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.