Former minister of state Lucinda Creighton has accused the Yes side in the Seanad referendum campaign of using misleading and superficial claims to support its desire to see the House abolished.
Speaking at a debate on the future of the Upper House in Trinity College Dublin last night, Ms Creighton said she "despaired" when she heard people saying that having less politicians would be better for Ireland.
In calling for a No vote, Ms Creighton said such an assertion suggested some had given up on the value of public service and that the claim was “tokenistic” and “insulting” as politicians were the representatives of the people.
She also said claims that abolishing the Seanad, put forward by her former party Fine Gael, would save €20 million annually had been disproven by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which said savings could not be estimated.
The Dublin South East TD said Ireland had an extraordinarily centralised system of governance and that the Economic Management Council – which consists of the Taoisach, Tánaiste and Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure – "effectively decided all of the Government's economic strategy".
She said she personally had a “big problem” with that situation and that getting rid of one third of the State’s politicians was not an answer to it.
Speaking in favour of abolition, Dublin City University lecturer Kevin Rafter, a member of the One House group, said the Seanad had become a "play thing" for political parties and was used for little more than to warehouse failed TDs and blood prospective Dáil members.
Mr Rafter, a former reporter with The Irish Times and RTÉ, said the Seanad was a "Punch and Judy show" and that claims it was a place of substantive debate were not correct.
He said the Seanad had been given some 75 years to prove itself but that those campaigning to keep it had been reduced to raising “great dreams” about what the House could or might do but not what it has done.
Mr Rafter said there were able and talented members of the House but that he would have more respect for them if they stood for the Dáil and let the people decide on their merits.
Former tánaiste Michael McDowell, campaigning for a No vote with the Democracy Matters group, said Monday's Irish Times poll on the Seanad showed people supported abolition as it would save money, and that they were believing a lie being spread by the Yes side.
Mr McDowell said the real savings would be some €6.5 million, which represented some €1.60 per citizen.
He accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who refused to participate in an RTÉ debate tonight on the referendum, of being too “cowardly” to defend his own initiative.
He said too much power was centralised in the Government, which had the executive “under its thumb”, and that the way Ms Creighton was dismissed from her ministerial office and party for opposing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was a clear indication of this.
Sinn Féin councillor Matt Carthy said the Seanad should be abolished as it was "one of the last bastions of institutionalised inequality" in the State as the right to elect members was based on academic achievement or obtaining political office. He said calls for reform were unlikely to be realised.
Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said calls for reform of the Seanad were a “false choice” and “nonsense” as it was a choice between the status quo and abolition.
The debate, chaired by Trinity College provost Patrick Prendergast also heard from Independent Senator Katherine Zappone. Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White was unable to attend.