Fine Gael has rejected claims that acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the party have undermined the integrity of the Upper House by asking members to vote for candidates affiliated with the party, even though they are running as Independents.
Trinity College Seanad candidate Sean Melly has written to the Taoiseach expressing his surprise and disappointment that Fine Gael “would attempt to politicise the Trinity College or National University of Ireland panels”, after the party wrote to all members telling them it was anxious to maximise its vote on the two university panels and encouraged them to support its three affiliated candidates.
Mr Melly, a businessman and chairman of the board of Trinity College Business School, said in his letter that the Seanad university seats had a long tradition of independence from political parties.
“If candidates wish to run on behalf of a political party it is their choice, but they must make that clear,” he said.
‘Need to be honest’
“They cannot be active members of, or receiving support from, political parties while at the same time declaring themselves as ‘Independent’ candidates. They need to be honest and Fine Gael should not compromise the integrity of the Seanad.”
A Fine Gael spokesperson said in a one-line statement that “it is perfectly legitimate for a political party to advise its members and supporters of candidates who are affiliated to, or supportive of, the party”.
In the last Seanad the Government was in a minority, but had 22 seats between Fine Gael (14) and Labour (8) on the vocational panels, one seat - Labour Senator Ivana Bacik - on the Trinity panel, and the support of a number of the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees when the election was called.
This time round, Fine Gael may have 11-12 vocational panel senators. Labour, which has said it will not be in government, will have a maximum of three.
Asked for support
In the letter to members, the party asked for support for Fine Gael Galway councillor Pearce Flannery, a businessman and pro-enterprise candidate who was “the only one of two Fine Gael-affiliated candidates running under the party banner on the NUI Panel”.
Fine Gael also sought support for former general secretary of the Progressive Democrats John Higgins, a party activist “who is running as an Independent”.
On the Trinity College panel the party seeks votes for Anthony Staines, Professor of health systems at the DCU School of Nursing and Human Sciences, “who is running as an Independent”.
Mr Melly, an investor and telecoms entrepreneur, said the Seanad was designed for those with specialist experience or expertise to inform debate and legislation.
“The independence of the Seanad must be maintained and its original function rescued and preserved, he said.
“It is unacceptable for Fine Gael, or any other political party, to seek to politicise the university seats, and candidates who call for much-needed Seanad reform must avoid contributing to its current failings.”