Bill passed in Seanad for abolition referendum

Upper House votes 33-25 in favour of legislation after heated exchanges

Senator David Norris: “the Government’s sleight of hand, dishonesty, manipulation, Machiavellian conniving and use of corruption – in every sense of the word – will backfire on it.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Seanad has decided by 33 votes to 25 for legislation to allow a referendum on whether to abolish or retain the Upper House.

After declaring the outcome, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke said, “it’s now over to the people”. The referendum will take place on Friday, October 4th.

There were stormy scenes and heated exchanges in the run-up to the vote on the legislation, which has already been passed by the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil Seanad leader Darragh O’Brien hit out at the Taoiseach, whom he said gave a commitment at second stage that he would come into the Seanad and answer the Opposition’s questions. “He was not even man enough to come into this chamber to answer those questions.”


Mr O'Brien condemned the Bill as the "worst act of political vandalism in the history of the State". Rónán Mullen (Ind) claimed Government Senators "have completely failed to man-up or woman-up and resist this grubby little proposal".

Vote to the people
However, Cáit Keane (FG) said she was proud to vote for the Bill. "It is only the people who can change the Constitution. I am giving the vote to the people of Ireland. "

Fiach Mac Conghail (Ind) described the Government's approach to political reform as a "farce" and the Dáil reform package as non-existent.

He said, however, “by voting for this Bill, I am not voting for the abolition of the Seanad”. The Taoiseach’s nominee, who was criticised by the Opposition for voting against a 90-day delay on the Bill said: “The more we talk about ourselves in this House, which is where the melodrama comes in, the less likely it is that this referendum will be defeated.”

He said: “We need to get out of here as quickly as possible and allow civil society to debate what I consider to be one of the most important elements of our democracy, which is our parliamentary democracy.”

David Norris (Ind) said 77 of 78 amendments on the Bill were ruled out of order. "Consequently, the Government's sleight of hand, dishonesty, manipulation, Machiavellian conniving and use of corruption – in every sense of the word – will backfire on it." He added: "I rely, as I always have done, on the good sense of the people of Ireland."

Jimmy Harte (Lab) said the Bill was giving the electorate the chance to have the final say on the Seanad. "If the public feel the way we do, and do not abolish the Seanad, it will come back as a much stronger organisation," he said.

'Not about money'
Brian Ó Domhnaill (FF) said abolishing the Seanad would save €1.60 for each citizen each year, less than the price of a newspaper. He said the Bill "is not about money. It's about grabbing and holding on to power"."

In the vote on the 32nd amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill, the parties divided as expected. Fine Gael and Labour Senators voted for the Bill. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin voted against.

Two of the Taoiseach’s five Independent nominees Katherine Zappone and Mary Ann O’Brien voted against the abolition legislation. Fiach Mac Conghail, another nominee, was the only Senator absent for the vote. Jillian van Turnhout and Marie Louise O’Donnell voted for the legislation.

Fine Gael rebels on the abortion Bill, Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy-Eames voted with the Government.

Five Independents elected to the university panels voted against the Bill: Seán Barrett, David Norris, Feargal Quinn, Rónán Mullen and John Crown.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times