Far stronger No vote in poorer areas suggests shift to class politics for some

Sat, Jun 2, 2012, 01:00

ANALYSIS:The treaty was largely backed by voters in rural and middle-class areas and the No vote did well in working-class areas

THE RESULTS of the EU fiscal treaty referendum show signs of a significant divide between poorer and more affluent areas.

However, opinion is mixed over whether this represents a historic shift towards social class-based politics in Ireland, as is common in European countries.

In general, the referendum was supported by voters in rural constituencies and middle-class areas in urban centres, while the No vote was much stronger in working-class areas.

The highest Yes votes were recorded in the most affluent urban constituencies of Dún Laoghaire (74 per cent voted in favour, 26 per cent against) and Dublin South East (72 per cent for and 28 per cent against).

In contrast, the highest No votes were recorded in Donegal, which has a history of bucking the national trend, and Dublin constituencies with high concentrations of working-class voters.

These included Dublin North West (47 per cent voted in favour, 53 per cent against), Dublin South Central (49 per cent in favour, 51 per cent against) and Dublin South West (49 per cent in favour, 51 per cent against).

The social polarisation was most striking at local level. Tallymen recorded No votes of up to 85 and 90 per cent in traditionally disadvantaged areas such as Ballymun. This pattern was reversed in more privileged areas such as Sandymount, with some precincts reporting Yes votes of close to 80 per cent.

In Cork too, the social divide was clear. Cork North Central came closest to rejecting the treaty (52 per cent voted Yes, 48 per cent voted No), compared with its more affluent neighbour Cork South Central (62 per cent voted Yes, 38 per cent voted No).

As with Dublin, tallymen reported No votes of up to 85 per cent in disadvantaged parts of Cork North Central. Similarly, in Waterford city, largely working-class areas such as Ballybeg recorded No votes of close to 90 per cent.

“It’s quite socially polarised,” said United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett. “The manual working-class areas have voted highly No because the people have been the biggest victims of austerity. They have rejected the Government’s advice.”

Fine Gael TD and Minister of State Brian Hayes, however, said talk of a class divide in Irish politics was being “over-egged”.

He said one-third of housing in his Dublin South West constituency – which narrowly rejected the referendum – consisted of local authority homes. Some of those estates, he said, returned a significant Yes vote.

Hayes said he suspected the vast majority of people who had lost their jobs in recent years had voted No. “We’ve got to heed that message and get those people back on side, persuade them we can turn the country around,” he said.

Historian Dr Donal Ó Drisceoil of UCC and co-editor of Politics and the Irish Working Class, 1830-1945, said the results appeared to form part of a historic shift in Irish politics.

“The voting in this referendum confirms a pattern that has been emerging since the collapse of 2008, as evidenced in recent surveys, in the last general election, and in the mass resistance to the household charge,” he said.

“As the class divisions in Irish society become starker in the context of austerity, they are starting to be politically articulated. This marks a fundamental, historic shift in the Irish political landscape and suggests the beginnings of a move towards a system of class politics that has been absent in the State since independence – a so-called left/right divide.”

He said this shift may be the beginning of Irish politics being “normalised”, and it would be interesting to see how this would affect the existing party system.

Sinn Féin referendum campaign director Eoin Ó Broin said he had never seen a vote play out so starkly along class lines. He said it was far too early to say whether this would be repeated in a general election.

“My own sense is that those bearing the heaviest burden of the economic crisis overwhelmingly decided to say No. In my own constituency , it was very clear: in almost every Lucan box it was a Yes vote, in Palmerstown or Clondalkin it was a No vote.”

He said it would be foolish to assume how people voted in a referendum would change how they voted in a general election.

“I know that a huge number of our votes in this referendum were from Labour supporters. Whether that will happen in two years’ time depends on the Government’s policies and what we put forward,” Ó Broin said.

Ó Drisceoil added that the results were likely to spell good news for Sinn Féin over the short to medium term. Labour, on the other hand, might need to change direction rapidly to survive, he continued.

“In that context, and generally, the role of the trade union movement will be crucial,” he said.