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I think it would be wrong to equate Irish Referenda with UK ones.  In Ireland, because we have a written constitution, referenda tend to be on quite specific topics with justiciable outcomes.  Although there can be confusion as to the precise meaning or implications of a wording, the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbitrator of what effect a provision will have.

Often the Government will also publish accompanying legislative proposals to illustrate precisely what effect the Constitutional change will have in much greater detail.  Voters are therefore generally very clear on what their choice means, although some attempts at misinformation have been attempted - e.g. when the Lisbon Treaty was painted by opponents as enabling abortion in Ireland or compromising Irish neutrality even more than it has already been compromised.

There is therefore, for example, little prospect of Irish voters voting for "Irexit" without being very clear on the political, legal, and economic implications of so doing.  Equally, I doubt any Irish government would attempt a referendum on Irish unity (in conjunction with one in N. Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement) without first coming to a detailed agreement with the UK as to precisely how a handover and transition period would be managed, what provisions would be made to safeguard Unionist's sense of "Britishness" and local government autonomy in N. Ireland, and how the whole exercise would be financed from the point of view of Irish taxpayers.

This is how an adult polity manages its affairs, whether you agree with a particular proposal or not. Having "advisory" referenda, on hugely complex and poorly defined proposals which are then interpreted any number of different ways is a different matter altogether.  For instance the Scottish Independence referendum was carried out without voters knowing how the national debt would be carved up, what defence and other "national" assets would remain in Scottish hands, and even what currency an independent Scotland would eventually use.

This vagueness was intentional, as uncertainty generally favours the status quo, unless, as in the case of the Brexit referendum, it becomes a generic catch-all issue for harvesting an anti-establishment vote which has built up for all manner of reasons not necessarily connected to the actual issue at hand. Irish referendum proposals proposed by unpopular or untrusted governments have often been defeated in a wave of anti-government sentiment not necessarily connected to the precise issue at hand, but nothing on the scale of the misinformation and misdirection which accompanied the Brexit referendum, precisely because an issue is generally much more narrowly defined.

In the case of the proposed abortion referendum, for example, the government will seek to tread a carefully defined path between the current very restrictive situation, and "abortion on demand" which it deems unlikely to secure majority support (presumably based on private polls in has carried out. Any compromise proposal runs the risk of pleasing neither side in a very polarised debate with the "pro-life" side claiming it will open the floodgates to unrestricted abortion (as they claim has happened in the UK) and the "pro-choice" side claiming it is altogether too restrictive and fails to give women control over their own bodies - on a par with men.

There is thus a danger than any compromise proposal will fail to garner a high turn-out from pro-choice voters while not diminishing the "pro-life" vote in any way. Leo Varadker has tried to straddle the divide (as leader of the most conservative party, Fine Gael) by saying he will not make a decision as to whether to support the measure until he sees the actual wording (yet to be agreed). Ideally the actual wording will just repeal the eight Amendment and leave it up to Governments to legislate in line with changing social mores and medical best practice but it's hard to tell whether future Governments will be trusted enough to do so wisely.

At a minimum, any proposal should allow abortions before fetal viability in the case of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, and risks to the mother's health (as opposed to her life), but the devil will be in the detail.  There may be very little time to prove an allegation of rape, what degree of risk to the mother's health should be deemed sufficient to justify an abortion and already the pro-life movement is seeking to muddy the waters as to what constitutes a fatal fetal abnormality.

A much simpler solution would be to simply seek to leave it to the mother and her medical advisors, but we tend to move slowly and incrementally on moral issues. Failing that, Governments should be trusted to legislate, but trust in governments is in short supply these days...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 30th, 2017 at 07:05:29 PM EST
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