A majority of Carrick-on-Suir’s public representatives have blocked a councillor’s bid to get their Town Council to request Environment Minister Phil Hogan to hold a referendum on abolishing the Seanad on the same day as the upcoming Children’s Rights ballot.
Independent Cllr Pierce O’Loughlin’s bid to get the Town Council to write to Minister Hogan calling on him to hold both referenda on the same day - Saturday, November 10 - was defeated by four votes to three at the local authority’s October meeting.
Cllr O’Loughlin is a fervent opponent of the Seanad even through Carrick-on-Suir has a local representative in the Oireachtas’ upper house, Senator Denis Landy.
In tabling his motion, he pointed out that Fine Gael’s promise of a referendum on the Seanad’s future was one of the issues that secured its election to government.
He said the Children’s Right Referendum was costing E1.5m and argued that if the Seanad vote was on the same day it would save the tax payer money.
Cllr O’Loughlin believed the Irish electorate was “adult enough” to differentiate between the two referenda and vote on them on the same day.
He received support for his appeal from the Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Cllr Liam Walsh (SF), who declared that abolishing the Seanad made far more sense to him than the household tax.
As far as he could see, the Seanad was an unelected quango and talking shop for failed Dail candidates and getting onto it was all about who you knew.
Workers and Unemployment Action Group Cllr Martin Henzey also supported the motion. He recalled Enda Kenny promising that a referendum on the Seanad would be the first thing on his agenda in Government but nothing had happened nearly two years down the road.
However, the other four councillors at the meeting were firmly against the proposal.
Fine Gael Cllr Margaret Croke said the Children’s Rights Referendum was long overdue and too important to be held on the same day as another referendum.
“I would hate to see the momentum that is needed for this vote to be taken away or diluted in any way. This referendum is too important for the future of our children,” she argued.
Independent Cllr Patsy Fitzgerald argued that the Seanad was worth saving. It proposed thousands of amendments to bills and acted as a safeguard and protection for the people of the state. He believed they had come to a stage in the country where they were throwing “all the children out with the bath water”.
Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan (FF) supported a vote on the Seanad’s future but not on the same day as the Children’s Referendum, which was too important and sensitive an issue to be held on the same day as another ballot.
She agreed there was much that was wasteful about the Seanad and it needed to be reformed. She also argued that there were a lot of good people in the Seanad such as educated people from the universities but also a lot who got in there on the backs of friends and cronies. She said she would prefer if the Seanad’s membership comprised more of the likes of the university representatives and less of councillors. The non-party people were there because of their genuine interest in Ireland and were there to stand up for the rights and wrongs in government.
Her comments supporting less of a role for councillors in the Seanad angered Cllr Fitzgerald, who called on her to withdraw them.
“In our town we have a very educated senator working for our town,” he said referring to Senator Landy, who served as a town and county councillor before his election to the Seanad last year.
Cllr Pierce O’Loughlin intervened and told Cllr Fitzgerald not to personalise the debate.
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan, meanwhile, maintained that she didn’t say councillors weren’t highly educated. She just wanted councillors to be “taken out of the equation” as they were already public representatives.
Cllr O’Loughlin responded to the arguments that that the Seanad acted as a watchdog and protection for the people by asking where was it for 20 years when Fianna Fail was in power.
“It didn’t watch much then,” he pointed out.