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Low poll would reflect a referendum campaign that just failed to catch fire

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

I’m surprised at the lack of engagement with the referendums next Friday. Sure, nobody was ever going to get into a lather of sweat about a referendum on a Court of Criminal Appeal (though it’s not entirely a good thing). But the proposal to demolish one of the pillars of our State, one of the bedrocks of our Constitution, has also left the public underwhelmed… and that’s putting it very mildly.

After all did the idea to hold a referendum on the Seanad not stem from populist sentiment? Wasn’t it Enda Kenny’s response in 2009 to the public mood that politicians and the institutions they had built up around them had fallen into disrepute? So successful was Kenny’s stunt, if it was that, that all the main parties adopted the same position going into the 2011 election.

It’s obvious to anybody who has followed politics in anything more than a cursory way over the past two years that the mood has changed. There may still be anger at the way that the establishment, political and financial, led the country into excess and living beyond our means and then frittered it all away. But that anger has subdued.

What was raw and immediate two years ago is now more resigned, more indifferent. So when politicians now post the question, should we abolish the Seanad, the most coherent response that is coming back is we don’t really care.

The consequence of all that? It looks like the turnout will be low, as low as the mid-twenties, as happened with the children’s referendum and a referendum on bail over a quarter of a century ago. Neither are directly comparable, only to say that the lower the turnout the more unreliable opinion polls are.

So while the polls over the past few months have been suggesting a comfortable gap for the Yes side (the abolitionists) the reality may turn out to be different. A low turnout will mean that only the most committed will vote.

And there are two pieces of conventional wisdom that have been bandied around about those in the past few weeks. The first is that a majority will be middle class. The second is that those middle class voters are strongly veering towards a reformed Seanad, which means a No vote rather than a Yes vote.

The difficulty is they cannot really be tested for accuracy until after the event… in other words, after people have voted.

For many months I have been saying that I think that a No vote would prevail. In recent weeks though, I sense it might be a close run thing. The fact that the gap has not closed in the Red C opinion polls is an important indicator. That surveys all potential voters, not only those who are more or less guaranteed to vote. The very likely voters will include a lot of No’s but lately it seems that the Yes side might shade it.

The other thing that has been slightly disconcerting has been that the debate has rarely been able to go deeper than the superficial.

For most of last week, we witnessed an artificial row with the opposition leaders trying to bait Taoiseach Enda Kenny into a televised debate. RTE even got into the act by extending such an invitation to Mr Kenny and Micheál Martin. But it was clear that once Kenny said No, he couldn’t backslide from that position once he made it.

In a sense it’s a pity that Kenny didn’t consent to the debate. Because a televised verbal duel between the country’s political leader is always an event. That means it is broadcast at primetime with a primetime audience.

The outcome of the poll often turns on them – and parties, therefore, always prep exhaustively, trying to have responses ready for every trick question and issue raised.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Trimble leaves a legacy of peace to be proud of

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David Trimble...lasting legacy.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The death of David Trimble brought back memories of the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize almost a quarter of a century ago, along with John Hume, for their efforts in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It could be argued that others should have been also on the plane to Oslo that winter, namely Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also played an important role by steering the hard men of the IRA on a path that saw them end their campaign of violence and accept a political solution achieved by solely democratic means.

Of course, it would have been a blatant contradiction to award a peace prize to Adams and McGuinness given their instrumental roles in a republican movement that prosecuted a ruthless armed strategy for almost 30 years right up to that time. The Damascene conversion in 1998 did not erase what had gone before.

Certainly, Hume and those around him from the SDLP – particularly Séamus Mallon – deserved all the praise they got for their selfless pursuit of a political pathway and their brave eschewal of all forms of violence as they grappled with the unique set of circumstances of Northern Ireland.

That said, Trimble showed a huge degree of personal courage and resilience in facing down his critics and enemies – and there were many loud and bitter voices condemning him on the unionist side – and persevering with the talks that culminated with the historic agreement in Hillsborough Castle on that Good Friday in early April in 1998.

But it would have been unimaginable for him to be in that position three years before hand or even three years afterwards when the UUP began imploding around him. The important thing was that he stayed the course during that crucial period.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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