Seanad needs to be reformed, not abolished, says O Murchu

Seanad Eireann still had a role to play in the democratic life of the country and the current focus should be placed on its reform rather than its abolition, Senator Labhras O'Murchu has stated.

Seanad Eireann still had a role to play in the democratic life of the country and the current focus should be placed on its reform rather than its abolition, Senator Labhras O'Murchu has stated.

Senator O'Murchu, a South Tipperary Fianna Fail Senator for almost the past 14 years, has been reacting to calls from the main political parties for the second house of government to be abolished.

Defence Minister Tony Killeen said at the weekend that the government will consider holding a referendum on the future of the Seanad on the same day as the general election.

Senator O'Murchu said the reform of the Seanad could include a greater role in handling the large amount of European legislation that arrived on a daily basis, and which couldn't be properly examined in the workload of the Dail; and it could become a forum for greater co-operation and inter-action between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, with what he said was the vast potential that could be developed in the relationship between the various cross-border bodies.

While the abolition of the Seanad had been up in the air for a while, he says he wouldn't be happy rushing its future through in a referendum to coincide with the general election, due to be held in the next few months.

He said that a very informed and intensive debate on such a major issue shouldn't get lost amid the cut and thrust of a general election campaign and an open and focused debate on the issue was needed in all sections of the media, as well as in the Dail and Seanad itself.

He refuted the suggestion that the Seanad was very much a house to rubber stamp decisions taken in the Dail. In one session alone 37 of the bills brought before the Dail had been initiated in the Seanad, where thousands of amendments to Dail legislation had also been forwarded.

At a time when greater transparency and accountability was needed, he said the country needed to think long and hard about abolishing its second house of government.

He could understand in the present climate of anger and emotion about the state of the country's finances, a lot of which was justified, why we would look at making savings without contemplating the opportunities that would be lost.

Senator O'Murchu said his fellow Senators came from backgrounds of huge experience and as well as the party political nominees there were were business people, cultural leaders and academics who brought their own expertise to the house.

He said that in his own time in the Seanad he had never uttered a party political comment and had instead focused on the debates, and that was true of most Senators.

"Most Senators beavered away in a very industrious and very sincere manner", he stated.