Very low turnout suggests nonsense politics is wearing down Ireland's will to live
Today's the day.
After a relatively short campaign, the Irish public will go to the polls to decide on who will be president for the next seven years.
All six candidates have taken the last few weeks in the spotlight to impose upon the Irish people why they should be elected to represent the Irish people. There were debates, there were publicity stunts and there was one Judo injury. And now the people will decide.
And in one voice the people are saying: "Oh my god, would you not fuck off for five minutes?"
It looks as though the turnout for Ireland's presidential election and blasphemy referendum, from county to county, is low. Very low. Embarrassingly low.
One polling officer in a well-populated South Dublin suburb reported just 42 voters in an entire precinct between 7am and 10.30am. A presiding officer in Galway had cited turnout as 4% in the same timeframe. 10% in Cork South West at midday, and 8% in Cork South East. Voter turnout in Dublin city is 10%, with some suburban precincts reporting turnout as low as 4.7%.
For a sense of perspective, turnout for the Eighth Amendment referendum clocked in at just over 64%. Marriage equality was 60%. Turnout for the 2011 presidential election was over 56%. In 1990, it was 64%. We're not going to see anything like that this time around.
But hey! Maybe people are voting late, but ask yourself if you can see all that many people putting the polling station ahead of post-work pints on a Friday?
Many factors have contributed to the apathy that surrounds this election. The first is a profoundly forgivable fatigue that has surely set in after May's referendum on the Eighth Amendment and the many months of cultural warfare that proceeded it — broadcast by every television channel, radio station and every print or digital news outlet for months beforehand.
Voter turnout at 10% in Dublin city as of midday - at one polling station in Tyrrelstown it was 4.7%. #Aras18
— Emma Tyrrell (Ní Riain) (@EmmaNiRiain) October 26, 2018
Buoyed by huge home to vote movements and young people returning to their rural constituencies to widen the margin — and driven by a relentless grassroots campaign, years in the making — the Eighth Amendment was a blaze of glory that progressive Ireland had waited for for more than 30 years. And now, well, it looks like a lot of people are burned out.
And it stands to reason. Having been subjected to so much scorching furious discourse on something so important and so draining earlier this year, it makes sense that the jig might finally be up for the issues that don't matter at all. Or, almost doesn't matter at all.
Because that's the most dangerous thing about our presidency: it only really matters if you do it wrong.
It only really matters if we make the wrong choice. It only becomes important once the wrong person is in office — and once they're there, it will be seven years of intermittently remembering how badly we messed it up. Long story short, there will only be headlines about the presidency two months from now if we elect Peter Casey or Sean Gallagher rather than Michael D. Higgins — a man who has proven that he well understands the many limits of the role.
The only two options are to screw it up or keep it exactly the way it is, and those aren't the kind of options that motivate people to take time out of their Friday to visit a polling station.
But it seems that the Irish people have finally, fully internalised that the office doesn't matter, and shouldn't matter, and that asking them to think about it is frankly just a bit insulting. Even the process by which candidates are nominated — securing the endorsement of four local authorities while the rest of us plug our ears and try to focus on things that matter — hurts to think about.
Voter turnout update: JFK National School at Ennis Road which is considered a 'bellwether' for #LimerickCity constituency is reporting turnout of between 9% and 14% across seven boxes. More to come. #Aras18 #BlasphemyRef @Limerick_Leader pic.twitter.com/RLxb35yfSv
— Nick Rabbitts (@Nick468official) October 26, 2018
Today is the last Friday before primary schools go on their mid-term break. Parents have been getting their kids' costumes ready for their schools' Halloween parties. Picking up make-up, cold cream, clothes, hairpins, making sure to get everything right... they simply do not have time to care about blasphemy, or Liadh Ní Riada's deep desire to give speeches to the Oireachtas. And honestly, that's fair enough.
It's important that we bring our constitution up to date — but that doesn't mean the public doesn't have the right to roll their eyes every time they're asked to correct a mistake of Eamon de Valera and Father John Charles McQuaid.
"What is it this time? Oh we have to have a law against blasphemy do we? Jesus Christ, just get rid of it and stop annoying me."
What do the Irish people want a say in? Major social issues. The turnout from the marriage equality referendum and Eighth Amendment referendum tell us that much.
They certainly want a more powerful say when it comes to the economic fortunes of our nation — a huge turnout (69.9%) to turf out Fianna Fáil during the recession tells that too.
The saccharine sweet #KeepThePoet campaign on Higgins' behalf is cute, but beyond liberal sweethearts on social media, nobody really cares that much who the president is — the president won't put food on the table, or get bodies off trolleys and into treatment, or help build schools that actually stay built. They constitutionally can't.
It doesn't matter who the president is. It only really matters who it's not. Which is absurd. And it looks like people are finally growing tired of the absurdity.