Same-sex marriage: ‘No’ canvassing is more muted affair

It is clear No side does not have resources, volunteers or visibility of Yes campaign

Harry McGee talks to Mothers and Fathers Matter representative, Keith Mills, and tours the midlands trying to gauge if there's any truth to the 'shy no' rumours. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

There has not been a single viewing of a No bus crisscrossing the country.

You don’t see any No or “Níl” badges adorning lapels, or swathes of enthusiastic canvassers panning across housing estates.

There are few celebrity endorsers – certainly no Bono or Snow Patrol or Mary McAleese – just two county GAA players out of dozens who have endorsed a Yes vote.

Less than 10 parliamentarians out of 220 have said they will vote No.

It is abundantly clear the No campaign does not have the resources, nor the volunteers, nor the visibility, of the Yes campaign.

In only three areas has it came close to competing with the other side – in postering (those that haven’t been torn down!), in its national leaflet distribution; and on the airwaves (where there are legal requirements of balance).

Every indicator in the campaign so far has suggested the odds are very firmly stacked in favour of a Yes victory, and a handsome one at that.

But there is still a week to go to polling day.

In several referendums on different constitutional matters in the past two decades, No campaigns, with paltry funding and a small network, have pulled off spectacular coups and near-coups.

That said, it’s clear the No campaign has ceded the ground-war to the Government.

Whereas the Yes campaign has dozens of events and canvasses each day, there is little door-to-door canvassing by the No side.

Because of the lack of numbers, the No campaign has focused its canvassing and leaflet distribution at major sporting events, supermarkets at weekends and Masses on Sunday.

The Irish Times joined a canvass in the hamlet of Ballycahill, a few miles outside Thurles in Tipperary.

We joined the indefatigable Moira Morrissey, who, along with friend Eileen Barry, visited the Thatch Bar, local houses and spectators at an underage camogie game in the local field, near St Cataldus’ church.

Divided

Everybody knows Morrissey, and she has an open friendly manner.

But not everybody is fully buying her message, and that goes for old as well as young. Rural Ireland is more divided on this issue that it would have been a generation ago.

She has a traditional view on marriage. She says the people are “being brainwashed by all the politicians and sportspeople. What’s legal is not always right,” she says.

“I think this is the most important issue we have voted on. There is a major change to the most basic unit in society forever. It will change all we believe in and hope for our children and our grandchildren.”

But she is a one-woman village. There are few other canvassers out. Keith Mills of the Mothers and Fathers Matter group accepts the lack of a ground campaign: “We don’t have the resources. And a lot of those who support us are members of political parties.

“They are feeling a bit intimidated as their party says ‘you have to vote Yes’ and they have to [support us] covertly.”

Conclusions should not be drawn too quickly.

When we stopped people to film their views in Kilkenny, only one person was prepared to go on camera saying they would vote No, compared to quite a few who said Yes.

That was not the whole story. Slightly less than half of the approximately 30 people approached said they were voting No or were not sure, but were not prepared to say that publicly.

A few said the prevailing public mood music made it impossible for them to say they were voting No openly, without being labelled as homophobes or reactionaries.

Interestingly, a few said they had started off Yes, but had moved to No or “don’t know” in the past week because of doubts.

One said she had decided to vote No after reading a message from the Bishop of Ossory Séamus Freeman distributed in Mass the previous Sunday.

This, of course, is anecdotal, but it backs up two growing views – of a significant cohort of of shy No voters, and a belief the No campaign has gathered some momentum in the past week.

Like their Yes opponents, the No campaign encompasses a wide variety of groups and a wide divergence of views. There are agnostic gay people (a very small group albeit) involved who have a moral or philosophical objection to the concept of gay marriage. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those with fundamental religious views who believe all homosexuality is wrong and sinful.

Conservative Catholics

However, it would be fair to say that the predominant group within the No camp are conservative Catholics with strong “traditional” views on marriage.

The leading civil society group has been, without a doubt, Mothers and Fathers Matter, which is backed by a coalition of groups, including the Iona Institute and Family and Life.

No campaigns tend to be negative and, unsurprisingly, they are highly emotional in tone. This is no exception.

Surrogacy and adoption have featured heavily, with the alleged spectre of traditional marriage being relegated in importance.

Some of the posters have been provocative. Not as strident as “Hello Divorce, Goodbye Daddy”, but confrontational enough to evoke fury on the other side.

Are they stoking up fears that don’t exist, such as surrogacy?

“It is bogus to say the referendum and surrogacy are not interlinked,” Mills responds. “In every country that allows same sex-marriage and surrogacy there has been a large increase in surrogacy as a result.”

The other criticism is that the No campaign has used children as an emotional battering ram? “I would point out that we are redefining article 41. We are redefining the family.

“The family includes children, and you cannot exclude children. It is a bit rich for the Yes side when they have said we bring in extraneous matters.

“We have had ludicrous stuff from Leo Varadkar about a gay exodus if this referendum failed and a [separate] statement about the mental health of young gay people.”

The No campaign has its own criticisms. There is evidence of posters being torn down and No campaigners have received disproportionate vitriol on social media.

“I’m really angry about the way in which our posters have been torn down, says Mills. “Anybody who thinks that Twitter is a representation of Irish public opinion has a very low opinion of Irish public opinion.”

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