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Referendum

Seanad members' expenses cost €2.5 million every year, on top of salaries worth €4.2m

Fine Gael has published a breakdown of costs for the Seanad as part of its campaign to have the Upper House abolished. But a Labour senator says the move is nothing but “spin, spin, spin”.

FINE GAEL IS stepping up its campaign for the abolition of the Seanad, ahead of a referendum on the issue in October. Jobs Minister and Director of Elections for the party Richard Bruton is highlighting the €20 million cost associated with maintaining the Upper House.

A breakdown of the overall figure – supplied by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission – shows that salary costs remain the greatest expenditure for the 60-seat chamber, at €4.2m. Members’ expenses cost €2.5 million per annum, while members’ staff costs are €2.1 million.

Indirect costs for the Seanad are €9.3 million per year:

  • €1.9m on ICT: Desktop and laptop computers, hard drives, iPads, phone calls from Leinster House, printers, ink cartridges and the broadcasting of debates.
  • €1.6m on ‘Superintendent Section’ costs  - including parliamentary ushers, security and cleaners.
  • €2.8m on ‘Procedural Sections’ costs: Services include admin to the Chairpersons of the Houses and their Committees.
  • €3m on ‘Other support sections’ – including printing, translation services, procurement, stationery and work for inter-parliamentary bodies.

There is also an annual cost of around €2m in pensions relating to the Seanad. The overall cost of running the Houses of the Oireachtas last year was €105 million.

Minister Bruton says the breakdown of costs is being highlighted as the party believes the money “would be much better spent elsewhere”. He adds:

There would be various options for what could be done with the savings in the event that people decide to vote to abolish the Upper House.

As an example of what these funds could do – €20 million per year could pay the salaries of 350 additional primary school teachers.

Bruton says abolishing the Seanad would “reduce the number of national politicians by 30%, bringing us into line with best practice in other small countries in Europe”, thereby saving “tens of millions of euro which could be better spent on other public services”.

One Labour senator is casting doubt on the €20 million figure, saying that the savings to the state would be closer to €6 million. John Kelly – who earlier this month accused the Government of asking senators to ‘act like robots’ – told TheJournal.ie:

From the very early stages we were told by the Government that no Oireachtas support staff would lose their jobs in this plan.

Kelly said many of the shared services would have to be retained by the Dáil in the event that the Upper House is abolished, and he accused Fine Gael of engaging in nothing but “spin, spin, spin”. The Senator added.

Fine Gael might regret having gone with this. From what I’m hearing there isn’t a cry from the people to do away with the Seanad. In fact, people are saying they’d be afraid to leave Enda with such almighty powers.

Kelly said he would campaign actively in the media for the House to be retained and reformed during the short referendum campaign.

All Government senators voted ‘yes’ earlier this month to plans for a referendum on the abolition of the House. However, the vast majority of Fine Gael and Labour members in the Chamber have indicated they will likely vote ‘no’ when the vote is held on 4 October.

Last week, Sinn Féin announced it would support the Government’s plans to get rid of the upper house, while Fianna Fáil is to campaign for the Seanad to be reformed instead of scrapped.

Fine Gael is making an effort to target younger voters in the run-up to the vote. The party says it will use “a variety of online channels” to highlight its arguments.

The campaign team has produced this video clip, and is aiming to get the hashtag #ABOLISHTHESEANAD trending on Twitter:

Read: Government confirms date for Seanad and Court of Appeal referenda

Read: Senator claiming he was offered holiday to skip Seanad vote won’t pursue matter

Video: David Norris accuses Fine Gael TD of ‘speaking out of her f***y’

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