So here in Ireland (tomorrow actually) the voters are going to the polls to cast their ballots in a national referendum to abolish Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate. My American readers are probably thinking right now “Abolish the senate? That’s crazy!”
Or “Why stop there?”. One or the other.
So let me explain why I’m actually completely in favour of this. For background, the Seanad is not like the American senate, instead being more like the British House of Lords. Members are not elected, but instead appointed by the Taoiseach, the two largest universities and members of the lower house, the Dáil. So what does it do? Two things:
Originally, the Seanad did have some power to significantly delay legislation. It was envisioned as an advisory body to the Dáil, that could send back legislation to be reviewed and altered but could not block the passing of a bill outright. Then the Seanad was briefly abolished and brought back in 1937 with even less power and it’s now pretty much a talking shop that cannot propose legislation and cannot delay legislation for longer than 270 days. Unless it’s a bill relating to government spending or taxation in which case the Seanad can delay it for a whopping three weeks. The current government campaigned partially on a platform of abolishing the Seanad and maybe spending the €8 Million a year it costs on a nice day out. The polls are currently showing that the voters are strongly in favour of abolition and I happen to be one of them. I’m not nescesarrily writing this to argue for a YES vote, but I wanted to take a moment to respond to some of the arguments that people have been making in favour of keeping the Seanad.
“What’s the point in saving €8 Million a year? It’ll just be going back to the government and they don’t care about easing the hardship of ordinary people.”
Okay, so common misconception. The government is not in fact Sauron, Lord of Mordor. They don’t have a machine in the basement of Leinster house that runs on tears and starving orphans. The government would very much like to lower your taxes to zero and give everyone a monkey because that gets them votes and they like their jobs, thank you very much. The longer austerity goes on, the greater the chances are that they get chucked out in the next election. They’re not stu…they’re not THAT stupid. The reason we’re living in a Dickensian novel is because we don’t got no money. You want things to get easier? Look for stuff that we don’t need and that we’re paying money for. €8 Million a year is not a lot in the grand scheme of things but it’s not nothing and having it to hand means the next budget will be €8 Million less harsh.
“Even if it has no real power, it still provides a valuable forum for discussion and debate.”
Is something that someone said with a straight face referring to a body that had to take a quorum count the day it was debating its own abolition
“By voting yes, you’re just giving the senators an early retirement and a fat pension.”
The senators already have early retirement and a fat pension. It’s called being a senator.
“It’s just a power grab by the Dáil.”
Surely, that would imply the Seanad has power to grab?
“We need the Seanad to keep an eye on the corrupt Dáil.”
The Seanad is not a watchdog against corruption, the Seanad is a vehicle for corruption. Senate seats are essentially gifts, a cushy job that allows the Taoiseach and the TDs to reward the party faithful for services rendered.
“You can’t have a functioning democracy without two houses.”
Well, actually, I’d argue that a government consisting of one directly elected body is more democratic than one consisting of one directly elected body and one wholly unrepresentative one elected solely by the political elite. I mean, the word “elitist” gets tossed around too casually these days but what else do you call a house of government of the elite, by the elite and for the elite?
“We should REFORM the Seanad, not abolish it.”
Okay, for the time being I will grant you that it’s preferable to have two houses instead of one in a democracy (I’m not sure exactly what you’re basing that on, but I’ll let it go). How do we reform it? What form will it take? How much will it cost? How long will it take? Probably a long time, right? So how about we work on a plan for a new improved and more representative Seanad for however many years that takes. And in the meantime, we get rid of this useless, expensive, obscenely undemocratic eyesore that is the Seanad in its current form? Any meaningful reform will involve pretty much destroying the current Seanad root and branch anyway so why not save a few million euro over the next five years while we hash out a plan for a Seanad that actually works?
“Well, they abolished the Senate in Star Wars, and look how well that turned out.”
Uh, yeah, the senate was still around right up until the start of A New Hope. It existed for the majority of Palpatine’s reign. And it also did absolutely nothing.
Pictured: A senator.
Exercise your vote, 04 October 2013.