The Taoiseach has been challenged to a live TV debate on the abolition of the Seanad by its most outspoken member, David Norris, who said he would “take him to pieces” on the issue.
The Upper House yesterday voted in favour of holding a referendum on its own abolition by 29 votes to 22, despite some strong criticism of the Government’s decision to put the question to the people.
It will now go to committee stage for a final vote in two weeks’ time.
Before the vote, the House was addressed by Junior Minister Brian Hayes, who was heckled throughout his speech, and consistently interrupted by a visibly angry Mr Norris.
Mr Hayes said a referendum will mean that “the people will decide once and for all,” after which Mr Norris interjected: “let your Taoiseach come out and meet me on television and I’ll take him to pieces”.
As Mr Hayes argued that the Government had made good progress on political reform, he said “a third of candidates at the next election must be men or women,” to which Mr Norris quipped “all of the senators are men or women.”
He said the Government was “swindling” people” and “playing a three-card trick” to get them to vote in favour of the scrapping the Seanad. And he said he wrote to Mr Kenny to request a TV debate, but he has not replied.
The announcement to hold the referendum was made by the Taoiseach in “a whim, a flight of fancy in the heat of a battle of a general election” Labour senator John Whelan said.
A number of Fine Gael senators strongly criticised the decision of their party leader, with Terry Brennan saying abolition would lead to “a dictatorship government in this country”.
His colleague, Paul Coghlan, said he will not campaign in the referendum. He said the Seanad is a “more objective and partisan” than the Dáil, where many TDs “don’t see themselves as legislators but as glorified county councillors.”
“Without a Seanad there would be far less accountability,” he said.
Calling for reform rather than abolition, Fidelma Healy Eames said the Government’s proposal was “lazy and minimalist”.
Mr Hayes said the proposal had “nothing to do with dictatorial aspirations by the Taoiseach but about Enda Kenny following up on a campaign promise”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved