Enda Kenny’s Napoleonic Quest
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?
Was it the motivation behind Kenny’s dramatic announcement on Saturday night?
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!