It would be folly to deliver a single chamber into the hands of the whips
Opinion: Any reform package promised now will have no secure status
Executive power grab
For the price of a container of milk per year from 2016 onwards we are each being asked to vote to transform our parliament into one where government, through the whip system, totally dominates a single chamber, its committees and its deliberations.
How do we know? This Government made a pledge to you in 2011 to use the guillotine to push Bills through only on “rare” occasions. Yet this newspaper discovered recently that it used the guillotine on 55 per cent of Bills it has passed since making that pledge! It also promised us extra Dáil sittings, but Ministers were so often absent that their chief whip described their attendance to this newspaper as “deplorable”.
Any reform promised now will have no constitutional status at all. Their reform package can be reversed at will by the majority in the Dáil under Article 15 as now proposed to be amended. Even the pop-up “One House” abolitionist group has admitted that their hastily put together totally reversible Dáil reform package is utterly inadequate.
Opposing voices will be cast aside. Debate will be curtailed when it suits government. Dissenters will, like Lucinda Creighton be thrown out of office, party, rooms, committees (as Peter Mathews was thrown off the Finance Committee), and then deselected as candidates for the single-chamber parliament.
That is the reality of executive control over Dáil Éireann today. That parliamentary control will be totally consolidated – not loosened – by abolition of the Seanad.
The 32nd Amendment will deliver a single chamber, rubberstamp parliament, trussed up, into the hands of the party whips.
A Yes vote consigns irretrievably to the trash can of history the chamber where Yeats pleaded for the civil liberties of Protestants (“We are no petty people”), where Sheehy-Skeffington spoke up for civil liberty, where Mary Robinson fought for contraceptive rights and for legal equality for women and children, and where David Norris fought alone for emancipation for gay and lesbian citizens.
These causes had no champions in a whip-ridden Dáil.
As a one-time abolitionist I now make the “keep and reform” case espoused passionately by Garret FitzGerald, recently pleaded by TK Whitaker, and summed up aptly by Mary Robinson, when she declared of the Seanad: “It is vitally important for the future. It is a safeguard to our democratic institutions, to human rights and to civil liberties in Ireland, and it is a very important one.” Is that only worth €1.60 to readers of this paper?
Michael McDowell is a former tánaiste, minister for justice and attorney general