Time to do to the Senate what the Senate did to Julius Caesar

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.

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:

1) Fuck
2) All
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?
And finally…
“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.

Pictured: A senator.

Exercise your vote, 04 October 2013.

19 comments

  1. Ok, first of all, I find this amusing as we Americans struggle with our own government problems.

    Now…

    1. Saving 8 Million in taxes could be used for education reform, making your nation smarter, so the next generation might actually make something “BETTER.”

    2. Discussion and Debate in these times, is called twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites.

    3. Pensions should be voted for ANY government official by there constituency if they feel that official did their duty faithfully while in office.

    4. Sounds like our Senate right now, useless.

    5. If they have no ability to abolish a law, what good are they for keeping corruption out?

    6. Rome did fine with their Senate up until the time of the Caesar’s.

    7. I’m all for reform, but reform it into what? Educate the next generation better, let them handle it.

    8. Good point, but then again, the Senate in Star Wars was abolished by a power hungry Dark Lord of the Sith with a face that could frighten ghosts. Abolishing the Sinead in this case would be like saying, we’re abolishing the Committee who sits around and wonders what color to paint the walls next year.

    All for it Mouse, when you’re done, mind coming over and helping us abolish the Senate? Let’s start with the Democrats and work our way to the Republicans.

  2. You said the Irish senate is different than the U.S. senate. Then you said the Irish senate does Fuck All. . . . Mouse, Fuck All is EXACTLY what the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been doing for the past seven years! (“Fuck All” is an appropriate phrase for what they’ve been doing, actually, because if they aren’t accomplishing nothing, they’re fucking over their own constituents.)

    Knight: could we start with the Tea Partiers rather than the Democrats? After all, they’re the ones who have tried 45 times now to abolish a LAW (that they keep referring to as a bill) that has already gone into effect, to the point that they are willing to shut down the government rather than just gracefully admit defeat.

    1. I think the big difference is that the US Senate can actually achieve something when its not forced to have a filibuster proof majority. The Seanad does nothing by DESIGN. Its like the difference between a car who’s wheels have been stolen and a massive concrete brick.

    2. True, but it IS the Democrats who have said that they will not even consider having a conversation about Obamacare. If they would, maybe this could have been avoided. Right now, I just feel for everyone who is out of work over this.

      1. They DID have a conversation about Obamacare. That was when the bill was first proposed. The bill passed. They had a second one when it was put before the Supreme Court. Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. And then they had a third conversation when the Republicans fielded a candidate in 2012 who promised to repeal Obamacare. And he lost. By a lot. The conversation is over. Obamacare is the law and a small minority of one house has decided that they can’t stop it by any fair democratic means so they’re sabotageing the government, risking the world economy and throwing thousands of people out of work. Obama can’t negotiate with them because you can’t negotiate with extremists.

      2. Again, true. Alright Gram Pol, start with the Tea Party Republicans, THEN we’ll move on to the Democrats.

        Oh, does anyone have a spare skeleton key, I see to have gotten myself in trouble with the courts in a previous post.

  3. I feel for you…I would think that people would be glad to slim down the government a little bit. I know that Germans would jump to the chance. But then….we have our only troubles to deal with (currently certain parties who act like children instead of making a plan how to built a working government).

  4. “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?”

    This is very true, Mouse, however, I’d like to present you with the current status over here and hopefully discuss the pros and cons of an elite elected by the masses.
    My country has a directly elected multi-party parliament, consisting of 240 places. Parties which pass the required minimum of 4% of votes get a proportional share of these 240 seats, and the leading party/parties form a government.
    The problem with the directly selected elite is the rampant populism, mass media manipulation, and, let’s not forget, the ignorance of people as a whole. Most people recognise themselves as left, or right, and vote with no regard for the current party platform and whether it fits the situation or not. Most individuals are not specialists, and more often than not they fail to process the information at all. Some voters are even illiterate and vote on a base of political campaigns – whichever party holds the most attractive pop concert, wins the votes. Some weird choices take place, like choosing a bodyguard for a prime minister (not in the distant past). Lots of votes are swayed by mass media, and corruption of media is notorious. Many of the parties have purchased their own TV stations and broadcast twisted information. The biggest media outlets are not purchased, but they require payment from parties to portray them in a positive light/not paint them in a negative light.
    Perhaps it’s good to have a fraction of the government, where “common folk” does not actually have a say?

    P.S. I give you extra points if you guess my country of origin. 😀

    1. Nope! It was saved by a margin of something like 0.4%. Taoiseach really screwed the pooch. Polls were showing 70% in favour of abolition but he refused to debate the other side which basically let the NO side dominate the narrative. I’m actually pretty happy with the result as there’s talk of actually reforming it now.

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