THE GOVERNMENT has said it is to hold cabinet discussions this week on whether to put forward a referendum scrapping the Seanad, turning Ireland’s parliament into a single-chamber entity.
The Irish Times quotes defence minister Tony Killeen as yesterday saying the cabinet would broach the topic when it meets later this week for the first time in 2011, and says his comments mark the first time that a senior Fianna Fáil figure that the party would not oppose the Seanad’s abolition.
A referendum on the matter ought to be considered, Killeen said, given that both of the main opposition parties clearly supported its scrapping.
“There does seem to be a public appetite for reform,” Killeen said. “I know that the good intentions of Opposition parties to change things often don’t materialise in government. That is because other priorities get in the way. Holding it on election day would be the only way to ensure it would happen without distractions.”
Ensuring that the referendum could take place on the same day as polling for the General Election – which is now likely to take place in late March – would mean, however, a complicated Dáil timetable as the Houses try to enact the Finance Bill which forms half of the Budget’s legal basis.
This morning, Labour’s Brendan Howlin told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that Irish people no longer had confidence in how public business was overseen, and said his party would be launching a policy document on constitutional reform later this week.
That document, he said, would include the proposal to eliminate the Seanad and to instead have one single house of parliament.
Fine Gael’s deputy leader James Reilly told the Irish Independent, however, that he believed the government’s announcement was a ploy to “muddy the waters” ahead of the next election.
Killeen’s comments have also been interpreted as an open concession of Fianna Fáil’s dismal chances of being in government after the next election.