Children's referendum passed amid low turnout
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has welcomed the passing of the children's referendum by 57.4 per cent to 42.6 per cent.
“The passing of this amendment will help make childhood a good, secure and loving space for all our children,” Mr Kenny said in a statement. “It will also give hope, reassurance and confidence to parents, foster parents and vulnerable children.”
The proposed constitutional amendment looks at a number of areas of children’s rights including adoption, protection, State intervention in neglect cases and giving children a say in their own protection proceedings.
More than 3.1 million people were eligible to vote, but the low-key campaign failed to capture the public imagination. The turnout was just 33.5 per cent.
Despite the low turnout, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said it was a “historic day” for children’s rights in Ireland.
Asked about the Supreme Court decision last Thursday that found the Government’s information booklet and website “not fair, equal or impartial” or whether Attorney General Máire Whelan had advised against using some of the material, Ms Fitzgerald said it had been the Government’s intention “at all times” to comply with the McKenna judgment.
“All of the normal processes were followed by my own Department and by the Office of the Attorney General in relation to that.”
She said the issue of Saturday voting “needed to be examined.”
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the Supreme Court decision would be addressed when the detailed judgment is delivered on December 11th.
“I think there’s been a lot of issues discussed in the lead up to the referendum and I’ve no doubt there’s going to be a lot of discussion later on. But the central and most important thing that we have achieved is a sea change in our constitution in the manner in which we treat children, recognise that they have rights and the obligation given to our courts and social services to truly listen to the voice of the child,” he said.
Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael’s director of elections for the referendum, said he would have liked if the turnout had been higher.
“We did expect the margin to be a little bit wider but we’ve had plenty of low turnouts before in referenda and we’ve had a lot of referenda that were a lot tighter and in the fullness of time people forget those details,” he said.
“What history will record is that the Irish people voted today to enshrine children’s rights in our constitution and that makes it a historic day and a day for celebration.”
Sinn Féin Children’s spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the vote was a clear endorsement of the amendment to strengthen the rights of children but said the Government now needed to “match words with actions”
Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children Robert Troy welcomed the result but said questions remained over the Government’s handling of the campaign.
Three of the 43 constituencies in the State voted No: Donegal North East, Donegal South West and Dublin North West.
Total votes: 1,066, 239
Yes votes: 615,731 (57.4%)
No votes: 445,863 (42.6%)
(Click a constituency for detail)
The first constituency to report was Donegal South West, where 56.47 per cent voted No, as against 43.53 per cent in favour. Turnout was just 23.81 per cent. Donegal North East also voted No, by a margin of 59.66 per cent to 40.34 per cent.
Dublin North West was the third constituency in the State to vote No, albeit by a very slim margin of 50.39 per cent to 49.6 per cent.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny's constituency of Mayo voted by a margin of 53.01 per cent to 46.99 per cent in favour of the amendment.
In Tipperary South, where local TD Mattie McGrath was the only TD to publicly back a No vote, the referendum was carried by a margin of 54.17 per cent to 45.83 per cent. Turnout was 35.18 per cent. Tipperary North voted Yes.
The highest Yes vote was in Dublin South, where nthe referendum was carried by 73.03 per cent in favour. There were Yes votes of 71.87 per cent in Dublin South East and 71.57 per cent in Dun Laoghaire.
In Kildare North, the referendum was carried by 66.27 per cent in favour. There was also a strong Yes vote in Dublin North-Central, where 63.31 per cent were in favour. This constituency had a turnout of 42.03 per cent, which was the highest in the country, just ahead of Dún Laoghaire.
Galway East, Limerick and Limerick City passed the vote by about 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he was "disappointed" with the turnout. He said a Saturday vote is something the Government "may have to look at". He said the referendum "never took fire in terms of debate" and this may have resulted in people feeling it was a "foregone conclusion" .
Earlier, Ms Fitzgerald defended the decision to hold the vote on a Saturday, and hailed the result as a historic day for the protection of children in Ireland. On the subject of the low turnout, Ms Fitzgerald said she would have preferred if it had been higher but expressed delight that the referendum is likely to be passed
Asked in Killarney last night about the low turnout, Mr Kenny said in some countries it was compulsory to vote. However, this was a democracy and people couldn’t be forced to vote, he said, adding that holding a referendum on a Saturday made little difference.
No campaigner Kathy Sinnott said the real losers are the children of Ireland and their parents "who have now lost their right to protect them". The former Munster MEP said she is worried for democracy because the State has lied and cheated and got away with it. She said the referendum is "contaminated" in her view.
She called for the resignation of Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald following the Children’s Referendum
“The amount of people voting no shows that the leadership in this country is out of touch. Heads should roll after this. Frances Fitzgerald’s position is untenable.”
No campaigner John Waters said the 42 per cent of people who voted no was a “fantastic achievement.”
“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t defeat the Government on this but the significant number of people who voted no was a great achievement for the No side.”
“When you consider that all the major political parties, the church and media were all mainly in favour of the Yes vote and had greater resources for advertising and promoting a Yes vote then what the No side have achieved is remarkable.”
Solicitor Malachy Steenson said a challenge to the referendum was “up for discussion.”
“There are huge questions this State has to answer. If I was the Minister in this current Government I wouldn’t be too complacent because a damning indictment of their policies has been delivered today,” he said.
There have been 36 referendums in the State’s history on issues ranging from abortion to bail, citizenship to the voting system. The record low turnout was in June 1979 when just 28.6 per cent voted in the referendums to change the adoption laws and the franchise for the Seanad university seats. The turnout in the fiscal treaty referendum last May was 50 per cent.
All political parties - both in Government and Opposition - had campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote. Others supporting a ‘Yes’ vote include leading children’s charities the ISPCC, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Rights Alliance and lobby group Campaign for Children.
Table: REFERENDUM RESULTS BY CONSTITUENCY
Scroll right for more figures.