Kenny and his colleagues are the only ones confused about the Seanad poll

Opinion: Taoiseach appears to be only going through the motions of listening

Sat, Dec 21, 2013, 00:01

It’s amazing how much people lie to pollsters, not only about what they might do but even about what they have just done.

This week, having sat on it for four weeks, the Government finally published the report of the Referendum Commission for the Seanad and Court of Appeal referendums held on October 4th.

The Referendum Commission, which is individually constituted for each referendum , is required to present a report on its activities to the Minister for the Environment.

While the commission is an independent body chaired by a superior court judge, it is the government that decides when and in what context the commission’s report is published. This is part of a now long-established pattern where the government gets weeks and sometimes months to consider reports from agencies and bodies, frame its response in advance and choose to publish when it is the most advantageous moment for the government.

So it came to pass that although the Seanad Referendum Commission sent its report to the Minister on November 29th last, it came to be published on a busy Wednesday evening before Christmas when a hole in next year’s health budget might otherwise have dominated the news.

It was no coincidence that the report was published just hours after the Taoiseach finally held a meeting with other Dáil and Seanad party leaders about the outcome of the referendum.

He met them at 11am on Wednesday, and by all accounts it was an insubstantial meeting. The Referendum Commission report was not published before the meeting, and neither the fact it was going to be published nor its contents were shared.

The Taoiseach presented no specific proposals for Seanad change to the meeting. The only documents handed out at the meeting were a summary of a recent Seanad debate on reform and a checklist of the contents of previous reports on the topic.

Those at the gathering described the Taoiseach as giving an impression he is still smarting at the referendum defeat and as a man going through the motions of listening to others.

Façade of consultation
It amounted to a façade of consultation by a Government already set on a course of minimal and largely meaningless change.

If that be the case then it is consistent with the Government’s lackadaisical approach to political reform generally.

While the Taoiseach was patting the Dáil and Seanad leaders on the head and talking vaguely of Seanad reform proposals, his media management elves were busy preparing to release the contents of the Referendum Commission report and wrapping it in colourful spin to distract from the criticism of Government contained therein. A largely compliant political media lapped it up.

Hours before the report was published the main media prepared and in some cases published news stories all singing off the same hymn sheet suggesting there was widespread confusion about the Seanad referendum. This contention, it seems, was based on Government pre-briefing about the contents of the report and on the unsophisticated reading that 13 per cent of those who voted Yes did so thinking they were retaining the Seanad and 6 per cent of those who voted No did so thinking they were abolishing it.

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