Wednesday 23 August 2017

Fine Gael worried that FF and SF will control Seanad

Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

There are concerns at the heart of Government that the Opposition will hold a majority in the Seanad if the Coalition is returned to power after the General Election.

This could result in a major headache for the next Government as the Opposition would be able to delay vital pieces of legislation for months before allowing laws pass through the upper house of parliament.

The opposite side of the house does not have the power to vote down legislation but can block proposed laws for up to 90 days.

The Coalition lost a number of votes on motions over the last five years due to a tight majority in the Seanad after Taoiseach Enda Kenny's appointment of Independent senators backfired.

Now it is feared that, even if all 11 of the Taoiseach's appointees are Government supporters, the Coalition will still struggle to hold the house if returned to office.

Mr Kenny could face a situation like the one his US counterpart President Barack Obama encountered after losing control of the Senate to the Republican party.

Senior Fine Gael senators have held serious discussions on the possibility of losing the house to the Opposition due to the loses suffered by the Coalition during the local elections.

The 2014 vote saw the number of Fine Gael and Labour councillors dramatically reduced while Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein made significant gains. The upper house's electorate comprises councillors, incoming TDs and outgoing senators, among others.

Fianna Fail is the largest party in local Government with 267 seats after the local elections, ahead of Fine Gael on 235. Sinn Fein tripled its number of council seats to 159, while Labour holds just 51.

Senior Fine Gael sources believe if the Coalition is returned, the number of Seanad seats the party holds could be cut from 18 to as low as 13, while Labour could be reduced from 11 to just five.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail seats are expected to increase from 12 to 17, and Sinn Fein could go from three to as many as eight.

Independent senator Gerard Craughwell, who was elected in the wake of the John McNulty Seanad debacle, is also believed to be in the running to hold his seat.

The six university senators, who are not tied to a party whip, would then become very influential when it comes to votes.

Labour's Ivana Bacik would vote with the Government but with the other five senators, the Opposition could potentially hold 31 of the 60 seats.

"We are going to lose a seat on every panel, maybe two on some, so we are going to be way down," a senior Fine Gael senator said.

"The figures speak for themselves - it's going to be tricky and it's going to be tight," the senator added.

Fianna Fail senators also believe the Opposition holding power is a "mathematical possibility" based on the local election results.

"It will be very interesting for the senators elected because they will be in a powerful position to influence policy," a senator said.

In this situation, the Government may take the unprecedented move of appointing a member of the Opposition as cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

If Mr Kenny is the next Taoiseach he is unlikely to replicate his appointment of Independent senators as he did in 2011.

Senators also believe the Taoiseach regrets his failed attempt to abolish the Seanad early in his tenure.

"He thought people would follow him and it would be gone and he would get great credit for this and then he got no credit from the people he appointed or the voters," a source said.

Sunday Independent

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