Irish Times view on Seanad byelections: Coalition passes loyalty test

Stranglehold of the big political parties indicates Seanad reform is unlikely

The entry into the race of the Green Party Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, against the wishes of her party leader, threatened to put a serious dent in the election pact Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times

The entry into the race of the Green Party Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, against the wishes of her party leader, threatened to put a serious dent in the election pact Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times

 

The outcome of the two Seanad byelections was probably of no great interest to the most members of the public but it was an important test of internal cohesion within the Coalition. The result will have come as a relief to the leaders of the three government parties. Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan are each under some degree of internal pressure so it was vital for all of them that their voting pact for the Seanad byelections held firm.

The electorate for the contest was made up of sitting TDs and senators so the outcome was a litmus test of the loyalty of Government backbenchers. The entry into the race of the Green Party Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, against the wishes of her party leader, threatened to put a serious dent in the election pact, particularly as the deputy leader of her party, Catherine Martin, backed Chu’s decision to enter the contest as an Independent.

The failure of former independent senators to challenge the stranglehold of the big political parties indicates that Seanad reform is unlikely any time soon

There were suggestions that the indiscipline in the Greens might extend to the other parties with rumours in Leinster House that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael dissidents could scupper the pact as a way of getting at their leaders. In the event Hazel Chu’s challenge petered out and Maria Byrne of Fine Gael and Gerry Horkan of Fianna Fáil were elected on the first count. It was an important demonstration of Coalition unity.

The failure of former independent senators to challenge the stranglehold of the big political parties indicates that Seanad reform is unlikely any time soon. Public debate about such change has cropped up at regular intervals over the decades and there have been 14 separate reports on the issue over the past 80 years.

Following the failure of the referendum proposal to abolish the Seanad in 2013, the government led by Enda Kenny commissioned former leader of the House Maurice Manning to draft yet another reform plan that could be implemented without the need for a referendum. His report, like all the others before it, is gathering dust and there appears little likelihood that it will be acted on by the current Government.

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