From top: Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath (left) has said he does not support Party leader Micheál Martin (right) on the removal of the Eighth Amendment with access to abortion up to 12 weeks; Derek Mooney
Back in late 2014 I was invited to assist the nascent Marriage Equality campaign with its preparations. They asked me to help draft a campaign playbook, or ‘campaign bible’ as it was labelled by some, along the lines of the one I had put together for the successful 2013 Seanad referendum.
As part of my groundwork I tried to get some insights into the mindset of No voters. To this end I went for a few beers and a chat with an old political colleague who I knew to be quite socially conservative.
I dragged the conversation slowly and steadily around to the topic of gay marriage and prepared myself for the explosion. None came.
“Have you decided how you will vote?”, I asked
“Not sure, yet” came the reply.
I was astounded that he was not a definite No, so I pushed a bit further.
“Are you saying that you might even vote yes”, I enquired.
“Yes” he said. “This is not like abortion. I am not comfortable with gay marriage, but it doesn’t hurt me and at the end of the day this isn’t about life or death… abortion is.”
That was the moment when I realised that the marriage equality referendum was very winnable. It is also the conversation that echoed in my mind in the weeks after the marriage equality result when some sought to use that big win as a predictor of any future abortion referendum.
In that one line my friend summed up the outlook of many of those opposed to repealing the 8th Amendment. They sincerely and passionately believe this is about the protection of life.
It is black and white to them. It is not about some zealotry or wanton disregard for the rights of women, it is about a deep-seated belief, not necessarily religious, that this is about taking a life.
I am not arguing that they are right, neither I am defending the campaign material the No Repeal side has produced, I am merely reminding the Repeal the 8th campaign that many who will vote No will be acting sincerely.
I am also suggesting that the Repeal campaign recognise that, something I have not discerned from much of their public commentary, so far.
To this end I offer a paraphrasing of the cautionary note I included at the start of the marriage equality campaign playbook/bible:
This campaign is not about being proven right or correcting the wrongs of the past, it is about getting 50% +1 of those who turn out to Vote YES.
Do not criticise voters for their deeply held views. These views should be respected. Avoid labelling opponents, and dismissing sincerely held beliefs, as ‘conservative’, ‘backward’ etc.,
…but be firm in identifying where the other side is scaremongering, raising baseless fears and deliberately misleading and confusing voters.
Messages that fail and are counterproductive:
Voting No will embarrass us internationally
We need to drag Ireland into the 21st century
This will be a liberal victory over conservatism
I offer this to the repeal side not because I am implacably on their side but because much of their messaging so far has seemed directed at those who have already decided to vote to repeal. The same is true for the No side, some of whose self-ordained leaders have already decided to go with the old “scorched earth” approach.
As it stands, both sides appear more focused on addressing their own partisans rather than persuading the cohort of “undecided” or “unwilling to say how they’ll vote” – which a recent poll put together at 20%.
While it may seem like a winning strategy on paper for the repeal side right now, they ignore the ‘differential turnout’ factor at their peril. As the good folks in Ireland Thinks observed in the analysis of their December 2017 poll for the Daily Mail on this question:
In any referendum campaign it is not just which side people prefer but whether they actually turn out and vote that is important… It is often ‘who wants it more’ that determines who is more likely to turn out and vote.
Perhaps it was the prospect of a shrill and deeply entrenched campaign that helped bring the calm and reasoned Dáil statement of the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, last week, into focus.
In my view it was the first major input into the debate that (a). sought to persuading the undecided middle ground and (b). didn’t attempt to portray the other side as the devil incarnate.
Though many pundits seemed surprised by its contents, it was clear he was heading that way, indeed he flagged it himself in an interview (from 11m35s) on Radio Kerry a few days before.
There he also readily accepted that the majority of his TDs were opposed to the Oireachtas Committee recommendations – perhaps by a margin of 4:1 – so why are some Fianna Fáil activists acting so shocked?
Fianna Fáil adopted the policy of allowing a conscience votes back in 2013 when the Protection of Human Life Bill was being discussed. The idea that you can allow some a conscience vote but then bind the leadership according a members’ vote is an affront to the concept of conscience, democracy and leadership.
Party membership carries many rights and privileges but replacing you and your views for the electorate at large is not one of them. Neither 50,000 nor 500,000 self-selecting members of party X or Y are representative of anyone except themselves. It is one of the mistakes that Momentum has made in its relationship with the UK Labour Party and there is no reason to go that road here.
Members earn the right to be listened to and to have a say in candidate selection and party organisation by virtue of their activism, but that very activism, knocking on doors and meeting the wider public, reminds them that there is a diversity of views out there and that political parties that succeed are the ones who listen to that diversity and reflect it in their policies. Good leaders realise that. Great ones act on it.
Hopefully Martin’s intervention – and the measured response yesterday from Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath on Sean O’Rourke’s show on RTÉ Radio 1 arguing the other side – is an indication that tone and pitch of the campaign debate is set to rise, but I will not get my hopes up.
And even if it does, bear in mind that this week sees the 45th anniversary of the landmark Roe Vs Wade case where US Supreme Court ruled abortion legal. 45 years later it is still a defining and divisive issue in American politics. Win, lose or draw, this debate is not likely to go away for very long.
Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney
Fairview, Dublin 3.
Ailish Lally writes:
Great parking by [Independent TD] Mick Wallace – He was in the local shop across the road – managed double yellow lines & almost entire footpath...
…That area is treated like a car park & I wanted to use this as a high-level example in the hopes it will contribute to a solution :-)
Kids United – Les lacs du Connemara
This new rendition of Michel Sardou’s “Les Lacs du Connemara” appeared on my YouTube feed today. But was the video really shot in the west?
We may never know.
‘Austerity dug us into a deep hole which the recovery has yet to lift us out,’ says Michael Taft (above)
There’s been a lot of commentary so far on the 10th anniversary of the Great Recession: jobs, income, consumer spending, growth. One aspect that has been over-looked, however, is public expenditure.
Following the crash public spending – investment, public services, social protection – were all cut with bank-bailouts being the very big exception. Starting in 2014, public spending started to rise but it has not returned to pre-crash levels. We are still in a public spending recession.
The following measures primary public spending per capita (i.e. excluding interest payments) factoring in inflation. Of course, nothing is simple with Ireland’s national accounts.
While public spending – excluding the once-off bank bailouts – and population data are relatively straight-forward, inflation is not. 2015 was the year of the Leprechaun, so named by economist Paul Krugman when Ireland logged a massive 26 percent increase in GDP due to methodological changes.
In 2015, economy-wide inflation was recorded as increasing by 7 percent which is not a reflection of the true situation.
So, I have done a ‘Leprechaun-adjustment’, inserting consumer inflation in 2015 which was less than 1 percent.
In 2008, public spending per capita slightly exceeded €15,500. Within five years, this was cut to €13,700, or 12 percent. Since the trough in 2013, public spending has been on the rise.
However, in 2018 it will only reach €14,000. And according to the Government’s own projections, it will still be below pre-crash levels by 2021.
On current trends, we won’t exceed pre-crash levels until 2023 – 15 years after the start of the Great Recession.
Some will argue that 2008 levels of spending were unsustainable and there is some truth in this. Back then we had gone through a decade of cutting taxes and increasing public spending, relying on revenue from a credit-fuelled property-speculation bubble. It was always going to end in tears.
However, we are still living with austerity’s hangover – repairing the social damage caused by irrational austerity measures while privileging financial creditors over the productive economy: think housing crisis, hospital waiting lists, high levels of deprivation.
Austerity dug us into a deep hole which the recovery has yet to lift us out of. And on the Government’s own projections the pace of public spending could start to ease.
Under current projections 2018 will see the biggest increase since public spending started rising, tailing off by 2021. However, these are just projections contained in Budget 2018. The Taoiseach hints that tax cuts may not proceed to the same extent as they previously hoped (in the three years 2019 to 2021 the government intends to cut taxes by €1.8 billion).
This could be a recognition that under current projections, public spending may not be able to keep up with the combination of rising inflation, the elderly cohort and expectations. If more of the fiscal space is assigned to public spending, then we could exit the public spending recession earlier.
But as of now, our public spending is below the level when we entered into the recession. And there are a number of road hazards ahead.
We may be basing even our current depressed levels of spending on a corporate tax-revenue bubble. What happens to future budgets when that balloon is untied?
Then there’s Brexit and the danger of decreased revenue and increased unemployment payments if the economy is hit.
And don’t forget the prospect of future interest rate increases (at the end of this year? in the middle of next?) and the depressing effect this will have on consumer spending as people pay more for property and less on goods and services in the productive economy.
A slow-down will no doubt elicit calls to ‘control’ spending as part of that ol’ fiscal consolidation dance that exhausted us only a few years ago.
Let’s admit it – Ireland doesn’t do macro-economic stability very well. After years of pro-cyclical fiscal policy prior to the crash (fuelling a property-bubble), followed by more pro-cyclical years following the crash (fuelling the recession), we may be looking into another roller-coaster ride – though probably, hopefully, not to the same extremes.
What party or alliance of parties will rid of us this turbulent binge-and-purge cycle while promoting economic efficiency and social prosperity?
Michael Taft is economic analyst and author of the political economy blog, Notes on the Front.
Britney Spears (above) will play the 3Arena, Dubin in August
This is music to everyone’s ears
For the first time in several years
She’s going on tour
So make sure you procure
Some tickets to see Britney Spears.
Crying Stool ✓