There’s very little good about the Seanad in its current form; it’s been broken for a long long time. So, why save it? Here’s why:
- It can be fixed. A lot of trees have given their life for report after report on how to reform the Seanad. We just haven’t had a Government willing to get their hands dirty and fix it. Prof. and Senator John Crown had also published a laudable Seanad Reform Bill.
- Once it’s gone, it’s gone. No, this isn’t a Home Store and More ad. Do you realise the changes required to the constitution to effect abolition of the Seanad? Twenty three articles will be changed – some of them substantially. It’s easy to just abolish the Seanad but can you imagine ever reintroducing it? With this many changes? It would never happen.
- This is a political stunt. Yes, it is. Enda Kenny announced his plan to abolish the Seanad in a pre-election publicity stunt. Somehow forgetting that only months previous to this, he had put forth a strong argument for retention and reform. I truly believe that if he and many of his cohort of Ministers were in opposition, they’d be railing against abolition.
- It’s bad for democracy. I had an interesting talk with a friend who works for a NGO recently and she, if I may paraphrase her, explained that democracy itself is not the real goal but rather good democracy is. The Seanad does, or at least should, offer a different voice to the legislative process than the Dáil does. It has a different membership pulled from different panels with, generally speaking, more diverse experience than the typical group of TDs. It provides checks and balances on the legislative process. Granted, the selection of many of these panels is undemocratic – but then that’s what reform is for.
- All power will be concentrated on a government controlled Dáil. Ireland has no clear distinction between the executive branch of Government and the legislative branch. This, I believe, is a deficit in our democracy as the decisions of executive (the TDs that are members of the cabinet / Ministers) are often made with one eye on the next election. The Taoiseach and his Ministers make up the cabinet and they also control the Dáil thorough the Government majority. Thus, they have and wield complete control of these two branches – and, as we saw in this term – have also clashed with the judicial branch on a number of occasions including a referendum to cut their salaries. This is way too much power and plainly undemocratic. You may not worry about this during a Fine Gael / Labour coalition but what, through whatever circumstances, it was Sinn Fein wielding that power? Or a vast coalition of the loony left? Or the conservative right? A reformed Seanad can and should provide a counter balance to this. Preferably with the possibility of an opposition controlled Seanad.
- We deserve a better debate. If the Seanad is to be abolished, we at least deserve a better debate on the real issues rather than the cynical and, frankly, pathetic campaign that Fine Gael is currently running (Save Money – Reduce Politicians). We also deserve to see Enda Kenny stand over his position in a live debate rather than running away from it.
- We deserve to hear minority and opposition voices. Even in its current form, the Seanad has always allowed minority, opposition and differing voices on a range of social, political and other issues. This is a good thing – think of the likes of Senators David Norris, Eoin Harris, John Crown, Rónán Mullen, Joe O’Toole and Feargal Quinn. I mightn’t (and certainly don’t in Mullen’s case) agree with them on various issues but the point is that the Seanad is a platform for these issues. Which is a sign of a healthy democracy. Look also at how the Government has used it position of power to silence the so called rebel TDs through the removal of speaking times.
For these, any many other reasons, I will be voting NO in the referendum to abolish Seanad Éireann. I hope you do likewise.
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