Seanad Reform: too little, too late, too narrow?

So the reports are that the government will consider allowing the Seanad Reform Bill 2013 to go through to committee stage this afternoon.

English: A voter returns his vote-by-mail ball...

English: A voter returns his vote-by-mail ballot in the 2006 General elections in Lane County, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think we’ve gone beyond the point of tinkering with the Seanad within the constraints of the constitution. We should be looked at changes to the totality of the Oireachtas and local government and instead so much focus and energy is being expended on the Seanad, save it, open it or leave it to rot.

I attended the launch event and it was very disappointing how the issue was presented. There was even an initial pitch to the media that they would be suggesting for a No vote must to seen as an endorsement of this specific plan. I pointed out that this would be a perversion of democracy as a No vote is only a definite no to what is being proposed and not some round about yes to something not on the ballot.

The election system being suggested has some real oddities. Unless the Litir um Thoghchán system is radically overhauled (which the bill makes no mention of) any Seanad election under this new bill would cost the taxpayer millions more than any current Dail election.

Our former AG displayed a peculiar detachment from commercial reality when he tried to punt this away as a non-issue as it is something that An Post just has to do as part of its license. He seemed to ignore the fact that An Post is a wholly owned state company that is losing money already and that any accrued losses eventually have to be borne by the state and us as taxpayers. Not to mention the fact that the users of An Post are tax payers too, and that any revenue raising efforts it has to engage in so as to fund the Litir um Thoghchán system is passed onto us in increased rates for regular postage. It was as if he thought of state agencies as being there to do the bidding of the political class without any thought to their own day to day commercial realities.

Furthermore the ballots will need to be posted back using regular post which is to be paid for by the voter, I can see lots of the less well off rushing out to give their 60c over to voting for the Seanad. It is peculiar that the same folks who would be opposed to a prescription charge on ideological grounds find the idea of charging people to vote quite reasonable. And that is presuming that the weight of the combined ballots comes in under the weight limit for regular postage, the ballot for the NUI was about an A2 page, combine that with the ballot for TCD one and the witness letter and I can’t see any of the ballots coming under the 100g weight for regular postage. Then there is the basic reliability of the postal service and those in charge of sending the ballots to ensure that everyone who should get one does get one. It is very easy to see the error due to this being far higher than the supposed accidental spoilt vote that was part of the reasons for spending so much on e-voting machines.

The other rather strange aspect to all of this is the way in which it is being reported. I attended the event, asked some reasonable (I thought) practical questions, some of which I got answers to, and pointed out some difficulties with the bill such as the carrying forward the existing NUI and TCD registers which are inaccurate and wholly incomplete places the graduates of other colleges at a disadvantage, it should either be a clean slate or measures should be put in place immediately to get as complete a register as possible as soon as feasible. I also noted that while I didn’t agree with Enda Kenny’s stated logic or motivation for abolition of the Seanad that at least he had sought a direct endorsement of his view from the electorate and that the people would get to make the ultimate decision. This bill if enacted would have no such mandate from the public. And surely in a democracy a mandate should be sought for this sort of change, this isn’t some emergency measure to deal with an immediate crisis.

Yet nothing that was said either by me or by the proposers of the bill in response to those questions was reported in the media. I’m not looking for a name check here but rather that it would be noted that there are practical issues that haven’t been considered and that the bill had no tangible support from the public. Not a word. It’s as if the fix is in and the media have picked their side to support.


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