By Sarah Reilly
Dublin people have expressed mixed views about whether or not Children’s Rights Referendum campaign posters have influenced their voting decisions. Some voters described the poster-campaigns as “disinterested attempts at persuasion” and confirmed that the posters have not influenced their decision in any way. Others described the posters as ‘cheap’, ‘exploitative’ marketing techniques being employed by parties and advocacy groups to sell yes-votes. Either way, it seems the posters have not achieved what they set out to achieve.
John Meaghan (65) plans on voting yes on Saturday. When asked what he thinks of the referendum posters, he says, “I think the commercial use of children in the case of these posters is manipulative but I am going to vote yes, so they haven’t really had any impact on me.”
Mr. Meaghan was not the only person to hold a sceptical view in relation to the posters. Many voters interviewed for this article stated that the political employment of the children featured in the campaign-posters is questionable, due to the very nature of the referendum.
“I don’t agree with children’s faces being put up on referendum posters. These kids are being completely disrespected and are being used for marketing purposes. The use of these pictures is ironic due to the nature of the referendum, and I for one am voting no”, says Kay Ward (50).
Anne Murray (77) said she hasn’t been influenced at all by the posters. “They’re fine and the children are little dotes but I will be voting no. The state will not protect children.”
Another voter unmoved by the posters is Deborah Waters (44). “I haven’t been influenced by the posters but for those unfamiliar with the referendum, I suppose images of children do clarify that the referendum is about kids. I am fostering a child so I am voting yes.”
Bobby Borwick (50) said, “I haven’t taken any heed to the images on posters and I can see both sides of the debate. I was planning to vote no, but with organisations like Barnardos on the yes-side, I have changed my mind and I am now voting yes.”
Brigid Byrne (58) is planning to vote no and said she has carried out a lot of research over the last number of weeks. She said the no-side do not need any fancy posters to back up their campaign because their arguments are obvious and rational. “The images of children used in those yes-posters illustrate how the government are already taking advantage of the very beings they are promising to protect. The use of these images is total exploitation of children”, she said.
Another voter on no-side is Keith Nolan (33). “I have seen the yes-posters but they haven’t influenced me in any way and I will be voting no. The use of the children’s images in posters is cunning and it’s very obvious that the yes-campaigners are trying to buy votes by melting people’s hearts. This cunning move is in itself taking advantage of the children photographed, by undermining what’s in their best interest.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin North West Councillor Anthony Connaghan said that while he is supporting his party in their yes-campaign, many of the yes-campaign posters are ‘exploitative’.
“Sinn Féin are calling for a yes-vote. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and a few other Sinn Féin representatives in Leinster House have done work on this over the last while. They are happy that this is a step forward for the rights of children in the country. Sinn Féin lead from the proclamation, which does say that we should cherish all the children of the nation equally. This hasn’t happened over the last number of years. State care has been appalling and Sinn Féin believe that this referendum is a step forward in tackling that care. I do have faith and trust in all members of the party, that they are working for the benefit of the country. Hopefully backing this referendum is the right decision.”
On the topic of campaign-posters, Mr. Connaghan said, “I think most of the yes-posters are guilting people into voting yes by using images of sad faces. It’s as if they are telling you that a vote against this referendum is a vote against children, which is very unfair. I also think these posters are exploiting kids.”
Sinn Féin produced a campaign-poster which features the face of a two year old smiling child. Mr. Connaghan defended the poster saying, “Our campaign-poster is not as bad as the real guilt-inducing ones”.
COUNCILLOR CONNAGHAN ON NO-CAMPAIGNERS
In relation to the no-campaigners, Mr. Connaghan said:
“I’m not 100 percent convinced that the power is not already there for state intervention where appropriate. Party campaigners for the yes-side have said that the passing of this referendum would stop cases such as the Roscommon case ever happening again. The truth is that the social services had the power to intervene in that case but they did not act on it.”
He continued, “It has been said by no-debaters that this referendum is purely down to adoption, but again I do have to say that Sinn Féin are trustworthy and we would not be encouraging a yes-vote if we didn’t feel that it was the right thing to do.”
UNDERLYING GOVERNMENT MOTIVES
Mr. Connaghan critiqued underlying government motives in encouraging the passing of the referendum.
“It’s like they are trying to say ‘look at us, look what we have done. We have taken action on something that has taken other governments 20 years to discuss.’ This is ironic considering they have been in government themselves within those 20 years. This behavior by the government is also taking citizen’s eyes off upcoming budget austerity.”
In relation recent televised referendum debates, Mr. Connaghan said, “I feel that no- siders, John Waters and Kathy Sinnott are winning debates. It’s as if the yes-side are reading from notes and I don’t think Francis Fitzgerald is very effective at all.”
The councillor also commented on Minister Leo Varadkar’s public criticism of the no-side. “The likes of Leo Varadkar really makes me laugh. He has addressed the no-side as scare-mongrels, yet Fine Gael’s use of scare-tactics before a budget is undeniable. They throw out a load of kites, in which they release budgetary details to suit their own agenda. It’s like the child-benefit. They’ll probably say they are cutting that from €140 to €100. In the end it will probably be cut to €120 and people will feel grateful that they weren’t cut down to €100. People need to understand those tactics. “