We need a TV debate on Seanad referendum
Published 01/10/2013 | 17:00
The interesting thing about the forthcoming referendum is the level of interest it has generated in an institution that not too many people have taken much notice of in recent years.
It's like having a clear-out and deciding on what items you really want to keep. Sometimes you come across a discarded item and find a new use for it. Could this be the case with Seanad Eireann?
Well, first of all, the public needs to be informed of its uses and limitations. I read through the booklet that came through my letterbox and really felt no wiser afterwards.
I notice that there are two proposals: the Seanad abolition and the provision of a Court of Appeals.
The latter appears straightforward as there are long delays and it will accelerate the judicial process.
However, as regards the campaign on Seanad abolition, the only signs I have noticed are very negative, eg, save €20m a year by abolishing the Seanad and we will have 60 fewer politicians.
There have been many arguments on both sides of the debate but despite the importance of such a decision, the Taoiseach refuses to debate the abolition of Seanad Eireann on TV.
Is it not important enough, and if so why have a referendum on whether to abolish the institution without a wider discussion?
The rich get richer
Ireland is a country of two cultures, the culture of the rich and that of the poor. It is a division that is locked in place by the persistent inequitable distribution of the country's wealth.
There is a glaring contradiction between the Christianity or Humanism we profess and our tolerance of shameful levels of basic need experienced by so many.
A recent report by Social Justice Ireland suggests that 700,000 of our citizens live in poverty. The proportion of people who do not have access to healthy, nutritious food is particularly alarming. We are landed with a failing welfare system that is clearly not fit for purpose.
The Government has institutionalised insensitivity to the glaring injustices that define our way of life by building a brazen shield against the recurring outrage generated by the official appropriation of Ireland's finances through self-administered excessive salaries, expenses and pensions.
Additionally, we are trapped in an insidious class system that is based on the vulgar display of possessions as we steadily lose our sense of enough and our awareness of the needy.
We seem to give raw approval to any indication of improvement in the country's wealth without giving serious consideration to identifying its potential beneficiaries.
The uneven struggle between politics and principle has led us to lose sight of the significant moral issues about equality and respect for human lives that arise in relation to the distribution of wealth.
Every cloud has a silver lining. I found mine in the realisation that the global debt mountain is now so high, our children can take refuge on it after the high tides we bequeathed them from global warming sweep the rest of us away.
Sandycove, Co Dublin
Reform or abolition
Like many people who long to see rigorous Seanad reform, I have reluctantly opted to vote 'Yes' in the referendum. I do so because I suspect that the Government will not enact the necessary reforms, any more than any previous government has honoured pledges to democratise this toothless and increasingly irrelevant institution.
A factor that might have dissuaded me from voting for abolition is the handful of outstanding senators we've had, among them Mary Robinson and Noel Browne. But the vast majority of those who entered Seanad Eireann have, sadly, been party hacks, line-towing career politicians, and cute-hoor types who used it either as a launching pad for the next Dail election or a halfway-house or retirement home following the loss of a Dail seat.
I have taken the trouble to review a list of senators from 1937 to the present day and I honestly feel that the number of truly noteworthy ones does not justify the Seanad's retention.
The senators have had ample opportunity over the decades to press for meaningful reform and allow all people of voting age have a say in who did or didn't get to sit in the chamber.
But instead they were content to enjoy the perks and privileges of the Upper House, huffing and puffing and having no demonstrable effect on anything.
Demolishing the house
There's this property in which I, among others, have a small but symbolic stake as landlord. It comprises an interconnected set of venerable old houses, constructed in the 1920s, which are well-located in the heart of the capital and enjoy ample car-parking.
It is seen as a much-prized des res to the extent that we have never been short of candidates when renewal of places occurs at the end of every five-year lease.
For all this grandeur, having never been properly modernised, the internal structures of the complex are not entirely fit for purpose. Its timbers creak – possibly due to the strain of too many tenants (although it is said that they are only ever there for a limited number of days); it is prone to leaks; and a great deal of the hot air generated within seems to be released without having any real beneficial effect.
Nonetheless, its residents have always seemed extremely happy with their conditions. Once they have moved in – some having been there for decades – precious few among them have shown any serious interest in the prospect of the disruption that would arise if meaningful renovations were to be carried out.
Almost as an afterthought to the imposing main house, a much smaller but equally well-appointed building of the same vintage is annexed to it.
This is practically out of sight. Looking at the dusty old deeds, it seems that among the original intentions for this opulent outhouse was to house the night watchmen to ensure that those in the big house would not lose the run of themselves.
It has instead been variously pressed into action as a temporary halfway house for those who have fallen on hard times and been evicted from the main house, as a granny-flat for retirees and even a creche of sorts.
Overall, its tenants have tended to keep to themselves. To be honest, even as their landlord, I don't know what most of the current batch do.
Recently I've received notice from the head of the residents' committee that a majority of the tenants of the main building wish to carry out some significant building works. At first I imagined that they were looking to fix the entire roof or insulate the external walls. Instead, it turns out that they plan to focus attention on the second house in isolation.
Rather than renovating, they want to demolish it entirely, taking some of the fixtures and fittings into their own building, and leaving a vacant space where it stood.
This is a much more far-reaching proposal than tenants asking permission to put up some shelving so it merits very careful consideration on the part of us owners.
The question is, will this course of action improve how the property, as a whole, functions, given that the structural problems are by no means confined to the smaller of the buildings? What effect will knocking down significant support pillars have on the overall architecture? Indeed, could the whole edifice be weakened and come crashing down?