The Romans may have done a few things for the societies they occupied, even if those societies were not free from Roman oppression - but what has the Seanad ever done for us?
Previously, this blog discussed the paradox which subscribers of liberal democracy find themselves in; they cannot possibly support the abolition of the Seanad without being contradictory towards their claimed ideology; conversely, their support of the Seanad and the system they believe in, is the very system bringing about its own death - slowly but surely, it mutilates itself. In fact, the very idea of abolishing the Seanad highlights that there is either
- a lack of fundamental understanding about how a liberal-democratic republic is formed, and it's reasons behind it, or
- that those who claim to advocate a liberal democracy are simply charlatans.
In an attempt to justify that position, let's look at what the Seanad can possibly provide, or not provide, under the law and those aforementioned tensions. The characteristic hypocrisies of the upper house will also be highlighted. It will be argued that the Seanad is ultimately powerless, and ironically provides support, if anything, for large conservative governments, such as the current one, who seek to limit and reverse the rights won by ordinary people over the past century.
Referendum decision to extend Seanad elections is irrelevant.There has only been one amendment regarding the functioning of Seanad Eireann. In 1979 an act to allow 'the State to extend the provisions for the election of members of seanad eireann by certain Universities to other institutions of higher education in the state' (Bunreacht na hEireann). However, even this modest and rather trivial amendment to allow extension, 'has yet to occur' (Ryan, Constitutional Law, 2nd Ed, p. 79). To date, this has been the only change offered to the public to vote on by referendum regarding the senate.
The consequences of that referendum show that, even after the people voted to extend the democracy of Seanad Eireann, and by the smallest of amounts, the Irish public's will remained irrelevant because the extension was never implemented.
(Incidentally, the above also exposes the idea that "people gain responsibility in the running of a state through referenda" to be nonsense, as the decision of the people may never be implemented nor accepted. Not to mention the cases of the Lisbon Treaty and Nice Treaty where the people's initial vote was not accepted by the establishement. Constitutional amendments also tend to be abstract or trivial in contrast to the daily realities of a person's life. Indeed, the constitution itself does not "protect" people, but limits us, but that is a discussion for another day)
Ensuring democracy, protection and constitutionality
We are told that one of the most important purposes of Seanad Eireann is to provide an advisory role to the lower house - allegedly to ensure the constitutionality of legislation, and to avoid a concentration of power. But in practice, what are the consequences which result from such a stance by such an undemocratic institution?; it facilitates prevention of a radical movement's ability (such as a democratic socialist one) to change the system in a meaningful way or to even gain power. But let us nevertheless take for granted the popular belief that the Seanad is a righteous mechanism for providing "balance", and describe how it is unable to do so...
Even if a bill is opposed by the Seanad, it can become law through the Dáil. However, a bill introduced by Seanad Eireann cannot become law without Dáil assent. By such a system, how can the Senate provide true balance? - especially when the majority of Senators may be usually always in support of Dáil Government parties. Indeed, the senate will always be more likely to support the Government, as 11 senators are nominated directly by the Taoiseach.
For the privileged and establishment
With 6 other positions filled by nominees from 2 universities (Trinity College and UCD), and remaining 43 positions filled by incoming or outgoing members of county councils and county boroughs, the upper house can be described as overwhelmingly influenced by privileged and Government interests ahead of the interests of the majority of ordinary people. Senators' views are by necessity pro-establishment, as well as being the views which result from backgrounds of wealth, elitism, and general privilege. Their views are also heavily reflective of the dominant parties in the Dáil, as:
...the electorate for the panels is made up of the Members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad, county councils and county borough councils, the composition of Seanad Éireann, including the Taoiseach's nominees, will tend to reflect party strengths in Dáil Éireann. (see here - the Oireachtas website)
What is the Seanad to Do?
The most the senate can do is delay the passing of a bill for 90 days - in which case it is merely an irritation to the Dáil in getting its legislation through Oireachtas as quickly as possible.
In this sense Seanad Eireann is merely a facade which displays a balanced and fair democracy that seeks to avoid the possible abuse of power. In reality however, it is more likely to support - through its bourgeois representatives and its set up - any Dáil proposals. It has been shown anyway, that it can never successfully oppose legislation supported by the Dáil.
Protections for citizens against economic hardship
Any bill regarding the economy i.e. a "Money Bill", cannot be proposed by the Seanad. Money bills are perhaps the most important though, as they are likely to have the most substantial impact on our lives. Again, this emphasises the Seanad's powerlessness in protecting the well-being of the citizens through fair and efficient management of the economy. All the senate can do in these cases is put forward 'recommendations', which 'the Dáil may safely ignore' (ibid).
|Senator Feargal Quinn's document on Seanad reform|
What are we to do?
We have ruled out the credibility of the Seanad existing in it's current form. It's current form has been thoroughly exposed as nonsensical. Another argument is one of reform - proposed by supporters of the senate, like Feargal Quinn, which, if it was possible, one might ask the following:
- Why do we have a house, which is established as a check-and-balance to the powers of the Dáil, which derives its representatives from positions of privilege and powerful institutions? By this argument, should not the Seanad be just as democratic, if not more so, than the Dáil in its operation? The reasoning given that the seanad lacks the same power as the Dáil, is that the Dáil's represenatives are the ones democratically elected by the people through general election. But this is merely an acknowledgement of the lack of democracy inherent of the senate, not a justification for it. If the senate was to be a legitimate "check-and-balance" of a democratic society, all of its senators would be democratically elected by the public, and on a more frequent basis (perhaps even a yearly basis?), and would be subject to instant recall, should they fail to implement their election promises or fail in their protection of the people. Indeed the seanad might look more like that, if it was what it claims to be. Any other style of reform should be ruled out if it's purpose is not to give much more power into the hands of ordinary people.
But the Seanad does not exist to protect society, but the property and wealth interests of private individuals (it has been described already how the house is influenced by privilege). It could never be reformed to become what is outlined above. The senate would directly contradict the attempts of the Dáil at every turn in the former's implementation of the demands from normal society, and the latter's attempts to protect capitalist interests; stalemate. Either that, or it would become once again irrelevant, in its fear of doing its duty by society and bending to Government and private demands - therefore, we would arrive at the same question - the abolition of the Seanad. The question of reforming the senate is out.
The question of Seanad Eireann is tied to the problem of capitalism, its inefficiencies, contradictions and corruption. True democracy can only be struggled for by ordinary people who resist measures inflicted on them by Government in the interests of capitalism. Indeed mass-movements around the country have already been formed, independent of the mechanisms offered by the state in alleged service to the "protection of people", such as the courts. A state in which the industries, services and other essentials are controlled and operated on behalf of all should be fought for. This will not be done under the system of the current "beloved Republic". The next blog will look at how we are deluded by "constitutionality" and how the constitution fails to protect us or offer us freedom - it exists for the very opposite.