Category Archives: Politics

October 4th 2013: Irish 32nd & 33rd Constitutional Referendums: Abolishing the Seanad & creating a Court of Appeal


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 Seanad

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

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The Children’s Referendum – A Mockery of Public Debate?


The Amendment

Here is article 42.5 as it has been written in the Irish Constitution since 1937.

“In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.”

If there is a ‘Yes’ vote it will be deleted and replaced with an expanded and more detailed version.

Article 42A

1. The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.

2. 1° In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

2° Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.

3. Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.

4. 1° Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings—

i. brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or

ii. concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

2° Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1° of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.

My Opinion

Why am I, a childless Irish citizen, blogging on this subject?

Due to the right laid down in 1937:  no amendments to the Irish constitution can be made without the consent of our citizenship by means of referendum.

Along with all my fellow citizens I have a say.

So I had a look at the above amendment, read it and thought, fair enough.

It  includes all of the original wording of article 42.5 and adds provisions which allow the state to step to a family situation  where children have been forced to suffer unduly for a certain period (three years has been quoted by an  Irish Times article) and make decisions regarding adoption. Even then the children, who are old enough, have a say in their future.

There have been certain cases (not just in Ireland mind you) where children have been forced to suffer physical, mental, and emotional torture or trauma under the umbrella of the family. If this amendment can pull such children out of the cruel and demented hands of such parents, as I said, yes, I agree with the proposed amendment.

So I wanted to know what the ‘No’ campaigners were saying.

It is for this reason that I have had to endure the (mostly) nonsensical televised discussions and debates over the last few weeks. I heard people screeching about the ‘rights of the family’ being eroded. If you read the other articles which deal with the right’s of the family (all in the same part of the Constitution) you will see that none of the rights of the family are being touched. Courts are not going to start tearing families apart because their child catches a cold.

Another ‘No’ campaigner, an elderly priest, likened the amendment to pouring a mug of slurry into a vat of milk while spouting the same argument outlined  above.

The TV3 debate saw ‘No’ campaigners misrepresenting others to back up their arguments, these misrepresentation were revealed by email in the following programme.

If these ‘No’ campaigners are as mad as a coffee table in a bouncy castle why were they even given a voice?

Inside  me there is a conspiracy theorist who is dying to get out. I can usually reason with it until it retreats back and continues investigating the moon landings for its own amusement. But it made me think that if there had not been an ‘informed’ debate would people have been as interested to give up part of their Saturday 10th November and make the effort to vote.

Is the ‘No’ campaign an artificially constructed boost for the ‘Yes’ campaign?

The only solid argument I heard for voting ‘No’ was that the changes did not go far enough. These arguments encourage voters to use their ‘No’ vote to make sure that we can protect our children further in a future referendum.

I believe that if  we vote ‘No’ and wait for these further changes to be drawn up we risk more children living under the thumb of sadistic parenting as we have seen revealed in the not so distant past.

The Irish Constitution 1937

Irish Times Article Friday 2 November 2012

EU Fiscal Stability Treaty Referendum: What Has Europe Ever Done For Us?


In 1973 I was two years old and beginning to make that uneasy transition out of nappies. This was taking up all my attention and so I completely missed Ireland’s entry into the EEC (as the European Union (EU) was called). By 1979 we were electing our first MEPs to Europe I was again distracted but this time by my holiday to London. My Mother took my sister, my brother and I to watch The Empire Strikes Back in Leicester Square while my Dad and eldest brother went to see the Life of Brian (banned in Ireland at the time).

I was doing my leaving certificate in 1989 and vaguely remember the first General and European elections in which I was able to vote. I do remember that voting gave me a tingle. The same tingle I get every time I vote.

On the 31st of May 2012 our country will be called to the polling booth to vote on the EU Fiscal Stability Treaty. I shall not be distracted when I feel the tingle this year.

The Origin of the EU

The First and Second World Wars had nearly destroyed Europe. The idea of tying the countries of Europe economically in the hope to create bonds that would lessen the reason for war came in the form of The European Coal and Steel Company in 1951. It was the first evidence that Europe was growing in a new direction.

Read More here.

Ireland before Europe

 Ironically it could have been partly a knock on effect of our neutrality but Post-War Ireland was in a bad economic state. While other European countries began to prosper through the rebuilding and related industries we were still heavily reliant on agriculture. But mostly it was our almost umbilical economic tie with the UK. They were taking longer to recover from the war and still only bought our agricultural produce at a low price. This stifled our growth.

But since then what have the Europeans ever done for us?

Sanitation

Our water supply and sewage treatment is still our own responsibility but it has risen considerably to bring us in line with standards set down by EU Urban Waste water Treatment Directive. Read More here.

Medicine

The most recent European involvement in health is the new legislation relating to pharmacovigilance (such a new word it has alerted my spell check!) that aim to strengthen the monitoring of pharmaceutical drugs within Europe. Read More here.

Education

How many people have themselves or known somebody who has studied abroad for a year?
Without the EU there would have been less chance to any Irish students and workers have had to study, work and play with our with our European neighbours. Here are a range of successful programmes aimed at introducing us to our European neighbours.

  • Comenius for schools
  • Erasmus for higher education
  • Leonardo da Vinci for vocational education and training
  • Grundtvig for adult education

Read more here.

Wine

Through various different trade agreements the availability of wines has risen considerably. This will generally be viewed as a negative but there will be some evenings when it seems like a great idea.

Public Order

In 1953 Sean Lemass made Ireland the first country to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights which produced the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), ironically our country has been one of the slowest to bring these “rights” home. But since a 2003 Act we are now obliged to interpret our own laws with respect to the ECHR.

Read More here.

Irrigation

When we joined the EEC in 1973 the first economic impact was on our Agricultural sector. Through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) we were able to sell our produce at a higher fixed price than we had been selling to the UK. Though there have been recent heated debates over the new “simplification” and “Greening” of the CAP. So far the majority of it has had a positive impact on the Irish Agri-Sector… and I am sure some of this money had gone into, ahem, irrigation. Read more here.

Roads

You may remember the Maastricht Treaty (one of the many EU referendums we have accepted) well it was the one that provided all of the European funding that has upgraded our road systems in the past twenty odd years.
To quote Tommy Tiernan “Do you know how long it took me to get to Galway… 11 seconds”.
Read More here.

Freshwater System

See Sanitation…. *clears throat and move swiftly along*

Public Health

See Medicine… well this blog is too long anyway 🙂

Brought Peace

The two World Wars of the last century both began in Europe and have not been repeated.

If you are interested here are a few more areas where EU has helped us. (Otherwise just scroll down to My Response to get, eh, well, my response.)

Environment

In the 1950’s our yet to be named carbon footprint seeped in over our boots. It took a while but we started to catch up by implementing
various legislations that have helped to lift Ireland Green status, for example;

  • 48 LIFE projects throughout the years including The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).
  • Battery recycling.
  • Plastic bag levy.

Impact on the Irish People.

Pre-EU our wage rates were an average of €38 per week and air travel was incredibly expensive. Even just getting to the UK was proportionality off balance. Since the opening of borders to out European neighbours we can more easily live and work abroad, air prices have been brought more in line with wages partly through legislation and partly through external forces (not counting Michael O’Leary).
Businesses can trade with other European countries as trade barriers have been broken down.
Despite our own failings in the ICT sector (in particular the roll out of broadband) we still have access to multiple phone and internet providers making communications easier and cheaper.

Of course a significant number of these effects on our country were also helped by our ties outside of the EU e.g. investments from the US and elsewhere.

So up through the 1973 – 2008 everything seemed to be running smoothly. Our politicians had brought wealth to a lot of the country. We trusted them while they trusted the Banking Community who lent money to us and our property developers.
There were a lot of cranes.

2008

The property bubble burst revealing that our banks owned a much smaller amount of capital than was thought. The worlds economy went through a similar seismic shift and cracks appeared swallowing up their cash as well. The Irish people did not have the money to repay our loans. But the European financial speculators has also been making money from our boom and when our banks went, they found themselves in hot water. They had trusted our politicians just as we had. But they could not let our banks fail as it would have started a chain reaction that could very well have brought down the Euro.

Basically to make the Euro less unstable they made us promise to pay it all back. Once the agreement was signed all was well except for the future of the Irish tax payer. The Irish taxpayer, to quote Frank Capra “the people who do all the working and living and dying” in our country.

My Response

I am scared for the future of our country as young bright people flee in droves like they did in the 1980’s. I am scared that Europe has been badly planned and badly policed. Individual EU members were not sufficiently vetted (including ourselves). Euro financiers made as much as they could from our property bubble which lasted longer than anybody could have foreseen. Once it burst they backed away and told us to clean up our mess. But I am more scared to pull out of Europe and the Euro and rely on the kindness of other international powers with whom we have not spent the last sixty years building an integrated relationship.

I talk to small business owners on a regular basis whose aim is to survive so they can prosper in the future. Some are forced to close their doors others, not as many, are already beginning to prosper. These small businesses are the backbone of any economy. It is from them that we will find our next wave of Market leaders who will bring investment back to Ireland.

Europe owes us more than the current and stringent fiscal ties. What binds us is made of stronger stuff. They should realise that by tightening their economic noose around our necks will only serve to prolong any growth that will help get Ireland back on its feet and in turn pay them back.

And why should we pay them back?
Sanitation, education, Wine, Public order etc.

Ireland and Europe got ourselves into this mess and blaming us solely is not going to get us out. It will just create an anti-European feeling amongst the Irish which will damage any future relationships.

Europe owes us a little more than that but we owe them as well.

That is why I am voting yes.

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A to Z of 2011 Irish Presidential Campaign or Here they go again!?!


A is for Aras (a big house in a park)
B is for Bertie who longed for that lark
C is for Charlie who’d have liked a go too
D is for Dana another ‘EuroVision’ coup?
E is for envelope with letters and cheques
F is FF who’ve been swept off the decks
G is Gay was he the right choice?
H is for Higgins will Labour rejoice?
I is for Ireland a country confused
J is for Judges who are not amused
K is for Kenny on the Frontline
L is for leather worn down by time
M for McGuinnesses cross border relations
N is for Norris tackling all allegations
O for Oireachtas a No or a Yes
P is for President, oh what a mess!
Q is for Quango, mention no names
R for referendums all part of the games
S is for Seanie once one of the dragons
T saw the treachery that circled the wagons
U is unlimitied chatter online
V is for Vincent who gives a hard time
W as in water that may be quite hot
X is for ballot and marking the spot
Y is for yawn at why and at how
Z is zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz we’re bored with this now