Fine Gael TD voices concern over Seanad abolition

Mitchell says absence of Seanad, reduced Dáil and strong executive will mean less accountability

Fine Gael TD  Olivia Mitchell: “I would most certain
ly urge caution until we have a clear and coherent overall vision of where we are going.”    Photograph: Eric Luke

Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell: “I would most certain ly urge caution until we have a clear and coherent overall vision of where we are going.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Wed, Jun 19, 2013, 15:41

A Government backbencher has expressed reservations about the abolition of the Seanad during a debate on legislation to allow for a referendum.

Olivia Mitchell (FG) agreed there was a need for radical reform but it was not clear what form it should take. “That is my sole reservation about an early decision on the abolition of the Seanad without a much wider debate about our politics.”

The Dublin South TD said abolition might be part of what was required to make the political system more robust but without knowing what might replace it or what other reforms might come with that decision, it was not clear how the political process or the national welfare would be improved by the abolition of the Seanad.

Ms Mitchell was speaking during the ongoing debate on the the 32nd amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill.

In the absence of the Seanad and with a reduced or weakened Dáil, at the same time retaining the strong executive, there was a real danger “we will have less democracy, less accountability and less potential to deliver for our people”.

The question has to be asked about what political system people wanted. The Taoiseach intended to strengthen the committee system and that was welcome but there should be a debate about what that meant.

She said recent changes to the committee system meant that the most important part of legislation, the committee stage, was not held in the Dáil chamber but in committee, where the power to submit amendments was confined to the handful of committee members.

“This is a diminution of democracy and not a reform,” which it was introduced as. “My fear is that we will strengthen the committees at the expense of the Dáil chamber itself.”

The proposal of pre- and post-legislative scrutiny at committee was good but “a very small handful of deputies checking on themselves isn’t always the best way to scrutinise something”.

Ms Mitchell said abolition might be what was required to make the political system more robust “but I would most certainly urge caution until we have a clear and coherent overall vision of where we are going”.

Alan Farrell (FG) said he had no difficulty with a referendum but “I can’t help but feel that this is somewhat putting the cart before the horse”.

The Dublin North TD added: “We’re not having a debate about what we’re proposing to put in place of the Seanad or the alterations to the behaviour of the Dáil. Surely that should be the debate we should have followed by a discussion whether or not the referendum is called for in the first place.”

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar (FG) supported abolition and said there was a need for fewer politicians. There were 29 countries with only one chamber and they “seem to manage”. He said Luxembourg’s equivalent of a council of state reviewed all legislation to have a second opinion.

Éamon Ó Cuív (FF), whose party opposes abolition, said the Seanad made 529 amendments to legislation in the current Oireachtas and 57 per cent of legislation introduced into the House was guillotined.

If the Seanad was abolished, there should be constitutional change so that no legislation could be guillotined at committee or report stage without the support of two-thirds of the Dáil.