As I write the result of the Seanad Referendum has just been announced. The country has voted No to abolishing Seanad Eireann. Reform – well that’s a whole other day’s work, particularly since Enda stated clearly that a No vote will not result in this Government undertaking any reform of the second house.
I am personally much cheered by the independence of mind shown by the Irish electorate on this issue. Against the massed armies of Sinn Fein, Fine Gael and Labour we had only Fianna Fail as a party urging a ‘No’ vote. Fianna Fail, who are still taking baby steps back towards their rehabilitation with the electorate, certainly seemed to have judged the zeitgeist just right. But it would be foolish for Michael Martin or any of his colleagues to get too excited about the victory of their side over the Government parties and the only other party of opposition in this referendum. In my opinion although Martin performed ably during the two TV debates, this is not his victory.
What is important about the result of the Seanad referendum was the range of independent, credible and passionate voices on the No side. Probably most prominent of these was Professor John Crowne whose insightful intelligent contributions were hugely important in this debate. Senator Katherine Zappone was another voice who articulated her view with zeal and enthusiasm. Duirmuid Ferriter too and in the latter days of the campaign poet Theo Dorgan also spoke out to retain the Seanad.
Political parties would be wise to learn that the electorate of this country are not stupid. We don’t like being bullied into making a decision on a matter that no one was campaigning about. We were cajoled into believing that abolishing the second house would save us €20m and allow us to enjoy sacking a load of politicians. As a nation of bullshitters, we see right through bullshit.
As we stand at the beginning of the decade of commemoration of the events which lead to Ireland gaining her freedom, it is heartening to know that we continue to value that freedom and our democracy. We might be a bit slow to protest against unfair austerity but we have shown that we do cherish the very freedom that the last Government pawned in order to pay the gambling debts of a bust bank.
So Michael Martin – you judged it right and you ran a good campaign. But this is not your victory. The victory is the peoples. And the people, mirroring events almost a century ago were led by academics, thinkers, poets and doctors. What we need now are new political leaders. If this folly of a referendum is to teach us anything it must be that!