As we head towards Seanad abolition (possibly 20 weeks and counting?), a number of arguments are being raised as to why THIS unreformed Seanad should be retained.
1. “Yes, the Seanad should be reformed, but let’s save it first”. This argument would be believable, save for the fact that so many people who make it have opposed reform when they had the power to do it. Some Seanad reformers are credible and sincere. Many are not.
2. “This will give the Govt too much power”. Name all the times in its 76 year history that the Seanad has forced the govt to back down. Where was the Seanad on the night of the bank guarantee?
3. “If we let the Seanad be abolished, the Irish people will not agree to a new reformed Seanad later.” So? It’s their Seanad.
4. “The Dail is not capable of holding the government to account”. Surely that’s an argument for abolishing the Dail, not keeping the Seanad?
5. “The Seanad has provided a vital platform for different voices”. So would an Irish Times column, and be cheaper too. We should keep an entire House of Parliament for six people? This term’s Taoiseach’s nominees are so noticeable because they are so rare, and normally just hacks. As they will be again if the current Seanad is retained. Vincent Browne and Fintan O’Toole aren’t senators. Neither are David Quinn or Breda O’Brien.
6. “We need more time for reform”. No we don’t. The last in-depth report on Seanad reform was in 2006, where it was then let gather dust by many of those who now claim to be passionate reformers. Why did they not push reform then? Because they don’t believe in it.
7. “This is a power grab by the government”. What power? The govvernment already have all the power, a situation Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour all seem quite happy with when in government
The fact is, most of the arguments for keeping the Seanad are theoretical, whereas the reasons for supporting abolition are based on its 76 year history.
I’d also be more convinced about Seanad reform if it were made by people who don’t have a vested interest in it. Many, like Gemma Hussey and Michael McDowell don’t, to their credit, but…
Finally, I’m all in favour of a reformed Seanad. I just don’t believe in future promises of reform from Irish politicians, who, as a general rule, have a difficulty with the truth. Of course, if they vote through reform before the referendum I’ll vote to retain. Maybe they’ll surprise us, but I doubt it.