Thoughts on the Seanad Abolition Referendum- Why I Will Vote No
Let’s make one thing clear at the start- like the vast majority of people I have seen express an opinion on it, I have little time for Seanad Eireann in its current form. It lacks democratic credibility due to the arcane way its members are elected and the in-built government majority means that it serves little purpose in terms of blocking bad legislation or balancing the power of the Dail. It’s a handy place for the big parties to ramp up prospective candidates and to store failed ones for future use- it’s basically like the reserve team at most football clubs. Eager up-and-comers looking to the future learn the ropes in the nice safe sand box where they can’t do too much harm beside and grizzled has-beens hoping for another shot at the big time. There are some good parliamentarians in there too of course, which highlights that even in its current state the house has at least some value.
So getting rid of it makes sense right? Not at all- the answer here is radical reform, not abolition. A second house has great potential to improve the operation of our legislature and it will be a lot harder to achieve that with the Seanad consigned to the dustbin. The Dail has plenty of issues we are well aware of such as clientist, parish-pump politics that ignore the national interest and a whip system that means that back benchers are all too often irrelevant. So why not reform the Seanad so that it’s elected on a national basis, using a list system for instance? This would allow candidates to concentrate on more national issues, small parties to get some representation in parliament and by holding it at mid-term of Dail sessions there would be added balance in our system. There’d be issues when the Dail collapses early, but we’re all intelligent and resourceful people here and can come up with a way to make it work. Currently we get to punish unpopular government at mid-term, but so what?- they’re only European and local elections that frankly don’t change that much in terms of the running of the country. I’m sure there are lots of other potential benefits as well.
But the will isn’t there to even examine this. Instead, we get the easy way out, a populist move that rather bizarrely looks to capitalize on the low opinion the public has of the political class. There are savings of course- but fairly minimal ones compared to the scale of our economic woes and savings that would be far outweighed by the benefits of an improved parliamentary system. Failure to tackle complex or difficult issues is one of the reasons that so many of the public have roughly the same opinion of politicians as they do of rattlesnakes. This sort of political cowardice is what saw us wait decades before an attempt was made to legislate for the X-case. And if the political class want to improve the public’s perception of them they should start demonstrating that they’re willing to tackle the hard issues and come up with real solutions instead of empty game playing and posturing. Reforming the Seanad would be a good place to start.
And I don’t subscribe to the sort of fatalism that says “they’re all the same” and “nothing will change”. Ultimately the electorate can make the difference- but citizens need to make the effort to engage, get informed and make themselves heard. We are only powerless if we believe ourselves to be powerless. So let’s send a message that taking the quick and dirty way out isn’t good enough by voting no on October 4th.