Vote option for Seanad reform rejected by Government

Voters will be asked to either retain or abolish upper house

The Seanad chamber at Leinster House

The Seanad chamber at Leinster House


Voters will be asked to scrap or retain the Seanad in the looming referendum after the Government rejected the demands of political campaigners to include an option of reforming the upper house.

After the Cabinet approved the heads of the referendum Bill yesterday, the Taoiseach’s spokesman said the question would be formulated on the basis of a “binary” choice between the abolition of the house or its retention.

The Government is close to agreement on a related package of reforms to strengthen the Dáil’s oversight of legislation if the Seanad is scrapped. This will include powers for key Dáil committees to bring in outside experts to examine new laws at an early stage in the legislative process.

Heads of referendum
The heads of the referendum Bill and the Dáil reform proposals will be unveiled next week. The referendum legislation is being sponsored by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who championed the abolition of the Seanad in the 2011 election campaign.

The Dáil reform proposals would strengthen the powers of key committees such as the Public Accounts committee, the Finance committee and the European Affairs committee. Such committees may become known as “strategic” committees if the new system goes ahead.

One option under discussion is for such committees to be empowered to scrutinise draft legislation with outside experts once it is introduced in the Dáil.

This would mark a significant procedural change to what is known as the second stage of the legislative process under which most draft laws are considered initially by the entire Dáil.

Sectoral committees
The plan embraces proposals for about seven other sectoral committees to scrutinise the work of Government departments.

The membership of all committees is also likely to be reduced if the Seanad is scrapped, reflecting the reduction in the number of elected representatives.

Measures to remove references to the Seanad and senators in the Constitution are likely, as is a new requirement for a two-thirds majority of the Dáil to remove a judge.

The referendum to be held in September. While voters will also be asked if they want to establish a new court of appeal, the Government has not yet resolved whether any further questions will be set.

The Cabinet is also examining whether to put any of the questions raised in the first report of the constitutional convention to the people.