Wednesday 17 October 2018

Lee under fire from his own party over call to axe senators

Sam Smyth

FINE Gael's celebrity candidate George Lee came under fire from his own party's senators last night after calling for them to be scrapped.

Displaying a lack of basic political knowledge, RTE's former economic editor said the Seanad should be shut down for its low number of sitting days this year -- despite the Upper House meeting just one day less than the Dail.

Angry Fine Gael senators said Mr Lee's broadside was "born out of ignorance".

Mr Lee castigated the senators when he heard they had met for just 40 days this year, amid claims it missed a day last week because of a game of golf.

"(They) all want to consider their position, they need to go -- it's an absolute outrage," he said on RTE's 'The Week In Politics'.

When asked if the Senate should be shut down, Mr Lee replied: "I really couldn't be bothered if they were shut down, it's a disgrace."

Although Mr Lee's attack is not expected to be on the official agenda at their weekly meeting today, a number of Fine Gael senators furious at his onslaught are expected to raise the issue privately.

"George's attack on us was born out of ignorance, he accused us of only sitting 40 days, but the Dail has only sat for 41 days; does he want to close down the Dail, too?" said one senator, who asked not to be identified.


But Fine Gael's chief whip in the Senate, Maurice Cummins, played down the controversy.

"The Senate is the whipping boy, people should look at the Dail record -- I hope he [George Lee] won't be standing for the Senate," he said.

Mr Cummins didn't think the issue would be raised at the today's meeting, but said individuals would probably comment on it privately.

Fine Gael's leader in the Senate, Frances Fitzgerald, suggested that Mr Lee should read the party's document on senate reform.

FG senator Paul Coughlan said the blame for the Senate not sitting last Tuesday could be laid at the feet of the Fianna Fail leader of the Senate, Donie Cassidy, who "acted unilaterally".

A number of other Fine Gael senators were nearly as scathing about Mr Lee's ignorance of events in the Senate last week as they were about Senator Cassidy and his game of golf.

But Mr Lee was unrepentant last night, even when he was told that the Dail had only sat for one more day than the Senate. "The Dail didn't go on a golf outing. If they don't reform it [the Senate], then it is not performing its function," he said.

Mr Lee's opponent in the Dublin South by-election, Fianna Fail's Shay Brennan, said: "Clearly, George Lee has plans for Fine Gael that he hasn't told them about and for George at least, soundbites are more important than hard politics."

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