THE FIRST moves in a campaign to prevent the abolition of the Seanad have begun with a cross-party group of Senators meeting to consider the issue yesterday.
In a separate development, Labour Party Senators met Tánasite Eamon Gilmore to discuss their concerns at suggestions that the referendum on the future of the Seanad would be held at an early date.
The meeting in Leinster House was addressed by former minister for justice Michael McDowell, who has argued strongly that the abolition of the Seanad would mutilate the Constitution and sweep away important safeguards.
Senator Fergal Quinn, who convened yesterday’s meeting, said a group of Senators had come to the conclusion that the issue deserved to be discussed.
Senators from Fine Gael and the Labour Party as well as Independents, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin attended the meeting.
“We found Mr McDowell’s case very interesting and it gave us a lot to reflect on. One thing is clear, though, and that is that the Upper House as it stands at the moment cannot continue,” said Mr Quinn.
Part of Mr McDowell’s argument was that the Seanad has some important powers of veto over the majority wishes of the Dáil in respect of impeaching the President, removing judges and taking part in EU decisions which could have dramatic and far-reaching effects on Irish sovereignty. “Bluntly put, if Seanad Éireann were abolished, there would be very little standing in the way of a huge transient majority in Dáil Éireann acting in a manner which had very far-reaching effects on the nature and quality of Irish democracy.”
Mr McDowell told the meeting that in his experience as minister for justice, equality and law reform, the Seanad considered legislation in a much more bipartisan spirit or non-partisan spirit than the Dáil. In a speech in Trinity College Dublin last week he said proponents of legislation could explain in a measured way in the Seanad the provisions of their Bills and would hear back from all quarters of the Seanad “a measured reasonable and objective commentary”.
The Labour Senators told Mr Gilmore they did not wish to see the referendum on the Seanad rushed through in the coming months and some expressed the view it should be discussed at the proposed Constitutional Convention before any decision on the referendum was taken.