Now Government split over axing of the Senate

Kevin Doyle

THE Seanad could live to see another day after Green Party leader John Gormley suggested a March referendum on its abolition was "ambitious".

Mr Gormley has poured cold water on Fianna Fail suggestions that the Seanad could be scrapped by holding a public vote on the same day as a General Election.

The issue has split politicians in all the main parties, with some Fianna Fail senators even threatening a revolt.

And while he didn't rule out the idea of the current Government running a referendum, he suggested it was unlikely.

"I think it's very ambitious. We have a lot of legislation to go through," he said, citing the Finance Bill, Climate Change Bill and Mayoralty Bill.

He said legislation to scrap the Seanad would be "very complex". "I think it would be extremely difficult [in that timeframe]. I'm not ruling it out but it would be extremely difficult."

The coalition is set to debate the issue at its first Cabinet meeting of the year.

Mr Gormley also said that March 25 would be "a reasonable date" for the General Election.

With all the main parties now backing the Seanad's abolition, its days are numbered, but the debate is set to create massive internal strife.


Former Seanad leader Mary O'Rourke said the move by her own party "seems now to have taken on an unseemly haste".

Amazingly, sitting Fianna Fail senator Mary White said that it made her "sick" to hear Defence Minister Tony Killeen back the idea.

She agreed with the view of Opposition parties that it was an "opportunistic" move aimed at creating a distraction.

"I think it's ridiculous. I don't think it's good enough for Fianna Fail to react just because the other two parties want the Seanad abolished."

Privately, some senators are furious at the Seanad chairman Donie Cassidy and disgraced ex-Fianna Failer Ivor Callely for downgrading the House's status.

Those against the idea want to see the Seanad reformed so that it can provide proper political leadership rather than continuing as a talking shop.

Some 43 of its 60 members are elected by five panels representing interests such as industry and agriculture.

Another six are elected by the graduates of Trinity and UCD, while the remaining 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach.

In 2007, Cassidy and Callely were among the Dail rejects that were handed a fallback job by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Among the most vocal critics of the main parties' policy on the Seanad so far is university elected Joe O'Toole.

"As it stands at the moment, it's undemocratic, it's unfair and I've said this many times, it's unrepresentative.

"It's like getting rid of an awkward neighbour.

"It's very attractive to the political parties to get rid of it," he said.