Senators at sea as House sits for last time before the nation calls the shots

Grey weather outside mirrored the mood in the historic chamber

 Christopher Coburn and Patrick Lavelle put the finishing touches on the polling station at the Labour Relations Commission on Haddington Road, Dublin .

Christopher Coburn and Patrick Lavelle put the finishing touches on the polling station at the Labour Relations Commission on Haddington Road, Dublin .


There was a barely submerged rage against the possible dying of the light among Senators yesterday as the House sat for the last time before today’s referendum vote.

Strained expressions, appeals for a No vote and occasional outbursts of gallows humour were the order of the day. Outside the large windows of the plush and historic chamber, rain fell on a grey Dublin day. The weather mirrored the mood.

“Today is like the parliamentary form of the last supper,’’ said Fine Gael’s Martin Conway. “We do not know whether we will be executed, or survive, or what will happen, but either way it is a significant exercise in democracy whereby the people have their say on the future of this House.’’

Declaring that many people might well be surprised at the result, he said his only fear was that not enough people would turn out. He said it had been a “dirty campaign, probably the dirtiest campaign we have seen in a referendum in the history of the country’’.

Labour’s Mary Moran agreed that it had been “an extremely dirty’’ campaign, with false statements and misinformed posters which should have been removed.

Independent Seán D Barrett took the spiritual route. He noted they had said the usual prayer at the start of the proceedings, with its aspiration that their words and work be “happily ended’’, with more fervour than ever.

He called on the followers of the various parties to vote No because the House was needed.

“We have been mocked from every lamp post in the country,’’ said Barrett. “We cannot have ‘Alas, that might should conquer right’ on this issue.’’

Fianna Fáil’s Terry Leydon claimed many people were changing their minds and would vote No.

He called for a general election to clear the air. “Yes, call a general election,’’ said Fianna Fáil colleague Mary White. Shivers ran down a few senatorial spines at that bit of theatre.

“That is a pretty useless thing to be saying at this point,’’ scoffed Labour’s Susan O’Keeffe. “I do not believe anyone would thank us for calling such a thing at a time like this and Senator Leydon knows that perfect well.’’

O’Keeffe then became philosophical. “Whatever happens tomorrow, and whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Seanad will be different next week and this day is a different day for that reason.’’

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said it was up to the people and the outcome would be accepted. He suspected that outside the four walls of the chamber, people were more concerned about the budget and what it would mean for them.

Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh felt that both referendums were premature. Any fair-minded person would acknowledge that a major contributory factor was the failure of both Houses to fulfil their obligations to the people effectively by not being set up in a sufficiently robust or open manner.

Yesterday’s agenda included a debate on the County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013. One Senator privately remarked about the unintended black humour in the word “dissolution’’ on the day that was in it.

It will be a long day’s journey into night and tomorrow’s verdict for the Senators.