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‘It has become too complicated and too confusing’: Voters’ referendums apathy spooks canvassers

Behind the scenes the mood among Government TDs has soured in a hard-to-read vote

Referendums vote: One TD told The Irish Times he had spoken to voters who were unaware that referendums will take place on Friday, while others said they were confused by the issues. Photograph: Alan Betson /The Irish Times

Are the family and care referendums going to pass?

This was the question on the lips of politicians on the Yes and No side in Leinster House on Wednesday as both camps held their final press conferences, doubling down on their pitches to the electorate.

An early sense of the picture will likely emerge from tallies in count centres on Saturday. We can expect to have a good idea of what the country has decided by around lunchtime on Saturday unless the margins are tight.

Both sides were putting a professional face on it on Wednesday, but behind the scenes the mood among Government TDs has soured somewhat.

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Ministers and TDs from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have assembled canvassing teams that have fanned out in estates around the country, and what they have heard back has left many of them uncertain about the result.

The first four politicians approached by The Irish Times on entering Leinster House on Wednesday all privately said they do not believe the care referendum – informally known among some as the “women-in-the-home” referendum – will pass.

All are from different parties and all of them have been canvassing in recent weeks.

“No,” said one TD bluntly when asked if the care referendum would be successful. “I can’t see it, but if it does pass it’ll be by the squeakiest of margins,” said another.

A third TD offered this assessment: “The doors I’ve knocked on – some people don’t even know that there is a referendum coming up. Others know it is happening but haven’t a clue what it’s about. It has become too complicated and too confusing.”

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Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe said he had heard similar things from voters when out canvassing in the last week.

“It is a complex matter, and a lot of people are struggling with that. Some people are taking that complexity and applying it to what is happening in their own life. They are asking, ‘what if my partner had an affair and went off with someone else?’. The worry now is that this complexity puts people off and they simply disengage.”

McAuliffe was referring to the proposed family amendment, which would widen the definition of family to include families based on marriage but also other families based on other durable relationships. Questions have been posed by the No side around how many durable relationships a person could be in at one given time, and what impact that could have on people’s financial affairs.

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On the care amendment, which seeks to replace language that references a woman’s life and mother’s duties within the home with a text that recognises care between family members, McAuliffe said he has been surprised by the response of some women.

“There are women who feel strongly about the proposal to remove these outdated references to a woman’s life in the home but there are also a lot of women who have said to me that their life has been in the home, and they feel that the State is somehow invalidating that choice that they made.”

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He predicts it will be “a very closely run referendum” and says there are a large number of people who still have not made up their mind. A broadcasting moratorium takes effect from 2pm on Thursday and won’t be lifted until polling stations close.

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