Monday 22 July 2019

FG opens fire on McDowell over his support for Seanad

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FORMER Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell has warned that abolishing the Seanad will eliminate the possibility of appointing non-elected people to the Cabinet.

But his latest intervention ahead of the Seanad abolition referendum in October prompted Fine Gael to accuse him of wanting to choose a "hand-picked elite" to run the country.

The verbal exchanges came after the Constitutional Convention's latest report recommended allowing for non-TDs to be appointed to the Cabinet to increase the level of skills and experience available.

Mr McDowell said it was already possible for a Taoiseach to appoint a non-elected person to the Cabinet by putting somebody in the Seanad and promoting them. But he warned this would come to an end if the Seanad was abolished.

"In effect, the Government is now saying 'vote to change the Constitution now to make it impossible to appoint non-TDs as ministers and we will consider between now and Christmas asking you to reverse that decision in a referendum next year'," he said.

In the past, former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald appointed Professor James Dooge as a senator and then promoted him instantly to become Minister for Foreign Affairs. But the option has not been used by any Taoiseach in recent governments. It will be eliminated if voters decide to abolish the Seanad.

Fine Gael Wicklow TD Simon Harris said it seemed a little desperate that Mr McDowell was peddling the idea that a hand-picked elite of his own choosing should run the country. "Fine Gael will stick with the view that the Irish people should continue to decide who runs the country through free and fair elections," he said.

And Mr Harris questioned whether Mr McDowell was using the Seanad debate as a way of re-starting his own political career. "Like Wayne Rooney, the former Progressive Democrats leader needs to come clean about his intentions," he said.

Mr McDowell has said he is not currently involved in the establishment of a new party.

As well as allowing for the appointment of non-ministers to the Cabinet, the members of the Constitutional Convention want larger Dail constituencies of five seats or more and an end to the practice of listing election candidates in alphabetical order on ballot papers.

REFORMS

The Government now has four months to decide whether to hold a referendum on the proposed reforms. The Constitutional Convention, which is made up of 100 politicians and ordinary citizens, was also in broad favour of making changes to improve voter turnout.

About 97pc favoured the establishment of an electoral commission, 89pc supported extended polling hours, 91pc were in favour of greater access to postal voting, and 100pc voted to improve the accuracy of the electoral register.

Irish Independent

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