Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Why I’m Voting No

I think abolishing the Seanad is a stupid idea. What we need is reform.

Tue, Oct 1, 2013, 14:14


On Friday, the government will ask the electorate to answer a question nobody asked, a pet project of Enda Kenny that is on its way to reaching a horribly unhelpful conclusion.

When Senator Katherine Zappone asked me to be involved in the group opposing abolition, Democracy Matters, and speak at their launch, I did, but haven’t really had any input since then. This is 99% because I’ve been really busy, and 1% because being involved in groups makes me a little nervous. I am passionately in favour of retaining a reformed Senate. I’m not a party political person, so my viewpoints are those of a concerned citizen. I don’t believe, like some people have insinuated, that Democracy Matters is a Fianna Fail Trojan Horse. Personally, I can’t stand Fianna Fail, which is why it feels so strange to agree with Micheal Martin’s point of view on this issue – whatever his motivations are. But the issues are more important than who’s talking about them. I think when you have everyone from Lucinda Creighton to Ivana Bacik to Michael McDowell to Diarmaid Ferriter arguing against abolition, whatever you feel about those people as individuals, it shows a diversity of opinion which I believe is rooted in an acute concern about what the government is trying to do. Those are the facts of my involvement in this debate beyond just having an opinion.

Should the Seanad be abolished? I’m voting no, and here’s why.

Nobody is arguing that the Seanad is brilliant
Check out how boring the Seanad is! I couldn’t even find a fun picture to illustrate this post. Chairs. That’s all I got. Chairs. The Seanad is a creaking and largely ineffective house full of political appointees who for a lot of the time faff around in a haze of self-importance. There are also some really smart, really active people in there, but in my opinion, they’re in the minority. That’s why we need to reform it. We need to make the Seanad more open, more accessible, more diverse. We need to give it teeth, give it a purpose. We need to smash the elitism it is often and rightly accused of. I’m not going to go into the plethora of ways of doing this. Read the Democracy Matters website and the Zappone/Quinn Bill to learn about those, and educate yourself if you haven’t already, because that’s part of being a citizen. The government is rubbish at spoon-feeding information and in my opinion is distorting the debate right now, so you need to educate yourselves on the facts. If you don’t care about educating yourself on the facts of this debate then I don’t know what to do about that.

This isn’t about money
Fine Gael’s magic €20 million figure of how much would be saved if the Seanad was abolished is not correct. It’s a nice round figure, but it’s not true. The Oireachtas Commission, writing to the Referendum Commission said the cost of running the Seanad is €20.1m but that it is impossible to say how much would be saved if the Seanad was abolished. And even if it was true, is this how we’re talking about society now? That everything is judged by monetary value? In that case, let’s scrap the arts budget, let’s get rid of social welfare, let’s stop funding education and sport, because that would “save money”. What a load of rubbish. And how much do you think it’s going to cost to fill the gap of the Seanad? What extra costs is the State going to incur to clean up the mess they’re so keen to create?

This debate is classic distraction politics
Fine Gael wants to drum up a debate about the Seanad because it distracts from the real issues of reform across the board. The Seanad needs to be reformed, and so does the Dail and our local authorities. But the government doesn’t want to do anything about that because that would require time and effort and long-term thinking. Instead, they’ve pulled a fast one: distracting the electorate with a futile debate. And we LOVE futile debates! Especially ones that skirt around issues without every reaching the core. Want a debate about drugs? Nah, let’s just bang on about head shops. Want a debate about violence amongst young people? Pah! Let’s fill Liveline with stories about Swedish House Mafia concerts. Should we talk about our problem with alcohol? Nope! Let’s just talk about Arthur’s Day. Want to talk about gangland crime? Shaddupyerface I’m watching Love/Hate. Fine Gael knows this considering they won an election saying ‘We’re Not Fianna Fail’, so instead of debating things properly they have just repeated a mantra: save money, get rid of politicians. And that’s now what loads of people believe. Come on, we’re smarter than that, let’s interrogate their PR.

The ‘less politicians’ argument is SO STUPID
That’s one of the taglines on Fine Gael’s referendum posters. Getting rid of the Seanad will mean ‘less politicians’. It makes me want to bang my head against Leinster House. (1) It’s POLITICIANS who are saying less politicians is good! HELLO?! (2) It doesn’t mean anything! There’s no politician factory that will stop loading out politicians for delivery if the Seanad is abolished. If a band breaks up do the members cease being musicians? Gimme a break. (3) We should have MORE politicians. Posters should be up around the country encouraging YOU to be a politician. Politics should NOT be the preserve of the establishment or families or some legacy lineage bullshit. The government wants to preserve the status quo and keep politics for themselves. What kind of society wants less people to be involved in politics? The idea of less politicians is intrinsically elitist – the very thing they say they’re arguing against!

Oh, so NOW the constitution doesn’t matter?
In arguments about civil marriage and abortion and other hot topics, we’re constantly told that the constitution should be protected and this sacred text upheld at all cost. This is silly. The constitution is a living document that should evolve with the needs of society. But the government likes to uphold and protect the constitution when it suits them and shred it when it doesn’t. The hypocrisy is astounding.

What will take the Seanad’s place?
There’s been a lot of guff from the anti-abolition side about how the Seanad is great at being a watchdog for the Dail. It hasn’t scruitinsed legislation as best as it could at all, but it SHOULD, which is why it should be reformed to do so more effectively. So what will take the Seanad’s place? Can you imagine the number of quangos and committees and sub-groups and other elements of bureaucracy that will crop up if the Seanad is abolished? The idea of abolishing the Seanad is a power grab which will make the Dail less accountable and less transparent, and add a new layer of bureaucracy that you’ll never get to vote on.

A ‘no’ vote is not a vote for Fianna Fail
We need to stop political parties highjacking debates for their own benefit, or at the very least ignore them when they do. Voting ‘no’ is no more a vote for Fianna Fail than a ‘yes’ vote is a vote for the Socialist Party or Sinn Fein. Use your brain, don’t be swayed by what individual parties are saying. Examine the facts and form your own opinion.

Every argument for abolishing the Seanad is actually an argument for reform
We should be voting on reform. Everyone wants our political institutions to work better, but instead we’re being told that it’s one or the other. That is stupid. It’s anti-debate, it’s anti-intellectual, it’s anti-reform, it’s anti-democratic. It’s removing the nuances and complexities of political reform and instructing us to keep something that isn’t working or just dump it. The referendum is an insult to real discourse. When your car runs out of petrol on the M50 do you figure out how to get it to a Texaco or do you abandon it at the side of the road forever? Let’s cop on here, and put pressure on our political leaders to really change things instead of butchering the Oireachtas for the sake of blind populism. A dishonest debate has been constructed that will benefit nobody, apart from presenting a prospective victory for Enda Kenny.

A ‘no’ vote is not a ‘victory’ for senators
Senators, like all politicians, need to be held to account. They work for us, not themselves, and certainly not each other. This isn’t about patting senators on the back, a ‘no’ vote should be about spurring them into action. You can’t reform something that isn’t there. Keep the Seanad, and reform it for OUR benefit. That’s the only real way forward.

Obviously, I’m in favour of retaining the Seanad and reforming it. But it’s more important for you to vote than to agree with me. We have so little say in the political processes in this country and the only time we can really make our voices heard is when we vote. If you are eligible to vote and you don’t, you don’t deserve to engage in any of these debates, you don’t deserve to voice your opinion, and you certainly don’t deserve to have anyone listen to it. I have ZERO time for citizens who don’t vote. ZERO. Whatever you feel, get out there and vote. If you don’t know what to think, educate yourself. Take an hour out of your day and read the newspapers and figure out the different sides of the debate and the proposed Bills and talk to your friends and your colleagues and your families and listen to the radio. If you’ve made it through this post, thank you for reading, but don’t take my word for it. These are just my reasons, so develop an informed opinion of your own.