independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Independentswant to 'Pimp their Crib' but Seanad reform is not on table

THE quintet of Independents (four TDs, one MEP) trooped out on to the plinth of Leinster House and argued their case for the retention of the Seanad.

There's a bit of a contortionist's act going on among those politicians calling for a No vote in the referendum. It's not that they want the Upper House to remain the moribund and largely irrelevant talking-shop that it is in its present form.

Instead, in a sort of political 'Pimp My Crib', they want a modern, cool chamber furnished with hip, whip-smart senators in go-faster pinstripe.

But, of course, this option isn't on the bill of fare offered by the Government's Maitre d'. And so the No campaigns are basically calling for retention of what they all agree is a House in dire need of a radical make-over, without any guarantee that if they get their way, the Government will agree to an overhaul.

This was the tightrope walked yesterday by Independent TDs Stephen Donnelly, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath and Shane Ross, and Independent MEP Marian Harkin when they arrived on to the plinth.

Finian was taking grave exception to the figure of €20m being bandied about by the Yes camp as the savings to the nation if the Seanad gets the chop. "The objective analysis is in the region of €7m, which works out about €1.60 per citizen per year," he declared.

Shane Ross concurred. He reckons the solution is to axe the politicians, but keep the second chamber and fill it with all sorts of experts. "Keep politicians out of the Seanad and get vocational people in who are elected on a universal franchise," he said.

Moreover, all five were unanimously scathing of the Taoiseach's refusal to take part in a leaders' debate on the referendum. "Imagine Barack Obama saying to the American people, 'I want you to vote to get rid of the US Senate but I'm not willing to debate it with anybody'," sniped Stephen Donnelly.

"I think it's appalling. It was a mad idea he had at a Fine Gael dinner a few years ago and he's now finding it very difficult to defend," huffed Shane.

It was a convincing performance from the five of them. But then a spell sitting in the actual chamber is enough to turn one's thoughts towards abolition.

Yesterday's Order of Business in the Seanad roamed wildly from issue to issue.

There were opposition beefs about the exclusion of the cast of Anglo from the proposed banking inquiry – "It would be very much like 'Hamlet' without the Prince," declared Fianna Fail's Thomas Byrne.

Other issues included a call from Jillian van Turnhout for the cancellation of a children's beauty pageant scheduled to take place in Dublin.

There were calls for debates on house repossessions, child trafficking and mental health services, plus a plea for the retention of the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality sector in next month's Budget.

Senator Sean Barrett had done his homework on other democracies who operate a bicameral parliamentary system, and conjured up the best argument yet to save his senatorial skin.

"In the United States, on which we rely for foreign direct investment to an overwhelming degree, 49 of the 50 states have bicameral systems," he revealed.

"The exception in this regard is Nebraska, which only contains 0.6pc of the population of the country. It can be stated, therefore, that 99.4pc of the population of the US disagree with the Taoiseach," he said, adding: "I hope they inform him of that fact when he visits the country on St Patrick's Day next year."

Well, Enda's in trouble now. Any victory may be a pyrrhic one, as it will enrage Barack Obama. Bet the Taoiseach never thought of that one. He'll be sorry he ever had that mad idea over dinner now.

Irish Independent

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