Speaking at a public meeting on the Seanad Abolition Referendum in Limerick this evening (Friday) the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, said the abolition of the Seanad is not a stand-alone measure, but a major element of a wider reform package. The meeting in the Greenhills Hotel is also being addressed by DCU lecturer Eoin O’Malley.
“The decision by the Government to ask the Irish people to abolish the Seanad, is not a stand-alone decision, but rather a major element of a wider reform package. A package to reduce the cost of running the country and to make the business of politics and public administration more efficient, more effective and more democratic.
“A Government which was forced by the circumstances of the bailout to introduce expenditure reductions and tax increases of an unprecedented magnitude, would have no moral authority if it did not address the political costs of running the country and lead by example. That is why the Government at its first meeting reduced the salary of the Taoiseach and Ministers, decided that Ministers would no longer be provided with State cars or Garda drivers.
“That is why local authorities such as those in Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary have been amalgamated with a reduction in the number of councillors, why town councils and town commissioners have been abolished, with a reduction of approximately 800 councillors, and why the next Dáil will have 158 TDs, compared to the 166 at present.
“Our reform programme is designed to allow for greater public involvement through frequent constitutional referenda. The Constitutional Convention has been established and it operates with very significant input from members of the public. All these measures are designed to ensure that the business of running the country is more efficient with much wider involvement of those outside politics.
“The Seanad is elected by TDs, Councillors and University graduates, and 11 of its members are appointed by the Taoiseach. Therefore, politicians elect or appoint all but 6 of its members, and the 6 university Senators are elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College to the exclusion of other graduates, such as those from the University of Limerick or Dublin City University. The Seanad on the basis of its electoral system is elitist and undemocratic.
“The biggest problem of the Seanad however, is that it is not what was envisaged by those who framed the Constitution. The original intention, that representatives of different vocations – men and women with practical or expert knowledge – would bring their insights to bear on the legislative process, has been frustrated. The various Seanad panels – Agriculture, Labour, Industrial and Commercial, Culture and Education and Administrative – no longer lead to the election of people who have significant expertise in these areas. The system is hit and miss. It is dominated by politicians who elect politicians and it is a fortuitous exception if people with real expertise in a particular field are elected.
“This is the principle reason why the Seanad should be abolished. It no longer does what it was intended to do under the Constitution.
“If the Seanad is abolished further reform of the Dáil is necessary so that it will carry out the functions which the Seanad has failed to carry out. Of all the reform measures announced in recent days, the one with potentially the most profound effect is the decision that the Heads of Bills will go to relevant Committees and that members of the public will be invited to express their views at this very early stage in the legislative process. We have seen how effective this process was in considering the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and yesterday’s Government decision now makes this process mandatory for all legislation.
“I am advocating a Yes Vote in the Referendum. The Seanad is undemocratic and ineffective:
· Just over 1% of the Irish population elected the current Seanad
· Politicians pick 90% of the members of the Seanad. The rest are chosen only by graduates of Trinity and NUI Colleges
· The Taoiseach’s 11 nominees effectively guarantee a Government majority in each Seanad
· The Seanad does exactly the same work as the Dáil
· The Seanad’s main power of oversight is to delay (not veto) legislation by referring it back to the Dáil. This has only happened twice, most recently in 1964
“The total cost of running the Seanad is over €20 million per year, according to the Oireachtas Commission. That amounts to €100 million across a five year Dáil term.
“Ireland has 33% more national politicians that any similar sized country in Europe and is the only such country with two houses of parliament. Abolishing the Seanad and reducing the Dáil as planned will bring us in line with the average in those countries. Politics, like every other part of Irish life, must do more with less.”