Constitution Day - many referendums but too many choices?
Gay marriage referendum may be one of up to 11 held on the same day in 2015
Here are your 11 ballot papers...Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
When you want to discover what a Government isn’t going to do, just read through its programme for government.
Such documents are proof of the human condition, the compromise between hope and nope, between aspiration and desperation.
The Government promised that it would hold a Constitution Day no less and within a year of the general election. This would be the day on which five or six major referendums would take place to decide fundamental (and maybe less fundamental) questions around outdated or anomalous aspects of Bunreach na hEireann.
Did it happen? No. Could we have told you it wouldn’t happen within a year? Yes. Did anyone challenge it at the time? No.
Another broken promise? Well, not quite either.
It seems that we may yet have the Constitution Day after all. But like a lot of things in politics, not in the way that it was originally envisaged.
My own impression (and you know, years of doing this job have not left me untinged on the cynicism front) is that the Government had kind of given up on Constitution Day and allowed the Constitutional Convention to go on and do its thing. It knew that there would be a series of referendums but had not given much thought to how they would be run.
Then came the defeat of the Seanad referendum and the political ramifications of that.
When the Convention on the Constitution approved it, the Government had no option but to respond formally by this week. Kicking it into row G of the stands (which was the preferred option of some Fine Gael deputies) was not a choice. Labour was insistent that this not be delayed or sidelined.
So we have agreement on a referendum in 2015. But the Government this week indicated that it would be part of a cluster of referendums which might be run on that day.
The thinking is (I think!) that if the gay marriage referendum was run as a stand-alone, or as one of only two, it might prove to be too divisive and might be vulnerable to a loss that might otherwise be prevented. Nested in among other referendums – some of which will provoke interest and debate - might take the heat and the starkness away from it. Handily too, it will also give some cover to Fine Gael TDs who might be unenthusiastic about the prospect of gay marriage.
The highest number of referendums held on one day has been three, the most recent of which happened at the time of the Nice 1 referendum over a decade ago. The other two referendums passed – abolition of the death penalty and acceptance of the International Criminal Court – but Nice fell. Some analysis at the time attributed the loss to voters being distracted or not fully focused because of the other two referendums. But it’s hard to see how they had any bearing, given the markedly different way that people voted in Nice and in the other two.