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22 October 2009 Edition

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Another View by Eoin Ó Broin

Oireachtas reform or cheap publicity stunts?

FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny’s proposals for Oireachtas reform (abolition of the Seanad and cutting the number of TDs) are nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt – and a bad one at that.
The word amongst the political correspondents in Leinster House is that Fine Gael got wind that Labour were launching similar proposals and decided to muscle in on the action.
Having been bested by Sinn Féin and Labour on Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue’s resignation, Fine Gael was desperate for a cheap and populist headline-grabbing soundbite.
While they certainly achieved that aim, they have been left with more than a little egg on their party face. Irate Fine Gael senators and TDs have loudly protested at their leader’s proposals.
Kenny was further embarrassed when his claim that he first raised these concerns at the MacGill Summer School in July was proved to be false by RTÉ News at One presenter Sean O’Rourke.
And how did O’Rourke know that Enda Kenny was being economical with the truth? Because he was the chair of the session at the summer school at which the Fine Gael leader did not propose the abolition of the Seanad and a reduction in the number of TDs.

ENDA KENNY’S proposals are a distraction from the urgent need for a serious public debate on reform of our political institutions.
For this writer, Oireachtas reform is needed if we are to halt the decline in the quality of our political decision-making and the consequent decline in public confidence in politics generally.
That the Seanad should not continue in its present form is not in question. It is an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money.
But democracy would be ill-served if we simply closed the Seanad down.
Rather we need to find new ways of ensuring that it adds to the democratic accountability and transparency of our legislative process.
A radical reform of the upper house could produce important benefits.
We should bar seanadórí from contesting general elections. This would break the misuse of the Seanad to rebuild the careers of failing politicians or to profile parties’ rising stars en route to becoming TDs.
We should also end the current system for nominating and electing seanadórí. Taoiseagh nominees and university seats are deeply undemocratic, while restricting voting to local councillors keeps the Seanad in the grip of political parties.

THE Seanad should be made up of civil society representatives, elected by their respective sectors in an open and democratic fashion, with an expressed mandate to scrutinise legislation and propose amendments. Trade unions, business organisations, community and voluntary groups and environmental organisations should all be represented.
Specific attention should be made to groups under-represented in the Dáil or marginalised in Irish society more generally, such as people with disabilities, minority ethnic communities, and other constituencies of interest.
Consideration should also be given to enabling local councillors and MEPs sit on the Seanad to ensure that the local and regional dimension of legislation is brought to bear on proposed Bills.
Crucially, the power of the Seanad to block bad legislation should be explored through the use of ‘super majorities’.
Of course, all of this would require a level of effort and consideration clearly lacking in Enda Kenny. Is it any wonder his opinion poll approval ratings are so low?

An Phoblacht Magazine


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