Hard-fought campaigns well matched in intensity
ANALYSIS:VOTERS NOW have 24 hours to pause for reflection before deciding on the fiscal treaty after one of the most hard-fought referendum campaigns in living memory.
The Yes and No campaigns have matched each other for intensity over the past six weeks, with the result that there has been no evidence of a decisive shift in public opinion in the course of the campaign as undecided voters gradually made up their minds.
The Coalition knew it would have a serious fight on its hands to persuade the Irish public to back the treaty, and has waged probably the strongest campaign by any government on Europe since the original decision to join in 1972.
From the start, the Taoiseach and his Ministers were keenly aware that the treaty could face rejection from a public disillusioned by the ongoing need for cuts in public spending and new forms of taxation.
In the past, referendums have been lost when a significant proportion of the electorate opted to ignore the actual question in front of them and instead vented their frustration about issues that had little or nothing to do with the constitutional change under discussion.
The Government’s efforts to keep the issue focused on the treaty itself and the implications of a rejection has been helped by the strong and coherent support for the Yes case provided by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin as well as the array of civic society forces who have been campaigning in favour of the treaty.
The No side has also fought hard every inch of the way sensing that there is a real chance of not only defeating the Government but of creating an international impact by persuading the Irish people to reject the treaty.
Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance have spearheaded the No campaign and both have campaigned effectively with daily press conferences, extensive postering and a strong media presence.
The McKenna judgment, which obliged broadcasters to give equal time to both sides, has helped to raise the profile of those campaigning for a No and they have had some success in trying to define the issue as a vote for or against austerity.
The arrival of Declan Ganley on the scene with his postering campaign and Shane Ross’s decision to get off the fence and call for a No vote helped generate more publicity for the anti-treaty forces as the campaign entered its final stages.
While there were a number of television debates, Taoiseach Enda Kenny took the decision to stay out of them and focus his attention on campaigning up and down the country. While he has faced some media criticism for that decision, the outcome of the referendum will tell whether he was right or wrong. Some of the shambolic television debates certainly did nothing to illuminate the nature of the choice facing the Irish people tomorrow.
As for the issues, the Taoiseach summarised the Yes campaign neatly on Monday by boiling it down to three fundamentals. He called on people to vote Yes to ensure access to a future bailout fund if needed, to protect the euro with new budgetary rules and to ensure the flow of foreign direct investment and jobs into the country.
The No campaign disputed all three assertions and has insisted throughout the campaign that a No vote would not prevent the State from accessing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) if it is needed after the current bailout fund expires in the middle of next year.