No debate for Kenny led ‘ardent abolitionists’ to change sides in Seanad vote - Deasy
Shouting matches are for party political issues not referendums , Taoiseach insists
John Deasy: did not know if the referendum would call Mr Kenny’s leadership into question, but he believed his failure to engage in the debate was “a huge mistake”. Photograph: Patrick Browne
Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s failure to engage in public debate on the abolition of the Seanad was a “huge mistake”, according to a Government backbencher John Deasy.
The Waterford Fine Gael TD sharply criticised his party leader and claimed Mr Kenny’s failure to participate in a public debate led many voters to switch sides and vote to keep the Upper House.
A longtime critic of the Taoiseach, Mr Deasy said he met many people a week before the referendum who were “ardent abolitionists” only to discover on Friday night that they had switched from voting to scrap the Seanad to instead supporting its retention.
“I’m not surprised at the result – there was a shift in the last four or five days and it was down I think very definitely to the non-engagement by the Taoiseach and I think the arguments about the €20 million cost were well and truly debunked,” he said.
Mr Deasy did not know if the referendum would call Mr Kenny’s leadership into question, but he believed his failure to engage in the debate was “a huge mistake”.
“I think I can understand why he wouldn’t want to engage in a presidential style debate with Micheál Martin but I think he should have engaged with somebody like Bryan Dobson and at the very least explained his reason in the last week why he initiated this referendum in the first place.”
The Taoiseach had earlier defended his approach and said he had debated the matter in the Dáil, spoken to the media about it, answered questions on the subject “here, there and everywhere” and attended public meetings. “People would love to have had a shouting match between party political leaders but that never applied in referenda as it’s not a party political issue, it is a people issue.”
He will now reflect on the outcome and consider how the Seanad could be made an “effective contributor” to the changes the Government is seeking to make to the political system.
“Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process, I accept the verdict of the people.”
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he was “not disappointed” as the result of the Seanad referendum was a “decision of the people”. Reform of the Upper House will be discussed more fully now the campaign is over and a distinction would have to be made if the Seanad could be reformed in the existing constitutional framework or if a constitutional change was needed, he said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald expressed concern that “the Government might see this as a signal to sit on their hands and to simply leave the Seanad trundle on. I think that would be completely unacceptable.” Ms McDonald, whose party supported abolition, said “the status quo isn’t an option”.