SHAUN CONNOLLY: High ‘yes’ turnout reflects low opinion of politics

People will not vote in such large numbers at the general election, because they do not trust the political parties to effect change. Voters can only do that themselves, in single-issue referenda, writes Shaun Connolly

DESPITE talk of a generational revolution unleashed by the marriage equality campaign, the new surge of ‘yes’ voters will be a no-show at the general election.

While it was heartening than 66,000 young people registered for the referendum, it is unlikely to be a substantive shift in political participation.

Though the people extended civil-marriage entitlements to same-sex couples, the vote was about far more than gay rights, as that issue was used as a totem to express a desire for a new type of Ireland, free from the prejudices and pain of the past across a range of areas.

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The fact that the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election, which was held on the same day as the referendum, produced an extraordinary, 2,066 spoiled ballot papers proves that people became engaged by an issue of profound societal change, but also rejected the stale political status quo.

The referendum gave an instant black-or-white outcome that could not be compromised.

A ‘yes’ vote stood on its own and could not be subject to the pollution of back-room deals, which are all-pervasive in the programme-for-government negotiations after a general election.

The marvellous sight of tens of thousands of younger voters returning home to the country they were forced to flee, due to the economic and financial idiocy and greed of those who controlled it during the bubble boom and cruel crash, would be great if repeated at the next Dáil poll. But despite the emigrants having been victims of the old political establishment, they are unlikely to be energised enough to repeat the spectacle.

However, the newly politicised voters will turn out in heavy numbers again, on other issues of deep social change, the next most likely of which is the battle to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution, which places the life of the unborn as equal to the mother’s.

Enda Kenny’s face falls ashen at even the mention of such a vote, as he is clearly politically terrified of the inevitable national debate and of the vicious abortion referendum campaigns of the past.

Pushed again on when he would accept reality and sanction such a poll, Mr Kenny insisted there was no “rush” to hold another referendum.

While Mr Kenny does, at least, deserve credit for being the Taoiseach who finally oversaw the implementation of the X Case legislation — though some argue this made Ireland’s draconian anti-abortion laws even more restrictive — the fact that it took 21 years shows there is no whiff of a “rush” about the issue.

No rush, but deep official hypocrisy: 4,000 Irish women in crisis pregnancies make the awful decision to have a termination each year, in the UK, but would face prosecution here if this was discovered. Instead, they are pushed abroad to Liverpool and Birmingham, so that official Ireland can pretend it is not happening at all.

It is Ireland’s big political lie.

Though the idea of the referendum ushering in full equality for gay people is not true either, as teachers and doctors in a same-sex relationship can be fired or blocked from promotion in religious-run institutions (which, in this non-secular republic, is 92% of schools) on purely prejudicial grounds.

The Government is slowly dragging its feet to amend the relevant legislation, but, in a spineless compromise, will not actually repeal the offending law, but tweak it to make it more difficult to apply.

As the newly independent Senator Averil Power put it when Labour and Fine Gael conspired to block her Seanad bill to do away with the sinister clause completely: “You can’t amend discrimination, it will still be discrimination. You have to get rid of it completely.”

But, then, we seem to accept that our politicians will lie to us. We lack the ability to get outraged when the let-down is repeated again and again.

And, indeed, in a strange moment of honesty, a politician admitted this week that parliament would be empty if people had to resign just because they were liars.

The reference was to the British House of Commons, but are things really so different in a Dáil that apes so many of the procedures and practices of its the former imperial overlord?

The observation came from the former deputy leader of the Lib Dems, Sir Malcolm Bruce, when defending his pal, Alistair Carmichael, who was secretary of state for Scotland until this month’s British election.

Mr Carmichael was caught out in a terrible to-do when he was forced to admit he was behind a smear attempt against SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, of which he previously denied any knowledge.

While insisting that if he was still in the Cabinet he would resign over the incident, he is refusing to stand down as an MP.

Quite right, too, said Sir Malcolm, who, when asked by the BBC if lying was widespread in public life, gave a very Vicky Pollard (from Little Britain) answer, spluttering: “No, well, yes.” before explaining: “Lots of people have told lies and you know perfectly well that to be true.”

Pressed on whether lying MPs should be expelled, Sir Malcolm declared: “If you are suggesting every MP who has never quite told the truth or even told a brazen lie, including cabinet ministers, including prime ministers (had to resign), we would clear out the House of Commons very fast, I would suggest.”

But, obviously that’s all the slippery pagans over in England, and our officer class would never be so crass and grubby.

But, then, Charlie Haughey amassed a fortune equivalent to €75m in modern currency, from his buddies doing him ‘favours’, and while we still do not know the provenance of the sterling and dollar lodgements that sloshed in and out of Bertie Ahern’s 23 bank accounts while he was finance minister, the Mahon corruption probe exposed his tale about winning some of it on the gee-gees as a lie.

That is part of the reason why so many emergent ‘yes’ voters do not want to endorse the old style of politics by participating in the looming general election.

The message from the new voters is that they just do not trust the Dáil to bring about change. They can only trust themselves to do that on single-issue events.

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