Dublin says No to abolition while highest Yes vote in Taoiseach’s Mayo constituency

People swallow the party line more in rural areas - Fine Gael TD

A Dublin-rural divide was a prominent factor in the Seanad abolition referendum as all 12 of the capital’s constituencies signalled a clear No with tighter margins in rural areas.

Just 15 of the State’s 42 constituencies voted for Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s proposal to get rid of the Upper House, with the highest Yes vote – 57.46 per cent – recorded in his native Mayo.

Dublin South East had the highest No vote at 61.33 per cent, while the highest voter turnout, 48.3 per cent, was recorded in the Dublin North Central constituency of Fine Gael director of elections Richard Bruton. The electorate there, who always feature in the top three for turnout, recorded a 54.77 per cent vote in favour of retaining the Upper House.

Urban-rural divide
As the political parties pondered the outcome of a shock Government defeat, Fine Gael members noted the urban-rural divide. "The further west you go from Dublin the greater the Yes vote, with the exception of Galway, a university town," said one party TD.


“In rural areas more people swallow the party line,” said the TD. “There are those who trust the party’s call and there are the Yahoos, the people who swallow anything, especially if it’s about having a go or kicking politicians. It was seen as a cynical, populist stunt by the thinking members of Fine Gael who didn’t like the proposal. There was great distrust.”

But the result was a big shock to the party. "No one in the Fine Gael parliamentary party got up and said to Enda Kenny, 'You're on a hiding to nothing.'"

While the shock defeat, which belied the polls, stunned Fine Gael, some of the first to declare a No vote were Fianna Fáil's tallymen. Derek Mooney, a former Fianna Fáil ministerial adviser, said before noon on Saturday it would be a No vote, a "clear No in Dublin but tighter elsewhere".

At the RDS in Dublin on Saturday Mr Bruton appeared shortly after counting began and said it was far too early to call. Fine Gael Dublin South Central TD Catherine Byrne later described it as a “tight” vote.

Labour Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphreys said he had two “weather vane” polling boxes, in Ringsend and Sandymount, that accurately reflected the results of the presidential and children’s referendums and both were clearly against abolition.

Affluence divide
He rejected early suggestions there was an affluence divide, pointing out that while Donnybrook, Sandymount and Ballsbridge were overwhelmingly for retaining the Seanad there was a lower margin in inner-city areas but it was still a clear No.

Democracy Matters member Michael McDowell rejected any socioeconomic divide. “I don’t think it’s a kind of haves versus have-nots. Rural Ireland is a mix of haves and have nots and you can see there that the vote is divided fairly evenly.

He said: “Outside Dublin the big party machines were more dominant than in Dublin and it’s easier to communicate, to canvass and put up posters.”

Fears that the turnout would be less than the 35 per cent recorded in the children’s referendum proved unfounded with 39.1 per cent overall. The lowest turnout was in Donegal – 29.25 in North East and 30.48 in South West. Both rejected abolition, by 51.69 per cent and 50.42 per cent respectively.

Ironically the lowest ever referendum turnout was about a Seanad issue. It was about extending the university representation franchise – 28.6 per cent of voters turned out. They also voted on the same day in a second referendum on adoption.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times