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New Seanad will be elected even if referendum is held to abolish it

THE next Seanad will most likely be elected -- even if there is a referendum on general election day to scrap it.

The much-maligned Upper House of the Oireachtas appears set to struggle on until 2016 after Fianna Fail and the Green Party both backed away from plans to hold an election day referendum to abolish it.

But doubts are being cast about the possibility of abolishing the Seanad with immediate effect anyway, if a referendum was to be held on polling day.

Government plans to hold a referendum to scrap the Seanad appeared to be fading after the Green Party shied off a vote on polling day.

The junior coalition party backed off on Seanad abolition, saying it would take too much time to pass the necessary legislation before the election.

Yet Environment Minister John Gormley still wants to spend time passing the Dublin Mayor Bill -- even though there are no plans to hold an election to fill that position.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party are already committed to holding a referendum in their first year in office to abolish the Seanad.

Under the Constitution, a Seanad election must take place not later than 90 days after a general election.

But Government sources say that holding the referendum on polling day would not necessarily guarantee a new Seanad would not be elected.

"I don't know that it is that simple," a source said.

It would mean the Seanad continuing until the following general election -- due in 2016 if the next government sees out its full five years in office.

Coalition sources also said there is a feeling within government that it won't be possible to pass the necessary legislation to hold the referendum in time for the general election.

Defence Minister Tony Killeen, who confirmed the Coalition was thinking about holding a Seanad referendum on election day, is also being described within government circles as going too far on the issue.

"He was a bit too strong on it," a source said.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said yesterday his party was also proposing to abolish the Seanad as part of a convention to examine constitutional reform.

Fianna Fail senators are blaming the Greens for raising the prospect of having a referendum in the lifetime of this Government.

The Cabinet meets next week for the first time since the Christmas break and will discuss the issue.

After floating the idea of holding the Seanad abolition referendum on election day at the weekend, Mr Killeen also backed away from the move.


"This isn't a Green Party initiative and the Fianna Fail parliamentary party has not discussed it. So the Fianna Fail position would not arise and would not be put forward, until that has happened in any event," he said.

The minister's comments came after Fianna Fail senators came out in open revolt against the plans, warning they were a politically "opportunistic" attempt to copy the policy of Fine Gael and Labour.

Irish Independent