No campaign bemoans lack of time and resources
No alliance:Kathy Sinnott has been involved in a few referendum campaigns during her career but none quite like the children’s referendum.
“It’s very unusual,” says the former MEP for Ireland South, “with other referendums there is usually an organised campaign and this time there isn’t . . . I’ve never seen one like this before”.
The No side finds itself in a difficult position. With every mainstream party backing a Yes vote, the anti-amendment groups are fighting tanks with pea-shooters and, with little or no resources, finding it nearly impossible to campaign effectively.
“It’s a disastrous campaign,” says Ben Gilroy, leader of Direct Democracy, which is one of a number of micro-parties fighting the amendment. “Without money you can’t do anything.”
Unable to conduct a “proper campaign”, the No side communicate their message largely through online media and text messaging. “The Yes campaign is going to win hands down because of that,” says Gilroy.
Without a strong party infrastructure, the No campaign struggles for coherency. It is disjointed, concentrated in pockets around the State. The Yes side have long since garlanded the country’s lampposts with pro-amendment posters, yet with less than a week to go until polling, the No side still lacks visibility.
At times their situation appears almost farcical. The Unmarried and Separated Families of Ireland has two banners that they put up for a time before moving them on to a different location. “And the only reason we have two of them,” explains group leader Raymond Kelly “is because the guy spelled ‘children’ wrong on the first one.”
The Mothers’ Alliance, meanwhile, has “no funds whatsoever”, according to Nora Bennis, the group’s secretary. Their campaign is conducted online, on the ground and involves talking to people and attending meetings. But Bennis says they are resourceful: “We are mothers, you see, we know how to work on a shoestring.”
In Limerick Con Cremin, an organic farmer, is at the vanguard of the anti-amendment drive. Importantly, Cremin has posters, making him something of an anomaly on the No side. The posters, about 100 of them, are leftovers from the Lisbon referendum – No to Lisbon – which he will have altered. It is cheaper than buying new ones, he says, although he plans to do that too. He reckons he will put about €1,000 into the campaign, some of which will go on throwing “a few quid” to the lads he has helping him out.
Like most of the No side, he is not hopeful of success on Saturday, but takes comfort from the knowledge that he is making an effort. “I can hold my head high,” he says, arguing that the amendment “is the most dangerous thing to ever come before the Irish people”.
Farther south, the Kerry campaign seems relatively robust. “It’s going very well,” says Dennis O’Connor, one of a group of 30 or so parents who have been travelling around the county on leafleting expeditions. “Our only problem is we’re running out of literature.” They have just put in an order for 120 posters, which will set the self-financing group back about €1,200.
O’Connor says the loose organisation has received a great reception on the streets. “People are absolutely delighted to get information,” he says, claiming voters are unsatisfied with the Government’s information campaign. So with apparent support in the Kingdom does he believe the No side might have a chance? “Realistically, it doesn’t look that way, but who knows?”
If something connects the No groups it is a ruefulness; a belief that, with more time and more resources, they could pull it off.
“If [the campaign] was organised there’s no question that it would be a No,” insists Sinnott. For her the main problem has been the inability of the anti-amendment groups to communicate their message. The main political parties excelled in selling the electorate a positive “brand”. But, she says, comparing the referendum to a bottle of medicine, “people only see the branding on the front. They don’t see the warning labels.”
If the people see the warnings, “if they get one whiff of the real issue in this referendum” they will vote No. But as things stand she thinks “it’s going to be a Yes. And I think that’s going to be a tragedy. I think given more time it would be a No. More time and a decent crack at communication and it would be a No.”