Change for the better
There are signs that referendum fatigue and loss of appetite for constitutional reform is affecting members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party. Defeat of the referendum designed to abolish the Seanad has strengthened resistance to asking the electorate to pronounce on the issue of same-sex marriage. This opposition is, however, directly related to the turmoil created within the party by the recent legislation on abortion and an anxiety to deny political ammunition to semi-detached elements. As might be expected, the Labour Party has little sympathy for their colleagues in Government.
A contributory factor to defeat in the Seanad referendum was Enda Kenny’s determination that the issue should not be referred for consideration to the Constitutional Convention. It lent weight to complaints of authoritarianism. To decide now that the work of the Government-sponsored Convention on other matters should be ignored would represent not just political cowardice but an abandonment of pre-election commitments. It would mark a retreat into passivity.
The Constitution Convention has made a number of important recommendations that could improve the quality of life and administration in this State. The Government is not bound to accept them but, at least, these matters should be fully debated by the Oireachtas. The role of women in society is particularly relevant. The Convention recommended that gender equality should be enshrined in the Constitution. Emphasis on the role of women in the home would be changed to encourage their participation in public life and politics. Same-sex marriage was also favoured. A large majority of members supported holding a referendum and the introduction of legislation dealing with parenting and guardianship of children. One third of those involved were Oireachtas members, suggesting the existence of broad, cross-party support.
On the issue of political reform, the convention’s approach was cautious. It suggested that candidates should no longer be listed in alphabetical order; that an electoral commission be established and that measures be introduced to encourage higher voter turn-out. The public’s attachment to representations made by TDs on their behalf was reflected in a recommendation that the PR voting system be retained.
These reforms, if given effect, are unlikely to win elections. That outcome may - in due course - be decided by the state of the economy. Taking tough political decisions should not, however, be confined to the financial sphere. Ministers have a duty to address the status of women in society, reform political structures and challenge traditional forms of discrimination. Change along those lines would make this country a better place in which to live.