Monday 23 April 2018

Why we should keep the Seanad

I'll be voting to retain the Seanad. Purely for selfish reasons. I've weighed up all the arguments and come to a definite conclusion.

Is it because the abolition of the Seanad represents a power grab by TDs? Or the fact that the country needs a second parliament, to scrutinise the sometimes hastily-reached decisions of the Dail?

Is it the fact the Seanad often intervenes to amend important legislation? Or maybe it's because I don't like doing what any Government says I should?

No, it's for selfish reasons. I need the Seanad and its motley crew of Senators. All journalists do. Let me explain.

When I first came to Sligo to work, towards the end of 1990, I knew little of local politicians, be they TDs, Senators, or councillors – the bread and butter for all local journalists.

Imagine my delight then, on reading a front page story in The Evening Herald within days of beginning my job about a Sligo Senator who had intervened in a stormy debate on contraception.

His conclusion, to the bemusement of his Seanad colleagues, was that the best form of contraception was to "take a glass of water". What's more, he wasn't joking, he meant exactly what he said.

For a local journalist, it was manna from heaven.

The Senator's name was Willie Farrell, now sadly deceased.

And it was Willie, and people like him down the years, who provided us with many stories as a result of issues raised. Local issues, social issues, colourful issues.

On another occasion, Senator David Norris made the "shocking" revelation that he had accepted an amount of money from a fellow Senator as a gift. The Senator's name was Willie Farrell. It was the sum total of one penny, sent to him in a leather purse for Christmas. Indeed, he had sent one to every Senator to wish them well.

You only have to look at recent months with local Senators creating major talking points, be it accusations of the Taoiseach acting like a clown, or claims that non-national taxi drivers are of little use, as they don't know their way around Dublin. Courtesy of Senators MacSharry and Mooney.

On a more serious and supportive note, it is my contention that our local Senators, traditionally, have been more vocal, more relevant, and in some cases, more hard working than our local TDs. But one case in point comes to mind.

In this very newspaper, at the height of that bitter campaign to hang onto breast cancer services at Sligo General Hospital, it took Senator Geraldine Feeney to come out and put an end to the political dilly-dallying on Fianna Fail's behalf, to state categorically that the battle was lost. Not a popular thing to do, but she did it.

I often think the reason for this refreshing honesty is their (apparent) lack of fear in expressing their opinion. Generally, they are not shackled by the prospect of being taken down by the electorate if they come off the fence on any issue.

Also, for the most part, they are in it for the love of the job. Granted, they get €70,000 for a three-day week, plus generous travel expenses, bumped up by any committee memberships they can. And this is where the argument becomes somewhat clouded. But isn't that something that could have been dealt with through Seanad reform instead of Seanad abolition ?

Then again, maybe a journalist's support for the Seanad is the ultimate kiss of death? I mean, who ever listens to us?

Sligo Champion