Bar one, I have voted in every Irish General Election, Constitutional Amendment Referendum and Presidential Election since I was eighteen. Despite the fact that in recent decades the activities of Governments having become increasingly disappointing I still get a tingle as I walk into the polling station. But I have never felt the same way about the Seanad elections and in fact I have never exercised my right to vote for one of the six Senators elected from the universities.
When the Government announced their intention to ask us to abolish the Seanad I suddenly felt like I did when I was young and my Mother threatened to throw away one of my neglected toys. Of course this is a little more serious so I decided to look into exactly what the Seanad does to see if it was worth saving.
Everything below (in italics) is directly from Oireachtas.ie
The Irish Upper house has 60 Senators.
- 43 elected by five panels representing vocational interests namely, Culture and Education, Agriculture, Labour, Industry and Commerce and Public Administration
- 6 elected by the graduates of two universities: – three each by the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin (Trinity College)
- 11 nominated by the Taoiseach
In theory, Seanad Éireann does not recognise party affiliations.
However, as the electorate for the panels is made up of the Members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad, county councils and county borough councils, the composition of Seanad Éireann, including the Taoiseach’s nominees, will tend to reflect party strengths in Dáil Éireann.
In practice, Senators will divide into groups supporting and opposing Government business when voting on issues.
The Constitution provides that not more than two Senators may be members of the Government and this provision has been exercised twice in the last 60 years.
How does the Seanad work?
Seanad Éireann normally meets on Wednesdays and Thursdays and its main business is the revising of legislation sent to it by Dáil Éireann.
However, in recent years the Government has tended to make greater use of Seanad Éireann to initiate legislation. Seanad Éireann can initiate and revise legislation but under the Constitution its legislative role is restricted in that it cannot initiate Money Bills i.e. financial legislation, and can only make recommendations but not amendments to such Bills.
The fact that a Dáil Bill must be examined also by Seanad Éireann is a safeguard against legislation being enacted too quickly. In addition to its legislative role, Seanad Éireann also debates important issues.
Indeed, as the Government is constitutionally responsible to Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann can debate these issues with greater freedom because the fate of the Government will not be at stake.
Moreover, Seanad Éireann cannot delay indefinitely legislation which has already been passed by Dáil Éireann and cannot initiate Bills to amend the Constitution.
The 32nd Amendment to the Constitution:
Seanad Abolish or Reform?
One of the reasons Taoiseach Enda Kenny proposed the abolition of the Seanad is because no reforms have been introduced since it was established. Would you kill an injured person whose intellect might help you instead of tending to their wounds?
The Seanad is in place so that the Bills from the Dail can be scrutinised further. This means that when a bill is first proposed and discussed by the members of the Dail. They have in mind that it will have to go through the Seanad. Take the upper house out of this equation means the Dail members will be given more power. The state of our country today is because of the choices of those politicians (don’t tell me that Fine Gael or Labour would have acted any differently leading up to or during the economic meltdown of 2007/2008). Do you really think that taking the safeguard of the Seanad away is the answer?
But there remains the problem that any bills to reform the Seanad have been rejected by that house. Some Senators have said they would welcome reform instead of abolition but the twist here is that the Seanad cannot introduce legislation to reform itself, though this has not stopped Senators Katherine Zappone nor Fergal Quinn from drawing up proposed reforms themselves.
The question of the Seanad has been discussed by The Taoiseach since at least 2009 and is part of the programme for Government. But other parts of that programme have been scrapped e.g. renegotiating the loan structure to the EU. Why is the Government holding onto this particular promise? Perhaps it is another smokescreen so that the attention of the public and press can chew on this bone while the Government prepares yet another austerity budget or implement other such dictates from Europe.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is taking a medieval decision of killing the patient instead of bravely trying to succeed where previous Governments have failed by introducing proper 21st Century reforms that would
- create a fit and healthier political atmosphere this country sorely needs
- prove that he has actual political teeth and be the highlight of his first term as Taoiseach.
He could have chosen to try restore the Irish People’s faith in Politics and beefed up his legacy.
The 33rd Amendment to the Constitution:
A New Court of Appeal
October 4th 2013 will see us be voting on a separate and equally important referendum on a new Court of Appeal which will help to clear the backlog of cases awaiting hearings in the High and Supreme Courts. In the last four years the waiting period for trials in the Supreme Court have increased from two-and-a-half to four years and this affects our standing and has incurred fines from the European Court of Human Rights.
A Yes Vote here will
- Streamline our Justice System
- Making Ireland a little more attractive to foreign investors.
There is no opposition to this amendment that I can find online. (see Jane Doe’s comments below for an opposing view).
In case I wasn’t clear enough I am going for a No (to abolition of the Seanad) vote on 32 and a Yes (to a new Appeals Court) vote on 33