Thursday 23 February 2017

Dumping chamber could see precious Constitution being ripped to shreds

Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, left, Senator Feargal Quinn and Senator Katherine Zappone at a Democracy Matters press conference for a No
Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, left, Senator Feargal Quinn and Senator Katherine Zappone at a Democracy Matters press conference for a No

It is sad to see a proposal for the abolition of the Seanad being put forward in such a sour fashion. We are told a sum of money will be saved – how much is disputed – the number of politicians will be reduced, as they were a form of disease; we are to get rid of "elitism" as if to strive to be elite was not desirable.

But sadder still is the fact that if this referendum is passed the Constitution will be dismembered: it will become a thing of shreds and patches. Article 46 of the Constitution provides that any provision may be amended by way of variation, addition or repeal. A bill containing a proposal or proposals for the amendment of the Constitution shall not contain any other proposal. To abolish the Seanad involves umpteen other amendments to the Constitution. This referendum may be within the strict letter of what is permitted. But it very contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.

This is because there is a definite symmetry in the document. It provides for two houses: Dail and Seanad; it delineates the powers of government; it provides for the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judicial. It has a very advanced bill of rights section and it speaks in the present sense. In other words the Constitution does not bind us to what was right when it was enacted in 1937 but what is right for today. So it is a living document. By cutting off a limb, you threaten the whole.

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