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Here's why Enda Kenny now has a BIG problem in the Seanad

Analysis: The coalition does not have a majority in the upper house and won’t now that John McNulty has withdrawn from the by-election race.

The government losing a vote in the Seanad last July
The government losing a vote in the Seanad last July
Image: Oireachtas TV

WHEN HE FAILED in his bid to abolish the Seanad a year ago, Enda Kenny could never have envisaged the upper house would cause as many problems it has for him in the last week.

The withdrawal of John McNulty from the Seanad by-election is a huge headache for the government which has been grappling with the lack of a majority in the upper house since Deirdre Clune’s election to the European Parliament in May.

This has left the opposition with a 30-29 majority in its favour – even when the vote of cathaoirleach Paddy Burke is included on the government side. As a result the opposition was able to defeat the government in a vote on an amendment to free GP care legislation recently.

The coalition was also defeated when the opposition forced Arts Minister Heather Humphreys into the Seanad to explain her role in the McNulty debacle.

Filling the Clune seat – and regaining a majority – was expected to be a formality for Fine Gael once they had picked a candidate as the by-election electorate is made up of TDs and Senators and the government has a huge majority across both houses of the Oireachtas.

But the revelation that the Donegal shop manager was appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) six days before he was selected as Fine Gael’s Seanad nominee has caused such a furore that the losing local election candidate has seen fit to withdraw his name from the race.

McNulty still appears on the ballot paper that went to TDs and Senators on Friday, but most Oireachtas members would not have picked up their ballot paper until yesterday.  Several we spoke to today said that they, and most of their colleagues, have yet to cast their vote given the deadline for return of ballots is  not until Friday, 10 October.

What happens now?

Also on the ballot paper are the independent candidate Gerard Craughwell, who has Fianna Fáil’s support, and the Sinn Féin councillor Catherine Seeley. Coalition deputies and senators may now cast their vote for Craughwell who will be considered the favourite to win the seat.

But the former president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said that while he would not be a “thorn in the side” of the government he will not be subjected to a whip “under any circumstances”.

“I am not going in there to trip government up, they have nothing to fear from from me. If there is something I don’t like I expect them to talk to me. If they are trying to run legislation through I’d expect to be consulted on it,” he told TheJournal.ie this afternoon.

A Seeley win would give Sinn Féin four senators in the upper house though it appears unlikely that Fine Gael and Labour TDs would support her en masse.

The only other situation that may arise is that McNulty wins. Despite telling TDs and Senators not to vote for him his name appears on the ballot paper and so could conceivably win the vote. Were he to win McNulty would be expected to resign the seat immediately on principle.

That creates the prospect of another Seanad by-election being held and Fine Gael hopefully (from their point of view) selecting a candidate that is not as mired in controversy as McNulty, through no fault of his own, has been.

But right now the the most likely scenario appears to be a win for Craughwell and he is giving every indication that he will not bow to the government’s wishes.

All of which means the opposition will have a majority in the Seanad and will do most likely for the remaining lifetime of this government.

That could cause all sorts of headaches for the Taoiseach and the government. The shame from their point of view is that all of this was entirely avoidable.

GONE: John McNulty has withdrawn from the Seanad by-election

Read: None of Enda Kenny’s cabinet colleagues asked him to explain ‘McNulty-gate’ today

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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