Pádraig Ó Céidigh: Joining Seanad opened my eyes to flawed system

Lack of long-term thinking behind many of Ireland’s ills

I really value the vocational aspect of the Seanad and rightly or wrongly I saw the Seanad as being a place where I could give something back, a place where I could bring my knowledge from the world of education, business and community activity into the shaping of legislation and the task of public administration.

I have already seen close-up the sharp differences between the Dáil and the Seanad.

Though less prevalent in the Seanad, the overwhelming focus of many members of the Houses of the Oireachtas is on local, constituency issues.

This is in spite of the fact that we serve as members of a national legislature. At the root of this lies the deeply flawed Dáil electoral system – it lures TDs to serve at the parish pump to the neglect of national issues. Through its exclusion of the wider electorate, the Seanad electoral system is also deeply flawed.


Hollow posturing

While the Seanad has a less politically charged atmosphere which makes for a good starting point for constructive debates, in contrast, the Dáil is a place where action invariably takes the form of hollow posturing and populism.

As a person who is used to taking decisions and getting things done, the Leinster House antics can be a bit hard to take – especially when you see just how much works needs to be done in area such as the health service, homelessness and third level education as well as in a raft of other areas.

It seems pretty reasonable to measure the work-rate of the Dáil and Seanad by reference to the volume of legislation which has been debated an enacted. At this time last year 34 new acts had been enacted, and yet so far this year there are only 12 new laws. Accepting that we had a general election and prolonged Government formation talks, this record does not augur well.

Unprecedented challenges

Last February’s general election result created significant unprecedented challenges to political parties and elected individuals in the formation of a Government.

However, the consequence is that we have a Government which is largely devoid of power. And by power, I am referring to the ability to make both popular and unpopular decisions and execute actions on foot of those decisions.

For many years, commentators have been complaining the Dáil and Seanad were puppets of the Government or the Houses were mere rubber stamps.

Now it can be said that the opposite is the case. We now find ourselves in a place where we have Government by consensus. And all too often consensus equates with the lowest common denominator.

For too long now long-term thinking in this country has been defined by five-year electoral cycles, where few if any strategic decisions are taken with a horizon beyond five years and where popular decisions would become more prominent in the closing stages of the five-year term.

It’s the reason why our public transport system doesn’t function as it should, it’s why we have a water infrastructure which is decrepit, and it’s why our universities are tumbling down the international rankings.

Fixing all of these problems require decisions which are unpopular and which require execution over a number of years.

The next time we as an electorate go to the polls, we need to empower a government of whatever hue to take and execute decisions which are in the long -term best interests of our country. Pádraig Ó Céidigh is a Senator and founder of Aer Arann