The Fine Gael campaign on the Seanad is to me as someone who is a member of the party rather embarrassing. It’s not a simple choice, it’s a simplistic one. It’s not about matching the sacrifices of families in difficult times. When have you seen families cutting off a minor relation and sending them away? “Sorry uncle Mike but you’ve not done much around the house lately. Sure we’ve never let you but what of that. It’s off to the county home with you and good riddance.”
€20 million will not be saved, merely redirected to the other parts of the Oireachtas and civil service. More likely it safeguards funds for a 25% increase in the running costs of the Dail whether in salaries or expenses than anything else.
If we wanted a simple way to reduce the number of politicians and desperately expensive ones at that, we’d be instead fulfilling our other election promise to reduce the Dail by 20 TDs by havbing a constitutional referendum to change article 16.2.2 of the constitution to change the ratio of TDs to the population. Alter the boundaries from between 20,000 and 30,000 to instead 35,000 to 45,000 and overnight you could disappear 40/50 TDs. Who are at least 50% more expensive than Senators. But we’re not.
The notion is being advanced that only 1% of the electorate can vote for the Seanad but that’s also untru. The true figure for those constitutional entitled to vote for the Seanad is in excess of one in ten of the election. But why is the figure of 1% used? Because the Dail has never provided for the 7th Amendment to the constitution and because the registers for the TCD and NUI are maintained without any support whether logistical, financial or otherwise from the state. They are after all education institutions not bodies primarily charged with running elections.
If the county registrars were required to simply add a marker to the existing registers (just we do for EU citizens or British citizens) for those who had Seanad votes. And if the Dail had done as the people indicated it should do in 1979 then with CSO figures showing that in excess of 430,000 people who are resident in the republic and who have a level 7 qualification. We could have seen close to a quarter of a million voting in the Seanad elections in 2011 (assuming similar rates of turnout. )
Adding those who have had to emigrate down the years and with an electorate of 3,198,765 we’re moving solidly in the realm of 13%.
Why does this matter? Why is it better that it would be 13% rather than 1%? Because if a large enough minority was voting the clamor for more extensive reform would have been all the louder and more consistent down the years. And embarrassed by the clear second class status of the other 87%, there would have been real reform of the Seanad and perhaps of the Oireactas long ago. Instead it was better for the Dail to never act as to do so would have opened up all sorts of possibilities, next to none of which would suit the incumbents of the larger chamber.