Thursday 20 September 2018

Andrew Lynch: No room to be smug Enda ... you scored early but still lost 2-1

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton at the Central Count centre in Dublin Castle
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton at the Central Count centre in Dublin Castle

To misquote an old Meat Loaf song, one out of three ain't great.

The Government may still be crowing over its victory in the same-sex marriage referendum, but two other votes over the weekend brought much less welcome news.

Defeats in the presidential age contest and the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election were both embarrassing for very different reasons - and proved that Irish voters are still far from sure about renewing their wedding vows with Enda Kenny.

The so-called Niall Horan referendum was quite simply a fiasco from start to finish.

Nobody in Government Buildings seemed to give a damn about it, which is at least partly why precious few people decided to vote for it.


The proposal ended up being soundly beaten by a 73-27 margin, forcing the One Direction star to wait until 2028 before he becomes eligible to take up residence in Aras an Uachtarain.

So why did the Government bother putting this to a vote at all?

It was recommended by the Constitutional Convention, but then so were many other genuinely radical ideas, such as lowering the current voting age to 16.

By ignoring those in favour of an idea that left even political scientists yawning, the coalition only succeeded in exposing its lack of commitment to proper reform.

There are two main theories.

One is that the referendum was designed as a "loss leader", so that people who wanted to give Fine Gael or Labour a kick could do it this way and leave gay marriage alone.

If so, the strategy clearly worked a treat.

Another possibility is that Kenny hoped all the young people returning home to support marriage equality would naturally back a lower presidential age limit as well.

If so, the strategy clearly fell flat on its face.

Whatever the Government thought, it now seems obvious that many voters saw this referendum as an insult to their intelligence.

On Saturday evening at Dublin Castle, when returning officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile announced that the presidential ballot papers would now be counted, most people in the hall responded with derisive laughter.

That turned out to be a pretty good reflection of the result as well.

While same-sex marriage might have changed Ireland for good, the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election proved that old-school party politics is still alive and well.

As expected, it came down to a two-man race between the familiar warhorses of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

In the end, the Soldiers of Destiny recorded their first win in one of these contests since 1996 - coincidentally the last year that Ireland triumphed in the Eurovision Song Contest.

There were times when Molly Sterling seemed like a better bet than Bobby Aylward.

Even Fianna Fail's director of elections described his candidate as "not overly sophisticated". However, the 60-year-old farmer had the last laugh and romped home with almost 5,000 votes to spare.

This, of course, is the best news Micheal Martin has had in ages. It should keep his own job safe for a while longer, with supporters sending out the old message: "No more nibbling at our leader's bum."


It also boosts their argument that just like the British Conservative Party, they tend to do better in elections than opinion polls predict.

While Enda Kenny is playing down the result, privately he must be at least a little disappointed. There were rumours in Leinster House that if his party had won, the Taoiseach might be tempted to call a snap general election.

Those plans are now on ice, since Fine Gael and Labour's combined vote was just 27pc - miles away from what they need to secure a second term.

As for the other parties, Sinn Fein (16pc) never really threatened and Renua's first electoral outing (9.5pc) was solid if unspectacular.

So, the Government scored early last Saturday but still lost 2-1 on aggregate. That leaves them with absolutely no excuse to look smug today.

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