‘Cynically framed, cynically timed, and cynically executed’
Enda Kenny launched ‘personal initiative’, but now refuses to debate it
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore – “Government has timed a vote 10 days before Budget day,” a useful distraction .PHOTOGRAPH: ALAN BETSON / THE IRISH TIMES
On the October 23rd, 2011, the final poll published on the Oireachtas inquiries referendum showed the Yes vote at 76 per cent. Four days later, that referendum was defeated 53 per cent to 47.
While the Yes side still holds a commanding lead in the most recent polls published on the Seanad referendum, the outcome is still in the balance. As Richard Cowell of Red C has pointed out, the tendency for “don’t knows” to switch to voting No means that “this referendum is potentially much closer than the base figures suggest”.
In deciding how to vote in the Seanad referendum on the October 4th, voters should have regard not only to the merits or otherwise of the proposal itself, but also to the origins of the proposal, the timing of the referendum, the nature of the argument being advanced by the Government in support of it, and the extent to which the Government is prepared to debate it.
The provenance of this referendum proposal is suspect. It emerged from the mouth of Enda Kenny in October 2009 just weeks after he had passionately argued for Seanad reform at the
MacGilll Summer School. Yesterday he told us he came to this altered view over those nine weeks having “instigated a root-and-branch examination of the political system”.
The reportage then and since suggests, however, that the idea was devised by political advisers on foot of opinion poll research and was designed to lift his fortunes at a time when his leadership was in jeopardy. Kevin Rafter, writing in his book about Fine Gael, described Kenny’s new policy on the Seanad at the time as “a headline-grabbing proposal in keeping with the pragmatic populism of drunk tanks [and] ending compulsory Irish.”
If it was an attention-grabbing proposal, then this referendum is being used as a distraction tactic now. That is why the Government has timed a vote 10 days before Budget day on a constitutional change that, if passed, would not take effect until in or around March 2016.
The arguments being advanced to support the referendum are crude and cynical and have now also been shown to be inaccurate. Fine Gael ministers are openly boasting around Leinster House about how their clever lines about the cost of the Seanad and the need to reduce the number of politicians came from private polling and focus groups.
That is why they are so prominent on Fine Gael’s posters, why Richard Bruton sends weekly circulars to party representatives telling them to repeat these simplistic messages and why Regina Doherty always gets them out first before she draws a breath in answer to any question.