Saturday 19 October 2019

Michael Brennan: Seanad has failed to reform and become discredited. Let's put it out of its misery

Michael Brennan

IT is a case of "too little, too late" for former Tanaiste Michael McDowell and his band of Seanad supporters.

There have been 12 Seanad reform reports since 1928, but the system has remained relatively unchanged.

One of those reports came in 2004 – overseen by former Fianna Fail Senator Mary O'Rourke – at a time when Mr McDowell was at the height of his powers as justice minister.

Yet he and the Fianna Fail ministers in the Cabinet did absolutely nothing.

Now, with the Seanad at risk of being guillotined in a referendum in the autumn, Mr McDowell and the Democracy Matters group are rushing in to save it.

Mr McDowell has warned that Ireland is in danger of mutilating the Constitution if the Seanad is abolished.

But where was the Seanad when it was needed to block the disastrous state banking guarantee in 2008?

It could do nothing because the Seanad cannot veto a bill going through. The Dail has the power to override the Seanad's rejection of a bill. And in the legislation being proposed by Mr McDowell and other well-meaning individuals such as Senator Feargal Quinn, there is no prospect of this changing.

There will be a more democratic system of electing senators, giving every eligible Irish citizen the right to vote for 43 of them instead of leaving the power in the hands of city and county councillors.

But to comply with the Constitution, 11 of them will still be appointed by the Taoiseach of the day, guaranteeing the Government controls the house.

Democracy Matters' argument is that voters should preserve the Seanad and hope that it gets reformed.

But that will not be done by Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Government, which is trying to get rid of it. That means it will be up to the next government in 2016 – and who believes things will be any different then?

There have been many fine politicians in the Seanad, and many of those currently serving there are people who have plenty to contribute to public life.

But it has become an expensive creche for aspiring TDs and a costly retirement home for those nearing the end of their political careers.

In modern times, GAA managers are being pilloried and told to step aside after a couple of seasons in charge. The Seanad has had 76 years to reform itself, ever since it was nobbled by Taoiseach Eamon de Valera and deprived of real power in his 1937 Constitution.

When institutions fail to reform themselves and become discredited, they are usually put out of their misery.

That is what is happening to FAS – soon to be replaced with a new training agency called Solas – and that is what is going to happen to the Seanad.

Irish Independent

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