Size of No vote proves shock for Coalition

Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 00:00

Voters have approved the children’s rights amendment to the Constitution but the scale of the No vote has come as a shock to the Government.

Barely a third of the electorate went to the polls with 58 per cent voting Yes to the amendment and 42 per cent No.

The prospect of a legal challenge to the result remains in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling that the State had misused public money on its information campaign.

Constitutional law expert Paul Anthony McDermott said if it could be proved that most people did not make up their minds until they received the Government literature and were influenced by it, a credible challenge might be brought.

But, he said, overturning a referendum result would be “a nuclear remedy”.

Prominent No vote campaigner Kathy Sinnott said she hoped there would be a voter willing to take the challenge.

“I will help them in any way I can. This referendum is unsafe in legal terms because the result does not represent a fair choice on behalf of the people. Rules were broken by the Government and they spent our money on a one-sided and misinformed campaign to ensure a Yes vote,” she said.

The passage of the referendum will make it easier for the children of married parents to be adopted and will lower the threshold for proportionate State intervention in the family in exceptional circumstances.

Three constituencies recorded No majorities in the referendum when ballots were counted yesterday. They were Dublin North-West (50.39 per cent), Donegal South-West (56.47 per cent) and Donegal North-East (59.66 per cent).

Responding to criticism over the low turnout of 33.49 per cent, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday: “I can’t force people to vote.”

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael director of elections, said it was not the first referendum in which the turnout was low.

“In the fullness of time, few will remember the exact figures but history will record that on this day the Irish people decided to enshrine children’s rights in our Constitution. We have drawn a line under the past and now we begin anew.”

Asked if the Government would schedule Saturday votes again in light of the low turnout, Mr Varadkar attributed the turnout to “the nature of the referendum” rather than the day on which it was held. “I wouldn’t close the door on Saturday voting just yet.”

Saturday polling

However, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who said he was “disappointed” with the turnout, said Saturday polling was something the Government may have to look at again.

Geoffrey Shannon, the Government rapporteur on child protection, said he would forever remember “this day ... I think of the many children and families our child protection system has failed over the years it’s a new beginning, it’s an acknowledgement of those for whom this amendment comes too late. It will refocus our child protection system. The State is now doing something to ensure children will not drift rudderless in our care system.”

Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan said “in the fullness of time we’ll realise and understand the importance of today ... It’s a really important day for children” .