Taoiseach ‘anxious’ to see Seanad become effective watchdog

Kenny outlines hopes for second house in wake of No vote

Éanna Ó Caollaí of The Irish Times asked people on Dublin's O' Connell Street what they made of the outcome of Saturday's referendum on the abolition of the Seanad.


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he is anxious to see the Seanad become an effective watchdog to hold the Government to account.

Still reeling from what he called a “wallop” in his failed referendum to abolish the upper house, the Taoiseach pledged to pore over past reports on reform. “We have to deal now with the question of how do you make the Seanad effective in the process of political change that I’m anxious to see in the interest of accountability and transparency for the people and for the capacity of the Dáil, to hold the executive, which is the Government, to account,” Mr Kenny said.

Despite claiming just two days before the public vote that it would not be possible to reform the second chamber, the Taoiseach said he would now have to make changes.

He said while the Seanad has its constraints within the Constitution, the question now was how to make changes within those remits to make it a more effective body.

Mr Kenny said different reports and proposals throughout the years on how to reform the Seanad had caused “great confusion and dissent” among senators and governments, which meant nothing was ever done about it.

“The question is how best do you take all of the proposals, issues and whatever else that have been set out in all of the reports, which were never acted upon, and make the Seanad a more effective body than it is,” he added.

“And I will look at that.”

One of the biggest bones of contention regarding the Seanad in its current form is the fact the general public has little to no say in the election process.

The Constitution also states that senators have no final say over new laws passed in the Oireachtas. While they do have the power to delay legislation by up to 90 days, the last time the Seanad used these powers was in 1964.

The Taoiseach would not rule out referring the issue to the Constitutional Convention, which could result in another referendum to decide the fate of the


However, some reform could be made without having to change the Constitution. Meanwhile, Mr Kenny rejected suggestions that his refusal to debate the referendum with Fianna Fáil leader and No campaigner Micheál Martin had contributed to his defeat. He said such a public showdown would have resulted in a “shouting match” with no one getting their points about the Seanad across. “If I debated the issue, and there was no leader of the No campaign because there were several, people would have said, ‘Well you lost, you didn’t make the argument, it turned into a shouting match’,” Mr Kenny said.

“Whether it would have any impact on the result of the referendum is now quite immaterial.”

Meanwhile, the Reform Alliance, a collection of Fine Gael TDs who have lost the whip, is to seek the suspension of normal Dáil business tomorrow to discuss the reform of the Seanad.

The Coalition has also signalled that it will examine an overhaul of the Seanad in the wake of the people’s decision to keep the Upper House. This was something it refused to grant in the referendum itself, which was cast as a choice between abolition or retention.

Reform Alliance TD Lucinda Creighton said the group was seeking the suspension to discuss the outcome of the referendum in order to help the Government reform the Upper House.

“It’s important for all members of the Oireachtas from all sides, to have an opportunity to feed into the process and help give the government some guidance,” she told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.

The Government has been accused of mounting a “ridiculously dismal campaign” during the Seanad referendum.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams today criticised Taoieach Enda Kenny for refusing to debate Seanad abolition with Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin, even though it was a pet project of his.

He said he had offered to debate the issue with Mr Martin but the offer was turned down by RTÉ for “reasons that are beyond me”.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio this morning, Mr Adams also defended his party’s stance to campaign for the abolition of the Seanad, saying there had been a decision taken by the party’s Ard Chomhairle to seek reform.

When that option was not offered to the electorate, the party decided to support abolition.

Additional reporting by PA

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