Sunday 24 September 2017

One in four senators missed at least five Seanad days this year

Figures emerge as bill to decide chamber's future is approved

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

ONE in four of the country's €65,000 per-year senators has missed at least five sitting days so far this year.

The revelation comes as the Cabinet today approves the bill to hold a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad.

There are doubts about whether the plan to have a beefed-up Dail committee to replace the Seanad will also be approved because Labour are questioning it.

But the latest attendance figures show that some senators have very poor attendance records for the first four months of this year even though the future of the Seanad is at stake.

Fine Gael senator Imelda Henry and Fianna Fail senator Brian O Domhnaill, who both missed 12 out of 35 sitting days between January and April, could not be contacted for comment.

Fianna Fail senator Thomas Byrne, who missed 15 days, said this was because he was running for his party in Meath East by-election.

"If you look at my attendance and contributions in general, it's excellent," he said.

And his party colleague Darragh O'Brien said he had missed 10 days because he was working in Ashbourne as director of elections for Mr Byrne.

Under a system introduced by the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, all senators must clock in at Leinster House with an electronic fob for at least 120 days a year to claim up to €29,000 a year in travel and accommodation expenses. If they do not reach this target, they are docked 1pc for every day they are short.

The senator with the worst attendance record, Fianna Fail's Mary White, said she had been suffering from severe shingles.

"I've been hospitalised and I'm in severe pain every minute of the day," she said.

Fine Gael senator Imelda Henry, who missed 12 days, said she was absent because her mother had passed away. "I was very close to her so I took some time off," she said.

Labour senator John Gilroy, who missed 11 days, said he had been ill for two weeks.

And Independent senator Katherine Zappone, who missed nine days, said she had been looking after her partner Dr Ann Louise Gilligan who was critically ill during the period.

"She was in Beaumont hospital for 30 days and she's still quite ill. I came in as often as I could," she said.

Despite the high absenteeism levels, 10 senators – including Independent David Norris and Fianna Fail's Labhras O Murchu – had a 100pc attendance record.

The Seanad's average attendance rate is 91pc, which is better than the Dail's 85pc average.

Fianna Fail's Terry Leyden, who missed 11 days, said the majority of it was due to his role on the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

"I was working on behalf of the State as deputy leader of the delegation," he said.

Independent Marie Louise O'Donnell, who missed nine days, said she was very busy with her work. "I could have been at meetings, I could have been giving talks, I could have been down the country. It doesn't mean that one is not attending one's job," she said.

Ms O'Donnell said that her radio reports for RTE's 'Today with Pat Kenny show did not affect her Seanad work.

Independent senator Fiach MacConghail, who is also the director of the Abbey Theatre, could not be contacted for comment about missing 10 days.

Last year, he told the Seanad that he believed its work could be dealt with "in a day and a half".

"I run the national theatre and I have just as much right to be a part of Seanad Eireann as does a full-time politician," he said then.

Jim Walsh (FF) said he believed that the six days he had missed from the Seanad were due to "parliamentary business" abroad.

Mark Daly (FF) said he missed days because he had flown at his own expense to the USA to lobby politicians about visas for the 50,000 undocumented Irish there.

Meanwhile, Independent TD Mattie McGrath said records showing he was absent from the Dail for nine days during the first quarter of this year were incorrect. He said on three of the days, he had actually been speaking in the Dail and on two others he was on "vital business" in the US investigating the implications of the abortion legislation.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News