Friday 18 April 2014

Knives out for Enda Kenny as FG stunned

*Shane Ross calls for new movement
*Michael McDowell: 'a defeat for arrogance'
*Enda Kenny says poll 'defeat was a wallop'

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the media about the failure of the referendum to abolish the Seanad at Dublin Castle, yesterday.
Photo: Tony Gavin 5/10/2013
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the media about the failure of the referendum to abolish the Seanad at Dublin Castle, yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin 5/10/2013

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has suffered a humiliating defeat in his "personal quest" to abolish the Seanad as 634,437 chose to reject his proposal.

Despite talk throughout the day of a razor-thin margin, ultimately 51.7 per cent – a majority of 42,000 people – rejected the Government's attempted "power grab".

The stunning defeat for Mr Kenny has immediately led to blame and recrimination within the Coalition, including ministers, who demanded answers as to why the vote was lost.

Yesterday's defeat led one senator, Trinity College Dublin's Sean Barrett, to call on Mr Kenny to "consider his position", given the rejection of the proposal to abolish the Seanad.

"The Taoiseach went on a solo run and engaged in an ego trip. He clearly didn't have the support of many in his own party and I now think he should consider his position," Senator Barrett said.

Following the defeat, the opposition was trenchant in its criticism, with Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher branding Mr Kenny a "coward".

Last night, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the result was a "complete rejection of the Government's strategy of talking about reform but simply increasing their own power".

Mr Kenny's "autocratic" style of leadership has been brought into sharp focus, with several Fine Gael senators deeply critical of the party's "bullying tactics" in the past few weeks, which they branded as "personally insulting and deeply disparaging".

Mr Kenny's failure to take part in a televised debate on the abolition of the Seanad, as well as Fine Gael's "dubious" claims that abolishing the Upper House would save €20m a year, were being blamed as the main reasons for the defeat.

One FG senator, Tony Mulcahy, was deeply critical of the party's campaign tactics.

"The €20m thing was a load of bollocks. It didn't take a degree from Trinity College to do the maths," he said. "This referendum is likely to cost €14m and paying us off would rack up another €6m. It's not rocket science," he added.

In the wake of the defeat, another FG senator said: "The knives are out for Enda Kenny. He tried to take the head off us and it did not work."

Another said: "He's in thrall to the likes of his chief of staff Mark Kenneally and his advisers. He's forgotten who got him there, if he gets in trouble ever again, we'll be waiting for him."

Crucially, the 12 Dublin constituencies all voted to reject the referendum. The Dublin South East constituency, currently represented by Lucinda Creighton and the former home of leading No campaigner, former Tanaiste Michael McDowell, returned the strongest No vote of 61.3 per cent. For his part, Mr McDowell described the result as "a defeat for cynicism, arrogance and complacency".

He said: "The people have shown that Ireland is not a State governed by focus-group research and backroom political-party statisticians. This result is a watershed in Irish politics."

In a further blow to the Government, yesterday's defeat has emboldened the Reform Alliance and independent TDs like Shane Ross to consider the formation of a new political party.

Writing in today's Sunday Independent, Mr Ross said that within the Technical Group, "there is a growing realisation that the political sands are shifting fast. Yesterday was a 'wake-up' call".

He added: "Despite the diversity, there are acres of common ground between the independents.

"Some are left-wing, others right, but nearly all demand fundamental change. Most could combine on a common platform."

It is also believed that the Reform Alliance is considering their strategy for the next general election, with an eye to establishing a party that would deliver at least 25 Dail seats.

Several Fine Gael senators have railed against the party's campaign strategy and were last night deeply critical of the party leadership which oversaw the dramatic defeat.

Senator Catherine Noone said she was appalled by the tone and tenor of the party's "unreasoned" campaign, which she said was personally insulting to her and her Seanad colleagues.

She said: "Some of the personally insulting statements that came out of Party HQ were very disparaging. One can only take such things personally.

"But there was also a lack of reasoned argument and I intend raising the matter next week. It was appalling."

Senator Michael Darcy said he was appalled at the tone and tenor of the party's campaign and said he intends raising it when the party meets next Wednesday.

Paul Moran of Millward Brown said the Government would need to regroup quickly after this campaign, saying that this defeat could be a "defining moment for the Coalition".

He said: "With another austere Budget to come in less than two weeks' time, this indeed could become a grim October for them, and a defining moment in the tenure of this administration.

"One lesson they will have learned however is never take the electorate for granted."

Nationally, 634,437 people or 51.7 per cent decided to reject the proposal to abolish the Seanad while a total of 591,937 (48.3 per cent) voted in favour.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny says he will reflect on calls to reform the Seanad after voters rejected his bid to abolish the Upper House.

He said he was "personally disappointed" by the decision, adding: "Sometimes in politics you get a wallop."

"Naturally I was personally disappointed but I fully respect and accept the outcome.

"Now that the people have made their decision, and that they have decided and confirmed that the Senate is retained as part of our constitutional institutions, I must now reflect upon the best way that can be made an effective contributor to the change in politics I intend to continue with."

He also said there was "a continuous need for change and reform in politics" and defended not taking part in televised debates.

"I attended umpteen occasions, debated this in the Dail answered questions here there and everywhere.

"People would love to have had a shouting match between party political leaders, that never applied for referenda. It is not a party political issue."

The Taoiseach added that it was important to "assess" how the Seanad could contribute to political reform.

Sunday Independent

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