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Constitution convention may examine Seanad role

The Government will consider referring the future role of the Seanad to the Convention on the Constitution after the electorate decided in a referendum to retain the upper house.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been asked by convention chairman Tom Arnold to extend the period of the convention by three months until March. This could give the 100-member panel of politicians and citizens enough time to examine the Seanad’s future.

Mr Kenny has yet to respond to the letter, which he received in August. The Oireachtas originally gave the convention eight issues to consider, up until December, the last of which is the subject of removing the issue of blasphemy from the Constitution. This will be debated next month.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said at the weekend that he accepted the decision by voters. He and his ministers have said they will consider whether the issue of the Seanad should now be referred to the convention.

However, the no side went further after the rejection to abolish the house.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his party would support proposals by two Independent senators for changes to the upper house.

"People are sending a very clear message to all of the political parties and system that it wants reform," said Mr Martin.

"We will move with others to ensure and follow through with what we said, that there is a capacity to legislate for reform of the Seanad in the context of bills on the table."

His party will now support the reform plans proposed by Independent senators Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone.

This includes requirements for the Seanad to retain a gender balance, imposing a pay cut of €20,000 for members, extending voting rights to all college graduates, and allowing Seanad candidates to be nominated by 500 citizens.

However, Mr Martin said his party would need to tweak parts of the reform bill, which includes proposals to give the Irish diaspora rights to vote in elections.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald immediately called for the future of the Seanad to be debated by the Constitutional Convention, before any official vote was announced on the count day.

Despite her party siding with the Government campaign for abolition, she cited Enda Kenny’s failure to engage in a TV debate as one of the reasons why people voted to keep the Seanad.

Mr Kenny said at the weekend that he had been approached with a range of proposals on Seanad reform, some of which would require a referendum.

The Oireachtas can ask the Constitutional Convention to examine other issues, or decide itself.

A source close to the Convention said: "One way or another, the matter is in the hands of the Government. But the last thing we need is another report on the Seanad; there has already been 14 of them."

Government figures have also suggested a future ‘super’ referendum, with numerous votes on one day.