Legislation passed to allow Seanad byelection and restore Government majority

Call for PPS numbers to reduce fraud on electoral register

Barry Cowen: the Fianna Fáil environment spokesman described the Bill as “stopgap”. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Barry Cowen: the Fianna Fáil environment spokesman described the Bill as “stopgap”. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

A Bill to allow a Seanad byelection to go ahead and restore the Government’s majority in the Upper House has been passed in the Dáil.

The Government currently has a minority in the 60-seat Seanad following the election to the European parliament of Fine Gael Senator Deirdre Clune. This week the Government lost a vote in the Seanad by 27 to 26.

Under existing legislation a byelection cannot take place because there is no permanent clerk of the Dáil following the retirement last year of Kieran Coughlan.

The new legislation will allow the assistant clerk of the Dáil to perform the functions of the clerk, when the clerk of the Dáil is absent, because an anomaly in a 1947 Act makes no provision for anyone other than the clerk performing certain functions.

Outgoing Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said the Electoral (Amendment) (No 4) Bill addressed an “unsatisfactory and anomalous situation” in electoral legislation.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen described the Bill as “stopgap”, and said it raised the question of why the Government was prevaricating on appointing a person to the permanent position of clerk of the Dáil.

He said the legislation should not be used as an excuse for inaction in bringing forward a suitable high-level appointment process.

Sinn Féin environment spokesman Brian Stanley said they had to move from registering voters by address to using their personal public service (PPS) number to reduce the possibility of fraud.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy described the Seanad as “the plaything of the larger political parties”.

Mr Hogan said there would be a problem with using PPS numbers as there were about seven million such numbers while the population was 4.5 million.