Vote gives Seanad rare chance to prove its worth before public decides its fate
'I THINK this is a chance for the Seanad to stand up and be counted," Independent senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell told this newspaper last week when outlining why she would be voting against the social welfare bill.
Funny, then, that a Fine Gael source was using the same rationale – the survival of a Seanad facing Madame La Guillotine – as a reason why wavering senators should vote for the bill.
"We'll tell them this is a chance for the Seanad to help save itself," the source said.
Although they are using the same argument to suit their own ends, both are essentially right. With voters due to decide the fate of the Upper House in a referendum next year, the coming months provide the last chance for the Seanad to prove its worth to a sceptical public.
It can act as a check against the Dail and offer pause for thought – serving a role it can fulfil, although it doesn't do it that often.
The current Dail has a government with a bloated majority which can – give or take losing a few TDs – ram through whatever it wants.
But thanks to Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointing a lot of Independent senators as his nominees, the majority in the Seanad is not as comfortable as it should be.
The social welfare bill could be thrown back to the Dail for changes, or the Dail could ignore the Seanad's concerns and override it after 90 days.
Some Labour senators have boxed themselves into such a corner that they would lose credibility if they support the Government now.
If, after making so much noise on the issue, such senators then fall into line, the public can rightly ask what is the purpose of having those politicians there at all?
Once the Budget is out of the way, the next issue on the horizon is abortion, which could cause more trouble in the Seanad than in the Dail.
The Seanad could also delay any abortion legislation that may be introduced, but is again unlikely to do so.
The next year – and these important issues – are crucial for the Seanad if it is to prove it is more than just an echo chamber for the Dail.
It doesn't have much time.
The basket is being moved below its head already.