Leaving aside all that though, I think the whole reform thing is complete waffle, the notion of a workable second chamber in a state like Ireland is a total paradox and that there is no example to copy in the whole world, which says an awful lot.
If politics.ie would vote circa 60:40 for Seanad abolition then it will be circa 19:1 in the real world!
The argument of some posters that there is no need for a second chamber in Ireland is wrong. Under the current workings of the Dáil, legislation can be passed with debate being guillotined at the whim of the government. At the very least, the Seanad offers the checks and balances in ensuring that legislation cannot be voted through and signed in the Aras by the evening. Reform, not abolition is the answer. If you used a cost argument for most things e.g. the Dáil, you would probably call for abolition. The majority don't understand the workings of the Lower House either. In compliance with reforms, reduce the salaries of Senators to €20,000-€30,000 and remove the cost argument of the government.
I believe it should be abolished, past governments have had plenty of opportunity to reform it and never did.It is only now when the purse strings are being tightened that the subject is being taken seriously. As far as I can see it is a means of paying politicians who failed to be elected as TD's.
When John Bruton was elected Taoiseach during the 1992-97 Dáil term, he did not inherit a Seanad majority, hence it was necessary for both him and his government to negotiate with the Upper House. He was to later comment on this being a positive experience. Let's have Seanad elections take place on the same day as the general election or perhaps local and European and have the list system mechanism used. In terms of pay, reduce it to €20,000-€30,000 to reflect the fact that the office is an honour and not a retirment home or creche for past or future TD's.
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I would rather see Seanad reformed rather than abolished for the same reason that I voted 'no' in the recent Oireachtas Inquiry referendum - when push comes to shove, I do not want the Healy-Raes, Lowrys et al. having the last word in any bill that affects any section of society.
To put the rest of this post in context, like 99% of p.ie'ers, I am a politics junkie. I wouldn't bet on two flies going up a wall, but I'd call a vote to determine who I think should win. Yet while I have a Seanad election vote, I don't use it as I feel the outcome is as relevant to me, my family and my community as the winner of the afore-mentioned fly race. Slightly contradictory, I admit, given my opening comment, but the fact that the Seanad has the responsibility to debate and vote on legislation after the Dáil has passed it is what makes it an institution worth reconsidering before we abolish it altogether. Just because it is not effective now does not mean that it can't be.
Whatever it was modelled on - The House of Lords or the US Senate - the fact is that these two institutions were modelled to some extent on the Roman Senate, hardly the poster-whatever for modern democracy. Based solely on Leaving Cert results and college choices, CAO choices, only a small group of voters have a right to elect 6 of our 60 senators. This is a democracy of sorts, but one more suited to Ancient Athens. I'd like to think that we have developed the Athenians' notion of democracy somewhat, but when it comes to the Seanad it seems not so much.
So, if you have read this far into this rambling post, I ask you to consider the first paragraph. I believe that there was a very good reason why Fine Gael were suggesting the abolishment of the Seanad pre-election. It has nothing to do with the waste of public monies or indeed the wishes of the Irish people. It has to do with a consolidation of power. Imagine how easy it would be for any majority to pass whatever they wanted if there was no pesky upper house to hold bills up or worse and thereby draw attention to them?
Granted, I switch stations when yet again, for example, Ivana Bacik is regurgitating the same ole' "Ah George, you and I will disagree on [insert topic here]" interview every few weeks on The Right Hook but the more I think about it, the more I think that this is exactly what every Irish Government has ever dreamt of - an upper house deemed so pointless that its abolishment will come down to a feigned matter of concern fot the public purse and little else.
So, as far as I'm concerned it partly comes down to the following:
- all who are eligible to vote in General Elections should be able to vote in Seanad Elections
- the number of county councilors should be reduced as so many TDs seem to like chasing pot-hole/parking permit/green-site issues
- the Taoiseach should not be allowed to have Seanad nominees
- if the judiciary concurs with their findings, then the Seanad should have the right to veto bills (a bit idealistic, I know)
There are many other suggestions for the perfect Seanad that should be taken into consideration (and I do not claim to know them all) but ultimately, by abolishing the Seanad rather than reforming it we are in real danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Why do countries adopt upper houses?
To protect a group of people which would otherwise lose out in a majority-vote system.
House of Lords: protects interests of aristocrats, who would otherwise have enjoyed little power to protect their feudal entitlements.
United States Senate: protects interests of small states which feared the power of the federal government.
We certainly did have such a group of people, at the time of foundation of the state. The Free State Senate existed, in theory and practice, to promote an Anglo-Irish voice in the new state. It was introduced for the same reason the UK promoted PR-STV. The UK wanted to allow Anglo-Irish people to protect and preserve themselves. But, as it happened, they split into two groups upon independence. One departed, quickly or gradually, and the other assimilated.
It's not clear that Ireland has such a minority group that deserves special protection any more. Like the homogenous Nordic states, we don't have a significant political cleavage. The Nordic states don't have upper houses.