Irish gay marriage referendum may be closer than polls predict

Rally to encourage people to get registered for referendum. attended by Unity Gospel Choir, Limerick
Rally to encourage people to get registered for referendum. attended by Unity Gospel Choir, Limerick

Observers from across the spectrum agree that Friday’s same-sex marriage referendum in the Republic could be much closer than polls predict – due to the fact that those opposed to change may be too “shy” to express their views to pollsters.

Jim Walsh, a TD for Wexford, Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International, Dr Richard O’Leary from Faith in Marriage Equality Coalition and journalist Padraig Reidy from Cork have all told the News Letter that the gap between the Yes and No camps could well be significantly narrower than polls suggest.

Defaced posters promoting the 'No' campaign in the forthcoming

Defaced posters promoting the 'No' campaign in the forthcoming

All the main political parties in the Republic have come out in support of ‘equal marriage’.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also firmly backed the move, although the Catholic Church and coalitions of Protestant churches have campaigned against the measure.

A poll by Millward Brown found that, since March, Yes voters have declined from 66 per cent to 53 per cent, while No voters have risen from 21 per cent to 24 per cent. Ipsos figures portray a similar trend, with those saying Yes on 58 per cent (down six points since March) and No voters on 25 per cent (up two points).

Jim Walsh, a former Fianna Fail TD for Wexford who resigned the party whip to campaign on such issues, has been canvassing door-to-door against the changes for some 14 days in the past month.

“There is a silent vote,” he said. “There are many people who feel inhibited in saying what way they will vote because of being seen as homophobic or discriminatory.

“The Yes campaign has majored on watchwords of ‘equality’ and ‘discrimination’, so anyone opposing it is being described as anti-equality and discriminatory.

“People in general are conscious of the difficulties gay people encounter and they want to in some way address that and be tolerant.

“But they are also cautious about changing the status of marriage in the constitution, which the referendum could do.

“The state recognises the family as the natural primary and fundamental group of society. The meaning of this would be completely changed and people are conscious about that aspect.”

Senator Walsh said his convictions were based on the fact that his father died when he was five and he was brought up by his single mother.

Padraig Reidy, editor of Littleatoms.com, is from Cork and commented on the Ashers ‘gay cake’ judgment on the Nolan Show yesterday.

“The Yes camp will probably win but it is likely it will be similar to the general election, where many ‘shy Tories’ who were missed by the opinion polls came out unexpectedly to vote.

“A lot of people may not admit to pollsters they will vote No.

“The margin between the two camps is clearly much narrower than most people think.”

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said the campaign for change is right to caution against complacency.

“Just because the polls show the public is 2:1 in favour of equal marriage does not mean that will translate into actual votes,” he said.

“Older voters who are much more reliable in actually turning out to vote are much less likely to support the Yes campaign. However, I have heard reports of a surge in younger voter registration.

“Those people who support the Yes camp on Twitter must get out and support it in the voting booths,” he added.

Dr Richard O’Leary of the Faith in Marriage Equality Coalition said there is a general recognition that the polls are exaggerating the gap.

“So it is going to be closer than the polls indicate,” he said.

“But on the issue of turnout we do not know what will happen.

“Middle class voters are more likely to get out and vote and they are also more likely to vote Yes. So that may negate the possibility of older voters swaying it in favour of the status quo.”