Abstaining from United Ireland vote should have been an option

by Emily Sheahan

Should an 'abstain' option have been included in the DCU referendum on Irish unity?

The recent referendum on whether or not the DCU Students’ Union should call upon the State to hold a referendum on the reunification of the island of Ireland passed by 1494 votes to 473.


The question of whether DCU students should have a say in the matter is a whole separate issue to that of the outcome of the recent referendum. The issue of whether or not there should be a United Ireland is one most will have an opinion on one way or another, but that should not mean they should have the power to influence the outcome.


While a United Ireland would have an effect on the entire island and not just the North, those who would experience the effects at the highest degree are the citizens of Northern Ireland, both nationalist and unionist.


Because of this, we must question whether or not it was DCU’s place to hold a referendum on such an issue. Is it not somewhat condescending for us in Dublin to say ‘we know what’s best for you’? The Republic, of course, should have a say in whether or not a referendum should be held, but from an economic perspective, not a social one.


For this, it is vital that we focus on those a referendum will affect the most – those living in Northern Ireland and the surrounding areas. It is their immediate future that would be voted on. They should have a contribution of a heavier weight.


If the recent DCU referendum on a United Ireland was absolutely necessary, the option to abstain should have been included. Firstly, a vote of abstinence is not the same as not voting. The option to say not only am I not in favour of DCU calling upon the State to hold a referendum on a United Ireland, I do not think I, or the university, should intervene.


An issue that may be raised with this is: what would we do with majority abstaining vote? A majority abstinence vote would be an opportunity rather than a problem. The first step would be establishing the main reasons people abstained. A common reason for abstaining is lack of knowledge of the issue being presented. If this was the case, it would be an opportunity for the SU to educate the student body further on the matter. It would become apparent how informed students are about certain topics, what they care most about and why.


It has been only 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement put an end to the Troubles, a ceasefire that has brought much needed calm but has clearly not brought overarching peace. There are still existing groups with extremist views on both sides. The majority of the students of DCU are not going to be the ones harmed by any rekindled conflict.


There’s no easy answer to this issue, and there’s no easy answer to who gets to answer this issue. It will most likely affect almost everyone on the island, but some much, much more than others. For now it’s a waiting game, until the powers that be make the next of many decisions.

Emily Sheahan

Image credit: iStock