Government now more likely to opt for procrastination than action on reform
Opinion: Simple legislative changes could improve the Seanad at a stroke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny: needs more practice in reflection. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
The cynicism hasn’t stopped. They (Fine Gael and Labour) promised during the referendum campaign they would not reform the Seanad in the event of a No vote and this is a promise they will try to honour, while pretending the opposite.
They made this promise to enforce a straight choice between abolition of the Seanad and its retention as the elitist, largely irrelevant institution it is. If they had said they would reform the Seanad in the event of a No vote, the choice would have been between a reformed Seanad and the abolition of the Seanad. And they were determined to deny that choice to the people.
Enda Kenny said on Saturday afternoon he would need to “reflect” on how the Seanad could contribute to the reform of the political system. Since Enda has not had much practice in reflecting, this might take a while, and, most likely, the decision will be to refer the issue to the constitutional convention, as suggested over the weekend by that master of procrastination, Pat Rabbitte. Then more reflection and perhaps referral to an all-party committee and, before we know it, the election and the Seanad elected on the same basis as always.
This tactic could be subverted by a co-ordinated Opposition strategy to propose the enactment of a simple Bill to give everyone a vote in the next Seanad election, to be held on the same day as the general election. Because of the terms of the Constitution, the election would have to be to the five panels mentioned there: a culture and education panel; an agriculture and fisheries panel; a labour panel; industry and commerce panel; and a public administration panel.
Neither does there seem to be any problem ensuring that everyone has a single vote in Seanad elections.
An expanded role for the Seanad could be dealt with by further legislative change – the provision allowing the Taoiseach to nominate 11 people to the Seanad would require constitutional change.
The changes would improve the chamber at a stroke, there is no need for further “reflection” or for the view of the constitutional convention or of an all-party committee. It could and should be done before Christmas and, if the Opposition is clever, the Government can be embarrassed into going along with it.
There will be much wind from the Government benches on political reform, every puff of which will avoid the central issue of unaccountability.