Fine Gael promise to abolish Seanad

The Fine Gael Leader, Enda Kenny TD, has told a party function tonight that he will abolish the Irish Senate and reduce the number of TDs by 20 if he wins the next general election. He claims this would save the tax payer €150 million in a Dail term. The move would require a constitutional amendment.

Seanad reform is long overdue but this strikes me as a populist move which could lead to the baby being thrown out with the parliamentary bath water.

  • On the contrary, there is no need for an upper chamber in a non-federal state, especially one with Ireland’s relatively small population. If the parliaments of Scandinavia, the Baltic states, and most of eastern Europe and central America can manage with only one chamber, so can the Oireachtas. It’s not as if the Seanad has ever actually been any use, after all.

  • Guest

    Conall,

    link not working

  • Wrinklie Jane

    Just abolish the whole damn Oireachtas and defer all decisions to Stasbourg and Brussels

  • Guest.

    Sorry about that. Try now. It’s from Irishtimes.com .

    Conall

  • Guest

    Thanks Conall,
    Works now.
    I’m just wondering if any new government would put such a mind boggling referendum to a people voting them in on stability.Don’t think so.But then again with the Enda you never know.

  • Glensman

    I’m all for it!

    Shame we’d have to put up with Enda to get it… Will someone PLEASE tell him to stand with his body faced Straight towards the camera. He looks like a real tit the way he does interviews!

  • Mark McGregor

    He fails to recognise this is not in his gift or that of any Dail leader.

    The only body that can change Article 18 of the Constitution are the Irish people via a referendum.

    Obviously the Lisbon farce has lead him to believe the constitution is a matter for elected representatives only.

  • Guest

    Mark,
    I agree.
    After the Lisbon circus I think the constitution needs to be iron-cladded.

    75% of the house before it could be put to people.

  • Dave

    “Our two-house Oireachtas is an odd man out in Europe. Two-thirds of all European Parliaments are unicameral. Those that are not tend to be large or federal.” Enda Kenny

    Harmonising as a region of the EU is clearly his main concern. Ireland is also an “odd man out in Europe” in that its constitution bestowed the sovereign powers of the state on the people whereas all other EU Member States grant ownership of those powers to the government, who may duly transfer that sovereignty to foreign regimes at their sole discretion. After ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, there will never be another referedun in Ireland on transfer of any addition sovereignty to the EU simply because the Irish people have pre-approved all such derogations within the scope of the Lisbon Treaty. In that regard, there would be no need to amend the constitution to transfer ownership of Irish sovereignty from the people to the government since nothing of any significance remains. The only reason this will doubtless be included in the amendment to abolish the upper house is to allow the government to agree to that which the 28th amendment declared was reserved for the consent of the Irish people.

    It now makes sense to abolish the upper house and to reduce the size of what is now merely a glorified county council. The EU will move fast to integrate the Member States now that it has Lisbon under its belt, and the Irish should follow their own backward logic and intregrate as much of their state as possible with their new government, recognising that to retain democratic facades as an impotent region of a federal state is a cost that they cannot afford. They voted their state out of existence as a nation-state when they ratified Lisbon, and it’s all over bar the shouting. 😉

  • Mick Fealty

    Abolition is a perfectly respectable option. Particularly since none of the attempts to give the upper house a proper legislative function have worked.

    If there is an argument to made in favour of retaining a bicameral parliament I would rather not have to begin from where we currently are. Justifying it in functional terms would require further reform, not just Enda losing his referendum.

    I don’t necessarily agree that you need to have a federal system to justify the second house. As things stand the upper chamber is a client of the lower house.

    The only institution that is elected with a separate mandate from the Dail is the office of the President but s/he has about as much independent power as the Queen in the British settlement.

    They cannot vote down a money bill (though it has a three week window in which to make ‘recommendations’) and the best they can do is to delay legislation for three months. Even in close general elections, the Taoiseach can make up any shortfall in the Seanad with his/her eleven nominees.

    It was once a tradition that at least one of these was appointed from the unionist tradition, but this has long since fallen by the wayside…

    Talk of abolition has been common right from the beginning of the state. However one all party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (1998) and the Seanad’s own Committee on Procedure and Privileges (2004) have recommended enhancing the power of the Seanad, and in the case of the latter, beefing up the direct election element of the chamber.

    The inaction on both reports tells its own tale. So what’s the case for keeping and enhancing the upper chamber?

    Without giving it a more substantial role, there isn’t one. The general quality of the debate in the Seanad tends to rise above that of the Dail. It is also notable for the number of independents who sit there (mostly under the aegis of the two universities, and occasionally through the appointees of the Taoiseach – though this latter, I suspect, depends on how safe they’re feeling after an election)…

    It also tends to be made up of people who take a national rather than a local or constituency view of the public good/national interest. I would not push this too far though since many people seem to flit in and out of the Seanad depending on whether or not they’ve been able to retain their Dail seats in the previous election (f/e: see Donie Cassidy’s record).

    You could see the Seanad (where it is given a sufficient role in making and shaping legislation) as a national balance to the localising effect of STV (the single most pronounced factor in creating a policy free Demos). Or, to slightly twist a Freudian term, as a Superego to the Ego of the Dail.

    In short, Enda’s pushing this on the populist note that it saves money. But abolition would not deal with the central problem in the Irish political machine: ie, that no one but senior civil servants (and some Senators) actually take policy formulation seriously.

    PS, Mark. If you check the RTE footage, Enda makes it clear the final judgement would fall to a referendum.

  • Guest

    Thanks Mick.
    Excellent summation.
    I know I can be a bit of a pricketedy wanker from time to time,but I do appreciate your eye for detail.
    This is Enda on the Band wagon.
    soon they’ll be telling us that embassies are a waste of money.It is nonsense.

  • Garza

    All this does not promote the idea of a United Ireland well. The Greens dictating whether the government falls or lives and demolishion of a tier of government? Doesn’t seem a stable government to me.

    ROI will survive these things, of course it will. But im failing to see that it is worth the trouble.

  • Guest

    Garza,
    What trouble?

  • Dave

    “soon they’ll be telling us that embassies are a waste of money.” – Guest

    You got that right. And it’s in the Lisbon Treaty which creates a post of EU foreign minister. As an internal region of a federal state, retaining sovereignty over external affairs is inconsistent with the emergent status quo. Foreign affairs will be transferred to the EU, which will lead to the closure of the embassies of the EU’s Member States. The same pretext will be used by governments of Member States to explain to their citizens why the external functions of their states are being removed, i.e. that cost savings can be incurred – and that they are redundant.

    As there is nothing of Irish sovereignty that would be inconsistent with the “essential scope and objectives” of the all-encompassing Lisbon Treaty, there is no need for the Irish people to approve any further derogations of it in accordance with the Grotty judgement. The only reason that the Irish will amend the constitution to transfer all such sovereignty to the state is to stop the text below from blocking the government from supplying the EU’s armed forces with paddies: “The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State.” That is the only significant sovereignty that is still within the gift of the Irish people, and not within the gift of their rabidly Europhile government.

    But things are moving fast outside of the EU too, with Obama about to cede US sovereignty to ‘global government’ and Americans having no conception of what that means. Unlike the Lisbon Treaty, the treaty that Obama is about to sign does not contain any exit clause.

    As a sovereign, independent nation-state, the role of the Seanad was essentially one of oversight of the legislature by so-called ‘wise men.’ That role is now redundant (and Pascal Mooney and ilk never quite matched the aspiration) with circa 80% of ‘Irish’ legislation being imposed by the EU and that figure set to rise post-Lisbon. There is also no need of men with vision since that only applies in democracies where elected representatives exercise the sovereign powers of the state, and obviously does not apply policies, laws, and national destiny is determined by foreign regimes.

  • Mick Fealty

    I see where you are coming from dave, but the Seanad was always vulnerable to a move like this long before Lisbon. In fact it has been cashiered before in the history of the state.

    Look, I have the chance to ask a number of members of the upper house about this question in Swansea over the next few days…

    Why not give me some questions to lob at them?

  • fair_deal

    Looks to me like a manifesto pledge that will be at death’s door on arrival. It’ll be hard to for FG to create a coalition government with smaller parties if the price of government is to back electoral changes that would wipe them out/significantly cut their number of TDs down. The Seanad stuff might still fly though.

  • URQUHART

    Maybe you had your eye on a seat Conall?

    I agree with your point – another example of badly thought out populist rubbish from the opposition. What ever happened to the knife and gun bins at the back of the chapels?

  • lula

    I was for some time under the delusion that Fine Gael were in some way different to Fianna Fáil. Admittedly, this delusion was one that I forced on myself out of clannishness but I did genuinely want to believe it. Enda’s band-wagonism on this one is just more evidence (to me at least) that these guys will say happily blow hot or cold depending on the temperature of the electorate. Like Fianna Fáil, they have no political compass beyond what they gauge will curry most favour with the electorate.

    Specifically, on this issue it would seem that Enda has discovered page 32 of that “pathetic” and “most cynical document” the (effectively Green) renewed programme for government (http://url.ie/2nrj):

    “Establish an Independent Electoral Commission incorporating the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission, with enhanced powers of inspection. We will mandate the Commission to:

    * […among other things…]
    * Within 12 months, the Electoral Commission will also propose reforms to the electoral system, including:
    — Make recommendations on the feasibility of extending the franchise for Presidential Elections to the Irish abroad.
    — Examine and make recommendations for changes to the electoral system for Dáil elections, including the number of deputies and their means of elections.
    — Outline new electoral systems for Seanad Éireann.
    * […among even other things again…]”

    This is why I voted last week for the Greens to stay in government. Specifically on this issue, institutional reform was a deal-breaker in a renewed programme for government for me. In my own mind I would have preferred an outright demand one way or the other but in the light of day an independent commission to correct place to begin rather than one party or another thrusting their views on the matter over the entire electorate.

    On the wider matter of government, if the choice is between Fianna Fáil + Green or Fine Gael + Labour then, with genuine apologies to Labour who most Greens would welcome to see in government, there is no difference between FF and FG. They are both cynical duplicit ass-wipes with no real interest in governing except winning one over on the other.

  • Greenflag

    Dave ,

    ‘As a sovereign, independent nation-state, the role of the Seanad was essentially one of oversight of the legislature by so-called ‘wise men.’ ‘

    That was the theory . The practice has not been in accord with the theory and over time the Senate has become a refuge for political has beens or wannabees . It needs reforming not abolition .

    The USA has an elected Senate and the UK has a House of Lords . In neither case did the ‘wise men ‘ of either ‘sovereign’ state predict or persuade or advise the House of Representatives or the House of Commons of the ‘unwisdom’ of taking the muzzles off the hedge fund and shadow banking rottweilers as the latter conspired to rip the ‘equity’ out of the American/British middle and working classes . As I write another hedge fund criminal one Rajarathnan along with 6 accomplices has been arrested by US police.

    A week or so back Dave was bemoaning the lack of ‘talent ‘ in the Dail and the vagaries of the political party candidate selection methods and the tendency of the PR system to elect people who put local interest before national interest ? And now he wants rid of the Senate the place where ‘debate ‘ is generally at a much higher level than in the short attention span media grabbing Dail ?

    Enda Kenny has picked a loser . The Senate needs reforming not abolishing not at this time anyway . Most of it’s seats should be by direct election with a number of seats ‘reserved’ for ethnic and religious minorities who now make up at least 10% of the population if not more .

    If this is the best Kenny can come up with to tackle the economic crisis then fair deal got it right above.

    ‘Looks like a manifesto pledge that will be at death’s door on arrival’

    Well at least Enda has a few years to cogitate over his ‘desperate’ proposal .

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nick Whyte wrote an article about this a short time ago (and has commented in a similar vein above). The received wisdom is that it is a good idea to have a couple of houses so that adequate scrutiny can occur. But isn’t this suggesting that the scrutiny undergone in the lower house, in which case, isn’t there a case for strengthening it ? Or is it suggesting that the lower house isn’t sufficiently qualified to apply all of the necessary scrutiny ?

    The American model favours two houses elected in along different lines and at different times. Supposedly, the aim there was to avoid the scenario where there would be too much overall control. I think the past decade or so have proven that this model does not necessarily work. Excessive control by one voice is better avoided using a proper, proportional electoral system and, where necessary, weighted majorities.

  • Greenflag

    Dave ,

    ‘But things are moving fast outside of the EU too, with Obama about to cede US sovereignty to ‘global government’ ‘

    More rubbish from our resident Europhobe . President Obama has wisely changed the disastrous American unilateral foreign policy as executed under President Cheney and Vice President Bush to one of a multilateral approach and cooperation with others. We’ve seen the disastrous results of USA unilateralism in foreign policy , in international economics , and in the destructive role which Wall Street’s shadow banking fraternity has played and is still playing with the american economy.

    The USA President is now welcome in probably every country in the world unlike his predecessors who in the last years of their corrupt and criminal administration were forced to fly undercover everywhere they went even in the USA .

    Global government of some form os on the way anyway sooner or later .

    While nations and states will retain a certain amount of local ‘sovereignty ‘ the very nature of capitalism as it’s worked in practice will require a ‘world government ‘ if only to enact binding legislation on matters to do with energy , water use , carbon emissions and mass immigration .

    Anybody who believes or expects that 200 nation states acting alone will resolve those kinds of issues has no idea of human nature.

    Probably the best way to approach resolution of the issues above is through regional institutions such as the EU , SEATO, the South American Common market ‘ etc etc .

    Dave’s late 19th and early 20 th century notion of ‘national sovereignty’ is not a recipe for the peaceful resolution of the main issues which are going to affect the lives of 7 billion people on this planet over the next century !

  • Comrade Stalin

    Is that the global government run by the Illuminati and the shape-shifting lizard creatures from the constellation Draco ?

  • Greenflag

    ‘I was for some time under the delusion that Fine Gael were in some way different to Fianna Fáil. Admittedly, this delusion was one that I forced on myself out of clannishness but I did genuinely want to believe it. ‘

    Don’t be too harsh on yourself .We would all like to believe in the wisdom of our elected representatives and their desire to place the ‘national ‘ (whatever that is ) interest above private , sectional , or class or party interest .

    That’s the theory anyway . In practice human nature and the desire for personal and party political survival tend to conspire together to make hash of any idealistic ‘delusions ‘

    Kenny is just playing politics . That’s what he is a politician . Believe it or not we need politicians for without them every faction on this island , unions, employers , every class and every interest financial and otherwise would be at each other’s throat and I don’t mean in the metaphorical sense .

  • Ray

    It is long past time to abolish the Irish Corruption Tower of Babel.
    We no longer need this Banking Communism form of government where every poolitican and banker speaks with a forked tongue and the only consideration is how much can I stick in my wee purse at public expense, and when can I take my next wee trip on one of the private executive goverment jets because I am a dignitary and utterly self-important.
    Corruption is the only tongue spoken in Ireland.
    Time for a flood to sweep away the Corruption Tower of Babel.

  • Firstly, what about creating a Department of EUrope affairs instead of just a ministry within the Foreign Affairs portfolio. Then Seanad, reformed, with places reserved for minorities, women etc etc can become a scrutinizer of EU legislation. Surely there is too much for the Dail to cover itself.

    Invite MEPs and form an alliance with similar sized nations with similar interests like Holland, Finland and generally become an EU-wide watchdog for EU directives. Appoint EU citizens from similar memberstates. Imagine we had Swedish legislators in the drawing up of NAMA. The instrument for “advanced cooperation” under the treaties could be facilitated in some way for legitimacy.

    It mightn’t have power itself, but with international help draw attention. Like a transnational upper chamber for the EU. Helps decentralize the EU as it wouldnt be in Brussels. Puts Ireland at the “heart of Europe”. A mandated democratic internal opposition to the EU is formed. 21st century thinking? Institutions fit for modern realities and the Erasmus Generation.

  • Nomad

    All the comparisons to the United States are interesting, but they’re focused in the wrong place. The U.S. is a federal system. It’s much more appropriate to compare the governance of New York, Texas or Delaware.

    All 50 states have governments with huge amounts of responsibility and sovereignty, outside of what could be considered transferred matters.

  • Erasmus

    The idea is short-sighted and retrograde. I was thinking of plumping for FG – not after that.

  • igor

    Has it occurred to the Irish yet that they may have just voted for a former British PM to be their next ‘real’ president with real power (as opposed to the faux one in Phoenix Park)

  • lula

    igor … aaah! … Tony’s alright – sure wasn’t his mammy from Donegal? Though don’t rule out that dark horse Robinson just yet. (e.g. http://url.ie/2ntt and http://url.ie/2nts). She surprised us in 1990. And again in 97. Maybe 2009 will be her year once more?

    In any case, has it not occurred to our UK friends that we might be in this for the long game? Ho ho! Someday you will be saluting a German führer … erm, I mean “Präsident” … after all ;0)

  • Neville Bagnall

    I’m not a fan of Enda Kenny’s suggestion, and particularly not on cost grounds. Reform is needed, but abolishing the Seanad on cost grounds just seems like playing to the gallery, an attempt to get back some of the ground lost to Gilmore over JOD. Instead lets have a look at why we might or might not want a second chamber and how we might reform the Oireachtas.

    a) In federal states, a second chamber typically represents the federal elements, in unitary states, where it exists, it is often justified on the grounds that it represents sectoral or non-party-political interests.

    b) The First Seanad was modeled on the US Senate, but because it was political and powerful, deValera abolished it.

    c) The Seanad as it exists now is theoretically corporatist, a concept popular in the 1930s.

    d) In reality, because of its electorate, it is not corporatist, but rather, with a few (usually positive) exceptions, a safety net for those who don’t make it into the Dáil.

    e) The most corporatist elements of the Seanad are also the elements that usually “raise the standards” of the house. Its when a “life” Senator or a truly sectoral Senator speak to an issue on which they have expert knowledge that the Seanad is most effective.

    So, it seems to me that the most desirable outcome would be redeploy or enhance the “Amateur” element of the House. I can suggest a couple of ways of doing this. One would abolish the house, the other radically reform it.

    cont…

  • Neville Bagnall

    cont…
    Abolition

    1) Use the PfG commitment for electoral reform to provide a single national multi-seat constituency for a number of un-whipped Dáil seats by STV. This would be in addition to whatever other changes the GP propose to increase national proportionality. Candidates for those seats would not be allowed to be a member of a political party for 5 years before and after seeking a seat and would not be allowed to join a Dáil group.

    2) Allow the Government to appoint Ministers who are not TDs.

    Reform

    1) Require the Oireachtas electorate to register for one and only one Seanad Panel when they register to vote. This establishes a national multi-seat constituency for each sectoral interest, i.e an agricultural constituency, a cultural constituency, etc. It also finally provides universal suffrage for the Seanad.

    2) Keep the Dáil Primacy rules.

    3) The Seanad should be elected on the same day as the Dáil. Candidates cannot stand for both houses.

  • Neville,

    I get the impression that your abolition proposal isn’t too far away from what Enda has in mind. We’ll have to wait for the publication of the report to find out, but the text of his speech hints in that direction.

  • graf

    Andrew, that’s based on two presumptions I find difficult to swallow: 1. that Enda has a mind, and 2. that there is something in it.

  • Neville Bagnall

    Andrew,

    Just tracked down the full text on the FG website, and yes, there it is:

    We will also review the electoral system with a view to allowing for the election of a limited number of people with particular expertise gained outside of politics.

    Which seems to have been missed in the summaries I had seen. But I also found at the Irish Times:

    introducing a “list” system for electing some 20 Dáil deputies

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2009/1019/breaking10.htm

    I’m not a big fan of list systems. And the smaller the country the less I like them. Yes they allow for a less clientist political model. But at the cost of putting more power in the hands of party machines. Particularly closed list systems. In larger countries, a list can hold a diversity of opinion, but the smaller a country, the greater the influence of unelected party officials over the choice offered to the electorate.

    I am also wary of reducing the size of the Oireachtas. Simply because it reduces the pool of talent to draw upon. Finding good candidates for Government from those who can get elected by any system where the voter has a choice of candidates isn’t easy. The smaller the Oireachtas, the harder it is. So the tendency would be to draw more and more from the unelected or list elected in forming a government.

    And limited and beneficial though the first few steps down that road may be, it is the wrong road to take for the health of our democracy.

    There is a lot wrong with STV, but it’s better than Closed List.

  • Neville,

    The speech as delivered was not the press release verbatim – he did ad lib slightly at that point, perhaps feeling the atmosphere in the room. I don’t remember him mentioning a list system at the time, but I’d better check YouTube…

    I take your point about reducing the size of the Dail, but larger parliaments are more dominated by the party machines, as the vote of an individual member moved by his conscience is less likely to affect the outcome of a division. I think the problem lies in getting more talented people into the Dail in the first place. The big disadvantage of abolishing the Senate of course is in the loss of independent voices such as David Norris. I wouldn’t be in favour of a closed list system to provide such people though.

  • Two points I’d like to throw in

    1 – @Neville: A list system may well put power into the hands of party machines by allowing them to chose the order of their candidate lists. I imagine, however, that parties would be free to decide how they organise this process, and some would have a vote amongst members to determine that ordering (which, for instance, is the way the German Greens do and is also likely how the Irish Greens would also run things.

    Forcing parties to appoint a certain number of TDs from a list would, I hope, achieve another end – tackling the factors that lead to Mick’s fairly accurate claim that the Dail is a “policy free Demos.”

    The electoral system contributes to a clientalist political system, which skews the vast majority of campaign media coverage into a ‘horse-race’ of who will get to the finishing line first at constituency level and who will receive a seat boost at national level.

    If a number of TDs were to be elected from a national list on the basis of their party affiliation then the media and the public may begin to pay regard to the various parties’ policies – fancy the thought!

    Working for a party that truly care about developing and implementing policies this is maddeningly frustrating. The recent (disastrous for us) local election campaign was the third campaign that I have been involved in, during which the policies that we tried to communicate were totally ignored while personality clashes and power-game politics took centre stage.

    Permit me an example: the Green Party manifesto for local government launched a fortnight before election day attracted along a handful of hacks. None of whom wrote about what was in the manifesto. Instead, they wrote about our reaction to the opinion polls; about voters’ anger; about blaming Fianna Fail for the Greens’ ills; about future coalition options; and about the second Lisbon referendum (which was at that stage was a very long way off indeed.)

    Not a single word of the coverage was afforded to the 24 pages of well-researched, well-conceived, well-crafted and well-drafted local policy proposals (http://archive.election09.ie/manifesto), which a committee of about 10 people, and one full time policy officer, had worked on for six months previously.

    Two weeks later, and two days out from polling, there was standing room only for our campaign concluding press conference, with every news organisation represented – some with two or three reporters in the room. Were they there to cover some bold new policy initiative? Eh, no. The fourth estate had been roused into life because Frank Flannery had said that Fine Gael could someday do a deal with Sinn Fein. Then Enda Kenny said they couldn’t and he’d have to fire Frank. And then Trevor Sargent said [when asked], ‘Well that’s funny Enda because you asked me to call the shinners back in 2007 and see if they were up for forming a government.’ Then Enda called Trevor a liar. And Trevor said he wasn’t. And thus a bitchfight ensued, which the hacks lapped up with great gusto.

    If changes to the electoral system meant that people might start electing people according to the policies they endorse, rather than personalities, spats and populism (and let’s not forget that FG/Lab were as reckless and populist in framing their 2007 pre-election pledges on taxes and property supports as were the PDs and FF), Ireland’s political system would be greatly improved.

    And 2. Just noticing something in that quote from Inda’s speech. The comparative stats are either heavily spun or simply arseways.

    Some 52% of EU states are unicameral, compared to 48% bicameral – http://short.ie/vyt3gp

    You only get to the ‘two thirds unicameral’ number when you have a definition of Europe that includes Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, Albania and Azerbaijan – http://short.ie/bd7mxs

    It’s true that the eight bigger EU states with populations over 15m have two chambers, and the four smaller members with populations less than a million have single chamber parliaments. But of the 15 states between 2-15m, five are bicameral and ten unicameral.

    This world view from wikipedia shows that bicameralism is certainly geographically, and very likely also proportionately, more common than unicameralism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Unibicameral_Map.svg