The Irish Parliament is in the midst of debating the abolition of its upper house, a proposition apparently supported by almost three quarters of those voters with an opinion on the matter. Some in the political classes are grumbling at the potential removal of dozens of sinecure positions, so I thought I might check the positions of the parties at the last election to see what people actually voted for.
. Fine Gael will reduce the total number of Oireachtas members by a third by abolishing the Seanad and cutting the number of TDs by 20. (page 7 of manifesto, repeated on page 62.)Labour:
Labour will abolish the Seanad (page 5 of manifesto)Fianna Fáil:
If our proposals for the reform of the electoral system and of government are enacted we will support the abolition of the Seanad. (page 30 of manifesto.)Sinn Féin:
Abolish the Seanad in its current form. (pages 9 and 34 of manifesto)Socialist Party:
Díothófar an Seanad mar atá sé faoi láthair. (page 13 of manifesto)
"some of us have long pointed out that the undemocratic Seanad should be abolished" (Joe Higgins on party website, March 2010)People Before Profit Alliance:
"Abolish the elitist senate – create citizen’s assemblies at a local and national level, based on re-callable, non-professional delegates from workplaces, communities, young people, students, pensioners and sectoral groups." (statement by Richard Boyd Barrett, 7 Feb 2011)Workers and Unemployed Action Group:
The Seanad as constituted serves no useful purpose and should be abolished. (website)So every single party which actually won seats in the last Dail election went into it with a manifesto commitment to abolish the Seanad, though conditional in the case of FF (who had their worst election result in history) and qualified by "in its current form"/"as constituted" in a couple of other cases, both of which still use the word "abolish". The idea which I've seen in a couple of places recently that the abolition of the Seanad was not properly raised with voters is simply not true, and the sight of representatives of all parties trying to wiggle out of their previous statements is pretty unedifying. God help me, I was so impressed with Labour's arguments on this at the last election that I endorsed them; well, I won't be fooled again into thinking that the Irish Labour Party actually means what it says - their Chief Whip now intends to vote against his own party's manifesto commitment.
It is also not true that no alternatives were put to the electorate. One other party manifesto contained these thoughts:
• A cap on the number of Senators at 50 (a cut of 16%).This was the Green Party, which was rewarded for proposing reform rather than abolition by losing all of its parliamentary seats and coming eighth in the popular vote. OK, I admit that there may have been other reasons for that result, but the point remains that this reform proposal went the same way as all other reform proposals over the years; a nice set of ideas which will get nowhere. History has demonstrated that change of the Seanad isn't really an option, however hard you may wish for it, because nobody is really interested in putting in the time and energy into reform - and that very much includes the voters.
• Ending the practice of Taoiseach’s appointments.
• That 10 Senators would be elected from a panel consisting of graduates of third level institutions across the country.
• The remaining 40 would be elected from a list system, divided across four regional panels based on the European Election constituencies. The possibility of allowing Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and abroad voting for a number of Senators would also be examined.
• Persons choosing to exercise their right to vote on the graduate panel would not be entitled to vote on the regional panels, ensuring each person had only one vote in Seanad.
• Investigate the feasibility of facilitating the election of a number of Senators by Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and overseas.