Ó Riordáin elected to Seanad despite calling for its abolition

FG Senator Paul Coghlan described as ‘Lazarus’ by party colleagues after recovery

Minister of State and former TD Aodháin Ó Riordáin was last night elected to the Industrial and Commercial panel of the Seanad.

Mr Ó Riordáin was one of three former TDs who publicly called for the abolition of the Upper House during the Seanad referendum who then became candidates when they lost their Dáil seats.

But the Minister of State for Equality, New Communities and Culture was the only one re-elected. He said last night however that he had made a number of speeches, including one in 2014 in which he stated he had changed his position because of the standards of debate in the Seanad, “in part because of their campaigning zeal with the situation on direct provision”.

The Minister will join former Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn who topped the poll and was elected on the first count, and singer Frances Black who ran as an Independent but was supported by Sinn Féin in the Upper House.


Ms Black said on Wednesday night that she was “absolutely over the moon” at her election.

She said she hoped to be a “voice for the vulnerable, for those impacted by addiction, mental health, homelessness and disability. I hope I will do them justice in the Seanad.”

Three Fianna Fáil Senators were also returned including Cllr Catherine Ardagh , who lost out on a Dáil seat in a closely fought battle with Anti-Austerity-People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith, Cllr Gerry Horkan, also from Dublin and Westmeath Cllr Aidan Davitt.

The election of two Dublin Fianna Fáil Senators on this panel is a big surprise as most of the party’s councillors are based outside the capital.

In the panel described as the “ultimate dogfight”, three of the five outgoing Fine Gael Senators were re-elected - Catherine Noone, Colm Burke and Paul Coghlan.

Outgoing Senator Imelda Henry lost out as did Senator CAI Keane who had been moved from the Labour panel to the much more difficult Industrial and Commercial panel.

Mr Coghlan, the party’s Seanad whip, was described by one colleague as the “resurrection story of this panel” and a number of his colleagues dubbed him “Lazarus” after a stunning recovery.

The popular Kerryman received only 25 first preference votes on a panel with a quota of 112, and had conceded defeat early on Wednesday.

However he turned out to be hugely transfer-friendly and through the counts picked up a significant number, including several from Sinn Féin, as he passed out three of his party colleagues.

He received a number of transfers from Dublin-based party colleague, Barry Ward, a barrister and former legal adviser to the Fine Gael party leader, who had secured 38 votes before his elimination on the 23rd count.

He said he was “absolutely delighted” to be re-elected.

“We were down 130 votes because we lost 105 councillors (in the 2014 local elections) and 25 TDs (in the general election). That was a big contributory factor” he said, to his low first preference count.

The 941 councillors across the State make up the bulk of the total electorate of 1,155 which also includes the 158 TDs elected and 53 of the 60 outgoing Senators (seven were elected to the Dáil).

His party colleague Colm Burke was equally delighted to be re-elected. “One of the lessons I’ve learned from the entire campaign is that we have to sit down and see how we are providing for councillors,” he said.

The Co Cork Senator said the geographical area they had to cover had increased dramatically with the abolition of town and borough councils. “Their workload has increased dramatically but their allowances have been cut.”

Senator Burke said there was “huge anger out there among councillors and unless we address it very fast we are going to lose some very good people in local politics who have made a huge contribution over the years in their local communities”.

Independent candidate Ciarán Staunton, previously based in New York and a campaigner for emigrants polled a highly respectable 48 first preference votes. He was facilitated with a nomination to run by Sinn Féin and stayed in the race until the 31st count with a final tally of 58 votes.

It has been a difficult election campaign for Fine Gael Senators with eight of 14 outgoing members of the Seanad failing to get re-elected.

Popular outgoing Fine Gael Seanad leader Maurice Cummins who had cross-party support in the Upper House lost out in the election on the Labour panel as did a number of sitting Fine Gael Senators including Jim D’Arcy, Pat O’Neill, Michael Comiskey and Terry Brennan.

But it has been a great election for Sinn Féin which has topped the poll and had a Senator elected on the first count on each of the four panels counted to date.

Director of elections Aengus Ó Snodaigh said he expected the same again on Friday when the final panel - Administration - is counted.

Their party candidate, Belfast-based Niall Ó Donnghaile is expected to be the first Senator elected on the panel and one of seven Sinn Féin Senators, up four from 2011.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times