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Seanad shut again after just four hours of debate

THE Seanad shut up shop early yesterday and decided to take an extra day off -- despite having just returned from a 10-week summer break.

After a session that lasted less than four hours, senators will now take a six-day break until the next Seanad sitting at 2.30pm next Wednesday. This is a day later than originally planned.

The move was criticised last night by the opposition parties in the Seanad who blamed both the Government for not providing legislation to debate and Fianna Fail Seanad leader Donie Cassidy for not arranging a sitting regardless.

But Mr Cassidy defended the Seanad's decision to adjourn proceedings at 2.15pm yesterday after starting at 10.30am-- and not to return next Tuesday as originally planned.

"Last year the Seanad sat the most days in its history (99) and this year we're on track to sit exactly the same amount of days, if not more. We sit whenever it's required, when legislation is available and when urgent matters are to be discussed and debated," he said.

The adjournment of the Seanad comes just days after senators were invited along with their spouses to a special reception at Aras an Uachtarain by President Mary McAleese. She gave them a glowing tribute for their work.

Mr Cassidy denied that the shutting down of the Seanad until next Wednesday afternoon was due to a lack of government legislation.

He said the only reason the Seanad had been back this week was because of the emergency legislation to extend the bank guarantee.

"Normally we wouldn't be back until next week, because we sit a week later than the Dail in all the sessions. We were sitting in the third week in July," he said.

But Sinn Fein Senator Pearse Doherty said he had been told officially that the Seanad would be sitting for three days every week -- and was surprised to find out it would only be sitting for two days next week.

"We literally don't know from one week to the next when there's a sitting, it's really at the whim of Donie Cassidy. It's just not acceptable and shouldn't be put up with in this day and age," he said.

Last June, Mr Cassidy was forced to strongly deny accusations from Fine Gael that his participation in an Oireachtas golf trip to Turkey was the reason why he decided not to have the Seanad sitting alongside the Dail for the week.

Fine Gael Seanad leader Frances Fitzgerald said the blame for the adjournment of the Seanad lay with the Government for failing to provide any legislation to debate.

"The question clearly arises as to whether the Government has any legislation to put through the Seanad," she said. "This is clearly a government-side responsibility and that's what's happened."

There were suggestions last night that the Seanad was not sitting on Tuesday because those on the Seanad's members' interests disciplinary committee would be present in the High Court for Senator Ivor Callely's challenge to his suspension.

But the Seanad is sitting the following day -- when Mr Callely's case is expected to still be before the High Court.

According to Mr Cassidy, the Seanad has never been found wanting when it came to responding to urgent matters -- and it had debated the economic crisis yesterday.

"We had the economy centre stage of our deliberations where all the spokespersons made their contributions; and all day next Wednesday, we're going to have the contributions of the rest of the House," he said.

During next week's two days of sittings, senators are also due to discuss the "Smart Economy" with Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe.

The Seanad costs €25m per year to run. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has promised to abolish the house if he becomes Taoiseach.

Irish Independent