The future of the Seanad

 

Sir, – As academics engaged in research in a variety of different disciplines we strongly advocate a No vote in the upcoming referendum on Seanad abolition.

We believe that to tackle the major issues affecting our society, it is vital that there should be more scrutiny of legislation and executive accountability, not less; that the level of vocational expertise in our parliamentary system should be strengthened, not eliminated; and that political participation by citizens in deliberative democratic processes should be intensified, not reduced. While the Seanad, as currently constituted, is not sufficiently equipped to deliver on these ideals, the reform proposals set forth in the Seanad Bill 2013 proposed by Senators Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone go some way to meeting them.

By broadening the nomination process and giving all citizens the right to elect our senators, the Quinn-Zappone Bill seeks to implement the real value of bicameralism in providing space for reflection and debate by two sets of qualitatively different representatives. By increasing the Seanad’s powers of scrutiny in a range of areas and providing for the right of the people to force the Seanad to debate on an issue of national importance, this reform package has the capacity to bring new expertise and scrutiny into the parliamentary system and to provide a channel for citizens to express their views, their ideas and their suggestions for change, thus strengthening the foundations of democracy in our country.

The only hope for real reform is a No vote. – Yours, etc,
Prof IVANA BACIK, School of Law, TCD; Dr CATHRYN COSTELLO, Faculty of Law, Oxford University;
Dr YVONNE DALY, School of Law and Government, DCU; Dr SHANE DARCY, School of Law, NUI Galway; Prof FIONA de LONDRAS, Durham Law School, Durham University; LARRY DONNELLY, School of Law, NUI Galway; ; Prof DIARMAID FERRITER, School of History and Archives, UCD; Dr Graham Finlay, School of Politics and International Relations, UCD;
Prof CONOR GEARTY, Dept of Law, London School of Economics; Dr AIDAN KANE, School of Business and Economics, NUI Galway; Dr PADRAIC KENNA, School of Law, NUI Galway; Dr ROBERT MOONEY, School of Sociology, UCD; Dr RONAN McCREA, Faculty of Laws, University College London; Dr NOEL McGRATH, School of Law, UCD; Dr CIAN MURPHY, School of Law, King’s College London; Prof GARY MURPHY, School of Law and Government, DCU; COLM O’CINNÉIDE, Faculty of Laws, University College London; Prof DONNCHA O’CONNELL, School of Law, NUI Galway; Dr EOIN O’DELL, School of Law, TCD; CHARLES O’MAHONY, School of Law, NUI Galway; Prof GERARD QUINN, Centre for Disability Law and Policy, NUI Galway;
Dr NIAMH REILLY, School of Political Science and Sociology, NUI Galway;
Dr CIARA SMYTH, School of Law, NUI Galway;
Prof JENNIFER TODD, School of Politics and International Relations, UCD; Dr JOHN WALSH, School of Languages, NUI Galway; JUDY WALSH, School of Social Justice, UCD & SUZANNE EGAN, School of Law, UCD, Belfield, Dublin 4.

Sir, – Noel Whelan (Opinion, September 21st) argues, “In deciding how to vote in the Seanad referendum on the October 4th, voters should have regard not only to the merits or otherwise of the proposal itself, but also to the origins of the proposal, the timing of the referendum, the nature of the argument being advanced by the Government in support of it, and the extent to which the Government is prepared to debate it”. In this he is wrong.

We have had too many referendum campaigns influenced by extraneous issues and used to send a message to the incumbent government, rather than by the pros and cons of the substantive issue. The referendums to be held on October 4th (and future referendums), should be decided only on the merits or otherwise of the proposal itself. If voters are unhappy with the government, a general election is the time to express it. – Yours, etc,

DECLAN JORDAN,

Beechwood Park,

Ballinlough, Cork.

Sir, – The arguments used in the referendum campaign seem increasingly irrelevant. For example, the notion that Seanad Éireann should be a watchdog, or a bulwark against government excesses, is not reflected in the Constitution, which rather provides for the complementary roles of Dáil and Seanad in processing legislation.

Allowing for roseate-tinted nostalgia, my own experience of the Seanad from the late 1970s to the early 1990s is one of constructive co-operation with the government of the day, especially where Bills were initiated in the House on educational,cultural and social matters. The informed and harmonious debate in the spring of 1991 on the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, introduced by Mary Harney, showed the Seanad at its best,entirely free of party rancour, and this was warmly acknowledged at the time by the minister. – Yours, etc,

JOHN A MURPHY,

(Independent Senator,

1977-1983,1987-1992),

Douglas Road, Cork.

Sir, – The arguments advanced in these columns over many weeks may be reduced to three. 1. The Seanad is costly, elitist, and toothless – abolish it. 2. That may be true, but it is our only bulwark against the whipped tyranny of the Dáil and once it’s gone it’ll never be restored – reform it. 3. But abolition will remove the figleaf from the Dáil, leaving it exposed as the lickspittle dogsbody to, at most, a dozen Inner Party politicians who will run the country as their own private fief; then it will simply have to be reformed. For this the GPO was scarred in vain. – Yours, etc,

M ROSS-MacDONALD,

Birr, Offaly.

Sir, – Right vote, wrong house. – Yours, etc,

MARK O’SULLIVAN,

Whitehall Road, Dublin 14.