Monday 18 December 2017

The Seanad Debate: Whip system protects, not harms, our democracy

'Voting according to their conscience' would soon become a banner of convenience for many, writes Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

The debate about the abolition of the Seanad and calls for a free vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill has brought the whip system into sharp focus. A lot of the commentary has been ill-informed. The public would be forgiven for thinking that the whip was something unique to Ireland and imposed by oppressive leaders on cowering TDs and senators forced to set aside their own consciences and judgement for fear of expulsion from their party. It's not like that.

First of all, the whip system is not in the constitution; nor is it enshrined in law. Rather, when a politician 'takes the whip', he or she enters into a voluntary agreement with like-minded colleagues to vote together as a group. Those who don't, sit as independents and they are plentiful in both houses.

When I contested the General Election, I did so as a Fine Gael candidate and not as an Independent and people voted for me on that basis.

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