Every time we vote, it is a test of trust, a test of ideas and a test of the faith we are prepared to invest in individual politicians, political parties, and political structures.
Every election is a test of what we imagine possible, and how we believe those objectives can be realised. It is also a test of our conviction that those proposing those ideas — or ideals — are the best people to deliver or protect them. Every time we vote, or choose not to, it has a direct impact on our lives. Tomorrow we will either endorse or reject the EU fiscal treaty and, as is traditional by now, the campaign was animated by wild claims from both camps.
Unfortunately, and for the first time, there is significant class division on a constitutional amendment. One of the many consistent polls suggested that working-class voters are more likely to reject it, while middle-class voters are predisposed to support it.This divide must be resolved, because it warns of an instability that would damage this society.
Trust is never given on a single issue. It’s based on experience and how promises have been delivered or forgotten. Inevitably, those principles will inform many of tomorrow’s voters and many who will not vote at all. This weighs more heavily on government, as those without power are not expected to deliver anything of substance so there is no record to criticise or celebrate.
That said, both sides of the argument have serious questions to answer. The Government on its record and thereby its credibility. The opponents have failed utterly to present a plausible alternative. Some have used the campaign to advance personal and party ambitions unrelated to the business in hand.
Before the 2011 general election, there was a stridency to declarations about shifting the burden of private bank debt from the State that has not been matched by achievement. We’re still in the noose and though not immediately at issue, this anti-democratic swindle will be decisive for many voters.
There is also a growing anger that pre-election promises of reform, which gave rise to considerable hope, have wilted in the face of predictable opposition. Why else is the Croke Park deal no more than public employee talking to public employee? Re-engineering this hermetically-sealed circle is as important as access to funds when our coffers empty sometime next year. The Croke Park deal has, unfortunately, come to represent the privileged afforded to some public employees and pensioners, especially when compared with the lot of the 440,000-plus unemployed citizens.
Public expectations of Dáil reform went way beyond dropping just eight deputies and there was a well-founded expectation, too, that many more quangos would have been consigned to history by now. The household charge farce makes it difficult to have faith in those responsible for its efficient introduction.
The credibility of an individual leading an argument is also pivotal. In this context, tomorrow’s referendum is the greatest challenge of Enda Kenny’s political career. Widely accepted as a decent man and honest man, his espousal of high values has been undermined by his tepid response to the Moriarty report, and specifically his ambivalent relationship with businessman Denis O’Brien, who was excoriated in the report.
Revelations about the Taoiseach’s prior knowledge of the guest list at a New York function which Mr O’Brien attended and which Mr Kenny and his Tánaiste repeatedly denied, do him no credit.
This is especially so as Mr Kenny, speaking in the Dáil on the Moriarty report said: “A devastating critique of a powerful elite, exposing a gross abuse of privilege. A rank abuse of public office, a devastating abuse of public trust.” Yet Mr Kenny has singularly failed to spell out his clear views of Mr O’Brien in the light of the tribunal findings. Phil Hogan’s meetings with tax cheat Michael Lowry fall into the same category.
The disconnect with reality on the no side was epitomised by Declan Ganley who saw no conflict in his involvement, along with economist Constantin Gurdgiev, in a finance company in Switzerland set up to help people move savings from euro countries to Switzerland. His “so what?”-style response was as revealing as it was dismissive.
Though none of these issues are being adjudicated on tomorrow, they cast a regrettable shadow over the hopes of those who would see the amendment endorsed. Whether the prospect of renewing the European project, the imperative of stabilising the euro, and sustaining the peace and prosperity of the last four decades is enough to see the yes vote carried, is thankfully and as ever in the hands of those who choose to vote.
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