Diarmaid Ferriter is smarter than I ever hope to be, I love hearing him fill in for George Hook and read almost anything I ever come across that he writes. I also almost never write about political matters (my novice experience will surely show), having said that, I also like to challenge thoughts and on that basis figured I’d critique this piece on the Seanad.
We’ll go through it bit by bit. He’s in bold, I’m in italics.
The proposal to abolish the Seanad, without even considering its reform will, if successful, inevitably result in the concentration of governance in the hands of fewer, without any chance of meaningful oversight and scrutiny of what they are doing.
This is a fallacy because reform is a fallacy, any option to ‘reform’ will end up in countless policy trade off’s trying to reconstruct something which fundamentally doesn’t work. A better reform would be abolition and a new construction from scratch. Notice that this point is not being made, instead people are proposing a painfully slow, grinding reform which will allow for the usual posturing and one-upmanship you expect from feudal politicians. As for ‘meaningful oversight’ that remains to be seen, Seanad powers were used only once in their history, if that is what their robust oversight has delivered then count me out.
That is why the debate about this proposal needs to be broadened and placed in the context of the evolution of Irish political culture since the foundation of the state, and the multiple problems associated with that culture, principally the excessive centralisation of power.
That isn’t the case unless that is what you choose to believe, this is an island, not a continent, centralised power has pro’s and con’s as does any plan, but we don’t need an additional 60 politicians to get it right, why are we so intent on keeping Senators? Why instead are there not greater calls to empower local government and have a more robust councillor structure? How can you hope to change the problems of political culture by keeping an institution which is at it’s root both a tacit and explicit supporter of same said culture? That’s like seeking vultures to teach magpies.
In recent years, the crisis afflicting this state has led to some demanding a new or re-imagined republic, but what is disturbing is that there is still such hostility to ideas andconsultation from those in a position to give substance to such aspirations.
Hostility may be a bad choice of words. Perhaps mild aversion to change is more apt, and there is rational cause for that position. One advantage of the status quo that reformists seem to brush over without the slightest bit of consideration is that it took effort to reach it, and the status quo has the proven capacity of the ability to exist, something which their ‘proposed ideas’ lack.
For all the talk of a ‘democratic revolution’ in 2011 – these were the words used by Fine Gael and Labour to describe their election victory – there has been little sign of that meaning anything in reality.
Seriously? What does one expect? This is Europe, not South America, the idea of abolishing the Seanad and the ability on the people to vote on it is perhaps the most revolutionary change in politics in the history of the state to date.
The Constitutional Convention, for example, does not address this in a meaningful way; there has been no consultation with the public regarding topics for discussion and one third of the seats are reserved for politicians, which is hardly conducive to the notion of deliberative democracy.
This is getting laughable, it’s a fallacy of construct or perhaps composition, that elected representatives who hold a public mandate are somehow not representative when in fact they can only hold such a position by being representative. They are arguably ‘more representative’ than the general public if you look at how they arrived at the position they hold, while a member of the general public has to pass no such test to obtain that mantle.
Centralisation and unaccountable elites still dominate,
Yes, that would describe the Seanad.
if anything more than they did in the past; even the cabinet as an entity now plays second fiddle to the Economic Management Council, four male ministers who make all key decisions on the economy and spending. The decision not to countenance reform of the Seanad but instead opt for its abolition or retention as an unreformed assembly is a further dangerous power grab that if successful will inevitably copper fasten the power of an ever shrinking elite to leave us in an even worse position than we are in now.
The fallacy adverse consequence is at play ‘be afraid because (insert bullshit reason here)’. The allusion that we are ruled by a small economic council belies the fact that as a collective democracy we elected them, this concentration of power existed generally even before FG/Labour. Look at the power Brian Lenihan had and how he used it? It also means nothing in terms of the requirement or validity of keeping the Seanad, you could equally point toward violence on TV as a motivation, it’s equally tangentially irrelevant.
Most people agree that the decision to create the Free State Senate under the 1922 constitution was enlightened, in order to ensure minority, especially Protestant,concerns were heard.
The fallacy of the ‘bandwagon’ is alive and well, where is the evidence that most people agree about that? And more importantly, how does it justify the keeping of the Seanad? And what is the point of the overtone of protestant interests? Isn’t a democracy meant to be mindful of the concerns of minorities? Change ‘protestant’ to ‘black people’ or some other ethnic minority and you’ll see right through this instantly.
I could continue if I had the time or inclination but I lack it. Instead I want to look at other things.
Such as why the Seanad is elected three months after the Dail? Simply put, its a failure catchment for TD’s who lose out. This is not debatable when you look at the facts of who ends up there. To say otherwise is to deny the obvious. Real voters reject them so Senate voters save them.
The Senate has only ever blocked a single bill, their ‘powers’ are latent at best, therefore it cannot be a ‘grab’ if you are grabbing what is not there. Fianna Fail who want to save the Seanad were the initial designers of it.
The design ensured that over 95% of people will never be able to vote on this vital and robust second house, hardly democracy worth fighting for is it? While nobody is saying we don’t need politicians, what we aren’t saying is that we might need an emergency 60 of them in case (again, insert bullshit reason here).
And at its most base, when is the next time you will get a chance to fire 60 politicians?