Cynical Seanad abolition stunt must not be rewarded
Column: A reformed Seanad could resolve the central crisis of our political structure: the unaccountability of the government
“When I was up at the MacGill summer school in Glenties in July. I made it perfectly clear that I was considering a radical agenda in terms of how we do politics in Ireland. I signalled that . . . I have taken a leader’s initiative in this and this is what leaders are for . . . This mind is not for changing on this”.
Enda Kenny had never taken a “leader’s initiative” on anything in his life until October 17th, 2009. He had been in the Dáil for 34 years by then and nobody I have spoken to can remember a single initiative he ever took on anything or any indication that he had reflected at all on any political reform or anything else of consequence in that third of a century. Certainly not a word about Seanad reform or abolition.
That a major change to our political institutions should have been prompted by a stunt, and almost certainly nothing else, to ease political pressure at a time of peril to the career of a political dilettante, is beyond depressing. But that is the calibre of our politics nowadays.
A reformed Seanad could resolve the central crisis of our political structure: the unaccountability of the single most powerful branch of the State – the government. Because the government of the day controls the Dáil to which it is supposedly accountable, and controls Oireachtas committees, the agencies by which the government should be accountable, there is no accountability of any consequence.
That absence of accountability could be addressed simply by having the Seanad directly elected by the people on the basis of the European Parliament constituencies and giving the Seanad the same powers as the Dáil, except the power to elect and unelect a government.
Only in freak circumstances (as in 2011), would the government ever have an overall majority in the Seanad (it would need close to 50 per cent of the popular vote for that to happen) and therefore accountability could be exercised via the directly elected Seanad.
And precisely because this Government is determined to avoid accountability, this will not happen.
If a government were concerned to give the people a choice on how our parliamentary institutions should be modelled, the people would be given a choice between the abolition of the Seanad and the reform of the Seanad. But the people are denied this choice and are being asked to vote on this in the prologue to Budget 2014. A double stunt on top of the original stunt.
Such premeditated cynicism must not be rewarded.