Referendum on the future of the Seanad

 

Sir, – We are a diverse group of politicians, and we will all vote No in the Seanad abolition referendum.

We come from different political parties; some have never been members of any political party. We come from across every social, religious, and educational background.

We agree on very few things, but we agree to vote No. The interests of Ireland are best served if the Irish people vote No. The Seanad has an important role to play in our democracy.

There are many reasons to vote No, each of us has their own reasons why we will vote No. But this is not a sign of discord, it is a sign that a No vote goes beyond politics. – Yours, etc,
Senator SEÁN BARRETT; Senator PAUL BRADFORD; Deputy LUCINDA CREIGHTON; Senator JOHN CROWN; Senator MARK DALY; Deputy STEPHEN DONNELLY; Deputy TERENCE FLANAGAN; MEP MARIAN HARKIN; Senator FIDELMA HEALY EAMES; Senator JAMES HEFFERNAN; Deputy COLM KEAVENEY; Senator JOHN KELLY; Senator DENIS LANDY; Deputy PETER MATHEWS; Deputy MICHAEL McCARTHY;
Deputy MATTIE McGRATH; Deputy FINIAN McGRATH; Senator MARY MORAN; Senator RÓNÁN MULLEN; Deputy DENIS NAUGHTEN; Senator DAVID NORRIS; Senator MARY ANN O’BRIEN; Deputy MAUREEN O’SULLIVAN; Senator FEARGAL QUINN; Deputy SHANE ROSS; Deputy ARTHUR SPRING; Deputy JOANNA TUFFY; Senator JOHN WHELAN & Senator KATHERINE ZAPPONE,

C/o Leinster House,

Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – Surely Breda O’Brien (Opinion, September 28th) is misguided if she thinks a ballot paper with anything other than the vote on it, will “probably” be counted. A spoiled vote is just that, as any self-respecting scrutineer would tell her. – Yours, etc,

HILARY CARR,

Dale Road,

Stillorgan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – What’s the problem with Taoiseach Enda Kenny refusing to debate on Prime Time at Micheál Martin’s invitation? Were I at war with an enemy I would not go to battle on his chosen ground. To do so would prove my real weakness to lead. – Yours, etc,

PAT O’BRIEN,

Ballygawley,

Co Sligo.

Sir, – I feel Enda Kenny’s refusal to debate with Micheál Martin on RTÉ (Breaking News, September 28th) not only goes against the origins of democracy, but also gives us a flavour of life in Ireland without the Seanad. Surely debate in Ireland is at our core? Is it not the Irish voice that has held our place in the world much more so than our economic relevance? Of course we have to reduce costs, but not at the cost of who we are. – Yours, etc,

KARINA TYNAN,

Seafield Court,

Killiney,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Enda Kenny will not debate the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad because he has realised his mistake and he cannot justify the unjustifiable.

It is a power grab of phenomenal proportions. If this referendum is passed the Taoiseach can then remove Supreme Court judges, the ombudsman and the comptroller and auditor general if he has a sufficiently large majority to which the whip can be applied. Garret FitzGerald would never have proposed such a constitutional amendment. – Yours, etc,

LORETTA O’BRIEN,

Ardnacrusha, Co Clare.

Sir, – A letter from some of our university colleagues (September 27th) raises some valid points about accountability in Irish governance.

However, we argue that the wider campaign against Seanad abolition has overstated the potential of upper houses generally to effectively perform a check upon government.

It has been widely claimed that Seanad abolition would remove an important check on executive power, amounting to nothing less than a “power-grab”. But the purpose of upper chambers, where they do exist, is usually to assist in the legislative process, not to sanction government. In practice, oversight is better exercised by the lower chamber to which government is directly responsible.

Indeed the referendum will effectively make it much more difficult for the Government to secure the removal of a judge or a president because a greater level of cross-party Dáil support will be needed. If this is a “power-grab”, it is not a very well designed one.

We are also puzzled by our colleagues’ support for the Quinn/Zappone plan, as this retains the vocational and graduate-specific structure of the current Senate. The “panel” seats have never been meaningfully vocational, and there is no good reason to believe this could now be achieved simply by expanding the franchise. It is much more likely to yield a miniature and pointless replica of the Dáil, risking parliamentary gridlock.

Finally, we urge caution against our colleagues’ suggestion that the national parliament should give direct representation to “expertise”, whether through vocational panels or otherwise. There are many good ways of incorporating expert knowledge in the legislative process without giving experts parliamentary seats.

We believe a Yes vote is a reasonable step towards a reformed political system. – Yours, etc,
EOIN O’MALLEY, School of Law and Government, DCU; BEN TONRA, School of Politics and International Relations, UCD; EOIN DALY, Sutherland School of Law, UCD; KEVIN RAFTER, School of Communications, DCU; JOHN O’DOWD, Sutherland School of Law, UCD; MÁIRÉAD ENRIGHT, Kent Law School, University of Kent; ALAN DUKES, former TD and Minister; RICHARD HUMPHREYS, Law Library, Dublin 7; LIAM THORNTON, Sutherland School of Law, UCD; JIM POWER, Economist & SEAN DONLAN, School of Law, UL,

C/o Sutherland School of

Law, UCD, Dublin 4.

Sir, – With the exception of the six university seats, Seanad Éireann’s members are elected democratically, but by indirect franchise.

Forty-three of the Seanad’s 60 members are chosen by the members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad and the country’s major municipal authorities, all of whom, with the exception of the outgoing Senators, have already been elected by direct universal franchise. Accordingly, the TDs, Senators and county and city councillors effectively constitute an electoral college for the election of a new Seanad. This system is not unlike that for choosing the president of the United States, with each state of the US electing a certain number of delegates to an electoral college, which in turn elects the president.

The Taoiseach’s 11 nominees also get their seats by indirect franchise. The Taoiseach is elected by the members of Dáil Éireann who are in turn directly elected by universal franchise.

While it can be argued that the university senators are chosen by a privileged minority, these panels could be extended, not only to include graduates of all third-level institutions, but also to give representation to members of trade unions affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and to registered members of employers’ and business groups such as the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association. This would reflect a much wider range of interests and provide a valuable input into the scrutiny of proposed legislation.

The Seanad may need a makeover but it should be retained and reformed. – Yours, etc,

SEÁN Ó BRIAIN,

Ardbrugh Close,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Labour Party’s Seanad referendum poster proclaiming One Parliament Yes! is intriguing. Is it possible the Labour Party thinks the Seanad is a national parliament? If it were, Ireland would be unique in the whole world. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN CALLAGHAN,

Castle Avenue,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Breda O’Brien calls on those seeking reform of the Seanad to “choose No to abolition, and then write ‘Reform’ on the ballot” as the ballot will then “be set aside for later examination and, as any fair-minded scrutineer could only find there was a clear intention to vote No, it will in all probability be counted in that way” (Opinion, September 28th).

While this is technically correct, having observed many election counts I would advise her that the inclusion of political slogans or statements of any kind on the ballot is a very hazardous enterprise.

Under the Referendum Act 1994, the returning officer has the power to exclude a ballot “on which anything is written or marked which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, is calculated to identify the elector”. While this seems to restrict the power to exclude a vote to a very limited instance, in practice it gives the returning officer quite a degree of latitude to exclude ballots which have anything written on them. Personally, I wouldn’t be willing to take a gamble that my vote would not be counted!

There are only two options in this referendum. Anyone wishing to abolish the Seanad should vote Yes. Anyone who wants to retain it, or believes that it should be reformed, no matter how slim the chance of that might be, should vote No. With all due respect to Ms O’Brien, the detail of one’s views on a referendum ought to be conveyed directly to one’s political representatives, rather than to the returning officer on the face of a ballot paper. – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH,

Brooklawn,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

A chara, – I was not aware until now that if the referendum is carried, Article 27 of the Constitution and a right of the people will be removed.

As it stands, a portion of the Dáil and Seanad may petition the President for a referendum on a new Bill before it is made law. In the event of a government being at odds with the people, this is a significant power.

The present referendum proposal, if passed, will ensure that power is taken away from the people. The referendum on the Seanad has been poorly discussed and the people badly informed. The Irish people should not be tricked into reducing what little political power they have. Voting No postpones change to our Constitution until the electorate is fully informed. – Is mise,

PADRAIG Ó LAIMHIN.

Baile Gaelach,

Béal Easa, Co Mhaigh Eo.

A chara, – It is distressing to note so few compatriots resident in the 26 counties have argued for the retention of the Seanad in order to extend the franchise to Irish citizens in the North and abroad. The Quinn/Zappone Seanad reform Bill would do just that.

As I have long argued, since the Seanad cannot overrule the Dáil, it is the appropriate place for such representation. Non-resident citizens would have a voice in the Oireachtas while citizens living in the State would retain their final and absolute say on legislation. Such a reformed Seanad would correct Ireland’s biggest democratic deficit. – Is mise,

MARTIN G PADGETT,

Charles Street East,

Toronto, Canada.

Sir, – In an elegantly written piece on “constitutional immobilism” (Opinion, September 27th), Frank Callanan, SC cautions against rejection of the Seanad abolition proposal as if all meaningful political reform depended on its acceptance. This is fallacious and profoundly unconvincing. It is simply wrong to suggest that what has not been reformed cannot be reformed. In the way in which the same argument is made by some in Fine Gael – particularly the debate-resistant Taoiseach – it is little more than a form of moral blackmail: if you vote No we will maintain the status quo. In the way in which it is made by Sinn Féin, it is shamefully defeatist: if you vote No we won’t be in a position to change the status quo.

I will be voting No because I believe reform of the Seanad is possible and desirable. – Yours, etc,

Prof DONNCHA

O’CONNELL,

School of Law, NUI Galway.