Former tánaiste Michael McDowell is to chair the committee that is set to oversee reform of the Seanad.

The committee recently established by the Government is made up of 26 politicians from across the political parties and independent ranks.

It met for the first time in Leinster House this afternoon.

Former senator and current Minister for Transport Shane Ross is also a member of the committee.

However, it is understood that the minister did not attend today's meeting.

Five years ago, in a referendum, just under 52% of voters opted to retain the Seanad after the Government had backed its abolition.

A number of senators have questioned the "extraordinary" move of Minister Shane Ross who they say has "put himself"on the new 26-member Seanad reform committee.

Speaking the Seanad this afternoon, veteran Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan said: "Have I heard correctly that a Cabinet Minister will sit on the committee? It is surely a first."

The longest sitting Senator in the Upper House, Independent Senator David Norris congratulated Senator Michael McDowell for being nominated as the chairperson of the committee.

He said: "It was a rocky road to get there and I understand it was opposed by former colleagues."

Senator Norris added: "I think it is quite extraordinary business for a Cabinet Minister to put himself on this committee. I have withheld public comment on Minister Ross before but I have to say his attitude to the Seanad has, in the past, has been marked by a mischievous note. I hope that will be absent from the deliberations of this committee.

"He is Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport - and whatever you are having yourself - so I would have thought that his hands would be pretty much full if he was doing his ministerial job!"

Senator McDowell thanked his colleagues for congratulating him on his election as chairman of the implementation group for Seand reform.

He said that the new committee will be open to all suggestions and "will not have a closed mind".