Winners and losers in Seanad referendum

Fianna Fáil leader says Taoiseach let Yes side down by not debating referendum

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin speaks to the media at Dublin Castle. Fianna Fail was the only political party in the Dail to actively campaign for a No vote on Seanad abolition. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin speaks to the media at Dublin Castle. Fianna Fail was the only political party in the Dail to actively campaign for a No vote on Seanad abolition. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sun, Oct 6, 2013, 10:33

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin entered Dublin Castle yesterday afternoon looking like a man who had won a battle.

His party rolled the dice and was the only one in the Dáil to back the Seanad, and its decision has paid off handsomely.

It’s hard to say how much influence Mr Martin and his party had on the unlikely victory for the No side but party members last night celebrated like it was theirs.

The Seanad referendum campaign has left a host of issues, positive and negative, for Fianna Fáil and many of those involved to ponder.

Winners

Micheal Martin: The Fianna Fail man bucked a political trend and was the leader of the only party represented in the Dail that decided to oppose Seanad abolition. His decision to back the unpopular horse has paid dividends, even if he faced accusations of doing a flip-flop on the issue as Fianna Fail’s 2011 manifesto said the Seanad should be abolished as part of wider political reform.

Mr Martin made the most of his media opportunities during the campaign, particularly in the closing week, and he was quick to criticise Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. His willingness to debate the issue on TV, and the Taoiseach’s reluctance, had an impact.

How great an influence this campaign will have on voters is hard to say, but the result will buoy Fianna Fáil as it seeks to restore its battered reputation.

Democracy Matters: The civil society group fronted by the likes of Michael McDowell, Feargal Quinn, Noel Whelan and Katherine Zappone got started early in the day and has been campaigning on the Seanad issue since 2012. It provided a second, and somewhat independent, No voice to that of Fianna Fail and now that the electorate has spoken, its calls for Seanad reform will likely be realised.

The Seanad: It was called undemocratic, elitist, a waste of money and warehouse for failed politicians. Despite all of that, a total of 634,437 people said the Upper House should not be abolished. Both Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore have now said the future of the Seanad will have to be examined and something will be done so as to fit it into the Government’s plan for a new type of politics in Ireland. The senators who said the house should be abolished, presumably hoping for a Dail career post 2016, will have to take a look at themselves.

Losers

Enda Kenny: The Seanad referendum was a pet project of the Taoiseach’s and his party threw its weight behind the Yes campaign more than any other. Efforts at dangling carrots such as €20 million savings, less politicians, and killing off a watchdog that never barks failed to grab the public imagination and what seemed a definite win for Enda Kenny has become a humbling defeat. The Taoiseach said he was “personally disappointed” by the outcome. “Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process, I accept the verdict of the people,” he said. A wallop it certainly was, and his failure to debate his own initiative has been cited as something that may have swung the campaign towards No vote. How true that is will probably never be known, but Kenny will now have to come up with plans to reform the Seanad, which is something he and his party said they would not be considering during the campaign.

Sinn Fein: It wasn’t long ago that Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the abolition of the Seanad would represent a power grab. When the issue was not put to the Constitutional Convention the party decided it would likely be abolished and hopped into bed with the Government parties and said such an elitist institution should cease to exist. What appeared a safe bet has failed to pay off, and party figures have sought to place blame for the defeat on Fine Gael and Labour and their general unpopularity among the electorate.

Labour: Compared to its coalition partner, Labour invested little time or effort in the Seanad campaign and the impression received from many of its members, some privately and some publicly, was that they were largely in favour of retention. A campaign defeat is never a positive thing for a party, but recent polls show Labour has plenty of other matters to be more worried about. They will hope the opinion polls that said the referendum would be carried are as wide of the mark when it comes to the party’s general popularity ahead of the local and European elections next year.

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