Saturday 25 January 2020

McDowell warns against 'mutilating the Constitution'

Lyndsey Telford and Fionnan Sheahan

FORMER Tanaiste and PD leader Michael McDowell claims abolishing the Seanad will lead to a concentration of power without adequate scrutiny.

The prominent barrister said Ireland was in danger of mutilating the Constitution if a referendum to abolish the Upper House of the Oireachtas is passed.

"(It would) concentrate more power in the hands of a dysfunctional executive, over whom there would be no checks and balances after this," Mr McDowell said.

He is on the steering group of Democracy Matters – a band of campaigners demanding the reform of the Seanad, as opposed to its abolition.

The group has insisted it is not interested in retaining the house in its current form, but reforming it to give it more powers to be able to hold the Government to account.

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter described the Seanad as "toothless", while group chairman and former senator Joe O'Toole said it was a "failing structure".

Mr O'Toole also warned that government plans to urge the public to vote for its abolition – when the referendum takes place in the autumn – were an attempt to "power grab".

"We need to stop this power grab," Mr O'Toole said. "We need to stop the house that has become a creature of the political parties."

He said removing the Seanad would leave an all-powerful Dail, which he described as "dysfunctional". He said the Dail was run by the "political elite" – cabinet ministers and their departments.

He said even government TDs, while elected by the public, were constrained by the whip system, which dictates what policies they can and cannot support.

Democracy Matters will campaign against the abolition of the Seanad in the forthcoming referendum.

Irish Independent

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