Not reforming Seanad if No vote ‘political suicide’ - McDowell

Democracy Matters group says Taoiseach should debate referendum to lift ‘apathy’

It would be "political suicide" if Taoiseach Enda Kenny failed to reform the Seanad in the event of a No vote in next month's referendum on abolishing the upper house, former tánaiste Michael McDowell has said.

Speaking today as the Democracy Matters group, which is campaigning for a No vote in the October 4th referendum, published an information booklet, Mr McDowell said nobody was “naïve” enough to think the Government would say it would look at Seanad reform in the event of a No vote as it would “weaken” its case for abolition.

Mr McDowell said this fact represented a dilemma for Mr Kenny and that Fine Gael had, as a consequence, taken an "absolutely crude and in your face" approach to the referendum by saying that, if it was defeated, the Seanad would continue unchanged.

The Government has been criticised by the No campaign for posing the question of either abolition or retention without the possibility of reform.


“Post a defeat of this measure, I believe that if Enda Kenny persisted in that attitude it would be political suicide,” Mr McDowell said.

If the State was left with the Seanad as it is, which Mr McDowell said very few people wanted to see, it would be an act of “supreme and sustained arrogance for [Mr Kenny]to spend the next three years up to the 2016 general election saying he heard what the people said but he didn’t care about the nature of their response.”

Noel Whelan, a barrister and Irish Times columnist, said the biggest obstacle facing all sides in the referendum campaign was a sense of "apathy" and "indifference" towards the subject matter.

He said some 1.4 million people watched the leaders’ debate before the 2011 general election and that a similar initiative involving party leaders, regardless of how it influenced the outcome, would help to inject weight and interest into the campaign.

Mr Kenny has been invited to participate in an RTÉ Prime Time debate with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on October 1st but is not expected to do so.

Mr Whelan said the failure of the Taoiseach to participate in a debate on an initiative he had introduced and backed would be something voters should “keep in mind” when the casted their ballots.

Government sources have said there is no precedent for taoisigh taking part in debates on referendums and that it should be a matter for the public to decide.

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is an Assistant News Editor with The Irish Times