Saturday, October 5, 2013

Why I welcome the vote to keep the Irish senate

Two posters both urging a YES in yesterday's Irish referendum. 10/10 for the Socialist Party poster.  0/10 for the inaccurate, dishonest and populist poster put up by Fine Gael, the centre-right main government party.

Irish senate referendum posters, Dublin Socialist Party left, Fine Gael right. The Socialist Party focuses attention on the tiny elite electorate for the senate, congregated in Dublin 4. Dublin 10 is a working class area. They put up similar posters in other cities.
The voters were asked to assent to a government proposal to abolish the upper house of the Irish parliament, Seanad Éireann.  Although you can't argue with the Socialist Party case, I did. I voted no, and I'm glad about the result: YES 48.3%, NO 51.7%,  on a miserable 40% turnout (nearly).

Just to be clear, none of the reasons for keeping the senate are strong and most are invalid. The Irish Seanad bears no resemblance whatever to the US senate (either in its composition or powers) and a very close resemblance to the House of Lords. So why keep it for heavens sake? I certainly don't support keeping the Seanad in its present form (no-one does) and I'm not even wedded to the idea that Ireland needs a 2-chamber parliament. A lot needs fixing in the Irish constitution. The Dáil is (like the House of Commons) a tool of the government of the day, the Seanad is almost powerless, local government has even less independence than in England, corruption is an issue.

Had the abolition proposal come to us as part of a reasoned plan to strengthen the parliament against the government, and to loosen the iron grip of centralisation, it would have had my support. But I objected to being thrown the “less politicians” bone to distract from austerity. This referendum was a stunt pulled by prime minister Enda Kenny and he got the result he deserved.

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