The Taoiseach came in for a lot of stick over his attitude to the Seanad yesterday. Outside of the Government parties, the general view in the Dáil is that Enda is still sulking.
He supported the abolition of the Upper House during last year’s referendum and the public – in Enda’s own words – disregarded his opinion and gave him “a wallop”. His response? “Fair enough, so. Suit yourselves!”
And now, he stands by with a smile while the rescued Seanad slips from shabby gentility to a state of neglect. He gave them their choice – yes or no. What more do they want?
At least that's what the Opposition thinks. They might not be wrong. When the Dáil was putting questions to the Taoiseach on Seanad reform, a press release landed from Labour Senator John Whelan, complaining bitterly about this week's "appalling one and a half day sitting of the Seanad".
Whelan said this “slack Seanad schedule” was at odds with the spirit of reform and blamed “some in Government” for their continuing efforts to “undermine” the Upper House. He wants it known that this short schedule is not the fault of Senators, who are crying out to get stuck into some hard work.
But the Dáil is sending no legislation through for them to discuss while Ministers – senior and junior – simply aren't coming over to take debates.
“That’s wrong and sends out a woeful bad impression of the upper house,” fumed Whelan. So back to the Lower House, where Enda takes the questions on Seanad reform with a little smirk on his face, like he’s quite enjoying himself.
Richard Boyd-Barrett had to pull him up on the smirking. Michael Healy-Rae joined in: “It’s no laughing matter.”
In considering the issue of Seanad reform, Enda began by reading a written reply outlining all the discussions his Government was going to have about the future of the Upper House and how it might become more useful and relevant.
Following discussions with the various party leaders and political groupings in Leinster House last December, the Taoiseach said they agreed that a joint taskforce would look at the matter of electoral reform. There was a lot of talk of "timelines" and "scoping" exercises while, naturally, taking full account of the "stakeholders".
The Fianna Fáil leader looked for further details of this task force. There were none. In fact, by the end of the session, Enda said such a force "examining some future options will not be considered within the lifetime of this Government".
Micheál Martin nearly had a seizure. “U-turn!” he cried. “In 45 minutes he’s just said the exact opposite.” The Ceann Comhairle had to tell him to stop jumping up and down. Enda just smiled.
Joe Higgins marvelled at the Taoiseach for managing to lose a referendum which he should have won by a landslide.
“The people did decide in the referendum,” said Enda. “I’ve understood for a very long time: never argue with the people in a referendum or an election. Their decision is final – you can’t alter it.”
“Never argue?” howled Micheál Martin. “Taoiseach, you didn’t argue at all!”
Enda (who spent the entire campaign avoiding political opponents and hard questions), smirked. “We didn’t debate,” he replied.
Socialist TD Higgins began his contribution on a strange note. “I suppose the Taoiseach would agree that his life would be much simpler if he could just do things along the lines of his newly acquired Saudi Arabian friends – just threaten to cut people’s heads off if they do not agree.”
Brendan Howlin, sitting next to Enda, suddenly came to. "Wha-wha? Where did that come from?
The Taoiseach launched into a very long and complex list of things the Seanad might be able to do, should somebody in charge set matters in train for them.
There is nothing, it seems, that our Senators couldn’t do if only they were let. Micheál was so confused by this highly aspirational list that he dismissed it as: “applehood and motherpie.”
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said she detected a “note of sarcasm” in what the Taoiseach had to say on Seanad reform.
“It strikes me that the people — having administered a wallop to you — that perhaps you are issuing a wallop back and saying to them: you want the Seanad? You have the Seanad.”
She couldn’t figure out why, for example, that he couldn’t refer the matter of reform to the constitutional convention. Enda didn’t enlighten her.
Micheál, meanwhile, urgently sought clarification. "The Taoiseach said there would be a taskforce. He is now saying there will not be a taskforce."
Michael Healy-Rae kept shouting about Bobby Ewing. "It's a Dallas moment" he shrieked. "Bizarre" said Michael. "Unprecedented."
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane sought to get in on the action by rushing out an intemperate press release on the short working week.
“The Seanad is full of Dossers” it was headlined and he went on to berate the Fine Geal leader of the Upper House, “Maurice Manning”, on his role in this debacle.
An hour later, cough considerable softened, a “corrected” toned down version landed.