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Abolishing The Seanad

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When I was a boy, in my mid-teens, my father said to me during a conversation about politics (I was attempting to be Socialist, he was a staunch Conservative), that Western Democracy produced what was essentially an elected dictatorship. Once in, and with a sufficient majority, a modern democratically elected government can do what it pleases.
Here in Ireland the current government, supposedly a coalition, but with such a weak minor partner as to make no difference, our Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his inner circle have devised one of the most iniquitous power grabs we have seen in decades, and they seem to have successfully duped the public into accepting this move. They are about to take a referendum on abolishing the Seanad, the Senate, the second house of parliament. To do this they will rewrite the constitution and they will leave themselves with no viable opposition, no place to offer amendments or to contest any proposed act of legislation or national policy.
endaKennyseanadThe reasons given are A/ that it will save money; B/ that it will reduce the numbers of politicians and C/ that the Seanad is itself a haven of elitism.
It won’t save much money of course, certainly not the 20 million Euro they claim. The building won’t disappear, it will still need to be maintained and staffed, and no doubt in the near future the government will find ways to make use of it. They may save a few million, say four or five, but in the face of a ten billion Euro overspend per annum, that;s too small a drop in the ocean to allow for such a major constitutional change.
It will reduce the number of politicians of course, but there’s only sixty senators, hardly a major change. And the appeal to the inverted snobbery of the Irish is just cynical. Every society must have an elite, by definition, that small minority of the Great and Good, the higher intellectuals, the rich, the successful, and so on and so on. This won’t change. All they’re doing is making sure they, the government, are the only political elite in the land.
What they are abolishing is any place that will hinder them in carrying out their policies. Even supposing this government were not a power loving bunch, what protection is left against a future government riding roughshod over the constitution, over people’s rights, creating, if they like, a police state?
They say they will make sure there is an opportunity for opposition in the Dail. This is a joke. This government, along with many European parliaments, exercises a whip system of draconian power and force. They even exercised the whip for the debate on the new laws on the protection of a mother’s life, that included the possibility of allowing abortion. If ever there was a moral debate to be had, and a vote of conscience, this was it, but they did not allow it. Anyone within the the government parties who opposed this new law was thrown out of the parliamentary party. Do these sound like people who will allow for internal opposition?
The Tanaiste, Eamonn Gilmore, Leader of the Labour Party and a man as weak as water, who blushes like a schoolboy when he finds himself standing next to such as the American Secretary of State, has no power over the Taoiseach, and has no authority in the parliament or in the country. He might have stood against this measure, but he didn’t. He was probably frightened to stand up against the Taoiseach, a man who has been in politics since he was 21, getting his seat in that Irish way of inheriting it from his father. He is a backroom boy to rival Lyndon Johnson, a man steeped in political life and its shenanigans, with no experience of the real world at all. He makes like the meek honest man of the people, but he is a politician to the bone. He wants power and he will brook no opposition.
What is needed, undoubtedly, is reform. The election system is ridiculous. The place is half full of failed candidates for the Dail. The youngest member is in her early twenties. It should be peopled with men and women of experience, perhaps 60 percent elected, with 40 percent appointed by the various bodies who currently elect its members. Perhaps a minimum age of 40, to make sure they’ve seen a bit of the way the world really works, and have an understanding of the everyday problems of living in Ireland. I am not here to offer reform solutions nor to make excuses for the fact that no Irish government has seriously addressed the problems of the current set up. But simply to get rid of the place instead of allowing a debate on its reform is unworthy of a supposedly democratic government.
I know the abolition will go through and who am I with this puny blog to stop them? The saddest thing is that the majority of those in a recent poll who said they would support the ban said they would do so for the reason of saving money. This is selling the family jewellery to pay an electricity bill. It is changing the future for all time for the sake of a passing problem. It is so short sighted you wonder if they can see their own feet as they walk to the polling stations on Friday.
I love Ireland, a most civilised people in a beautiful land, but I despair of their short-term political thinking. They’re almost as bad as their politicians.

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