In ancient Rome there was a political office called the Censor. His role was to act as a check on the membership of the Senate, to periodically oversee its membership and ensure that it was comprised of those eligible to be therein. He had the power to disbar, if someone didn’t meet the property franchise, if they had bribed or cheated (actually, been convicted of…) or were of insufficient moral fibre. We might, in this state, consider reintroduction of the office, with a twist. Continue reading
So, I had been asked by some people to consider this, in the upcoming election. Run for the university seats, they suggested. These were people I respected, from non-party backgrounds. Some were active in elected politics, others not. They made a persuasive case (but then, some are in the political world). I thought about it, took soundings and explored some ideas. I have made a decision about running.
Its strange to find oneself on the same side of a political argument as Fianna Fail. That’s now where I find myself with regard to the referendum to abolish the Seanad.
As an exercise in sheer political cynicism this referendum is hard to beat. Conceived by all accounts in a rush of political blood to the head to fill an empty season it sees parties engaging in volte face after volt face, playing ducks and drakes with the constitution for momentary political gain.
Fianna Fail say no to abolition. Having been in power since approximately the Jurassic period, they have over the years stuffed the Seanad with more political dinosaurs than one would find in a box set of Jurassic park but they now profess a desire for reform.
Sinn Fein were in favour of reform but are now against. I think.
Labour were also in favour of reform as late as 2009 producing a good piece on how this could be achieved.
There are many many reasons to abolish the Seanad. Forget the money for a moment – a working democracy requires politicians who can live on the wage, and who are well supported in terms of administrative and other capacity. Nobody seems to know how much it costs nor how much abolition will save.
Most people dont know who is in the Seanad. Just the other day I heard that Susan O’Keeffe, a really excellent journalist whom I had noticed had gone off the media, was in fact a S enator. Who knew. There are many many senators who pass through the chamber without troubling the world as to their existence as to senators. One whom I will not mention I was certain of as having died these many years past. But many others, notably the university senators, are active. They do their job as legislators in bringing legislation to the floor. It is the government that as a matter of routine votes it down even when agreeing with it. This last year we have seen the following acts brought
- Business Undertakings (Disclosure of Overpayments) Bill 2012 Ronan Mullen
- Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad] Fergal Quinn
- Financial Stability and Reform Bill 2013 – Sean Barrett
- Food Provenance Bill 2013 – Fergal Quinn
- Mortgage Credit (Loans and Bonds) Bill 2012 [Seanad] Sean Barrett
- Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012. John Crown
- Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill 2013 Fergal Quinn
- Reporting of Lobbying in Criminal Legal Cases Bill 2011 John Crown
- Seanad Electoral Reform Bill 2013. John Crown
- Seanad, Bill 2013 [Seanad] [PMB] – Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn
- Upward Only Rent (Clauses and Reviews) Bill 2013 – Fergal Quinn
Then there are the bakers dozen that the Taoiseach de Jure can appoint. Three words suffice to show how this works – Senator Eoghan Harris. But then there is Katherine Zappone.
It’s a rotten borough – leaving aside the university senators (and successive governments of all hues have refused to implement the 40 y old constitutional amendment to allow all graduates to vote leaving that franchise even more stunted and still the most representative) and the taoiseachs nominees, they are elected by panels of county coucillors and a hodgepodge of other bodies on “panels”. See the bottom of the page for a list. A rotten borough however should not in and of itself preclude either the election of good people nor the abandonment of the idea of elections. Reform the electorate is an alternative to abolishing the election.
The main reason though, apart from the fact that abolishing it would concentrate even more power legally as well as factually in the hands of the cabinet (the Dail being as dead a letter as the Seanad when it comes to holding said cabinet to account) , the Government seem not to be convinced. They refuse to put forward the man who thought this up, An Taoiseach, to debate. This is either an arrogant belief that it doesnt merit debate, or a feeling that the grounds given are sufficiently weak that even Michael Martin might shred them.
So, i’m thinking of voting to retain – that way we can at least debate reform having told the government we don’t want to be bounced into this. If the system is irreformable, then fine. But lets try first.
- Administrative Panel 7 seats
- Agricultural Panel 11seats
- Cultural and Educational Panel 5 seats
- Industrial and Commercial Panel 9 seats
- Labour Panel 11 seats
List of nominating bodies
- Administrative Panel
- Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland
- Central Remedial Clinic
- Enable Ireland Disability Services
- General Council of County Councils
- Irish Deaf Society
- Irish Kidney Association
- Irish Wheelchair Association
- Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland
- National Association for the Mentally Handicapped of Ireland
- People with Disabilities in Ireland
Agricultural PanelAgricultural Science Association
- Central Fisheries Board
- Dairy Executives’ Association
- Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society
- Irish Grain and Feed Association
- Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation
- Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association
- Munster Agricultural Society Company Ltd
- National Association of Regional Game Councils
- National Executive of the Irish live Stock Trade
- Royal Dublin Society (RDS)
- Cultural and Educational Panel
- Aontas Múinteoirí Éireann
- Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI)
- Bantracht na Tuaithe
- Comhairle na dTréidlia
- Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
- Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge
- Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge
- Cónaidhm Éireannach na Múinteoirí Ollscoile
- Conradh na Gaeilge
- Council of the Bar of Ireland
- Cumann Gairm-Oideachais in Éirinn
- Cumann Le Seandacht Átha Cliath
- Cumann Leabharlann na hÉireann
- Dental Council of Ireland
- Drama League of Ireland
- Gael-Linn Teoranta
- Gaelscoileanna Teoranta
- Institute of Community Health Nursing
- Irish Dental Association
- Irish Georgian Society
- Irish National Teachers’ Organisation
- Irish Playwrights’ and Screenwriters Guild
- Law Society of Ireland
- Medical Specialists Limited
- National Youth Council of Ireland
- Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland
- Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
- Royal Irish Academy
- Royal Irish Academy of Music
- Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland
- Údarás na Gaeltachta
- Industrial and Commercial Panel
- Association of Advertisers in Ireland
- Chambers of Commerce of Ireland
- Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport in Ireland
- Construction Industry Federation
- Cumann Aturnaethe Paitinní agus Trádmharcanna
- Electrical Industries Federation of Ireland
- Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland
- Institute of Bankers in Ireland
- Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Ireland
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland
- Institute of Industrial Engineers
- Institute of Professional Auctioneers & Valuers
- Institution of Engineers of Ireland
- Insurance Institute of Ireland
- Irish Architects’ Society
- Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute
- Irish Business and Employers Confederation
- Irish Computer Society
- Irish Country Houses and Restaurants Association
- Irish Exporters Association
- Irish Hardware & Building Materials Association
- Irish Hotel and Catering Institute
- Irish Hotels Federation
- Irish Planning Institute
- Irish Road Haulage Association
- Irish Tourist Industry Federation
- Licensed Vintners’ Association
- Marketing Institute of Ireland
- Marketing Society Limited
- National Off-Licence Association
- Restaurants Association of Ireland
- Retail, Grocery, Dairy and Allied Trades Association (RGDATA)
- Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland
- Society of the Irish Motor Industry
- Vintners’ Federation of Ireland
- Wholesale Produce Ireland
- Labour Panel
- Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations
- Irish Congress of Trade Unions
One of the things that must most irk senators and dail members is the way that debates get guillotined. Catherine Murphy TD had proposed to table some amendments in the debate on the Seanad abolition bill, mainly on the issue of Article 27. That this would be futile, as no opposition or independent amendments, no matter how worthy or how much the government agree with them are ever supported. In any case the blade fell and her views were not placed on the record of the house.
Nonetheless, these points that she makes are useful , and show a mechanism to preserve the democratic right of elected officials (local authority members to replace senators) to petition the president on a matter of importance.
Her full document is here.
Note : Im not a ‘supporter’ of Murphy, although she does seem a sensible and coherent independent. She is in my constituency, and I did give her a high preference last time out.
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.