New Seanad holds first meeting

Wed, May 25, 2011, 01:00

Fine Gael Senator Paddy Burke has been chosen as Cathaoirleach at this afternoon's first meeting of the 24th Seanad Éireann.

Mr Burke, a close associate of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, is the outgoing Leas-Chathaoirleach. He was nominated by Senator Maurice Cummins and seconded by Senator Ivana Bacik. The motion was supported by the Fianna Fáil group.

Earlier, Mr Kenny confirmed in the Dáil that the Government still intends to hold a referendum next year on the abolition of the Seanad.

First elected to the upper house in 1993 on the agricultural panel, Mr Burke has been returned at every election since. He was a member of Mayo County Council from 1979 until the dual mandate was abolished in 2003. He was elected Leas-Chathaoirleach after the 2002 election and re-elected to the position in 2007.

He is credited with devising the strategy which won four out of five Dáil seats for Fine Gael in Mayo in the general election.

The leader of the house and head of the Fine Gael group in the new Seanad is expected to be Waterford Senator Maurice Cummins, despite speculation that the position would go to Cork-based Senator Deirdre Clune, daughter of former tánaiste Peter Barry.

Ms Clune lost her Dáil seat in Cork South Central in the general election.

As father of the house – the member with the longest continuous period of service –  Independent Senator David Norris temporarily took the chair.

Before calling for nominations for Cathaoirleach, he spoke about the challenges facing the Seanad – particularly the Government’s proposal for abolition – and the need to maintain the Seanad’s relevance and increase its credibility.

Initially welcoming members of the '34th' Seanad, Mr Norris corrected himself and said the 24th. But he said he hoped there would be a 34th Seanad.

He said the Seanad was a great institution of the Republic and belonged not to the parties, but to the people.

After he took the chair, the new Cathaoirleach thanked Mr Norris for a "presidential-type" speech.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach position is normally filled, at a further sitting, by an opposition member; this is expected to be Fianna Fáil Senator Denis O’Donovan from Cork. The Seanad has set next Wednesday for this election.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last night announced his Seanad spokespersons, with Darragh O’Brien as group leader and Diarmuid Wilson as whip.

The party’s Seanad spokespersons are: foreign affairs, Jim Walsh; finance, Darragh O’Brien; public expenditure, Thomas Byrne; education, Averil Power; Enterprise, Mary White; social protection, Paschal Mooney; environment, Diarmuid Wilson; children, Terry Leyden; justice, Denis O’Donovan; health, Marc MacSharry; transport, Ned O’Sullivan; communications, Mark Daly; agriculture, Brian Ó Domhnaill, and arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht, Labhrás Ó Murchú.

“For as long as it [the Seanad] is in place, my party will play its full role providing robust and constructive opposition in the best interests of our country,” Mr Martin said.

After maiden speeches from those newly elected and appointed, the Seanad adjourned at 4.45pm until next Wedneday at 2.30pm.