Reflections on the Result of the Seanad Abolition Referendum

I’m surprised. Pleasantly so; actually, exuberantly so. I thought the battle was lost and that democracy here in Ireland would have taken a hit today. But, in the words of a friend, every time I lose faith in the Irish electorate, they suck me back in.

In a – if you were to look at recent opinion polls – shock result, the Irish electorate voted by 51.7% to retain our second house, Seanad Éireann.

I have some reflections on this:

  • Firstly, it’s a fantastic result for all the reasons I mentioned here.
  • Without repeating the points I already made in the above link, it’s a great result for democracy. It’s not enough that we’re a democratic country by name but we should be a great democracy. Particularly with our executive-cum-parliamentary system, we need a second house. But not the one we have, a reformed second house:
  • Let’s be clear – no one, not a single person, argued to keep the Seanad in it’s current form. Rather, we argued to keep it and reform it. The Government now have a clear mandate to reform this dysfunctional but necessary house and they need to follow through on that. Particularly, Fine Gael got elected on a wave of the promise of reform and have done little in that respect since. They now have a clear public mandate to do something concrete in this respect with the Seanad. And, God knows, we have enough reports and proposed bills to help it happen fast.
  • The turnout was higher than expected (while disappointingly low at 39.2%). This high(ish) turnout means that one cannot argue that the pro-side were apathetic and the no-side were motivated and turned up. Rather – and I suspect deeper analysis will prove this – the undecideds fell to the no-side.
  • Enda Kenny. Disaster. This was his baby. In a cynical political stunt at a Fine Gael dinner in 2009, Kenny announced that he would abolish the Seanad in Government. Only months after lauding it. This may very well be one of the most expensive after dinner speeches in Irish history – whatever abolishing the Seanad may have saved, what of the cost of the failed referendum? But, back to today and this campaign. Kenny did not tog out. He didn’t even come to watch the match. Whoever his handlers are, they should be outed and fired. A 1.7% margin could easily have been closed had the leader of the country stood over his own idea. This, more than anything else, was the biggest failure of the campaign. If there aren’t knives out for Kenny within his party, there should be.
  • Naturally the blame game started early. Some Government TDs were spinning early that the no vote was a result of people’s desire to give the Governnment a bloody nose. This is an insult to the voting public. The Government gets a bloody nose in by-elections – especially when Dáil numbers are not in the balance. But the Irish electorate is too intelligent to change our most valued and core law on petty party politics. TDs suggesting this should not get your vote in future elections.
  • More depressingly, Kevin Humphreys TD (Lab, Dublin South East) suggested the people in his affluent area (i.e. the suggestion is college educated) voted to protect their franchise (i.e. their university Seanad votes). Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously?
  • A number of muppets called for a ‘no’ vote but to also write REFORM on the ballet paper to enforce  the intention was a save but reform. Intelligent people called for this. People I had credited with more cop on. These people are muppets – and, if you spoiled your vote like this, so too were you. Yes, returning officers have discretion where the voting intention in clear but it’s not guaranteed they’ll use it or that their perception of clear matches yours. The spolied percentage in this election was 1.16% versus 0.43% and 0.39% in the previous two referendums. Given the tightness of the result and the fair assumption that the difference were mainly no votes, these could have been critical.
  • A question for Fine Gael is where were the heavy hitters of cabinet? Noonan in particular who is a very trusted political figure. The campaign was left to Bruton and a rag tag bunch of back benchers such as Simon Harris TD and Sen. Regina Doherty (both, if I’m not mistaken, are first termers). There was also very few of the Labour heavy hitters batting in public for this.
  • Sinn Féin made an unusual decision to back the Government. They usually put themselves on the minority side of a referendum to maximise airtime. I don’t know if it’ll hurt them in the short or long term but it won’t help them. It also grated with me to listen to Pearse Doherty calling for the abolition of a house where he served the last term and provided him the platform to run successfully for the Dáil.
  • Fine Gael made a lot (well, was it a six page document?) of promises about reform of how legislation is made. These rang hollow and rushed so I fully expect them to find their way to the shredder.
  • The media seem to be playing up a city / country divide. Roughly, it’s 45% ‘no’ outside the cities and 55% in the cities. That’s not a big divide. It’s two people in every twenty. Or a swing of one in every twenty to tip the balance. One most also bear in mind that most of the Fine Gael loyalists are outside the cities and would follow their leader, like lemmings, over a cliff.
  • Fine Gael seem to be hell bent on the Americanisation of Irish politics; in this case contesting a referendum on two populist and, in the case of costs, complete bullshit, points. I’m delighted to see these tactics which we deride from the outside when looking at America have failed miserably here this time around.

Anyway, it’s a great result and the right result. I look forward to reform.