Seanad must be abolished to create better democracy
Politics has been the preserve of elitism, cronies and privilege for too long. The referendum can change that
“The Seanad has always been an instrument of government power – not a check or balance to it. It has been a rubber stamp for Government policy . . . The Seanad has supported the Government on every single occasion, including . . . the property tax, cuts to disability payments and the promissory note deal.” Photograph: Alan Betson
For many people reading this, the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad is a mere distraction from the more pressing issues facing their families.
For those who are unemployed or in debt and trying to find the money to send their children to school or college, it is probably the last thing on their minds.
But the referendum is important because the Seanad represents a blatant inequality at the heart of our political system. It matters because the cronyism and elitism that are synonymous, with some honourable exceptions, with the Seanad helped to foster the type of politics that brought this State to its knees.
The Seanad has consistently promoted political cronies and allies rather than ideas or visions.
The system of the taoiseach’s nominees, in particular during the Fianna Fáil era, was used to promote close political associates rather than doing anything to bring diversity into the political system.
Those arguing for its retention have been unable to state a single significant contribution the Seanad has made to improve Irish society. The Seanad has always been an instrument of government power – not a check or balance to it.
It has been a rubber stamp for Government policy. In the last 2½ years the Seanad has supported the Government on every single occasion, including the introduction of the property tax, cuts to disability payments and the promissory note deal costing the taxpayer €30 billion.
The Seanad has not been used to increase the number of women in the Oireachtas or to ensure that minorities are represented. In the main it has been a fallback option for some careerists who failed to get elected to the Dáil.
Discrimination at core
However, the most damning feature of the Seanad is the elitism, inequality and discrimination that is at its core.
There can be no place in a real republic, based on equality, for an elected office on which only a tiny percentage of the population have the right to vote. By restricting votes to an elite of those educated in a number of select colleges and city and county councillors, the Seanad is an anomaly in a modern democracy.
The Seanad runs against the core principle of “one person, one vote”. In its current form it is an undemocratic and elitist institution. A successful Yes vote does not preclude any discussion in the future on a bicameral or unicameral political system elected by universal suffrage.
I note that Fianna Fáil is now cynically and hypocritically attempting to recast itself as the new-found champion of political reform. However, Micheál Martin’s party had three terms in government and decades to radically alter the shape of the Seanad but it chose time and again to use it as a prop for its own narrow party interests.