Seanad abolition would make united Ireland harder - former AG

John Rogers says proposal would solidify partition

Abolishing the Seanad would make it more difficult to achieve a united Ireland, former attorney general John Rogers has said. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Abolishing the Seanad would make it more difficult to achieve a united Ireland, former attorney general John Rogers has said. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

Abolishing the Seanad would make it more difficult to achieve a united Ireland, former attorney general John Rogers has said.

Intervening in the referendum campaign on the No side yesterday, Mr Rogers said the proposed amendments were the “most revolutionary” since the Constitution was drafted in 1937.

He stressed that one of the reasons for the establishment of the upper house - giving representation to the Protestant minority - remained relevant given political developments in Northern Ireland.

“If we have an ambition to create a united Ireland, we should be seeking to maintain institutions which will accommodate minority,” he said. “In my view the abolition of the Seanad represents a sort of concretisation of the 26-county state.”

“It is the most revolutionary amendment to the 1937 Constitution and it assumes a very uni-dimensional type of state - not a state with minorities, substantial or otherwise.”

Mr Rogers was speaking at an event organised by the group Lawyers for Seanad Reform, which published a report outlining the legal consequences of abolition. The event was also attended by former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.

Mr Rogers warned that a vote for abolition was in effect a vote to create “a new entrenched elite in the Dáil”, as the lower house was dominated by the party whip system.

A Yes vote on Friday would result in the removal of a Constitutional provision whereby Bills may be referred to the people for a referendum if a majority of members of the Seanad and not less than one third of the members of the Dáil ask the President not to sign it.

Mr Rogers said this provision offered protection “against the dominance of a cadre in the Dáil... who would seek to enact legislation which did not have the general support of the people”, citing a hypothetical “extremely liberal” abortion law as an example of a scenario in which it could be used.

Mr Rogers said one of Éamon de Valera’s reasons for establishing the Seanad was that it would allow people with specialist knowledge to be heard.

“Had Morgan Kelly and David McWilliams been senators in the heady days of the Tiger, we can be sure that the giveaways that were founded on the economy becoming ever “boomier” would have been forcefully challenged,” Mr Rogers said. He was referring to a remark by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who said in 2006 that inflation was rising because “the boom times are getting even more boomer.”

The report by Lawyers for Seanad Reform describes the abolition proposal as “constitutional vandalism” and warns that a Yes vote would “mutilate” the Constitution. Most “sinister” was that it would “steal” the right of the Irish people to have the opportunity to vote on a piece of legislation where the president believed the matter should be put to a referendum.