Seanad Reform

There was quite a good debate on RTE’s Late Late Show on Friday night.

Setup was awry as there was an opening statement and soapbox provided to one side of the motion (that the Seanad be abolished) yet no counter statement or soapbox to the other side, yet the numbers were skewed hugely to the other side. Would it not have been better have equal representation for both sides of the argument and allow them make equal and opposite opening statements?

That aside, there were questions asked about the role of the Seanad and many answers given. Donie Cassisy, the leader of the (upper?) house gave quite a robust defence of the legislative scrutiny performed by the senate and how each bill was read through the chamber line by line before passing into law. Tales of long nights and early breakfasts were involved. Worthy stuff although one must wonder whether a team of constitutional barristers could do the same job at potentially less expense.

Otherwise the principal argument seemed to be the volumes of worthy work performed by Seanad members, as Senators from the four corners recounted tales of enterprises saved, industries revitalised, local interests protected, all through the auspices of the various Senators, whom it must be said all came across as decent, hard working and dedicated servants of their communities and committed to public service. However that then begs the point as to how exactly this correlates back to their work in the Senate. There are undoubtedly good people, doing a good job, but very little of this particular function is likely to be found under Senator’s job description and quite probably not even performed in Leinster house.

There are a number of populist but misleading arguments doing the rounds of course, the common chestnut of hours or days worked a week being a good one. Donie Cassidy gave an excellent and illustrative answer when he pointed out how people could accuse the broadcaster, and host, Pat Kenny of doing twelve hours work a week but the reality is there are a hell of a lot of hours put in outside the public eye. And equally so for the Senate. In a more general sense there is almost an obsession at present with politicans, their earnings and their hours, to the detriment at times, of proper debate on the substantive issues of the day. Leading by example is important of course, and the cabinet took a self-imposed 10% pay cut last October, quite likely more is to come in next months’ budget but we’ll reserve judgment until then in any case. But all that aside, even if the entire Oireachtas were turfed out on their Louis Copeland clad behinds onto the cold tarmac of Kildare street, apart from bringing a perhaps temporary blip in public good humour, it would do very very little to dent the hole in the public finances, and is really an irrelevance in a form of media blame game. (I will also confess of course, to a personal grievance, in that Councillors are paid very little, and candidates not a shilling, but it doesn’t stop people tarring ‘politicians’ all with the same brush, whatever colour or level one might be at)

Back on the Senate subject, the government parties appear committed to bringing through a reform package, according to Green and Fianna Fáil spokesmen on the show, and that should make interesting reading. One concept that was highlighted also was that most members of the Senate are elected by county councillors (and being canvassed by them will be interesting if I make it that far) but must first be nominated by a nominating body which includes many diverse institutions across commerce, healthcare, industry, agriculture, and the social partners. Securing the nomination is the first step then one must get elected. There was a suggestion that perhaps these nominating bodies could also aquire votes in their own right, perhaps a block vote, or a number of delegates and these could then be mandated by conference or decided in line with member interests. That may be an initial move which would not represent a huge shift from the current system but would instantly confer more democracy and representative status upon the members thereby elected.

One Reply to “Seanad Reform”

  1. Conor

    Would Ireland be democratically wealthier if we were to abolish the Senate and reform the Dáil and Councils into a federal systems?

    I’m not sure.

    If they abolished the Senate, we would need more legislative debate from our TDs.

    If they reduced the number of TDs, we would need to increase the powers of our Councils.

    Centralised planning and legislating does warrant the need for the Senate, people that can discuss the bills of the Dáil being independent from the electorate.

    If Ireland was greater, both geographically and demographically, we could abolish the Senate and “federalise” planning and legislation to the Councils.

    I think this “federalisation” could be comparable to the US, Germany or Switzerland. The sitting Senate’s role wouldn’t be as important as laws wouldn’t be required to be adopted across the entire State.

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