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Government defeated – twice – in Seanad votes over reform talks

Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and independent members join forces to force a debate on circumventing plans to scrap the Seanad.

Fianna Fáil's Seanad leader Darragh O'Brien forced a series of votes on the government's proposed agenda - leading to two embarrassing defeats for the coalition.
Fianna Fáil's Seanad leader Darragh O'Brien forced a series of votes on the government's proposed agenda - leading to two embarrassing defeats for the coalition.

THE GOVERNMENT’S PLANS to scrap the Seanad have taken an unusual blow this morning, after the opposition and independent members of the Seanad joined forces to defeat the government – twice – in its proposed agenda for the day, and force a debate on Seanad reform.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition has committed to bringing a public referendum in early 2013 for a Constitutional amendment to scrap the second house of the Oireachtas.

While it has also proposed a Constitutional Convention to discuss a number of other constitutional matters, the government’s proposed agenda for the convention does not include Seanad reform – with the plan being to have the Seanad abolished by then.

This morning, however, the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin groupings joined forces with the groups of university senators and Taoiseach’s nominees to force an amendment to the government’s planned agenda for the day.

The four groupings proposed to debate a motion calling for Seanad reform to be included in the convention’s agenda, and for that debate to be taken today – a motion resisted by the government.

After an original vote was tied 22-22 – and defeated with the casting vote of the Cathaoirleach, Fine Gael’s Paddy Burke – FF’s Darragh O’Brien called for a manual ‘walk-through’ vote to capitalise on the less-than-perfect attendance of members from the Fine Gael and Labour benches.

There was some spontaneous applause in the chamber when the result of the walk-through vote was announced – with the government being defeated 23-22, the first time it has been beaten in the lifetime of the current Seanad.

Improvise

Having to improvise in light of the unexpected defeat, Seanad leader Maurice Cummins (FG) proposed to defer a discussion on new child protection legislation until tomorrow, to make time for the new discussion – but said he would not be able to arrange for a government minister to attend the debate, given the short notice.

Fianna Fáil again challenged this plan, forcing another vote – in which the government was again defeated, losing by 25 votes to 24, with unanimous support from the participating independent senators, including some of the Taoiseach’s own nominees.

Eventually all parties agreed to continue with the day’s agenda as originally planned – voting on extending anti-terrorism and anti-gangland laws – while party whips met privately to agree a time for the Seanad reform debate.

The debate is now set to take place at 2pm this afternoon. If the opposition’s motion is approved by then, the government will be faced with formal recommendations to defer its plans to scrap the Seanad and instead ask the constitutional convention to debate its future instead.

The two defeats mark the second and third times that the government has been defeated since taking office; in March it was defeated when the opposition voted to invite Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan to meet the Finance Committee to discuss Anglo Irish Bank’s promissory notes.

Read: Government tastes defeat in committee vote over Anglo promissory note

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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