Sunday, October 06, 2013

Referendum defeat for Irish Government:


The Government’s proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann (Irish Senate) was defeated in yesterday’s Referendum. On a poll just short of 40% the result was: Yes: 591,937 (48.3%), NO: 634,437 (51.7%).

There was a clear east-west geographic divide in the country with Dublin and the eastern counties voting solid NO and southern and western counties voting Yes, but, only by the narrowest of margins in most cases.

No Dublin constituency recorded a Yes vote, a staggering defeat for the coalition government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. For Labour, already under severe pressure because of the IMF/EU austerity budgets and showing only 6% support in the latest opinion polls this bodes badly for their chances in next year’s local government and European Parliament elections when the results of this referendum will still be fresh in voters’ memory.

Analysis will continue in the next few weeks of the various aspects of the NO vote, a cross-party, non ideological event but, a clear implication of serious mistrust of government intentions whatever proposal is being put forward. The political credibility of An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, is severely dented since this proposal was initiated by him as a personal project and pursued without much logical input from himself and with a damaging refusal to engage in any public debate about the issue he was asking the electorate to support.

With large quantities of egg-on-face, the Government must now deal with a hostile public and a coterie of hostile but determined and intellectually able Senators who campaigned against the abolition and who managed to throw out a government measure the day before the Referendum. The Government have already set-up a “Constitutional Convention” to discuss amendments to the Constitution but, for unknown reasons failed to submit their senate abolition proposal to this body, a political mistake as now demonstrated by today’s result.

Even though the Government has a comfortable majority in Dáil Éireann, the lower house, this has been fraying at the edges with four Labour members and four Fine Gael members already outside the Party whip adding to their many political headaches as the next electoral test looms in 2014. Further, next week’s State Budget is likely to be as controversial as the previous ones even though it is the last of the IMF/EU supervised ones. The economy has not grown sufficiently fast for a relaxing of the constraints on State finances which would allow them to try to restore some political popularity in the short term.

In a typically opportunist but, astute move Opposition Leader, Mícheál Martin’s, Fianna Fáil Party, which led the previous government of boom and then bust, took up the NO side campaign, a novelty for them since they have spent the last forty years campaigning for YES votes on every occasion for further integration with the unelected Brussels Bureaucracy and fully supported the militarisation of Europe as well.

The result is also a setback for rising Opposition party, Sinn Féin, who now seemed to have made a serious tactical mistake in joining the YES Campaign despite earlier instinctive misgivings by party leader, Gerry Adams.

All this makes for an interesting political scene in Ireland for the next few months.

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