10 years ago, a very unusual alliance was assembled across the parties in Irish politics. The purpose of the alliance was to pretend they were passionately in favour of reforming Seanad Eireann to make it more democratic.
They issued leaflets, launched online campaigns, discussing ideas for reform at summer schools and debated people earnestly about the need for reform. What was most interesting about them was that up to the moment the Oireachtas passed Enda Kenny’s Seanad abolition bill many of them had spent decades, yes decades, opposing even minor reforms.
They opposed reform for very clear reasons. It was in their own own best interest to preserve the upper house in its current form, as an ejector seat for people who failed to be elected to Dail Eireann, or as a nursery for those aspiring to. But they also knew that advocating for the status quo would simply not be popular. So overnight they became “reformers”. Sure enough when the referendum came about the proposal to abolish the Seanad was narrowly defeated and many reasonable people would say that it was probably on the basis that the majority of voters believed that they would rather retain the house but in a reformed way.
That was 10 years ago, and you have to ask yourself what happened to all those earnest reformers who promised that a No vote was a vote for reform? Some just laughed and went back to politics as usual. Some keep up the pretence, that reform is needed but there is no “consensus”, a rule which is never applied to Oireachtas salaries, funnily enough.
It was possibly the most cynical election campaign ever in Irish politics, where people who blatantly oppose something shouted for reform in public, despite the fact that they had absolutely no intention ever following through the reforms they advocated.
Until now, with the government’s proposal for a referendum to have an elected mayor for Dublin. Because there are two groups in particular who want to see the proposal defeated: opponents of Fianna Fail/Fine Gael, and…Fianna Fail/Fine Gael.
That’s the awkward reality: most of the people advocating an elected mayor IN PUBLIC are actually against it in private. Like the fake Seanad reformers, they are perfectly happy with the status quo, where councillors get €45k and a year in the spotlight without being held responsible for anything.
But they don’t want to admit it in public, and so spend years debating what would be the perfect form of elected mayor, and bouncing it between citizen assemblies and Oireachtas committees all with the intention of never genuinely pushing it.
Don’t believe me? Look at the half-assed campaigns FF/FG ran for the mayoral campaigns in Limerick, Cork and Waterford. Why did they even pick just those counties? Why not hold a vote in every county on the same day? Because that would have created a national debate, and we would have ended up with a dozen or so countries voting for elected mayors and it would then be a reality. Instead, the three county referendum was neither here nor there, a fig leaf to wave to see how committed they were to reform but not on a national scale.
But the greatest most cynical ploy of the proposed referendum will be that the people who oppose everything FF/FG do will be thinking they’re sticking it to the two parties by voting no, when they are actually voting for the status quo FF/FG and others want. They vote no thinking “fuck the politicians” and in reality voting to preserve the status quo the politicians really want.
Don’t believe me? Look how quickly Seanad reform was abandoned as soon as Seanad abolition was off the table.