Dail is giving Irish citizens a false choice around Seanad abolition – Michael McDowell
In a heated debate with Minister for Jobs and Enterprise, Richard Bruton, Michael McDowell maintains that the government is hoodwinking voters into believing that the Seanad cannot be reformed – and therefore must be abolished. The people of Ireland will decide on October 4 whether or not two political houses ruling the country are better than one. While still some months away, the value – or cost of – Seanad Eireann is a hot topic currently under analysis. Democracy Matters, of which Mr McDowell is a member, is a committee campaigning to maintain the existing two-house system while Minister Bruton is behind the government drive to abolish the Upper House. In a debate hosted on Morning Ireland earlier, Minister Bruton said that politics must show it can change like every other family and business in Ireland, adding, “Any effective democracy must be built around those people chosen by the citizens and not those by the small elite. Only 1pc of people participate in the election of the Senate.” Yet, Mr McDowell believes that any reforms outlined by the government can be enacted ‘tomorrow’ without the dissolution of the Seanad. He says that previous commitments of reform have been broken ‘here, there and everywhere’. “There’s no reason that the people should for one moment believe that Dail who is totally and absolutely controlled by the whip and does the government’s bidding is going to be reformed. “We will be in for a one chamber dictatorship,” he says. Minister Bruton defended the campaign against ‘grubby power grab’ accusations, stating that the removal of the Upper House would lead to “30pc fewer national politicians, will save €20m of taxpayers money and like every other small country of our size, will create one chamber legislature that delivers effective governance.” “Since McDowell’s day, we have made big changes that would sort the sort of excesses in government that he was involved with. Beyond that we are committed to much more radical change if people agree to the abolition of the Senate,” he says. Despite Minister Bruton’s insistence that ‘we don’t need two houses doing the same thing’, Mr McDowell defends his position, warning the nation that the Seanad ‘acts as a second chamber of parliament to revise all the statutes that are being put forward by the government through the Dail’. “It also acts as a check and balance on the Constitution to prevent the Dail from doing things which would be harmful such as removing judges, removing the president, running through legislation without debate. The majority of bills have been guillotined through this government.” Describing Dail Eireann as a ‘highly adversorial bearpit of a chamber’, Mr McDowell seeks to make the country aware of a very useful function the Seanad can serve. “The Seanad has a veto over us surrendering our corporate tax unanimity in Europe post Lisbon treaty. The Irish parliament can by a single vote simply elect to abandon our veto in Europe for tax and other matters.” Minister Bruton reacts by reminding radio listeners that his rival campaigner is on record for saying that ‘the Seanad is a cross between a political convalescent home and a crèche’. But McDowell embraces this, saying that he ‘was and am of the opinion that the Seanad needs dramatic reform’ but writing it out completely is an unwise point of view.