TAOISEACH Enda Kenny's refusal to engage in a TV debate over the Seanad abolition cost the Government their 10pc referendum lead.
Two senior Fianna Fáil TDs, Billy Kelleher and Michael McGrath, claimed that voters sensed Coalition dissension and unease over Mr Kenny's "absolutely incredible decision" not to agree a TV debate with Opposition leader, Michael Martin.
The two Cork TDs said it was clear from ballot boxes in City Hall that thousands of Fine Gael and Labour voters as a result deserted the Coalition to cast ballots to save the Seanad.
Mr Kelleher said the refusal to agree TV debates was "cowardly".
Cork city carried a 'Yes' vote for the Seanad's abolition by a wafer thin margin of just 88 votes out of 66,000 cast.
Cork South Central, the city's most affluent constituency, voted to retain the Seanad by 963 votes, broken down as 19,470 'No' votes compared to 18,507 'Yes' votes, a margin of 963.
However, this was offset by Cork North Central which voted to abolish the Seanad by 14,806 'Yes' votes to 13,755 'No' votes, a margin of 1,051.
Pointedly, Cork South Central has three times more people qualifying for a Seanad election vote than Cork North Central.
"The Taoiseach ran away from a public debate and people drew their own conclusions about the issues at stake," Mr McGrath said.
However, Jerry Buttimer TD (FG) angrily rejected any suggestion of political cowardice by the Taoiseach.
"That is absolute rubbish. There were a lot of issues at stake here. Some people decided they wanted to give the Government parties a kicking. I think there was also an element of voter apathy as well as some confusion," he said.
Agriculture Minister and Cork TD Simon Coveney said time was now needed to digest the implications of the referendum vote.
Democracy Matters director, David McCarthy, hailed the vote as an historic day for Ireland.
"All the advantages lay with the 'Yes' campaign but Irish voters still took time to understand the issues involved. It is a victory for civic Ireland."
"Voters weren't going to be conned by arguments about saving money through abolishing the Seanad and having less politicians. Ultimately, for the Government, it was the same as turkeys voting for Christmas."
Opposition Health Spokesman Billy Kelleher TD (FF) blamed the referendum's defeat firmly on Taoiseach.
"He ran away from a proper democratic debate with Michael Martin. The Irish people can't be fooled when it comes to politics," he said.
"They want to hear the issues debated with passion and belief. Over the years TV debates have become part of our political culture and people took the message that the Taoiseach was afraid to debate an issue that he was supposed to believe in."
"Irish voters cannot be bullied or railroaded into something.They are not afraid to stand their ground."
Jonathan O'Brien TD (SF) warned that the referendum was the wrong issue at the wrong time.
"All people were worried about was their wage packet or whether their social welfare was going to be cut. The Budget is in a couple of weeks and the last thing most people were worried about was the Seanad," he said.
David Stanton TD (FG) acknowledged that the Government faced an uphill battle to overcome widespread voter apathy.
"I met one person who turned to me and asked: 'What is the Seanad?' That says it all really," he declared.
Former Green Party senator, Dan Boyle, succinctly summed up a bruising day for the Taoiseach with one tweet about the Coalition's heavy referendum defeat across the Dublin constituencies.
"It is not the first time that Dublin will have spoiled Enda Kenny's day", in reference to the Dubs defeat of the Taoiseach's home county of Mayo in the All-Ireland football final.
By Ralph Riegel