Sunday 19 November 2017

Oireachtas 'more hereditary' than Lords

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Eamon O Cuiv
Eamon De Valera

Ruaidhri Giblin

The son of a former Fine Gael Finance Minister claims there is now a greater proportion of "hereditary" politicians in the Oireachtas than there are hereditary peers in the House of Lords.

Peter Sweetman, who turned down the chance to stand for office when his father, Gerard, died in a road traffic accident in 1970, made the claim last week.

At least 45 TDs and senators have a family member who also served in the Dail or Seanad. In addition to these, many sitting senators gave their local authority seats to family members when they were appointed to the upper house two years ago.

Of the 763 seats in Britain's House of Lords, 88 are held by hereditary peers, the dukes, earls, viscounts and barons who inherited their seats because of family lineage.

However, Ireland's political dynasties occupy a greater proportion of seats in the Oireachtas than hereditary peers do in the House of Lords.

"One in five current members of the Oireachtas has had a political predecessor in the family," Mr Sweetman said. "About one in eight members of the House of Lords is a hereditary peer."

Gerard Sweetman was a prominent opposition TD at the time of his death. His son, Peter, claims he is rare in being an eligible son of a TD who didn't stand in a by-election when his father died in office.

"It seems to be standard procedure for family members to run for office and I think it's wrong," Sweetman said.

Owen O'Shea, author of Heirs to the Kingdom: Kerry's Political Dynasties said the phenomenon predates the foundation of the State by many centuries.

He said Irish voters demanded an intimate political relationship with their councillors and TDs, because of parochial 'parish-pump' politics.

"Four of Kerry's six TDs have or had at least one relative in elected positions and 14 of the county's 27 councillors are members of political dynasties," Mr O'Shea said.

He said members of political dynasties feel a sense of obligation to their predecessors and voters tend to think that if his father or grandfather was good enough for the constituency then the next generation can't be that bad.

Until the electoral systems changes and TDs become legislators rather than representatives, dynasties will continue, Mr O'Shea said.

The aftermath of the 2011 General Election saw the end of a number of political dynasties such as the Haugheys and Andrews. The death of Brian Lenihan saw the end of another Fianna Fail dynasty.

The most prominent existing "heir" is Taoiseach Enda Kenny, son of famous Mayo footballer and later TD Henry Kenny. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was elected in a by-election following the sudden death of his father, Hugh Coveney.

Fianna Fail's Niall Collins, Dara Calleary and Eamon O Cuiv are the third generation of TDs from their families.

Irish Independent

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