Seanad abolition should be back on the agenda

Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque

Empty seats in the Seanad

The aftermath of the last general election and government formation talks continue to dominate the Irish political landscape but the polls aren’t closed just yet. Well, they might be due to COVID-19, but for now the election for a new Seanad is set to take place on March 30.

There’s been a lot of talk of Seanad reform in the run-up to the elections – and understandably so. The Seanad is one of the most elitist and undemocratic components of the Irish government.

The vast majority of people have no say in who sits in the Seanad and unless someone graduates from one of a select few universities, they’ll never gain that right.

So talks of reform are of course welcome. But ultimately most suggested alternatives seem less concerned with providing universal suffrage and more with marginally increasing the number of people in an already elite club.

Adding all university graduates to the Seanad electorate wouldn’t suddenly make it a bastion of democracy. Everyone deserves a right to vote. That really shouldn’t be a radical idea. Anything less than that is simply unacceptable.

Of course there’s always the option of completely abolishing the Seanad. Irish citizens did go to polls back in 2013 to vote on a constitutional referendum which would have dismantled the Seanad.

Needless to say it didn’t pass but only by a very narrow margin. 51.73 per cent voted not to abolish the Seanad while 48.27 voted in favour. Perhaps it’s worth revisiting this idea.

The original referendum didn’t even get 40 per cent of the population to turnout to vote. Which is pitiful to say the least. That said, it’s probably for the best that it didn’t pass because 39 per cent of the population hardly have some democratic mandate.

But ultimately the low turnout is somewhat reflective of the public’s lack of an interest in the Seanad. For more than half of the population, this was clearly not a particularly pressing issue – or at the very least it wasn’t important enough to get them to go out and vote.

Ultimately, whether or not the Seanad exists is irrelevant to the practical realities of most people’s lives. Of course there’s a lot of important legislation that goes through the Seanad, but everything that’s discussed there could easily go through the Dáil as well.

And at the end of the day, the Dáil has the final say over anything the Seanad wants to put through. The Seanad itself has very little power.

So we have a branch of the government which is at the mercy of the Dáil, does not contain directly elected representatives, and costs a considerable amount to operate. To me, it’s clear the best kind of reform is abolition. Irish society can survive without a poor imitation of the House of Lords.

Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque

Image Credit: Flickr