Abolition of the Seanad will weaken oversight over the Government
Opinion: Taoiseach and his ministers running a cynical and negative campaign
Micheál Martin: The Seanad regularly spots flaws in legislation that have been missed by the Dáil. Photograph: Alan Betson
Over the last five years there have been countless programmes, books, newspaper supplements and conferences on the theme of “what went wrong and how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again”?
An absolutely consistent point emerging from this, which stretched across all political lines, has been that we need to fundamentally reform the working of our political system.
Every party elected to this Dáil sought votes on the basis that they would give the people a chance to vote on such a reform.
The Seanad referendum to be held next week is a direct breaking of this promise.
If passed it will leave in place every significant element of the pre-crisis system and make matters worse by further weakening oversight of our government.
The Government is proposing to make over 40 changes to Bunreacht na hÉireann in this vote but it is not prepared to make a single change to the operation of government or its complete control of parliament. In fact, the Taoiseach explicitly wishes to retain a system where four men sitting as a cabinet sub-committee have the first and last word on what our laws, taxes and services will be. This is not a referendum to reform Irish politics, it is a referendum which will, if passed, end any chance of the reform of Irish politics. The Taoiseach regularly claims to be delivering a “democratic revolution”. The reality shows the exact opposite.
The way in which he and his Ministers have been promoting the referendum confirms this. Instead of offering a positive vision of a new politics they have delivered the most cynical and negative referendum campaign ever run by a government. They have adopted the tactics of exaggeration and invention normally the preserve of fringe elements.
Great pile of money
At a time of great financial pressures for every sector of society and fear about what the next budget might bring, they have decided to make people believe that there is a great pile of money awaiting them if they just vote Yes. The €20 million claim has been destroyed by all independent evidence, but they keep making it anyway.
The facts show that there is no possible scenario in which anywhere near the claimed amount can be saved. Pensions will still be paid and many of the Seanad’s costs relate to services shared with the Dáil. These will be left in place.
There is no scenario whatsoever in which the claimed €20 million a year can be saved and the fact that the Taoiseach and his Ministers keep peddling it is a powerful testament to the weakness of their case. It should also be noted that this is also an issue for well into the future. No saving of any type will be made during this Government’s life, and therefore the tax increases and spending cuts being planned at the moment will not be reduced. In fact, they have been increased by €14 million – the cost of holding the referendum.
If the issue is the cost of politics, then there are many ways of tackling this. A start could, for example, be made with reducing the number of Ministers of State in line with the Taoiseach’s 2011 promise. Overnight this would deliver saving to help Ministers Noonan and Howlin frame next year’s budget.