Seanad selection continues to be a contentious issue
WHAT a difference an election makes.
Cast your mind back to 2013 when Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael /Labour coalition government was campaigning to abolish the Seanad.
During that campaign the then Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said the Upper House was “very undemocratic” and an almost powerless institution that deserved to be scrapped.
A main focus of his disdain for the existing set-up was the fact that “90 per cent of senators are elected by existing politicians”.
Three years on and Mr Reilly – who lost his Dáil seat in February – appears to have had a considerable change of heart regarding the importance of Leinster House’s second chamber.
On Friday he was named among ‘ existing politician’ Enda Kenny’s 11 Taoiseach’s nominees for seats in the Seanad.
Following his appointment, Senator Reilly said he was honoured to join the Seanad and was looking forward to continuing his work as a legislator in the institution. He said he intends to use his position to advance the cause of Seanad reform.
Of course the new senator isn’t the only proponent of Seanad abolition who is now a part the Upper House. Five of Enda Kenny’s other nominees – all former Fine Gael TDs who lost their seats – supported the abolition of the Seanad in the 2013 referendum.
So much for the ‘new politics’ we have been promised. Enda Kenny’s nominees suggest that the old way of doling out Seanad consolation prizes to failed Dáil candidates is very much to the fore.
And that old staple of Irish Politics – the backroom deal – also appears to have returned too.
In news that took even Fine Gael members by surprise, it emerged that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin personally selected three of the Taoiseach’s nominees.
The decision to allow Deputy Martin appoint three nominees – which was not part of the Government formation talks and which was agreed following a private meeting between Deputy Martin and the Taoiseach last week – was greeted with barely contained anger by Fine Gael backbenchers.
Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty – in an unusual statement from a whip – admitted there was ‘mild irritation’ among many party’s TDs over the deal and the fact that members had no knowledge of it until it was announced. It may indicate just how precarious Enda Kenny and Fine Gael’s grip on power is, especially given reports that relations between the Fine Gael and Independent ministers are already strained.
All this comes less than a month after Enda Kenny finally brokered the deal to form a government. How he must be longing for the looming – and apparently lengthy - Dáil holidays.
One man who looks set for an enjoyable break from Dáil business is Micheál Martin. While Mr Kenny will probably have to spend the summer papering over cracks in his increasingly fractured cabinet and party, Mr Martin can head to the seaside in relatively relaxed mood.
His three nominees – two lauded and accomplished charity workers and a renowned businessman – were in stark contrast to the majority of the Taoiseach’s nominees which smacked of old-fashioned Irish political cronyism.
In sporting terms Kenny and Martin have, so far, enjoyed and endured two very different seasons. While Kenny’s Fine Gael may have a nominal half-time lead, Micheál Martin and his side will surely be the more confident as they head for the dressing room.