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Enda Kenny: 'Genuine Seanad reform would be almost impossible to achieve'

The Taoiseach told senators today that abolishing the upper house is the biggest package of reform since the passing of the Constitution in 1937.

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny
Image: Screengrab/Oireachtas TV)

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY was in Seanad Eireann today for the debate on the abolition of the upper house.

Kenny addressed the senators stating that it was “only right and appropriate” that he come to the house to outline why the government was taking this action.

He said: “After ten separate reports on Seanad reform – all of which have been ignored – this government has decided to ask the Irish people a simple, yet profound question – does Ireland in your view need a second house”.

He added: “It is the people who will decide. Not this Government. Not this Oireachtas. But the people”.

New politics

He said the changes would create a new form of politics in the republic, one that is more accountable more democratic more responsive.

“This is the biggest package of reform since the passing of the constitution in 1937,” said Kenny. “Our Constitution has served us well, but it is not, and should not be set in stone,” he said, adding that people should have the power to reform it. “The ultimate source of sovereignty is the people,” he said.

Kenny said that no government proposes changes to the Constitution lightly, but said that modern constitutional theory focuses on unicameral parliaments with checks.

He said that of the five countries in Europe who have a similar population as Ireland, none have a second parliament. “No country in the OECD, with a population less than ten million people have a second house, other than Ireland and Slovenia”.

Impossible to implement reform

Kenny said that genuine reform would be “almost impossible” to achieve. “Supporters of Seanad retention are deeply divided. There is a lack of consensus,” he said, adding that the result of such divisions would be that no change would be made or any changes would be simply tokenist.

He admitted that there needed to be further Dáil reform, which he said government had made a start on. The Taoiseach then highlighted some of the articles within the Constitution that reference the Seanad, which he said would have to be removed and deleted from the Constitution.

Second visit

Senator Daragh O’Brien was the first senator to speak, stating that it was the Taoiseach’s second visit to the Seanad in two and half years, which he said showed that Kenny did not fully respect the Oireachtas. “That is a worrying thing,” he said.

He said the legislation was “rushed and vague” and criticised abolition that would make 75 changes to Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Senator Fergal Quinn said “bad law is much more likely to be a result if the Seanad is not here… we need to learn from mistakes made in the Celtic Tiger – what we need is more oversight”.

Senator John Crown said the Seanad is an ‘affront to democracy’ but that is the way it was designed, while Senator Ivana Bacik said that she was not in favour of its abolition as she believed that the Seanad gets to debate issues that don’t always get heard in the Dáil.

She said people like Mary Robinson and David Norris had “paved the way” in the Seanad for issues like contraception and civil partnership, which later became law.

The Taoiseach indicated that the referendum on the abolition would be held in October.

TDs will be forced to vote: should the Seanad be abolished or reformed?>

52pc of voters would scrap Seanad, according to latest opinion poll>

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