COLETTE BROWNE: Warring, complaining senators are talking themselves into extinction

WORD from the rarified surrounds of Seanad Éireann, the crèche that cares for the oldest and boldest children in the country, that the rations are low and the natives are restless.

That’s according to Labour Senator John Gilroy who has finally snapped, saying he isn’t willing to take patronising lectures on reform from those good-for-nothings in the Dáil anymore.

“A deputy earns €27,000 more than a senator, yet the Seanad sits the same number of hours, sits on the same committees and passes the same legislation.

“In future, when we hear Government backbenchers calling for the abolition of the House, I suggest they first reflect on reforming their own House. They can then come back to us and perhaps we will listen to them,” he harrumphed last week.

While Gilroy certainly makes an interesting point regarding TDs’ bumper salaries, which his colleagues in Government will no doubt be thrilled to hear him propounding so publicly, his inflated sense of the Seanad’s importance is perplexing.

After all, the main reason the Upper House is for the chop is because nobody can quite see the point of it, other than an exercise in flushing circa €25m down the drain each year, so the notion that TDs are going to meekly troupe in and subject themselves to a tongue-lashing from Gilroy and his chums is a tad optimistic.

Gilroy can huff and puff all he likes but if the best he can come up with is threats to ignore backbenchers then he’d better go back to the drawing board — nobody listens to them anyway.

Eager to jump on the bandwagon, and stick the boot into the Government, an equally aggrieved Fianna Fáil senator, Diarmuid Wilson, warned that TDs touting the demise of the Seanad “might yet be glad to get in here” — a refreshingly honest assessment of the purpose of the Seanad, not an Upper House of government but a halfway house for those luckless politicians who lose their seats and are forced to slum it for a couple of years.

Fellow Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White said she was outraged that the future of the Seanad was being discussed in the Dáil, but they were precluded from having their own debate — tragically, the dodos are forbidden from debating their forthcoming extinction.

White, to her credit, has already displayed a zombie-like ability to rise from the dead and postpone political extinction after a hapless Micheál Martin tried to get rid of her, and some of the party’s other career Senators, following the last election.

A bruised and battered Martin didn’t know what hit him after she took the gloves off for that showdown and, now, she’s clearly ready for round two.

Party pooper, and Seanad leader Maurice Cummins was eventually forced to inject some unwelcome reality into the debate and said the proposed abolition of the Upper House was a matter for the Government, although he did find time to traduce the “misinformed comments” of some TDs saying he treated them “with the contempt they deserve”.

Curiously, for someone who holds the Seanad in such high regard, Cummins spent a large part of his political career trying desperately to avoid it. He was an unsuccessful Dáil candidate, for Fine Gael in Waterford, in 1992, 1997 and 2002, before joining the Seanad that year when he apparently conceded defeat and settled for the second-best option. He has been stuck there since.

Elsewhere last week we also learned that mutiny is afoot among Labour senators because of the “extreme liberal feminist agenda” of party whip Susan O’Keeffe. The standoff came amid unconfirmed reports that she had asked her male colleagues to make the tea at their last meeting.

Party leader Eamon Gilmore was forced to intervene in the row, after a motion of no confidence was aborted at the last minute on Thursday, and try to talk his rebellious senators in off the ledge.

Trying to downplay the unseemly bickering, he said; “the idea that a whip is having difficulty with those being whipped is nothing new” — unwittingly giving an excellent explanation for the precipitous decline in his party’s fortunes since they entered Government and started cutting and slashing anything that moved.

Disgruntled Labour senators have rounded on O’Keeffe because she is “not a team player” — by which they mean she has not been vocal enough in her opposition to Government plans to abolish the Seanad.

The other turkeys are at least clever enough to know that they should not be voting for Christmas. If O’Keeffe doesn’t relinquish her whip, or at least employ it more usefully in lashing the Government, another coup is planned for tonight.

Fond of complaining about their second-class status in Leinster House, senators regularly whine that the media ignores their self-dubbed erudition and trawling through their recent debates was, this column can confirm, something of an education.

Gilroy made his comments during the order of business on Wednesday in which senators variously raised: the closure of rural garda stations, child abuse covered up by the Catholic Church, farming subsidies, mental health issues, organ donations, bank charges, local government reform, the censorship of priests by the Vatican, gay marriage, internships, the Fiscal Treaty, NAMA, poverty, child care, eagles and the Tony Awards.

THE following day, there was more chaos in the chamber when two senators, Fianna Fáil’s Mark Daly and Fine Gael’s Paul Coughlan, nearly came to blows over Nama. Their fight was momentarily interrupted when another hardy survivor of Micheál Martin’s cull, Jim Walsh, decided to point out to David Norris that Anglicans did not leave the Catholic Church because of any noble concerns about abuse but, rather, because of “Henry VIII’s libido”.

Walsh, having given a chastened Norris an impromptu history lesson, then lambasted the Seanad leader for taking a two-and-a-half hour break the day before and finishing before lunch on Thursday, suggesting some of his colleagues were eager to scarper because “people are going to play golf in Faithlegg or somewhere else”.

This comment, predictably, caused more ructions as Labour’s Ivana Bacik said it was “outrageous” and called for him to withdraw it. Walsh, of course, refused.

Fine Gael Senator Cáit Keane, finally able to get a word in edgeways, decided to take her opportunity to inform the House that “men do not breastfeed”, to which her party colleague, Terry Brennan, responded, “some men do”. Unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate on this revelation, or divulge any personal experience he may have had of this evolutionary breakthrough.

Reading through the transcript, one is reminded of a room of paralytic drunks, each roaring out whatever comes into their heads with nobody paying a blind bit of notice to what anyone else is saying. A collection of Fr. Jacks, emerging from their catatonia long enough to roar “drink, feck, arse”, before falling back into a fitful sleep, in which they dream of dinosaurs and meteor strikes.

For these oratorical gems they’re being paid €65,000 and around €45,000 a year in expenses. And then they wonder why the Government is plotting their demise.


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