“If you had a referendum to abolish the Dail, it would probably be carried”

So it seems the abolition of Seanad Eireann is about as popular with Fianna Fail Senators as the same suggestion by Enda Kenny was with Fine Gael members of the upper house. They’ve had a year to get used to it, so many of the sceptics are unwillingly coming round to accepting party policy.

In the Irish Independent, Senator Jim Walsh of Fianna Fail was scathing of his own party’s senior murmurings:

“It’s a throwback to our auction politics system. I thought we had learned from the mistakes of the past in making decisions for perceived political party gain,” he said.

He admitted the public would probably vote in favour of abolishing the Seanad if there was a referendum. But it was being offered as a sacrificial lamb on behalf of the whole political system, he said.

,” he said.

Fianna Fail senator Diarmuid Wilson also said he was opposed to the abolition of the Seanad — although he expressly said that he would back the move if it became government policy. “There is a place for the Seanad if it is properly used”, he said.

As noted yesterday, Killeen’s statement was nothing more than kite flying. And I would say he’s had his answer. If there’s to be credible political reforms, it ought not to be found in reducing democratic representation, but enhancing it.

Pearse Doherty’s golden moment in the Dail did not come out of nowhere. He’s been speaking in the Seanad for three years before budget day.

In the meantime, another layer of democratic control in Ireland, local councils, face losing their powers over housing in a bid to save money.

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  • Cynic2

    I am amazed at your proposition that having a local council – North or South – manage anything constitutes democracy!

  • John Ó Néill

    This appears to be a ‘nontroversy’ – the real issue is how *democracy* works in the Republic and effecting a culture change in how TDs operate and reducing their numbers. So they act more like parliamentarians and less like glorified local councillors (although, on the global scale of IMF-ECB policy, I suppose, that is effectively what they are now).
    I think scraping the Seanad makes for great headline policy until anyone examines it in detail. The wording and legal framework would be quite intricate, under the circumstances, as it would also require much more complex legislative procedures as the checks-and-balances aspect of the Seanad for scrutinising legal instruments would be lost. Fine Gael and Labour may be being out-flanked here – if it is such a major issue, FF will argue that a referendum needs proper preparation, which means time. If it isn’t that big an issue (FF will argue) why the hissy fits from Fine Gael and Labour? [No-one will bother with the previous 12 reports on Seanad reform that have been ignored to date].
    It looks like the coalition are setting themselves up with quite a few months legislative homework to push out an election day as far as possible. Keep an eye out for the referendum on children as well – it’s been lying around in the bottom drawer waiting to re-appear.

  • lover not a fighter

    I suppose if they abolish the Seanad then they can make Stormont the second chamber.

  • Neville Bagnall

    John,

    Agree with most of what you say, however reducing the size of the Dáil will make it worse not better. As has become abundantly clear, finding 15-25 qualified members of the government from 80+ members of the government parties is nigh on impossible. Doing it from an even smaller pool won’t make it any better. A smaller parliament will only make the executive more powerful, even if we did move to separation of powers and a presidential/congress system. Its the nature of representative democracy that there will always be pork-barrel representatives.

    I think the core cause of clientism (as distinct from the pork-barrel) is not STV per-se but rather the small quota size. The trick is to increase the quota without removing what little meritocracy currently exists in the process of government formation. I’ve a democratic objection to unelected ministers in a parliamentary system – although if we had elected mayors in a fundamentally reformed local system I’d support their eligibility for direct promotion to ministerial office.

    I’ve been thinking more along the lines of overlapping constituencies or multiple panels and votes. Daniel Sullivan has gone one better and outlined such a system in more detail. Well worth a read.

    http://www.danielsullivan.ie/blog/?p=1750

    Personally I’d prefer to keep the Dáil purely geographical, with the Seanad having a universal electorate, electing to policy focused Panels. Something along these lines:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=184562886721

    More anon.

  • John Ó Néill

    Neville – I think superconstituencies makes sense. The problem is worse than finding 15-25 functioning government members – you effectively need 10-20 effective members of the opposition to provide scrutiny and critique and vocalise a public debate.

  • Mick Fealty

    Cynic,

    It is very simple. I’ve no problem in strengthening local government by building stronger regional or county institutions by pushing powers upwards from pariochial level to a more strategically efficient level (though I would counsel Irish folk away from the British fetish for political reform for the sake of reform).

    But whilst moving responsibilities from democratically elected organisations into unelected quangos may look like a bargain in the short run, in the long run they tend to have the doubly negative effect of breeding further inward looking cynicism amongst ordinary people and compelling national law makers into becoming a mandated broker for the local interest.

  • aquifer

    Yep Daniel is onto something, there could be overlapping constituencies that could even be of different sizes, and a top-up procedure could ensure that parties get members in proportion to their votes and that there is more diversity.

    I have never been convinced by the ‘too many members’ argument when there is clearly a shortage of talent. And the constituency connection is irrelevant for many issues and to the connections we have nowadays.

    Too many ex local councillors is a real problem north and south.