Home > Fine Gael, Political Reform > Fine Gael and the Seanad

Fine Gael and the Seanad

A blog from a friend of mine today excoriates Enda Kenny’s announcement that he would hold a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad. This criticism was on the basis that any discussion of such a fundamental reform of the political process should not be justified on purely budgetary grounds, as Mr Kenny has done, characterizing this as “a populist headline-grabbing stunt”.

As a matter of disclosure, I should mention that I am a member of Fine Gael, and therefore hope that Enda Kenny will be in a position to push for such a referendum after the next election. So my defence may be seen in simple partisan terms, but I do think people are often too quick to denounce an attempt to fly a kite such as this as populist. Yes, any measure that helps cut the deficit that targets only politicians will receive popular support in these times given the regard politicians are held in. But the point is that we do have a massive fiscal deficit. Everything will have to looked at. In every area of the public service, or that receives state funding, organizations will claim that theirs is the one that should not be cut, and that at the end of the day, €30 million is only 0.1% of the deficit anyway.

A proposal to abolish the Seanad is not a new idea. It was first seriously proposed by the Progressive Democrats in the new Constitution drafted in 1988. I was proud to have been a member of the Progressive Democrats in their time, but this was one of many policies that due to their relative strength in government, was never seriously promoted, and unfortunately it faded into the 1990s as a proposal.

Now that the party that will almost certainly lead the country after the next election is raising this question, this should be welcomed, as they do have the credibility to tackle the question. As to the method of securing headlines, yes, this is more likely to animate the public, but should not in itself be a criticism. The public should see that politicians are willing to take cuts themselves at this time, just as it is to be welcomed that Ministers will be taking a pay cut in December’s budget. Mr Kenny’s suggestion has indeed been welcomed by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen as part of the process of suggestions on democratic reform.

Once the time comes, if a referendum is taking place, then a debate can take place in earnest, or in the months leading up to drafting such legislation. Mr Kenny is not calling on the government to hold such a referendum, we are all a little tired for that. It is not something that will or can be done in haste, but such firm statements as this concentrate the minds of both politicians and the public on this question, which is no bad thing.

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  1. owenrooney
    19 October, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    I suppose I should clarify that I’m actually in favour of large-scale reforms of our system of government. Our cabinet is filled with people who have approximately zero experience of or expertise with their portfolios, the Dáil spends more time fixing potholes than it does actually legislating, and the Seanad seems to serve pretty much no purpose whatsoever. I’d welcome any party that puts forward a set of serious proposals of overarching reform for our legislative and executive branches, and I would have no problem were a unicameral parliament to be a feature of those proposals. You mention the plan put forward in 1988 by the Progressive Democrats to abolish the Seanad, but that was part of a broad reworking of the entire constitution with many other reforms to be implemented in tandem.

    My problem with Enda Kenny’s announcement is that there doesn’t seem to be any greater scheme to it than political opportunism in the wake of the O’Donoghue scandal. Even in March of this year (and still on the party’s website as their policy on Oireachtas reform) Fine Gael called for the Seanad to be reformed to have 20 members directly elected and a new emphasis on reviewing EU legislation. The sudden u-turn makes me wonder exactly what changed his mind.

    Perhaps most importantly, though, expenditure savings should be the far from the first thing on people’s minds when considering reforms of our electoral and legislative system. It could well be argued that our current electoral system, which in 2007 returned only 2 TDs out of 166 with any sort of qualification in economics, is a very large indirect cause of the fiscal hole we’re in in the first place. By all means put forward proposals for reform if you honestly think it will make the political system work more effectively, but don’t just do it for the sake of saving €30 million a year; a good government is worth far more than that.

    • irishelectionliterature
      2 November, 2009 at 1:28 pm

      The Progressive Democrat Bill that involved ‘Termination of the Seanad’ was first presented in 1986 and was one of their policy platforms in the 1987 General Election.
      Amongst the proposals….
      -Ending pensions to sitting TDs
      -Terminating the Senate
      -Reducing the number of TDs from 166 to 120
      -Reducing the number of junior ministers from 15 to 7
      -Taxing TDs on the same basis as other taxpayers.
      -Ending excessive subsidies in the Dail restaurant.

      With regard to the Seanad, how long has there been talk of Seanad reform, not just of the Seanad itself but of the manner in which Senators are elected/nominated.
      I doubt even with this guillotine over the Seanad we will see meaningful reform.

  2. irishelectionliterature
    4 November, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Thats Brilliant thanks Owen. Its a document I’d forgotten about. Its interesting how a number of similar changes were made by the Good Friday Agreement.
    The policies regarding the North were very appealing to a lot of people at the time. It, their taxation and liberal agenda was a major part of what made them different.

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