Seanad abolition a ‘grubby power-grab’ - Ferriter

MacGill summer school discusses present day republicanism and governance

 Professor Diarmuid Ferriter told the MacGill summer school that the abolition of the Seanad would be a grubby power-grab by the Government. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

Professor Diarmuid Ferriter told the MacGill summer school that the abolition of the Seanad would be a grubby power-grab by the Government. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

 

The Irish Republic remains dominated by centralised powers and “unaccountable elites”, UCD historian Diarmaid Ferriter has told the MacGill summer school.

The push to abolish the Seanad rather than to seek reform seemed a “grubby power-grab” he said, adding: “Those who seek to abolish the Seanad should be asked a simple question – have you learnt nothing about the dangers and consequences of the excessive centralisation and abuse of power in this state?”

He argued that removing the checks and balances of the Seanad would mean that “rushed and defective legislation can simply be rammed through the Dáil”.

“One of the chief causes of the contemporary crisis was the absence of alternative views and insufficient scrutiny of flawed decision-making,” he said.

“Handing absolute power to a dysfunctional Dail, which in any case is a servant of the cabinet and its civil servants, beggars belief.”

Prof Ferriter asked why there remains such hostility to ideas and reform in the Republic today. Citizens, he said, did not complain enough about the admission of intention to move beyond the promise of the Rising.

“If we accept a definition of republicanism that is about participation, a say in our fate, civic engagement and realising freedom and self-determination among citizens, we face the conclusion that any exaggerated celebrations in 2016 will mask the persistence of ambiguity and the endurance of the gulf between rhetoric and reality.”

Dr Margaret O’Callaghan, a senior lecture at Queen’s University, Belfast, said the very term “republican” had been distorted.

“After 1916 to be a republican meant that you supported Sinn Féin, you were done with the old parliamentary party, you were broadly prepared to take a hard line with England, if possible. It may even mean that you supported the Anglo Irish war. But it did not necessarily mean that you were a republican even in the sense that Tom Clarke or other old fenians were republicans,” she said.

“It simply meant that you were what would earlier have been called an advanced nationalist. During and after the civil war to say you were a republican meant that you were a supporter of the Free State, though republican ideas and mentalities may well have been as present in the group around Collins as in some sections of the Irregulars.”

She continued: “After the establishment of Fianna Fáil they sought to appropriate the republican mantle to themselves, but residual Sinn Féin, the Republican Congress, Peadar O’ Donnell’s friends never conceded it to them.”

“During ‘the Emergency’ the Fianna Fáil government loathed the ‘republicans’ in the Curragh and the 1960s makes it clear that Cathal Goulding and the ‘ siubversives’ who called themselves Irish republicans were what Fianna Fail most loathed.”

She said the more recent reinterring of the bodies of Kevin Barry and others were Bertie Ahern’s bid to ensure that Sinn Féin did not steal a march on Fianna Fáil in honouring the republican dead. “Now there is a queue to see who will own or steer what it means to be a republican in 2016.”

Writer Theo Dorgan told the summer school: “Like most independent post-colonial peoples, we have been slow to abandon folkloric belief in our foundational moments, and I think it is beyond argument that most Irish people still consider that the fundamental compact between government and citizens rests on this promise.”

He said a “flawed republic” had been created, which was “uncertain and fitful in its provisons for the children of the nation, certainly not a secular republic as the French might have it, and not underscored by a bill of rights as the American republic is, but to most people a republic nonetheless”

Pointing to the Democratic Programme to mark the 90th anniversary of the first Dáil and the inclusion in it of the claim: “We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people.”

“My profound sense at this moment in our history is that we are sliding inexorably towards the withdrawal of that consent to be governed in accordance with a mutually-understood compact,” he said.