Michael McDowell expresses confidence electorate will shoot down plans to abolish the Seanad

Historian criticises McDowell for making contemporary polemical argument at conference on legacy of Daniel O’Connell

Former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.

Former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.


Former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell yesterday said he was confident the Irish people would vote down Government plans to abolish the Seanad and he warned such a move would have serious consequences for how Ireland makes its laws.

Mr McDowell said the more the issue of abolishing the Seanad was debated by the Irish people, the more confident he was that the electorate would vote to retain and reform the Upper House in the October 4th referendum.

“I’ve always believed that when people consider the implications and ask what does abolition actually achieve, people will decide that this is a power grab by the political establishment and nothing more than a phoney attempt at political reform.

Cut senators’ salaries

Speaking at the Daniel O’Connell Heritage Summer School in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, Mr McDowell said abolishing the Seanad would mean “there would be nothing left in the Constitution dealing with the way our laws are made”.

“Any new Dáil reform package will stand to be instantly reversed or by-passed by those who control the majority in the Dáil,” Mr McDowell told delegates.

He argued that if the Government was serious in its claim that the State could not afford the Seanad, then it should abolish it immediately when the State needs funding rather than allow it continue until 2016 when the Government predicts Ireland will be out of recession.

If cost was the issue, the Government could cut senators’ salaries as proposed by Independent senators Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone. He said the referendum would cost the Irish taxpayer €14 million.

As for Government claims it wants to cut the number of politicians, it could have done this by keeping its promise to cut the number of TDs by 20, Mr McDowell said.

Important reform

There was nothing in the Constitution to prevent the government from immediately giving every citizen in the State a right to vote in Seanad elections, thereby achieving an important reform and countering the argument that it is an elitist body.

However historian Prof John A Murphy, a former Independent senator, strongly criticised Mr McDowell, saying a summer school examining the legacy of Daniel O’Connell was not the appropriate place to engage in a partisan argument about a current political issue.

“I am a member of Seanad reform and I believe there should be a referendum but this is a blatantly inappropriate occasion to get what is essentially a piece of contemporary polemical argument that could be given out on the street on a political platform.”