Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Abolishing the Seanad - update

It seems that Fianna Fáil have suddenly discovered the virtues of abolishing the upper house of the Irish parliament (see today's Irish Times, here and here). Obviously, given my previous post on the subject, I think this is a good idea. However, I also have to agree with the opposition spokespeople quoted in the Irish Times who see the latest initiative as an attempt by the government to put off the general election for a couple more months.

Abolishing the Seanad is not quite as straightforward as deleting Articles 18-19 of the constitution, which deal with the composition of the Seanad, and Articles 20-24, which deal with its relationship with the Dail. There are a few other issues to be addressed as well.
  1. The Seanad does allow for extra time and space for draft legislation to be tweaked before it is enacted. Will the Dail add some extra committee stage to its own procedures, and/or (my own favoured option) establish a pool of external experts to give their non-binding but formal opinions on Bills?
  2. Article 14.2: At present, in the case of the death, incapacity, or absence of the President, the presidential powers are exercised by a three-member commission consisting of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Ceann Comhairle, and the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. Do you just delete the last of these, or add a different third member?
  3. Article 27.1: half of the Seanad, plus a third of the Dail, may at present petition the President to call a referendum on a Bill before it is signed. This has never been used. Obviously it's impractical to just allow a third of TDs to call a referendum; but should the entire provision be scrapped, or perhaps go for some kind of provision for say 5% of registered voters to trigger a referendum by petition (as in the long-forgotten Article 47 of the Irish Free State constitution, also never used)? Myself, I hate referendums and would prefer the first option, but there's room for a debate.
  4. Article 31.2.i: The Cathaoirleach is a member of the Council of State. Simply delete, or replace with someone else? (Probably the former.)
  5. Article 12, Article 33.5, and Article 35.4: The President, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and judges of the High Court and Supreme Court, can at present be removed from office only by vote of both Dail and Seanad. Is it reasonable to make that possible by vote of the Dail only? (Probably it is.)
I'm not totally convinced by the line that the Seanad should only be abolished as part of a wider programme of institutional reform - the case against its retention seems overwhelming and urgent to me. But I must say that given these tedious but necessary details which need to be ironed out, the case against rushing to abolish the Seanad in time to hold the referendum on election day seems pretty compelling.
Tags: seanad, world: ireland

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