Dances of innocence in midst of hard experience
SKETCH:First stop, Dublin Castle and the central count centre for the referendum result.
Next stop, Grafton Street and the Disney Store for some final research on those all important Santa letters.
And then, if they were really good, there would be pizza.
Neassa (4) and Clíodhna (2) from Collon in Co Louth weren’t that fussed by the outcome of the children’s referendum. They were in the castle because their mother, Mara O’Reilly, was part of the “Yes for Children” campaign.
“I wanted them to be here for this historic moment,” explained Mara, who works with the ISPCC.
As referendum counts and declarations go, yesterday’s was particularly dull. Disney and pizza afterwards would go a way towards brightening up the afternoon. The highlight for the girls came after the official announcement, when the returning officer departed and left an invitingly empty stage behind her.
In the body of the hall, both sides of the debate reacted immediately to the result. They gathered in small groups – moving from microphone to microphone – analysing the figures and advancing the best spin possible for their cause.
What was good for the children. What was bad for the children.
The children this.
The children that.
As the adults milled around, engrossed in the traditional post-result commentary, the two little girls climbed onstage and began to dance.
Apart from their mother, few noticed. Too busy talking.
They danced beneath the big screen displaying the final percentages and they danced around the lectern from where Ríona Ní Fhlanghaile had just declared the 31st amendment to the Constitution carried.
Neassa and Clíodhna were oblivious to the significance of what had taken place. Which is the way it should be.
A new article will now be inserted into the Constitution and it will be headed “children”. It took 20 years for our politicians to bring this about.
Following delays and false dawns and years of painstaking discussion in the Oireachtas about enshrining the rights of children in the Constitution, a wording was finally agreed upon for the consideration of the people.
Every political party in Leinster House supported the amendment. The church gave its blessing. Children’s rights organisations and the vast majority of people working in the area of child protection urged a Yes vote.
The weight of opinion in favour of this constitutional change amounted to the near full consensus of civil society in Ireland. Do it for the children, was the message.
But despite all that, the response from the electorate was decidedly lukewarm.
Twenty years in the planning. The counting of votes took less than six hours yesterday. Two-thirds of the State didn’t even cast one.
In keeping with the way the campaign was conducted, the supporters of the referendum far outnumbered those against it in Dublin Castle.
But that numerical superiority was not reflected in the final result. It’s not what the Government wanted to see.
On the big screen, the large red blob in the northwest corner of the map told its own story. But the politicians and Yes campaigners could live with it. It was just “Donegal being Donegal”, they sighed. As they saw it, Donegal was simply cementing its reputation as a serially contrary county by bucking the overall national trend again.