Evidence on the doorsteps suggests slight swing to Yes


Ireland retaining its commissioner is less of an issue, it appears, than concern over the the minimum wage, writes HARRY McGEEPolitical Staff

IN THE late stages of last year’s Lisbon campaign, a rumour emerged that Irish people would be conscripted into a European army if the treaty were adopted.

It was a viral story that started from the ground up. Like the phenomenon of Don’t Knows plumping for a No vote, its effect came on to the radar of the national media (and the Yes side) only in the closing days before polling, too late to counter it.

At the comparable phase of this campaign, in a sample of four residential estates in key constituencies, there is strong anecdotal evidence that the attitudes on the ground are markedly different this time.

The Irish Times visited Louth, Meath East, Dublin North East and Dublin South Central to accompany canvasses in estates ranging from solid working-class to middle income. In all, some 250 homes were visited.

A number of trends were evident. The first is that virtually none of those who voted Yes last year have switched to a No vote. By contrast, there has been a slight swing from softer No to Yes.

But resolute No voters from last year have retained the same position. The main reasons given (in about 70 instances) were that the Government had refused to recognise the No vote from last year. In blue collar areas the performance of the Government, rather than Lisbon issues, was also a strong motivating factor for No voters.

Only two voters identified the issue of Ireland retaining its commissioner as decisive. Some others said that the issue of neutrality was important but most seemed unsure of the position. The state of the economy seems to have provided the main backdrop for the views expressed.

The bulk of those who said they were switching from No to Yes said they understood more this time. This cohort numbered about 30 of the sample size.

These and others also cited the economy. “The Government is bullying us into voting Yes,” was a common response from those saying they would vote Yes “under protest”.

The other striking phenomenon in all four constituencies had been the impact of poster campaigns, particularly on the No side. The Cóir poster with its reference to a €1.84 minimum wage was widely referred to on the doorsteps (at least 50 mentions) though some said they did not believe it.

In addition, while the Don’t Knows numbered as high as 50 per cent in some estates, there was strong feedback that people have a sense of being better informed this year, and consequently less inclined to vote No if they were unsure of the treaty.

The first house Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd called into in St Finian’s Estate in Drogheda was that of Peter Hughes, a former Labour councillor. Mr Hughes’s read of the situation was: “The hardliners are still the same. They are still saying No. A few of them are swinging.” His impression seemed accurate.

A neighbour cited economic concerns as a priority. “If we voted No there would be a new government in.” But, she said, “I will probably vote Yes because we will be isolated if we don’t.”

Parkvale in Baldoyle in Dublin is a similar estate, built in the 1970s, with many young families purchasing homes there in recent years.

Fianna Fáil local representative Averil Power and a young team canvassed for a Yes vote on a Saturday afternoon. The Cóir poster on the minimum wage cropped up quite a few times. “Everybody is asking questions about it,” said a man in his early 30s, who added he knew it was not true.

“I keep going back and forth between Yes and No,” said a young woman preparing for work. “There’s the poster about a smaller minimum wage, and the one that our vote will be smaller if it’s passed.”

When pressed about her view she says she voted No last time. “Because they did not get the answer they wanted, they want to force us to vote Yes. It seems blackmail in a way, the economic argument. If you vote No you will be screwed,” she said.

One man in his 40s said his wages on a building site had been halved and that workers from abroad were pricing Irish guys out of the market. “My biggest fear is that when this Lisbon thing comes on board, Irish guys won’t get work,” he said.

Inse Bay is a large residential estate of 515 houses on the outskirts of the seaside town of Laytown. It is classic commuter-belt territory with the issues one would expect, including educational facilities and fears about unemployment.

Labour Senator Dominic Hannigan and his team covered about half of the estate on a Thursday evening. His sense was that enough No voters had crossed over to the Yes side though he also said that “a lot have not made up their mind”.

Many who open their doors confirm that impression but add that they are less confused than last year. A typical response, from a woman in her late 20s: “I am more understanding this time. Last time, I did not know what I was voting for. I voted No because I did not know. Now I may vote Yes.”

Another woman, a young mother said: “Last year, it was said that this country would be drafting our kids. That was a concern last year because I had a baby. I am a lot clearer about that now.”

The minimum wage was frequently cited.

In Drimnagh, Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh led a large Sinn Féin team on an evening canvass. He said that this night, the team had come across only one Yes voter. Many strong No voters were not distinguishing between European and domestic issues.

“The way things are they want the minimum wage to go down to one euro something,” said a

young woman. “I work in a hospital and wages are falling. It’s scandalous.”

When asked why they were voting No, people sometimes expressed, in strong language, their anger at the Government.

“I’m voting No because we are angry. What we need is to get Fianna Fáil out and put another government in.”

That view was very representative in this area.