Once again the nation was treated this week to the sights and sounds of the returning Seanad. Not that most of the population had noticed that it had been away. Various people, most of them senators of long standing, used the occasion and the press attention to give voice to their strongly held view that the Seanad should be retained at all costs and indeed reformed to the benefit of all. Burdocks to that I say.
Let’s be straight with one another, without any concrete proposals being adopted by the Seanad itself to reform I won’t be voting or campaigning to save it as it is currently constituted, all on the promise that it might, one day, far off in the future, after it has had one more custard pie and a nice nap, be reformed in some way.
I stood as a candidate for the Seanad on the NUI panel on the basis that it must be reformed immediately or else abolished. My thoughts were and are that the time has long run out for last chances for this chamber, that it was time for things to be done or to dust with it. I’ve not changed my mind since that election took place. The last (the 12th in total) report from the Seanad itself on its reform was the usual weighty document, full of compromises ironed out amongst the senators themselves with one eye glancing back towards their past and future electorate of local authority members and a minority of 3rd level graduates. Hence the proposal to retain the election of some Senators by local authority members even while the general populous was to elect a portion of the chamber.
And we then saw how commitment to the reforms in that report as within the lifetime of the last Oireachtas various senators from political parties and also noted independents welching and reneging on their support for even these watery set of reforms. Demanding, demanding no less, that even those small steps that could be enacted by a simple legislative process must not be touched unless the entire chamber was simultaneously reformed. This is beyond getting cats to walk in a line, it’s looking for them to do a synchronised about turn once they are all facing in the same direction.
That steadfast unwillingness to do even the bare minimum is the crux of the argument on any referendum on the abolition of the Seanad for me. I believe that abolition of the Seanad on its own is mere electoral window dressing and would represent a bad decision. Yet voting to keep the Seanad as is, in the forlorn hope that reforms might happen based on non-binding commitments post the referendum, would be a worse decision.
I will continue to poke those people I might chance to have access in the Dáil for the enactment of extensive changes to the Dáil electoral system which should happen simultaneously with the abolition of the Seanad. But I’m not going to make it a ‘do that or else’ demand. I will not campaign to save a chamber that can’t bring itself to present a real package of agreed reforms when faced with its own extinction. And these would have to be detailed reforms that it stand over, and could not and would not revoke. After all, if the members of the Seanad especially those most vocal in its defence can’t even act to pass a simple bill making those straightforward changes that could have been made by legislation then what right have they to demand that others must act save them and the chamber that they have done so much to keep the rest of the population away from. If they are not willing to act to save themselves then why should we bother?