Senator resolute in defence of Seanad


Independent Senator Joe O'Toole has given a resolute defence of the Seanad, saying to abolish it would be a diminution of democracy

Speaking this afternoon, Sen. O'Toole acknowledged the existing arrangement was "undemocratic, unfair" and "unrepresentative" and described voting arrangements for the Upper House, where it does not have a universal mandate, as "indefensible".

However, the independent senator said the abolition of the Seanad would suit the interests of the political parties.

"No political party, whatever they are saying, is going to be enthusiastic about a second chamber where they have to listen to the voices of different groups of people whether it be from the Gaeltachts, Northern Ireland, business, farmers, unions, unemployed, voluntary groups, arts community etc," Sen. O'Toole said.

Mr O'Toole said Seanad has not been allowed to develop as it was intended in the Constitution.

"They have now placed the ball for a penalty kick in front of goal. They'll put it to the people and I have no doubt the people will vote to get rid of the Seanad because they have not been offered the alternative. They have not looked at what it would be like", Mr O'Toole told RTE's News at One.

"We have this extraordinary situation in Irish life at the moment where people are screaming for a voice for civic society. The Seanad was set up to do that. The political parties made sure it never happened and now people are saying its not working, lets get rid of it."

Mr O'Toole, who said he was not standing in the next election, said he believed abolition, which would be "very attractive" to the political parties, would be "a major mistake".

"I have no doubt it'll be abolished and it means depriving people of a further voice in democracy that they could have had. It is a diminution of democracy. It is like getting rid of an awkward neighbour. It is very attractive to the political parties to get rid of it and I'll tell you something, the people who will lose are the ordinary people on the ground."

Cautioning against the removal of the second house, Mr O'Toole said similar moves were seen in Europe before.

"In Europe in a recession, whether it be in Italy with Mussolini, whether it be in Germany with Hitler, whether it be in Spain with Franco, the first thing that happens in a recession is that people start cutting back on political accountability."

The independent senator asked why it was the Government was not being forced to answer to anyone other than the political classes.

"The Seanad was always intended in the Constitution to be that bridge between the people and the political classes, It has never been allowed to happen. And as long as it is not been allowed to bridge that lacuna then it doesn't have a sustainable future."

"The reality is it could be a force for change and a force for improvement and a voice for people who don't have a voice at the moment."