WITH all the talk about a glut of referendums to come, most will have forgotten that this week marked the fourth anniversary of the referendum on the proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann, which was defeated. On the same day, October 4th, 2013, a second referendum was held on the setting up of a Court of Appeal, which was passed.
The badly-needed Court of Appeal has since been set up, however the Seanad is still in the same mess it was in, with very little done in response to all the calls there were at the time of the referendum for it to be reformed rather than abolished. In response to what he described as the ‘wallop’ he got from the electorate that was the defeat of his proposal to abolish the Seanad, the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, vowed that he would see to it that the people’s desire for reform of the institution would follow.
However, it was obvious that his heart was not in it, because the issue was allowed to slide down the list of political priorities and only received periodic lip service for the rest of his tenure as Taoiseach. It was Enda Kenny that had started a solo run initially with this notion he came up with to abolish the Seanad, which went on to become Fine Gael policy – even though a lot of people in his own party did not agree with it – and then government policy, before being put to the people and rejected.
In 2015, a Working Group on Seanad Reform, chaired by former senator Dr Maurice Manning, made a number of recommendations, including extending the Seanad electorate to include Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and holders of Irish passports living overseas – and we have a lot more of them now since Brexit led to a rush of UK citizens with family roots here applying for Irish passports. Other recommendations included the opening up of the vocational panels to election by popular vote in order to make the Seanad less elitist and that an interim body be set up immediately to oversee the implementation of the Working Group’s recommendations.
Unfortunately, nothing much has happened in this regard and the report – like many other previous ones – seems to be gathering dust on some shelf in the bowels of Government Buildings.
In hindsight, it was never likely that the chastened Enda Kenny would be championing the reforms, given his attitude to the Upper House, but one should expect some action from his successor as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, on the matter. The Programme for a Partnership Government, agreed in May 2016, acknowledged that significant reform of the Seanad itself is now long overdue and promised: ‘We will pursue the implementation of the Manning Report, as a priority.’
The recommendations were obviously not implemented in time for last year’s general election and we ended up with the same old same old democratically-deficient Seanad again. If one is to go by what the political pundits are predicting, we could be in line for another general election in a little over 12 months from now when the minority government’s ‘Confidence and Supply’ agreement with Fianna Fáil will run out after the announcement of Budget 2019.
It would be nothing short of scandalous if the recommendations of the Working Group on Seanad Reform were not implemented before then.