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Fianna Fáil thinks Seanad abolition is 'transparently ridiculous', but Fine Gael disagrees

The two parties launched their Seanad referendum campaigns today.

Micheál Martin at Fianna Fáil's campaign launch in Dublin this morning
Micheál Martin at Fianna Fáil's campaign launch in Dublin this morning
Image: Photocall Ireland

FIANNA FÁIL AND Fine Gael both launched their Seanad referendum campaigns today with one party calling for a No vote, and the other for a Yes at the ballot box on 4 October.

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that the government’s proposal to abolish the upper house is not “transformative reform” but “transparently ridiculous”.

Speaking at the party’s campaign launch in Dublin this morning he said that abolition would “cement absolute ministerial control over the political system” and said the referendum is about “being able to claim a record of reform without actually having to deliver it”.

Fianna Fáil has a budget of up to €80,000 for the referendum campaign and will be distributing one million leaflets as well as canvassing in every constituency in the country.

Though reform is not an option on the ballot paper Martin said that he did not dispute the need for reform of the Seanad as it currently stands saying “its deficiencies are clear and no one disputes them”.

If the referendum were rejected Fianna Fáil wants a reformed upper house.

It proposes that the Seanad be reduced from 60 to 51 members and for there to be elections for the majority of seats on the same year that local and European elections are held. It also wants representation in the chamber from Northern Ireland.

‘A very straight choice’

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But Fine Gael will hope for a Yes vote next month that will allow for the Seanad to be abolished entirely at the next general election.

Putting forward his party’s case today, director of elections and Minister Richard Bruton said the Seanad is “a watchdog that only barks once every 50 years” saying this “is not an effective watchdog”.

He suggested that the €20 million his party claims could be saved from abolition could pay for the employment of 350 primary school teachers.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the referendum “is a very straight choice, yes or no” and insisted there is no third option.

Holding up a copy of the Constitution, Kenny said: “I think it’s fundamentally important to bear in mind that this Constitution, [article] 28.4, says clearly that it is the Constitutional responsibility of Dáil Eireann to hold the government to account, that is its constitutional responsibility, it is not vested in the Seanad.”

Kenny added that it is “no coincidence” that the three parties formerly in government – Fianna Fáil, the Greens and the now defunct Progressive Democrats through ex-leader Micheal McDowell – oppose Seanad abolition.

He said it was symptomatic of their administrations and their “cautiousness, defensiveness and fear of change”.

Pic: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

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Read: Martin to Taoiseach: Let’s have a TV debate, Enda: Let’s do it at Leaders’ Questions

Watch: ‘Do I get the brown envelope?’: Minister meets mixed reaction on Dublin canvass

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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