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Government attempt to abolish Irish Senate defeated

by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 6th, 2013 at 02:05:48 AM EST

Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel on the evening of April 7, 1775, but perhaps it is populism which is the last refuge of the modern political scoundrel. Ever since the Irish economic crash and the failure of the political system to properly regulate, and then resolve the Irish banking industry, politicians and politics have often been seen as the most egregious form of low life in the country.

Seeking to capitalize on this unpopularity, the Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, decided, almost on a whim, that it would be a good idea and an easy win for the Government parties to propose the abolition of the Irish Senate in a referendum to be put to the people. Despite a range of opinion polls showing large majorities in favour, that strategy has just blown up in his face with a narrow 52 to 48% majority of the electorate voting against his proposal.

The main arguments being put in favour of the abolition of the Senate where that:

  1. The Senate has relatively few powers under the Irish constitution and generally has a significant built in Government majority thanks to the Taoiseach having the power to nominate 11 members.

  2. The lack of a popular mandate. Some Senators are elected by University graduates only, and most of the others are elected by local county Councillors to represent notionally vocational groups but are in practice mostly politicians who failed to win election to the Dail or lower chamber by universal suffrage.

  3. Numerous proposals to reform the archaic nature of the Senate electorate have to date come to nothing.

  4. A small country like Ireland doesn't require a bicameral system of governance.

  5. Abolishing the Senate could lead to an annual cost saving of up to €20 Million p.a., although this figure is disputed and is in any case trivial in comparison to the cost of the public service as a whole.

Nobody on the NO campaign side sought to deny that the Senate was in need of fundamental reform, although proposals for reform varied greatly. But what the NO vote did perhaps indicate was that the electorate wanted more political accountability, not less.

front-paged by afew


Opinion polls had consistently shown large majorities in favour of abolition, although the margin had narrowed slightly in more recent polls. Leo Varadker, Minister for Transport, has blamed the low turnout for the result rather than any significant swing against the Government position. However the turnout of 39% is not particularly low for this kind of referendum. Voters gave pollsters a variety of reasons for opposing the abolition:

Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2013 (Ireland)

In an opinion poll for The Irish Times the week before the referendum, the reasons given by prospective no-voters were: as a check on the government (54%), because they disliked the government (20%), and because they did not believe there would be significant cost savings (6%[n 1])

Undoubtedly the No vote contained a lot of generic anti-Government sentiment which is understandable in the context of the continuing austerity policies the country is having to endure. But there are also very good reasons for arguing that the Senate could be reformed to play a much more vital and important role in the Governance of the country.

Historically the Senate has played an important role in providing representation for minority groups who might not otherwise gain representation through the popular vote. Most notable of these were the protestant minority post partition (3% of the population), women's rights, and the LGBT community whose most vocal representative, Senator David Norris, was almost voted president of Ireland in 2011. Poet and Nobel Prize laureate, W B Yeats, former President and UN Commissioner, Mary Robinson, and a variety of prominent writers, environmentalists, jurists and politicians North and south have been members.

My own view is that a reformed senate could play an important role in scrutinizing EU legislation, and in building closer community links north and south. To this end, I would support the inclusion of Irish MEPs and Northern Ireland Assembly members who wish to attend, and to either abolish the Taoiseach's 11 nominees or place the right of nomination in the hands of the (popularly elected) President. Some might be elected by Ireland's huge emigrant population (who lose the vote as soon as they emigrate) and others might represent the Social Partners in Ireland's collective bargaining system - employers, trade unions, and the voluntary and community sector.

I don't think there is much point in having an upper chamber which simply replicates the lower chamber,  and we need to empower the civil society sectors critical to Ireland's social cohesion. Many voters are concerned that too much power is being accumulated by the cabinet and the economic management council without adequate accountability to parliament. The real question is how parliament, and particularly the Senate, can be transformed into a more effective deliberative and decision making body.

Display:
Let the Taoiseach appoint one Senator, 16 or 17 TD's each appoint a total of 10 Senators.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Oct 6th, 2013 at 01:31:00 AM EST
That's a possibility, but the likelihood is that you would just get more politicians appointed. I've no issue with politicians, and that is what the Dail (lower house) is for, but I think the real value of the upper house might be that it would include experts in a whole range of other fields - Arts, Sciences, Economics, business, trade unions, charities etc. and from major civil society organizations like the IFA (Irish farmers association), GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) league of credit unions etc.   all of which make a huge contribution to Irish civil society without necessarily having the lobbying power of the banks, global corporations etc.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 6th, 2013 at 10:57:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, though the point of that particular reform would be to largely neutralize the influence of the politicians by having them pick Senators that largely cancel each other out, as opposed to the current 11 Government-appointed Senators ... with an approach that is less confrontational than stripping the 11 TD appointments to the Senate.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Oct 7th, 2013 at 12:43:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ten reasons voters rejected the abolition of the Seanad
Here are 10 of the principal reasons why there was a narrow No vote in the referendum to abolish Seanad Éireann.

Worth reading in full at the link above for those who are interested...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 6th, 2013 at 12:11:21 PM EST
Ireland seems, on the surface, to have a remarkably democratic electoral system in its Lower House : the proportional single transferable vote (PR/STV). This enables pretty diverse representation, with openings for non-party independents. It also opens the door to clientelism and populist pork-barreling.

One of the ways that a bicameral system can enhance democracy is by having sufficiently different voting systems, or electoral colleges, that each house can keep a check on the excesses of the other. I would suggest that this should be the primary object of a Senate reform.

The current electoral-college setup has to go. Arbitrariness, opacity, time-serving, horse-trading etc. For the sake of argument : national party-list proportional?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Oct 7th, 2013 at 03:42:09 AM EST
I agree that the STV PR system provides for a broad range of representation for 4/5 parties, but disillusionment with even this range of parties is now such that Independents of various hues now make up c. 20% of the electorate and Dail.  We could have a separate list for independents, but then there is no guarantee that the last independent on the list to be elected will be one to your taste -s/he could be a left wing, right wing, or local single issue candidate from a different constituency to you campaigning on an issue you disagree with.

I'm not sure the end result wouldn't be very similar to the Dail, although a national list system would reduce the pressure for local clientalism and give a leg up to candidates endorsed by national organizations like the GAA or the Arts Council or some Science foundation.

In fairness the current Taoiseach's nominees represent a fair mix of sports, feminist, children's activists, arts, business, charitable, and peace-making experience and expertise as well as the usual party hacks/aspirant politicians but it would be better if they had been elected rather than selected through an opaque selection process not unlike the British honours system.

Eamonn Coghlan         Independent
Jim D'Arcy         Fine Gael
Aideen Hayden         Labour Party
Lorraine Higgins         Labour Party
Fiach Mac Conghail         Independent
Martin McAleese         Independent
Mary Moran         Labour Party
Mary Ann O'Brien         Independent
Marie-Louise O'Donnell         Independent
Jillian van Turnhout         Independent
Katherine Zappone         Independent

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Oct 7th, 2013 at 06:20:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd fill a third of the senate by sortition and revamp the panels for the rest. Keep the university panels, maybe some sort of rejigged county council panel (or a list based direct election at the province level), add an ex-pat panel, an immigrant panel and a traveller panel.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 7th, 2013 at 07:30:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That would certainly make for quite a broad representative mix, but is the role of the second chamber primarily to augment the representative mix of the directly elected Dail, or to provide a range of specialist expertise and experience not normally to be found in elected politicians?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Oct 7th, 2013 at 07:59:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It would do that. I'm pretty sure a 55 year old housewife or a 22 year old student would bring at least specialist experience not normally found in elected politicians and possibly expertise.

The second chamber is to act as a check on the Dail: there's some pretty strong potential for reality checking from the third appointed by sortition.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 7th, 2013 at 08:02:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All calm in our Special Area of Conservation
And on the third day, the Senators arose and showed themselves to many.

Bursting with dignity.

The Senators called for calm.

After the resurrection on Saturday they returned, glowing, to the Upper House, which has been newly
designated a Special Area of Conservation. Fidelma Healy Eames is now a protected species. They all are.

Professor Crown is free to roam and tweet unhindered. The cry of the Crested Norris will continue to ring out around the chandeliers. All around the chamber, they can puff and preen and pontificate - by special order of the people.

But with Added Relevance.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 9th, 2013 at 08:00:14 AM EST
It's understandable Frank, but you have been thoroughly taken in by carefully formulated cute-hoorism of the usual kind.

The Dutch Sandwich with Double Irish is alive and well and sucking tax euros out of the public purses of the EU.

The palaver about stateless companies was a sop to the German SPD.  Only time will tell whether it worked especially as Portugal wants to get in on the begger-your-neighbour tax arbitrage game.

See <a href="http://www.irishleftreview.org/2013/10/18/budget-2014-irish-corporation-tax-regime-change/">Donagh Brennan's analysis here at the Irish Left Review.</a>

But at you have forced me to cease lurking and start commenting.

by Wanda on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 08:48:41 AM EST
OO-er.

Can't you do ordinary html-links on this yoke?

What's the syntax, anyone?

by Wanda on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 08:49:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™] New users have restricted posting privileges

In the Neurozone, there can be only one.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 09:04:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Restricted permissions including external linking, I assume.  Understandable but not exactly hypertextual.

Ich bin kein spammer!

by Wanda on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 09:34:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™]

You're now a User.

This allows you to use telepathy.

Welcome to ET.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 09:44:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
See Donagh Brennan's analysis here at the Irish Left Review.


In the Neurozone, there can be only one.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 09:01:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome to ET, Wanda.

In the Neurozone, there can be only one.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 09:04:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just for information does the 'Policy' also include blocking all Tor exit nodes?

As a newbie may I humbly suggest that puts a limitation on uninhibited political discussion from some of the more repressive parts of Europe and indeed the globe.

by Wanda on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 09:40:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, so Anonymous Wanda Walks the Walk?

Be doubly welcome to the place where the Tribbers Talk the Talk!

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 12:47:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sitting on a TOR connection, and I see ET just fine. But the TOR net can get a bit crowded when some skidmark decides he wants to start a DDOS.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Oct 22nd, 2013 at 02:00:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't this comment belong in this other diary?

In the Neurozone, there can be only one.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 23rd, 2013 at 04:32:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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