Galway and the west of Ireland will have voices in the new Seanad Éireann that will campaign and use all the powers it can to represent the concerns and fears of the people, and make the Seanad relevant to Irish political life, so say the county’s newest senators.
This is the view of Galway’s new senators, Sinn Féin’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Fine Gael’s Michael Mullins, who were the first Galwegians elected to the 24th Seanad. Mr Ó Clochartaigh also made history by being the first Sinn Féin representative from Galway West to take a seat in Upper House.
However the Seanad is an institution which may be living on borrowed time. An Taoiseach Enda Kenny has proposed it be abolished and many Seanad candidates have spoken privately that this may be the last election to Seanad Éireann — and senators Ó Clochartaigh and Mullins believe the Seanad has a potentially valuable role to play in Irish politics, but it can only do this if completely reformed.
“If Seanad Éireann is not reformed that it must be abolished,” Sen Mullins told the Galway Advertiser, “but if it is reformed and given real teeth, then I believe people would vote in any referendum to save it.”
Sen Ó Clochartaigh said the future of the Seanad must be debated before any decision is made to abolish it and that calls for reform must be heeded.
“The Seanad is in need of reform but look at what Pearse Dohertry was able to do during his time there,” he said, “he developed new legislation, used the Seanad as a way of raising important issues, and became involved in joint committees. We have to use what is there at the moment to start a process of Seanad reform.”
Sen Mullins believes the public should no longer be excluded from voting for who sits in the Seanad and he wants to see the Upper House, and the Oireachtas as a whole, given more powers to conduct enquiries.
“The Seanad should be radically reformed as people would like to see a house that can act as a check and balance on the Dáil,” he said.
Both men also feel Galway and West of Ireland senators have an opportunity to work together in the Seanad to articulate and campaign for issues of concern to the western region.
“We have a great platform to campaign on issues such as agriculture, communities, the Irish language, social exclusion, industry and investment, farming and fishing, that are of concern to the west,” said Sen Ó Clochartaigh. “That is what I will do and I will work with others who have similar views.”
“Businesses are in dire straits, families are stretched, and it is up to politicians to give them hope and people expect us to take action,” said Sen Mullins. “The problems of the people must come before all else.”
Last night Fidelma Healy Eames won 83 votes on the first count, leaving her just five short of the quota and certain to retain her seat.
She told the Advertiser, she was delighted with her vote and looked forward to her next term on the Seanad.
At time of going to press last night (Wednesday ), Sen Ronan Mullen was looking likely to retain his seat on the NUI panel, but there was disapointment for candidates Donncha O’Connell, Niall O Brolchain and Matthias Walter Cowley. Cllr Pat Hynes, Tom McHugh and Lorraine Higgins were also seeking seats and the counts for their panels are expected to continue all day today (Thursday ) and possibly into tomorrow