Reform the Senate – no reduction in democracy

Coalition defeated in Seanad as Labour trio break ranks
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Votes on Seanad reform defeated twice | 21/06/2012

STEPHEN COLLINS, Political Editor

THE COALITION suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad yesterday
as three Labour Senators voted in favour of an Opposition motion on
the future of the upper House.

The crack in the Coalition came on a Fianna Fáil motion calling for
the future of the Seanad to be considered by the constitutional
convention, which is to be established next month.

The Labour Senators joined Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Independents
and most of the Taoiseach’s non-political nominees in voting against
the Government. The Fianna Fáil motion was carried by 26 votes to 23
with Fine Gael and the majority of Labour Senators voting against.

The Coalition has committed itself in the programme for government to
holding a referendum to abolish the Seanad and the issue has been
excluded from the remit of the convention. The original commitment to
abolish the Seanad was made by Taoiseach Enda Kenny while he was in
opposition.

A referendum on the issue was scheduled to take place next year. While
the Government will not be obliged to change its policy as a result of
yesterday’s defeat, the development represents a boost for those
campaigning to retain a reformed Upper House.

Denis Landy, one of the three Labour Senators who voted for the
motion, last night called on the Government to reconsider the
commitment to abolish the Seanad. “I am looking for a proper reform of
the Seanad rather than its abolition and I think the people should be
offered that choice when it comes to a referendum. I feel very
strongly that the issue of Seanad reform should be part of the
constitutional convention and that is why I supported the motion put
down by Fianna Fáil.”

Mr Landy said it had been his understanding up until yesterday that
the party whip would not be applied to a vote on the future of the
Seanad, but during internal party discussions it became clear that a
whip was being imposed. “I was not going to be deterred by the
last-minute application of the whip and I don’t think there should be
any repercussions for me or any other Senator arising from the vote.”

A Labour Party spokesman said later the party’s chief whip, Emmet
Stagg, would be asking the party whip in the Seanad, Susan O’Keeffe,
for a report about what happened. “It seems to be a bit of a storm in
a teacup,” added the party spokesman.

Government Senators, with the exception of Fine Gael leader Maurice
Cummins and Labour leader Ivana Bacik, did not participate in
yesterday’s debate, which took place unexpectedly when Fianna Fáil won
an initial vote to change the day’s business. The non-participation
led to speculation that many Government Senators had some sympathy
with the Opposition motion.