Sunday 23 October 2016

Enda tried to abolish Upper House - how likely is he to deliver changes?

Published 14/04/2015 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny wanted to abolish the Seanad
Taoiseach Enda Kenny wanted to abolish the Seanad

THIS is an interesting Seanad reform report - it will look well on the shelf beside the 11 other similar plans.

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Anyone with even a passing interest in politics will tell you that Seanad Éireann, the Upper House of parliament, is a mess. But it need not be like that.

This latest reform plan was put together by a group who know the Seanad and who know Irish politics. They are drawn from all parties and independents and they took the best of advice.

Implicit in the report is an expectation that it may meet with that old Kerry political formula, "plenty of no-notice". To combat that mix of top-level indifference and hostility, they recommend the establishment of an implementation group and they intend to follow up soon with a draft bill drawn up by a seasoned legal draughtsman.

They appear to have foreseen the potential side-lining through Government recommending it as a job for the planned Electoral Commission. Their report recommends that, in the fullness of time, Seanad reform - already put in train - could be taken over by this body.

The group appears to have foreseen two other potential pitfalls by not recommending that it go to the usual authority, the Environment Department, nor even to the Foreign Affairs Department, to deal with proposals impinging on Northern Ireland and emigrant voters. Group chairman Maurice Manning wants it to go directly to the Taoiseach's own department where it would hopefully get full attention.

But let's recall that Taoiseach Enda Kenny wanted to abolish the Seanad and he levelled criticisms against it which bordered upon political calumny. He said it had not warned the nation against the phoney economic boom and the resultant bust.

The surprise loss of Mr Kenny's very own referendum seeking in October 2013 to abolish Seanad Éireann was largely caused by the public's suspicion of all politicians' motives. But a smaller group believed the claimed savings arising from abolition were at best exaggerated.

The small band of enthusiasts, who believe that a largely non-party political Seanad could serve citizens through work like scrutinising draft EU laws and furthering cross-border co-operation, will doubt Mr Kenny's commitment to effective reforms any time soon.

Doubts will be fuelled by timing. We are at most one year away from a General Election and a Seanad election must follow within three months of that. The report's authors concede that the new Seanad format cannot be done in time.

With Mr Kenny and Seanad reform, we are entitled to apply the Napoleonic legal principle of "guilty until proven innocent".

Irish Independent

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