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If the Seanad Closed Tomorrow, Would Anybody Miss It?
Enda Kenny created headlines with his vow to close the second house of the Oireachtas. But what is the Seanad for? And is it worth lavishing ¤30 million on each year?
Valerie Flynn, 11 Nov 2009
“Eh, the what?”
“The Seanad…the Senate…upper house in the Oireachtas.”
“Oh. I dunno. Sorry.”
It’s two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and Hot Press’s attempted vox pop isn’t going well. What do the citizens of Ireland (well, Grafton Street) think of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann? Polite shrugs and apologetic smiles all round. Few people seem to have heard of this Seanad thing.
In fairness to the general populace, even na Seanadóirí themselves don’t appear to be very interested in the goings on of Ireland’s upper house. An hour later, I’m in Leinster House. A monitor in the lobby shows one lonesome senator reading out a statement on NAMA to an entirely empty chamber.
Green Party Senator Dan Boyle is one of those who’s absent that afternoon – he’s in a party meeting, and then he’s in the canteen (which is very fancy) telling Hot Press why abolishing the Seanad is a bad idea.
“I’ve already contributed to that debate,” he says in defence of his absenteeism today. “If I was in my office I’d have the monitor on. To be honest, I’m NAMAed out at this stage.”
The Seanad’s function is to debate and amend legislation which has passed through the Dáil. Boyle believes the second house offers “more considered” debate and a “more cerebral” and “more technical” examination of legislation; he also believes that legislation is much improved by the process.
There are 60 senators. Eleven, Boyle among them, are directly appointed by the Taoiseach. Three are elected by graduates of Trinity and three by graduates of NUI. The rest are elected from very loosely defined ‘vocational panels’, by councillors and Oireachtas members.
One of the many major problems with the Seanad, say critics, is that it is grossly undemocratic. Unless you’re a politician or a graduate of one of those five universities, you don’t have a vote (so it’s no surprise that so few people know much about the Seanad). The bizarre vocational panel system, introduced in the 1930s, was modelled on an encyclical from Pope Pius XI.
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