Eoin O’Malley, 25 August, 2010
Fionnan Sheehan this morning on RTÉ repeated a complaint he made in yesterday’s Irish Independent about the inability of Brian Cowen to sack the Senators that were nominated by a Taoiseach (in this case by his predecessor). He thinks that ‘the notion of the Taoiseach of the day being able to nominate senators but not have any control to remove them is ludicrous.’ But is he right?
If we are going to have a senate as a second chamber to reconsider the legislation that government makes then the whole point of the place is that it’s independent of the Dáil and the government. What chance would there be that the 11 Taoiseach’s nominees would do anything but their party’s bidding if they could be removed by the Taoiseach? There are few enough justifications for putting 11 senators in the gift of the Taoiseach. One of the few is that it is an opportunity to put in the Seanad people who would not normally seek or be able to get elected, and that once elected they are not easily made subject to any party’s control. So people like TK Whitaker, Gordon Wilson and Eoghan Harris were able to make contributions that would not normally be heard in the Oireachtas. How much weaker would they be if they could be removed if they spoke or voted in a way that upset the government of the day?
Perhaps what is ludicrous is that we cannot kick out legislators for ‘conduct unbecoming’ (to use the Fianna Fáil phrase) a member of the chamber? But this too is dangerous: who gets to decide what’s conduct unbecoming a member? The majority, or a super-majority? One can see a situation where a particularly contrary TD or senator might be removed. Noel Browne could probably have raised a super-majority against him. But would the chamber have been better without him? Maybe it would be best if we allowed elected representative to behave as they wish and allow the electorate to decide. And for those like Callely who do not have an electorate to face, well let Fianna Fáil take all the embarrassment the affair is giving it, and maybe future taoisigh will be more careful in future as to who they give senate seats.