During the campaign for the Children’s Rights Referendum every person with any claim to credibility on the issue was in agreement. Children’s lives were going to be made potentially (and, in some cases, actually) better if the country voted Yes.
This morning, as the boxes are opened and the tallies are incomplete, it appears that, as a result of the campaign, the support from the electorate for the Yes side dropped from over 70% to about 55-65%. In addition, very few people turned out to vote and the less affluent an electoral area was, the higher the No vote.
I’m not surprised at this outcome. The explanation for it is simple, I think. Ireland has suffered a complete breakdown in trust. Anyone who appears to be part of the establishment- Journalists, politicians, campaigners, senators, solicitors, barristers- will not be taken at their word. The other side of that is that people who are completely outside the mainstream are given a hearing frequently unwarranted by the merits or lunacy of their arguments.
This is the damage done to the polity by the Bertie Ahern model of government by obfuscation and misdirection, and by the abject failure of the media establishment (or the opposition) to successfully alert the voters what was being done to them.
The politicians who have inherited that mess have never acknowledged that just because they weren’t in government it doesn’t mean they aren’t seen are having been implicated in the Great Failure.
The journalists who report on what the politicians are doing apparently don’t see that they are perceived simply as the other side of the politician coin. Their worldview is identical to that of the political class they write about.
Lawyers should be under no illusions by now as to how their class is perceived. They are seen as the most establishment branch of the establishment- and the least trustworthy to boot.
Campaigners have the greatest claim to being unfairly tainted as members of the political-commentariat establishment. After all, they have devoted much time and effort to actively fighting against the status quo. But nonetheless, there they are, on the telly or the radio, talking in the same sorts of tones and on the same programmes as the rest of them.
I am not saying these feelings are correct, or justified by fact. But I am saying that constantly failing to recognise their reality means that they cannot be addressed.
There will be a Yes vote in this referendum. But we need to get to a point again where that can happen because of, and not despite of, the unanimity of people in authority urging people support a proposal. To do that, we will need an electorate who can assess the merits of an argument for themselves and an establishment that stops asking people to trust them before it has rebuilt that trust.