Tuesday 16 January 2018

Referendum set for autumn as Seanad backs abolition plans

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE Government has cleared the way for a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad in the autumn – after rejecting claims it had "bribed" its own senators to pass the bill

The Seanad abolition bill passed by 33 votes to 25, despite complaints from opposition senators that it was the worst act of political vandalism in the history of the State.

The referendum is due to take place on Friday, October 4, – just a week and a half before the Budget on October 15.

Voters will also be asked to decide on whether to set up a new Court of Appeal to relieve the four-year backlog in the Supreme Court.

During the bitter and heated debate in the Seanad, Fianna Fail senator Diarmuid Wilson claimed that government senators had been promised projects in their constituencies if they voted in favour of the bill.

"I am aware of government senators who have been told and promised they will get certain projects if they stay in line. That is a fact," he said.

Junior Minister for Finance Brian Hayes said that he had to rebut the "very serious charge" made by Mr Wilson.

"He suggested there was some inducement or bribe offered to members of this house to vote in a certain way," he said.

Mr Hayes called on the Cavan politician to use his parliamentary privilege against being sued to name the government senators concerned.

But Mr Wilson told the Irish Independent that he would not do so because he personally knew the three government senators who had spoken to him privately over the past weeks.

"They told me constituency projects that had been promised or that could happen would be gone if they didn't toe the line on the abortion bill and the Seanad abolition bill," he said.

There was one bright moment for the Seanad yesterday when Independent Senator Feargal Quinn managed to steer through his own private bill to ensure that sub-contractors in future are paid on time by construction companies.

"The passing of the Construction Contracts Bill is a real example of the Seanad working at its best, and just imagine what could be achieved by retaining, reforming and strengthening it in the future," he said.

The move was also praised by the Construction Industry Federation, which said the industry owed Mr Quinn a debt of gratitude for finally getting the bill into law – 1,168 days after he first proposed it. But there were numerous angry scenes in the Seanad in its final consideration of the abolition bill.

CRITICISED

Unlike the abortion bill, there is no possibility of President Michael D Higgins referring the bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

The Seanad heard that Article 26 of the Irish Constitution does not allow the referral of a bill which proposes to alter the Constitution.

Fianna Fail senator Marc McSharry, who previously accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny of "urinating" on the Seanad, criticised him for removing TDs and senators from committees for voting against the Government.

"They make Mugabe and Idi Amin look like Kofi Annan," he said. And fellow Fianna Fail senator Brian O Domhnaill accused Mr Kenny of showing a dictatorial attitude to politics, and predicted that it would turn Ireland into the "most undemocratic country in the world".

Irish Independent

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