McDowell, Martin unite against Seanad abolition

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been challenged to promise he will reform the Seanad if its abolition is rejected by the people in October and to introduce radical political reforms.

McDowell, Martin unite against Seanad abolition

Former tánaiste Michael McDowell and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin joined forces last night in outlining their opposition to the closure of the Upper House.

Mr McDowell surprisingly also indicated perhaps his coalition government during the boom could have halted the banking crisis if warning signs had been heeded.

Addressing the MacGill summer school in Donegal, he called on TDs from all parties to make a “new deal” for political reform and for a series of measures to overhaul how government and the Dáil worked.

These include using secret ballots to elect a Ceann Comhairle and new empowered Oireachtas committees and an easing of the party whip system.

Mr Martin called for outside experts to be appointed as Cabinet and junior ministers and outlined a series of other political reforms. These would include establishing an Oireachtas economic oversight office, which would evaluate all spending and require each ministerial appointment and their subsequent use of funds to be scrutinised.

Mr Martin and Mr McDowell reiterated their opposition to the coalition’s proposal to abolish the Seanad.

Mr Martin said: “No other country has one chamber of parliament combined with a non-executive president, weak local government and total control by government of the agenda of parliament.”

The Government would “mutilate the Constitution by abolishing the Seanad,” said Mr McDowell. He said its closure would lead to an annual saving of €6.5m, rather than the €20m promised by the coalition. “This amounts to an annual cost per head of the population of about €1.58, ” he said. Instead, the pay of senators could be halved. The former PDs leader called on Mr Kenny to give a clear commitment he would reform the Upper House if the October 4 referendum on its closure is rejected.

“The referendum itself will cost €14m but there will be no “saving” at all until abolition takes place in 2016. In the intervening three years we will have paid the Government’s special advisers €10.2m in salaries alone,” he said.

Mr McDowell also admitted his government could have halted the banking crisis if emerging problems such as the property bubble were tackled. He said the Central Bank also had questions to answer.

“Perhaps the Government in which I served could have been persuaded to alter course if the warning signals from a few outliers in our society had been heeded and the sleep-walk towards a banking crisis had been interrupted as part of the political process.”

Meanwhile, Mr Martin called on the Taoiseach to make a full statement on his junior minister John Perry and his dealings with the banks over debts related to his businesses.

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