1st October 2013
On Friday 4th October the people of Kildare North are being asked to vote in two very important referendums, one to abolish Seanad Éireann and the other to establish a Court of Appeal. I am encouraging you to vote Yes in both referendums. I am particularly asking the people of Kildare North to come out in large numbers on polling day to ensure a high turnout.
Although the issue of abolishing the Seanad has only gained momentum since the referendum was formally launched during the summer, this is an issue which has been debated for some time. It was first mentioned in 2009 by then Opposition Leader Enda Kenny TD and during the 2011 General Election each political party, with the exception of the Green Party, outlined in their manifestos plans to abolish the Seanad as part of their agenda for political reform. Therefore I find it quite disingenuous for Fianna Fáil to now engage in a No campaign as I fail to understand how the party held one opinion two years ago and now holds a completely contrasting view. Furthermore, it is puzzling why Fianna Fáil are now calling for the reform of Seanad Éireann yet whilst in power for 14 years they did nothing to make the Seanad more effective. I believe the reason for their lack of action is they know that effective reform is impossible, the fact that 10 reports have been published on same but never implemented, and instead they are now choosing a populist stance.
This referendum is asking the electorate to make a very simple decision, either keep the Seanad or abolish it. It is a simple Yes or No choice and one which each and every one of us should think very carefully about before making a decision which will change our political landscape forever. I have thought very carefully about why I want to see the Seanad abolished and the following are my primary reasons:
• In the 20th Century 30 countries abolished their second chamber. I do not believe that democracy is any less in countries such as Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden and neither will it be in Ireland without Seanad Éireann.
• From a legislative point of view it is quite clear that the power of the Seanad to scrutinise legislation is too limited and not fit for purpose. One of the most effective tools of the Seanad is the ability to delay a bill but this rarely occurs and although it has the power to do so, only twice has the Seanad rejected Bills and it should be noted that both decisions were subsequently overturned by the Dáil
• Most importantly I firmly believe that the makeup of the Seanad is more like a mirror reflection of the Dáil, it is too politicised, which was never the intention of the upper house.
• It has been well flagged in every debate on the issue that only 1% of Irish people elect representatives to the Seanad. The composition of and manner in which these people are elected to the Seanad is not found in any other upper house in the world – it is unique solely to Ireland
• I also ask who exactly do Senators represent in the Seanad? A mere 1% of the electorate and our politicians who vote for them? It is quite tenuous to call them elected representatives, as they are not directly elected and technically have no constituency other than their nominating body.
• Finally I do agree that overall political reform is very necessary which is why this government has set about reforming the running of the Dáil, the Oireachtas Committee system, it has set up a Constitutional Convention and is implementing an intense reform of local government. This last point is particularly important in the context of the abolition of the Seanad as a strong local government system allows, for example, Scandinavian countries, to be more effective as a unicameral (one house) political system. Political reform in not about less politicians but more about the quality of politicians
The second important referendum being put to the people this 4th October is related to our continued efforts of judicial reform, following on from our referendums on judge’s pay in October 2011 and children’s rights in November 2012: the creation of a new Court of Appeal. When our current justice system was first established, there were eight High Courts and one Supreme Court meant to rule on appeals from the High Court; now there are 38 High Courts and still only one Supreme Court to handle those appeals. As such, there is a four-year backlog of non-priority cases that only grows with time. Though the Supreme Court judges have taken steps to reduce the wait time for appeals cases, the current state is untenable and flawed. A new Court of Appeal, placed between the High Court and the Supreme Court hierarchically, would ease the backlog and better serve justice across the country. It is my contention that the supreme court should only be dealing with constitutional issues and not be backed up with appeal cases also.