Government suffers Seanad defeat in advance of referendum

Four Labour Senators absent for vote to abolish upward only rents

The Government suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad last night in advance of tomorrow’s referendum to abolish the House.

Four Labour Senators, John Kelly, John Whelan, Denis Landy and Jimmy Harte, failed to show up to support the Coalition on a vote on a Private Members' Bill moved by Independent Feargal Quinn to abolish upward only rent reviews. The Bill was passed by 27 votes to 23 and will now go to committee stage next week.

Labour sources said a full party whip had been imposed for the vote and that Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg would be speaking to the Senators. Labour Ministers and other party Oireachtas members were privately furious with the absent Senators and said it was a further embarrassment for the party in a week in which it had secured the lowest poll ratings in over 25 years.

Fine Gael Senators Deirdre Clune and Tom Sheahan were paired, according to party sources, as was Fianna Fáil's Jim Walsh.


Fianna Fáil's Averil Power and Sinn Féin's Kathryn Reilly were also absent but were understood to be paired.

The major talking point was the absence of the Labour Senators who had supported the legislation paving the way for the referendum. Mr Kelly and Mr Whelan were particularly active in canvassing for a No vote during the campaign.

Damaging stunt
There were cheers from a number of Senators when the Government lost the vote. There were mixed views among those Senators who turned up for the vote on the outcome.

Some felt it was a damaging political stunt in advance of the referendum while others believed it was a legitimate political exercise.

Introducing his Upward Only Rent Bill, Mr Quinn said the exigencies of the common good lay in favour of a legislative measure which carefully balanced the rights of small business as against the rights of banks and institutional investors to ease the burden on small businesses.

“It is true that this Bill would be depriving individuals and companies of an important contractual right without compensation, but this is very often a consequence of regular and ordinary legislative activity,’’ he added.

Trapped in leases
Mr Quinn said the reality for businesses was that many of them were trapped in leases with rents which were reflective of over-inflated land valued in 2006 rather than 2013. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that consumer spending and economic activity was at an all-time low.

Minister of State Michael Ring, representing Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, said the Government was opposing the Bill.

“Senators will be aware that the Government announced in December 2011 it had decided not to proceed with the legislation to abolish upward only rent reviews,’’ he added.

Points of conflict with the Constitution were identified during the development of the legislation and on the advice of the Attorney General it was not possible to proceed with it, he added.

Mr Ring said it was appreciated that the Government’s decision was, and continued to be, very disappointing for those who had campaigned for change in that area.

“It was also a particular disappointment to the Minister for Justice who had devoted a substantial portion of time to attempt to address the issue.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times