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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 20, 2009 @ 10:46 am

    Enda Kenny’s Napoleonic Quest

    Harry McGee

    Is Enda Kenny’s call for the abolition of the Seanad a bold brave radical move or a panicky attempt at out-trumping Eamon Gilmore to be the most populist politician in Ireland?

    The first thing that must be said is that it it’s a fabulous U-turn. If you trawl through the archives of the last six months you’ll see that Kenny was saying the same  soothing things as other party leaders about the Seanad. Fine Gael even produced a modest little reform paper in March. What it said? The same things as the modest little reform papers of the other political parties. Direct voting. Getting rid of the elitism attached to the university seats. Nothing that would rock the boat. The kind of wan stuff you would expect from our political parties.

    Was there concern within Fine Gael that Labour was stealing a march on it and chiming with public sentiment more skilfully?

    Perhaps. Probably.

    Was it the motivation behind Kenny’s dramatic announcement on Saturday night?

    Perhaps. Possibly.

    But this announcement goes way beyond being a piece of PR or positioning.  I can’t think of a more radical policy position this decade, with the possible exceptin of the smoking ban. And Kenny is not going to get a smooth ride on it. He’s telling his senators: “If you don’t go along with it, here’s your P45. If you do go along with it, here’s your P45.”

    I spoke to a good few TDs at the Fine Gael presidential dinner on Saturday night. And some of them were very unhappy, although the leadership has got key figures in both the Dail and the Seanad to rally behind Kenny since then.

    Having said that, it’s an extraordinary paper. There have been 16 papers on Seanad reform since 1928. Some of the reforms they suggested were very modest indeed. But none were acted upon. The Oireachtas (and Fianna Fail governments are must culpable for this) has allowed the Seanad to go to seed, to wither on the vine.

    Its functions now are very limited. Yes, you hear very good debates there. But you also hear them at the debating societies of every university. Which have about as much punch as our Second House. The election system for the Seanad is a farce. Everybody knows that. But the body politic has never bothered to do anything about it. Successive governments have diminished its powers. Nobody has really railed against it. Everybody has been trundling along in their comfort zone.

    Paschal Donohoe put it best this weekend.  This week’s agenda has debates on postal codes and on ocean beds. Talk about missing the point.

    This is the  second time that Kenny has publicly announced a major policy decision (the good bank/bad bank idea during the summer was the first) first and told his parliamentary party about it second.

    This one will call ructions. Fine Gael will be accused of panic and of not thinking this through. Kenny will be a hostage to fortune on this proposal if he becomes Taoiseach.

    But he must be commended for coming up with a truly radical, earth-shattering, proposal.

    By contrast, Labour has played it remarkably safe. I can’t think of any non-conventional thinking from the party in recent times.

    I’m a great believer in the saying: Be radical or re redundant.

    I’m also very aware that the other great believer in that maxim was Michael McDowell!

    • Liam says:

      its hard to picture FG being the great reforming party, this is the party that wanted to compensate taxi drivers way back when and if they have Labour in gov. with them we will see little in the way of real reform. As a token gesture it sends out a good message however in financial terms it is tiny
      This is part of the problem in my opinion , what gets politicians excited are not the issues that matter to the general public.

    • robespierre says:

      Yes well key figures in the parliamentary party have informed me that this is going to cost Kenny most of the political capital he has build up in the party. All it will take is one major boo-boo and he could get the shove. There are some extremely angry T.D.’s many of whom would rather see a list system go further – up to half the PSTV route because they see themselves as legislators rather than pot hole fixers and would prefer a list route to the Dáil.

      All in all – he has shot a large bolt and this one could do for him. Nora Owen had her political compass pointing to True North yesterday. It should have been something that people really care about. Politicians are getting kicked left, right and centre at the moment. Something about NAMA would have been a much more intelligent thing to focus on.

      The Seanad for all its problems, its benefits and its foibles is not the reason why the country is bankrupt.

    • Mr. Fink says:

      We need more radical proposals. The boat needs to be rocked. Hopefully Enda will keep his nerve and push through with these reforms if he is elected. It can only benefit his and his party’s image if they are seen to do something to update the talking shop that is Irish politics.

      If it is abolished, what next? Any preferences out there?

    • Harry says:

      We have been comparing FG to Labour but the true comparison must be the Greens. They have huffed and puffed about electoral reform but the only concrete concession they have got is an Electoral Commission to produce a report within 12 months.
      For determining how long it takes for a report to translate into action, be prepared to encounter dust. I would be very very surprised if any of the reforms in the Programme for Government are actually implemented before the next Election.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Harry, if the Greens via John Gormley don’t legislate to alter the uni seats by Christmas, which only requires legislation, then we will know that the electoral commission, which will require a referendum, is never going to produce anything.

      I’ve been repeatedly told by John Gormley’s office and Dan Boyle amongst that legislation will happen by the end of this year. It’s now mid October, the clock is ticking and it just got louder at the weekend.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Why not abolish the Dáil and keep the Seanad?

      That would save about 10 times as much money.

      And the number of public representatives per head of population would be about the same as most of our European neighbours.

      Or maybe this is just about stealing headlines?

    • Alex says:

      Enda Kenny has hit the nail on the head. We have a population of between 4 to 5 million and yet we have more politicians per capita than the United States. Are we all raving mad. Why do we accept these ridiculous words from politicians that this country cannot afford to be without the Seanad. As far as I can see the spelling is completely wrong as well. It should spell “shouldnot”. It should not exist. The senators should not be paid for wasting tax payers money and finally it should not be allowed any more time to decide on it’s own future. The sooner the seanad is gone and at least 40 TD’s and Ministers we might at least start to see some work being done by these lazy good for nothing ego maniacs. I suggest they start earning their money like every other honest worker.

    • Brian Boru says:

      The absence of an upper-house would mean more rushed, loophole-ridden legislation. I do not contest the point that Seanad Eireann does not provide value for money. But it is a cop-out from a much-needed debate on reform to propose abolition so soon after calling for reform as recently as last March.

      What form should such reforms take? I would like Seanad Eireann to cease being the creature of the political-parties. Ban the political-parties from standing in Seanad elections, and introduce universal suffrage. Require that all candidates be independent, and actually represent an area of expertise as well as those who elect them. Give the Seanad powers analogous to the US Senate in terms of confirming State-appointments. Without party-bosses pulling the strings, actual revision of legislation and vetting of State appointments becomes more probable. For the first election, the entire Seanad should be elected. The Cathaorlach would be automatically returned, while 33 Senate seats would be contested every 2 years. As revision of legislation should not be hijacked by the county-jersey mentality so rampant in the lower-house, there should be a single national-constituency. An Taoiseach should lose his power of appointment of 12 Senators. The power to petititon the President to call a referendum on a bill should be strengthened by removing the requirement that 1/3rd of Dail Éireann should also agree. With the exception of money-bills, Seanad Éireann should have its power to delay legislation increased to 1 year. This would serve to concentrate the mind on what the chamber is actually designed to do – i.e. revise legislation.

    • Pat O'D says:

      Let’s look at the mechanics of this. There will be no change until after the next general election which could be as late as 2012 and there will have to be a Seanad election as well.

      Assuming that this radical departure won’t be forgotten on the first day of the new regime any change will require agreement from Fine Gael’s coalition partner(s), will require legislation to be passed by both the Dail and Seanad, a referendum and will not come into effect until after the following election which could be as late as 2017. And all this to save €25million a year from then onwards?

      Maybe I’m too cynical at this stage but when every second word out of Enda’s mouth is ‘leadership’ then it’s time to head for the trenches!

    • getoffmycloud says:

      @ robespierre
      If legislators want to be disassociated with pot-hole fixing and other local issues then there needs to be a credible alternative point of entry to address these concerns. That means having local government which is better funded, more accountabe to the pubic and more independent from the central party. These issues will not just evaporate over night even if a list system is adopted.

    • robespierre says:

      @getoffmycloud

      Couldn’t agree more. I am strongly in favour a major overhaul of local authority structures including tax raising, executive powers for mayors, devolved local policing etc.

      The euro-constituency structure would allow a lot of thinning out of operational level staff while providing for a much leaner representative structure which to work properly would require power.

    • Frank Jameson says:

      No point in abolishing all of the Seanad. The abolition of Eoghan Harris should be enough.

    • No-moss-gathered, Dublin says:

      Kenny could not care less about Seanad reform. If he did we would have heard it by now and the FG policy paper in March was the considered view. Radical or redundant is a good general philosophy but the people who are best-placed to be either will have some sort of track-record – even as agitators.

      Kenny, it appears, has no patience for political discourse and no ability to inspire on even the smallest of issues. He is closing off avenues of debate and decision-making within Fine Gael and looking less and less like an alternative Taoiseach by the day. He is the Nintendo Chief who has no time for ‘old fashioned’ discussion, let alone to sit back a little when a counter-argument looks to hold water and a stronger counterpoint is needed to strengthen his position. One person’s position is never enough – no matter who they are – it is time for Fine Gael to call time on Kenny’s leadership. It looks like there could be two years to go to a General Election – there is a large pool of people who are not convinced by Labour, won’t be convinced by an FG leader ‘competing’ in that space but are open (as before) to any credible Party of the Centre that is convincingly radical so as not to be redundant.

    • Ray D says:

      It is well past time for any political party here to publish a series of position papers on a variety of social and economic issues – like all the Just Society papers back in the Sixties. These could be published, discussed and be finalised and developed to become sacrosanct party positions for the general elections coming shortly. These positions should not of course be for turning in negotiating any coalition deal whatsoever. We have enough of stroke politics. Tell us what your policies are. Parrties such as FG and SF in paerticular would benefit enormously from such honesty and effort.


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