Don’t allow the Coalition to get away with its cynical Seanad campaign
Opinion: The Government deserves the odium that it will incur with a defeat
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been in the Dáil since 1975 and for 35 years had almost nothing to say about the Seanad. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times
It matters only a bit whether the Seanad stays or goes but it matters quite a bit which way you vote in this referendum. For if this Government gets away with the relentless cynicism that has marked its campaign, right from its outset four years ago, then more damage will have been done to the status of politics here than for a long time.
It was Enda Kenny who came up with the proposal to abolish the Seanad, after, we are told, careful evaluation of the usefulness of second parliamentary chambers in small states. This, apparently, persuaded him we didn’t need the Seanad here. So persuaded is he that he refuses to persuade the rest of us by engaging in public debate on television with opponents of the idea; refuses to tell us how a few months before he proposed the abolition of the Seanad he had argued for its retention and reform; and refuses to explain the curious coincidence of the timing in November 2009 of his headline-grabbing abolition proposal with a crisis of his leadership of Fine Gael.
Dáil debate is an oxymoron
His handlers’ claim that he has debated the issues repeatedly in Dáil Éireann is false. Dáil debate is an oxymoron. On television he would be required to deal with opposing arguments and questions – his busy handlers clearly deem him incapable of defending the proposition he himself instigated, or explaining his sudden volte face in November 2009.
The abolition proposition is presented as part of a political reform package. There is nothing at all in that package that deals even remotely with the central issue of the accountability of government to parliament. That accountability is frustrated with the rigid application of the whip system – the requirement, under pain of expulsion and the prospect of career ruination, to vote for and otherwise support whatever the government proposes. This system contributed handsomely to the unaccountability of governments since 2002 on the policies that drove the crisis. But, it seems, we have learned nothing – the integrity of this iniquitous system is carefully preserved in the programme of political “reform”. A vote for that piece of cynicism is a vote to continue as we are.
It is claimed the Seanad is irrelevant and should therefore be abolished, that it failed to stop the onrush of the crisis, that it consists of party hacks and wannabes. What then of the Dáil? It too is irrelevant, for it initiates no legislation, and fails to hold government to account; it failed to stop the onrush of the crisis (actually both Fine Gael and Labour in the Dáil urged the then governments to be more reckless); and there is hardly anybody in the Dáil who is not either a party hack or a wannabe minister; so why not abolish it too?