Seanad sketch: Hayes returns to political cradle to warn time is running out

Debate on legislation to abolish Upper House produces some gallows humour

The Seanad Chamber at Leinster House. Senators are acutely aware that they could face an electoral rope in October’s referendum to abolish the Upper House.   Photograph: Alan Betson

The Seanad Chamber at Leinster House. Senators are acutely aware that they could face an electoral rope in October’s referendum to abolish the Upper House. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fri, Jul 5, 2013, 01:00

Nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging. And Senators are acutely aware that they could face an electoral rope in October’s referendum to abolish the Upper House.

The debate on the necessary legislation, which passed its second stage in the House yesterday, inevitably produced some gallows humour. Like any group of people in a similar situation, discussing their own possible redundancy did not make for a happy discourse.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who proposed the Seanad’s abolition in Opposition, was not far from their minds. He received a respectful but cool reception when he addressed them recently. Yesterday, it was the turn of Brian Hayes, who began his political career in the House, to bat for the Government.

Fianna Fáil’s Brian Ó Domhnaill traced the path to proposed abolition all the way from his native Donegal to the Dublin’s Burlington hotel, where Fine Gael has an annual get-together.

He recalled Kenny saying at the MacGill summer school in Donegal in 2009 that he envisaged a reformed Seanad playing a greater role in Irish society.

“At a Fine Gael dinner or gig later that year, he engaged in a finger-licking exercise to see which way the wind was blowing,” Ó Domhnaill added.

“Politicians are sometimes accused of doing this.”

Hayes clearly felt that the Fine Gael gathering is a much more upmarket affair. “There are no gigs in the Burlington hotel, rather there are dinners.”

Ó Domhnaill reached for Gandhi to bolster his argument, observing he had once said “the spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms but requires change of heart”.

Ó Domhnaill remarked that the Taoiseach clearly did not have a change of heart since the Burlington gig, or dinner, and had decided the abolition of democracy was the answer.

Party colleague Terry Leyden said: “For my part, I will resist to the last gasp of my existence and the last drop of my blood. And when I feel the hour of my dissolution growing, I will, like the father of Hannibal, take my children to the altar and swear them to eternal hostility against the invaders of their country’s freedoms.”

Leyden paused. “I did not say this; rather it was said by William Plunkett MP against Lord Castlereagh and the imperial British government.”

Fianna Fáil’s Ned O’Sullivan was clear the fault lay with the Mayo Taoiseach. “The agent for the proposed destruction of the Seanad is not Lord Castlereagh but Lord Castlebar. ”

Hayes replied to the debate by reminding the Senators that the people would ultimately decide the Seanad’s future. It was no comfort to Independent David Norris, who heckled.

When Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke advised him he could not keep interrupting, Norris refused to stay quiet. “He is trying to destroy the House.”

The Senators will clearly not succumb to redundancy without a fight.