A few months before Enda Kenny was first elected a TD, I joined the local paper in Castlebar, the Connaught Telegraph, as a junior reporter. That by-election of 1975, when Enda took the seat left vacant by the death of his father Henry, was the first big news story I was involved in. I have known Enda off and on since then, following his career through the early years of promise, the years of genial Enda and political stagnation, and then the emergence of the rebooted, transformed Enda as the man of action.
As a fellow Mayoman, I was proud seeing him reach the pinnacle of political positions. But pinnacles can do things to you. Back in 2003, Enda famously climbed Kilimanjaro. Maybe that climb should have given Enda a few insights into scaling new heights. They say the air gets thinner up there. You can be drawn into a dream world, prone to fantasies, even temporarily lose your grip on reality.
We will probably never really know if Taoiseach Enda's decision to announce in October 2009 he was advocating abolishing the Seanad fitted into one of those light-headed, top-of-the-mountain moments. The fact that a few months earlier he had spoken of a new, reformed and modernised role for the Seanad makes the abolition decision all the more bizarre. And the "wallop" he has just received in the Seanad referendum result shows him losing his footing and stumbling on an issue that, egged on by back-clapping advisers, he would have expected to stride confidently across.
So, to distort a little the famous quote from the hotel bellboy delivering champagne to George Best's bedroom where he relaxed with a scantily clad ex-Miss World, "where did it all go wrong, Mr Kenny?"
I was involved in the campaign from early June as press director with Democracy Matters, a campaign group which advocated retaining and reforming the Seanad. A few weeks before, I was in the 'take it or leave it' territory when it came to the Seanad. Then Enda stumbled. In announcing the referendum, he went for the popular "sure, they'll love it" line. An institution no longer fit for purpose, shed politicians, save money and rid us of a left over from our colonial past. It rankled with me. No depth, no acknowledgement of those who had served, no feeling for the past and no vision for the future.
Getting involved in the campaign had all the makings of one hell of an uphill battle. And so it proved. Ranged on one side was Fine Gael, which could commit at least €200,000, slap up tens of thousands of posters and dip into the teams of government apparatchiks, media gurus, advisers, researchers and more to help along the way. Labour talked of €100,000 but shied away and seemed to have no problem as TDs and senators slipped in increasing numbers across to the No side.
As for Democracy Matters. It was a right mix of well-intentioned people hell bent on forcing to the surface the message that the Seanad as it stood, even in its current weakened state, had an important function in vetting, altering and improving legislation.
And worth remembering that legislation is not some plaything of politicians; in time, it trickles down to affect the lives of all citizens. But most of all, our message was that the Seanad could be reformed, dump the elitist tag that dogged it and give a vote and voice to all, including in the North and our emigrants. Most important, it could be the watchdog of Government, there to provide the checks and balances that those in supreme power most dislike.
In Democracy Matters, you had the quiet-spoken father figure of independent senator, Feargal Quinn; the wildly enthusiastic but ever unpredictable Michael McDowell; Katherine Zappone, intelligent and solidly grounded; barrister and columnist Noel Whelan, the axis around which much of the campaign revolved; ex-senator Joe O'Toole and many, many more.
The funding came from donations and the campaign was driven by over 700 supporters and volunteers countrywide. In the end, we spent some €55,000 compared with the hundreds of thousands the government parties and Sinn Fein splashed out.
From the start, the Democracy Matters campaign was about tone and substance. We couldn't fight the juggernaut of the government parties when it came to spending but we could challenge them every step of the way on the arguments. The claim of €20m savings was quickly discredited, the one parliamentary chamber success in other European countries was showed to be badly skewed and the Dail reform proposals hastily shoved out were shown to be threadbare.
Tone was crucially important. It had to be solid and argument-driven, avoiding the gimmicky stuff, the attention-seeking silly photocalls (that meant jettisoning ideas such as having someone in a chicken outfit flapping and squawking in the background after the Taoiseach refused to debate with Micheal Martin).
In the end, it was Fine Gael who went for the gimmicks. The photocall with the Beatles lookalikes only made me think that, subconsciously, was Enda wondering "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" (he will be 64 in 2016 when the next general election is likely).
The final appearance of the reluctant Enda was two days before polling day, on the bandstand in St Stephen's Green, as he attempted to fit a cut-out image of Ireland into a large, wobbly, plastic jigsaw of the combined emblems of Europe, presumably to show that if we voted Yes we would be conforming. For some reason, the Irish bit refused to fit snugly in.
So what happens next? I expect Enda to settle himself, take aim and wallop the Seanad reform ball towards the touchline in the hope it will be grabbed by the Constitution Convention gang or swallowed up by an All-Party Committee pack.
If he fails to reach the safety of the touchline, then he can expect to have a lot of thick-necked and thick-skinned reformers stampeding in his direction.
So you see what I mean about pinnacles. If you are perched up that high, you can get away with one embarrassing stumble. Stumble a second or third time and you can end up sliding down the rockface, desperately clutching for a rescuing grasp. Politics is a precarious business.
Tom Rowley is a freelance writer and public relations consultant.