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Seanad abolition: Noises off… June 21, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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The chatter about political reform and Seanad abolition is increasing. it’s telling that it’s in a sort of kind of loyal way, at least from some. Consider the following:

[Fine Gael] Parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan told the House during the continuing debate about the proposed abolition of the Seanad, that he supported such a move “because it has outlived its usefulness”.
But he said of the pace of Dáil reform, “the programme of new politics as flagged by my party is not yet in evidence”. And he warned that “unless we change the way we do our business here, cynicism will grow and we will become irrelevant”.
In wide-ranging criticism of every aspect of the Dáil’s operation, he said of decisions to curtail debates with an early deadline, “We were told that guillotine motions would become a thing of the past”.

That’s a pretty lukewarm endorsement of Seanad abolition, and in a way it is worse than that because it completely undercuts the rationale for such abolition given that there is nothing to replace it in the political process.

Then there is Olivia Mitchell, long time FG TD, who makes the stunningly obvious point – although not to Kenny cheerleaders – that while she…

…agreed there was a need for radical reform but it was not clear what form it should take. “That is my sole reservation about an early decision on the abolition of the Seanad without a much wider debate about our politics.”
The Dublin South TD said abolition might be part of what was required to make the political system more robust but without knowing what might replace it or what other reforms might come with that decision, it was not clear how the political process or the national welfare would be improved by the abolition of the Seanad.

And more pertinently:

In the absence of the Seanad and with a reduced or weakened Dáil, at the same time retaining the strong executive, there was a real danger “we will have less democracy, less accountability and less potential to deliver for our people”.

Meanwhile…

Alan Farrell (FG) said he had no difficulty with a referendum but “I can’t help but feel that this is somewhat putting the cart before the horse”.
The Dublin North TD added: “We’re not having a debate about what we’re proposing to put in place of the Seanad or the alterations to the behaviour of the Dáil. Surely that should be the debate we should have followed by a discussion whether or not the referendum is called for in the first place.”

I doubt I agree that much with Olivia Mitchell politically, but I think her point above that with no political reform in place the abolition of the Seanad has the effect of yet further centralisation of power in the hands of the executive is basic. As we’ve seen in other areas with this government, and Flanagan underscores this, there has been a great fanfare around initiatives that have subsequently withered on the vine. Universal health insurance is a good example of same, but there are many others.

In a way the government and Fine Gael have been their own worst enemy on this matter. Not allowing the Seanad to be discussed by the Constitutional Convention smacked of pure political expedience. Nothing else. If a Constitutional Convention with the explicit task of ‘reform’ was unable to address that issue then, frankly, the whole process was effectively a sham. A cosmetic exercise in rhetorically allowing for change while ensuring that the dictates of party politics and personal reputation (that of E Kenny) were put ahead of any rational analysis and decision making procedure (by the way Fintan O’Toole had a good piece on the matter this week).

But what does this chatter prove? Well, from the point of view of FG it demonstrates that there exists a significant minority who are not rowing in behind their leader on the issue of Seanad abolition or are dubious about the supposed ‘reforms’ yet to come. Some of that is driven in part by dissent from the leadership, but some of it, one suspects, is driven by a sense that on this issue the party is overreaching.

One is reminded of FF’s attempt to replace PRSTV in the 1960s with first past the post. Now granted that was always going to engender deep antagonism both politically and publicly, as it did, but it was of a similar sort of political activity.

Again, none of this is to suggest that the referendum will be lost to the Government. But… if I noted in the last week or two that six months ago this referendum would have definitely be won, but now that was a somewhat less likely outcome, then I’d hazard that this week that likelihood of it being won has just dipped again. I’d think that there’s still a majority in favour but…

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