Martin says vote defeat a ‘great day for democracy’
Voters prevented the ‘largest constitutional amendement’
Fianna Fail Senator Darragh O’Brien(from left), party leader Micheal Martin and TD Niall Collins arrive at Dublin Castle today. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The referendum result against the abolition of the Seanad was a great day for democracy because it prevented the “largest ever amendment to our Constitution”, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said tonight.
Mr Martin told about 1,000 delegates at the party’s annual dinner in Dublin’s Burlington hotel that “Fine Gael and Labour, with the assistance of Sinn Fein and various hard-left groups thought they could use a highly cynical campaign to push through the largest ever amendment to our Constitution”.
The Irish people “said No to the power grab, they said they want real political reform not just empty spin about reform”.
And in a sideswipe at Taoiseach Enda Kenny he stressed: “They also said that they expect their leaders to be willing to debate.”
He joked to his delighted audience: “In October four years ago Enda Kenny went to his party’s annual dinner and decided that he needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat - and that rabbit was Seanad abolition.
Let me tell you, given what happened today I’m not going to copy him tonight.”
Referring to opinion polls he said: When the referendum proposal was published in the summer the polls predicted a 74 per cent yes vote, he noted. “The Government saw these figures and decided to rush the campaign and limit debate,” he said.
He was equally critical of Sinn Féin, who “saw these figures and decided to switch sides even though their leader compared the proposal to a coup d’état”.
Mr Martin whose party in government for 14 years, failed to address Seanad reform, said of the referendum polls: “We saw those figures and decided to stand by the principle that we want real reform of Irish politics.”
Insisting on the party’s bona fides on the Seanad’s abolition he said “we also published detailed documents setting out our proposals for reforming Ireland’s political system. The people want real reform of not just Seanad Éireann, but Dáil Éireann and Rialtas na hÉireann as well.”
Speaking about the party’s future he criticised one of Fianna Fail’s oldest traditions “standing up at meetings and blaming everything on ‘Mount Street’ ” - party headquarters.
He said he would “break that tradition tonight” and praised general secretary Sean Dorgan for the “enormous changes” currently underway.
At its ardfheis earlier this year Fianna Fail voted for “one member one vote” as opposed to decisions from headquarters and Mr Martin said that was working.
He asserted to applause: “The single most important thing we have done is to say that the days of everything being decided at the centre are over. People who want to use membership of our party to make a difference now have the chance.
“Every office within our party is now decided by the votes of individual members. Our funding today relies solely on the small donations of our members and supporters. One member one vote is working.Up and down the country thousands of people are already attending selection conventions for next year’s local elections.
“In future, the decision to agree any programme for government or to enter into any coalition will rest with our members.”
He concluded his speech to sustained applause by criticising the Government for seeing Ireland’s problems “solely through political eyes. For them the spin comes first and the substance is an afterthought.”