Saturday 16 December 2017

Seanad an indefensible institution that should rightly be abolished

Arguments by the No campaign of a 'power grab' by the Dail just don't stack up, writes Colm McCarthy

The arguments in favour of a single-chamber parliament are compelling. Having run the Irish economy into the buffers twice in a generation, the Irish political system, including the system of public administration, needs radical change. The referendum next Friday on the abolition of the Seanad needs to be seen as one step in a broader process of streamlining a system that has failed too often.

Second parliamentary chambers are often found in large federal states, including the USA and Germany, and in countries which need somewhere to park a landed aristocracy, such as the United Kingdom. Neither of these considerations arises in Ireland and most small European countries get by with just one parliamentary body. New Zealand, a small country which also inherited a Westminster-style political structure, abolished its second chamber back in 1951. Some smaller countries never had two chambers; others abolished them as a positive political decision, including Denmark in 1953, Hungary in 1960, Sweden in 1970, Turkey in 1980 and Croatia in 2001. There is no public uprising in any of these countries demanding the restoration of an upper house.

It is easy to understand why so many senators are campaigning to keep the Seanad, a handy part-time job for many and a stepping-stone to the Dail for others. There are quite a few TDs who fear for their seats when the next election comes and they too can be forgiven for seeking to retain the safety-hammock in the Seanad that might console them in defeat. But these are purely personal perspectives. While the No campaign has raised a series of supposedly principled objections to Seanad abolition, every one of them is without merit and no attempt has been made to justify the retention of the Seanad as it stands, since the institution is indefensible. It has also defied reform despite 10 separate initiatives since it was founded.

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