Haste and fast tracking are best reasons NOT to abolish Seanad Eireann

Great piece in the Irish Times today, from Philip Pettit of Princeton University why the the proposal to abolish the Seanad is the wrong way to go:

The need to put legislation through a second house ensures against the danger of fast-tracking inadequately considered laws.

The existence of a second house creates a base for dissident voices to be heard in the community, guarding against majority complacency.

And the requirement for the second house to agree on the dismissal of constitutionally established authorities like the Auditor General offers an important guarantee of their independence.

He concludes that the move to ambition is ill-calculated:

All parties are committed to the idea that Ireland is a republic, in the long and fine tradition of constitutional republicanism. A centrepiece of that tradition, which ultimately goes back to republican Rome, is that the people should rule themselves via the interaction of distinct assemblies and authorities, not via any single representative, individual or corporate.

In seeking the abolition of the Seanad, the Government is not only putting good politics before good government. It is failing to keep faith with the commitment to the multicentred form of popular sovereignty to which our republican tradition binds us.

But really, you should read the whole masterly thing

PS, if you want the government case at the time FG announced it (when they were in Opposition)< watch my interview with Brian Hayes on YouTube

, ,

  • dodrade

    Didn’t republican Rome have only one chamber?

  • Greenflag

    Excellent article by Professor Pettit. As he states reform is possible and desirable without abolition . I have always thought that the hasty move to abolish to Senate was made at a time when the then Opposition now the Government were looking for any ‘scapegoat’ they could find find that would take the glare of malgovernance and incompetence in the midst of financial chaos away from the Dail and the then panicked government and the then ‘frozen in the headlights ‘ rabbit eyed opposition .

    I’ll be voting against abolition but would vote for sensible reform . We should be mindful that although second chambers in Republics can be a safeguard that under certain conditions such as in the current USA the Senators are equally liable to be ‘corruptible’ by the power of the finance and other lobbies .

    By now one would think that enough people would have seen how the whole ‘deregulation of finance ‘ carried out by successive Democratic and Republican administrations in the USA has impacted not only the USA’s but the world economy .

    Taoiseach Kenny should heed Professor Pettit’s words and pull back from the brink of ‘deregulating’ our democracy .

  • Mister_Joe

    Yes dodrade,

    But it it’s early days it had an Etruscan King, a council of Clan Chieftans to advise, (the Senatus), and a tribal member assembly. After the overthrow of Kings, Two consuls were elected by the Senate for a fixed period and the Assembly just withered away to be replaced by mobs in the street when unpopular laws were introduced.

  • [A two-parter, I’m afraid to say.]

    Editor Kevin O’Sullivan deserves every credit for that Opinion & Analysis page. Philip Pettit tails it; but Deaglán de Bréadún tops it with the dirty politics of Seanad reform:

    A referendum on abolition would generate a serious debate but it looks as if it may never be called. Kenny’s ability to get his way should not be underestimated but one hears the distinct sound of a can being kicked down the road, the noise of metal on stone getting fainter and fainter as it recedes towards political oblivion.

    Our institutions have failed us in many respects in the current crisis and we need a national “think-in” on their value or lack of it. It would also be fun: can you imagine the heights of rhetoric to which David Norris would soar during the campaign?

    With a few exceptions, the Labour Party exudes the same enthusiasm for abolition as a lifelong vegetarian would have for eating a medium-rare rib-eye steak and, apart from the Taoiseach, there is no great appetite in Fine Gael either. It’s a pity because a referendum would at least take our minds off our economic woes for a while.

    Like Jameson and Bushmills, both brands, Pettit and de Bréadún, should be taken, compared, contrasted and savoured with a small, leisurely glass in hand. As I do.

    I am conflicted here. I find the Westminster House of Lords beyond redemption or reform: replace the damn thing in a unicameral system with a much beefed-up, and informed, committee system, perhaps? Yet I have a strange affection for the Seanad: leisurely, ineffective and ineffectual, tiny, a bit like a private gentleman’s club. Yet it remains the successor to where WB Yeats could wear his ‘smiling public man’ mask:

    If it ever comes that North and South unite the North will not give up any liberty which she already possesses under her constitution. You will then have to grant to another people what you refuse to grant to those within your borders. If you show that this country, Southern Ireland, is going to be governed by Catholic ideas and by Catholic ideas alone, you will never get the North. You will create an impassable barrier between South and North, and you will pass more and more Catholic laws, while the North will, gradually, assimilate its divorce and other laws to those of England. You will put a wedge into the midst of this nation. I do not think this House has ever made a more serious decision than the decision which, I believe, it is about to make on this question. You will not get the North if you impose on the minority what the minority consider to be oppressive legislation. I have no doubt whatever that in the next few years the minority will make it perfectly plain that it does consider it exceedingly oppressive legislation to deprive it of rights which it has held since the 17th century. These rights were won by the labours of John Milton and other great men, and won after strife, which is a famous part of the history of the Protestant people.

  • [Continued]

    Equally, the Seanad provided the tribunal (2 Sep 1939) for Professor Joseph Johnston’s cogent explication of neutrality:

    Under present conditions, neutrality is the only possible policy one could recommend to a country situated as we are or as Holland is or as the Scandinavian countries are. But let me remind the House that, if the covenant of the League of Nations had been effectively respected by these nations, big and small, that were members of it and if the terms of that covenant had been lived up to in connection first, with China, later with Abyssinia, later with reference to Spain and Czechoslovakia—in other words, if the principle of collective security which is part and parcel of the doctrine of the League of Nations was a reality—neutrality, so far from being an honourable and desirable policy for any nation, big or small, would be the height of dishonour. The individual, when the public peace is at stake, cannot be neutral when it is a question of helping the forces of law and order to keep the peace. The individual citizen is bound to use his force on the side of law. To be neutral in the face of aggression is bad citizenship in the individual. Similarly, if proper relations existed between States, members of the League of Nations, then neutrality would be a policy which would not be honourable even for the smallest of nations. It is precisely because that world order, which was attempted to be established at Geneva ten or 15 years ago has been broken up or destroyed, that we are faced with this world conflict. Because that world order has been broken up or destroyed, it is not possible for us to maintain, under present circumstances, any other policy than a policy of rigid neutrality. That does not mean that our sympathies are not deeply engaged on the side of the democratic nations of the west which are now fighting for their own lives because some years ago they were unwilling to put into force the principles of the League of Nations which would have preserved the law of Europe against the beginnings of aggression. They are now fighting for their own lives and, as a matter of fact, they are fighting for our lives and our interests. Nevertheless, under present circumstances, neutrality is the only policy we can advocate and recommend. But the time may come when the question of erecting a new world order will arise. Then, we should bear in mind the lessons of the past ten years. One of these lessons seems to me to be that you cannot have the principle of collective security and, at the same time, have the principle of unlimited sovereignty of the nations of the world, big or small. It is precisely because none of the nations of the world, particularly the big nations, was willing to surrender one jot or tittle of its own unlimited sovereignty to a common international Government of any kind that the League of Nations became a thing of no account and unable to function effectively.
    In future if any kind of world order is to be built up, and there must be such an order, there must be a willing surrender on the part of big nations as well as on the part of small nations of some of their sovereignty. If in the future any kind of world order is to emerge it will have to be regarded as just as irrational and as immoral for a single nation, big or small, to maintain a private army for its own private quarrels as it would now be regarded for an individual citizen in any State to maintain a private army for his own purposes. In other words, armed forces in the future will have to be at the disposition not of national law but of international law. To give effect to that it would be necessary to bring into the comity of European nations that great Republic of the West, the American Republic, whose failure to co-operate in the work of the League of Nations was, in the first place, one of the reasons why that League was not able to be an effective success. I do not in the least know how to go about bringing that result about, but in the new social order, in the new world order, American co-operation will be absolutely necessary if any kind of world order is to be maintained or established. I do think that Ireland, small as she is, does occupy a big position in the spheres of spiritual and moral values and we will be making a large contribution to the world if we throw our weight in the direction of promoting world order, a work in which we and America will play an honourable part.

  • HeinzGuderian

    ‘Like Jameson and Bushmills, both brands, Pettit and de Bréadún, should be taken, compared, contrasted and savoured with a small, leisurely glass in hand. As I do.’

    One has to say sir,your taste in Whisk(e)y is dubious to say the least.
    Aberlour,once sampled,is a pleasure never to be forgotten.
    I might add that its presence does curtail the seemingly unending need to ‘copy and paste’,not to mention type copious amounts of guff.

    I fully recommend it 😉

  • Reader

    Professor Johnston: Under present conditions, neutrality is the only possible policy one could recommend to a country situated as we are or as Holland is or as the Scandinavian countries are
    Yep – look how well that worked for Holland, Denmark and Norway in WW2…

  • Jimmy McGurk

    New Zealand is a uni-cameral parliament with a strong committee system to enable greater scrutiny. They used to have a senate, but that was abolished in 1950 as it was seen as ineffective.

    The place seems to run quite well.

  • Greenflag

    @ reader ,

    ‘ look how well that worked for Holland, Denmark and Norway in WW2’

    In terms of lives lost -the number of their own citizens it worked well enough -ditto for Sweden and the Irish Republic and Portugal and Switzerland .

    A neutral Irish Free State was of greater benefit to Great Britain than a divided Free State or even worse a Free State in which another civil war was being fought between Free Staters and Irregulars .

    In the end it worked out best for Britain and Ireland .

  • I noticed the French Revolution gets left off the list of constitutional republics, whereas the English effort of the 1640s gets mentioned. Utterly bizarre.

  • alex gray

    No need for a senate or dail – lets do what France did – go straight for Emperor McGuinness