Labour and SF discuss voting pact to elect senators

Sinn Féin and Labour are attempting to agree a voting pact in the Seanad elections that would give Sinn Féin its first ever seat…

Sinn Féin and Labour are attempting to agree a voting pact in the Seanad elections that would give Sinn Féin its first ever seat in the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

The two parties have been in discussions about a deal that would see one of Sinn Féin's most promising politicians, Pearse Doherty, elected to the Seanad with the help of Labour votes.

In return, Sinn Féin councillors around the State would vote for Labour's Alex White to give the party an extra seat in the Upper House.

Labour has enough votes to deliver seats on four of the Seanad panels but it will need support from elsewhere to win a fifth.

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Ballot papers will be sent out today to more than 1,000 public representatives whose votes will elect 43 of the 60 members of the Seanad.

Sources in both parties confirmed to The Irish Timesyesterday that discussions on a voting pact were continuing.

Labour TD Joe Costello, who is the party's director of elections for the Seanad, said arrangements had not been finalised and he would not be able to say whether there was a deal until today at the earliest.

"We have been talking to Sinn Féin and we have been talking to other parties as well. Nothing is finalised," he said.

A Labour spokesman pointed out that there had always been horse-trading in Seanad elections and he added that there was no objection in principle to a deal with Sinn Féin.

A Sinn Féin source confirmed that contacts were continuing between the two parties: "My understanding is that a deal hasn't been agreed yet but we need to find 30 extra votes for Pearse from somewhere."

Mr Doherty is running on the 11-seat agriculture panel where he is guaranteed the 58 Sinn Féin councillors' votes but he will need about 30 further votes to be elected.

Labour, with 125 votes, should have 30 or so to spare on the same panel after electing their own senator.

By contrast, Labour is short about 30 votes for a seat on the cultural and educational panel but Sinn Féin support would guarantee the election of Mr White.

Parties have often traded votes in past Seanad elections. In 1992 the Progressive Democrats and the Workers' Party entered a voting pact that gave each party a senator.

In 1997 and 2002 the PDs voted for Fianna Fáil candidates and in return were given Seanad seats among the Taoiseach's 11 nominees.

There has already been controversy during this Seanad campaign over a pact between the Greens and Fianna Fáil struck during the negotiations on coalition.

Green councillors were informed that they would have to vote for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and that they would have their ballot papers inspected to ensure that they fulfilled the pledge.

A number of Green councillors expressed reservations about voting for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and said they would not allow their ballot papers to be inspected.

One of the issues for continuing discussion between Sinn Féin and Labour is how each side will guarantee to deliver the agreed number of votes.