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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 25, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    The Senate, the Seanad and the Dáil

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Sometimes things happen in politics that are almost inexplicable. For example, how could it happen that a US Senate seat which was held for so long by Edward Kennedy and, before that, his brother John, fall into the hands of the Republicans?

    Did President Obama take his eye off the ball? Surely he should have been practically living in Massachusetts for the duration of the campaign? The Democrats  now lose their precious 60-40 majority in the Senate and the healthcare reform package is in serious jeopardy. Clearly the candidate the Democrats put forward was not the best – although maybe she was the best available, can that be true?

    We have a more modest by-election coming up here sometime, in Donegal South-West. This vacancy was created by Pat the Cope Gallagher’s election to the European Parliament. No date has been set and, for understandable reasons, the Government is in no obvious hurry. The conventional thinking has been that Sinn  Féin’s Senator Pearse Doherty should win the seat, but that can’t be taken for granted, with SF going  through a fairly rocky patch at the moment. The result won’t have a hugely-significant effect on the balance of forces in the  Dáil but will be a significant straw in the wind nevertheless.

    Meanwhile, Fine Gael are ploughing ahead with their plans to abolish the Seanad. There is so much talk about it that I am almost beginning to believe it is a serious proposal rather than a top-of-the-head idea. I can’t convince myself it will ever happen – the Seanad has been such a cosy little resting-place for failed or aspiring (or both) Dáil candidates for such a long time. I observed to a sitting FG Senator that, “Enda is going to abolish you.” The immediate off-the-record reply was: “Just let him try!”

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Did anyone see Mary Coughlan’s final comment on the by-election on the WiP last night? She was ribbing Leo Varadkar saying that she hopes to see him around Donegal come the summer or autumn whenever the by-election is held and then just as Sean O’Rourke was summing up saying but it would be held by the end of the year she said “I didn’t say which year”. It was probably mean to be a smart (gives the measure of what she thinks is a smart economy) remark but even joking that they wouldn’t hold by-election for a more than 2 years after the seat was vacated make plain the dismissive attitude to the Oireachtas that FF have made their own. Waiting a year for the late Seamus Brennan’s seat was bad enough.

    • robespierre says:

      Mass. has some of the best organised pollsters in the Republican party. It is not that big a surprise Deaglán, remember Mitt Romney. They attacked wedge issues and claimed more than enough middle ground to win. It is only a shock in the context of the dubious legacy of Camelot. This was a local election in which Obama’s watered down Healthcare package was an issue so if he influenced the campaign it was in a negative way. Obama’s military strategy has also appeared indecisive on occasion and that does not go down well.

      Donegal SW – I would take nothing for granted there. Donegal is a law to itself and I could just as easily see FF hold a seat as I could see SF take it or an Independent or outsider like a Frank McBrearty junior. Whoever it is will be running on a “I’ll stick to them crowd down there / catch yer self on and fix the potholes / free TV” ticket. The likely loser up here will be FG. I can’t see them holding McGinley’s seat when he retires – it’s a rural Gaelteacht, personal vote.

      Seanad reform – the flimsy 12 seat euro experiment just sounds silly to me. Moving to Euro constituency list systems so that the focus in on regional policy makes sense to me. Retaining PR-STV does not (in its current for anyway). I am in favour on unicameralism but as part of the constitutional referendum I would like to see the role of the Council of State expanded. Reducing the number of public rep’s in the context of abolishing the Seanad is probably but I would rather see a much greater cut in the number of national elected reps to 80 or 100 and a focus on national policy in the parliament.

      Local government, with local tax raising power such be given much greater control over its area.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Robespierre I’ve said it over on p.ie I’d be lukewarm on the addition seats proposal. I’d prefer a fully reformed Seanad but if we’re going to do this regional list then let’s have 10 per euro region and say 83 PR-STV constituency seats. 3 per region sounds too half hearted to me.

      Agree totally about giving local authorities (12/13 regions with new boundaries based on access times to the central like the French departments) tax raising powers via local income and property tax.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Electoral reform is the refuge of those that have no radical political policies to offer the electorate as an alternative to the failed free marketeer ones.

    • robespierre says:

      Dan, to make things really interesting, how about replicating the Portuguese law making it ILLEGAL for national parliamentarians to pass laws or edicts in favour of their home patch.

      The old lottery funds would not have been so lavishly splashed about in Donegal NE, Kerry South or Waterford.

      In Scotland the split is about 50 / 50 so if we are going down the what’s local is wonderful route then 40 single seat PR-STV seats.

      If we are going down the what’s local is great route then 40-45 single seat constituencies with PR-STV and a national list system based on the euro’s for the other 40 seats would make sense.

      Against this four regional authorities with executive powers over local matters would provide a vastly improved and streamlined model. I would retain local representation at a county or city level but with a smaller footprint not linked to population.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Joanna, there is a lot people can accuse me of (and they frequently do) but lacking radical political policies is rarely one of them.

    • robespierre says:

      A radical departure for any of the Irish political parties would be for them to behave like legislators.

      That would be truly radical. There may even be a danger of an interesting idea being hatched.

      The parish pump brigade get short shrift at my doorstop.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:


      I wasn’t accusing you personally. In fact I admire the fact that you actually care about our Seanad.

      As for the Dail multi seat PRSTV gives the voters maximum say, list systems will mean that say will be taken away from the voters and put into the hands of party leadership elites who would also if they could (and some are already) remove the say of party members in selecting candidates in selection conventions. The idea of 12 TDs elected in manner apparently to be proposed by FG smacks of introducing two tiers of TD with the 12 chosen ones belonging to a special caste of TDs that is above looking for votes or following up the concerns of mere voters.

      Multi seat PRSTV is the most democratic way to elect our parliament and the voter is sovereign and that is the way it should remain.

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