The Government's proposal to abolish the Seanad will not save €20m, a Fine Gael TD has told London-based Irish lawyers last night, who overwhelmingly opposed the referendum to get rid of the Oireachtas' Upper House.
Speaking in a debate in the National Liberal club in Whitehall, Carlow-Kilkenny TD, John Paul Phelan said the savings claim had been "one of the most striking" made during the referendum campaign.
However, he said, the claim was one of “a number of erroneous arguments” made by both sides during the campaign – though, in this case, it is one of the central reasons for supporting abolition put forward by Fine Gael itself.
"It will not, as far as I can tell, because one of the costs of the Seanad is former senators' pensions and that cost will go up," Mr Phelan told debate, where he was opposed by Independent Senator John Crown.
Calling for reform of the Seanad, but not its abolition, Mr Crown mocked Sinn Féin's "principled objections", noting that the party last week decided to support abolition on the grounds that Senate elections are elitist.
"This is the same party that thought that even seven guys sitting in a shebeen in Belfast were the legitimate government of Ireland and that every election held in the Republic was fake," he said.
Asking who will benefit from the Seanad’s abolition, Mr Crown said the Government and the civil servants will relish the prospect of dealing with the Dáil where TDs will remain focused solely on constituency issues.
Meanwhile, Mr Phelan raised concerns about the Constitutional Convention’s “remarkable” recommendation that Dáil constituencies should be enlarged, saying that such a move would worsen its operation, not improve it.
During a question and answer session, members of the London Irish Lawyers Association questioned the future role that can be played by Northern Ireland-based individuals in the politics of the Republic, while also the Government’s promises to reform the Dáil if the Seanad goes.
Saying that Dáil Éireann is “dysfunctional”, Tim O’Riordan pointed out that the recent controversy about the Dáil bar and TDs’ conduct on the night of the abortion legislation vote “was quite embarrassing over here”.
Replying, Mr Crown said the incidents highlighted the Dail’s “irrelevance” since the Cabinet had already decided on the terms of the legislation ever before it came onto the floor of the House: “If it was otherwise, the performance of TDs would have been different.”