Seanad annual saving same as a ‘litre of milk’ per person -senator

Senators unite across party divide to save the Upper House

 Mary O’Rourke with local Mary McCormack during a Democracy Matters campaign at Golden Island shopping centre Athlone where she was urging  for a No vote in the Seanad referendum next month.Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Mary O’Rourke with local Mary McCormack during a Democracy Matters campaign at Golden Island shopping centre Athlone where she was urging for a No vote in the Seanad referendum next month.Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Wed, Sep 11, 2013, 20:09

The referendum to abolish the Seanad is throwing up some strange political bedfellows.

Former Fianna Fail minister TD and Senator Mary O’Rourke was joined in Athlone yesterday by Labour Senators John Whelan, from Laois, and John Kelly, from Roscommon, to canvass for a No vote as part of the campaign by Democracy Matters, a broad based group of individuals who want the Seanad retained and reformed.

Senators Kelly and Whelan emphasised that while they had no problem supporting the legislation to put the House’s abolition to the people, they had made it clear they would canvass for a No vote.

“The real savings from abolition is the equivalent of a litre of milk per annum per person,” said Mr Kelly.

“I heard our party leader Eamon Gilmore say on the radio earlier that he had no problem with John Whelan and myself canvassing for a No vote.”

Mr Whelan said he was advocating a No vote to allow for reform and not abolition, a position he understood the Labour leader did not have difficulty with. “We are not saying that it should be retained in its present form,” he added. “It needs to be more robust, relevant and representative.”

The canvassers, who included former Senator Joe O’Toole, gathered in the Golden Island shopping centre where Ms O’Rourke was told by a representative of management that canvassing would have to be done outside the building. The rain did not deter Ms O’Rourke who embarked on the canvass with gusto.

She was on home territory, given that her native Athlone was a strong political base in those years when she was a member of the Oireachtas. The affection that remains for her was palpable. It meant that even those who might be contemplating voting Yes were friendly and stopped to chat.

A number of people who greeted Ms O’Rourke appeared more interested in the cookery item she did on TV3’s Ireland AM yesterday morning. One woman canvassed seemed surprised there was a Seanad referendum next month. Apathy could be the biggest hurdle both sides have to cross between now and polling day.

One man, who said he would vote No, greeted her as a VIP. “I’m not really a VIP,” said Ms O’Rourke, amid loud laughter. “You are as good as any of the VIPs,” he replied.

Another man made it very clear he would be voting Yes, while praising the “decent” members of Ms O’Rourke’s family, including her late nephew Brian Lenihan.

“The Seanad should be closed down to get rid of the parasites and the Dail halved in size,” he said.

“Even when things are going bad, they are still going out in junkets.”

O’Rourke asked who was going on the junkets. “From every party...they are taking the people for fools,” he replied. “They should not be going on junkets,” said O’Rourke. “I am no longer there, thank God.”

As he moved on, he stressed he was not including Ms O’Rourke in his criticism. “Indeed, I know you are not,” she replied. “Give us a kiss.” She showed all the skills of the seasoned campaigner.

The No side have a formidable ally in Ms O’Rourke on her own turf.