Government suffers defeat in Seanad vote

Four Labour senators failed to show up for a vote

Independent Senator Feargal Quinn’s Bill was for the banning of upward only rent reviews.

Independent Senator Feargal Quinn’s Bill was for the banning of upward only rent reviews.

Thu, Oct 3, 2013, 01:00

The Government suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad last night on the eve of the referendum to scrap the Upper House.

Ahead of polling day tomorrow, four Labour senators failed to show up for a vote on the private member’s Bill from Independent Senator Feargal Quinn to ban upward only rent reviews.

The Bill was passed by a 27-23 majority, prompting Mr Quinn to declare the episode was a “real reminder” of the Seanad’s power to promote independent policy-making.

The Labour leadership is working on the basis that the non-attendence of senators John Kelly, John Whelan, Denis Landy and Jimmy Harte was connected with resistence in the parliamentary party to the referendum.

However, Mr Harte told The Irish Times last night that he was not being vexatious and had been obliged to leave to catch a flight to Manchester for “urgent business” there this morning. “I’m paired tomorrow but unable to get one tonight,” he said.

None of the other senators responded to calls last night. The party leadership is now demanding answer from all four as to why they defied the whip.

“We are obviously aware that four Labour members failed to opposed the private members Bill. The whip will talk to the members in due course to seek an explation for their absence,” said a spokesman for the party.

The senators will have to go before the Labour whip in the Seanad Aideen Hayden as well as the party’s whip in the Dáil, Emmet Stagg.

Amid some apprehension in the Government about the possibility of a late surge in favour of retaining the Seanad, the development came as unwelcome news last night for the abolition campaign.

“We assume this is something to do with Friday and, as a result, we don’t intend to talk it up,” a Labour source said. Asked what santions might be imposed for the senators’ failure to vote, the source said “nobody is inclined to create martyrs”.

Mr Quinn seized on the Government’s defeat, its first in the Upper House since the Coalition took power in 2011. If the Labour senators had voted, Seanad cathaoirleach Paddy Burke would have settled the matter in the Government’s favour with his casting vote.

“It shows the number of ideas that come from the Seanad is very large,” Mr Quinn said. “They don’t normally get recognised to a huge extent but on this particular occasion it’s just one of those many items that happens in the Seanad but in this case it went against the Government.”

Fine Gael senators Deirdre Clune and Tom Sheahan were paired, according to party sources, as was Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh.

Fianna Fail’s Averil Power and Sinn Fein’s Kathryn Reilly were also absent but were understood to be paired.