Irish Republican News · October 19, 2009
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Senators distressed by FG policy shift

The Seanad [Senate], the low-profile upper house of the Dublin parliament, faces abolition if a plan by the 26 County state’s main opposition party goes ahead.

Although broadly welcomed by the public, the proposal by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny met with predictable resistance from Senators and a mixed reaction from the other political parties.

A post-colonial attempt to simulate London’s ‘House of Lords’, the upper chamber has very few powers and is not directly elected.

Its precursor was established in 1920 under British law as the ‘Senate of Southern Ireland’, and consisted of a mixture of Irish peers and government appointees. This formalism was copied in 1922 under the Cosgrave government, who gave extra representation to the State’s Protestant minority. It was revived by Eamon de Valera in his 1937 constitution as Seanad Eireann.

The seats in the senate are still reserved for various elites: eleven are directly appointed by the Taoiseach, six are selected by the graduates of certain Irish universities, and 43 are seated by the state’s elected public representatives.

In recent decades it became a mechanism for unelected political figures to sustain their careers or enter into semi-retirement following a career in politics.

It had received litle or no media attention in recent years until Mr Kenny announced on Saturday that he was committing the party to its abolition, as well as reducing the number of members of the Dailk [lower chamber] by 20 or more; and to introducing a “list” system for electing some 20 Dail deputies.

As leader of the largest opposition party, Kenny is favourite to form the next government.

The Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, yesterday appeared to lend support to Mr Kenny’s position. Asked on Irish television if there was still a role for the Seanad, he replied: “I’m not really sure that there is at this stage.”

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was more guarded, indicating he did not support outright abolition of the Seanad.

A number of FIne Gael Senators expressed shock and upset at the manner in which it was announced, including Senators John Paul Phelan, Paudie Coffey, Nicky McFadden and Maurice Cummins, said they were opposed to the decision.

The move was widely seen a “knee-jerk” response to the perception that Mr Kenny had been outflanked by SInn Fein and Labourt in dealing with the situation of former ceann comhairle John O’Donoghue. As it would involve a number of amendments to the 1937 constitution, a referendum would be required to be held on the matter.

Sinn Fein’s only Senator, Pearse Doherty, described the Seanad as “elitist and undemocratic” and said it should be abolished in its current form.

But he accused Fine Gael of making up their policy on parliamentary reform as they go along.

Senator Doherty pointed out that Fine Gael has had three different positions on Seanad reform this year.

“We welcome Fine Gael’s commitment to abolish the Seanad as it is currently constituted even though we recognise that the move by Enda Kenny is a populist one and probably not genuine,” he said.

“There is, we believe, a place for a truly democratic second chamber in Irish politics but it must be directly elected by the people of Ireland and of its citizens abroad representing a wide range of diverse views and increasing the role of community consultation as legislation is being drafted.

“The Seanad, as it is currently constituted, does not perform this role and should be abolished at the earliest opportunity.”

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© 2009 Irish Republican News