independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Eamon Delaney: Lose the Seanad – its leading lights will shine just as brightly without it

AFTER the Christmas break, Taoiseach Enda Kenny seems to have emerged with a renewed determination to abolish the Seanad.

Of course, the ultimate decision will be ours and not his, but Mr Kenny said he will be actively campaigning to have the Seanad scrapped in a referendum next autumn. Meanwhile, Eamon Gilmore is taking a different tack and will allow Labour TDs to campaign for its retention.

So what could have happened to harden Mr Kenny's position? Well, could it be the recent spectacle of all of his appointments to the Seanad, in terms of Independents, voting against the Social Welfare Bill of the Government's, and making a great publicity play of doing so?

These include senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Fiach Mac Conghail, Katherine Zappone, Jillian van Turnhout and Martin McAleese, who voted against the Government's difficult Budget.

Not that it mattered. With Labour senators staying in line, the bill passed.

But Mr Kenny and the FG HQ must be well annoyed. I know I'd be. Indeed, he'd almost be justified in taking disciplinary action against these grandstanders, for the way they let the Government down. But, of course, he can't, as they are 'Independent', put in there to spice up our second chamber, and our public life – as if our public life needed any more spicing up.

After all, what is the point in the Taoiseach making such generous appointments, if the recipients will not support you in a tight squeeze? And it's not as if these senators really sounded like they were that tortured by the actual Budget cuts, with the exception of Mary Ann O'Brien, who is involved in disability charity work.

But quite frankly, the rest of them said relatively little, not compared to Labour senators like John Whelan and Susan O'Keeffe, who had genuine divided loyalties but who still supported the Government in the context of what needed to be done.

However, there were few such agonised explanations from the Independents. Ms O'Donnell, in her larky way, said she was mainly doing it because she wanted "to show the uniqueness of the Senate".

But this is the very problem. It is as if the Senate, or this part of it, is acting up for its own sake, as opposed to an actual considered response to the national policies which the overwhelming bulk of Government TDs are now supporting.

So if I was Mr Kenny, I'd like to carpet the lot of them and then move to have this talking shop abolished as soon as possible. We have one real parliament already, after all, so we don't need another eccentric and inconsequential one.

I say this as someone with the highest regard for the Seanad members and who still feels that there is more talent there, on average, that the Dail, which is still riven with client-list foot-sloggers and party time-servers.

The Seanad, by contrast, is full of bright lights. But they don't need a Senate in which to shine. Ronan Mullen, Ivana Bacik, John Crown, David Norris – all of these people would be equally vocal as commentators outside a chamber.

Senator Brian O Domhnaill, who recently made a brave call for a reduction in Irish overseas aid, could still be a Fianna Fail spokesman without the safety net, or trampoline, of the Senate.

Two years ago, I wrote in defence of the Seanad, on the basis of its talents and its relatively low cost. But things have changed. The public want political reform, any savings and less indulgence.

And the antics of these Independents, voting against the Government seemingly just to flex their muscles (and yet almost derailing the whole Budget), does nothing to convince us of the Seanad's stability.

And I don't buy the late flowering support for the chamber from the likes of Michael McDowell, which could be unfairly construed as a desire to get in there himself and resume his political career.

But Mr McDowell doesn't need an extra constitutional assembly to offer his valuable views to. And nor does anyone else. Mr Kenny is right. The public want structural political change, and abolishing the Seanad would be a start.

Irish Independent

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