Martin says Seanad referendum ‘all to play for’

Fianna Fáil leader attacks Government over reform of political institutions

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad remains "all to play for" despite the Yes side enjoying a significant lead in recent opinion polls.

Speaking before the opening of a special meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party in Waterford, Mr Martin said that polls at a similar stage of previous referendums had shown a similar gap but it had closed dramatically in the last weeks of the campaign.

Mr Martin also attacked the Government for betraying the promises it made upon taking office of initiating radical reform of political institutions and how Ireland was governed.

“The situation has become worse over the past two and half years. We have seen how Government can abuse a majority by ramming through legislation like the property tax...


“Now they want less scrutiny and less oversight. We think there is a better way to ensure better accountability and to re-establish the balance of power between parliament and government which is the key to really changing how Ireland is governed,” he said.

Asked about the 15 point lead for the Yes side indicated by the latest Red C opinion poll, Mr Martin said: “It’s a challenging referendum, of that there is no doubt. If you look at previous referendums they showed similar gaps around this time of a campaign. Obviously, the last two weeks will be crucial in relation to the outcome.”

He said that in his recent travels around Ireland he had been “very struck that many people are not switched into the fact there is a referendum campaign.”

Mr Martin would not be drawn on the exact correction Fianna Fáil will seek in the October 15th Budget other than to say it would be less than the €3.1 billion sought by the Troika.

“For us, the key issue is fairness and the need for Government to be fair and to ensure that those on low incomes who have suffered most over the past two and half years don’t suffer again in this Budget,” he said.

He said the manner in which it was structured was most important and added that Fianna Fáil would be campaigning for an independent office to deal with mortgage arrears in the run-up to the Budget.

“The heart has been taken out of the domestic economy and it needs space. In addition, many people on welfare need a break as well.

If you talk to people in the education sector they are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact on special needs education and are very worried about the disconnect between official language and reality on the ground where teachers are being taken away.”

He also contended his party’s TDs and Senators had significant concerns about delays in social welfare payments, with delays of nine months for some claimants who have appealed.

Asked would the local elections in 2014 be a test of his leadership, he said it would not . “My attitude to the local elections is it’s about the renewal of Fianna Fáil and it’s my job to ensure there is a vital alternative force along two strands.

We want to bring in additional personnel, younger people and more women. The other strand is policies and ideas, bringing forward fresh ideas and solutions to the challenges in society,” he said.

The two-day meeting of Fianna Fáil TDs will conclude tomorrow at lunchtime. Among the guest speakers today are former IMF deputy director Donal O'Donovan, economist Colm McCarthy and Professor David Farrell of the school of politics in UCD.

Tomorrow, the party’s focus will turn to internal strategy as its parliamentarians discuss the Seanad referendum campaign; the Autumn legislative session; its pre-budget proposals and next year’s local and European elections.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times