Nation rejoices, crowds dance in streets as 15th Seanad reform report unveiled.

An-Taoiseach-Enda-Kenny4Towns and cities across Ireland were brought to a halt yesterday as spontaneous crowds blocked roads cheering the release of the Working Group on Seanad Reform’s report. One woman, openly sobbing, told our cameras: “This is truly a great nation, and I’m so proud to be Irish. You can keep your Nobel prizes and your Olympic gold medals: who else in the world can generate so many reports on legislative upper house reform? Who? This is what the men and women of 1916 died for!”

Tee-shirt manufacturers reported  a sharp increase in tee-shirts bearing Seanad reform slogans. “Indirect election by local authority members! That’s the big one! I can’t keep them on the shelves. That and Reserved Seats for Parliamentary Nominated Candidates! Jaysus they’re flying off the shelves! Flyin’!”

The 1916 Commemoration Committee has confirmed that as part of the celebration next year Galway based arts group Macnas have been commissioned to create giant papier mache versions of each of the 15 Seanad reports for the parade. The committee has also confirmed that toy and card versions of the reports will be available, so that schoolchildren can collect their favourites or play swapsies. “I can’t wait to get my hands on the O’Rourke report!” one excited ten year old said.

The Taoiseach was cheered as he took his morning stroll to Government Buildings on Merrion Square. Speaking to the media at the entrance, he said: “I’m very proud to be contributing to the long tradition in this country of endlessly guffing on about reforming things and then doing nothing. And can I just say this: I believe in the Irish people, and Irish democracy, and I believe that by working together, through a process of endless presentations and our old friend “consultation”, I am confident that we may see a 16th report on Seanad reform yet!”

The People Have Spoken.

A major tipping of the hat to the No campaign.

It was a masterly and professional campaign, over turning a seemingly insurmountable poll lead and winning what should have been for the government an unlosable referendum.

They worked very hard, and it paid off. Congratulations to them.

Now, over to them.

The Seanad Referendum: Now that it’s over.

I decided to write this in that twilight after the polls have closed but before the boxes are open, so that no charge of sour grapes or mocking triumphalism can contaminate what I have to say. But what have we learnt?

1. There are many genuine reformers on the No side, who believe particularly in the Zappone model. I have to admire their sincerity. The problem is that they have been effectively used as human shields by self-serving party political hacks who chose not to defend their own record (“Nobody is in favour of retaining the current Seanad”) but instead hitch up to a noble cause to get them through the storm. If there is a No vote, the reformers, will, I believe, be shocked at the speed at which their new allies will ditch them, and start the same old pre-referendum tricks designed to delay any reform for years, perhaps even decades.

2. I will be STUNNED if a No vote leads to the implementation of Zappone/Quinn. Stunned. It will absolutely change my view of Irish politics as an incredibly cynical self-interested arena.

3. People forget that by saving the Seanad, the pressure is off to propose proper reform. What that means is that if FF in government, for example, proposes a Seanad elected on closed party-nominated hack lists, the only way to stop it is by voting to keep the current Seanad. Abolition is the only way of getting a clean slate which forces genuine reform.

4. The government’s record on political reform is appalling, and claiming that Seanad abolition is reform is nonsense. This government has no more interest in genuine reform than the last one did. It is nothing short of bizarre as to why the government didn’t send the Seanad to the Constitutional Convention, and then put all three options to the vote. That would have forced the No side to attack the Convention.

5. The No campaign started very strongly, but became dominated by Fianna Fail and its obsession with damaging Fine Gael. Obsessing over how much the Seanad cost was such “insider baseball”. And seriously, Fianna Fail has great strengths as a party, but playing the integrity card is not one of them. This is the “IMF aren’t coming” party. Putting Michael McDowell and Micheal Martin up on the last night was basically one big “remember us?” moment.

Finally, on a personal note, I have to say that this campaign has been the most fun I’ve had in politics in years. Whatever happens tomorrow, the people will have spoken, and that’s still a pretty beautiful thing to see in action. For all the name calling we do, the reality is that no one will seriously question the integrity of the result, and that’s something that can’t be taken for granted in huge swathes of Earth. Democracy: sure isn’t it grand?

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Seanad Snob.

Vote No! And try the olives, they're from Sicily!

Vote No! And try the olives, they’re from Sicily!

Even the other members of the Save the Seanad campaign roll their eyes when he comes in to host his cheese and wine fundraiser in his stately pile “just off Ailesbury Road”, suddenly very busy checking their phones or in a rush to get to a meeting in Castlebar.

The irony is that not only is he, by his own definition, the most left wing person in the room, he is almost certainly the wealthiest, the family being old money. Enda’s referendum is a “power grab”, the government steamrollering through a near century of checks and balances, he says. But get a few glasses of wine into him, and the real reasons start to seep out.

“Look at Mary Robinson, or Catherine McGuinness, or David Norris,” he’ll say, over his third (large) glass.

“Don’t tell me they’ll elect people of that calibre in Athlone or Ennis or one of those places.” “Ireland,” he slurs, “needs Seanad Eireann because we need a mechanism where the masses can be protected from themselves! Now, don’t get me wrong. Your average Sean Sixpack is a fine fellow, and of course he should have the vote! For the Dail! Of course! And I don’t care about all them county councillor fellas either, bunch of Fianna Failers the lot of them! I’m just saying that (hic!) we need a mechanism where people of refinement and yes, who went to the right college or even that one out near Teilifis Eireann, can ensure that a certain level of quality is maintained. Because…is there any more of that delicious red?…oh lovely…have you tried the Wensleydale with the cranberries..better than sex!…look at that! All over my cravat. I’m a disgrace! Where was I…oh yes, because let’s be honest…there are plenty of people in this country, the gays, minorities, the working classes…darling, did Magda load up the dishwasher before she took her day off? Good, good…there are plenty of people in this country who can’t speak for themselves, or don’t know what it is they want to say, and so need someone to stand up for them! You know, the little people. Magda! Magda! We need another red! Where’s that bloody girl gone now? I don’t know. She seems to take a day off nearly every week! Hic!”

Abolishing the Seanad: trust your gut instinct.

1. If it was as good and as useful as some people say, don’t you think you might have noticed?

2. The Seanad’s PRIMARY function is to provide an emergency parachute for failed TDs. That’s why it’s elected 3 months after the Dail, to give them time to canvass, elected by OTHER politicians (because real voters rejected them) and reserves 16 seats for candidates nominated by other politicians. Do we really need to create 54 spare jobs for failed candidates?

3. How can it be a power grab if the Seanad has no power? In 76 years the Seanad has blocked 1 bill. 1. By accident. In 1963 a senator got drunk and lost his way to the chamber. Power grab?

4. Fianna Fail, who designed the Seanad to stop 97% of Irish citizens from having a vote in it, now say they want a reformed democratic Seanad. Fianna Fail, along with Fine Gael, Labour, and the Progressive Democrats, blocked democratic Seanad reform EVERY SINGLE TIME they were in power. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

In your gut you know we need a Dail, ministers, and a supreme court. Probably even a president. Does your gut honestly tell you we need 60 fully paid and pensioned taxpayer funded senators? Really?

Make your first Seanad vote your last. Vote YES to get rid of this yoke.

You don’t have a spare job if you lose yours. Why should TDs?

"Damn! There goes my Dail seat! To the Seanad!"

“Damn! There goes my Dail seat! To the Seanad!”

There’s been a lot of talk of “checks and balances” and “scrutinising legislation” from the Save The Seanad crowd. Let’s be clear about one thing: the Seanad exists first and foremost to provide an emergency back up job for failed TDs.

Don’t believe me? Look at the structure:

1. Seanad elections are not held on the same day as the Dail elections? Why? To give failed TDs 3 months to campaign for a Seanad seat.

2. The Seanad is elected mostly by county councillors? Why? Because real voters have already voted down the candidates. Why do you think that scandal over senators taxpayer funded free post erupted? Because councillors were getting free envelopes from someone. I wonder why?

3. Within the Seanad election, 16 out of 43 senators are reserved for candidates nominated by Oireachtas members, EVEN IF THEY GET LESS VOTES.

4. Even if those three helping hands aren’t enough, there’s always appointment by the Taoiseach.

The Seanad: the most expensive parachute in democratic history.

Where is this fantasy Seanad anyway?

In a Seanad in another dimension, Senator Yoda swings into action on the bondholder question.

In a Seanad in another dimension, Senator Yoda swings into action on the bondholder question.

I spoke recently in a debate in the Law Society in UCD on Seanad abolition, and I must admit, I was convinced. My opponents spoke about a senate that was full of deep thinking public servants, working the People’s business, and holding both the government and a Mad Max style Dail of yahoos and scoundrels in check. It was a beauty to behold. I expected to see Senators Homer, Cicero, Yoda, Mr Spock and Plato up there with the same dozen names that are always mentioned with the Seanad. How could we possibly abolish this, our last bastion of civilisation against the savagery of the zombie hordes that infest the Dail?

Then it struck me what the core of the opposition’s argument was: the Seanad is grand, just you people are too stupid to appreciate it. You people, who object to the rigged elections for people rejected in Dail elections, are too dense to see how subtle it is.

Sure, it did nothing about PPARS, burning the bondholders, eVoting, massive Tribunal costs, corruption, local government reform, political reform, banking regulation, massive pensions for retiring politicians, etc, but it did accidentally get drunk in 1963 and stop the Pawnbroker’s bill. Have you people no sense of gratitude?

The Seanad: if it was any good, do you not think we might have noticed?

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Tricked No Voter.

s a No vote an invitation for professional politicians to stab you in the back?

Is a No vote an invitation for professional politicians to stab you in the back?

She voted NO in the Seanad referendum because she wanted a reformed Seanad. That’s what the No side said her vote meant. Earnest senators were on the telly and radio every night, describing in detail how the Zappone/Quinn reforms would transform the Seanad into a model upper house, and so she made her way to the polling station and did her duty. She was delighted when the government’s proposal was rejected.

Now, finally, we’ll see some serious reform!

But then funny things started to happen. Nearly all those enthused senators arguing passionately for reform seemed to go quiet, and Seanad reform just evaporated off the political table. Fine Gael and Labour people, who had quietly campaigned against abolition, suddenly started using phrases like “the people have spoken” and “the matter is settled”.

Some senators even started saying that the people were quite happy with the Seanad, sure hadn’t they voted to keep it as it was?

She was livid. She hadn’t voted to keep it as it was, a house for failed Dail candidates and political wannabes. She voted for the Zappone/Quinn reforms, that’s what they’d promised her!

In the general election, a tiny paragraph in the Fianna Fail manifesto didn’t pledge Zappone/Quinn, but yet another Oireachtas Committee to “review the issue”, as the last 12 previous reviews had, and look at maybe turning the Seanad into a replica mini Dail with 40 Super TDs in large constituencies. No mention of Zappone/Quinn anywhere.

Then there was another Seanad election, and she watched a bunch of young party hacks and failed old boys get another 5 years in the best gentleman’s club in town. All taxpayer funded, of course.

And there wasn’t a thing she could do about it, because when she had the power on polling day, she’d voted to give it back to those same senators.

Is “Vote No for Seanad Reform” the new “Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way”?

I have a lot of admiration for my opponents in the Seanad referendum campaign. They’re running a very slick, professional campaign (hardly surprising, given the Fianna Fail background of most of them) but mostly, you have to admire their courage.

Here are people, many of whom will seek public office in the next five years or so, who are putting their own personal integrity and judgement on the line by pledging that a No vote will definitely lead to the implementation of the Zappone/Quinn reforms.

Pledges that, like Eamonn Gilmore’s declaration of 2011, will follow them throughout their political careers.

They’re effectively saying:

 “Yes, a No vote will definitely lead to the implementation of Zappone/Quinn within a relatively short period of time, and certainly before the 2021 elections at the latest. I’m staking my personal reputation on that.”

You have to admire that.

10 Reasons to Vote No to Seanad Abolition.

1. It is right that better educated people like David Norris get two votes compared to the lesser educated classes, who should really know their place.

2. Politicians deserve to have a well-paid special club that they can appoint each other to if the people refuse to elect them to Dail Eireann. Why do you think Seanad elections are held AFTER Dail elections, and not on the same day?

3. The Taoiseach needs somewhere to appoint people like Eoghan Harris.

4. A NO vote will lead to the political system committing to Seanad reform with the same gusto it has shown for a United Ireland, restoring Irish, maintaining neutrality and draining the Shannon.

5. The rumours that the NO campaign is effectively a Fianna Fail front, and that a NO vote will be used by Fianna Fail as an endorsement are a disgrace. Why, just count the number of online campaigners who aren’t members of Fianna Fáil. There must be dozens   quite a few.

6. A NO vote is a vote of trust in Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour to reform the Seanad. You can trust them. You know you can.

7. Or a NO vote is a vote of thanks to the hardworking senators and a message to the government to leave the Seanad exactly the way it is.

8. The fact that despite the reality that we have elected 100s of senators we can only all name the same 10 is neither here nor there. Same with all those senators who were appointed to the cabinet.

9. The fact that Seanad reform only became a major issue AFTER abolition became a realistic prospect is pure coincidence, and only a bearded cynic would suggest otherwise.

10. It’s an outrage to suggest that the great majority of Seanad Reformers quite fancy being senators. An outrage!