ANALYSIS: Spotlight falls on Kenny's 'cowardly' refusal to debate
on 05/10/2013 12:48:19
The results are not yet in and the tallies so far show an extremely tight contest that is too close to call.
But attention is already turning to the Taoiseach's refusal to debate the proposition to abolish the Seanad.
As the post-referendum party political battle gets underway, Fianna Fáil has unsurprisingly seized on Enda Kenny's campaign, with its Cork North Central TD, Billy Kelleher, describing the Taoiseach as "cowardly."
He said the failure to take part in a debate was the reason for the closeness of the vote, and the public had sent the Taoiseach a message not to take them for fools and not to take them for granted.
Sinn Féin - which was in favour of abolition - are also attempting to focus attention on the Taoiseach, with its Deputy Leader, Mary Lou McDonald, saying it was a "big mistake" for Mr Kenny not to set out his stall.
We are unlikely to hear Mr Kenny until the final results are in, but his back bencher, Jerry Buttimer, has jumped to his defence
The Cork South Central TD said the closeness of the result has nothing to do with debates, but "confusion" about the ballot paper.
He said the Taoiseach did not take part in a televised debate because he did not want it to develop into a personality or political campaign.
"If Billy Kelleher wants to engage in a war of words about cowards, I'll happily debate him about how Fianna Fail were cowards over the past 15 years," he said.
Fine Gael has not conceded defeat and its TDs are putting on a brave face, saying they put the question to the people, it was their decison (even if some were "confused" by the ballot paper into voting No.)
But many were unenthusiastic about the proposition in the first place and their canvassing efforts for a Yes vote couldn't be described as vigorous.
While Minister Richard Bruton was director of elections, the idea to hold a referendum on getting rid of the Seanad was one personally put forward by Mr Kenny and he will have to take his share of responsibility.
Mr Kenny announced the plan in front of 1,200 party members at the Fine Gael Presidential Dinner in October 2009 - overturning the party's policy paper on reform of the Seanad which had been drawn up months earlier.
"I believe the Seanad should be abolished, and the next Fine Gael government will put this to the people. I have come to the conclusion that a second house of the Oireachtas can no longer be justified," he said.
Fine Gael TDs themselves said it was a "bolt from the blue" and most had just heard for it within hours before the announcement.
Some TDs said it was an opportunistic announcement after he had been outflanked in opposition by the Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, who had successfully brought down the Ceann Comhairle, John O'Donoghue following an expenses controversy.
There was a second motive involved which was the need for Mr Kenny to show strong leadership amid doubts over his ability to be Taoiseach and a looming threat to his leadership of Fine Gael by Mr Bruton.
Now it seems the the political strategy he took to project leadership and gain popularity in opposition will come back to haunt him Government.
- Mary Regan, Irish Examiner