Real reform begins with abolition of this House
Opinion: The No campaign has failed to address the core problem, that for 75 years the Seanad has been a costly failure
What the No side have singularly failed to address is the reality that for 75 years the Seanad has been a costly failure. It has been the plaything of the political parties. They have used it to warehouse failed Dáil candidates and to blood future TDs. Of the current crop of Senators, 22 were unsuccessful Dáil candidates in the 2011 general election.
Those Senators who succeed in being elected to be the Dáil are undoubtedly more effective as parliamentarians when they get there. The example of Shane Ross makes this case. Already his 2½ year tenure as a TD – where he gets to question the Taoiseach and other members of the Cabinet – has been far more productive that his 26 years in the Seanad.
We’ve also heard a great deal of talk about reform. Yet, the No side has not been able to agree among themselves what this would actually look like. They back wildly differing proposals. Some favour greater elitism. Others want a directly-elected Seanad, functioning as a second Dáil, without even considering the dangers of US or Italian-style parliamentary gridlock.
Flawed Quinn-Zappone initiative
The Quinn-Zappone Bill has been much spoken of but, I suspect, little read. It is a flawed legislative proposal, and not just due to doubts about the constitutionality of several of its sections. The Bill favours retaining the elitist elements of the Seanad, including vocational panels and the Taoiseach’s right to nominate 11 members. Neither does it do anything to change the powerlessness of the Upper House.
The Seanad can only delay money Bills by three weeks and other Bills by three months. Giving it more power would require constitutional change, and the type of “constitutional vandalism” the No side shout about. Time on reform would be better spent, and would deliver greater impact, if it was devoted to the Dáil and not wasted on a Seanad sideshow.
Tomorrow’s vote offers a once in a generation opportunity to abolish political elitism and penalise long-standing parliamentary failure. Voting Yes is the reform option, but neither Enda Kenny nor Eamon Gilmore should take endorsement of the referendum proposal as ending the public’s desire for even more radical political reform.
Dr Kevin Rafter is a senior lecturer in media and politics at Dublin City University. He has been involved in the civil society group, One House, during the Seanad referendum campaign.