Saving the Seanad
Sir, – As former members of Seanad Éireann, we would like to express our shared view that rather than amend the Constitution to abolish the Seanad, it would be better to reform the Seanad’s electoral law to empower citizens to become more directly involved, to continue and strengthen the presence in the Irish parliamentary process of voices and viewpoints that might not be heard if future parliamentarians only were to be elected to a single chamber solely on the basis of the present system of geographical multi-seat Dáil constituencies.
We believe that the Seanad under the existing Constitution can have a valuable democratic and constitutional role as a revising chamber, and as a potential check and balance on the powers of a transient Dail majority in many areas, such as safeguarding the independence of the President and judiciary, and not least under Article 29 in relation to protecting the State’s sovereignty in respect of European Union treaty development, where the Seanad now has a veto.
While it is true that there has been justifiable public dissatisfaction with the effects of party political dominance in the Seanad, and while it is also true that reform of the Seanad has been more spoken about than acted on, we believe that a serious reform of the Seanad done in time to take effect from the next general election would be greatly preferable to simple abolition entailing, as that would, more than 70 separate amendments to the Constitution including the deletion of entire articles.
Specifically, we do not favour holding any referendum solely to abolish the Seanad in isolation from broader constitutional proposals to reform the Oireachtas, including Dáil Éireann.
Despite the present unsatisfactory system of electing the Seanad chosen by Dáil Éireann, we believe that the Seanad has enhanced rather than diminished Irish democracy.
We believe that if the Seanad’s electoral system were reformed, it could add to the standing of democratic politics in the eyes of the people and to the effectiveness of the Oireachtas.
We would welcome, and indeed urge, a considered, inclusive and informed public debate on the Seanad, its functions and its reform, before consideration of any constitutional proposal for its abolition. – Yours, etc,