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Seven things the Irish learned thanks to the Senate referendum

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Two nuns carry out their civil duty voting on the Senate referendum
Two nuns carry out their civil duty voting on the Senate referendum


So on Saturday, the people of Ireland (well, some of them, but more on that below) narrowly voted to maintain the Seanad. So with the Upper House saved by the hair on David Norris' chinny chin chin, what have we learned from the whole sorry, disingenuous debacle?

1. If the referendum was an exam, we would have failed.

39.2%. That's the amount of people that voted to voice their opinion on a pretty crucial question about the way Ireland governs itself. In some constituencies, it was under 30%. That's both insane and a huge part of the problem. A lamentable amount of people find the question of Seanad reform irrelevant or petty, and politicians always seem happy to not contradict them. Politicians, it seems, only ever seem to engage for the most petty or selfish of reasons. Granted, the populace need to meet the politicians half way, but the powers that be aren't exactly at the line offering encouragement.

2. Donegal has a few co-conspirators on the No side for a change.

Donegal's reputation as Ireland's political arch-contrarian is unfortunate, but well-earned. Lisbons 1 and 2, the Fiscal Compact, Divorce, even the goddamn Children's Rights referendum, all turned at the door up yonder. Often, Donegal are the only ones voting against it in the whole country, which makes my home county look ever so slightly crotchety. Thankfully, a slew of Dublin constituencies have taken the sting out of Donegal's inability to say "Aye" by rejecting . In fact, the whole east coast did.

3. Fine Gael and Labour Senators advocating a Yes vote should all resign immediately.

Not a wholly serious point, but surely Senators sincerely calling for their own abolition won't let a piddling matter like the wrong result in a referendum get in their way? Fewer politicians, right?

4. Enda and Eamon are a busted flush.

The Taoiseach and Tanaiste put a lot of money on an outcome that was never going to be all that profitable even if they won, but now they've lost they just look like idiots. They tested their authority on an issue that didn't quite have the emotional baggage of an abortion debate or economic policy and lost badly, both in terms of mobilising people to turn out and the end result. That doesn't bode well for the more heated issues round the bend, like the Budget. And Enda's inexplicable refusal to debate Seanad abolition will come back to haunt him from here til the next election. Gilmore, meanwhile, continues to float in space.

5. Referend(a)(ums) are stupid, and not just for plural reasons.

The question of legislative reform is multi-faceted and complex. A referendum is barely an effective way of  a group of mates deciding what pub to go out to for drinks. Crucial and complicated questions get boiled down to false binary choices, subject to hair-raising lies and coloured by the public perception of the people asking the question. In a modern democracy, it's an appalling way to do business.

6. Michael McDowell is more attracted to spotlight than a moth.

In 2007, when the PD's built, lit and leapt onto their own funeral pyre, Michael McDowell swept in to the RDS, announced that there would be no encore, and swept out again. Since then, he's thrown his cape off like a barrister James Brown quite regularly, bursting back on to the scene every now and then to chip his 2 cents into the pot on all sorts, and Seanad reform was no different. Does he want to build yet another new party or is he just an avid drive-by opinion giver these days, who knows?

7. Time to get really serious about reform.

For years, people have known that the Seanad needs the legislative equivalent of a boot up the arse, but nobody has ever sufficiently laced up. If Enda wants to regain some capital, he'll get everyone together who has something to say about Seanad reform, and synthesize some genuine proposals that makes the Seanad useful, representative and full of diverse voices. And abolishing a fair chunk of the Dail wouldn't go amiss either.

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