Labour senator John Whelan Photocall Ireland

Confusion and not obstruction was reason for government’s defeat in the Seanad

Why did the government lose a vote in the Seanad last night? Here’s what we’ve found out today.

Updated 3.50pm

THE GOVERNMENT’S SURPRISE defeat in the Seanad on a bill to abolish upward only rent reviews last night was a result of confusion among Labour senators as to what the party’s position on the legislation was, understands.

The government was defeated by 27 votes to 23 on a Private Members’ Bill introduced by the independent senator Feargal Quinn to abolish the controversial clauses contained in commercial property leases.

Labour senators John Kelly, John Whelan, Denis Landy and Jimmy Harte all missed the vote. In Harte’s case he had a flight to catch yesterday evening which meant he missed the vote. He described his absence as a “logistical issue” and said he would have supported the government if he had been there.

But its understood there was also confusion as to what way the party was going to vote on the bill. Landy said he had organised a pair with Fianna Fáil but had received conflicting advice on what the government’s position on the bill was.

He said: “First of all I was advised the government was supporting the motion, then I was advised that it may be withdrawn by the proposer and then I didn’t get clarity I had to go to cover myself, so I requested a pair.” Landy said he would have supported the government but had another engagement to attend at the time of the vote.

Whelan said that his abstention “wasn’t a reflection of any sort of dissent” and was not connected to tomorrow’s referendum on the Seanad. There have been suggestions that if the Seanad is abolished senators may seek to disrupt the government’s legislative agenda.

“My clear understanding was that we were going to support the bill,” Whelan said today.

The programme for government pledged to abolish upward only rent reviews but this ran into difficulty after the government was advised that abolition could come into conflict with the Constitution.

‘No further sanction’

Labour senators who missed the vote were of the view that the government would be supporting Quinn’s bill or at least not blocking its passage in the Seanad. Within Labour there is strong sentiment towards the principle of supporting what Quinn is trying to achieve with his legislation.

But speaking for the government last night Minister of State Michael Ring told senators “that points of conflict with the Constitution were identified” during the formulation of legislation and the process was abandoned.

Labour did impose a full whip on last night’s vote which means that the four senators’ absence must now be considered by the party’s chief whip Emmet Stagg.

Labour’s Seanad whip Aideen Hayden said today she has spoken to all four senators and will now report to Stagg.

“When someone doesn’t show up for any reason, it could be for a valid reason, there’s a procedure which is to discuss it with them,” she said. “They all had different explanations which I will later forward onto the chief whip and he will review the explanations offered.”

Both Landy and Whelan expressed confidence that there would not be any sanction or any further action taken against him or his colleagues as a result of missing the vote last night.

However Whelan warned that he would “not be at all surprised” if there are issues “regarding discipline” in the coming months if the Seanad is abolished but added “we need the government to go to term” to complete its agenda.

First published 3.13pm

WATCH: ‘The question is carried, isn’t it?’: The moment the government was defeated in the Seanad

Read: Government admits defeat on upward-only rent reviews

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