The Seanad could be a forum for some real debate on rural issues
Downing on politics
Published 05/10/2016 | 02:30
Sitting in the exquisite room which houses Seanad Éireann the other day, I was struck by a familiar question: Why does this place exist at all?
Many of you will recall that on October 4, 2013, the people of Ireland voted to retain our upper house of parliament. True, it was not the most ringing endorsement.
Fewer than four out of 10 people bothered to vote at all. And the abolition proposition, pushed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a rather lacklustre way, was defeated by 52pc to 48pc.
But its survival is still a major puzzle to all associated with politics. The vote came at a time of deep recession and rampant unpopularity for all mainstream politicians.
Many people across the country felt that if politicians were working for nothing it would still be too dear. The prospect of abolishing a strange political institution and consigning 60 Seanadóirí to political history would appear to have been too tempting to pass on.
But no, the voters did not see things like that. Many suspected some form of political sleight of hand. Enda Kenny made some campaign mistakes. Seanad Éireann lived on.
So, what has happened since? Well, not very much at all in real terms.
Yet there we all were last Thursday afternoon, gathered in the beautiful former ballroom where the Fitzgerald family danced over two and a half centuries ago. The Taoiseach himself was gracing the premises for only the second time in over five years.