We desperately need real parliamentary and political reform.
This is particularly so in our Republic as the systems of the state have become so resistant to change that almost every change, pills regardless of the nature of the change proposed, is vetoed.
These changes are routinely precluded as being inconsistent with the status quo or, precedent or, custom and practice or, however one wants to define those systems of the state that blunder from one reckless fiasco of incompetence to the next.
In situations where the executive of the state waves the banner of reform it is especially vital for the citizens of the Republic to tease out why this particular change, and not any other, has been proposed.
I hold that this particular change is being put before the citizens of the Republic because there is a confluence of interests which are satisfied by extinguishing the Seanad in lieu of real political reform.
We desperately need real parliamentary and political reform. Any aspiring politician will find that the vast majority of her political working life will be spent fielding queries from her constituents about how they should interact with one bureaucratic organ of state or another.
If we had an efficient and effective bureaucracy the role our politicians play would be largely redundant.
The status quo suits both our bureaucracy, which has little interest in being efficient, and also suits our political class because, in the heavily whipped Oireachtas, our individual backbenchers have no role to play beyond turning up when they are told and voting how they are told.
Wrestling with a bad bureaucracy gives our politician something to do; it gives her something to be busy with and something for her to talk about with her constituents when she goes knocking on their doors.
I’m sure that the minor victories of being able to help someone who is being shafted by the state gives her a sense of job satisfaction that in some way makes up for the importance of her elected position.
But this does not describe a functioning parliament.
Parliamentarians are ruthlessly precluded from thinking. Original thought is one of the few things that can get you fired from political office in Ireland.
A functioning parliament should be a testing ground for new ideas and debate instead we have a parliament which is utterly dominated by the executive.
Who talks, for how long, and about what, is determined by cabinet. Cabinet policy is controlled by the Economic Management Council. Enda Kenny decides the business of the council: this leads to moments of spectacular bad judgement like we had on #PROMNIGHT back in February where the Government forced through legislation during the media hiatus between the Nine O’Clock news and Morning Ireland for reasons which are still unclear and about which I remain suspicious.
Parliament is far less a tool for holding the executive to account than it is a promenade of puppets of the political parties.
Beyond the Supreme Court there is nothing in the structures of the State which protects the citizens of the Republic from the excesses of the executive.
Bad Taoisigh have broken our Republic time and again and our parliament has been powerless to stop them. If Enda’s referendum was about parliamentary reform then we would see powers conferred upon the Dáil by the citizens of the Republic.
Instead we see that powers are stripped from the Presidency while any executive in control of a temporary majority will be able to use the Dáil to fire the Comptroller and Auditor General or the Ombudsmen or the Judges whose role it is to hold the executive to account.
Cui bono? Who benefits?
The executive, and the civil servants who pull the strings of the executive.
I am not in favour of keeping the Seanad because I think the Seanad is a good thing, it, along with the rest of parliament needs to be desperately reformed.
I am against Enda’s referendum because it is regressive, it is a step in precisely the wrong direction, it is a step towards a further concentration of power in the offices of the executive, offices which have done so much harm to the citizens of this Republic.
Others have suggested that the Dáil will reform itself later but reforms instituted by the Dáil are reforms which can be removed or abused by the Dáil, and the office of the Taoiseach that controls it.
Senator John Crown
NUI Senator and UCD Clincial Research Professor