‘Senators powerless to prevent delays’

Seanad members have said they are not at fault for the decision to allow the Upper House to break for another week, after meeting for just three hours during its first business since the election.

‘Senators powerless to prevent delays’

Fianna Fáil cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan and Fine Gael’s Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer said politicians should not be blamed for the move, despite senators already receiving hundreds of thousands of euro in salaries since entering office.

Since the Seanad elections in late April, 49 senators have received almost €300,000 in income.

However, due in part to the lengthy delay in Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointing 11 members to the Upper House and the difficulties in forming a government after the February Dáil vote, the Seanad convened yesterday for the first time in four months.

During its first meeting, the Seanad sat for just three hours with debate dominated by the appointment of Mr O’Donovan as cathaoirleach after he was supported by Fine Gael.

It has adjourned until next Wednesday, when it is due to elect a Fine Gael senator as leas cathaoirleach before rising for another week.

Responding to criticism of the slow moves towards any significant discussion in the Upper House yesterday, Mr O’Donovan said he and the Seanad are powerless to prevent the delays because they are required under existing standing orders.

Mr Buttimer repeated the position when asked by the Irish Examiner.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s meeting was dominated by the election of Mr O’Donovan after his nomination was supported by 44 votes for six.

The West Cork-based senator was widely expected to secure the role amid suggestions of a deal with Fine Gael to allow senator Paul Coghlan to become leas cathaoirleach in a separate vote next Wednesday.

While Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway Walsh also contested yesterday’s vote, her nomination was defeated by 43 votes to eight.

Opening the first session of the new Seanad, the longest serving member of the Upper House, David Norris, noted with “amusement” the presence of a number of new senators including Dr James Reilly, Mr Buttimer, and Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin who “campaigned vigorously” against the Upper House in the 2013 referendum.

However, Mr Norris added, in the era of new politics: “I still voted for them”, when they sought in April to become senators. He also criticised the “repulsive” system that allows the Taoiseach to appoint 11 people to the Seanad.

A number of Independent senators, led by Michael McDowell and the president’s daughter Alice Mary Higgins, had earlier called for the recommendations of the Manning Report to be implemented as soon as possible.

The 2015 report has called for a majority of Seanad seats to be elected by popular vote and for Irish citizens living abroad to be eligible to vote.

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