A wishy-washy welcome for poll success

Wed, Nov 14, 2012, 00:00

Dáil Sketch:They should have come surfing into the chamber on the crest of a wave.

Winners, each and every one of them. (Including Mattie McGrath, who believes he also won by opting out of the consensus.) Deputies from all sides of the House had asked the people to approve an amendment to the Constitution, and they did. How often does that happen? The least one might have expected from the Dáil was an outbreak of cross-party preening and mutual backslapping.

But there was nothing of the sort. The Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil welcomed the result of the children’s referendum when business resumed yesterday afternoon.

Enda welcomed it in a wishy-washy, waffly sort of way.

He could hardly be effusive, given that the Supreme Court says his Government made a hames of its referendum information campaign and then the vast majority of the public decided not to vote anyway.

Still, at least this Supreme slap-down saved Enda further embarrassment during Leaders’ Questions. He pointed out to Micheál Martin that it would be unwise for him to say much more about the ins and outs of the referendum campaign because the good justices won’t be handing down their detailed judgments until next month.

He thought it best not to say anything until then. For legal reasons.

And sure by December, there’ll be the small matter of something called “The Budget” and the ensuing row over the cancellation of Christmas.

In the pandemonium, and with any luck, the children’s referendum and the Government’s embarrassment will be largely forgotten.

The Supreme Court judgment put a damper on the result, which was hardly of the landslide variety.

Sounded disappointed

The Fianna Fáil leader was happy that the referendum was passed, but the Yes vote was “stained somewhat by the very stark and blunt judgment”. He sounded disappointed, as if given a lovely box of chocolates only to discover that somebody had licked them all before putting the lid back on.

Micheál had this historic win in front of him, but he couldn’t enjoy it.

The Taoiseach looked on the bright side. Which is the right sort of attitude to have if you have just been voted “European of the Year” in Germany.

“The bottom line here is that the people have changed the Constitution. They have gone out and voted in a clear majority to give children protection and recognition.” A clear majority of a small minority, granted, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the scores on the doors that count.

Nonetheless, the ruling by the Supreme Court didn’t help matters one little bit.

“People were annoyed before the poll,” pointed out Micheál, referring to the Government’s iffy information campaign, which ran parallel to the one from the independent Referendum Commission. “Why do we have to risk the referendum by something that wasn’t necessary at all?” An apology is in order. “I think you should say sorry to the people; that this was wrong.”

He could think all he wanted, but the European of the Year wasn’t going to be doing any apologising.

Mere mortals

What about Alan Shatter? He was all talk after the judgment was issued. Mere mortals listening to him after the Supreme Court gave their ruling would have been forgiven for thinking Minister Shatter, in his omnipotence, was the final arbiter on referendum-related matters.

Any regrets from that direction?

“Fianna Fáil wouldn’t have the same intellect as Minister Shatter, by any means, to put themselves in the same place as the Supreme Court, nor would we ever attempt to second-guess the Supreme Court,” sniffed the Fianna Fáil leader.

“The first part of that sentence is correct,” huffed the irony-free zone that is Fine Gael backbencher Bernard Durkan.

“That’s for members of Fine Gael who are either in the Law Library or in Government,” dripped Micheál. “But I think, Taoiseach, every now and again, a bit of contrition would do no harm.”

He was wasting his time if he thought he was going to get anywhere with Alan Shatter, who smiled across the floor, deeply comfortable in his unshakable complacence.

And that was the end of the referendum.

The Dáil moved on to the question of student grants, or the lack of them. This is due to a new centralised system of awarding them and it isn’t going very well at the moment.

The system is called Student Universal Support Ireland, or Susi for short.

Susi was bandied around for the rest of Leaders’ Questions.

Gerry Adams and Richard Boyd Barret spoke of students on their uppers because their grants haven’t materialised.

“It’s four o’clock, Mattie, and you haven’t pulled a stunt yet!” shouted Pat Rabbitte to Mattie McGrath, who was untypically quiet during the session. And stunt there came none, as the debate raged over the grants crisis.

But Mattie managed one question, which will have been on the minds of listeners in the gallery not up to speed with third-level problems.

“Who the hell is Susi?”