'The great struggle was between fear and anger - and fear has won'
The mood of the campaign remained relentlessly dark, nervy and niggling, rather than illuminating, volatile or entertaining
THE PEOPLE have grunted. Like Little Britain’s delinquent teenager, Vicky Pollard, they had their “yeah but no but . . .” moment, tussled briefly with their inner rebel, stamped their feet, sighed, shrugged and settled for yeah. A sulky, passive-aggressive yeah. Did anyone notice? A shopkeeper said she felt like putting a banner in the window: “ANGELA, LOOK! SEE WHAT WE JUST DID? ENOUGH. NOW.”
One voter even used the ballot paper to give Angela an ironic Number 1 – “because this is what this is about after all”. Sure it was a spoilt vote, but given the national mood, perhaps he or she had more self-respect afterwards than many of the straight Nos and Yeses.
“There are an awful lot of unhappy Yeses and even more unhappy Nos out there . . .”, said Joan Burton frankly. Never mind the vast number who just stayed away. One No campaigner tried to suggest that the no-shows were giving a “big kicking” to the Government. The reality is probably different.
A 27-year-old beauty therapist who had intended to vote No couldn’t find her polling card and so went to the pub. “I’m just as pleased to be honest with you. My heart wasn’t in it.” Living in a working-class area, she knew a lot of people who were voting No. Her own concern was about handing further control to Europe – “sure they have it anyway”, she sighed – but among her friends and neighbours she sees a pervasive sense “that the low paid are being squeezed and squeezed and it’s all for the big boys”.
The big boys ? “The banks, the developers . . . A lot of people I know are very angry. But I’ll be honest. A lot hadn’t a clue and didn’t want one.”
In the Yes camp, there were anecdotes of voters getting the bus then deciding not to get off at the polling station and of others emerging in tears, enraged at being “forced” to vote Yes. “Another humiliation”, said one man grimly, “I was too frightened to do anything else . . .” Too frightened to kick over the troika table. Too weary to discern the lesser of two evils. Wondering at dead of night if other countries would surrender so meekly given the chance; then, come the dawn, persuading ourselves that our sophisticated thinking, our ability to see things in a nuanced fashion is the secret weapon that will see us through.
“The great struggle was between fear and anger – and fear won,” said Gerard O’Neill of Amárach Research. “Anger is about the past and the present, about what has happened to people’s lives, about cuts and unemployment and emigration . . . Fear is about the future – about what might happen to the euro, to the world, to Ireland, to the economy. So you had that tension between anger and the past and the present, and the referendum, which is about the future and whether Ireland will have access to funds and that’s a vision of the future that motivates fear.”