A Soft Yes, A Hard No And The Army of The Indifferent


9031626490210217(Assembling the polling station at the Labour Relations Commission, Haddington Road, Dublin, on Friday morning above and Dan Boyle at a Green Party think-in in 2011)

Dan Boyle writes:

Logic should have been to stay away, not to get involved. However much cynicism there was at what was being proposed and why, it seemed virtually certain that any proposal to abolish The Seanad would be guaranteed to succeed.

But democracy demands that arguments are made and heard. Even if those who wanted to make this case did so more out of hope than confidence. As time went on it seemed that the cynicism against politics that Enda Kenny wanted to ruthlessly use, was turning an opposite direction because of the hollowness and lack of sincerity people were sensing from the creator of this referendum.

Even then it still didn’t seem possible that a campaign could be won, the confidence being gained was that at least a fist could be made of it. It was a campaign of stimulating interest not winning hearts and minds. No person part of the NO campaign wanted to or was able to defend The Seanad as it is.

However it was also becoming clear that neither was The Seanad the repository of everything that is wrong with Irish politics, as an increasingly snide Fine Gael YES campaign was trying to portray.

While NO campaigners were at least being encouraged by having what felt like the stronger and far more sincere arguments, opinion polls and bookmakers were telling us otherwise.

The supposed strength of the Yes vote didn’t seem real either though. In whatever engagement there was with the general public in this campaign, and in truth it was little enough, there was no overwhelming sense that this was a burning issue for many people at all. In itself this was a factor that ended up turning many votes into the No column – that a question was being asked that few had wanted to be asked, when so many issues of greater seriousness were being sidelined.

What the opinion polls and bookies were not picking up was the difference between a soft yes and a hard no, as well as the army of the indifferent – fast becoming the dominant force in Irish politics these days.

Damage has been caused by this referendum. The damage will be most felt, and quite properly so, by The Taoiseach himself. This didn’t have to be done now or in the way it was. His and his government’s commitment to real political reform has been shown to be vacuous.

Then there is the collateral damage done to Sinn Féin whose plan to jump on the cynicism bandwagon has ‘blown up’ in its face.

Not that there are any real winners either. We are where we were with an imperfect political architecture and a political culture unable, or more probably incapable of changing itself. At best we have a springboard to have the debate that has been so long avoided, about the quality of our politics.

This debate should not only be about politicians or their parties but in opening ways in which the public does and can engage with political institutions. It has to be a deeper debate than the charade we’ve just had.

Dan Boyle is a member of the Green Party

(Mark Stedman and Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)