Referendums may fall due to general lack of interest

World of Politics with Harry McGee

There have been 40 amendments to the Constitution put to the people since the document was published in 1937 – and surprisingly, over a quarter of them have been rejected. In all, eleven amendments were turned down by voters; most famously Nice 1 and Lisbon 1, and more recently Enda Kenny’s proposal to abolish the Seanad which was roundly rejected a decade ago.

Another thing about referendums is that there are some that don’t generate much interest in the public. There have been quite a few in which less than 40 per cent of the electorate has voted – the Seanad one was a good example of that.

Back in July 1979, two referendums were held on the same day. The first was required to address a Supreme Court ruling that orders made by the Adoption Board were unconstitutional.

The second was one to allow more people vote in the elections of the Seanad University Panels. Until then only graduates of Trinity could vote in one panel; in the other, it was only graduates of the National University of Ireland. That referendum proposed to allow people from other third level institutions vote.

The reason I am singling out that referendum day is twofold. The first is that it produced the lowest ever turnout for a referendum in the State. Only slightly more than one in four people voted – the turnout was 28.6 per cent.

The second was an illustration of the unimportance of these things to the political class in general. It’s now well over half a century since that referendum on the Seanad was passed and diddly squat has been done about it since.

So what’s with all the prelude?

Well it’s a roundabout way of saying that this week’s referendums on the family and care look like they will be defeated. And it also looks like the turnout is going to be fairly low.

If you look at the media coverage over the past month, both referendums have gripped the attention of politicians and also of State-funded agencies and non-Government organisations, who have debated the issues hotly.

Pictured: Keeping a a tally during the counting of votes in a previous referendum at Leisureland.

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