Seanad's just a bloomin' waste of time, says Richard
AS the pinstriped phalanx of politicians swept down Grafton Street flanked by snapping photographers and proffering leaflets at anyone who was too slow to duck out of the line of fire, the most common expression on the visages of the citizenry was one of bafflement.
What fresh electoral hell is this? It can't be a Presidential election, sure isn't Michael D snugly installed in the Park for another five years? And Enda and Eamon are still tucked up in bed together, politically speaking, of course. Moreover, there's no referendum on abortion despite all the recent hoohah, thanks be to jaysus. Nor another poll on some impenetrable European treaty, God save us.
So what were these lads (mostly lads, anyway) up to now?
Well, mad and all as it sounds, the government minister was canvassing for the axing of a large number of his Leinster House colleagues.
Richard Bruton, the Minister for Jobs, was (politely) urging members of the public to make 60 people unemployed. Surrounded by a flock of Fine Gael politicians and councillors, including Dublin Mid-West TD Derek Keating and former Dublin Lord Mayor Gerry Breen, Richard was handing out freshly-printed booklets trumpeting the reasons why the Seanad should be sent trotting off to the glue factory.
"Help the Government to reduce the number of politicians," requested the government minister as he handed a Fine Gael information booklet to a passing chap. "The sooner the better," nodded the man.
There is something inherently weird about the whole scenario. And doubtless when the electorate – which hasn't yet begun to give the October 4 referendum a scintilla of thought, judging by the outbreak of widespread puzzlement in Dublin 2 yesterday – will be equally bamboozled when it eventually mulls over the available options.
For essentially, the choice presented to voters next month is to either punish politicians by voting to scrap the Seanad, or to give the Government a black eye by voting to keep it.
And so Richard did a short walkabout through the Hibernian Way, venturing a short distance down Grafton Street. He's not a natural grip-and-grin sort, and spent most of the time on the brief perambulation (prolonged exposure to the public can be deleterious to the health of a minister in these fraught times) chatting to his compadres.
A skinny head-the-ball spotted the prosperous-looking group milling about on a corner, and was over like a coin-seeking missile. "Any loose change, any spare change?" he chanted, working his way instinctively towards Richard.
But he came up empty. It seemed that nobody had any change. Richard's crew were on a mission to ring the change, not dole it out.
Flower seller Helen Byrne from Cork Street was sitting by her baskets, minding her own business, when she found herself on the business end of a booklet and a request to get rid of the Seanad. "I don't know much about it, I'll read what it says tonight," she told Richard. But by getting rid of politicians, "we're trying to save money", he explained to her approval. "Good luck to you, we'll leave youse where you are, so," she added.
At the end of the mini-canvass, Leo Varadkar materialised. But perhaps he's keeping a low profile until after the All-Ireland football final, as he admitted he's being haunted for gold-dust tickets for the Dublin-Mayo showdown.
But as the Fine Gael director of elections for the campaign, Richard has to run with this Seanad ball – which originated from a solo run by his boss, Enda, during the last general election.
And so he has his Abolish-By-Numbers patter off by heart. "The fact is that only one per cent of the population participated in the election of the last Senate; 90pc were selected by politicians themselves, and the last time that any piece of legislation was delayed by the Senate was in 1964," he recited afterwards. "These are important facts that people need to know about."
Then the Jobs Minister headed back to Leinster House with a bundle of booklets bearing the exhortation 'Fewer Politicians' tucked under his oxter.
Strange days, indeed.