Government Pact Holds Strong as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Candidates Win Seanad By-Elections

Published on 25 April 2021 at 12:35

Unsurprising results emerged from the Seanad by-election results on Tuesday: former Fine Gael Senator, Maria Byrne and former Fianna Fáil Senator, Gerry Horkan were elected in the Seanad by-elections on Tuesday this week. These by-elections were brought about due to the resignations of Sinn Féin Senator, Elisha McCallion, due to an expenses scandal and former Fine Gael Junior Minister and Senator, Michael D’Arcy, as he took on a new position in the banking lobby sector.


According to The Irish Times, ‘government candidates have comfortably won the two Seanad by-elections prompting predictions from Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that the Coalition will last its full term until 2025… Fine Gael candidate Maria Byrne and Fianna Fáil’s Gerry Horkan, both former senators, were elected on the first count as the voting pact between both larger Government parties held strong… Ms Byrne, won 118 votes out of 202 on the Agricultural Panel exceeding the quota of 102 by 16 votes while Mr Horkan won 114 votes out of 203 on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, surpassing the quota by 12 votes’.


While there was talk that Independent candidates Ian Marshall and Billy Lawless could run the government candidates closely to earn a seat on the Seanad in either panel, it turned out that ‘Mr Marshall won 69 votes and Mr Lawless an unexpectedly low 52, though there were more candidates in the by-election for the Industrial and Commercial panel… One of the dominant issues within the Seanad by-election campaign was the decision of ‘Green Party chair Hazel Chu, whose decision to run as an Independent candidate, led to a bitter internal row with her party, won 10 votes, which was expected’.


Despite Hazel Chu running in the Seanad by-elections for the Industrial and Commercial Panel and pledging to take the Government whip if elected, she ended up with 10 votes in total. Meanwhile, Labour candidates performed solidly ‘with Angela Feeney winning 15 votes on the Agricultural Panel and Ciaran Ahern garnering 27 votes on the Industrial and Commercial Panel’. However, as stated by The Irish Times, it was never likely that either of the Labour candidates would have seriously challenged for a seat, but nevertheless, it was a solid tally for both candidates.


This was certainly the result that the Government envisaged and hoped would happen. According to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, ‘it is clear the Government is strong and has cohesion and is working together for real change, not just on Covid-19 issues’. According to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, ‘the strong showing of Ms Byrne demonstrated the Coalition was unified and strong, and he predicted would last its full term until 2025’. Therefore, in the end, as expected, the Government pact held strong.


In summary, the Seanad by-election results produced unsurprising results and nothing that will leave a long-lasting legacy. Once again, it demonstrates the problems with the Seanad in its current form as Government pacts and politicians determined the outcomes of this election, as opposed to ordinary citizens.


According to RTÉ, ‘it is universally acknowledged that the Seanad is in dire need of reform and, following the failed referendum to abolish the institution in 2013, the government made a commitment to transform the ailing second house, but very little progress has been made’. The very minimum that the Government can do is enact the 7th Amendment of the Constitution and the recommendations of the Manning Report.


RTÉ reported further, stating that ‘in 1979, the 7th amendment of the Constitution allowed for the addition of further by Statute… However, no such legislation has ever been passed which leaves us with the strange situation that graduates from Trinity and any of the NUI institutions can vote in Seanad elections, but those from DCU, UL, DIT, the Institutes of Technology and the Royal College of Surgeons cannot’.


Meanwhile, ‘the Manning Report has recommended Seanad elections by universal suffrage with all Irish passport holders, including emigrants and residents in Northern Ireland’. However, these Seanad by-election results demonstrate that the Government pact of voting for Ms Byrne on the Agricultural Panel and for Mr Horkan on the Industrial and Commercial Panel ‘held strong’ and it demonstrated that the coalition government had some unity, despite a difficult first year in government.


The only possible long-lasting legacy, it may leave, is that it may demonstrate that the coalition government remain united, and relations between all parties remained solid. However, it is unlikely to be the key determinant of whether the Government remains in power until its expected end of power in 2025. It remains to be seen whether the coalition government lasts for a full term until 2025.

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