Here is a link to the ‘The Week in Politics’ coverage of the political reform debate on RTE last night – Brian Dowling’s report touches on a lot of key themes, and much of the discussion explores important ideas. Definitely worth a watch IMO. I’ve posted some reactions of my own below…
There are many troubling aspects of Dowling’s report, most notably the sad hilarity of proceedings in the Seanad, with Senators outraged at academics (or ‘strangers’, as Marie Louise O’Donnell described them) debating the future of their House. In truth, the Senators have far less to fear from academic discussants, most of whom favour democratising reforms of the House, than from a government seemingly hell bent on abolition.
The notion that we will vote on the abolition of the Seanad simply because Enda Kenny once promised to do so is laughable, yet it seems to be the government’s main justification for the course that they are steering. David Norriss’ quip about the idea of abolition being ‘a brainstorm in front of a television camera’ from Kenny more or less sums it up for me.It’s all the more irritating to hear this justification coming from the mouths of those whose parties have abandoned other, vitally important, pre-election promises about Ireland’s relationship with the debts of its failed banks.
To return to my relentless banging of the Constitutional Convention drum (sorry, regular readers) – surely, obviously, this is the place to decide on the options on Seanad reform/abolition to be put to the people. You don’t have to be a political scientist or even a close follower of politics to see why this should be the case – dealing with constitutional reform is the explicit purpose of the Convention. Instead, perversely, the Seanad is explicitly off-limits to the Convention.
To be fair, the Sinn Fein spokesperson and Conor O’Mahony both ably point this out in their contributions, much to the apparent displeasure of Minister Pat Rabbitte. Rabbitte states that as a member of the government he doesn’t yet know what the wording will be, holding out some fig leaf of hope that there may be a reconsideration of the current plans. However, presumably feeling under attack on this topic, he concludes that ‘I don’t make any apologies to any academic about this.’ I personally don’t ask anyone in the government for an apology, though I would evidently rather that they do this thing properly, and feel that the only way to do so is to invest it with a meaningful agenda and powers - neither of which are a feature of the proposed convention as it stands.
To close,I ask: why is political reform riding SO low on the Irish media and political agenda? The constitution is a central regulator of everyday life in Ireland. For instance, the current constitutional provisions (or lack thereof) around children and the family were cited by a recently published report as a contributor to our society’s appalling treatment of vulnerable children. Yes, Irish people as individuals are outraged at the mistreatment of children, but as a collective we seem to be enormously disinterested in reforming our constitution. Thinking about so many of the problems that we face today in Ireland, it’s hard to feel that the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.