Taoiseach's no-show backfires
There’s no one reason why Fine Gael lost the abolition of the Seanad referendum is such dramatic style but the court of the media is a good place to start looking.
If they’d won it, the Taosieach’s decision not to go debate the issues on television would have been hailed as an excellent tactic. But they lost, therefore there’s every indication his no-show backfired.
There’s was widespread consensus on the No side that the Taoiseach’s flippant “don’t want to embarrass you” refusal to debate his referendum on television cost the Yes side those few percentage points that could have tipped the balance in favour of the 32nd amendment to the Constitution.
Any good criminal lawyer will tell you if the accused has a weak story there’s no point in placing him or her in the witness box. And while a judge will warn a jury they cannot infer any presumption of guilt from the accused’s decision not to testify — normally they do.
The electorate, adjudicated on Mr Kenny’s refusal to debate the abolition of the Seanad in their living rooms and inferred he somehow wasn’t confident in either his debating skills or his argument.
“His decision not to debate went down very badly with the people,” Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said claiming “people on the doorsteps were not happy with the idea that a leader who puts forward amendment and then is not prepared to debate it sends out a bad message.”
“The Taoiseach ran away from public debate and people drew their own conclusions about the issues at stake”, said Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath And no matter how many times a visibly shaken Richard Bruton on Saturday said the referendum “wasn’t a personality contest ” –and there was no precedent for the Taoiseach to debate – as the No vote clawed its way back in the last few days Mr Kenny was nowhere to be seen.
Indeed Richard Bruton’s appearances on PrimeTime and Vincent Brown fizzled out very quickly. His basic message of the Seanad is elitist, the bogus 20 million in savings, the fewer politicians and the Seanad watchdog barking only once in fifty years were never really developed or moved on. They just kept repeating the crude messages gleaned from focus groups.
He failed to adequately address the “power grab” accusation and Democracy Matters group point to Olivia O’Leary’s column on RTE’s Drivetime as a key moment in the campaign.
Her “Governments like silence, democracy is noisy” and the “free and open debate is the stuff of democracy” resonated with the public and as the don’t knows began to make up their minds last week, those were the messages that were getting through.
Yet Fine Gael didn’t send its heavy hitters out to bat. Richard Bruton, Regina Doherty, Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy needed the intervention of the likes of Enda Kenny or Michael Noonan but they were nowhere to be seen.
If the Taoiseach didn’t want to debate he could have done in depth one-on-one interview with the likes of Claire Byrne or Pat Kenny and put the cowardly accusation to bed for once and for all.
In the end, Enda Kenny didn’t lead from the front and he hid from debate. The Taoiseach likes to quote Muhammad Ali’s “it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
On this occasion Mr Kenny picked up a large rock and smashed it it on his own feet. The referendum loss was his own fault , a self inflicted wound and injured as he is, Mr Kenny he has mountain to climb to regain his credibility from not just Irish public but within his own party too.
– Michael O’ Kane, Political Editor, Irish Examiner
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