Winning the Seanad referendum could damage Kenny more than losing it
Opinion: A house condemned to abolition could spell trouble for the Government
Regina Doherty TD and Richard Bruton at the launch of the Fine Gael poster campaign urging a Yes vote. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Losing the referendum on the Seanad would be a blow to Enda Kenny’s authority but winning it could do him more damage and even shorten the Government’s life.
By ploughing ahead with the commitment to hold the referendum with just half its term of office completed, the Coalition has blithely ignored the political consequences of its actions.
Nobody in Government appears to have thought about how members of the Seanad are likely to behave if the electorate does what it is asked and votes for abolition on October 4th.
It is no surprise that virtually all Fine Gael and Labour Senators want to see the proposal defeated. More significantly, several Senators in both Government parties deeply resent the timing of the poll, which is going to leave them in the position of being political zombies for the next two years if the proposal is carried.
In that situation the only way for them to demonstrate their political relevance will be to vote against the Government when they do not agree with its policies. They will have nothing to lose by doing so.
Judging legislation on merit
“We have been treated with great disrespect by Kenny and Gilmore and as far as I am concerned I will be judging legislation on its merits and will be voting against if I feel that is the right thing to do,” said one Labour Senator this week.
That means the Coalition risks defeats in the Seanad during the remainder of its term. The Upper House cannot vote down the budget but it could reject some of the ancillary measures, like the Social Welfare Bill.
A rejection by the Seanad means that legislation can be delayed for 90 days until it is passed again by the Dáil. That will be an unnecessary nuisance for the Government but, more importantly, it will introduce an element of political instability at a critical period in its life.
Labour is finding the going much tougher than Fine Gael and it will be no surprise if some of the Labour Senators break into open rebellion. The Coalition is already in a minority in the Seanad so the defection of two or three Labour Senators could tip the balance against it on major issues.
Disaffection in the Seanad ranks could then spread to TDs, particularly if the local and European elections next June turn into a rout for the party. That would have implications for Gilmore’s leadership and stability of the Coalition.
All in all a Yes vote in the referendum could turn into a pyrrhic victory for the Government and bring the general election forward by up to a year from the planned date of early spring 2016.