Fate of the Seanad may all come down to potential cost savings
The abolitionists are winning on grounds of cost, despite the disputed figures
Members of the current Seanad pictured in May 2011: only 5 per cent of survey respondents said they would like to see the Seanad retained in its current form. Photograph: Eric Luke.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny appears to have found a receptive audience for the argument that lots of money would be saved by scrapping the Seanad.
In the final stretch of a lacklustre referendum campaign, The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll suggests arguments about the Seanad’s usefulness and elitism have gained considerably less traction.
The poll indicates the abolitionists are on course to win next Friday, with 62 per cent in favour of the proposition when undecided voters are excluded. While Seanad supporters have made some inroads, it looks like they now have too big a hurdle to overcome.
With a rapid turnaround in public opinion now required to save the Upper House, the poll findings suggest the Coalition’s argument on potential savings is driving support for the abolition campaign.
The irony here is that the debate over potential savings has been the most contentious aspect of the referendum battle, with supporters of the Upper House accusing the Government repeatedly of making “bogus” claims for annual savings of €20 million.
Fine Gael has led the charge, suggesting no less than €100 million could be saved in a five-year parliamentary term.
Labour campaigns along similar lines but with less emphasis, citing €9.2 million in immediate annual savings “with indirect costs saved over time”. The party also notes that the Public Accounts Committee was told abolition could save up to €22.5 million.
For all that, Seanad supporters received something of a boost 10 days ago when the body that runs the Oireachtas told the Referendum Commission it was not possible to estimate how much money would be saved by abolition. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission cited annual running costs of €20.1 million but could not pinpoint “the amount of actual net savings that would accrue if Seanad Éireann was abolished”.
The No side seized on this, but the Government refused to yield. The thrust of its message seems to have found acceptance.
Of those who will vote to scrap the Upper House, 43 per cent said the “main reason” was to save money. This was by far the biggest motivating factor for abolitionists, 16 per cent of whom said their motivation was that the Seanad didn’t do much or had no power.
A further 14 per cent said two chambers were not needed or that other countries had only one chamber.
In sum, the abolitionists are winning on cost grounds and their supporters appear unpersuaded by the argument that the Seanad’s role in holding the Government to account is so important that it should be kept.
The opposite seems to be the case on the other side of the debate, where the “power grab” argument is dominant.
Only 4 per cent of those who will vote to retain the House said their prime reason for doing so was because they “don’t believe the alleged cost savings”.
A further 2 per cent said they were motivated by the argument that the savings to be made are not significant .