Ex-FG member accuses party of spreading ‘false propaganda’ on Seanad

Fidelma Healy-Eames says claim abolition would save €20m ‘completely erroneous’

TDs and Senators who are against the abolition of the  Seanad   Senator Ronan Mullen and Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames during a press brieifng on the plinth of Leinster House, Dublin, today. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

TDs and Senators who are against the abolition of the Seanad Senator Ronan Mullen and Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames during a press brieifng on the plinth of Leinster House, Dublin, today. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tue, Oct 1, 2013, 18:47

Former Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy-Eames has accused the party of spreading “false propaganda” in its campaign to abolish the Seanad.

Speaking as politicians campaigning for a No vote gathered outside Leinster House today, Ms Healy Eames said it was “completely erroneous” to claim scrapping the Upper House would save €20 million as the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission had said the figure would be closer to €8.8 million.

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll this week showed the abolition proposal is backed by 44 per cent of respondents, with 27 per cent saying they would vote to retain the House, 21 per cent did not know how they would vote and 8 per cent said they would not vote.

Among those respondents, 43 per cent said the “main reason” to favour abolition was to save money.

Ms Healy-Eames, who lost the party whip after voting against the Protection of Life During pregnancy Bill this summer, said Fine Gael should take down its posters carrying the claim.

Asked how she would feel in the event of a Yes vote in Friday’s referendum on Seanad abolition, Ms Healy-Eames said “disappointed but nevertheless I also will accept the will of the people.”

She added: “But I want the will of the people to be informed by truth and accuracy and the truth and accuracy here is not reflected in the Fine Gael posters, the Fine Gael posters are a lie.”

“Fine Gael should remove the false propaganda. We know it is not true. €20 million per year will not be saved by abolishing the Seanad.”

Among those present for the press conference were former Fine Gael members Lucinda Creighton, Billy Timmins and Paul Bradford; Labour senators Ivana Bacik, John Whelan, Denis Landy, Mary Moran and Jimmy Harte; Fianna Fáil senator Darragh O’Brien and TD Seán Ó Fearghail; and Independent TDs and senators such as Finian McGrath, Maureen O’Sullivan, David Norris and Sean Barrett.

Senator Norris said he would feel “absolutely betrayed” if the referendum was carried.

“I think it is a shocking thing that the government may win a referendum on a series of lies and half truths,” he said.

Mr Norris said he had contacted the Standards in Public Office Commission and Referendum Commission to complain about the Fine Gael posters but that both bodies had said such content was outside the realm of their responsibilities.

The Referendum Commission and Standards in Public Office Commission said the organisations had “no role in regulating political campaigns”.

Mr Norris said senators would face being in “suspended animation here for two and a half years” if the referendum was passed and that senators would be “demoralised and the walking dead” while costing the State a further €50 million based on the Fine Gael calculations.

Independent senator John Crown said the Seanad was relevant as it had made 500 amendments to legislation in the last two and a half year, including some “which protected ordinary people who were in the death grip of the banks in the insolvency process from having the banks intruding into their weekly finances.”

Prof Crown said the Seanad was never intended to be a “blocker of legislation” and that a suggestion of it being a watchdog that never barks, as claimed by Fine Gael, upset it.

“If your watchdog barked once and it saved your family from a fire or intruder I think you’d say that investment was worth it.”

Asked about differing views on how a reformed Seanad might operate, Prof Crown said the matter should have been put to the Constitutional Convention where there had been success in “hammering out consensus” among people with polarised views on the same issue.

Independent TD Finian McGrath said, despite polls showing a likely Yes vote, he felt there were many undecided voters and that he believed “people will over the last few days cop on to the con game that is going on.”

Labour Party TD Joanna Tuffy said the Irish people “had shown a natural inclination not to give the Government too much power” and that a No vote would make sure of this.