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That Seanad election March 18, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I’m out of the state so only getting spotty access to Irish news, the controversy over the Adams White House dinner snub is intriguing (as well as demonstrating a remarkable lack of nous on the part of US authorities). Intriguing in that the semi-excuse of a mistyping of something suggests a flag went up that was out of date or what have you – albeit a quarter of a century or so out of date. There’s efficiency for you. 

Meanwhile much closer to home can’t disagree with Noel Whelans very critical analysis of the Seanad election process. As a sort of parting non gift from the last government it’s oddly appropriate – for all the rhetoric and the referendum nothing happened. We are still electing the Seanad as we always have (and on balance I am still in favour of retention but not in this form). Abysmal. 


1. Tomboktu - March 18, 2016

Somewhat off topic:


Senator Jim Walsh’s final activity as a senator is observing the elections in Kazakhstan on Sunday.


2. Liberius - March 18, 2016

Retention in a different form is all well and fine to say, but what is this new form to look like? It strikes me that anything short of it being a complete mirror of the Dáil’s electoral system constitutes a source of questions about its legitimacy when it comes into conflict with the Dáil, it potentially having a less representative composition than the Dáil. And of course if the composition just mirrors the Dáil then the government will always be sitting comfortable, making it a useless rubber-stamping exercise. It’s either useless, anti-democratic, or both. This is also without even considering its use as a cushy number for ejected TDs.

Abolition was the only plausibly solution, everything else is a compromise between the anti-democratic and the pointless.


Tomboktu - March 18, 2016

I’ve said it before but…

An alternative method of selecting senators that we could consider is a citizen’s jury of 60 voters chosen at random. The working methods of the Seanad would need to change (weekend meetings once a month, for example, might be needed), but if the government (bothe the elected one and ‘permanent’ one of the senior civil servants) had to satisfy a panel of citizens whose composition they had no control over before a bill became law, then our democratic system would be much improved.

(Not an original idea:


John Goodwillie - March 18, 2016

It’s quite normal for upper houses to have a lesser legitimacy than lower houses, but that’s no argument why they should not exist. When they come into conflict the lower house prevails. But the upper house may have a delaying power, or at least the power to ask the lower house to reconsider. And if the electoral system differs between the houses, people may get elected to the upper house who would not have been elected to the lower, and their views have an opportunity to be heard.

And as far as ejected TDs are concerned, the answer is to hold the elections on the same day and ban people standing for both at the same time.


WorldbyStorm - March 19, 2016

I’d tend to agree with both yours and Tomboktus points. There’s no real contradiction between a less powerful second chamber and a first chamber that has primacy – indeed one that operated as an advisory/research/ideas generating body and with necessary safeguards could be like a standing constitutional convention or some such.

But even that isn’t my main interest so much as the sense that in a system where already there is too much power concentrated at cabinet or cabinet sub committee level more voices is better. I’ve been against cutting numbers in the Dáil and in constituencies which marginalise opposing viewpoints and ideas (5/4 sweaters to 3 etc), anything that broadens representation is crucial to me.


Liberius - March 19, 2016

All of this advocacy for a reformed Seanad though relies on there actually being substantive reform to it, something that is stymied by the rigid format laid down for it in the constitution. If meaningful reform requires a referendum then there is no reason why we couldn’t have substantive reform to the way the Dáil operates, I don’t see the need for an upper-house when it’s ‘revising’ functions could just be carried out by a grand committee of the lower-house. It strikes me that much of the argument for an upper-house is based on distrust of the lower-house, but isn’t that a much bigger issue of democratic legitimacy, I don’t see how 60 extra professional politicians helps that, especially if they are less representative of public opinion; as is the case now and in any scenario that doesn’t equalise the electoral systems of the two chambers. You could go for a more radical option of making it more democratic than the Dáil, like say an open list system with no threshold, but that threatens the legitimacy of the Dáil by giving the Seanad a better mandate.

The idea of a conscription based model for the Seanad is interesting, but creates its own problems. The first being the compulsion necessary to make it work; the second being that there is no guarantee that the conscript senators would be good at it; the third is that there isn’t anything to stop you randomly selecting a group of people with a higher than normal number of dangerous views (I’m think LA race riots and racist juries).

The first issue can be dealt with by offering people a choice to participate or not, however that potentially creates a self-selection issue with the likely result being an upper-house being stuffed full of people with undeclared political axes. The second you just can’t get around, in a completely open election idiots can be voted out (though in practice a subsection of the electorate seems to like idiots in parliament). The third can be dealt with by pre-screening conscripts for dangerous views, but who decides what they are, and who ever that is would have a lot of power handed to them to shape the composition of the upper-house.


John Goodwillie - March 19, 2016

Can’t see how a Dáil committee would carry out any useful revision.

A list system is not necessarily more democratic: it’s a matter of opinion which is more democratic, list or STV, and therefore only the house given more power by the Constitution will be able to pull rank.

A conscription system (generally called sortition) is only sensible if it includes a cross-section of the population, like the Constitutional Convention. But I can’t see how it works for an upper house. Choose them every month and none of them will know what’s going on. Choose them every year and you’re asking people to take a year out of their careers. Use filters like Liberius suggests and you destroy the coherence of the idea.


Liberius - March 19, 2016

It would require something of a culture change, but it’s worth considering how the Swedish Riksdag operates;

The Riksdag takes hundreds of decisions every year. The driving force behind the Riksdag’s work is the fifteen parliamentary committees. This is where the members of the Riksdag prepare all decisions. After a committee has presented its proposal for a decision, the 349 members of the Riksdag adopt a position on the proposal.

Each committee is like a miniature Riksdag, because the committee’s 17 members reflect the composition of the Riksdag as a whole. Thus the largest party has more members than the smaller parties.
Different areas of responsibility

The members of the Riksdag devote a great deal of time to their responsibilities in the committees. Each committee has a number of areas of responsibility. The Committee on Health and Welfare, for example, considers matters relating to healthcare.

When the Government submits a bill to the Riksdag, it must first be considered by a committee before a decision can be taken. This is known as compulsory referral to a committee. The same applies to private members’ motions from the members of the Riksdag.

These must also be considered by a committee first before the Riksdag can take a decision.

In addition to that the Norwegian Storting used to separate itself into ‘virtual’ upper and lower houses, they abandoned this practice in 2009.

On STV versus list, The Netherland’s system where by whole state is one constituency and you only need one hare quota to gain seats (the hare quota is a simple votes divided by seats calculation) creates a situation where even fringe concerns can gain representation, just look at the two seats currently held in the Tweede Kamer by the PvdD (Partij voor de Dieren), an animal welfare party. You could run STV like that, however asking people to rank hundreds of candidates is never likely to work, it didn’t with the 25-seat Seanad election in 1925, never mind 60 seats.

By the way, I chose to use ‘conscription’ to underline that it’s not always seen as positive to compel people to do things against their will.



rockroots - March 19, 2016

Or… have the Seanad elected on a completely different timetable. A mid-term referendum on the performance of the government would focus minds, as in the US system. Of course, not having fixed-term Dails undermines that idea slightly.


Liberius - March 19, 2016

That’s a good idea, however surely you could cut out the indirectness of the Seanad and just hold annual, or bi-annual, referendums on whether the Dáil should be dissolved.


WorldbyStorm - March 19, 2016

The basic problems are that what potential for minor reform have been stymied by government inaction and more broadly abolition is off the agenda for another decade minimum. So whatever about the abstract the concrete is we’re stuck with two chambers for the moment. In that context I’d like to see whatever reforms can be made short of a further referendum.


John Goodwillie - March 19, 2016

Mid-term elections have two problems: firstly, you guarantee the presence of would-be TDs who are only interested in the next Dáil election. Secondly, you guarantee that everybody can say the senate now has a better mandate than the Dáil and thus you create the very situation that you’re trying to avoid in terms of a struggle between the two houses.

I suspect that a referendum on whether the Dáil should be dissolved would always be carried.


Liberius - March 19, 2016

In that context I’d like to see whatever reforms can be made short of a further referendum

The trouble there though is that the constitution is rather rigid on the subject of the Seanad, the five vocational panels are hard-wired in and can’t be removed (and in addition are limited to between five and eleven seats), the Taoiseach’s eleven nominees are hard-wired in, and the six university senators are hard-wired in. That produces a structure that is very difficult to reform in a fashion that doesn’t produce idiotic outcomes like some people having multiple votes, or being assigned to panels they have little connection to, or having a lesser vote weight than others due to the unequal distribution of seats between the panels. In fact reform might do nothing more than accentuate the problems of the place.

We might very well be stuck with the bloody thing, but that doesn’t mean that we have to pretend it’s good, or that ‘reform’ would make a blind bit of difference to it’s utility and legitimacy.

Error correction; I should have wrote biennial earlier rather than bi-annual, subjecting people to a repeating referendum every six months is possibly a bridge too far.


WorldbyStorm - March 20, 2016

I think we have somewhat differing views on these matters. I can’t say I share yours that a second chamber is in and of itself an unalloyed insult to democracy or that a unicameral system is necessarily the correct way. Nor is it unreasonable to propose that a certain mistrust of politicians is indeed a factor. I work closely with them and my sense is that whatever their stated ideological position caution is needed. I can, entirely, see how the right might use bicameral approaches to delay or block a left govt, but that again feels as abstract as the old British LP antagonism to PRSTV because it might bind their hands as a govt. when the LP eventually came to power matters had shifted so far in so many ways PRSTV might have seen more alternatives who could pressure it from the left emerge. But again this feels abstract when set against the Seanad. You are correct, room for reform is very limited and of a nature that perhaps it might lead to pressure for genuine changes further down the line but the Seanad as an entity seems to me to be both marginal and generally benign – albeit its *franchise* is an actual affront to democracy. That’s. Where I’d start to shift it in a more positive direction.


dublinstreams - March 19, 2016

perhaps this fabolous Dail reform we’re going to get will remove the need this stumbling block wie kept because the Dail is so useless.


3. gendjinn - March 18, 2016

Word is the Adams snub was on purpose. Rumour is it’s a small bit of payback to the Chicago Irish community for ancient history. At least that’s the gossip.


Joe - March 20, 2016

Hot gossip! I feel the pain of the Chicago Irish! That Obama rivals Haughey himself with his deviousness.

I proudly admit that I much enjoyed Gerry’s outrage at being left waiting. The back of the bus comment was just priceless – is he up himself or what!

Why does Gerry get an invite anyway? And how many SFers head to the States for St Patrick’s Day? Martin Ferris was apparently delayed at Boston Airport. That’s Adams, McGuinness, Ferris and McDonald over there at least. Given that people whinge about government ministers heading away for Paddy’s Day jollies, can I whinge about SFers doing the same? Yes I can.


gendjinn - March 20, 2016

Congress folks are being riled by constituents and are hitting the administration for answers.

The “typo” excuse doesn’t fly for a minute. A message was definitely being sent, and there’s no point sending the message if the recipient doesn’t know it’s for them. So whatever the reason, it will come out eventually.

And you know Niall O’Dowd will be there with the scoop!


4. CL - March 19, 2016

A rest home for defunct politicians that serves no useful purpose.


Asivvisa - March 19, 2016

Wow. Any more rivetting insights like that gem?

Liked by 1 person

5. sonofstan - March 19, 2016

We thought we dodged a bullet with Seanie – but imagine David ‘no drinking for for the poor’ Norris up in the park? Can TCD voters please get rid?

Liked by 1 person

Alibaba - March 19, 2016

And he had a hand in arranging for bollards to be installed at the end of the street which has his home. Conveniently, this stops traffic going through it and keeps the gurriers out.


6. roddy - March 19, 2016

And incredibly many on here supported him for president at one stage!


WorldbyStorm - March 19, 2016

And some supported MMcG! And fair dues to those who did.


7. paulculloty82 - March 21, 2016

The smaller parties are each running a single candidate – Cian Prendiville for AAA-PBP, Jennifer Whitmore for the Soc Dems and Jonathan Irwin has been put forward by Renua.


8. dublinstreams - March 21, 2016

I copied the Seanad Nominating Body and Oireachtas sub-panel candidate list and added party association https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1EHWwURWP7K-_gPA79tjNQx3CgHmj25bqFZUtAzeSQf8/edit?usp=sharing


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