Government’s Seanad message ‘deeply cynical’, says former FG legal adviser

Brian Hunt says Coalition has had to ‘cobble together arguments’ for abolition

Former Fine Gael legal adviser Brian Hunt said the Government’s “line of ‘let’s save €100 million and sack 60 politicians’” in abolishing the  Seanad was superficially attractive. Photograph: Alan Betson

Former Fine Gael legal adviser Brian Hunt said the Government’s “line of ‘let’s save €100 million and sack 60 politicians’” in abolishing the Seanad was superficially attractive. Photograph: Alan Betson

 


The Government’s proposal to abolish the Seanad belongs to the “announce first, think later” school of policy-making, a former Fine Gael legal adviser has said.

Brian Hunt, who is involved in a group campaigning against abolition, said the Coalition had no underlying rationale for its decision and had had to “cobble together arguments” to prop it up.

“The Government’s line of ‘let’s save €100 million and sack 60 politicians’ is superficially attractive. Leaving aside the fact that the figures are wrong, the Government’s message is also deeply cynical and is insulting to the electorate’s intelligence.”

Mr Hunt was speaking at an event to mark a new round of campaigning by Democracy Matters, a group of individuals who want the Seanad to be retained and reformed.

‘Deficient institution’
Senator Katherine Zappone said a strong rejection of the referendum next month would force the Government to overhaul an institution she acknowledged was deficient.

“We have actually put to Government a plan for reform,” she said, referring to a Bill she wrote with Senator Feargal Quinn.

“They have accepted to bring it forward to committee stage. It’s there on the books, ready for debate, and ready to be put in place by the end of the year, ” Ms Zappone added.

The Quinn-Zappone Bill would open up Seanad elections to all voters, as well as emigrants and people in Northern Ireland.

It would also give the Seanad a role in the scrutiny of draft EU proposals and ministerial appointments to public bodies.

“The lesson of the economic collapse is that we need more democracy and greater parliamentary scrutiny – not less – to get this country back on track,” Mr Quinn said.

Among those present at yesterday’s event were former ministers Michael McDowell and Mary O’Rourke, Labour TD Joanna Tuffy, former Green Party chairman Dan Boyle and Senator Sean Barrett.

Barrister and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan said the group had 600 members and had €35,000-€40,000 in the bank from individual donations.

‘Gaping hole’
“We can’t beat them on literature, we can’t beat them on posters,” he said, referring to the Government parties’ resources, “so we have to beat them on the arguments.”

However, Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty said the No campaign had “exposed a gaping hole” in its argument by showing itself incapable of providing a single example of any significant thing the Seanad had ever done.

She was speaking during a debate on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, on which she said DCU academic and Democracy Matters member Gary Murphy “was repeatedly asked to name a single significant thing the Seanad has ever done and could offer only long pauses”.

“The No campaign is defending an imaginary Seanad that has never existed,” Ms Doherty added.