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
A second check against the Seanad becoming too powerful would be for it to have powers to preview rather than review legislation. As a minister I saw the benefits of bringing Bills to the Seanad before bringing them to the Dáil. A new Seanad need not have the same blocking powers that it has today. Being a directly-elected institution would give it authority in its own right. It would then be easier for a minister to accept amendments in a reformed Seanad than it would in a more legally powerful but politically divided lower house. Having such a preview system of legislation would also force the Civil Service and the Government to plan in a more open, orderly and long-term way the legislation they need to get through.
Those who argue that this can be done at a lower cost in a Dáil committee don’t realise how the workload of those committees has expanded. Those committees have already proved incapable of providing effective oversight of legislation coming from Europe. What will happen when they are asked to take on the role of a second chamber, while having 30 per cent fewer members? Far better to keep the Seanad and give it an expanded role which includes bringing our MEPs home regularly to explain what is happening in Brussels and to answer questions about positions they are taking on our behalf.
Future of the House
There is one other job that a reformed Seanad could take on. There appears to be a general consensus that the constitutional convention has been a success and that we could use more of such participative democratic initiatives. We should give the Seanad responsibility for making that happen rather than leaving it in government control.
Of course that could only happen once the future of the Seanad is decided. The institution will not change itself and this Government is refusing to even consider reform. But people have the power to insist on such change. The Government could not dare to ignore the will for real reform that a No vote would represent.
They are running with the simple line, “We don’t like politicians, Here is a chance to get rid of some.” The No campaign on the other hand is calling for a new directly-elected Seanad, that complements rather than competes with the Dáil, which provides a link to Europe and which brings more not fewer people into our national debate. You decide.
Eamon Ryan is leader of the Green Party