Seanad abolition and ‘a brainstorm in front of a television camera’

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.

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6 thoughts on “Seanad abolition and ‘a brainstorm in front of a television camera’

  1. You forget the single most powerful argument for abolition: simple sweet revenge. If the Seanad had spent years valiantly battling for political reform against a cynical but powerful Dail, those of us who believe in political reform could argue sincerely for its retention. But the fact is that for the most part, it was just as cynical as the lower house. At least this way we get to cull 60 of the bastards. To listen to some of them arguing against “strangers” using the chamber, as if it were their private property, that alone was the final straw for me.

    • Yes, that’s certainly fair comment, though I don’t think revenge gets you very far in the medium term. Just look at what happened in the recent election – voters were so hell bent on punishing FF that they replaced them with a government that has enforced identical policies to the FF/Green coalition.

      • True, but it felt so good on the day! Funny thing is, I don’t believe the Irish people actually have any real problem with the way the country is run. Just look at the Red C poll last weekend: FF, FG and Lab, the three parties who have run the country since 1921, on 65%. Change? No thanks.

  2. Maybe because they know there won’t be any reform so why kid ourselves? I mean to date the biggest ‘reform’ is to get rid of 8 TDs, using out of date data, and lob off bits of a county and put it into another.

    All of this is done in splendid isolation as if the Dáil wasn’t linked to the Seanad or to local government.

    Then again, if the coup had succeeded last year and got rid of the dud Kenny, there’s no evidence that if Brutal replaced him, that he’d have been any better.

    I suppose it’s not unreasonable that the long years of opposition would have dulled the senses in FG but the degree of dullness is still a surprise.

  3. Quite understandably, most voters tend to look backwards when voting in a general election. This was quite clear at the last general election. They bided their time from end Sep 2008, and their anger mounted until the government finally succumbed – and they delivered a devastating judgement. Because they weren’t looking forward they effected the election, by default, of a government pursuing almost identical policies to the shower they had evicted. There is every possibility that voters’ judgement on this shower at the time of the next general election will be as devastating as it was on the previous lot. The smugness and arrogance when it comes to these important constitutional and political reform issues – and indeed across the board – is beginning to grate with voters – and that grating will only increase.

    It is very likely that only those either delivering or capable of delivering competent, honest governance – and, crucially, effective, continuing oversight of this governance – will survive or be elected. I would be very surprised if they are not some shrewd and perceptive members of the governing factions who have grasped this, but it appears that each faction has been so totally captured by the narrow, but influential, sectional interests in their respective camps that are totally incapable of developing any coherent strategy in advance of the inevitable earthquake.

    The tragedy is that almost another four years will have elapsed while the domestic economy continues to be ground in to the dust – making it 7 and 1/2 years since Sep. 2008 – and no meaningful economic growth enhancing and peformance and competitiveness boosting structural reforms will have been implemented.

    The best that can be hoped is that the Government will be forced to call a general election earlier than 1916 – but you can be sure it is determined to stay the course. (14 years was a long time out of office and there are ministerial pension entitlements to be maxed for those who are unlikely to stand again, after all.) All we can do is pray for a number of ‘events’ that might, cumulatively, force it to meet the voters early and they can then put it our of its, and their, misery.

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