The election campaign for the 10% of the Upper House that is elected trundles on, but the only news of note appears to be a spelling error on the actual forms and the cost of mailing those forms out to people. No candidate has taken the spotlight in any way, save on a very local level.
Part of me suspects that we’re going to be looking at the three sitting Senators returned handily simply because there isn’t enough interest to really challenge them.
The Seanad has become a very popular target in the last while, for good reason. I really doubt that it is going to still exist in a terms time, and I will not be mourning too much if that should occur.
The alternative to abolition, apart from maintaining the Upper House in its current form, not possible, is reform and that reform can take many potential paths. It might be as simple as reducing Seanad numbers, or it could be a complete overhaul.
My own suggestions would be as follows. I find that in discussing potential reform of the Seanad, you see a knock-on effect, in that making the institution stronger invariably leads you to make changes in all parts of the Oireachtas.
Firstly, you have to make the Seanad more relevant, stronger. This means ending its subservience to the Dail. This means giving the chamber the ability to propose, debate and pass its own legislation, and having the ability to vote more decisively on Dail bills.
All legislation and bills would still have to be passed by both houses of course, but gone would be the 60 day acceptance rule of today, the one thing that really cripples the Seanad as a legislative body.
Secondly, electoral reform. The Seanad is not Democratic. The purpose of its selection process, a way of insuring that the best and brightest of society get a voice in government, is an idealistic dream, one that does not bear out in reality. The Seanad needs to be 100% elected, otherwise it is too open to criticism and attack on everything that it does. It is not a voice of the people.
So, how to elect those 60 Senators? Perhaps something along the lines of the EU Parliament elections, with constituencies of Munster, Leinster, Dublin and Connacht-Ulster might be appropriate, helping to tackle the problems of “gombeen” politics that the Dail so suffers from.
Then again, maybe America is the model to look to, with two Senators elected per county (including the two additional administrative counties within Dublin). That would give us 56 Senators.
The problem of course, is the knock-on effect that I mentioned earlier. In such an Oireachtas, the Seanad becomes the equal of the Dail, the Cathoirleach the equal of the Taoiseach. As it is, such a system cannot function. In the event that different parties control each house, government work would grind to a halt. This is something that America knows quite well.
The answer, the only answer really, is to look across the pond again to America, who solved the problem by having a strong executive, one that is far stronger than the Irish President.
I say “solved the problems”, but I suppose it doesn’t as the last few years of American politics has shown. I suppose the main attraction of such a system is that no party can become too powerful unless they have been given a very clear mandate by the people in both houses and the executive. If not, compromise must be done in order for politics to actually take place.
It’s all a dream of course. The Seanad is on its last legs, and will not long survive the new term the way things are going.