Coalition planning short, sharp campaign on Seanad

October 4th poll timed to assist abolition vote by avoiding backlash from budget

The Government is planning a short, sharp referendum campaign on the abolition of the Seanad, with voters going to the polls on Friday, October 4th.

The timing is designed to promote a Yes vote by avoiding a public backlash from the budget, which will be revealed almost two weeks later, on October 15th.

The date of the referendum will not be announced formally until today, following the passage through the Seanad of a Bill enabling a referendum on the establishment of a court of appeal to be held on the same day.

The Seanad yesterday passed, by 33 votes to 25, the legislation allowing for its abolition.


Every Fine Gael and Labour Senator voted for the legislation. It was also supported by the Fine Gael rebels on abortion, Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy-Eames, as well as by some of the Taoiseach’s nominees.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin voted against the legislation, along with the five university Senators and others of the Taoiseach’s nominees.

There were robust exchanges in the Seanad during the debate on the Bill, indicating a lively referendum campaign over the next two months.

Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson claimed Government Senators were being bribed with constituency projects to support the referendum. NUI Senator John Crown said his group wanted to end "Tammany Hall but we don't want to replace it with the politburo".

TCD Senator David Norris said the charge of inducements should be investigated by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

He added that everybody knew “jobs and preferment’’ had been offered.

In response, Minister of State Brian Hayes advised Mr Norris to “stop abusing your privilege in this House’’ and he also rejected the claim that the abolition was a power grab by the Taoiseach or the Government.

“These are not the last days of the Weimar Republic, as some would have us believe. I heard outrageous claims being made about the Taoiseach, for example, when he was painted in some pitiful contributions as being somewhere between Robert Mugabe and Mussolini,” said Mr Hayes.

Labour Senator Jimmy Harte argued in favour of allowing the public to decide on the future of the House.

“If the public do not abolish the Seanad it will become a much stronger organisation,” he said.

It is expected that some of the Labour TDs and Senators who supported the holding of the referendum will support the campaign for a No vote.

Abortion legislation passed
Last night the Government's controversial abortion legislation was passed by the Seanad with a much larger majority than the referendum Bill.

After a long and sometimes acrimonious debate the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill passed its final stage by 39 votes to 14.

The next stage in the process is that the legislation will go to President Michael D Higgins to be signed into law.

Once he receives the Bill the President will have seven days to decide whether or not to refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

The President is obliged by the Constitution to call a meeting of the Council of State before making a decision to refer a Bill to the court, although he is not obliged to accept the advice.

There are 24 members of the Council of State, 19 of them automatic members appointed because of their office or former office, and five appointed by the President.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times