The Irish Government plans to consider holding a referendum to abolish the Seanad (Senate House). The referendum, to get rid of Ireland’s upper house, will take place on the same day as the general election, scheduled for March 2011.
Yesterday, Tony Killeen, Ireland’s Minister for Defense, confirmed that the Irish Government plan to discuss the matter in Cabinet week when they resume session after their winter break. He confirmed that senior members of parliament were keen to discuss the matter.
This is the first time a member of the Fianna Fail party has admitted that they would not oppose the move.
Mr Killeen said “There does seem to be a public appetite for reform…and we need to facilitate it. I know that the good intentions of Opposition parties to change things often don’t materialize in government. That is because other priorities get in the way. Holding it on election day would be the only way to ensure it would happen without distractions.”
The Irish Time reported that Fianna Fail and Green Party sources said the issue had been discussed by both parties since early December. Senior Government figures, including Prime Minister Brian Cowen favored the proposal. Talks between Mr Killeen, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Green Party leader John Gormley have taken place.
Mr Killeen said that it would be possible to get the legislation through the House of the Oireachtas (Parliament) but it would be complicated. He said “The timescale would comfortably allow it to be done in tandem with the Finance Bill and other legislation.”
He denies that the Government are engaging in spoiling tactics to regain support from the Opposition. Fine Gael believe that the Government is attempting to take over the initiative which was originally proposed by their party leady Enda Kenny. The Labour Party also believe that the Government is simply trying to delay the election.
Mr Killeen said “I’m not questioning the bona fides of people committing to reform. The reality is that it does not happen once [parties] get into government as other matters get in the way…If it were to happen, the only realistic way it can happen is if a referendum is held on the same day as the election.”
Speaking to the Irish Times, a source from the Green Party said Mr Gormley was receptive to the idea. They said “He is also keen on reducing Dáil numbers.” Fianna Fail sources said there was little interest in their party in reducing the numbers.
The Irish Senate has released 12 reports since 1928. None of them have ever been implemented. The last was published by Fianna Fail’s Mary O’Rourke seven years ago.