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Senators fail to delay referendum as Norris slams ‘its most disgraceful night’

The Seanad adjourned debate on abolishing itself without a vote tonight.

Updated 10.05pm

OPPOSITION SENATORS HAVE failed in their attempts to delay the referendum on the upper house by sending the legislation back to committee stage for further discussion.

An amendment tabled by independent senator Feargal Quinn called for the bill – which gives effect to a referendum to be held later his year – to be recommitted in its entirety to committee stage, where further amendments and discussions could take place.

The motion was defeated by 31 votes to 27 with senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy-Eames – who lost the Fine Gael whip over the abortion legislation yesterday – voting with the opposition and independents Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout supporting the government.

With the bill proceeding to report stage, independent senator David Norris launched a scathing attack on the government and its attempts to abolish the upper house, dubbing this evening’s debate the chamber’s “most disgraceful night”.

“Seventy-eight amendments and not one allowed. What kind of democracy is that?” Norris said, claiming at one point that the travel allowance for Dáil Eireann would cover the wages of senators.

As he launched into a tirade against Taoiseach Enda Kenny the Seanad chair Maurice Cummins repeatedly said that the former presidential candidate was out of order.

Norris said he has challenged Taoiseach to a debate on the Seanad but said he has so far received no reply.

Fianna Fail senator Darragh O’Brien said it was a “depressing night” and, addressing Fine Gael and Labour senators, said: “Government senators, you should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Later in the debate, the O’Brien’s party colleague Jim Walsh attempted to tie the issue to the abortion debate, saying: “I’m appalled that there is an abortion spree on a range of issues.”

He said that people were being “aborted from their offices in Leinster House and said of the government’s actions: “We are slowly but surely becoming a totalitarian state.”

Minister of State Brian Hayes represented the government during this evening’s debate and several times clashed with senators including Norris, accusing the him of “insulting me the whole evening”.

A final vote on the legislation was expected to be held at 10pm but instead the debate was adjourned for further speeches tomorrow.

First published 8.35pm

Watch: Norris says he’s happy to withdraw words that caused offence

Richard Bruton: The Seanad is a luxury we can no longer afford

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Hugh O'Connell

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