Not possible to reform Seanad, Taoiseach says

Simple choice of retention or abolition for voters, Kenny says

Fine Gael director of elections Richard Bruton, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at St Stephen’s Green, Dublim  calling for a Yes vote.  Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Fine Gael director of elections Richard Bruton, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at St Stephen’s Green, Dublim calling for a Yes vote. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has argued the Seanad is an ineffective and powerless body that is not capable of reform.

At Fine Gael’s final media event today Mr Kenny also ruled out any prospect of reform of the Seanad, saying the simple choice facing the people was abolition or retention.

“It costs € 20m a year to run. It is undemocratic. It is minority representative. It is not possible to reform this body,” he said.

Mr Kenny was speaking at the bandstand at Stephen’s Green where he unveiled a large jigsaw-type montage depicting Ireland as the missing piece of those European countries who have one chamber.

He was accompanied by Fine Gael’s campaign director Richard Bruton, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, deputy campaign director Regina Doherty and some 15 TDs. No Fine Gael senator took part in the event.

“The Dáil is the House that under our Constitution is where the Government of the day is held accountable. We will see that that happens in the way that legislation is drafted... in a much more open and democratic fashion,” Mr Kenny told reporters.

He instanced some of the reforms that have taken place including the introduction of gender quotas, committee reform and the removal of 600 council seats in local government reform proposals.

“Nothing can be more democratic than asking people for this change. The political system has failed for 70 years under all Governments, including my own, to deal with this. We made a specific commitment to ask the people this question. It requires a straight answer, yes or no,” he said.

“I always put my faith in the people and will do so on Friday,” he said.

Mr Kenny said he could speak as the longest serving member of the Dáil who had seen bits and pieces of reform introduced, some of which worked, some of which did not. He believed a single chamber Oireachtas would work, he said.

He denied that the Fine Gael poster campaign, highlighting savings of €20m and less politicians, was cynical or populist. He said the figure was that of the Oireachtas Commission and not of Fine Gael. He also said Seanad abolition and the reduction of the number of TDs in the Dáil would reduce the number of national parliamentarians by one third and bring Ireland into line with other comparably sized countries.

Asked about the abandoned ‘incorporeal’ meeting of Cabinet last Friday, which was meant to give Government approval to local government reform legislation, he said: “Sometimes you assume that Bills can be completed and be dealt with in full. This is a major piece of legislation and it will come before Government sometime in the next fortnight”.

The planned meeting where Cabinet members would talk by telephone in a conference call was cancelled after Labour ministers raised objections to the Bill being rushed through in that manner. It is thought that the publication of the Bill would help the Government’s campaign for a Yes vote, showing that plans for local government reform were advancing.