Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Seanad abolition, nothing more than a cheap stunt

We do well to always question the reason and motives behind any proposal especially in matters of state. It is important to always ask ‘Why?’ and to find out who benefits from any proposal. That is not solely because of corruption or bad mindedness but often simply because there can be unintended consequences to any action at some stage in the future.

I have never been a big fan of our Seanad. Part of me even admired that De Valera abolished it, but of course even he saw reasons to bring it back. The hardened decisive part of me liked the idea of getting on with things without needless extra chatter that Senators loved. However, the more rational part of me could always recognise that this was never about my views for today or how I might trust my own morals or those of a politician. It was about the longer term, what if I didn’t trust someone, what about the need for questions, debates and platforms for opinions? Much as the Seanad might not be my cup of tea, I am never going to be in favour of removing any layers of democracy that could make the task of silencing debate or reducing democracy easier for someone in the future.

Of course I am also a bit of a begrudger. I am one of those unfortunate people that is not allowed vote in a Seanad election. A chamber that was elected and created by putting some sections of society above others is one that I could never like. Councillors have a vote but then the Seanad has nothing to do with local government. I have long argued before that, in my ideal world, the Seanad would be reformed as part of a major overhaul of local government and its new responsibilities would lie in this sphere.

There is also the fact that I, or the likes of me, would never get elected or proposed by anyone to be a senator. So the bitter part of my soul would say let that elitist shower take what’s coming to them.

I am aware though, that when I calm down, I can see that my problem is not with the idea of a Seanad but rather the idea of the type of chamber it currently is. Abolishing it is doing exactly what De Valera did in a fit of pique because it just doesn’t suit us right now.

However, all of that is still a bit of an academic argument. The real point I am writing is to ask why? Why are we abolishing the Seanad? To save money? Lets be honest none of us believe that. TDs will jump on the work that Senators do right now and the letters and correspondence will simply increase and there will be more committees of TDs established to allow more voices etc etc etc until the cost of what comes out of Leinster house will not be reduced but simply redistributed. Lets also face facts, whatever is saved will not enhance our lives at all, but it will reduce the options of people to raise issues on our behalf.

The country is in a right old state. Ministers tell us that answering questions of media and scandals is a ‘distraction’ from the real issues. There are several areas awaiting important legislation, that we are told are very complex and will take time. We hear on an almost daily basis of how issues in banks, in public sector reform, in the EU, Dail reform, and in our health service are delicate matters where we are tied into certain rules and obligations. Our hands seem tied at almost every turn.

Yet we can move heaven and earth when it comes to the Seanad. When difficulties are pointed out about how many areas abolition will affect and the risk of errors and oversights they are brushed aside as being easily handled. The bill to abolish the Seanad will take no small amount of drafting and thought. One wonders that a government would be so determined when its ministers find answering basic questions a distraction from their ‘more important’ work.

Endless hours are spent telling us how we need to concentrate on the ‘real’ issues. Yet, we will spend a small fortune just to have this referendum; we will take up the time of innumerable civil servants to come up with a satisfactory bill. We will argue the case for weeks and then even if the people agree we will spend a fortune on transitional arrangements, putting policies in place making changes to accommodate it. The amount of time that will be spent by civil servants and committees and various meetings on this will make almost every other issue seem trivial. Why?

Is this really the main concern of the people? Oh would that such effort were put into the myriad of economic, social and other legislative reforms that could actually make a real difference. Abolishing the Seanad would be fine if we had nothing better to be doing, maybe Bertie should have considered it back in the good old days but right now we need legislative minds concentrated elsewhere. The answer is of course very simple and nothing to do with money, savings or real reform. It’s a great headline. The government might break a multitude of promises but it’s determined to keep this one. Small reforms can have a big impact but you only get remembered for doing something major, forget the impact it has. This can be sold as doing something big, this will be remembered in history and what politician does not want that? Its populist and it gives the illusion of real and meaningful activity. Meanwhile a host of reforms that might actually make a difference to peoples lives and to the economy will be put off.

The people might back the proposal, I won’t exactly be crying if they do. I may ruefully shake my head and hope it doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass someday. It is for me nothing more than a cheap stunt. We all know plenty of countries don’t have a second chamber, but plenty of other countries do. We know life will continue with or without a Seanad. But life goes on no matter what system of government you have, it goes on no matter if democracy is gone or power seized, it goes on whether we have committees or not, whether we have tribunals or not, hell it even goes on whether we have laws or not. None of that is an argument to say that just because you can survive without something it must a bad thing.

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4 thoughts on “Seanad abolition, nothing more than a cheap stunt

  1. Margaret on said:

    I agree – not a good idea to waste resources on a Senate referendum. But in the meantime lets drastically reduce the salaries and allowances of senators, many of whom have significant other income. It is after all only a part time job yet they get c.€65,000 pa, and if in Dublin €5,250 pa tax free and unvouched to turn up.

    • jonny33 on said:

      I think there is a reasonable argument to be made there alright and also as part of wider reforms as to whether Seanad should be a full time role or not depending on what activities or jobs they are expected to do

  2. I agree with this post and with Margaret`s comment on salary reduction. Anything that silences or curbs further debate is anti democratic. And yes, I have read before that the money saving aspect is negligible.
    I love to hear strong voices in the Seanad like Professor Crown, Fergal Quinn, Eamon Coughlan. Whether we agree with them or not, they do seem to have more than their own good in mind.
    Which is very much in line with the excellent opening line in your post. We must always root out the intent in everything.

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