Debate heats up ahead of Seanad referendum
‘No’ side calls for ‘real reform’ of Houses, saying proposal started as political stunt
Richard Bruton, director of elections for the Fine Gael campaign to abolish the Seanad, with deputy director of elections Regina Doherty TD. “The easy option would be to leave the Seanad there,” said Mr Bruton. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The Seanad referendum campaign has heated up with the opposing sides accusing each other of being against real political reform.
The director of elections for the Fine Gael campaign to abolish the Seanad, Richard Bruton, said yesterday that those opposed to change wanted to keep things the same despite their talk of a reformed Upper House.
“They know that there has never been any reform of the Seanad in its 75-year existence despite 10 different reports being published recommending changes to the Seanad,” he said at the launch of a Fine Gael poster which reads: “Save €20 million. Fewer Politicians. Abolish the Seanad. Vote Yes.”
Mr Bruton said many former politicians wanted to retain the Seanad but his party had received a mandate from the electorate to abolish it as a key element of political reform.
“The easy option would be to leave the Seanad there. We know it has been a retirement home for many politicians, it has been a nursery for many politicians, as Michael McDowell himself said in the past, but the time now is to change things,” he said. He added that people should not be fooled about the No campaign’s motives to retain the Seanad.
Democracy Now, the group set up to campaign for a No vote, said in response that voters should send the loudest possible message to the Government that they wanted real reform of the Dáil and Seanad. In a statement the group said that Fine Gael was spending €200,000 on a campaign to try to force through a proposal which started as a political stunt.
“It is not surprising that they would seek to compensate for a lack of enthusiasm for the referendum among their grassroots and their supporters by spending hundreds of thousands of euros on glossy literature. This glossy literature and paid-for postering is a vain attempt to stop the momentum for reform that is increasingly reflected in the polls,” said the statement.
Today another civic society group will enter the campaign, this time on the side of abolishing the Seanad.
The group called One House includes Kieran Mulvey, chairman of the Labour Relations Commission; Eoin O’Malley, political science lecturer at DCU; Kevin Rafter, lecturer at DCU and former ministers Alan Dukes and Barry Desmond. “We felt there was a need for an independent non-party political voice in favour of the campaign to abolish the Seanad,” said Mr Rafter.
“We believe that the Seanad is elitist and irrelevant and that its abolition is an important step in bringing about real political reform,” he added.
Meanwhile, Galway West TD Brian Walsh, who lost the Fine Gael whip for voting against the abortion legislation, has said the debate on political reform during the Seanad referendum campaign will be pointless unless politicians reform the way they do business. Writing in today’s Irish Times, Mr Walsh said the main political parties had all moved to the centre in “an orgy of consensus” that was leaving the voter bereft of legitimate choices at the ballot box.