Micheál Martin says FF will seek retention of Seanad in referendum
Party will urge electorate to vote No and will then push for reform of Upper House
Micheál Martin: “What the Government is proposing by abolishing the Seanad is halving the amount of scrutiny in the system, inadequate as that scrutiny is”
Fianna Fáil will seek the retention of the Seanad in the October referendum, pending reform of the Upper House, party leader Micheál Martin said yesterday.
Seanad reform would be implemented by legislation in the short term, pending constitutional review of its powers, he said.
Speaking before his address to the MacGill Summer School, the Fianna Fáil leader said his party would oppose the Government’s position on the Seanad, and a further policy document on its future would be forthcoming.
He said he supported a legislative package promoting reform of the Seanad within the existing constitutional framework. “That can be done after the referendum if the referendum falls. In an ideal scenario we would have broader proposals which would involve constitutional change. In the interim we would support the legislative reforms that have been proposed in the Seanad,” he said.
“Our position is that first we reject [abolition] for very strong reasons. The Government has too much control over everything already. What the Government is proposing by abolishing the Seanad is halving the amount of scrutiny in the system, inadequate as that scrutiny is. We are saying vote against this amendment and we will support the implementation of the legislative proposals that Senator Quinn and others propose.
“There is a necessity to free up parliament from the absolute control that the executive exercises over the Dáil,” he said.
Government control of parliament was “not healthy”, he added. “It is not contributing to proper evaluation of economic policy or wider policies. I’m publishing a policy document which has up to 70 recommendations on how we can make parliament independent of government.”
These proposals would range from ideas on the appointment of Ministers to the procedure for choosing a ceann comhairle and the establishment of an independent research office for the evaluation of all legislation. Other suggestions include independent legal counsel being made available to parliament.
Later in his address last night Mr Martin said the Coalition’s Dáil reforms make only minor changes but drive yet more power into the hands of the Taoiseach and whichever ministers are allowed into the discussion. “If this continues Ireland will be unique in the developed world for the amount of power it concentrates in the hands of ministers. Most of all, it will spell the end of any realistic hope that Irish politics will be reformed,” he said.
Former Tánaiste and Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell denounced the Government’s proposal to abolish the Seanad as a “power grab” which would give more power to a government. He said this would allow government to dominate “the dysfunctional, rubber-stamp Dáil through the whip system, and to wipe out independent parliamentary scrutiny”. He called for a “New Deal” to create more accountability, a new relationship with government, and provision for standing orders providing for an independent, freshly elected ceann comhairle and fully independent committees chosen by secret ballot, and real, effective scrutiny of the exercise of executive power.
A Dáil also needs a reformed, functional Seanad, he added,