Vote against discussing Seanad abolition before referendum

David Norris criticised by members

The Seanad chamber at Leinster House: the proposal by Senator David Norris at the constitution convention that it should seek to address the abolition of the Seanad lead to sharp exchanges between members

The constitutional convention voted not to consider abolition of the Seanad before the referendum on its future.

At the convention's meeting in Malahide, north Dublin, this weekend, some 57 per cent of members voted against a proposal that the assembly should write to Taoiseach Enda Kenny asking for its terms of reference to be changed so as to enable it discuss the issue. Forty-one per cent voted in favour and 2 per cent had no opinion.

The move was proposed by Senator David Norris in an unscheduled intervention on Saturday, leading to sharp exchanges between members.

No mandate
Convention chairman Tom Arnold said there was a practical problem standing in the way of a discussion on the Seanad in that the Oireachtas resolution establishing the convention stated that it could consider additional topics "following" deliberation on the eight topics the Government asked it to consider.


“We are not mandated to deal with any other issue until we have finished our discussion on the eight issues,” said Mr Arnold.

Given that the Government planned a referendum on the Seanad for September, that would mean the convention would have to complete all the business on its agenda by July. “It would be a very tall order to do that,” said the chairman.

Political controversy
Mr Arnold also said he was "gravely concerned" about involving the convention in a current political controversy. "For us to get involved in a current political debate, I fear, would have consequences for our independence."

Mr Norris was supported by Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who said it would be “illogical” for the convention not to discuss the Seanad.

However, several politicians and ordinary members of the convention criticised Mr Norris for attempting to “hijack” the gathering for political ends.

"I think it would be somewhat regrettable if the convention . . . becomes embroiled in what is essentially a political campaign by David and Aengus," Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan said.

Sorcha O’Neill, one of the 66 ordinary members, said she disagreed with “how the convention is being hijacked for a specific purpose”.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times