see it here too.  So many people refuse to vote because they don’t understand the issue, or they don’t know who to vote for.

You’re all adults and most of you have received at least 12 years of education.  As I said above not the best civic education but still: you’ve been at school for 12 years and many of us are now in higher education.  Even those of us that aren’t have access to the internet, to news networks, to other people in their world.  There is no excuse to be completely uninformed anymore. If I can stay generally well up on my X Factor and learn about the state of the stock market before I ever get out of bed, people can read up on referendums and elections.

With the aim of improving voter turnout, I propose the following measures:

1) A photocall in Stephens Green encouraging people to vote with a grey faced middle aged man in a suit holding a big placard saying ‘VOTE’! Also he should be standing incongruously between two scantily clad models, as is apparently mandatory in Irish photocalls.

2) Biscuits at polling stations.  ‘Receive your post electoral Hob Nob here!’ If blood donors get it why not us.  There is very little I wouldn’t do for a free Hob Nob.

3) ‘I voted!’ stickers handed out at polling stations. there is also very little I wouldn’t do for free stickers.

4) A ‘vote or die’ ad campaign starring Pat Shortt.  In it, RTÉ would pledge to screen 12 hour blocks of Pat Shortt’s ‘showband parody musical jokes’ unless turnout improves to 75%.

It was a nasty little referendum.  In the absence of a moderate no campaign, balanced coverage had to give air-time to the paranoia of the extreme no camp.  John Waters spoke of “the austerity man coming knocking on doors to take the children” and others sincerely spoke of social workers stealing children from Maternity wards to sell to gay couples. The yes campaign was limp and tired considering that every major children’s charity and political party backed it.  That people would have such doubts and confusion even with all this backing exposes the deep mistrust we have of our Government and institutions.

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The Student Standard is NUI Maynooth’s independent News site and is currently preparing it’s maiden print edition.  Any Maynooth student or graduate interested in Writing for the standard should look here

Niamh ‘For fucks sake’ Keoghan

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