BEHIND the scenes, there is likely to be considerable tick-tacking between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein in their separate, though mutually beneficial, attempts to abolish the Seanad.
At this remove from referendum day on October 4, it looks as though they – Fine Gael and Sinn Fein – will succeed in bringing to an end one of the most abused institutions in the State.
It is, of course, richly ironic that some of those who now campaign to save the Seanad were also among those who most abused the place when it suited their political ends, over many decades and more recently.
Which is not to say that the answer is to simply abolish it.
However, in the absence of any meaningful reform – scrap the Seanad, halve the number of TDs and introduce a partial list electoral system – we are left with the politics of the referendum to distract from the state of the country.
Last week we were presented with that unhealthy state: after five years of austerity, economic growth is 0.4 per cent at a time when the Government had anticipated three per cent full steam ahead.
In some respects, the referendum campaign can be seen as a dry run for what will be a most interesting General Election in 2016, the precursor to which will be the local and European elections next year.
Last week the Government also announced an inquiry into the collapse of the banks, to be held at the same time as the elections next year, with the delayed Anglo module – mark my words – bound to kick off in advance of the General Election in over two years' time.
For this Government, it would seem that no issue – holding the banks to account or meaningful reform – is too serious that it cannot be doused with the stench of such negative politics.
What disappoints most about the Opposition is the manner in which it also plays its part of the never-ending charade that is the practise of such politics in this country – or in most countries, for that matter. Is it any wonder the world is in such a mess?
If the opinion polls are right, and the Undecideds break down as before, then the next Government will most likely comprise either Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, or Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.
The only reasonable alternative would seem to be Fine Gael and Fianna Fail – but nobody seems to be interested in that, other than Mary O'Rourke and Bill O'Herlihy.
So the referendum campaign provides an insight into what will happen after the
General Election: the most likely consequence will be a coalition between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, irrespective of what they would both now claim.
Behind the scenes, Fianna Fail is acutely aware that it may have been out-manoeuvred, which has given rise to questions, already being asked, as to how and why the party took a decision to oppose the abolition of the Seanad.
The decision allowed Fianna Fail to be isolated by Sinn Fein, which seems content in the knowledge that an apathetic majority will probably vote for something as simple, and inaccurate, as 'sack 60 politicians and save €20m'.
If the decision is 'Yes', therefore, the leadership of Micheal Martin will be a more serious issue than ever, although he is likely to be left in place until the bank inquiry and local elections next year.
At which point he may well be replaced by somebody or other with absolutely no experience in government – another reason voters will plump for Fine Gael ahead of Fianna Fail next time out.
That said, Fine Gael and Labour have badly misjudged the mood of the country in calling this referendum in an apparent attempt to distract the masses from yet another austerity Budget, to be followed by a half-baked bank inquiry to coincide with mid-term elections.
If the Government had felt it necessary to provide if not bread, then circuses, it should have behaved in a less cynical manner and chosen something other than half-hearted reform and a half-baked inquiry.
Belatedly, Micheal Martin seemed to understand where the people are at right now, probably as a result of his time on canvass, when he addressed students at UCD on Thursday.
"The most important issue facing our country today remains how we generate the economic and social progress which our people need," he began.
He was also correct when he spoke of how important the issue of political reform is: "We will continue to point out that the need for a deep reform of the structure of Irish politics is required," he said.
To facilitate the argument, Fianna Fail has drawn up yet another plan to reform the Seanad, to include the representation of immigrants and Travellers, which is all very right-on...
Like Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein has also drawn up a wish-list of reform – which amounts to no more than a Trojan horse towards a United Ireland: its plan is change the Constitution to allow Northern Ireland MPs to automatically become members of the Dail.
When push came to shove, however, Sinn Fein chose abolition over reform.
The problem for Micheal Martin remains that, sincere as he may be, not enough people feel they can trust a man who spent 14 years in Cabinet at a time the country was wheeled to hell in a handcart.
If the decision is 'Yes', then, the discontents in Fianna Fail will have to decide whether to move against their leader, which may explain why Micheal Martin is under pressure at the moment. There seemed to be a whiff of desperation from his 'uno duce una voce' accusation thrown at Enda Kenny last week.
The truth is, Enda sees himself as more of a Machiavelli than a Mussolini.
Which is why he will probably allow some members of the Reform Alliance back into Fine Gael before the Cabinet reshuffle he hamfistedly announced last week – when Big Phil gets his just reward in Europe. In fairness, like...
That said, the Taoiseach
THE SENATE DEBATE PAGE 28
does not forgive too easily, as we know, to wit, Richard Bruton, his challenger three years ago, who has been handed the task to end an institution for which he still has a fondness.
If he fails, Enda will shrug and blame Bruton because, right now, Enda likes to think that he can do what he wants.
There is no doubt he is in command: according to the most recent opinion poll, 67 per cent of Fine Gael supporters back his plan to abolish the Seanad, while just around half of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Labour supporters agree with their parties' stand.
The hypocrisy is that Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour, as well as Sinn Fein, have used and abused the Seanad, not for the high and mighty ideals they now espouse, but to do little deals to get themselves elected. Yes, Sinn Fein too: head boy Pearse Doherty was first elected to the Seanad in 2007, thanks to a deal with the now Minister of State in the Department of Health, Alex White, who aspires to lead Labour into the next election.
Little did we realise when Doherty scrambled into the Seanad, after several failed attempts to win election to the Dail, that two elections later he would be a contender for Minister for Finance in a Government led by the all-powerful Fine Gael.