Tuesday 6 December 2016

Shamed British peer was asked for advice on boosting Seanad profile

Published 13/08/2015 | 02:30

John Sewel
John Sewel
A picture of the peer John Sewel that appeared in ‘The Sun’ in Britain

Disgraced former House of Lords peer Lord Sewel was part of a delegation that advised the Oireachtas on plans to boost the profile of the Seanad, the Irish Independent has learned.

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Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke and a number of Oireachtas officials met with Baron John Sewel in Westminster last September to discuss making the Upper House more appealing to the public.

Baron Sewel resigned from the House of Lords in July after being filmed allegedly taking drugs while in the company of prostitutes.

The video which was obtained by a Sunday tabloid newspaper, appears to show him paying one of the women a sum of money.

His resignation came on the back of strong criticism by senior UK politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron.

The ex-deputy speaker of the House of Lords apologised for the "pain and embarrassment" caused, adding that his departure would "limit and help repair" the damage to the reputation of the Lords.

The Westminster engagement was held to discuss improving the image of the Seanad, as well as the House of Lords, in the eyes of voters.

The meeting was also attended by Lord Speaker Baroness D'Souza, Oireachtas Head of Communications Mark Mulqueen and a Canadian delegation which included the former speaker of the Canadian Senate, Noel Kinsella.

Mr Kinsella was educated in Dublin and has visited the Houses of the Oireachtas on a number of occasions.

Since the engagement took place, Oireachtas officials have been working on plans to boost the profile of the Seanad.

Sources have confirmed that the plans involve making the Seanad available, for the first time, for interest and societal groups in areas such as education.

It's understood that an association of guidance counsellors are to become the first group to avail of the new initiative.

When contacted by the Irish Independent, Seanad chairman Paddy Burke said the move to open up the Seanad was agreed by the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP).

"This is all about bringing the Seanad closer to people - including young people - so they can see in closer detail how the house works," he said.

"It's important that we do all we can to boost the profile of Seanad and improve its appeal."

A spokesperson for the Oireachtas said the initiative is in its early stages and more details will be made available in the coming weeks.

Oireachtas sources say they are keen to improve the public perception of the Seanad after recent contributions by senators which sparked controversy.

Fine Gael senator Cáit Keane was criticised after she used speaking time to complain about the decision of Yanis Varoufakis's wife to ride a motorcycle without a helmet.

Mr Varoufakis is the former Greek Finance Minister who resigned earlier this year.

During a debate in July, Ms Keane described the behaviour as "reckless".

The issue of the behaviour of Dublin's seagulls was also raised in the Seanad last month.

Fianna Fáil senator Denis O'Donovan called for a cull on what he described as "invading" seagulls.

The original call for action against the seagull population was made by his colleague Ned O'Sullivan.

Irish Independent

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