Why I can’t vote “Yes”

Clarification (added 9th November): Below, I said that “The only thing that can’t be done – and that’s debatable, senior judges seem to think so anyway – is extending adoption to the children of married parents.”  This is incorrect.  The adoption of children of married parents is already possible.  The referendum makes it easier for this to happen. Apologies for any confusion. ~~ End of clarification.

I will not be voting yes on November 10th.

The main reason: it’s all lip-service. “We’re putting the child’s interest at the centre, their needs become paramount”, according to Frances Fitzgerald and the yes side.

Except – they’re not.

Anything the referendum claims to be introducing can already be done, just with legislation.

The only thing that can’t be done – and that’s debatable, senior judges seem to think so anyway – is extending adoption to the children of married parents.

But if the child’s interests really are paramount and this isn’t just a bullshit, happy-clappy good-news-story referendum to take our minds off the economy, then:

* Why does the very next piece of “child centred”/adoption-related legislation to be introduced by Frances Fitzgerald – the Adoption Information & Tracing Bill – get it so blatantly wrong. It grants no right of access to the birth cert – in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It permits access to “non-identifying information” only. Whoop-de-do. I had that 20 years ago, without any law needed. Really, all that this law does is copper-fasten the status quo. But it’s the same law proposed by Mary Hanafin and previous Fianna Fáil ministers, that got rejected by adopted people and natural parents because it was unjust. Brian Lenihan at least recognised the problems and organised a major public consultation on this issue, back in 2003.  Almost all participants agreed we needed a law that granted access to birth certs and the full adoption file as a right. (The only exception being the representative body for adoption agencies, but then access to adoption files would expose the lies some of them were in the habit of telling, so…)

* Why has no legal provision been made for open adoptions? All adoptions taking place from this referendum will still be closed, secret, 1952 Adoption Act adoptions, with no right of contact for siblings, non-offending parents, extended family such as grandparents, etc. But if this is about the child’s needs being paramount, then in some cases, ongoing contact with the natural family will be in the child’s best interests. Sure, a social worker can propose and an adoptive family can agree to access or ongoing contact or updates prior to adoption – and then shut it down once they have the adoption order.

* Where is all the other legislation that is so blatantly, obviously missing? Still no law on donor-assisted human reproduction, for example. It’s still legal to buy anonymously-donated sperm. Nothing on surrogacy. either. Despite pleas for regulation in these areas going back years, including from the government’s own Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, there is still nothing even on the horizon.

(In the meantime, though, we’ve managed to conclude another bilateral adoption agreement with a country that has an appalling track record in adoption corruption and that still has no domestic adoption department. But hey, it’s all about the kids.  Right?)

* What about all the existing constitutional provisions and their total lack of implementation? Free education? Never existed. The right to have your children educated in the ethos of your choice? Still doesn’t exist, unless the parents live in the right area and have their name down a couple of months prior to conception. The right for a raped, suicidal 14-year-old to access safe abortion? Sure, that’s in the constitution, but no, here’s your Ryanair ticket, because we’ve not managed to pass a law yet, it’s only been 20 years. (But here’s one on blasphemy to be going on with, because the constitution says we need to have one, won’t someone please think of the gods!)

The nub of the issue for me, though, goes back to that Adoption Information & Tracing Bill. The same minister is responsible for both the referendum and that bill.

How can she propose both and not be a hypocrite?

She’s either read all of the background material and recommendations and said to herself “It doesn’t matter what’s in the child’s best interests, some anonymous natural mothers might be put out, and some poor adoption agency might be revealed to have lied” – in which case, what happened the “child is paramount” argument?

Or she genuinely believes that adopted people shouldn’t be able to know their origins, in which case she presumes to have better expertise than all of the professionals and advocacy organisations, and clearly shouldn’t be trusted. She can’t have it both ways.

I’m sorry.  I’d like a child-centred referendum that actually means something.  This isn’t it.

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This crack on my ass? For sitting on the fence.

The Stability/Fiscal/Austerity Treaty Referendum takes place tomorrow.  I’ve voted in, I think, six general elections and 15 previous referenda.  Plus some local and presidential elections.

Tomorrow will be the first referendum where I’ve been in the country for a vote, and won’t be exercising my democratic mandate.

Oh, I’ll visit the polling station, all right – but I’ll be spoiling my vote.  As some sort of pointless gesture, maybe.  But at least it’ll be recorded.

So why have I come to this (non) decision?  Because, I think, both sides have good arguments, and both sides have really bad arguments, and both sides have people campaigning for them who make me want to vote for the other side, and… well.  Let’s look at some of the arguments.

Reasons to vote for the treaty:

  • We will need access to funding in 2014 and we’ll possibly have to pay more if we’re not “in”.
  • It takes power away from our own politicians.  They’re corrupt, or inept, or constrained, or shortsighted, or only interested in parish pump-ism to get re-elected, or a combination of the above.  Even the crowd I normally support.  Taking power away from them and giving it to slightly less corrupt/inept people in the EU would be an improvement.
  • It makes sense that you’d force your politicians to live within budget, just like households do.  Or, more accurately, that you’d force your politicians to live slightly beyond their budget – because if the limit is 3% of GDP, they’ll use 3% of GDP.
  • Lots of economists reckon we should probably vote yes, because the alternative is probably worse.  Probably.

Reasons presented to vote for the treaty which are, most probably, bollocks:

  • “Market confidence”, “self-confidence”, “certainty” and suchlike.  Yeah, right.  We’re still broke, the dole queues are still increasing, more people are still emigrating – passing this treaty will not help that one iota.
  • “Respect” from the “markets”.  Uh-huh.  They don’t care whether or not we’ve signed up, they just care whether or not they’ll get paid.  And we seem determined to pay.  Even if it’s not our debt.  Even if they’re surprised when we do pay them.

Reasons to vote against the treaty:

  • It’s effectively unfinished.  We don’t know all the small print.  Why would we sign up now, without knowing everything?
  • We don’t need to sign up now.  The big boys, France and Germany, aren’t.  We can hold off to see if they sign up, and under what conditions.
  • Really, what is up with Article 32?  That’s the one that says: “The ESM, its property, funding and assets, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy immunity from every form of judicial process except to the extent that the ESM expressly waives its immunity for the purpose of any proceedings or by the terms of any contract, including the documentation of the funding instruments.”

Reasons presented to vote against the treaty which are, most probably, bollocks:

  • “It’s a vote for austerity.  And household charges.  And water charges.”  No, it isn’t.  It’s a vote for attempting to force our politicians to not overspend, which is just common sense.  And voting “no” will in no way remove or lessen the household or water charges.  There will be austerity whether we vote yes, or whether we vote no.

Other factors:

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, Enda.  Our Taoiseach.  The man who says this referendum is more important than a general election.  And he won’t debate it on TV or radio.  To deny the no side a platform, apparently.  Cos that worked.  Or made any sense.  (Surely you want a really poor debater like Gerry Adams to be given a platform?)  The man is either very, very clever, or his handlers reckon he would have blown the referendum.  Either way, he has treated the electorate with utter disdain.  Shame on him.
  • Downright misinformation from Sinn Féin.  And others, in fairness.  But they’re the most prominent.
  • The government’s leaflets attempting to masquerade as Referendum Commission leaflets.

So my ballot paper will read something along the lines of “Maybe.  But not just yet.  Come and ask me again when we know all of the details, and when we know what the main financers of the ESM, France and Germany, will actually be doing, or not doing, and when we’ve seen some good faith from the EU via a write-down in our bank debt.”

Also, I vote for Dustin.