Seanad abolition referendum as a ‘cynical political exercise’

Bradford claims Taoiseach’s proposal is a ‘political exercise to win Dáil seats’

Senator Paul Bradford: “It is simplistic populism which the people will see through.” Photograph: Alan Betson

Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford has described as "a cynical political exercise to win Dáil seats'' Taoiseach Enda Kenny's pledge as Opposition leader to abolish the Seanad.

He said that while he welcomed the Government living up to its commitment to hold a referendum, he would do everything between now and polling day to encourage people to vote No.

“I would be the first to say politics needs urgent reform at national and local level, but scrapping a House of the Oireachtas, and demolishing one-third of the Oireachtas, is not real reform or brave politics,’’ Mr Bradford said. “It is simplistic populism which the people will see through.’’

He said he had, unfortunately, missed the Taoiseach’s contribution to the debate on the Thirty Second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill, when Mr Kenny paid his second visit to the House last week. He added that he had agreed with Mr Kenny when he had said in Opposition that the taoiseach of the day should attend the Seanad once a month. That was part of a radical, effective and real political document put forward by Mr Kenny and Fine Gael in early 2009.


Mr Bradford recalled being at the MacGill summer school when Mr Kenny expanded on his views, saying the Seanad could play a significant role in the turnaround of the economy. Mr Kenny’s views in the spring and summer of 2009 were correct, but then something happened politically.

“Days before a famous Fine Gael dinner in October or November 2009, there was a transformation in political thinking within the party and I am not sure who was responsible,’’ Mr Bradford added.

“I know some of them work as well paid advisers in Government Buildings earning twice and three times the salary of members of this House.’’

Mr Bradford said that while “some might call that good politics or thinking politics, I believe it is nothing but cynical politics’’. He said abolishing the Seanad was “truly bad, cynical politics’’ and he would stand over that statement.

John Whelan (Lab) said it was not true to say the Seanad was not elected and had no mandate. He had covered council meetings as a journalist for 30 years and, while it had become fashionable to disparage the role of councillors, they were the building blocks of the democratic model. He saw their role in electing a number of Senators as a mandate by proxy.

“The same applies to the university panels,” Mr Whelan added. “People must go before their peers for judgment.”

Labhras Ó Murchú (FF) said the idea of abolishing the Seanad came right in the middle of an emotional general election campaign. “It was dropped like a bombshell with no preparation or consultation,’’ he added. “For anyone wanting to get rid of the Seanad, the climate was right at the time to do so.’’

Mr Ó Murchú said the “mood was that the people must be given a sacrificial offering from the political system”. He added that he was motivated by public service when he first ran for the Seanad and was not aware at the time there was a salary or that it was as good as it was.

Fiach Mac Conghail (Ind) said he agreed with the Taoiseach that the Seanad did not work and, in truth, probably never had. But he was concerned about what would be left if it was abolished.

“If we decide to abolish the Seanad, can we trust the Government to give more power to the 158 deputies of the next Dáil, decentralise power from the Cabinet and provide adequate time and space to legislate ?’’

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

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