Elaine Loughlin: Seanad by-election threatens to reveal divisions in government parties

Voting papers will be issued this week to fill two seats in the Seanad and some sources say there are scores to be settled between the government parties. 
Elaine Loughlin: Seanad by-election threatens to reveal divisions in government parties

Elaine Loughlin: "It’s a Seanad by-election, and let’s face it, the Seanad is not sexy and seldom scandalous."

We are in the midst of a dramatic election campaign; have you heard?

It’s a Seanad by-election, and let’s face it, the Seanad is not sexy and seldom scandalous.

But this campaign has already caused a bitter Green Party war to escalate further and there are rumblings that disaffected backbenchers will use the poll as an opportunity to send a message to the two other Government party leaders.

Hazel Chu may not win one of the two seats up for grabs but, in putting her name forward, she has caused further tensions in what was an already splintered Green Party.

A parliamentary party meeting, which last week voted in favour of a motion asking that the current Dublin Lord Mayor step aside as party chair for the duration of the Seanad election, was described as “fraught”.

Rumours have been circulating that those who are of the same opinion as Ms Chu — including Green deputy leader Catherine Martin — have been beavering away on the formation of an entirely new political entity, which would focus on social justice with a sprinkling of green.

Ms Chu is now guaranteed to take some of the Green votes away from the two Government sanctioned candidates.

Hazel Chu: May not win one of the two seats up for grabs, but, in putting her name forward, she has caused further tensions in what was an already splintered Green Party. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Hazel Chu: May not win one of the two seats up for grabs, but, in putting her name forward, she has caused further tensions in what was an already splintered Green Party. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

But while the spotlight has been on the Greens, there is now mounting speculation that the voting pact between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will collapse.

This by-election will be the first real test for party leaders Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar and will gauge the support they have from within their own parties.

The first of two seats up for grabs is on the agriculture panel. It became available after Fine Gael’s Michael D’arcy left the Upper House to become chief executive of the Irish Association of Investment Managers.

Meanwhile, Elisha McCallion, a former Sinn Féin MP, resigned her seat after revelations that three party offices incorrectly received payments from a Covid-19 grant scheme, leaving a position free on the industrial and commercial panel.

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party has selected former senator Gerry Horkan as its candidate.

There was some surprise when he managed to beat former TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony by just five votes in the final tally. Ms Murphy O’Mahony was also snubbed by the Taoiseach last year when he left her out of his selection of senators.

Fine Gael’s national executive have put forward another former senator in Limerick’s Maria Byrne to fill the vacancy on the agricultural panel, a decision which undoubtedly put some noses out of joint, as many in the party would have expected former Carlow TD Pat Deering to get the nod.

But Mr Varadkar has stressed the importance of having more female politicians to reflect Irish society in the Dáil and Seanad.

Voting papers will be issued this week and it has been noted by some in Fine Gael but particularly in Fianna Fail, that the poll provides an opportunity for a mini-revolt under the cover of a secret ballot.

“There is a lot of dissatisfaction in the party. If things were different now there would be a vote of no confidence in Micheál, but no one wants to do that with Covid,” said one Fianna Fáil source.

“There are a lot of people with little chips.”

This was echoed by another Leinster House source, who said there are many scores to be settled, including the selection of Cabinet ministers and the impact Golfgate had on the party.

Independent candidate, dairy farmer, and former president of the Ulster Farmers Association, Ian Marshall, is more than qualified for the agriculture panel, and has been strongly lobbying TDs and senators for their votes.

He begins on a strong footing, having secured Sinn Féin’s 41 votes very early on. However, he is also targeting those within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who may be convinced to go against the pact.

“Ian would have a brand; he provides a unionist voice and many would think he deserves to be there or should be there,” one Seanad source said.

Pointing to an ongoing uneasiness in Government, one Fianna Fáil source recently told the Irish Examiner’s Aoife Moore: “They’d rather vote for a unionist than a Fine Gael candidate.

There’s around 11 reps that aren’t going to hold ranks. No one trusts anybody, the Civil War isn’t over.

Mr Marshall, who was one of Enda Kenny’s nominees in the last Seanad, is also likely to get the backing of the Social Democrats and Independent representatives.

Personality comes majorly into play with fellow Independent candidate Billy Lawless, also a former senator, who is running for the other seat.

The publican and restaurateur, who divides his time between Ireland and Chicago, is “well liked” among elected representatives, with one source claiming he has a knowledge of US visas and other issues involving the Irish in America.

Both Independent candidates have been working the phones and targeting specific members of the Government parties with emails and videos, as they know some votes will be up for grabs.

“There is a disaffected rump in both of the main parties and there are not many opportunities to embarrass the leader,” one Leinster House source said.

Timing is everything and the fact that the two by-elections take place on the same day means neither party will know whether the other is keeping their side of the deal.

The opening of the ballot boxes on April 21, will not only decide two Seanad seats, but will measure the support the main party leaders have within their own ranks and the level of trust within Government.

* A spokesperson for Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin has said she has never countenanced setting up another party or ever leaving the Green Party.

While you are here, why not sign up to our new 'On The Plinth' political newsletter. Delivered direct to your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up here — exa.mn/ontheplinth

This week in years gone by

  • April 11, 1951: A crisis in government was sparked after the resignation of health minister Noel Browne amid opposition from the Catholic Church to his mother and child scheme. It proposed free medical care for mothers and children up to the age of 16 without a means test, but was withdrawn by the government after his departure. The Cork Examiner ran correspondence between the Church and government that was released by Mr Browne immediately after his resignation. He said he hoped the documents would “dispel malicious rumours concerning him” and thanked the many hundreds of doctors who had offered to participate in the scheme. In a telling sign of the time, it was reported that “as a Catholic, he accepts the rulings of their Lordships the Hierarchy without question”.
  • April 19, 1973: ‘Major adoption laws soon’ read the headline on the front page of the Cork Examiner, which detailed a commitment made by the new justice minister, Patrick Cooney, to legalise adoption of children by couples of “Irish mixed marriages”.
  • April 8, 1986: Jennifer Guinness, the wife of a wealthy banker, was kidnapped from her home in Howth, Co Dublin, and held captive by an armed gang for eight days. John Cunningham was convicted for his role in the kidnapping. He later moved to Amsterdam and became a major trafficker.
  • April 10, 1998: The Good Friday Agreement is signed by the British and Irish governments and all the political parties in the North, except the DUP.
  • April 7, 2009: ‘The Budget from Hell’ was how the Irish Examiner described the emergency budget delivered by finance minister Brian Lenihan. The second budget in six months hit taxpayers with €3.25bn in levies and brought the lowest-paid workers back into the tax net.

Did you know?

The Tricolour outside Leinster House is raised at sunrise each day and lowered at sunset by two members of the defence forces.

This follows the guidelines that state the national flag be displayed in the open only from sunrise to sunset, except on the occasion of public meetings, processions or funerals, when it may be displayed for the duration of such functions.

However, next door, in Government Buildings, the national flag flies constantly after the installation of spotlights in 2017.

The rules say the tricolour may be flown by night as well as by day as long as it is properly illuminated at all times.

What to look out for this week

Patrick Costello: Submitted High Court challenge against the State on Ceta. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Patrick Costello: Submitted High Court challenge against the State on Ceta. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

With politicians off on their Easter break, the halls of Leinster House will be quiet enough this week. With no Cabinet meeting scheduled, ministers will be hoping the vaccination rollout and the Covid pandemic doesn't throw up another unexpected crisis — at least for this week - which might warrant an emergency meeting. But some TDs and senators will still be at work, with a small number of committee meetings scheduled.

Tuesday: The controversial Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (Ceta) has led one Government TD, Patrick Costello, to submit a High Court challenge against the State and has caused ructions in the already splintered Green Party.

Nevertheless, the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs are pressing ahead with their scrutiny of Ceta on their holiday time. Experts from the University of Amsterdam; Trinity College Dublin, and Maynooth University will all give their view on the trade deal.

Wednesday:  Ballot papers for the two Seanad by-elections will be issued to members of the Dáil and Seanad. The polls will close at 11am on April 21.

Thursday:  Dentists have warned that treatment for medical card holders is in complete chaos. State spending on dental care for medical card patients nationwide decreased by 30%, from €5.5m to €3.8m over the last three years.

“In 2020, almost one-quarter of participating dentists nationwide left this scheme which is utterly unfit for purpose.

“Dentists simply cannot afford to participate, leading to complete chaos," Irish Dental Association Chief executive Fintan Hourihan said.

It is in this context that the Irish Dental Association will discuss the medical card scheme at the Health Committee on Thursday.

While you are here, why not sign up to our new 'On The Plinth' political newsletter. Delivered direct to your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up here — exa.mn/ontheplinth

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

LOTTO RESULTS

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

  • 1
  • 14
  • 22
  • 28
  • 37
  • 45
  • 25

Full Lotto draw results »