Paddy Burke elected as Seanad Cathaoirleach

Wednesday 25 May 2011 23.13
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Seanad - Senators from the 24th Seanad
Seanad - Senators from the 24th Seanad
Seanad - Government committed to holding referendum on its abolition
Seanad - Government committed to holding referendum on its abolition

The 24th Seanad has met for the first time this afternoon, with members electing Fine Gael Senator Paddy Burke as the Cathaoirleach.

Senator Burke, who is a close associate of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, was selected without a vote and his appointment had been widely flagged.

Opening proceedings today, Independent Senator David Norris said the Seanad was on probation in the eyes of the public and that it was facing its greatest challenge with its possible extinction.

Referring to the impending referendum on its abolition, Senator Norris said the whole Houses of the Oireachtas needed reform and not just the Seanad. He said the Upper House should not be made a scapegoat for the wider political problem.

On taking up his new job - effectively as chair of the Seanad - Senator Burke said whatever the future holds for the Upper House, it is up to the members to demonstrate how they can contribute in a meaningful way to the running of the State.

Fianna Fáil Senator Terry Leyden referred to the new Seanad line up as the 'House of all talents' and said the Upper House now faces reform, redundancy or abolition.

He said he was in favour of reform - calls which were echoed by his party colleague Marc MacSharry.

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane said his party believed there is a role for the Seanad to play, but he said it needed to be changed.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen appealed to the Taoiseach's 11 appointees to stun the Taoiseach with their ingratitude and to be diverse in their contributions.

The Taoiseach said he intends to call a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad in 2012.

Last Friday, he named his 11 nominees to the Upper House, completing the 60-member second chamber three weeks after the rest of the seats were filled.

Among his nominees were a large number of non-party figures, including the President's husband, Dr Martin McAleese, former athlete Eamonn Coghlan, children's rights activist Jillian van Turnhout and Dr Katherine Zappone, a member of the Human Rights Commission.

The House will next meet on 1 June.