There’s a canny piece from John Rogers, Labour’s former Attorney General from 1984-87 in the Irish Times today on the subject of political reform in the Republic. He starts by usefully restating the bleedin’ obvious on why the much researched and much debated Seanad reforms never happened:
The truth probably is that none of the political parties wanted real reform of the Seanad because real reform inevitably would mean Seanad electoral reform.
Of course there could not be such reform without the agreement of the Seanad. Senators elected from five panels had and continue to have a captive small electorate who vote on lines of party loyalty and personal interest. What Senator would agree to his party disturbing such a cosy arrangement?
Indeed. Turkeys and Christmas. But then he gets to the crux of his argument:
Labour and Fine Gael have told us that the Seanad would be reformed by its abolition if the people agree to that in a referendum. There is nothing so clearcut on offer in terms of Dáil reform. There has been some talk of Dáil electoral reform but nothing in the way of a concrete proposal from either of the parties likely to form the next government.
The reason for this is obvious. Party leaders are naturally slow to signal the extinction of some of their potential allies in the new Dáil. Any proposal for Dáil electoral reform will be a matter to be considered and decided by the next Dáil and Seanad (if the latter has not been abolished). So Dáil electoral reform will become the subject of personal and party political positioning by TDs and Senators. The likely outcome of this is political gridlock and no Dáil electoral reform. [Emphasis added]
He then makes a pitch for his own reform package, which kind of co-opts the Dail and the Seanad into a single parliamentary body with two electorates. 100 from 20 five seat constituencies and fifty deputies voted nationally from seven different panels (to give policy focus to future Dail debates)…