Seanad se­lec­tion con­tin­ues to be a con­tentious is­sue

Bray People - - OPINION -

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.

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