Vote on Seanad utterly cynical
Published 09/01/2011 | 05:00
THE Government announcement that it is to consider holding a referendum on the same day as the General Election on whether the Seanad should be abolished or not is one of the most cynical and opportunistic political moves we have seen in a long time. It follows from the Fine Gael and Labour announcements that they favour the abolition of the Upper House.
That members of Dail Eireann should advocate the abolition of the Seanad is the equivalent of throwing women and children to the wolves to save yourself. Minister for Defence Tony Killeen said: "There does seem to be a public appetite for reform and we need to facilitate it. I know that the good intentions of the Opposition parties to change things often don't materialise in Government . . . Holding [a referendum] on election day would be the only way to ensure it would happen without distractions." It should be noted that Fianna Fail is not proposing the abolition of the Seanad, even though it is set to lose half its senators in the election, following reverses in the 2009 in local elections. In fact, Fianna Fail would probably campaign against abolition, thus making it an election issue on which they could expect a reasonable amount of public support. So they could either score a victory over Fine Gael and Labour on election day on this issue, or else the next government would be forced into abolishing the Seanad, something which they probably really don't want to do. In fact, it is probably true to say that none of the main parties really wants to do away with this retirement home for failed politicians and testing ground for new ones.
Mr Killeen is right when he says there is an appetite for reform (of the Seanad). That appetite exists even within the Seanad. It is undemocratic and unrepresentative. With a wider constituency than local politicians and the graduates of some universities, it could become the voice of architects and artisans, the unemployed and the diaspora. And it could continue to be the antidote to yahooism in Leinster House. It would also leave open the door to those of ability who are not willing to go on the treadmill of party politics to serve their country. Of course, the professional politicians do not want to allow anyone else to have any influence at executive level. Pat Rabbitte last week suggested that if people of perceived proven ability were allowed access to government via the Seanad, "we would long since have made Seanie FitzPatrick Minister for Finance." What we actually did, at the time, was make Brian Cowen Minister for Finance!