viagra serif; font-size: small;”>Students voting at the Presidential elections will also be asked to vote on two referenda. Despite the significance of permanently altering the Irish Constitution it seems that students are by and large unaware of these referenda, which have been overshadowed by the controversial presidential election.
The first referendum relates to judges’ pay and asks whether it can be reduced in line with the reduction of the pay of other public servants, which the present Constitution does not allow for. The second referendum questions whether or not to give the Oireachtas (the Dail and Seanad) greater powers to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance, and in doing so, to make findings about any person’s conduct. This amendment arouse out of high court action that stopped an Oireachtas inquiry into the shooting dead of John Carthy at Abbeylara, in April 2000.
The Referendum Commission launched its public information campaign on the 11th October, just over two weeks before the date of voting. Upon this launch, Dr Bryan McMahon, Chairperson of the Commission, highlighted that the central message is to “read the guide, inform yourself, and when you go to choose the next president on October 27th, have your say in these proposed constitutional amendments.”
Their extensive advertisement campaign covers all media and has included a nationwide distribution of the Commission’s guide to the referendum to 2 million homes. Despite this extensive campaign, many students remain unaware of the debate surrounding referenda, such as second year radiography student, Paul Kavanagh, who told the College Tribune that though he was aware of their existence, he didn’t know what the referenda were about, adding that “there has been virtually no advertising.”
Other students haven’t realised that they will be asked to vote on the referenda at all, such as final year science student, Gareth Bowen, who admitted , “I didn’t realise there were any referenda.” When questioned what was done in particular to target students, the Referendum Commission told the College Tribune that though extensive advertisement “didn’t isolate students”, it does target the age 25 profile, the category within which many students fall, and a “huge amount of online advertisement” was used.
This online advertisement includes the highly informative website as well as YouTube videos, with the most popular of these having 1,380 viewsat the time of going to press.
Holding the referenda on the same date as the Presidential election should result in a higher voter turnout than the referenda standing alone. However the controversial presidential debate has cast a shadow over the referenda, as national papers publish dramatic headlines concerning the presidential candidates, blocking discussion of the referenda debates. Only presidential candidate Mary Davis has publically stepped forward, expressing concerns that there has been “not enough focus and debate.”
Students already face the challenge of voting on a Thursday. On top of this, students living in college residences will not be included in the nationwide distribution of the Referendum Commission’s guide. With this considerable isolation, the burden perhaps falls on the UCDSU to communicate with the students and empower them through raising debate around the issue.
In response to this, Campaigns and Communications Officer Brendan Lacey as told the College Tribune that UCDSU will be “of course encouraging students to vote,” however he added that the SU “won’t be committing serious resources to do a push in such an election” as they will instead be focusing their resources “on the upcoming fight against the threatened large increase in fees.”
Voting takes place on October 27th. Visit referendum2011.ie for more information.