If you want to see political reform, write it in on your ballot paper
Opinion: It is a measure of how disillusisoned we are that the Government’s cynicism no longer shocks us
Enda Kenny: won plaudits from the media for being decisive and ruthless. Photograph: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
We could be having a very different referendum on Friday, October 4th. We could be voting on reform of the Seanad, with the possibility that if reform proposals were rejected, the Seanad would face abolition.
Instead, we are being offered the possibility of abolishing the Seanad, or nothing. No reform will ensue if the proposal is rejected, the Government has blithely informed us.
It has been a plank of the Government campaign for abolition that no meaningful reform of the Seanad has been attempted so far so, therefore, no reform is possible.
One would think they were sitting impotent on the Opposition benches. One would think they had no responsibility whatsoever, in this incarnation of the Government or in any other government in which they served, for the fact that meaningful reform has not happened.
Instead of this shallow, cynical offer, the Government could have expended time and effort on imaginative reform.
As a political philosophy, it boils down to this: We are not going to offer you reform now, because neither we, nor anyone else, has ever done so before and, anyway, we can’t be bothered.
It is a measure of the disillusionment with our democratic system that people are not even shocked or outraged by this attitude.
Yet we are supposed to swallow the notion that the same Dáil, which failed to even offer reform of the Seanad as an alternative, is serious about Dáil reform.
So the Dáil, or rather the Government, which could not summon the energy to reform a Seanad with weak powers, is going to miraculously develop the desire to reform a body with strong powers?
One only has to look at recent events to see how real that alleged reform will be. Sitting for additional hours is a sop. The Dáil sat for ridiculously long hours during the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill – to what end? Was there any difference whatsoever in what the Government pushed through after all the extra hours?
Similarly, there is the proposal to grant additional powers of oversight to Dáil committees. The kind of outrageously cynical window dressing that went on during Oireachtas committee hearings on the same Bill should show us how real that scrutiny is likely to be.
Not to mention the fact that the Taoiseach decided to remove members of his own party from committees because they displeased him by voting according to their conscience.
It was savage, punitive, and effective, because it won plaudits from much of the media for Kenny’s decisiveness and ruthlessness. Few seemed to see or care that it meant yet another boundary had been breached, and that it reinforced once again the idea that committee chairs or membership are in the gift of people who already have too much power.