Yes campaign in pole position to carry proposal but turnout concerns persist
If there is a worry in Government about the campaign it is that in the next three weeks some eminent former judges might come together to publicly call for a No vote on the basis that the amendment is unnecessary.
The Government is still smarting from the defeat last year of the amendment designed to give more powers to parliamentary committees of inquiry. The letter from eight former attorneys general calling for a No vote that emerged very late in that campaign is widely credited with swinging a majority of voters against the proposal.
This time around it seems that while some former judges and possibly even some sitting ones are sceptical about whether a Yes vote will make much of a difference that has not been enough, to date at least, to galvanise them into urging a No.
Another factor in the campaign is that RTÉ appears to have changed its interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling on equity in the coverage of referendum campaigns. Since the McKenna judgment in 1995 the State broadcaster has interpreted this ruling as requiring a 50:50 split in terms of Yes and No opinion in debates and in news coverage.
This time around the 50:50 rule will still apply to referendum debates but news stories on the topic will be covered on their merits. That decision will have interesting implications.
Another interesting experiment is that the referendum will be held on a Saturday for the first time. Fitzgerald has expressed the hope that this “family and child friendly” day for voting will encourage a good turnout.
The task for Yes campaigners is to ensure a solid turnout.
The chairwoman of the Referendum Commission, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan, accepted yesterday that there was a low level of public awareness about the referendum and said she was glad there were still 3½ weeks left in which people could inform themselves.
A low turnout could spell trouble for the amendment and a defeat, coming on the heels of the rejection of the amendment on parliamentary inquiries a year ago, would be a severe setback for the Government. That is likely to ensure that the Coalition parties do everything they can to mobilise their voters on November 10th.
Two sides: For and against
The Coalition partners Fine Gael and Labour and main Opposition parties Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Also, all of the Independents in the Oireachtas.
More than 100 children’s groups under the Children’s Rights Alliance, including Barnardos and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.
VOICES CALLING FOR A NO VOTE:
Former Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott and anti-abortion campaigner Nora Bennis, who has formed Alliance of Parents Against the State.
Parents for Children, which includes representatives of the Christian Solidarity Party.
Columnist John Waters. And a group campaigning for the separation of church and State, “Two Rights Now”.