If something is broken, do you try and fix it or do you throw it away? I suppose if it is a DVD it is an easy decision, a computer less so. But what if it is a whole part of government, an institution of our democracy that has been with us for over eighty years and interwoven in to our Constitution like an organ of the body? To some a second kidney is superfluous but woe betide if the first one fails and you don’t have another. These are the questions we should be asking ourselves while we ponder the referendum on the Thirty-second Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which we will be voting for on Friday October 4th.
For decades criticism of the Seanad festered, rearing its head once in a while in debates. To many it is undemocratic, being indirectly elected by interest groups and packed with government cronies. That is true. To others it is a smug echo chamber for a political elite, a place won by favours in back rooms of the Dail and county council offices. That is also true. The Seanad is without doubt a defective organ of government. Yet tomorrow instead of finally even considering the possibility of really fixing the upper house we have been given a blunt option of dumping the whole thing or not. There is no consideration of future reform the government says. It is of their opinion that because it has not happened before, it will never happen. That is a deeply regressive argument. Previous governments have had the ability to reform the Seanad and they still do. Then finally we have a proper argument about the Seanad. Yet we have now been given the sole option of amputation. So we are being told to remove one defective kidney and hope for the best with another that created the crisis we are all in today.
The defective reasoning behind this can be traced back to a speech our now Taoiseach Enda Kenny made in October 2009 in which he stated that a “second house of the Oireachtas can no longer be justified”. This it must be stated was only a few months after he had vouched for the merits of the Seanad, albeit a reformed one. It is rather funny that after a lot of personal soul searching and debate he is now completely and utterly for the abolition of the Seanad, that his mind has concluded so forcibly that there is no need for debate. Indeed, he has refused to argue on prime time TV or in any forum the reasoning behind his change of heart in relation to the upper house. It is as if he is a child who wants to do something, hears your argument against and puts his hands up to his ears and shouts “Na na na na na! Can’t hear you!”
What we have tomorrow is not some reform process or a way to save money or even enhance democracy, the arguments the government are advocating for. What we have is a cynical political maneouvre by an autocratic Toiseach, blinded by smugness, lubricated by the largest parliamentary majority in the history of the state. It is a means to pin a badge on a man whose pet project he wants passed, to have something to own while the rest of his mandate is discredited by austerity and a dictatorial whip system. We are trading collective democracy for personal political merit. The frightening thing is that such autocratic behaviour will only be enhanced with the abolition of the Seanad. It will be a back door power grab. For all the people who think that abolishing the Seanad will be a way to kick the balls of a privileged smug elite, the sad irony is, rather than removing a bunch of unloved politicians, you will be in fact handing an even concentrated few more power.
We as a nation deserve the best and most robust democracy we can get. We also deserve the right to the best options of getting that. Tomorrow you will not. To demand that argument be heard, vote NO tomorrow to the abolition of the Seanad.