Below is an article by David Mc Carthy that was published in the Evening Echo last April.
I went to Dublin on Wednesday April 16th to attend a meeting in the Central Hotel. I was invited by Senator Katherine Zappone on the back of a meeting I had with her in Leinster House back in February. At that meeting we had discussed the government’s plans to abolish the Seanad and the need to put together a strong campaign to not only defeat that referendum but to argue for a reformed, better Seanad instead. So I was delighted to get the invite to the Central Hotel, if only a little apprehensive as to who else would be there…
Immediately recognisable were the Seanad Reform group founding members, Senator’s Katherine Zappone and Fergal Quinn as well as Joe O’Toole along with Noel Whelan and Michael McDowell. Now you could be forgiven for thinking ‘Well more of the same so I suppose’ but you would be wrong. As the room began to fill, and more chairs were brought in I started to recognise other faces, faces from outside politics. There was an old colleague from my student days, there were representatives from across the voluntary sector, unions and groups like IBEC. Add to this a smattering of political strategists from all parties and none and finish with a large number of concerned ‘ordinary’ citizens and you get a recipe for a strong non-party campaign driven by civil society.
So to the purpose of the meeting: defeating a Seanad Abolition Referendum and presenting a strong coherent reformed Seanad that will ensure a stronger democracy for our Republic. If you cast your mind back to a Fine Gael President’s dinner in the November prior to the last election you will remember an Enda Kenny under pressure from internal rumblings about a need for change at the top. He had to do something, a strategy that would be bold, brash and appease his detractors so he announced the Abolition of the Seanad as an electoral promise. The room in the Burlington was stunned; this was a bolt from the blue to his party colleagues, his party handlers and the nation. Fine Gael backroom boys and girls franticly set about packaging this off-the-cuff announcement as part of a wider, well thought-out set of reforms the Party had planned for post-election.
The fall out is still continuing from that ill thought-out night in November 2010. Enda is now stuck with this crude measure, as he cannot be seen to step back off the ledge he went onto that night without looking weak. He is also playing on the electorate’s appetite for punishing politicians, and he is right on that one. The majority of the population if given the chance would like nothing more than to ‘fire’ a politician. However, what must be remembered here is that abolition and not reforming the Seanad will only serve to consolidate power in the hands of Enda, Phil Hogan and their colleagues.
So the question the voting public need to ask themselves is: ‘Are you really only rewarding the politicians by abolishing the Seanad?’ What I mean by this question is are we just conferring more power on an already powerful Executive by stripping away the checks and balances provided by a second house. Right now we have a situation where cabinet decisions are put to a vote in the Dail, a vote whose result is guaranteed because all members are ‘whipped’ or forced to vote in a certain way for fear of expulsion. Therefore if we strip away the chance of a reformed non-political Seanad casting the rule over these cabinet decisions are we merely saying to the Executive that they have absolute power?
To me this is a very frightening prospect, and one I feel the Taoiseach did not think through the night he flew this very crude and dangerous kite in the Burlington Hotel. Our society is hurting right now, we are suffering harsh austerity measures that are impacting on all our lives, some more than others. I have argued before that if we continue to travel this austerity route with no thought for the effects on society we might well see economic recovery in the short term but we will be left with a community with no foundations or confidence to take advantage of it. The result will be prolonged societal and economic depression, a fact that the current government seems oblivious to. This is scary and the thought of giving them any more power to continue in this vein seems idiotic.
So it is up to all of us to get engaged with this campaign. That means people will need to read up on the consequences of having no second house in the Oireachtas, what the ‘Whip System’ really means and how the Executive holds all the power. Then with this knowledge each voter will have to decide for themselves whether a cheap kick in the ass to a bunch of Senators they don’t know will really satisfy their need to punish politics and politicians. Or would this need be better served by bloodying the Taoiseach’s nose, defeating his referendum and demanding a reformed Seanad that will protect our constitution, our individual rights and will make our Republic a stronger one for all of us.
If you want to get involved or know more on this campaign contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Seanad Reform Group Facebook page.