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Three Labour senators break ranks over plan to scrap Seanad

The three senators are now likely to be kicked out of the Labour Parliamentary Party after supporting an opposition motion.

John Kelly, Denis Landy and James Heffernan all voted in favour of an opposition motion - resulting in an embarrassing 26-23 defeat for the government.
John Kelly, Denis Landy and James Heffernan all voted in favour of an opposition motion - resulting in an embarrassing 26-23 defeat for the government.

Updated, 17:33

THREE LABOUR SENATORS are likely to be kicked out of the Labour parliamentary party after they broke ranks and supported an opposition motion relating to the scrapping of the Seanad.

Senators John Kelly, Denis Landy and James Heffernan all broke with the party whip and supported a motion tabled by Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and two groups of independent senators relating to reform of the upper house.

Their motion called on the government to include the topic of Seanad reform in the upcoming Constitutional Convention, while the government itself plans to bypass the convention and hold a referendum on scrapping the chamber next year.

All three senators told TheJournal.ie they had consciously decided to break ranks, even though it put their membership of the Labour parliamentary party at risk, resulting in an embarrassing 26-23 defeat for the government.

Kelly said he had “consciously decided” to vote in favour of the motion because he felt the present Seanad was performing well, only just over a year into its term, and was continuing with reforms to make itself more effective.

Heffernan said likewise, saying he did not feel the Seanad “should be held up as a scapegoat for the political ills that have taken place in this country in the last 15 years”.

Lady said he could not understand why the Seanad was being automatically put forward for abolition when the other two arms of the Oireachtas, the Dáil and the Presidency, were both being put forward for debate in the Constitutional Convention.”

Conscious decision

TheJournal.ie understands that Labour senators met this afternoon – after the votes earlier this morning in which the government was beaten, for the first time in this Seanad’s lifetime – and were told that the whip would be strictly enforced.

This is likely to mean that all three will be automatically expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party, though the party’s Seanad whip Susan O’Keeffe could not be contacted to confirm whether this was the case.

Heffernan told TheJournal.ie that the party had previously operated on the basis that senators would be given a free vote, without a party whip being applied, on matters relating to the future of the Seanad itself.

Landy said, however, that there was “no question” of a free vote in this afternoon’s vote, while Kelly said he would argue that Labour senators should be entitled to vote however they pleased on a matter relating to the future of the Seanad itself.

Two Labour TDs, Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty, have previously been automatically stripped of their parliamentary party membership for similar breaches of the party whip in the Dáil.

A Labour spokeswoman said the party’s chief whip Emmet Stagg would be asking O’Keeffe for a report of the afternoon’s events, but that the affair otherwise seemed “to be a bit of a storm in a teacup”.

The debate on Seanad reform had only been added to this afternoon’s agenda after the government lost two votes on the Order of Business this morning, largely as a result of the absence of several Fine Gael and Labour senators while the opposition boasted a near-perfect attendance.

The heated discussion saw only two speakers from the government side – FG’s Seanad leader Maurice Cummins and his Labour counterpart Ivana Bacik – prompting accusations from the opposition side that the government had ordered its members not to contribute.

Read: Government defeated – twice – in Seanad votes over reform talks

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Gavan Reilly

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