Fine Gael Senator calls for retention of Seanad

Mon, Apr 16, 2012, 01:00

A FINE Gael Senator has called for the retention and reform of the Seanad despite his party leader’s desire to abolish the Upper House. He also said Fine Gael remained committed to local government reform.

Senator Pat O’Neill told a conference of local authority members at the weekend that the Seanad should be reformed and directly elected by the public rather than abolished, while veteran Fianna Fáil Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú said greater media coverage of the Upper House would increase awareness of its work.

“I don’t think the Seanad should be abolished,” Mr O’Neill said. “We’re in power with a majority of 50 and could push through any laws we wanted, or any government could. I think there should be a second house.”

Senators should be directly elected by the people, with the elections coinciding with those to local authorities, said the Kilkenny-based Senator, who was first elected to the Seanad last year having previously served on Kilkenny County Council. The comments represented “my own personal view” rather than party policy.

When in opposition, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called for the Seanad to be abolished and since being elected Taoiseach has pledged to hold a referendum on the matter.

However, Mr O’Neill said the institution should be “reformed” and such an option should be put to voters. “I think in a referendum, putting it to the people Yes or No, is too draconian.”

The Senator told councillors attending the annual conference of the Local Authority Members Association in Waterford that Fine Gael was committed to local government reform.

The property tax, which succeeds the controversial household charge, “will be fair”, he said, “and will bring Ireland into line with other European countries”.

Senator Ó Murchú called on Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to introduce a two-month “amnesty” to give those who have not yet paid the household charge a chance to pay it without incurring penalties.

“I think it would be an olive branch. Give an amnesty to people and I think you’d find quite a few people who would reconsider [paying the charge].”

Referring to the future of the Seanad, Mr Ó Murchú said that, apart from a small section of RTÉ’s Oireachtas Report and a regular report in The Irish Times, the upper house received little media coverage.

“Some people think the Seanad is only there to rubber-stamp Bills coming from the Dáil,” he said, before pointing out that some legislation begins life in the Seanad.

“In one session alone, 37 Bills were initiated in the Seanad. The general public aren’t aware of that and that’s because it isn’t being put out there, and that’s a pity.”