Saturday 24 February 2018

Unlike Kenny, voters stand up for themselves

Was there a big urban/rural divide in how people voted for the Seanad? Daniel McConnell and Ralph Riegel took the pulse of town and city

BODY LANGUAGE: Left, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore get comfy at the Global Irish Network Conference.

Daniel McConnell and Ralph reigel

DUBLINERS abandoned the Taoiseach's personal crusade to abolish the Seanad over his refusal to debate the issue on national television.

In a stunning rebuff to Mr Kenny, not one of the 12 constituencies in the capital returned a Yes vote, despite the fact that no fewer than eight members of the Cabinet represent Dubliners.

But it is also clear that Dubliners rejected the proposition because of the dubious costings put out by Fine Gael that abolishing the Seanad would save €20m a year.

Trinity College Dublin Senator Sean Barrett even went as far as 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.

But outside the capital, while the Government's proposal was supported in a number of constituencies, Mr Kenny's refusal to debate over the Seanad abolition was also being blamed for the Government's defeat.

Two senior Fianna Fail TDs, Billy Kelleher and Michael McGrath, claimed that voters sensed coalition unease over Mr Kenny's "absolutely incredible decision" not to agree a TV debate with opposition leader Micheal Martin.

The two Cork TDs said it was clear from ballot boxes in City Hall that thousands of Fine Gael and Labour voters 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 with 18,507 Yes votes.

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.

Opposition health spokesman Billy Kelleher TD (FF) blamed the referendum's defeat firmly on the Taoiseach.

"He ran away from a proper democratic debate with Micheal 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."

'The Taoiseach went on a solo run and engaged in an ego trip... He should consider his position'

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.

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," he wrote in reference to the Dubs' defeat of Mayo in the All-Ireland football final.

Sunday Independent

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