Fine Gael’s gravy train continued to roll, but at a reduced pace, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced the names of 11 nominees to the Seanad. The appointments were not quite as expected: a dig-out for two, rather than four, former ministers and a hand-up for a number of former TDs and Senators and four external choices.
Three carried the imprimatur of Micheál Martin, marking Fianna Fáil’s influence on Government. In spite of that, when Oireachtas committee chairmen are selected next week, four-out-of-five Fine Gael TDs will have jobs that supplement their Dáil salaries.
Having campaigned for the abolition of the Seanad in 2013, some of the recipients of Mr Kenny's largesse were suitably restrained in their pleasure. Its function as a retirement home, a recovery ward and a school for ambitious politicians remains. But a commitment to reform the Upper House and implement the Manning report has been included as "a priority" in the Programme for Partnership Government. The Taoiseach nodded in that direction and nominated Billy Lawless, an advocate for Irish immigrants.
The Manning report proposes that immigrants and Northern Ireland residents should have a vote in Seanad elections. Half of all senators, some 30 in all, should be directly elected by the people; 13 to be chosen by TDs, Senators and Councillors; six by graduates of universities and higher education bodies and 11 appointed by the taoiseach.
They would deal with proposals from the North/South Ministerial Council and Secondary EU legislation. They would also consider reports from official regulators and investigate matters of public interest.
On the basis of past performances, the prospect of this minority Government having the will to introduce a new electoral system for the Seanad is remote. In addition, Dáil members are unlikely to surrender juicy matters of public interest to Senators for investigation. Reform comes dropping slow. A referendum favouring change to its university electorate was passed 37 years ago. That decision remains under review.