Let’s keep the Seanad going and open it up so that new voices are heard
Opinion: closing off the option of reform shows disregard for the people’s wishes
We should make the Seanad responsible for more exercises in participative democracy. Photograph: Alan Betson
Richard Bruton is saying that our choice in this referendum is limited to either abolishing the Seanad or keeping it in its current form. But by what authority do Fine Gael and Labour rule out the possibility of reform? We surely still live in a Republic, where it is the people who in the end decide what can or cannot be changed in our Constitution.
The more the Government refuses to even consider the option for reform, the more the case for a No vote grows.
What populist illness has overcome Fine Gael and Labour whereby the only campaign argument they can muster is that politics is in itself a bad thing? Their only line is that having 30 per cent fewer politicians is by definition good. Where does that argument end? Should we all just bow out and let the Civil Service, judiciary or media take control? Having abolished a whole layer of local democracy and having centralised Government decision-making in a subcommittee of four, they now want rid of the Seanad. I am afraid I don’t trust them with yet more power. I think we should take some back and give the people the power to elect the Seanad.
They push the false conclusion that by further centralising power we will adopt some sort of slimmed down Swedish political model. But we all know that our problem has been an absence rather than excess of politics. We don’t have enough power at a local level or enough different voices on the national stage. Each international review of our economic crisis comes to the same conclusion. The lack of different views and the groupthink that existed in Irish public debate was one of the main factors that contributed to our economic crash. What we need now is to open up the second chamber so that new voices can be heard. The last thing we should be doing is shutting down debate.
There will be different opinions as to how this new Seanad should be elected and the powers it should hold. The Green Party has been the only party to take a consistent line on the issue and we look forward to setting out our views during the campaign. But there is already clear consensus among those calling for a No vote on some of the principles that should apply.
Firstly, we all want a Seanad that is directly elected by the people rather than by some chosen few. Such an election could be held on the same day as a Dáil vote, which would mean it would involve little or no additional cost. Fears that the new chamber might then become a mirror image of the Dáil would be overcome if candidates were not allowed to run for both Houses. Straight away you would have a whole tranche of new people coming into Irish public life. If you aspire to full-time national politics then you go for the Dáil. If you want to make a contribution but not to be a full-time career politician, then the Seanad is the place for you.