Senators squawk among the seagulls

The Seanad begs to be taken seriously yet comes up with headline-grabbing silliness

Seagulls above the boardwalk on Dublin’s quays. It could be argued that the city’s seagulls are more highly evolved than those in other parts of the country. Photograph: The Irish Times

Seagulls above the boardwalk on Dublin’s quays. It could be argued that the city’s seagulls are more highly evolved than those in other parts of the country. Photograph: The Irish Times

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 08:01

Seagulls, is it? It must be frustrating to be a Senator intent on getting loads of work done and trying to reform the system from within. You toil day in day out, batting away suggestions your gig is handy, or sighing when your fellow politicians in America think you’re more important than you really are when you visit.

You fight for progressive amendments in legislation the public has no interest in (Senator John Crown recently proposed an amendment to legislation preventing doctors from talking about the HSE – the so-called “gagging clause” – which Leo Varadkar accepted.) You take on issues you’re passionate about and try to raise awareness about them. And then some dose comes along and talks about seagulls.

Kerryman and Fianna Fáiler Ned O’Sullivan proclaimed Dublin seagulls had lost the run of themselves, taking to thieving small children’s lollipops. The gulls kept him awake at night in his Dublin apartment. These Dublin seagulls are more interested in eating human waste than looking for fish (as, oh, I don’t know, maybe more sophisticated Kerry seagulls might be).

It could be argued that Dublin seagulls are merely more highly evolved than seagulls in other parts of the country. I’m not sure how hot Senator O’Sullivan is on the evolving eating habits of chimpanzees in Africa, but he might like to pop across the road to Trinity College next time he’s had a sleepless night. The school of geography there studied gangs of chimps who have taken to stealing crops in Rwanda rather than forage for their own food. Their are such successful robbers their thievery is altering farming practices. Stealing food is evolution in the animal kingdom.

Reputational damage

There are those who think that Ireland’s international reputation is dragged through the dirt because we won’t let a lad in a stetson play his tunes, when it is in fact dragged down by our brutalisation of women, by jolly good fellows and so say all of UN. Yet it is also dragged down by the hokey silliness of trivial Father Ted-esque concerns like discussing seagulls in the Senate. The Senator says the seagulls have lost the run of themselves, to which the seagulls squawked “pot meet kettle” before continuing to plot the downfall of the nation. Perhaps they should ask O’Sullivan’s party for advice on that mission.

The squawking isn’t limited to birds in these parts. The Seanad continues to need reality checks as it exists in a weird limbo since the silly referendum on its abolishment was defeated. The Seanad should be reformed, but that’s not happening. While reform of the Seanad used to be topical, that seems to be fading, and talking about seagulls isn’t doing its repletion any good. The promises of reform which Labour and Fine Gael paraglided into government on in the winds of change turned out to be just bluster.

Seanad reform

People are still talking about reform. Labour Senator John Gilroy tweeted last week, “In my opinion, the party whip system is the single greatest obstacle to real Seanad reform.” Sounds like he’s up to lots of noble work then. Mind you, he also posted a photo of himself with John Delaney at “Leinster House Oireachtas Members Supporters Club”. I don’t know if that’s a fancy name for the Dáil bar.

We need to keep talking about reform because otherwise, any progress made is just stop-gap stuff, like Phil Hogan’s parting gift in non-reform, the Electoral (Amendment) (No 4) Bill that allows the assistant clerk of the Dáil to perform the functions of the clerk. This Bill was introduced so a Senate byelection can take place, something the 1947 Electoral Act won’t allow unless there’s a clerk in place, and the Dáil clerk retired last year and has yet to be permanently replaced, for some reason. The byelection needs to happen tout de suite because the Government needs to get its majority back.

Ducks in a row

Since Deirdre Clune left the nest for Europe, the Government’s been in the minority, 29 to 30. And since the Seanad is not actually properly democratic, a Fine Gaeler needs to be plucked out from somewhere so all the ducks are in a row, just in case there would accidentally be real and robust challenges to legislation forwarded by Government.

Fine Gael’s profoundly negative attitude towards the reform of the Seanad thumbs a nose at the electorate. It can be interpreted as “if they didn’t let us get rid of it, then they’ll have to put up with it broken”.

Unfortunately the Seanad also has an image problem, begging to be taken seriously yet coming up with headline-grabbing silliness. While overzealous seagulls might be a bit of a gas, the public engaging with one of the houses of the Oireachtas, having a proper democratic hand in the election of its members, and giving it something to do, is serious stuff. When is the Government going to get to that?

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