Kenny hands Seanad seat to the President's husband
Ex-athlete also among Taoiseach's nominees
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny last night appointed the husband of President Mary McAleese to the Seanad in a surprise move.
Dr Martin McAleese has been praised for his work on the peace process over the past 14 years -- particularly for building bridges with loyalists such as Ulster Defence Association leader Jackie McDonald.
His inclusion will be seen as a signal of the Government's intentions to strengthen relations with the North.
Last night, Dr McAleese pledged not to accept his €65,000-per-year salary until his wife finished her term in office in October -- and to continue his work for "political harmony and reconciliation on this island".
"I will not be affiliated with any particular party or grouping and will focus on issues which affect the practical interests of the people of Ireland, especially in regard to economic regeneration and employment," he said in a statement.
There had been intense speculation that Mr Kenny might appoint some of his backroom team to positions in the Seanad -- which he wants to abolish through a constitutional referendum next year.
But he broke with tradition by ensuring that more than half of his 11 nominations for the Seanad were from a non-political background.
The best-known include Olympic long-distance runner Eamon Coghlan and Abbey theatre director Fiach MacConghail.
In contrast, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern chose 10 politicians out of a possible 11 after the last Seanad elections in 2007 -- and one of them was senator Ivor Callely.
Mr Kenny nominated just five people with political backgrounds. They included Fine Gael Louth councillor Jim Darcy, who was rewarded by Mr Kenny for stepping aside at the general election and allowing Louth football manager Peter Fitzpatrick to win a second seat for the party in the constituency.
Fine Gael junior minister Fergus O'Dowd said he was delighted with Mr Darcy's nomination. "We wouldn't have won two seats in Louth without him."
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore was allowed to choose four of Mr Kenny's Seanad nominations.
Two of them were defeated Labour general election candidates -- Louth teacher Mary Moran and Galway solicitor Lorraine Higgins. Aideen Hayden is best known for her work as chair of the Threshold housing charity but she is a Labour party member and ran unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate for the Seanad in the past.
The fourth Labour nominee was Katherine Zappone, who took a landmark High Court case in 2006 with her partner to secure gay marriage rights. Mr Gilmore described his four choices as "outstanding candidates" last night.
The nomination of the 11 senators means that all 60 members will be in place when the Seanad meets for the first time at 2.30pm next Wednesday.
The other 49 senators secured their places in the Seanad elections held last month.