Saturday 1 November 2014

Lucinda Creighton: Now voters have let the Seanad off the hook, it's time to let it off leash

Upper House vital in EU dealings, says Lucinda Creighton

Lucinda Creighton

Published 07/10/2013 | 05:00

Lucinda Creighton

There is much talk about Seanad reform in the aftermath of the defeat of the Seanad abolition referendum at the weekend. Reform is not just desirable; it is necessary and urgent.

In Dublin South East, the constituency which I represent in Dail Eireann, a No vote of 61.33pc was achieved. This was the highest No vote in the country. Of course, this rejection of the proposal to abolish the Seanad can be interpreted in many ways.

From my own experience listening to my neighbours and constituents in recent weeks, it was clear to me that the primary reason was a strong desire for genuine reform of the entire political system.

Many felt Seanad abolition was a crude and short-sighted response to the failures of our political system. They were demanding a comprehensive root-and-branch reform of all levels of decision-making in Ireland, from local government to the highest offices in the land.

Now that the Irish people have rejected the proposition put to them by the Government, there is an onus on all elected representatives to deliver the type of reform that can make policy-making and law-making in Ireland fit for purpose.

This would be a most positive outcome.

Some 80pc of all legislation in this country originates in the European institutions. But Ireland has one of the poorest records of debating, scrutinising and influencing the law-making process in Europe.

The role and influence of EU law-making, particularly in the eurozone, is set to grow. Our parliamentary work in this area must grow too.

A reformed Seanad can provide critical analysis of some of the very difficult challenges this country shall face over the next decade as we rebuild and renew in the aftermath of the catastrophic economic crisis.

While economic figures are slowly beginning to improve, Ireland's deficit projection of 7.4pc for 2013 remains considerably higher than the EU target of 3pc, which means Ireland is in no position to exit the EU's Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) when it exits the bailout at the end of 2013.

In fact, Ireland is not projected to exit the EU's Excessive Deficit Procedure until 2016.

Many people erroneously believe that when we exit the troika bailout programme later this year, our consolidation challenges will end.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dramatic steps have been taken in the EU institutions since 2010 to stabilise the euro and make sure we never again suffer from the sort of major policy errors of the past decade.

The European Commission will from now on make annual economic policy recommendations to each member state that is in breach of the specified debt and deficit levels. Failure to comply with these recommendations or reduce the debt and deficit in the required timeframe will result in substantial fines.

The deeper fiscal integration of the eurozone, which I fully support, means that decisions taken by the European Commission will play an even greater role in the daily lives of Irish citizens for the foreseeable future.

With this greater importance should come a greater level of scrutiny, and this is an obvious area where a reformed Seanad could and should play a significant role.

In 2010, when I chaired an Oireachtas sub-committee on the role of the Oireachtas in European Union affairs, our cross-party committee agreed that the Seanad was the appropriate place to give that added value to our EU scrutiny process. Unfortunately, the government of the day once again ignored the will of the elected members of the Dail and Seanad, from across all parties.

Today we have a golden opportunity to revisit this idea and give real teeth to the Seanad in a policy area that needs fangs.

Lucinda Creighton TD is a member of the Reform Alliance.

Irish Independent

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