Seanad Referendum Debate

On 9 September 2013 we met at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall to debate the future of Seanad Eireann. Sen Prof John Crown and John-Paul Phelan TD kindly travelled from Dublin especially to address us.

We thought the venue to be particularly apt to our subject matter given its history. The National Liberal Club was founded in 1882 by William Gladstone, a man who of course had tremendous influence on the constitutional makeup of what is now Ireland and the UK. His battles with the upper chamber of parliament, in particular over the Irish Home Rule, ultimately resulted in a massive reduction in the powers of that house. Indeed many in his party wished for it to be abolished. In relation to the debate on the Irish upper house, Prof Crown and Deputy Phelan both spoke forcefully in respect of their positions but agreed the current status quo to be untenable. Prof Crown argued for a reformed house with increased powers whereby Deputy Phelan made the point that the only country in Europe with a strong second chamber was Italy, whose political system was hardly known for its dynamism. Audience participation showed how interested the Irish community in London is in parliamentary reform, although some remained skeptical of current efforts being made in Dublin. The straw poll at the conclusion of the debate resulted in a resounding 'no' to the referendum question and whatever the general sentiment is at home with regards to Seanad Eireann, the ex-pat community in London would appear to favour it's retention and reform.

LILA would like to thank Aiden Cooney of the NUI Club and Martin Collins and Jenny McShannon of the Irish in Britain for the support in making this event a great success.

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