Friday 24 November 2017

'Autocratic' Kenny style fuels revolt on Seanad

McDowell warns that Dail will become 'Europe's political eunuch'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said work undertaken by Ireland during its EU presidency has set a framework to introduce policies on tackling hunger
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said work undertaken by Ireland during its EU presidency has set a framework to introduce policies on tackling hunger

John Drennan and Jody Corcoran

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore have been warned they are facing a "silent revolt" by a majority of TDs and senators of the coalition parties over their proposal to abolish the Seanad.

The joint demarche has provoked fury, particularly within Fine Gael, over what several TDs and senators have this weekend referred to as Mr Kenny's increasingly "autocratic style".

The warning comes as the former Attorney-General, Michael McDowell, has said that a single-chamber parliament consisting only of the Dail will become "Europe's political eunuch".

In a hard-hitting analysis in the Sunday Independent today, Mr McDowell says the Government's abolition bill will immediately give to a government-controlled Dail the absolute right to:

* Remove judges and the President by a qualified majority vote.

* Guillotine debate on legislation to enact controversial laws without debate.

* Agree to end Ireland's EU veto on tax harmonisation.

* Surrender Ireland's right to insist on unanimity as opposed to qualified majority voting in EU matters.

* Approve irreversible EU criminal measures for Ireland in the area of justice and home affairs.

Last week, even Fine Gael figures believed to be close to Mr Kenny claimed that "being Taoiseach has got to Enda's head – he has an ego as big as Galway Bay".

Tensions are also escalating between Fine Gael and Labour over Mr Kenny's determination to force through what many in Leinster House believe to be an unwanted referendum.

ANALYSIS Pages 26-27

Mr Kenny's warning in Latvia last week, that he expected all Government TDs and senators to campaign for the referendum, has been tartly dismissed by the Labour senator John Whelan, who said "the Taoiseach should keep his beak out of Labour Party business".

Meanwhile, a senior Labour figure told the Sunday Independent that "a strong, silent majority of TDs and senators are opposed" to the abolition of the Seanad.

Former Justice Minister and PD leader Mr McDowell says today that if the 32nd Amendment of the Constitution Bill is approved by the people, there will be "very serious and irreversible consequences". He says absolute control over the State would be handed to the Government, which controls the Dail through the "uniquely Irish, vicious party whip system".

The Dail would be left as an "unchallengeable rubber stamp of ministers. Our democracy will lie in tatters."

Mr Kenny is poised to suffer significant internal damage over the issue. A senior Fine Gael source said: "The Taoiseach has irrevocably alienated one-third of the parliamentary party."

In an indication of internal anger, a senior Fine Gael figure close to Mr Kenny said the Taoiseach's treatment of the constitutional convention was a "sick joke" by allowing the convention to examine voting rights for 16-year-olds but keeping Seanad reform off the agenda.

This position was echoed by senator David Norris last week, who accused the Taoiseach of "ruthlessly suppressing" any attempt to raise the future of the Seanad at the convention to an extent that creates "questions about its independence".

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, meanwhile, has joined Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein in calling for a rejection of the proposed abolition to protect the "democratic practices" of the Constitution.

He said if the No campaign was successful, the Government would have to send the issue of how the Seanad was elected to the constitutional convention.

In another development, doubts have been cast on claims made by Mr Kenny about the overall level of savings associated with the abolition of the Seanad.

One of the central points of the Taoiseach's campaign is that abolition will save the Exchequer €100m over a Dail term. However, the most recent accounts from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission reveal that the real savings are likely to be closer to a maximum of €45m.

Mr Kenny's concentration on the issue of cost is also likely to open the Government and political life up to even more embarrassing scrutiny over a variety of other perks and privileges.

In particular, senators may be inclined to note that taxpayers in 2012 paid just under €14m to political parties, consisting of Electoral Act funding of €5.4m and Leaders' Allowance funding of €8.4m. The cost of these taxpayer-funded allowances is substantially higher over a five-year period than the salaries of senators.

Irish Independent

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