The Children’s Rights Referendum is occupying the media’s attention these days. It was passed by a fairly tight margin, but it is shrouded in controversy, particularly following our Supreme Court’s decision that the government’s supposedly neutral information leaflets were not neutral at all, but rather heavily biased in favour of a “Yes” vote, thereby contravening the McKenna judgement, a judgement by the Supreme Court which requires balance and fairness on the government's part in referendums.
One interesting pattern which seems to be emerging from this referendum is the gulf between liberal/middle class voters and the working class/unemployed/poor. According to emerging information in those areas populated by the liberal middle class there was a high “Yes” vote for the changes to the Constitution, in those areas populated by the poor, unemployed and working class there was a high “No”vote, perhaps reflecting the fear that the new laws ushered in by this referendum will affect them the most. They, more than anyone else, are in danger of having their children taken away because of financial difficulties. One commentator has also reminded us that these voters have more contact with social workers, and so their high “No” vote is hardly a ringing endorsement for that profession.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out here. While the government is celebrating and showing a brave face, reports are emerging that inside government there is a lot of concern – they were not expecting such a high “No” vote and it is obvious that despite their efforts to paint “No” campaigners as loony, fundamentalist, extreme right-wing Catholic bigots, they were in reality expressing the doubts and fears of almost half the voters in the referendum. What is also very interesting is that despite the little coverage given to the “No” side, and a case could be made that that coverage was biased, the “No” vote was still quite large.
A number of questions are now being raised: Has the government lost touch with half of the citizens? Has the government alienated the poor? Are there now two Irelands: the liberal left-wing middle class who rule and the fearful poor and working class who now seem to have little confidence in their political masters? I wonder what Marx would say about that.