I left this comment on the article by Labour Party TD Alex White in today’s Irish Times, titled ‘No plausible case made for a second chamber’, in which he argues for the abolition of the Seanad because there is no reason for a second chamber to exist in the Irish context.
I think there is something to be said for the existence of a <i>first</i> chamber, one ‘whose members are accountable to the people’, and which must ‘have the final say when it comes to making laws and raising taxes’, as Alex White describes it here.
However, no such chamber exists. When it comes to making laws and raising taxes, the final say in Irish politics goes to a variety of actors: the German parliament, the European Commission, the IMF, the European Central Bank, the bond markets. So yes, a chamber where the people decided would be a welcome development, and something of a turn up for the books.
So what about the Dáil, then? Does it ‘add value’ –to use Alex White’s clunky phrase from the language of commerce and profit- to democracy?
Alex White suggests the Dáil –as the ‘House of Representatives’ represents the interests of the people. You could put it another way: the Dáil decides on what the people’s interests are.
Oddly enough, the people’s interests and those of finance capital seem to be coinciding a lot of late, if laws and taxation policy are anything to go by.
He also suggests that the Dáil is accountable to the electorate. But if you voted against social welfare cuts and bank and bondholder bailouts at the last election, the individuals who reneged on their promises and sailed off into the sunset with a fat pension will not be held to account: at best, they just won’t get voted for again. It may be painful for them, but soothed by some succulent consultancy contract, in many cases. And anyway, the Cabinet is not accountable to the Dáil, and the Economic Management Council is not accountable to the Cabinet.
If you wanted a case study of how not to do democratic accountability, you couldn’t go wrong with Ireland. But even though the idea to abolish the Seanad emerges from the desire of a professional political caste to sustain an illusion that it operates in the interests of the same people who are the victims of its policies, I find the idea of the Seanad as some sort of bulwark against tyrannical power, expressed in the comments here, so ridiculous that it makes me want to puke with laughter.
Yes to abolishing the Seanad, but Yes also to overthrowing the government and installing democracy.