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Fate of the Seanad October 3, 2013

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Uncategorized.
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To think we have squandered seventy six years when – with a few minor adjustments – Seanad Éireann could have delivered such gains for scrutiny, equality, diaspora, accountability, diversity, diaspora,  united Ireland, economic recovery, diaspora…and still.

Who knew that the upper house is all that stands between us and a tide of totalitarian terror. The most Irish of ‘grubby power grabs’ grasps at a chamber with no power and less influence.

Remember the 1930s they say. Yes, over dependence on the market and weight of punitive debt. Well no, the reality is we have no alternative there however when faced redundancy the political class and aspiring squatters are only bursting with creative ideas.

On one side we find Enda ‘FG Taoiseach & dynasty TD of 38 years’ Kenny taking on Ireland’s political establishment.

On the other it’s Michael ‘Centre for Public Inquiry’ McDowell carping about checks and accountability.

Rarely have we seen an issue divide such strange camps and both have lifted the lid on themselves for the most part. I never knew former Senators and presumably all Oireachtas members are entitled to free parking for life at Leinster House. Central Dublin. Are these the cosseted sectors Eoghan Harris so bravely eviscerates in defence of the coping classes?

Interesting here is the claim of both sides to target the elite. Tom McGurk early on told us to “thwart the politicians” (a majority of whom are on his side…) while Alan Dukes calls out the insiders. That each see themselves looking back is revealing.

Seanad Éireann has been an unrivalled example of the who-you-know law of public life and neither side, however well intentioned, are in a rush to alter that mutual benefit. We can open, not close it but who is codding who about the door remaining manned? The All-Party patronage machine? Anyone with an informed & honest view of how parties operate?

Towards the lower end of this greasy poll we find the kind of cross party alliance seen during every EU treaty, steady the ship. Embedded journalists, the party youth,  USI and the cult of conservative careerism where democracy matters and usually ends at the gate of Leinster House. An earnest campaign for more diverse voices and more Enda Kenny on television. Politicians as we’ve seen over the past few weeks are prone to confuse themselves with politics and what’s is good for politicians sets the terms & limit of any political reform.

Perhaps the most nauseating exchanges at this year’s MacGill summer school was the issue of Fintan O’Toole’s aborted Dáil run. The theme? Building a Decentralised, Participatory and Accountable Republic. The reality? When not airing perceived slights of the Irish Times we were treated to several long winded and damaged egos from the floor making an ultimate virtue of running for office. Eamon Ryan we were told by one speaker and his decision to stay in politics was a vote of confidence the republic. This is the high politics of a campaign where bicameralism was twice described as a ‘buzzword’ on RTÉ.

Much of this was underlined with the assumption that the presence of two chambers in Leinster House automatically equals the kind of oversight which comes with bicameralism but it goes some way towards highlighting the kind of illusion parliamentary democracy has come to uphold across much of the world.  Susan Watkins in the LRB recently set out the lay of the land in the EU and that in itself points to a lot of issues we have barely started to grapple with. There is not a house of parliament which would stop and indeed many on both sides of the debate would welcome a Monti style appointment should we get carried away. This and many of the instincts we ourselves have felt over the past few years puts the recent weeks of technocrat scare in a ha’penny place.

Most of the warnings I’ve seen feature departed horses and the problems originate at home and long before the Troika. The illusion is here again and the decision on Friday is the question of one captured chamber or two. Most of what lands on the statute is the result of power games played outside Leinster House but that’s another post.

To take that scintilla of decision making conducted in public. Much consternation raised about the guillotine is nothing more than opposition noise. The days of parliamentary deliberations changing minds are long gone if they ever existed so what’s the fuss about guillotine. We’re unlikely to ever see as much time given to what the abortion bill received and that was hammered out behind scenes before grinding through the Oireachtas unchanged. The alternatives are far more radical than we are likely to see and what’s left is talk.

Fianna Fáil are finding opposition very difficult because they know exactly how the game works and how powerless it leaves them. Brian Lenihan Snr once advised Seán Doherty that only place you can get away with a lie was inside Dáil Éireann and they don’t need much reflection to know that is what they are up against.

Then we have the Economic Management Council. A cabinet committee that this campaign has at least put on the map to some degree. The root of public awareness is of course resentment from Ministers outside. I don’t think I am alone in thinking, like a promoted backbencher, their concern would quickly evaporate in a change of circumstances. The EMC is useful though. Like the IFSC Clearing House Group it provides a rare glimpse of honesty. You can have all the watchdogs and dissenting voices in parliament but the State’s top civil servants sit with global finance under the Deparment of Taoiseach. There is it.

Contrary to this is the strain of thought distilled here by Una Mullaly

What reforming the Seanad does offer is a brilliant opportunity to make a political forum that looks like Ireland, that gives a voice to every sector of Irish society – not just the political elite, and that increases and encourages smart political discourse about all of the issues that impact us, particularly social issues. I think that’s a really exciting prospect.

A reformed Seanad should give representation to our new Irish communities, to people from Northern Ireland, and graduates of all universities – and as a graduate of DCU, this is something I’m particularly into! Also enacting a gender balance with equal numbers of men and women elected from vocational constituencies,

The question evaded here and many a fantastical desire is what about Dáil Éireann? What about the cabinet table? Indeed what about cabinet committees.  The radical defence of democracy too often looks like the goal of ghettoising diverse, expert and representative voices into the Seanad while the cabinet table rotates between the civil war parties. Aspiration without ambition and most worryingly conservatism in the cloak of reform as our forum that looks like Ireland acts as a release valve for lack of real change in power.

We’ve heard the same four or five ‘good’ Senators name dropped repeatedly and mostly by people who opposed them at every turn. Twenty four Seanads in seventy six years electing sixty each time and we’re left with a handful who’s battles took place elsewhere. Is this argument for retention of Seanad Éireann or abolishment of political parties?

A measure of appetite for ‘real reform’ is reflected in the FOI Bill published during the summer while the big news in politics was Alan Shatter’s book. In FOI there is potential to tick many of the democratic boxes currently dangled before us. The press tend not to bark too much, trading in sources close to the minister as they do. While the issue will be lucky to register with many of the watchdog millenarians currently consumed with a twenty million or not saving.

I don’t doubt a genuine desire for whatever better politics looks like and well founded opposition to skinning part of the Oireachtas but equally I don’t believe you and I will miss it when the dust settles. Watching school tours fall asleep in the gallery behind David Norris has been the highlight for some time. If anything it is organised politics who face the internal tension of Dáil rebels, a Seanad with nothing to lose, abolished town councils, gender quotas, boundary changes, seat reductions and local election fall out. Severing another limb off the beast will cause no harm and surely greater competition can only bring more efficiency eh.

A quote attributed to Napoleon goes something like “when the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him”. That is not to be taken as some sort of nihilist accelerationism but I do believe the hubris of this crisis often has power showing it’s face just enough for people to stop believing in it. Improvement in identifying it would suffice and peeling back another layer of the rancid onion will help.

We can save democracy and continue the illusion on Friday, extend and pretend but come Monday your radio will buzz with budget, bye bye bailout and back under the market’s boot.

Comments»

1. sonofstan - October 3, 2013

Excellent.

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WorldbyStorm - October 3, 2013

+1

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Mark P - October 3, 2013

Agreed.

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2. Gewerkschaftler - October 3, 2013

The last paragraph says it all.

And the quote from the wee Corsican is one to treasure.

Like the majority of Irish citizens – this emigrated one doesn’t get a vote.

Would there be any support domestically for taking a case the European Court for the right to vote for those forced into emigration, do you think?

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Gewerkschaftler - October 3, 2013

A brief session with Duck Duck Go suggests that I’d be wasting my time at the European Court of Human Rights.

In order for the emmigrated (at least 2/3 of the citizenry) to get a vote, those who remained behind have to vote for it.

I’m getting that cold post-democratic feeling that is pretty much omni-present these days.

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3. Liberius - October 3, 2013

So it’s settled then, for the sake of Una Mullaly’s dignity we must, no are compelled to vote no!

In all seriousness can we honestly say that the political situation of Ireland would be improved by a Seanad reformed to either include a larger quantity of societies higher echelons or mirror the Dáil?

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4. SEK - October 3, 2013

Id advise people to read through this booklet other changes carefully before casting a vote tomorrow, one thing in particular is striking, something people need to think about.

(If this referendum is passed:

Only the approval of the Dáil will be required for the adoption of such EU laws and decisions.)

http://referendum2013.ie/the-seanad-other-changes/

It just not just as black and white as abolishing the seanad, there will be a host of other changes if this referendum is passed,

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5. “We need to shake the barley all over again” | Machholz's Blog - October 5, 2013

[…] Fate of the Seanad (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]

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