Statement on the results of the Family and Care referenda

As the results of the Family and Care referendums are announced, a clear No-No result has emerged.

The weaknesses of the proposed amendments have already been laid out in a previous statement, but the process of the referendum has exposed serious weaknesses in the Irish left’s approach to the growing threat of the far-right.

From the outset, there seemed a knee-jerk support for a Yes-Yes vote, in opposition to the No-No vote being called for by the far-right.

It was not until the last hour, a mere two weeks before 8 March, did individuals and groups begin to look critically at the issues, in particular the proposed Care amendment, and realise its serious shortcomings.

The left parties that had pushed for a Yes-Yes, which had led them to cede ground and legitimacy to the far-right, demonstrated the weakness of their position, as groups such as the Socialist Party and People Before Profit u-turned on their support for the Care amendment, realising the damage it would do to both carers, and those in need of care.

Even though the Yes-Yes position was an erroneous one, the lack of effort to push for even this incorrect stance is telling, and stands in marked contrast to previously successful referenda such as marriage equality and abortion rights.

The majority of  on the ground campaigning was done by the far-right, who were able to infiltrate working-class communities in the absence of a left alternative. This was further supported by an intense online campaign of disinformation.

The Connolly Youth Movement is not blameless in this regard. While calling for a Yes-No vote, we only did so a mere three days from polling day.

The results of this failure are clear.

On one hand, the financial cost to the state for a failed referendum will run into the millions, money which could have been put towards improving the services of those that the referenda supposedly sought to support.

While the failure of the Care referendum was undoubtedly the correct result, the failure of the Family referendum in tandem has allowed deeply misogynistic language to continue to infest the Constitution.

However, these outcomes pale in comparison to the really tangible result.

Not only have left parties allowed themselves to be led along in a purely reactive way, allowing their positions to be determined in opposition to the far-right, rather than on any sort of materialist analysis, but the vote will embolden the already growing far-right, permitted as it was to set the narrative on both sides of the debate throughout the campaign.

Fundamentally, this referendum has exposed a weakness in the approach of the Irish left to working-class communities.

To now, it has been characterised by a lack of engagement with communities on the ground, a greater emphasis being put instead on reacting to the rhetoric of a growing far-right which looks to infiltrate working-class communities across the island.

They have begun to see success in this, capitalising on a legitimate deep sense of alienation in these communities. The left has so far failed to organise these communities along class lines, allowing far right provocateurs to replace the ruling class and the state as the enemy, substituting them with agitation against migrants and class solidarity in general.

The targets focused on by critics were the symptoms, rather than the root causes. Rather than being present in communities and exposing the material reasons for the deprivation hitting so many communities in areas such as health and housing, the field was simply surrendered to a far right that were only to happy to fill the role of educator, with disastrous results.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the failure to present a real alternative has made that cure all the harder to swallow for many communities.

So too with the current referendum. It is false to say that every No-No vote was done out of misogyny or far-right sentiment. This was certainly a factor, but so too was the resentment at amendments that were at their core poorly worded and pathetically weak.

This campaign should be a wake-up call to get Ireland’s left off of the back-foot, and get to proactively fighting far-right agitation through real engagement with working-class communities and their issues.

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