Waterford’s two Senators, who are both from Fine Gael, aren’t best pleased about party leader Enda Kenny’s bombshell Seanad abolition announcement.
Both Maurice Cummins and Paudie Coffey said they had major reservations about the implications of last Saturday’s presidential dinner speech.
Portlaw-based Senator Coffey, who was elected to the Upper House two years ago, said he was surprised at the new policy position which is being viewed by many as a move designed to steal back some of the high moral ground seized by Labour’s Eamon Gilmore on the Ceann Comhairle controversy.
“Having said that we are in difficult times, that call for radical thinking,” Mr Coffey said, conceding “I sometimes get frustrated with the Seanad system.”
However, while of the view that “it needs reform”, he feels “it does have a role at the moment. If the Seanad was abolished in the morning that would be one less voice for Waterford. I have mixed feelings to be quite honest.”
His constituency colleague Maurice Cummins, who has been a member of the Seanad since 2002, admitted to being upset at the manner in which the party’s proposals to effectively end their existence was announced. “People were taken unawares.” He’s of the view that the people, by referendum, rather than politicians, might well decide. Some would say that saving an estimated €150m in expenses over five years in the current climate could make it a no-brainer at the polls.
Senator John Paul Phelan from South Kilkenny also voiced his surprise, especially as the party had announced a new and altogether less drastic policy position seven months ago.
“I am a bit shocked really… There had not been any debate within the party since we had the last discussion… It’s a bit of a bolt from the blue.”
Speaking last March on an independent members’ motion the matter, Paudie Coffey said: “For those of us who believe in a truly democratic system, it is important that Seanad Éireann should continue to act as the Upper House and play an oversight role with regard to legislation and democracy in this country.”
He referred to the then just-announced FG intention to directly elect 20 of the 60 Senators by the public. “If Fine Gael gets into power, whenever that may be, we hope to implement that policy.”
During the same discussion, Dublin FF Senator Ann Ormonde, a native of Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, decried their treatment by the media: “I do not like being a poor relation and I never was, in my household, growing up… However, I find that the response from the public to the Seanad is along the lines, ‘Ah, you lot’, and these are the lies that are being used… We are good at our job, let there be no doubt about that,” insisted the sister of former TD Donie.
Senator Cummins felt at the time that “the Seanad should be reformed” and liked Minister John Gormley’s “attitude, which views half of a loaf as being better than no bread.”
That bread will be toast if Mr Kenny has his way.