Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Democracy Matters: Seanad reform

Seanad reform isn’t sexy, but the idea of abolishing the Seanad is short-sighted and ill-conceived.

Mon, May 27, 2013, 13:41


Democracy Matters is a new campaign for Seanad reform. You can read more about the Zappone/Quinn Bill on reforming the Seanad here.I spoke at the launch this morning along with Diarmaid Ferriter, Joe O’Toole and others, so here’s what I said.

For my generation, Seanad reform mightn’t be the sexiest item on the agenda of affecting change in Irish society, but it’s a crucial one, and it needs to be communicated to people of all ages as such.

The idea of abolishing the Seanad is profoundly short-sighted one. It’s kind of like ditching your car on the M50 if it’s running low on petrol. Instead, we need to make it fulfill what it was meant to be, make it more open and accessible, make it more democratic, give it a purpose, and communicate its function in a better way to the Irish people.

Because of the political and economic turmoil in Ireland over the past few years, there has been an often justified rush and enthusiasm for dismantling the structures that got us here in the first place. The Seanad has been cited by those who wish to abolish it as an example of an institution that’s not functioning, but the idea that you’d simply get rid of something before trying to make it better is ill-conceived.

We all know the positives of the Seanad; giving a platform to dissenting voices, scruitinising legislation, holding the Dail to account on a variety of issues, but it can do so much more given opportunity and will.

What reforming the Seanad does offer is a brilliant opportunity to make a political forum that looks like Ireland, that gives a voice to every sector of Irish society – not just the political elite, and that increases and encourages smart political discourse about all of the issues that impact us, particularly social issues. I think that’s a really exciting prospect.

A reformed Seanad should give representation to our new Irish communities, to people from Northern Ireland, and graduates of all universities – and as a graduate of DCU, this is something I’m particularly into! Also enacting a gender balance with equal numbers of men and women elected from vocational constituencies, is also something we should aspire to.

There has been huge amount of discourse in Ireland about the role of our diaspora, both old and new. This morning, I was trying to count the number of my close friends who have emigrated over the past two years and I stopped at around 23, including my brother. Yet every one of my friends I catch up with on email or over Skype or on Twitter talk about coming back. People who leave Ireland are still politically engaged. In fact thanks to technology and social media, they’re more connected to Ireland than ever. Opening the right to vote for prospective representatives to the Seanad to those who hold Irish passports abroad retains that connection to civic involvement. It says: you may be in London or Perth or Toronto or Hong Kong or Sydney or New York but your voice still matters and we want to hear it. And when you do come back, you will be represented at a political level.

There is something very negative about the discourse surrounding the abolition of the Seanad. Personally I’ve found it to be abrupt, devoid of actual decent reasons, and anti-intellectual. It’s also populism at it’s most superficial. When we envisage the changes we want to make and the type of political systems that we yearn for, there are no quick fix solutions. Making things better doesn’t necessarily present easy options, but things that require hard work and a lot of grafting that ultimately will create rewarding and positive results.