By Bill Delaney
The temptation to spoil the ballot in today’s 26 County referendum on Seanad abolition is understandable.
The referendum itself is anti-democratic, because it is not about enhancing democratic rights, but reducing them. It also completely bypasses the Constitutional Convention, an appropriate and successful forum for considering constitutional reform; and entirely subverts the right of the Irish people to properly debate and decide the manner in which they are governed.
But make no mistake, generally speaking, Irish republicans abhor the Seanad. The vain pretense of an upper chamber to lend credibility to the newly independent Irish state, while placating various elites, constituencies and lobbies, now only highlights how redundant that thinking was. Several decades removed, there is no credible argument against scrapping it and starting over.
The Seanad, as currently framed, has done the State some service. It offered amendments to Dail legislation, and held a weak (but sorely limited) capacity for challenging legislation. However, it occupies the political space which could some day be used by a new, all-Ireland federal legislature. And it could never be recognised as an embodiment of the public will, because it never had any connection to the public will.
Apart from the tiny percentage of the Irish public endowed with a vote in the Seanad, about 1%, the manner in which the various electoral panels were abused by the government of the day makes it a shining example of how democratic rights can be subverted.
Understandably, the Irish public are champing at the bit to eliminate this offensive and overpaid institution. But the manner in which Fine Gael’s back-room spindoctors have waved this referendum like a red rag to a bull, diverting the public from identifying the real culprits in their misgovernment, is deeply cynical.
While outrageous budget cuts, levies and charges are again being quietly arrayed in order to pay crooked bondholders and appease the IMF, the Seanad is being offered up as a sacrifice.
It is just too simplistic and too cynical; and the demand for real governmental reform is overwhelming.
As affirmed by the Constitutional Convention last week, there is no doubt that the Irish public wish to give all our citizens -- north, south, and elsewhere -- a recognition of their nationhood and a say in the governance of the state. But instead we have been treated to a circus of spoiled Senators and their acolytes, furiously attempting to preserve their privilege.
For republicans, there is little to choose between the scheming gombeens of Fine Gael or the self-styled Lords and Ladies of Ireland’s pretend ascendancy. Disgracefully, we are offered only a single scratch on a piece of paper in a sop referendum. Meanwhile, the country is crying out for a real debate on creating a real government and establishing a real Republic.
How should you vote? Pocket the short-term gain of Seanad abolition? Reject this cynical exercise in public deception? Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
The referendum is a falsehood. Meaningful reform can only come about when the people demand and achieve a full and radical transformation of Ireland’s political systems.
The change we need may be put to the people some day. But we shouldn’t believe that a cynical marketing exercise such as this provides any element of a solution to our problems.