The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights we have. The ability to hold politicians accountable by choosing to, or not to, vote them back into power is fundamental to our ability to affect social change and fundamental to our human rights. Democracy itself is a fundamental human right, but when the citizens of a country can choose its leaders, those leaders will look after the needs of their citizens. Although many of our politicians have left much to be desired in terms of integrity and competence in recent times, we still have much better lives here than citizens of countries where democracy either does not exist, or exists only in name.
It is well known that some sectors of society are treated better than others, and that if you come from a demographic in which it is perceived, rightly or wrongly, that you are more likely to vote, your concerns will be given much more time and attention by your local TD. Worldwide, the value placed on a woman’s health, education, and sometimes even her life, correlates to whether or not she has suffrage. It’s no accident that many of the groups who were the most marginalised in society were denied the vote, and had to fight hard to get it – from the Suffragettes in the UK and Ireland to Dr Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.
It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of our right to vote on every aspect of our lives and freedom.
But voting is also a tremendous responsibility, and one we should take far more seriously than we do. At the moment, ahead of the referendum on the Fiscal Compact, the referendum commission is doing all it can to encourage people to get out and vote, and I am glad as always to see those advertisements. However, I am concerned that, in this referendum as in too many others, people will vote for the sake of voting, without giving any major thought to what they believe is the best choice for the country.
I strongly feel that if you did not cast a vote then you have little right to complain about the direction the country has taken or feel entitled to better. I am certainly not encouraging people not to vote – but to cast a careless vote is to abuse it and to take a massive gamble with the future of this country and of everyone in it. Voting must be taken seriously – and taking it seriously means thinking about how your vote changes the big picture for the country as well as the small picture for you, reading up on things and questioning what you read, choosing political parties for their policies and stances now rather than on which side they fought during the civil war.
That’s why I would ask for you to think about your vote. Make your mind up. Read up on the fiscal compact ahead of Thursday, and think on and question all you’ve read. If that seems like too much trouble, or if you feel that the treaty will never be relevant to you or your life, then please don’t vote.
In Ireland, there is a general belief that a no vote means nothing will change, and that if you are unsure, your best bet is to vote no. Better the devil you no?
In fact, ahead of one of the Lisbon’s, RTE radio hosted a number of celebrity guests to discuss how they would be voting. Sinead O’Conner claimed that she was voting no because she “didn’t have time” to read the leaflets dropped through her letterbox. It’s unfortunate that so many people adopt this very same attitude. Referendums come at considerable cost and effort from the state and are not held on a whim, or over a triviality. The outcome will affect the future of this country – and even if a no vote will change nothing, it is still rejecting a change which may be beneficial or may be harmful. In short, your vote is important and will affect us all, even if you do vote no, and we need to start moving away from the idea that there is a standard, get-out-of-jail-free voting card for those who are undecided and/or indifferent.
My feelings on the referendum on Thursday and how I believe it should go are not something I will discuss here, but I am displeased with the debate, and with how both sides have conducted themselves. We have been given very few facts that stand up to serious thought, a lot of meaningless buzzwords, and a lot of patronising by the yes side and scare tactics from the no. One of the things I take issue with are the different names both sides have adopted for what is to take place on Thursday.
To Libertas and Sinn Fein it is the “Austerity Treaty,” to the political parties on the yes side it is the “Stability Treaty.” Either way, it’s a dirty tactic – a subconscious manipulation of those of us who are less well-read up on the treaty and perhaps less likely to read. Undecided voters should be given facts and told to make their own mind up – in this as in every other referendum, we need to move away from the idea that there is a “right” way to vote if you are uninformed or undecided. The ability to decide on what changes are made to our constitution is valuable beyond words – let’s give it the respect it deserves.