Government defeated in Seanad vote ahead of referendum

Four Labour Senators absent for critical vote after they failed to show up

The Government suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad tonight in advance of Friday’s referendum to abolish it.Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The Government suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad tonight in advance of Friday’s referendum to abolish it.

Four Labour senators, John Kelly, John Whelan, Denis Landy and Jimmy Harte, failed to show up to support the Coalition on a vote on a private member's Bill moved by Independent Feargal Quinn to abolish upward only rent reviews. The Bill was passed by 27 votes to 23 and will now go to committee stage next week.

Fine Gael Senators Deirdre Clune and Tom Sheahan were paired, according to party sources, as was Fianna Fáil's Jim Walsh. Fianna Fail's Averil Power and Sinn Féin's Kathryn Reilly were also absent but were understood to be paired.

The major talking point was the absence of the Labour Senators who had supported the legislation paving the way for the referendum. Mr Kelly and Mr Whelan were particularly active in canvassing for a No vote during the campaign.


Labour sources said that a full party whip was imposed for the vote.

There were cheers from a number of Senators when the Government lost the vote. There was mixed views among those Senators who turned up for the vote on the outcome. Some felt it was a damaging political stunt in advance of the referendum while others believed it was a legitimate political exercise.

Introducing his Bill, the Upward Only Rent Bill,Mr Quinn said the exigencies of the common good lay in favour of a legislative measure which carefully balanced the rights of small business as against the rights of banks and institutional investors to ease the burden on small businesses.

“It is true that this Bill would be depriving individuals and companies of an important contractual right without compensation, but this is very often a consequence of regular and ordinary legislative activity,’’ he added.

Minister of State Michael Ring, representing Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, said the Government was opposing the Bill.

“Senators will be aware that the Government announced in December 2011 it had decided not to proceed with the legislation to abolish upward only rent reviews,’’ he added. Points of conflict with the Constitution were identified during the development of the legislation and on the advice of the Attorney General it was not possible to proceed with it, he added.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times