Government wins Seanad vote on Bill to abolish Upper House
Senator Feargal Quinn’s motion to extend debate on 32nd amendment defeated
Senator Feargal Quinn: said the Seanad was in the last chance saloon. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The Government had a comfortable majority last night in the first crucial vote on the Bill allowing a referendum to abolish the Seanad.
Independent Senator Feargal Quinn’s motion to extend the debate was defeated by 31 votes to 27.
Taoiseach’s nominees Katherine Zappone and Mary Ann O’Brien voted against the Government on the issue, as did former Fine Gael parliamentary party members Fidelma Healy-Eames and Paul Bradford, and former Labour Senator James Heffernan.
Members of the Opposition shouted “shame on you” and “stop taking your salary” at Government Senators and Taoiseach’s nominees.
All 14 Fianna Fáil Senators, the three Sinn Féin Senators and remaining Independents voted for Mr Quinn’s motion.
Seconded by Independent David Norris, it proposed that the 32nd Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill be recommitted to a full committee stage debate by the House.
Mr Quinn said the Seanad was in the last chance saloon and the House needed to ask whether there had been proper debate on the question.
“If we do not discuss this matter properly, we are sleep-walking into a situation where the executive’s stranglehold on political debate is strengthened,” he said. “We may end up with a single chamber parliament with no space for independent and minority voices.”
Mr Quinn said the Bill had been guillotined in the Dáil, and the Seanad did not have sufficient opportunity to debate it. There had been no opportunity to get the views of the nominating bodies.
He said his motion was proposing that more time be given to the consideration of the specifics of the Bill to ensure the right question was put before the people.
Opposing the motion, Seanad leader Maurice Cummins (FG) said the House had begun debate on the Bill on June 26th and, over the course of four days, 10 hours were allocated for the second stage, with 54 members contributing. Committee stage had been held over two days, with more than 12 hours of debate.
Mr Cummins said the timing of a statement on the proposed referendum by Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton and Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty was less than helpful, when the Bill had not passed through the Oireachtas. “But as the Government representative here I think I have allocated more than sufficient time.”
The debate adjourned at 10pm last night and will resume today.