If I have misgivings about the abolition of the Seanad, some of them are reflected in these comments from Michael Burrows the Anglican Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, who argues that “it is just not good enough to offer the people a Hobson’s choice between the present Seanad or no Seanad at all.”:
The Senate does need reform and one improvement would be to hold elections to it, in whatever manner is used, simultaneously with Dáil elections so that service in the Upper House becomes a calling and a privilege in its own right rather than a second best for those who fail to enter the Dáil.
An upper house should be a place where legislation is scrutinised, and sometimes initiated, by people of expertise who sit lightly on the party system. It should be a place where the public know that individuals skilled in economics, history, medical ethics, international relations, agriculture, industry and education sit side-by-side and bring real objectivity and depth to law reform.
The presence of such members should ensure there are no no-go areas when it comes to the responsibility of parliament to legislate for the varied realities of society.
They will need to advance politically unpopular or awkward causes – for example in the area of bio-ethics and human reproductive technology there are matters that continue to cry out for legislation. In particular the Seanad should be a forum where genuinely independent (with a small “i”) and prophetic voices can be heard.
Simultaneous voting for the upper house could put a powerful weapon in the hands of the people, where they might come to effect certain trade offs not particularly to the liking of an Irish political class who have adopted a civil form of democratic centralism, that prefers to keep control of data and decision making inside cabinet (and often just the Taoiseach’s Office).
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty