A clear Yes-No divide as voters convey conflicting motives on doorsteps

Sat, May 12, 2012, 01:00

ON THE CANVASS:THE NORTH Dublin suburban estates of Belclare and Sutton Park are separated by a few miles and a good few rungs of the social ladder.

One is a local authority estate; the other private. One has an employment rate several multiples higher than the national average; the other several times lower. One will vote overwhelmingly No in the forthcoming referendum on the fiscal treaty; the other resoundingly – but, significantly, not overwhelmingly – Yes.

The airspace is busy on both nights with referendum campaign teams in full flight. On respective nights we watch Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil groups fan across two massive estates.

Sutton Park, near to the coast, is as safe a haven as you can find in Dublin for the Yes camp, and indeed for Fianna Fáil. This area backed Nice and both Lisbon treaties and didn’t desert the party with the same vengeance that other parts of the capital did in February 2011. And unsurprisingly, there is a Yes majority evident on the doorsteps.

Not decisively so, however. True, the definite Nos are a small minority but there are a lot of soft Yes, and undecided, voters. Some, but not all, are public servants who feel they have taken the brunt of higher taxes and pay cuts. Among the uncommitted, the prevailing mood – for the moment – is that the desire to protest is superseded by the uncertainty of what might happen in the event of a No vote.

“I am voting Yes but only because I feel I have no choice,” is an oft-repeated sentiment.

Party leader Micheál Martin has joined Senator Averil Power on the hustings. Compared to the Lisbon and Nice treaties – where indifference was the predominant mood on the doorsteps – there is a huge level of engagement. Even those who aren’t sure what it’s all about give clear signals that that knowledge gap will be remedied by polling day.

It makes for long chats at doorsteps, with Power’s trademark jolly laugh never wavering even through the most tedious and crankish of engagements. She ends up sprinting between houses to try and finish the canvass by dark. It’s evident the vitriol against Fianna Fáil has died down too. There are only three rebuffs in 200 houses but one is very dramatic.

“Get lost,” a woman tells Power. “You were in power and destroyed the country.” The Senator quickly obliges.

Over in Belclare, in Ballymun, a smaller Sinn Féin team headed by Dublin North West TD Dessie Ellis encounters no such hostility.

Indeed, in an hour and a half of door-knocking, not even one householder says they are voting Yes. It’s No all the way.

But there is a problem inherent there for No campaigners. You can see it in the level of engagement, which is minimal. Indeed, most of the conversations are one-way as Ellis sets out his objections. While people are saying No, many of them may also be too apathetic to actually vote.

The minority who explain their reasoning have certainly thought about it. One man says: “I just do not believe the banks. We need to do what Iceland did. They are in a much better position.” He turns to Ellis and adds. “I’ve turned more left in the last couple of years. I’m voting No, de-fin-ite-lee.”

In Sutton Park, Fianna Fáil focuses its argument on the bailout fund, the ESM. Martin and Power also point out the uncertainty of a No vote, especially its effect on foreign direct investment.

“I hope that we do not need a second bailout but if we do, there is the certainty of having this. Yes will be better for investment such as the jobs in Mylan [a pharma company that recently recruited] down the road,” says Power.

“If you go No,” Martin tells a couple who are wavering, “there are no guarantees at all. Guaranteed funding in 2014 is the key issue. The bottom line is that it opens the door to the ESM. If you vote No, there will be uncertainty. It’s as stark as that.”

But the two politicians receive as much as they give. A woman and her adult daughter complain that Irish governments have been pushovers. “Things cannot be any worse. We are being screwed. I am very angry,” says the woman.

Her daughter pipes in: “Would a Yes really change anything?” The mother is blunt. “The Government needs to kick ass. They need to have the balls to say No to Europe.”

In Belclare, Ellis patiently sets out a similar case at every door: “Our economic sovereignty is getting sacrificed and we are getting more and more austerity.” Nobody quibbles with him. “It’s as if they are trying to blackmail the people,” says one woman. “There are going to be more cutbacks”.

A man named Noel Fagan in Belclare Lawns complains the Government is trying to “badger” people into a Yes vote. “It’s the same as the last time with Lisbon. Nothing good happened.”

With those people, you sense they will vote. But with others, who say they are voting No but then won’t really engage, you wonder if they actually will.

A mother of two teenagers is one of those who will need no motivation to vote. She stands at her door, a huge photograph of her family peeping out behind her from the sitting room, and lets fly at the Government.

“I think that we should not be paying for the mistakes of the banks. All the pressures we are facing. Taxes are going up. We are hard-working people here but we’ll end up working for nothing.”

On the Fianna Fáil canvass, it’s the number of undecided people that gives pause for thought.

A couple who work in the public sector set out their stark choice: “People are thinking they have to vote Yes because of the fear factor. The problem for us is that if we vote No we mightn’t get paid.”

A little down the road, a young father holding his baby also criticises the scaremongering from both sides. “Two campaigns of fear is what is doing my head in. They are all threatening us with more tax. It’s very hard to decide.”

A middle-aged voter on the next street sets out the quandary of many: “If people want to vote No it’s out of anger. But at the same time we do not want to cut off our nose to spite our face.”

Another of the Fianna Fáilers out tonight is Kevin Barrett, the party’s economic adviser. He paints a picture of conflicting motives on the voters’ part.

“There are lot of don’t knows. A lot of them are leaning Yes but they are not there yet,” he says.

“People are upset. They are taking a hit. There is a protest vote there but will it convert into No? A lot of people want to vote No but are afraid of what the consequences might be.”

Sinn Féin’s Seán Marlowe, out with Ellis tonight, also articulates how that phenomenon translated into a concern for them. “There is too much apathy. People are angry but when you meet them on the doorsteps they don’t really convince you they will vote. Getting the vote out is our main worry.”