Abolition of the Seanad will weaken oversight over the Government
Opinion: Taoiseach and his ministers running a cynical and negative campaign
It has also been claimed that this referendum will bring us into line with other countries. The reality is that the Government’s proposal will leave Ireland with a unique political system in the democratic world. No other democratic country, of any size, has the combination of a single house of parliament, a dominant government and weak local government. The final part of the Government’s campaign has been what is now bordering on abuse directed towards both the Seanad and those who wish to retain it.
Ministers are claiming the Seanad has never done anything positive. They are doing this in spite of the fact that the Seanad has made thousands of amendments to legislation. These include hundreds of amendments to legislation introduced by Ministers in this Government. The Seanad regularly spots flaws in legislation which have been missed by the government and the Dáil. Further, it has been the only place in our political system where many diverse parts of society have had a voice. Key reforms implemented in recent decades would not have happened without the advocacy of senators such as Mary Robinson. The role played by Seamus Mallon, Gordon Wilson and Maurice Hayes as senators in building the consensus and understanding essential to the peace process has no equivalent in the Dáil. Not one person is arguing for the retention of the Seanad in its current form. What is being argued for is its retention as part of a wider political reform. This would see our parliament be more independent of government and more expert in dealing with public policy.
It is the behaviour of this Government and its use of a dominant majority in the Dáil that has provided the biggest argument for retaining a reformed second chamber.
In 2011 my party explicitly and repeatedly stated that there should first be fundamental reform before considering the Seanad’s future. Our position today is that we believe that the Seanad should play a part in that reform because of developments in the Dáil which have seen it become more under the thumb of government than at any time in its history – a fact recognised by the majority of Fine Gael and Labour contributions to the debate on the referendum.
The decision to deny the people a reform option is perhaps the most cynical tactic of all. The Oireachtas and Constitutional Convention haven’t even been allowed discuss reform.
Instead we get what Enda Kenny has called his “personal leadership initiative” – one which he isn’t even willing to debate.
A Yes vote will not deliver better legislation, better policies or better government. It will not make the forthcoming budget easier by a single cent. What it will do is deepen a system which gives all power to government.
A No vote will tell the government that the people want real reform of our government and parliament.