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Fine Gael senator refuses to toe party line

A PROMINENT Fine Gael senator last night refused to back his party's policy to abolish the Seanad.

Senator Jerry Buttimer said he would not support a referendum to abolish the upper house.

His stance comes despite the fact he has been selected to run as a Fine Gael candidate in the General Election.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny previously pledged to hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad within a year of entering government.

The current Government is considering a proposal to run a referendum to close down the Seanad on the same day as the General Election.

If the proposal is approved, it will lead to an estimated saving of €25m a year.

Mr Buttimer pointed out that money could instead be saved by eliminating quangos or by cutting the number of political advisers.

"I think the Seanad has a valuable role to play. Some people have latched on to the idea that abolishing it would save the country but I personally think it would be the wrong road to take," he said.

"The amount of money saved from closing it would be miniscule. Reforming the Seanad would be better than abolishing it."

Fine Gael senator Paul Bradford also said he would not support such a referendum, in an Irish Independent survey conducted yesterday.

Fine Gael's policy was only endorsed by six of its 15 senators with Ciaran Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Joe O'Reilly and Liam Twomey all toeing the party line.

The party's leader in the Seanad Frances Fitzgerald refused to answer the yes/no question, but said she would "support Fine Gael policy".

Fidelma Healy-Eames also said she would support Fine Gael policy, but refused to give a definitive answer on the issue.

"The Senate shouldn't be scrapped in anger," she posted on social media website Twitter yesterday.

"Reasoned debate is critical. Mixing it up with a General Election could prove to be a big mistake."

Paul Coghlan refused to comment on the issue, while Paddy Burke, John Paul Phelan, Eugene Regan and Nicky McFadden could not be contacted last night.

The Labour Party has insisted the Seanad needs to be abolished in an overhaul of the entire political system.

But just three out of Labour's six senators could confirm that they were rowing in with the party's stance on the issue in the survey.

Dominic Hannigan, Phil Prendergast and Alex White all said they would support a referendum to abolish the Seanad.

"The time for reform has passed. I'm confident that people will abolish the Seanad," said Mr Hannigan.

But Michael McCarthy refused to comment on the matter and Ivana Bacik insisted the issue was not a straightforward one.

Senator Brendan Ryan could not be contacted.

Irish Independent