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Seanad reformists should be careful what they wish for – Harris

7th August 2013 - Susan Moss

Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has today (Wednesday) said those calling for reform of the Seanad should be careful what they wish for, as the last all-Party Seanad reform plan, agreed during the Fianna Fáil/PD Government, included a proposal to increase the number of Senators by five. The 2004 Report on Seanad Reform was the last time that all Parties agreed on reform proposals.

“This document should give cause for thought for all of those Seanad crusaders out there, who claim that the second House should be retained and reformed. The last time all political Parties agreed on a set of reform proposals, they wanted to increase the number of Senators by five and largely retain the undemocratic nature of the Seanad. 

“Those campaigning to save the Seanad can’t agree on what they mean by reform. And the last time that a political consensus on the issue what was agreed was a set a proposals to increase the number of politicians, retain the elitist university panel and strengthen Government power in the Seanad. There were no proposals to reduce the cost of running the Seanad or the salary of Senators. The undemocratic electoral system would have been broadly maintained, including the addition of an extra nominee from the Taoiseach. 

“This document followed two earlier reports in 2002 and 1997. Three reform documents were published in just seven years, yet no reform was implemented by Fianna Fáil or Michael McDowell, both of whom were in Government at the time. The current clamour emanating from Fianna Fáil and Michael McDowell for Seanad reform rings hollow against the backdrop of their own abysmal record on reform while in Government. 

“In total, ten reports have been published on Seanad reform, but no meaningful change has ever been introduced. I believe the Seanad has proved itself to be beyond reform. Fine Gael was involved in the drafting of the 2004 report, along with all other political Parties. Since then, we have realised that Ireland only needs one House of parliament, just like every other small country in Europe. 

“Michael McDowell and Fianna Fáil may now be talking about Seanad reform, but while they were in Government it suited them to maintain the status quo. Fianna Fáil oversaw the publication of three reports on Seanad reform while in Government and was in favour of Seanad abolition during the 2011 General Election. But now the Party has once again teamed up with Michael McDowell, this time to save the Seanad. Why didn’t they do something about it while they were in Government?

“Abolishing the Seanad would reduce the number of politicians by a third, bring us into line with every other small country in Europe and save €20 million a year in the process. I am glad that this Government is giving the people the final decision on whether we should abolish the Seanad, rather than just drafting another ineffective report on reform that would gather dust in some government department.”

2004 Report on Seanad Reform, here. 

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