Kenny says Government politicians expected to back Seanad referendum

Thursday 06 June 2013 23.56
The Government has published its plans for a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad
The Government has published its plans for a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has issued a blunt warning that he expects all politicians in the Coalition Government to back the referendum to abolish the Seanad.

Mr Kenny said: "It is a Government position, it is a Government decision and it is a Government programme.

"We want to see that is followed through and that the bill passes both houses, that there is a strong campaign from each party."

Mr Kenny was responding to a journalist's question as to whether or not he was worried after Labour's Emmet Stagg stated he would not support the move to abolish the upper house of the Oireachtas.

A number of Labour members, including Mr Stagg, confirmed that while they will support legislation on the proposed referendum, they will vote against the proposals at the ballot box.

Labour TD Joanna Tuffy has said that she will "vigorously campaign" for a No vote in the proposed referendum.

The bill has been published on the Houses of the Oireachtas website.

Opponents of the abolition of the Seanad have claimed the upper house is needed to maintain checks and balances in the political system.

However, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has insisted that a one-chamber parliament is "best international practice" for a country of Ireland's size.

He said there were six EU countries of similar size to Ireland and that Ireland is the only one with a two-chamber parliament.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Minister Coveney said the proposal to abolish the Seanad came from a need to "fundamentally reform" parliamentary democracy in Ireland.

Independent Senator Katherine Zappone has said that while the Seanad required reform, it was needed to hold the Government accountable.

Speaking on the same programme, Senator Zappone said those with a minority voice and those with more expertise need to become Senators.

Ms Zappone said there should also be a greater gender mix in the Seanad.

She said: "We need to keep it because we need an effective system of check and balance of the great power of the Dáil and as well the Cabinet, the whipping system that goes on, particularly now with the huge Government majority."

Ms Zappone said comparing Ireland with the Nordic countries was not comparing like with like because they have more local authorities and a devolution of power to the local level, with more politicians, than in Ireland.

Minister Coveney rejected this, saying the Government was moving towards fewer councils, but these would have more power.

He also rejected accusations that the Government had not allowed sufficient debate on the issue before introducing the legislation to allow a referendum.

Former Tánaiste Michael McDowell claimed that the abolition of the upper house could lead to future governments pushing through legislation on issues such as tax harmonisation at the behest of the European Union.

Mr McDowell has said it is unreasonable for Mr Kenny to suggest the Seanad was partially to blame for the financial crisis.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, Mr McDowell, who is part of the Democracy Matters group calling for the Seanad's retention, said it was unfair to associate the Seanad with financial mistakes considering it does not have any budgetary functions in the Constitution.

During a debate on RTÉ's Prime Time programme Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar said the Irish political system was old fashioned and needed to be modernised.

“This is part of a wider agenda. There's also going to be a new reformed Dáil, there are big changes happening in local government and we're doing a lot to make politics more open and more ethical," he said.

Independent Senator Sean Barrett argued for the retention of the Seanad, saying its proposed abolition negated Irish democracy.

"I think the Senate is a splendid chamber. It's got 42 new members. They've been working their socks off since the election trying to rescue a bankrupt country.

“The Taoiseach has come in for one two hour session and on that he is condemning a house which I think is working spendidly,” he said.

Keywords: seanad