Turnout for children's referendum poll among lowest

Sat, Nov 10, 2012, 00:00

Voting in the children’s rights referendum has drawn to a close, with just under a third of voters turning out to cast their ballot.

The proposed constitutional amendment looks at a number of areas of children’s rights including adoption, protection, State intervention in neglect cases and giving children a say in their own protection proceedings.

After polls closed at 10 pm tonight Government sources estimated that the turnout would be around 32 per cent.

There have been 36 referendums in the State’s history on issues ranging from abortion to bail, citizenship to the voting system. The record low turnout was in June 1979 when just 28.6 per cent voted in the referendums to change the adoption laws and the franchise for the Seanad university seats. The turnout in the Fiscal treaty referendum last May was 50 per cent.

More than 3.1 million people were eligible to vote today, but the low-key campaign may have failed to capture the public imagination.

Earlier today, some areas in Co Sligo reported turnout of as low as 3 per cent by noon, while in parts of Co Longford, it was only at 2 per cent. According to RTE News, parts of Dublin South West were only slightly higher at 3 per cent and 4 per cent.

Some areas of south Dublin were also hit by a power outage.

At 9.00am, the ballot boxes will be opened and the contents verified by comparing the number of ballot papers for the poll found in each box with the relevant account for the poll furnished by the presiding officer. Local returning officers will then begin to count the votes.

At the completion of the count, each local returning officer will inform the referendum returning officer, who will be based in Dublin Castle, of details for their constituency. The details include total electorate; total poll; number of invalid ballot papers; total valid poll; votes cast in favour of the proposal and votes cast against the proposal.

The referendum returning officer will aggregate the constituency results, and declare the result for the referendum. The results for each constituency will be available on the website: www.referendum.ie.

The first indications of the outcome should be known before lunchtime, unless the vote is split by a narrow margin.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar joined Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald yesterday in confirming that advice from the office of the Attorney General Máire Whelan had informed the content of booklets deemed flawed by the Supreme Court after they had been distributed to households across the State.

Mr Varadkar, Fine Gael’s director of elections for the referendum, appealed to voters not to use the referendum to punish the Government. “I really just hope that people going out to vote don’t use the fact that the Government made some mistakes here as a reason to vote No,” he said.

Yesterday, the Government was forced to take down its referendum website for a second time after the legal team behind the successful challenge in the Supreme Court warned it would apply to the court again to have it shut down.

The campaign website, childrensreferendum.ie, was removed on Thursday but a truncated version was later published. Lawyers representing Dublin engineer Mark McCrystal, who took the challenge, wrote to the Government demanding it be shut down.

All parties in the Dáil continued to call for a Yes vote, but Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday demanded a “full statement” from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to “clear the air” following the controversy.

However, the Yes side remains confident of victory. Non-political and cross-party supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment believe the ruling came too late in the campaign to substantially alter what polls have predicted will be a large gap between the Yes and No camps.

The Government was taken by surprise when the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday its booklet and website breached the McKenna judgment, after the High Court had last week dismissed a challenge to the spend of €1.1 million of public money on an information campaign. The landmark 2005 McKenna judgment held public money should not be spent to espouse a particular side in a referendum campaign.

Proposed constitutional amendment the wording

Voters were asked to vote Yes or No to a proposal to include in the Constitution a new Article 42A and at the same time remove the current article 42.5.

The proposed new article reads as follows:

Children: Article 42A

1.The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.

2. 1° In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children, to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

2.° Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.

3. Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.

4. 1° Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings –

i. brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or

ii. concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

2° Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1° of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.

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