Low turnout under leaden skies as voters in northwest turn critical eye on treaty

Fri, Jun 1, 2012, 01:00

ON A hilltop overlooking the town of Letterkenny in north Donegal yesterday, the voters came out to cast their votes beneath an overcast sky.

At St Patrick’s National School, Lurgybrack, voting was “sluggish” according to Ann Fox, the school principal who acted as a presiding officer during the vote yesterday, with a 20 per cent turnout by 6pm.

However, it appeared that the majority of those who did turn out to vote were in the No camp. Although unscientific, a straw poll carried out by The Irish Times on 50 people as they left two polling booths in Letterkenny indicated that there was a strong No sentiment in the county, with 34 people saying they had voted against the treaty and just 16 saying Yes.

“Donegal is the forgotten county,” voters said time and time again when asked why there was a strong No sentiment in the county, which hosts the only two constituencies in the country to have voted No in both Lisbon referendums.

Some pointed to frustration at and distrust of the Government: “I am angry with them. They promised a heap of things and they’ve really gone back on their word,” Patricia Kelly said.

“And you know what’ll happen if this goes through? There’ll be more money going to the banks.”

Her husband Stephen agreed. “The Government are telling us nothing but lies,” but denied that he had voted No out of anger. “You just can’t really trust them,” he said.

James Doherty, who was delivering pizzas to the school for the presiding officers, said that Donegal had been left behind by politicians.

“They blew a lot of money bailing out banks . . . And I think if they get more money they’re going to bail them out again. I think what they’ve borrowed so far they’ve made bad work of.”

Across town in Trinity Hall the majority of voters were also in the No camp. “You’d need your head on backwards to vote Yes,” one man said simply, after he and his wife and son had all registered No votes.

Another man said the vote was taking place prematurely. “I think it’s the wrong time to be taking a vote.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse, basically. It should be delayed. We don’t know what we’re voting for.

“I think the way the banks are going they’re going to have to write down the debt. If we stick to the same austerity programme as we’re doing we’ll never get out of the problem.”

Another voter said he didn’t trust the Government to tell the people the truth.

“All the lies they told,” he said in explanation of why he was voting No.

Among those who said Yes, there was a fear that a vote to the contrary would bring uncertainty in the future.

Hazel McFadden said she had voted Yes on the basis of the advice the Government had given voters.

“I think there’s going to be more austerity regardless of what way the vote goes,” she said, but added that, because she wanted Ireland “to remain open for business”, she was voting Yes.

Frank McManus said he was No up until a week before the vote but had ultimately decided that a Yes vote was the safer option.

“We have to get the money somewhere,” he said. “I have a pension and I’m afraid we would lose out on the pension otherwise,” he said.

Meanwhile Fr John Joe Duffy, who with Rev John Dean organised a 3,000-strong protest in Donegal earlier this year to protest at cuts to rural schools, organised vigil protests at various rural schools in the county yesterday.

He said he had done so to highlight the fact that the schools, many of which are used as polling stations for referendum counts, might not be there in future, meaning people would not be able to vote there, and, more importantly, children would not be educated there.

“We’re asking the Minister to prioritise education. We do not think the way to reform education is through draconian austerity measures but to sit down and engage with parents and teachers in rural schools,” he said.

Fr Duffy said the vigils had been well-attended, adding that there was great enthusiasm and commitment from parents who feared that cuts to the education budget would result in the closure of rural schools.