Sunday 18 March 2018

Martin Mansergh: Let's build up democracy, not tear it down by getting rid of Seanad

Martin Mansergh
Martin Mansergh

Martin Mansergh

King Solomon was a wise ruler. One of his gems is recorded in Proverbs ch. xi, v.14: "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." Not everyone agrees. The Taoiseach Enda Kenny repeatedly tells us that he swears by another book, the Constitution of Ireland. This would be admirable, if he were not asking the people in a couple of months' time to tear several pages out of the Constitution by abolishing the Seanad.

Most historians agree that one major achievement of the Irish State, now approaching its centenary, has been its political stability – greater than that of practically any other State founded in the 20th century, despite many existential challenges, including the present struggle to regain our economic sovereignty. Stability attracts both investment and jobs, and makes Ireland a more reliable partner.

When the State was founded in 1922, two-chamber parliaments were the norm. There were special reasons for this in Ireland's case – the reassurance of a minority, economically important at the time though numerically weak. The establishment of a Senate was a commitment made to them by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith and honoured by W.T. Cosgrave. Eamon de Valera thought better of his decision to abolish the second chamber, and revamped it to make it less elitist. Minorities of all kinds have had good reason over the years to value the existence of a chamber that gives them a voice. In all probability, we would never have had Mary Robinson as President without her service in the Seanad. Our current President Michael D Higgins also spent formative years there.

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