Campaign highlighted political contradictions

Result confounded all predictions, including a series of opinion polls

Fianna Fail director of elections Niall Collins speaks to reporters  at Dublin Castle  shortly before the referendum result was announced. Photograph: PA

Fianna Fail director of elections Niall Collins speaks to reporters at Dublin Castle shortly before the referendum result was announced. Photograph: PA

Sun, Oct 6, 2013, 09:26

The political map of the State, showing how each constituency voted, is a telling illustration of all the contradictions thrown up by this referendum.

There is a swathe of red (No) on the eastern seaboard and in Dublin, where every single constituency voted against the proposition. When you move outside the capital there is a sea of green sweeping down the western seaboard, all voting Yes with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

There are outliers of course. The two Donegal constituencies have bucked the trend in every referendum over the past decade and voted No.

So some constituencies with big urban areas — Galway West, Cork South Central, and Waterford — as well as Cork North West, which takes in the built-up Ballincollig area. It suggests what can be roughly described as an urban-rural divide in sentiment among the population.

Given the strong anti-Government sentiment in Dublin and in the commuting counties of Leinster, it is clear there is an anti-Government or mistrust of Government element to be discerned.

The result confounded all predictions, including a series of opinion polls culminating with The Irish Times/Ipsos mrbi poll last Monday which showed a 44 per cent to 27 per cent gap between Yes and No voters.

Were the polls terribly wrong or was there a step-change in voting intentions in the last week of the campaign? Perhaps, it was a mixture of both. For one, many of the respondents to opinion polls don’t vote. Only 8 per cent of respondents in The Irish Times poll said they would not vote, yet the turnout was 39 per cent, some 55 percentage points shy of that. In addition, one in five voters said they did not know — that represents a high level of uncertainty.

I met very few people who said they were ‘committed’ Yes voters and many who were committed to the opposite viewpoint which illustrates the phenomenon of the soft Yes and the hard No.

The Government parties will spend a lot of time reflecting over the next days and weeks on the decision that Taoiseach Enda Kenny would not take part in a head-to-head debate with Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin. It is certain that that had an impact but it possibly would be too much to say that it was enough to sway the outcome.

In past referendums, opinion polls have picked up swings in the last weeks of the campaign, most notably in the first Lisbon referendum. It is possible that there was a late surge for the No side. On Friday, quite a few TDs and Senators were saying they had noticed something of a shift since the early part of this week.

That raises the possibility that those who had not engaged, or who had declared a soft Yes without examining the issues, may have come to a decision in the last three days of the campaign.

Fine Gael and Kenny were the instigators of the campaign and will take a disproportionate amount of the criticism for the defeat — in contrast, Labour will suffer collateral damage at most.

One of the main issues for Fine Gael will be its decision to feature two superficial slogans to spearhead its campaign — the €20 million saving as well as fewer politicians. Their opponents claimed that the arguments were shallow, cynical and lacked substance — perhaps that had resonance with the public, as did the No campaign’s main argument that it was a “power grab” by government and would concentrate power in the hands of the executive. The Government campaign may not have sufficiently parried that particular thrust of attack.

Undoubtedly, the civil society group Democracy Matters as well as Fianna Fáil, its leader Micheál Martin and campaign director Niall Collins, are the big winners and both will feel vindicated.

It must be considered a setback also for Sinn Féin. After internal wrangling, and differences of opinion between Gerry Adams (who was No) and Pearse Doherty (who was reportedly supporting a Yes vote), the party opted to campaign for abolition.

It may now try to deflect the blame onto the Government parties, but there is no denying that the party backed the wrong horse on this occasion.

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