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The Seanad is elitist, outdated and an affront to democracy - Carthy

23 September, 2013

Sinn Féin councillor and spokesperson on the party’s “Equality Not Elitism – Abolish the Seanad” campaign Matt Carthy has branded the Seanad elitist, undemocratic and outdated and called for its abolition.

Councillor Carthy said:

“It’s not that the Seanad has a negative impact on people’s lives – the truth is it doesn’t have any impact whatsoever.

Certainly, for political cronies, it has given them access to big salaries and pensions, to car parking in Leinster House and access to the members bar for life. But for most people it remains a mysterious arm of government.

The Seanad, modelled on the House of Lords, is an affront to democracy because it goes against the most basic principal of a modern democratic electoral system – the principal of equality between citizens – ‘one person one vote’.

It is elitist, undemocratic and outdated. That’s not to say that everyone who ever sat in it are all those things but the body itself has no role in a modern society.

In the last two-and-a-half years, the Seanad has supported the government on every single occasion.  There is little value in a chamber that is less about checks and balances and more about rubber- stamping government policy. Senators cannot even put questions to ministers, they cannot prevent a bill from being passed into law. They can delay a bill, for just 90 days. And the last time the Seanad did this was 1964 – it was a Pawnbrokers Bill – and the Seanad voted against it by accident. They cannot delay a ‘money bill’ at all.

The big argument of the opponents of the constitutional referendum is “Don’t abolish it – reform it”.
It’s ironic that those who argue this point most loudly are those who were in the best position to introduce such reforms in recent years.

The Green party – remember them? – they want a reformed Seanad, they say. They never did an ounce to achieve it between 2007-2011 when they were in government.

The PDs, we remember them alright, and Michael McDowell. They didn’t do a tap to bring about reform during their long period of government from 1997 – 2007. This probably isn’t surprising considering Michael and his party had previously campaigned to abolish of the Seanad.

We can speculate as to why there is now a turnaround in this thinking but I suppose it’s not hard to understand how someone who is on the record as stating that inequality is good in an economy would also believe that it’s good in the political system as well.

And of course, we have those champions of reform in Fianna Fáil who didn’t just have one term of government, or two, or three but have had decades of opportunity to radically alter the shape of the Seanad but chose time and time again to use it as a prop for their own party interests

For Fianna Fáil the Seanad has always been an instrument of their power – not a check or balance to it – it was where they provided a political lifeline for former TDs or provided an office and perks to aspiring candidates

I drove around Dublin recently looking at Fianna Fáil posters on this referendum that are 90 per cent covered with images of its local election candidates and I couldn’t help but think that, even now, Fianna Fáil cannot help themselves but use the Seanad for their own party objectives.

Such has been the abject scandal that is the Seanad that Fianna Fáil actually committed themselves in the last General Election to supporting its abolition. We used to have to wait until they got into government before Fianna Fáil broke pre-election promises – it now appears they’re just as adapt of doing it in opposition.

Mícheál Martin has said that they are unhappy with the government’s proposals for Dáil and wider political reform – well join the club. But to argue that a government that won’t commit to real Dáil reform will, on the back of a referendum defeat, commit themselves to radically reforming the second chamber isn’t naivety – it is deceitful.

If Fianna Fáil and the continuity PDs really want a reformed Seanad they should vote to abolish it on referendum day. They could then put proposals for a new chamber before the people in another plebiscite and it would be the electorate, rather than politicians, who would pass judgement. As it stands, under the constitution, even with the reforms suggested by opponents of this amendment, the Taoiseach of any given day will still be in a position to appoint his/her cronies to that second chamber.

The next Seanad election, if this referendum isn’t carried, will likely take place in 2016. There will have been no reform in the meantime. We will be left, on the centenary of the Easter 1916 rising, with this useless, undemocratic body, which even those who want to retain it accept is not fit for any purpose.

I don’t like the thoughts of that. On October 4th, I will happily vote Yes.”

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