Seanad Debate

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Monday, September 30, 2013 12:00

The Seanad Debate
Two Northside politicians give their views

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John Lyons TD and Cllr Bill Tormey

Case not made for a second chamber 

by John Lyons TD

WHAT is the point of the Seanad? What does the second chamber add to our system of parliamentary democracy? These questions have been asked many times since the current Seanad was set up in 1937.

Yes, there are and have been some excellent individuals who have served in the Seanad, but as an institution it has never been able to justify its existence.

That is why on October 4, I will be asking people to support the proposal to abolish the Seanad.

Most countries of Ireland’s size and composition work perfectly well with one chamber that is directly elected by the people. New Zealand abolished its second chamber in 1950, Denmark in 1953 and both have remained effectively functioning democracies ever since.

Countries with two chambers tend to have large populations, a federal structure or are deeply divided along ethnic or religious grounds. None of that applies in Ireland’s case.

The Seanad has never been the ‘watchdog’ of the Government. Just twice (in 1959 and 1964) has it delayed a bill that the Dáil then simply proceeded with.

It has never even used a number of its powers. Indeed, most amendments to legislation initiated in the Seanad have been Government amendments.

Under our constitution, it is most properly the Dail’s role as the chamber that is directly elected by the people of Ireland to hold the Government to account.

The Government’s current comprehensive programme of political and constitutional reform will ensure that this function is strengthened even further.

The Seanad’s electoral process is also bizarre and outdated. Nearly 97 per cent of the Irish population are not eligible to vote for the Seanad. The 3.3 per cent who can vote are comprised of professional politicians and graduates of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin.

And only 1.1 per cent of the population actually voted to elect the current crop of Senators. Think of all the senior citizens in this State, for example, who are not politicians or NUI/TCD graduates.

These citizens have worked all their lives, paid taxes, raised families and supported their communities but have never been able to cast their vote to elect a single Senator.

Some people have asked why not reform instead of abolish. But there have never been any credible and workable reform proposals that would give the Seanad a distinct and necessary role in our parliamentary system.

In fact, there have been 10 reports on Seanad reform since 1937 which have all been left gathering dust. It has proved over the decades to be an undemocratic, irrelevant and fundamentally unreformable ins­ti­­tu­tion.

In the wake of the disastrous economic crisis, every institution of the State must have hard questions asked of it. The Seanad has simply been unable to answer any of these questions or justify its role in any way.

Labour believes a one chamber parliament directly elected by all of the people of Ireland is sufficient to meet the needs of a modern parliamentary democracy and that it is more than time to abolish the Seanad.

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Please vote no to defend democracy

by Cllr Bill Tormey

THE attempt by the Government to abolish the Seanad is a clever ploy to avoid responsibility for the generality of Irish citizens who live outside the immediate 26 county jurisdiction.

A true democracy respects and values the participation of all of its citizens. Yet in reducing the number of TDs from 166 to 158 and eliminating the Seanad, the talent pool in the Oireachtas will be stretched even further.

That will mean even more “advisors” and party hacks on the State payroll to cover the shortfall in expertise among the political class. Irish citizens north of the border and abroad will be entirely ignored as participants in the direction taken by the Irish State.

At present, postal votes are used to elect University senators and the electorate may live anywhere in the world. So there is a ready template to reflect the broad swathe of Irish citizenry through reform of the Seanad.

Holding the services to the Irish people to account is not a noticeable feature of the whipped cowed TDs of Dáil Eireann. Over 50 per cent of Dáil legislation is abruptly terminated by the party whips. It’s called a guillotine and it operates to block examination of bills.

There are rafts of European regulations and laws that have to be overseen by parliament and there is no chance of any detailed examination if there are insufficient numbers present with no Senate.

The Government’s finance claim of e20 million saved has been blown out of the water.

This claim that the Seanad is undemocratic is also spurious. The public elects councillors and TDs. These elect most members of the Seanad and so the election is proxy democracy.

TDs are elected to the Dáil and they elect the Taoiseach. The people do so again by proxy. There are six university senators elected by thousands of graduates. The Government has been too incompetent to pass a law to give effect to widening the third level franchise as passed in a previous referendum.

It is arrogance on an industrial scale that the Government offer the people a referendum and not a preferendum on this issue. Because there is no choice for reform offered this time, it is better to keep what we have and force them into reform.

Irish citizens in the north and abroad deserve our respect and support. Say No to the Government.