A hidden danger to democracy- Article 27 and the Seanad Referendum


The Irish Seanad, the upper house of the Irish Parliament, last night voted to allow a referendum on its continued existence to be held. Its not exactly turkeys voting for christmas, more turkeys voting to allow people decide if there should be christmas. There is an argument that is is more about power grabs than saving money

Abolishing the Seanad has many attractions to many people, not least ‘sticking it to the politicians’. It has many downsides also. I didn’t realize until this morning of a consequence of which I and I suspect many were unaware. (H/T Kealan Flynn)

Article 27 Section 1  of the Constitution states

A majority of the members of Seanad Éireann and not less than one-third of the members of Dáil Éireann may by a joint petition addressed to the President by them under this Article request the President to decline to sign and promulgate as a law any Bill to which this article applies on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.

Therefore, abolishing the Seanad has the consequence that there will be NO check on the  parliament other than the President deciding on their own behalf to refer a bill to the Supreme Court. A27-1 has never been used. That doesn’t mean that its not useful to have. A properly representative and reformed upper house might have decided that one of the bills around the bank guarantee and recapitalisation might be worth getting the views of the people on, as an example.

As it is we have the Economic Management Council, the Gang of 4, dominate the cabinet, which in turn dominates the government which in its turn renders the Dail, the lower house, a rubber stamp.

We arguably need better oversight. We have a mechanism that in theory can be used. Im not sure that its wise to throw this out.

7 thoughts on “A hidden danger to democracy- Article 27 and the Seanad Referendum

  1. Eoin O'Malley

    This is utter nonsense. In the context of an abolished Seanad article 27 is obviously defunct. It was designed to allow the President intervene in deep disagreement between the houses if s/he thought it was an issue of significant importance.

    The ‘democracy-in-danger’ argument of the senators and the wannabe senators assumes that unicameralism is inconsistent with democracy. This is patently not true.

      1. Eoin O'Malley

        But yours is a non argument. It’s like saying if they fill in the deep hole we won’t have any danger signs. We won’t need them.

        You are saying that democracy is in danger without the Seanad, but you need to demonstrate why either theoretically or empirically.

        To argue for or against bicameralism you need to concentrate on the effects of bicameralism/ unicameralism.

      2. Fiachra Ó Raghallaigh

        Eoin, I feel that you’re taking an overly literal interpretation of the purpose of Article 27. Granted, functions as a means by which the president can intervene in disputes between the two houses. However, it also functions as a check on controversial legislation. Subsection 1 instructs the president to refer a bill to the people “on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.”

        This is an important check on the government’s power that will disappear, as an unintended consequence of abolishing the Seanad. Had the government done its homework, it would have replicated the powers of Article 27.1 elsewhere.

        This is not an argument for or against bicameralism, the point is that the manner in which the government proposes we transfer from bicameralism to unicameralism is dangerous.

  2. Pingback: Catherine Murphy, Article 27 and the Seanad. | Brian M. Lucey

  3. Pingback: eire.com » Blog Archive » The hole at the heart of Ireland’s decisionmaking and why the Seanad might matter

  4. Pingback: Running for the Seanad | Brian M. Lucey

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