The most underwhelming referendum campaign since blasphemy has stuttered to its finale

Your essential end-of-week politics catch up and are pay rises for all on the cards for semi-state bosses?

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Story of the Week

Yippee-ay-ay – it’s referendum day! O come on, don’t say you’d forgotten about it. This week, the most underwhelming referendum campaign since the one about blasphemy stuttered to its finale amid accusations from both sides of misleading claims from their opponents and an enduring lack of public interest. This is somewhat unfair – few other referendums have featured Dáil debates about throuples. But there’s no satisfying some people.

In fairness, it’s a confusing line-up: on one side, nearly all the political parties (Fine Gael on the same side as People Before Profit and Fianna Fáil on the same side as Sinn Féin), some lawyers, many civil society groups, including many Government-funded NGOs, all campaigning for the Government’s proposals – though not, they promise, with the funds provided to them by the Government. Hmmm.

On the other side, Peadar Tóibín’s Aontú party, some independent TDs and senators, a bunch of ad hoc groups, more lawyers, high profile individual campaigners – and Michael McDowell, who has been ubiquitous and effective. The proposed changes to the Constitution – to expand the definition of the family beyond those based on marriage, and to remove the reference to women’s role in the home, substituting a reference instead to care given within the home – have proved a difficult sell for the Government and other supporters.

For the record, here’s The Irish Times distillation of the proposed changes:


The “family” referendum proposes to amend article 41.1 of the Constitution to expand State recognition of the family as founded not only on marriage but also on “other durable relationships”.

The “care” referendum proposes to delete article 41.2, which recognises the contribution of a woman’s life within the home to the common good and provides the State shall “endeavour” to ensure mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to work outside the home.

A proposed new article 42B provides the State “shall strive to support” the provision of care “by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them”.

For something a bit more detailed, here’s Arthur Beesley’s explanation of the campaign and the issues

And Jennifer Bray does the same on the In the News podcast.

Both sides have argued variously that the proposed changes won’t change anything at all, and that they will create an unholy mess, but there is now, as Jennifer reported, considerable nervousness about the fate of the proposed changes. Losing would be excruciatingly embarrassing for the Government.

Turnout is not expected to be high. Voting continues until 10pm tonight, and the count starts at 9am tomorrow morning.

Bust up

She did not go quietly into that good night. The lately-defenestrated chair of the RTÉ board Siún Ní Raghallaigh responded to Minister for Media Catherine Martin’s account of the events which led to her resignation with a detailed riposte that accused the Minister of a “hands-off” approach to managing the crisis.

It’s the same criticism that has been levelled at Martin from both media and political opponents; to have it repeated by someone on the inside is quite damaging. She immediately scrambled to nominate a new chairman of the board, Terence O’Rourke (who he? Profile here).

There were demands from Opposition parties for Martin to come into the Dáil and take further questions on the issue. But the Dáil schedule is now Martin’s friend. The St Patrick’s Day exodus of ministers means the Dáil is now on recess for a week; then it’s back for a week but then off for another two weeks for Easter. By then, it’s expected that two crucial reports on RTÉ will be published, and the focus will move to the future, rather than the past. That might be best for everyone.

That’s all very well but does any of this affect me?

Indeed it does, my friend. One of the questions about RTE’s future that has to be answered in the coming months is whether it should continue to be funded by the licence fee, or some successor to it. Martin wants to abolish the licence fee and replace it with direct exchequer funding, though there remains significant Government opposition to this option. If she succeeds, however, you’ll save €160 a year. You do pay the licence fee, right?

Get well soon

President Michael D Higgins spent the week in hospital, having been admitted to St James’s last week after becoming ill. There was immediate concern, assuaged somewhat by a flurry of statements from the Aras proclaiming Michael D’s robust health and roaring good spirits. He continued to fulfil his official duties in hospital, scrutinising legislation and so forth, though would undertake a lighter than planned programme of engagements in the coming weeks, the Aras said. He left hospital yesterday and will entertain Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for one of their scheduled meetings today.

Assisted dying law

Elsewhere, somewhat controversial legislation moved closer this week as an Oireachtas committee has recommended that the law be changed to allow assisted dying, where patients with terminal illnesses can be helped to end their lives. It’s a big departure, though the chances of the measure becoming law before the next election must be doubtful. Still, the chances of it happening at some stage in the future have rocketed.

Winners and losers

Winners: Bosses of semistate companies and higher civil servants whose remuneration is to be examined by a new expert committee, the Government decided. It’s not the boldest prediction you’ll hear today that this will end up with pay rises for everyone concerned. We face fierce competition to get the best people for these jobs, Paschal Donohoe explained. Which is why they have to get such big pay-offs when they depart, of course.

Loser: Poor Nikki Haley finally bowed to the inevitable, steamrollered by Donald Trump in the Super Tuesday republican primaries. So she’s out of the race – or “suspending her campaign”, as they say – and it’s definitively Biden v Trump, round 2. Can’t wait. Gulp. Here’s Keith Duggan’s report.

The Big Read

Two big reads for the weekend – the Kenova report into how the British security authorities handled their IRA informer Freddie Scappaticci is to be published today, and we’ll have extensive live reporting and analysis. Updates from the referendum count, meanwhile, will be published throughout the day on

Hear here

We never miss a chance to bring the Irish link. In Wednesday’s Inside Politics Podcast Hugh Linehan discusses the Dutch BBB, a farmer’s movement which has spread across Europe

So it’s led by a woman called Caroline van Der Plas and her mother is called Nuala, Nuala Fitzpatrick

—  Naomi O'Leary