Seanad’s fretful turkeys transformed into proud peacocks

Fianna Fáil found itself in the happy position of being the only political party on the winning side

Senators Sean Barrett, Feargal Quinn, Katherine Zappone and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelahan, at Dublin’s central count location, Dublin Castle. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Senators Sean Barrett, Feargal Quinn, Katherine Zappone and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelahan, at Dublin’s central count location, Dublin Castle. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill


The march of the triumphant Senators will be a sight to behold. Transformed in one momentous weekend from fretful turkeys to political peacocks, they’ll be cock-a-hoop when they return to Leinster House tomorrow. But they will be dignified. They will be magnanimous. They will be noble in their pain. There will be no conga-line down the plinth or yahooing in the chamber. If they have any sense.

True, some Senators may need special scaffolding to support their hugely expanded heads, but that is only to be expected considering what we are dealing with.

The spotlight may have switched for now from the Seanad’s general uselessness to the political fallout for Enda Kenny following his bad referendum result. It was his baby. The Labour Party is delighted for him.

But Senators take their seats again tomorrow in the knowledge that, while the result to save the second chamber may have been a close one, the view that they are part of a dysfunctional and undemocratic House is universal.

But a win is a win.

And even if they were never going to say it publicly, the majority of politicians in Leinster House are very happy to see the safety net of the Seanad in place for the foreseeable future.

From very early on – Labour’s Kevin Humphreys called the result 20 minutes into the count – supporters from the No side knew they had scored an astonishing victory.

Happy position
Fianna Fáil found itself in the happy position of being the only political party on the winning side. Micheál Martin was keen to capitalise.

“People want reform,” he said earnestly, after his 14 years in government. “We took a stance on the issue.”

Keeping a wonderfully straight face, a scandalised Micheál was appalled by the notion that Fine Gael had resorted to “spin based on focus groups and soundbites.”

His director of elections thought he was analysing a coursing match. Niall Collins felt the television debates were crucial “as we got live into the open field”. Fine Gael was “demolished when taken into the open space”.

By the afternoon, Fianna Fáil people were referring to the “Sinn Féin/Fine Gael axis as SF was slithering swiftly away from any association with the failed Yes campaign. “I’m not getting into negatives here,” said Mary Lou McDonald. There was no sign of her party leader, Gerry Adams.

“Probably in Manhattan having his bunions done,” snorted a happy Fianna Fáiler, overcome with joy at his party getting one up on its opposition rivals.

And no sign of Enda, either. Why own a Richard Bruton if you can’t make him bark?

But the Taoiseach was in the vicinity – across the way in the main building at the Global Irish Economic Forum and in no hurry to face the media.

We learned later that he wasn’t in a sulk or hiding, but waiting for a doctor to come and examine the bruises on his electoral process.

“Sometimes in politics, you get a wallop in the electoral process,” he remarked after the result was declared.

And a kick in the ballots too.

Fine Gael had an agreed line. The fact that Enda did not take part in any debates or meaningful interviews to push his case was not a factor. “It wasn’t a personality contest.”

Oh, yes it was. They presented the Taoiseach as a visible but moving target – with a full schedule of baby-kissing tours, and soft-focus photo opportunities. And it nearly worked. He may have been following precedent (which isn’t compulsory), but the Taoiseach’s decision not to debate in any serious forum provided further fodder to the conspiracy theorists’ warning about jackboot government.

The bookies began paying out at lunchtime. We know this, because two chortling Senators got in touch immediately with the happy news.

‘Desire to change’
David Norris had gone into orbit long before then. He held court loudly and at length, a red silk handkerchief billowing from his top pocket as he welcomed the result.

”The momentum behind the desire to change is going to be extraordinary . . . We’ve now found our teeth . . . We’ve been blooded.”

Former senator Joe O’Toole was delighted. “The Taoiseach has learned you can’t fool all the people all the time,” he said.

Along with ecstatic Senators and their new teeth and Fianna Fáil advisers from the last government, the people behind Democracy Matters were brimming with happiness. The Yes side’s big lead in the opinion polls had looked daunting. But they overturned it. Michael McDowell beamed. “This was a cross-party, non-party, political movement,” he declared, before finishing with a threat: Onwards and upwards!”

Barrister and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan made sage pronouncements about swings and patterns, looking like a man who had just taken gold in the anorak Olympics.

Speaking of Irish Times columnists, the spoiled votes came in for a lot of discussion. Fintan O’Toole declared last week that he was going to write “reform” neatly on his ballot paper and this might have encouraged others to do the same. The Democracy Matters crew were horrified.

Happily, matters didn’t get into recount territory, so the prospect of examining papers for “hanging Fintans” didn’t arise.

Prof John Crown was doing his very best to be modest while a radiant Feargal Quinn and an even more radiant Katherine Zappone looked like they were about to burst into a waltz.

Eamon Gilmore didn’t seem particularly bothered by the result. But then, Labour hadn’t been particularly bothered about the referendum.

The Minister for Justice got his referendum through by a mile. Not that anyone noticed.

Enda took refuge in cliche: The people have spoken. Time now to reflect. The people have sent a clear message.”

The transformed turkeys with their new teeth will tell us tomorrow. It beats thinking about the budget.