Sinn Féin says Seanad is an ‘affront to democracy’

Party unveils campaign ahead of October 4th referendum

Referendum on Seanad set to take place in October. Photograph: Alan Betson

Referendum on Seanad set to take place in October. Photograph: Alan Betson


Sinn Féin has called for the abolition of Seanad Éireann saying the upper house in its current form is “an affront to democracy” that runs against everything a true Republic with real values should stand for.

The party today set out its stall ahead of the October 4th referendum, with campaign director Pearse Doherty TD saying the vote was unlikely to be a top priority for many people given they would be anxious about the prospect of another austerity budget less than two weeks later.

Mr Doherty said it was time for the Seanad to go as it had failed to reward vision and had come to be a landing place for political cronies and allies of the government of the day.

“The Seanad as it exists is an affront to democracy and runs against everything that a true Republic with real values should stand for,” he said.

“When you see the type of cronyism and elitism that has been systematically inbuilt into the Seanad and the best example is the abuse we have seen over the years in terms of Taoiseach’s nominees, particularly during the Bertie Ahern era where he appointed his allies and cronies into the position of senators so that they were able to enjoy the privileges and perks that come with that position.”

Referring to Seanad elections, Mr Doherty said there was no place in a modern democracy for a house elected based on taosieach’s choices, which account for 11 of the 60 places in the house, and educational attainment (in reference to the Trinity College Dublin and National University of Ireland panels which select six senators). He also expressed doubts about county councillors having the power decide “who decides on legislation on your behalf”.

Sinn Féin called for the abolition of the Seanad in its current form in its 2011 general election manifesto but until recently had been seeking to have the future of the upper house referred to the constitutional convention before a decision was taken.

Mr Doherty said the party had not had a change of heart on the issue and had opposed the legislation that brought about the referendum on Seanad abolition “tooth and nail” because it was taking away the right for the constitutional convention to consider the issue.

However, he said the legislation had now been “rammed through” the Dail and Seanad by the Government parties which left Sinn Fein with a choice to either support the house in its current form or seek its abolition.

Sinn Féin senator David Cullinane said that, even as a member of the house, he could see its failings such as allowing welfare cuts, austerity budgets and the promissory note deal to pass through the house.

“It has not acted as a check or balance against the Dail and is clearly not fit for purpose.”

Mr Cullinane said Fianna Fáil and the Democracy Matters group, involving former tanaiste Michael McDowell, were among the few seeking Seanad retention and reform.

He said Fianna Fáil and Mr McDowell both had ample time in government to change the Seanad but failed to do so and that he did not expect any establishment party had the will to do so.

Sinn Féin is to publish its own political reform policies next week.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil spokesman Niall Collins has called on Mr Bruton to confirm whether he was aware Chief Executive of the Labour Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey was going to be the spokesperson for a new campaign group supporting the Government Proposal to Abolish the Seanad.

“I find it very surprising that Minister Bruton is accepting the involvement of Mr Kieran Mulvey in what is essentially a political campaign. It is inconceivable that Minister Bruton or any of his colleagues would accept such involvement if he was working to oppose Government policy,” Mr Collins said.

“It has always been an established and accepted practice that senior civil servants do not get involved in political campaigns and that they are seen to be apolitical.”