Calls for 'reflection' as returning Senators contain jubilation

Norris describes as ‘cloud cuckoo land’ calls for Senators to be paid nothing


Senators returned to the saved Seanad this afternoon with a relatively low key response to the outcome of the referendum on its abolition.

Jubilation was contained among the 45 out of 60 Senators in attendance for the first session since the plebiscite on Friday, with cross-party welcome for the outcome.

Fine Gael Senator and leader of the upper House Maurice Cummins welcomed the result and said “we hope there’s not too much retaliation and recrimination on today’s Order of Business”.

He announced a two-hour debate this evening on political reform.

Throughout the debate there were repeated calls for “calm and reflection”.

Fianna Fail Seanad leader Darragh O’Brien said the result showed that “people do value the Constitution....they value their political structures no matter how imperfect they may be from time to time.”

However, he took a verbal swipe at Taoiseach and reminded his colleagues that he had accused Enda Kenny of the “greatest act of constitutional violence” when he introduced his Seanad Abolition Bill in the Upper House “on one of only two occasions in three years when he saw fit to address the House”.

He criticised as unacceptable, plans for just 20 minutes of debate in the Dáil on Thursday.

Deputy Seanad leader Ivana Bacik (Lab) also welcomed the result and said it “does give a clear imperative for political reform”.

Senator Katherine Zappone who with Senator Feargal Quinn, introduced a Seanad reform Bill, praised the Taoiseach for the “graceful way in which he accepted the people’s verdict”. She called for Mr Kenny to come into the Seanad chamber in a month’s time to outline his plans for Seanad and Dáil reform”.

Independent Senator David Norris described the result as “remarkable” but said “this is not a moment for us to gloat” but “ a moment for us to say ‘we have been given a vote of confidence’” by the public, to replies of “hear, hear”.

He criticised attempts to “put all the blame on Richard Bruton” (Fine Gael director of elections for the referendum). Mr Norris said “people should not be putting party before the country”.

Mr Norris said of calls for Senators to be unpaid: “No bloody hope. People talked about elitism. If you want elitism, if you want nobody but aristocrats and millionaires, that’s what you do.”

He said if people wanted Senators to work for nothing “you’re living in cloud cuckoo land”.

Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane, whose party supported abolition, commended those who actually voted on Friday. He said there was a message in the referendum that more than 60 per cent of people did not cast a vote in either the Seanad referendum or on the plebiscite on the establishment of the Court of Appeal.

Labour Senator Aideen Hayden believed there was a “deliberate dumbing down of the business this House was receiving over the last number of weeks to show us to be inefficient and ineffective”.

And she hoped there would be “no petulance” from Government and that there would be a full schedule of business in the Seanad from now on.