McDowell makes case for 'radical' Seanad reform


SEANAD ÉIREANN needs radical reform, former tánaiste and minister for justice Michael McDowell said last night, admitting he was “wrong” to call for its abolition in the past.

He said he had felt the Seanad “had ceased to serve the function for which it was originally established and had become what I referred to as ‘a cross between a political convalescent home and creche’.

“I had in my own mind formed the view that, apart from the university Senators, Seanad Éireann was being largely used as an ante-room to Dáil Éireann to house would-be newcomers, temporary absentees, and as a consolation prize for those who had lost their seats.”

But he added: “It was not until I became a minister managing a huge volume of major law reform and other day-to-day legislative business that I began to doubt the correctness and wisdom of abolishing Seanad Éireann and bringing about a unicameral parliament for Ireland.”

Mr McDowell said, now that TDs were no longer allowed to sit on local authorities, the House should sit on Mondays and Fridays as was the case at Westminster.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny told the meeting, which was attended by about 100 people, that he would appoint a cabinet minister with full responsibility for public service reform if he was elected taoiseach.

He would update the Secretaries and Managers Act of 1924 in order to make senior officials in the public service more accountable to the Oireachtas and to the public. “The current system is totally unacceptable,” he said.

Mr Kenny said there was something seriously wrong when elected politicians struggled on a weekly basis to obtain information from a public service.

“Why is it the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has less powers than a private citizen who can access information with ease though Freedom of Information Act?” he asked.

Speaking at the same event, former Labour leader Ruairí Quinn attacked the layers of bureaucracy he encountered during his term as a minister.

“I have never come across a department so malevolently dysfunctional as the Department of Education.

“They either tell you an answer isn’t ready or tell you to look it up yourself,” he said.

President of the Liberal Society Niall Neligan called for an overhaul of the separation of powers doctrine under the Constitution, the abolition of the Seanad and the extension of the electoral franchise to EU citizens resident and working in Ireland so that they could vote in general elections.

The Liberal Society was founded in June 2008 to promote “active citizenship, progressive policies and liberal issues with a mission to inform, educate and stimulate a new generation of leaders to act in the interest of ordinary citizens”.