Defiant senators make it tough for Kenny
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny faces a test of strength to get the legislation for the abolition of the Seanad through the Upper House – with his Government's wafer-thin majority under pressure.
He is already struggling to deal with a public show of defiance – with 11 of the 12 Labour senators and seven Fine Gael senators out of 19 coming out in favour of retaining and reforming the Seanad.
Mr Kenny needs to get the legislation passed through the Dail and Seanad in order to hold the referendum in October.
However, of the 18 senators who say they want to keep the Seanad, only Labour's James Heffernan has confirmed he will vote against abolition.
Denis Landy, another Labour senator, said he was unable to indicate how he will vote until the legislation comes before the Seanad.
But while the Government has a huge Dail majority, it only has a slender advantage in the Seanad of 30 votes to 28.
If just two rebels join Mr Heffernan, this would block the legislation for 90 days and put a question mark over the planned October date for the referendum.
But on a whistle-stop tour of Lithuania and Latvia yesterday Mr Kenny insisted that all government TDs and senators would have to support the referendum for the abolition of the Seanad.
"This is a government programme and the two parties involved have a very clear government decision here, and I expect that all members of the government parties will support the passing of the legislation in the referendum (campaign) when it commences," he said.
Despite Mr Kenny's call for a collective government campaign for a 'Yes' vote on the abolition of the Seanad, Labour is going to allow chief whip Emmet Stagg and other dissenting TDs and senators to opt out of it.
But the party will not tolerate them openly supporting the 'No' campaign.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the current Seanad was not democratic and he could think of no incident where it had stopped an action by the Dail.
"I will be voting for its abolition but there will be members in my party, as in all other parties, with different points of view," he said.
The Government was in a race against time to get it passed before the controversial abortion legislation.
There are at least four Fine Gael senators who may vote against the abortion legislation – so Mr Kenny needs to pass the Seanad referendum legislation before these senators lose the party whip.
Fine Gael chief whip in the Seanad, Maurice Cummins, said he expected the referendum legislation to get through even with the Government's slender majority.
"People are democrats and they will allow it to go before the people," he said.
But Fine Gael senators were bitterly disappointed with Mr Kenny's attack on the Seanad during the week, particularly his comments about the Upper House doing nothing to challenge the unattainable policies of the Celtic Tiger.
"What did the Dail do about it?" said one.
A long-serving Fine Gael senator predicted privately that if Mr Kenny mounted a nationwide campaign, he might find it hard to get Fine Gael councillors, TDs and senators to turn up at local events.
And another said that Mr Kenny should remember that it was the Fine Gael senators who saved his job – a reference to their influential votes for him during the failed leadership heave three years ago.
So far, the majority of Mr Kenny's supporters have come from within the Cabinet, with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton all backing the abolition of the Seanad.
lPunters are betting that the autumn referendum to abolish the Seanad will be lost.
Paddy Power opened its book on the referendum yesterday by offering attractive odds of 7-2 against the Government's proposal being defeated.
But a surge of interest from punters forced them to slash their odds to 9-4 and then to 15-8 by last night.