Kenny defends Seanad plan

 

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has defended his proposal to abolish the Seanad saying it is something he had been considering for some time and that he first mooted the idea in July at the Magill Summer School in Glenties in Co Donegal.

On Saturday Mr Kenny announced he was committing the party to the abolition of the Seanad; to reducing the number of TDs by 20 or more; and to introducing a “list” system for electing some 20 Dáil deputies in a surprise move at the Fine Gael presidential dinner in Citywest, Dublin

The vast majority of Fine Gael Senators and TDs said they learned of the new policy only hours before with a number of them expressing shock and upset at the manner in which it was announced.

However, speaking on RTÉ radio this morning Mr Kenny said he first signalled the proposal at the Magill Summer School.

“In July I made it perfectly clear that I was considering a real radical agenda in terms of the way in which we do politics in Ireland and I signalled that. I’ve taken a leader's initiative on this and that’s what leaders are for," he said.

“Leadership is about leading, change is always difficult and you could talk around it for months but this is something that I’ve considered very seriously.”

Mr Kenny said he would put the proposal before the people in a referendum within 12 months of his party being in government.

“I think it’s outgrown its usefulness. I’ve tried very hard to justify its usefulness over a period, when you peel away the layers and look at what it does its legislative function has faded,” he added.

"What I want is a situation where we have a stronger democracy, a more accountable Dáil more powerful committees where the public can see their politicians do the job for which they were elected."

But Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin today questioned Fine Gael’s commitment to Oireachtas reform, claiming the party called for the retention of a 60-member Seanad only last March.

“It appears that Fine Gael policy at any one time is determined by the advice of Enda Kenny’s PR handlers on what would go down well on the next news bulletin,” Mr Ó Caoláin said.

He said both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have dominated Irish politics for decades, during which time they set in place the current system.

“They have produced numerous reports on Oireachtas reform but have done little, despite - or rather because of - their holding the vast majority of Dáil and Seanad seats between them,” he added.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey yesterday appeared to lend support to Mr Kenny’s position. Asked if there was still a role for the Seanad, he replied: “I’m not really sure that there is at this stage. There’s certainly not a role for it in the way that it’s elected at the moment with the various panels that people are not familiar with.”

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was more guarded, indicating he did not support outright abolition of the Seanad.

Earlier Fine Gael senator John Paul Phelan said he was opposed to the decision. Mr Phelan said he was “shocked” by the development. “There had not been any debate within the party since we had the last discussion on reforming the Seanad. It’s a bit of a bolt from the blue.”

A number of TDs, speaking on the basis of anonymity, also said it was their impression that the development was a “knee-jerk” response to the perception that Mr Kenny had been outflanked by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore in dealing with the situation of former ceann comhairle John O’Donoghue.