All sides must be heard about Seanad's future
Published 06/06/2013 | 05:00
SO now we definitively know voters will be asked if they want to abolish the Seanad, at a date yet to be specified, but very probably in late September. Unveiling the referendum proposal yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Seanad abolition and accompanying Dail reforms would lead to a more efficient political system. Mr Kenny said Ireland had too many politicians for its size and there was now no need for a second chamber like the Seanad.
The Taoiseach added that all the Scandinavian countries had abolished their second chambers and most of the emerging former Eastern Bloc states had not bothered with one in their new democratic structures. Others, such as New Zealand, had also shown it was entirely possible to have enough checks and balances in a single-chamber parliament.
Mr Kenny said the abolition of the Seanad, along with the reduction by eight in the number of TDs, would mean a reduction of almost one third in the number of public representatives.
All of these are good arguments and worthy of serious consideration. But Mr Kenny was on less sure ground when he said €20m per year would be saved by Seanad abolition and the reduction of the Dail from the current 166 TDs to 158.
Those who will campaign for the Seanad's retention argue with some cogency that the money saved may well be a quarter of that amount. And we will without doubt hear that issue threshed out in considerably more detail in the weeks to come.
Equally, the Taoiseach was pushing his luck when said that the Seanad was elitist in its composition and outmoded.
This is particularly rich given that Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail have blithely ignored literally dozens of reform proposals which could have made the Seanad more relevant and democratic.
In fact, these parties ignored totally a referendum vote back in July 1979 that would have allowed a fairer allocation of six university seats to include newer third-level colleges.
Mr Kenny has tabled interesting Dail reform proposals. There would be a better committee system with chairpersons selected by the d'Hondt system, reflecting the parties' Dail strength, and greater opportunities for TDs to initiate legislation.
The Taoiseach is also the longest-serving TD and has genuine regard for parliament. But it has to be said that these Dail reforms do not require the abolition of the Seanad.
The proposal to abolish the Seanad involves a total of 40 amendments and must be given very serious consideration. All sides in this debate must be listened to carefully.