The marriage equality referendum will take place on May 22nd, a date that student and LGBT groups actively warned against. The date is highly problematic for those who want to see a successful yes vote, or even those who believe the result should accurately reflect the entire population’s wishes.
Trinity’s examination period runs from April 27th to May 22nd, so most students will have completed their exams before the referendum date and have returned home for summer. The date was always known to be a crucial factor in the result. Voter drives in universities like Trinity put much of the focus on registering students to vote in Dublin, and not at home, with the informed expectation that the referendum was to be held during term time. May 22nd is the date that students are expected to leave Trinity Hall, and hence will already have left Dublin or be packing up on that date. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) called for the referendum to be held before May, a plea that was apparently ignored by the government.
In the case of the marriage referendum in particular, there is a significant generational divide in attitudes across Ireland. This is why organisations have worked hard to get over 24,000 students registered since the end of October. By choosing this date for the referendum, the government is knowingly restricting a large proportion of the population from voting without difficulty, and dismissing the validity of the opinions of students.
The government has expressed support for a yes outcome, yet, in the date that was chosen by them, they are actively working against that goal. This is symptomatic of a wider issue, and quite frankly bizarre. You would think that any sort of strategic thinking in Fine Gael and Labour party headquarters would result in them realising that it makes sense for them to make it as easy as possible for students – the only demographic so overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality – to vote in the referendum. It’s clichéd, but it’s really strategy 101, and suggests a complete lack of very basic common sense. After all, Labour has called this vote the human rights issue of a generation. There are only two reasonable conclusions: either the government ignored the calls from USI and student unions because they are oblivious to the importance of choosing the most student-friendly date, or their campaign plans were at such an early stage that an April vote would see them unprepared to enter the campaign. Neither reflect well on the government, suggesting the general incompetence that we’ve come to expect.
If the government is content with the results of our referendums not reflecting the views of the majority of our population, then our democracy is facing a significant problem. A system that systematically disadvantages young voters and ignores simple, necessary reforms is unacceptable.
Also in Editorial this week: USI’s Mental Drinking Campaign is Commendable, but Practical Hurdles Remain
Written by the Editorial Board of The University Times