home Editorial On the Freedom of Speech in Referendums

On the Freedom of Speech in Referendums

So as you all likely know by now, the 8th Amendment Referendum is still ongoing on UCC Campus. As the nature of a college campus is to be a place of diverse people from different backgrounds, we all tend to have a fairly varied group of friends & colleagues, even the odd person from Kerry. So the topic of the 8th Amendment tends, unless you live in a sort-of echo chamber, to divide groups of people in social circles.

This is perfectly fine. People are entitled to their opinions; they can vote how they want. Where the line of politeness generally stops is when people mislead voters and muddy the waters. Even then, out of respect, I hadn’t really spoken specifically against these points, opting to be positive about campaigning rather than negative; I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a few aborted Facebook statuses over the last few days, comments left unposted. Then, when on the way into college this morning, I saw a Facebook page that inspired me to write this editorial: UCC Freedom of Speech.

I’ll admit straight away that this is a bit of a pet peeve, but it’s crucially important in the context of this referendum: the thing these people are talking about is not freedom of speech. The argument made by this page is not one about freedom of speech but of fair & equal representation. Guess what? The entire point of this referendum is to be as representative as possible. That’s democracy. When people talk about the overwhelming support for marriage equality in Ireland, you forget that it was only by about 65%. When people appealed that result, saying it wasn’t representative because only 60% of the electorate voted, most of us said these people were being ridiculous. When talking about the 8th Amendment referendum, when comparing to the marriage referendum, people are quick to say “well that’s different” and they’re right and they’re wrong: it’s a very different campaign, it is (in our college society bubble) a lot more divisive but it doesn’t excuse double standards in democracy. Democracy doesn’t care what the subject is, democracy doesn’t care if your side wins or loses, it’s democracy: it’s objective for a reason.

Back to freedom of speech. I hate to go on a trope of writing, to open a paragraph with a dictionary definition, so I’ll instead quote Bunreacht na hÉireann Article 40.6.1:

1° The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality:

– i The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.

So to say that a students’ union, by campaigning for something you might not believe in, violates your freedom of speech, then you’re wrong. Freedom of speech means that you can express whatever opinion you want without fear of censorship or punishment from the government within reason (see the rest of Article 40.6). So what you’re talking about here, ‘UCC Freedom of Speech,’ is representative democracy not freedom of speech, and even that claim is tenuous at best.