The nation gives one great big sigh of relief

Sat, Jun 2, 2012, 01:00

THE SUFFOCATING blanket of babble slowly cleared yesterday and a bank holiday front moved in to bring welcome respite to a weary nation.

After a tortuously long referendum campaign, all sides sounded relieved to see the back of it.

A solemn Enda Kenny took to the steps of Government Buildings in Dublin and declared: “Democracy tumbled out of the ballot boxes this morning.” It resulted in a nasty bump for the No campaign and a soft landing for supporters of the fiscal treaty.

When the first boxes were opened, the result was called within minutes by seasoned count observers.

As soon as those votes began to tumble, June burst out all over and played its happy tune to the Yes camp.

Not that they were singing. The situation remains too grave for public displays of celebration.

But you could see they were thrilled.

“The Irish people have sent a powerful signal around the world that this is a country that is serious about overcoming its economic challenges,” said the Taoiseach of the 60 per cent of the 50 per cent who actually voted.

The No side took some comfort in this. They may have fallen down badly with their grasp of figures during the campaign, but they were up to doing the sums when it came to analysing Thursday’s turnout.

While they couldn’t quibble with the result, which was pleasingly decisive for the Government, they sniffed that nearly two-thirds of only half the population could hardly be described as a ringing endorsement.

Nonetheless, the anti-treaty forces were soundly beaten.

It didn’t take a feather out of Sinn Féin, playing the long game.

“This is one battle in what’s going to be a very, very long struggle,” said Gerry Adams, just before the result was announced in Dublin Castle.

He loves an aul struggle, does Gerry.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste didn’t come to the count centre. They did the statesmen routine in front of the imposing backdrop of Government Buildings, welcoming the decision of the people and pledging to redouble their efforts to work for recovery.

Then they thanked everyone who helped in the effort, just stopping short of thanking Angela Merkel for the use of the hall.

Micheál Martin’s ears must have been burning in Cork, such were the plaudits coming from Fine Gael and Labour for the leader of Fianna Fáil and the part he played in the Yes campaign.

The praise went to the head of one Senator, who lost the run of himself on television during the morning and declared, without a hint of irony, that “it was Fianna Fáil wot won it”. Thomas Byrne’s declaration drew snorts of laughter from Minister of State for Europe Lucinda Creighton. Back in Dublin Castle, Fianna Fáil handlers sank their heads in their hands. Byrne, we suspect, was sent to bed with no supper last night.

An upbeat Sinn Féin, having reaped the publicity dividend, focused on the future, and in particular, on Labour.

“Throughout, in Dublin, without a doubt, the Labour Party was on the wrong side of the argument as viewed by its own base,” said Mary Lou McDonald, laying down a marker for the continuing struggle.

Representatives of the United Left Alliance seemed far more downbeat. They truly believed a No vote would be better for the country.

Richard Boyd Barrett, philosophical over the overwhelming endorsement of the treaty in his Dún Laoghaire constituency, took solace in its rejection by “the manual working class”. Next door in Dublin South, voters gave their approval by the country’s highest margin. One in the eye for Shane Ross, who sat on the fence until the last minute and then announced, with no small amount of fanfare, that he was voting No. As a game-changer, Ross proved as effective as a one-legged pensioner in a penalty shoot-out.

Joe Higgins spoke of moving on and taking the battle “from the air to the ground”. He has Phil Hogan and the household charge in his sights again. However, as the flak came in from around the country, he fell in line with his disappointed colleagues on the left and blamed the “fear factor”. The Taoiseach, rightly, dismissed this excuse. This referendum campaign saw equal-opportunity scaremongering.

“The fear came from the other side, where we were told about billions of time bombs of austerity blowing up in the people’s faces,” he harrumphed.

His campaign director, Simon Coveney, echoed this. Many people advocating a No vote and “building their political credentials on the back of the anger and suffering in Ireland don’t have any solutions . . . they are all about protest and not about solutions. It’s much easier to make someone angry than to solve their problems.”

Now that the result was in the bag, he turned to the 40 per cent who voted to reject the treaty. “My message to them is: we’re your Government as well.” All day in Dublin Castle, the spokespeople for both sides queued up to be interviewed.

One German media outlet reported on remarks earlier in the morning from “Edna Kennedy”. You could have called the Taoiseach anything by the afternoon. He looked like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

And where had he been, between Castlebar and his late afternoon appearance at Government Buildings with Eamon Gilmore? At the Bloom garden festival, making a spun-sugar cage with chef Neven Maguire.

It was back to business as usual for Enda. From being microphone averse in the last few weeks, he answered all the questions put to him. Poor Gilmore, who saw more than his fair share of debate during the campaign, hardly got a look in.

It was a win. And a decisive one. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste phoned all their chums in Europe with the good news and told us they were very pleased to hear it.

“It’s a result of both understanding and pragmatism of the Irish people” said Enda.

Then the Viking Splash boat passed by outside and the passengers gave a big, happy roar.

And the blanket of blather slowly began to clear, giving us the holiday weekend to wonder what the fuss was all about.

Normal service resumes next week.