Dáil reform should accompany Seanad abolition, Fitzgerald says

Healy-Eames 'confused' why Kenny seeks to close upper house

Minister Frances Fitzgerald supports Seanad Referendum


Fine Gael Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said Dáil reform should accompany Seanad abolition while a Fine Gael Senator has confirmed she will advocate a No vote in the upcoming referendum.

Fidelma Healy-Eames from Galway said she would not be supporting her party’s position and was “confused” as to why Taoiseach Enda Kenny wanted to close down the Seanad.

However, Ms Fitzgerald, a previous leader of Fine Gael in the Seanad, said the referendum to abolish or retain the Upper House should be seen as part of the Coalition’s programme of reform.

“I have always said that strong Dáil reform is an essential part of any proposal to have a single chamber so I support this. It’s part of the Government programme, both parties signed up for it, that we would ask the people to make a decision,” she said.

“The job over the next few months is to convince the public that checks and balances are in the Dáil and it is strong and accountable and there is real change happening.”

Labour TD Michael McNamara from Clare said he intended to table an amendment to the proposed legislation required to run a referendum.

He said the 32nd amendment of the Constitution Bill 2013 proposed to delete the constitutional article 27 which gives power to the Oireachtas to seek the views of the people on legislation of “national importance”.

Mr McNamara said he was personally “indifferent” as to the future of the Seanad, but said Fianna Fáil should explain why it had proposed abolition ahead of the 2011 General Election but now advocated retention and reform. In its manifesto, Fianna Fáil said if its proposals for the reform of the electoral system and of government were enacted it would support Seanad abolition.

Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe said she disagreed with her party’s position on the future of the Upper House. She confirmed that she would vote in favour of legislation to bring about a referendum but would not take an active part in the subsequent campaign.

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins has colourfully rejected suggestions that his reference to “Senator W B Yeats” in speeches on Thursday was related to the Seanad abolition debate. “I think it would be entirely wrong to misconstrue my correct remarks to the relationship and the correspondence between the wonderful Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic and William Butler Yeats in any way as having any connection with the present discourse in relation to the future of institutions in Ireland,” Mr Higgins said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said his party would campaign actively for a No vote. “The Government has not presented any coherent vision as to how that second check practice will be continued if the Seanad is abolished,” Mr Ryan said.