Say No to Seanad abolition and the Coalition’s reform charade
Opinion: There is no intention to create a single-chamber parliament that will hold the executive to account
The Dead Zoo might have made an apt home for the Seanad, but the second chamber should be saved from extinction. Photograph: Frank Miller
In 1923, the original Seanad of the Irish Free State sat in the Furniture Hall of the National Museum while Leinster House was being renovated. An even better home for the modern Seanad might have been in another part of the museum that adjoins Leinster House: the Dead Zoo, with its splendid collection of musty, exotic and vaguely creepy specimens.
If the referendum were simply a question of abolishing the second House or keeping it as it is, there could be only one rational answer. The Seanad is indefensible. But there is a second, unwritten question: do we want to play along with a parody of political reform? For let’s be clear: a Yes vote on Friday will be taken by the Government as consent to its cynical game of pseudo- reform. We will be saying Yes not just to the abandonment of all the promises of a “democratic revolution” but to a further concentration of unaccountable power.
We have to remember, firstly, that a huge change to the constitutional order has already happened under this Government – one not announced or debated, much less voted on by the people. Article 28 of the Constitution tells us that the “executive power of the State” can be exercised only by the Government, which consists of the Ministers appointed by the President. This body must “meet and act as a collective authority”.
But we know that in all economic and fiscal matters this authority has been taken over by the Economic Management Council, which includes unaccountable and unelected advisers. It is a new layer of governance, at the top of our system, yet we are not being asked to change the Constitution to give it a legal basis. It has simply been imposed from above. This is what lies behind all the blather about the people’s ownership of the Constitution. It tells us how cynical is the exercise in which we are invited to partake.
The second bit of necessary context is provided by a question. Who said this: “An over-powerful executive has turned the Dáil into an observer of the political process rather than a central player”? That’s a quote from the programme for government agreed by the Coalition parties after the 2011 election.
It is a stinging critique – the people’s parliament is a mere observer of the political process. It was made when all the main political parties thought they had to respond to a public demand for radical reform of a system that had so obviously failed. The Government has since made it abundantly clear the Dáil’s observer status is to be maintained.