Sinn Fein will call for a Yes vote in the referendum to abolish the upper house of the Dublin parliament on October 4th, saying the Seanad [Senate] is “elite” and “out of touch”.
The party’s referendum campaign director Pearse Doherty also criticised the relatively powerless chamber for being undemocratic and unaccountable.
“It has 60 members, 43 of whom are elected by county and city councillors, TDs and Senators, six are elected by graduates of NUI colleges and Trinity College Dublin, and eleven are appointed by the Taoiseach,” he said.
“It is accountable to nobody. More than 99 percent of the population have no say in who gets elected to the Seanad.”
Previously the party called for reform of the Seanad, not abolition, but was forced to take a position after the Dublin government refused to allow a debate on other options.
The referendum should have been held in the context of “an informed debate” about political reform aimed at “making political institutions relevant, modern, transparent and accountable”, Mr Doherty said.
“It was a fundamental mistake for the government not to refer the issue of the Seanad to the constitutional convention where other issues of constitutional importance were being discussed.
“Sinn Fein argued this during the course of the Seanad Referendum Bill. However, the government refused to take this course and we are now faced with a choice between keeping the Seanad as it currently stands or abolition and in that scenario Sinn Fein believes that it should be abolished.”
He pointed out that the government has an inbuilt majority, so instead of holding Fine Gael and Labour to account, the Seanad rubber stamps government policy.
“In the last two and a half years, the Seanad supported the government on every single occasion, including the introduction of the property tax, cuts to disability payments and the promissory note deal which is costing the tax payer 30 billion euro.
“And it was the same in the previous 14 years when Fianna Fail led governments blocked any reform of the Seanad and used it to reward their political cronies. Since the late 1970s, there have been successive reports produced proposing reform of the Seanad, but not one has been implemented.”
Earlier this week, the Seanad itself backed by 33 votes to 25 the referendum on its own abolition. The run-up to that debate was criticised for the poor quality of its contributions, including allegations of sexism on the part of former presidential contender Senator David Norris, who said one government spokesperson had been “speaking out of her fanny”.
There were stormy scenes and heated exchanges before the vote took place.
Fianna Fail Seanad leader Darragh O’Brien hit out at the Taoiseach, whom he said gave a commitment at second stage that he would come into the Seanad and answer the Opposition’s questions. “He was not even man enough to come into this chamber to answer those questions,” he said.
His colleague Brian O Domhnaill said abolishing the Seanad would save one euro 60 cents for each citizen each year, less than the price of a newspaper. He said the Bill “is not about money. It’s about grabbing and holding on to power”.”
On Wednesday it was confirmed that a second referendum on the establishment of a new Court of Appeal ‘to speed up court delays’ is also to be held on October 4th.
The Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition government has said it wants both polls taken ahead of a controversial budget for the forthcoming calendar year, to be revealed in mid-October.