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The government doesn't have a majority in the Seanad, but will pass a law to fix that today

Fine Gael hopes to fill the vacant Seanad seat when TDs and Senators return from their holidays in September.

The government lost another vote in the Seanad this week
The government lost another vote in the Seanad this week
Image: Screengrab/Oireachtas TV

THE GOVERNMENT WILL introduce legislation in the Dáil today that will kickstart the process of electing a new Fine Gael senator to the Seanad in the wake of the loss of its majority in the upper house.

The coalition is currently in the minority in the Seanad after the election of Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune to the European Parliament in May. It has been unable to fill the seat because there is no permanent Dáil clerk.

Under Dáil rules a permanent appointee is required in order to hold a by-election of Oireachtas members to fill a vacant Seanad seat seat. With the government’s majority in the Dáil it is a fait accompli that whoever the Taoiseach picks will be elected to the upper house.

As TheJournal.ie reported last month the coalition is currently in the minority in the upper house after Clune was elected to the European Parliament in May.

30-29

This has left the opposition with a 30-29 majority in its favour even when the vote of cathaoirleach Paddy Burke is included on the government side. As a result the opposition was able to defeat the government in a vote on an amendment to free GP care legislation this week and the coalition is potentially facing more defeats.

The role of Dáil clerk has been filled on an interim basis by Peter Finnegan for nearly a year since the retirement of long-serving Kieran Coughlan.

The Electoral (Amendment) (No. 4) Bill 2014 being debated today will allow the clerk-assistant of the Dáil to perform some of the functions of the Dáil clerk thus allowing a by-election to be held later this year.

All stages of the legislation will be guillotined by the government after an hour’s debate.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday Tánaiste Joan Burton said the legislation was “technical” and noted that it will be “interesting to see if people will require all of the time which has been allocated”.

The government has previously indicated it is seeking changes to the law in order to have a more open competition for the role of clerk. Amendments to the Staff at the Houses of the Oireachtas Act would be required to do this.

Who’s going to get the seat?

In the interim the legislation being passed today will allow for a by-election that will likely take place when the Dáil and Seanad return in September.

Fine Gael is considering a number of options for the vacant seat with a candidate from Dublin most likely particularly from constituencies where the party doesn’t currently any Dáil representation.

Names mentioned internally in recent weeks include newly-elected Dublin city councillor Noel Rock, who is based in Ballymun, and could run in Dublin North West in the next election.

Also thought to be under consideration is councillor Kate O’Connell, who was elected to represent Rathgar-Rathmines in last month’s vote.

Fine Gael could also look at unsuccessful candidates in local elections with a number of party sources stating that Samantha Long, who ran unsuccessfully in Rathgar-Rathmines in last month’s local elections, is under serious consideration.

Wednesday: The government has lost another Seanad vote – and it could delay free GP care for children

Previously: The government doesn’t have a majority in the Seanad and has to change the law to get it back

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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