The Children’s Rights Referendum: A Government Balls-Up

It has been a long accepted thing, that “neutral” leaflets from a government are anything but.

I spoke about this issue briefly, in the aftermath of the Fiscal Compact referendum. The “neutral” information given out by the referendum commission for that vote was skewed in subtle and unsubtle ways, clearly the result of a Fine Gael or Labour author trying their luck, skirting the bounds of biased and unbiased.

The Supreme Court ruling of Friday, and the point that public finds were misused, all combine to paint a truly awful picture for the government. Something immoral and incompetent took place in the government parties for this referendum, poor legal advice from the Attorney General, too positive a wording from whichever party stooge was writing referendum material.

I do not deny that this issue is immaterial to the amendment as a whole. The text of the amendment is unchanged, as is the question being put to voters today. But there is a taint here, an uncomfortable realisation that this amendment has, through the incompetence and immorality of the government members behind it, left itself open to future legal challenges. The political parties most behind this amendment did not play by the rules.

Should the vote have been postponed? Perhaps. Such an action would be a huge boon to the “No” camp, who have managed to drum up some support in the last few weeks, from those unsure, from those uneasy with the powers that the amendment changes. A delay would offer that side a chance to keep campaigning, to hit the government on their failure of information.

So, it is no surprise to see the government reject any suggestion that they postpone the vote. They are under no obligation too, and with cross-party support for the amendment in the Dail, no one is going to force them to.

The government and the “Yes” side should win this vote. They started with a large amount of support, and while that has been whittled down some, the likelihood of a “No” vote is dependent on a number of long-shot possibilities – a low turn-out for one, but also the success of their message over that of the governments, a power-grabbing scare versus a rather simple “Protect Children”.

The Children’s Rights Referendum has been in the works for a very long time. It would be an astounding political blunder to see its course wrecked now, by an act of governmental mediocrity so unnecessary. Regardless of the result today, heads should still roll. The AG, Labour’s Marie Whelan, might be in line for some strict job appraisal. Whoever was writing that leaflet, heedless of what legal challenges they could lay themselves bare to, might want to start looking for a new position.

And if the amendment fails to pass muster with the population? Even someone as high up as Frances Fitzgerald should be looking over their shoulder with a degree of fear. This is not a vote that should ever have been in doubt.

In four referendum campaigns so far, the government has done a poor job in two of them, arguably three if you’re a sceptic of the 29th amendment like me. It is no wonder that Kenny wants to shy away from future votes coming from the constitutional convention.  The government has shown time and again that they are simply not its strongpoint.

You still have time to vote if you have not yet.

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