Perspectives on Seanad Abolition

 

Between 30 Sept and 3rd October 2013 we conducted a study of the subjective perspectives of individuals holding opposing points of view on the issue of Seanad abolition. 50 people across all diverse stakeholder groups including citizens, political parties, Senators, civil society groups, and those expressing opposing views in the media were invited to participate. The study was also posted on social media. 22 individuals responded representing pro and anti lobby groups, political parties on either side of the debate, bloggers, journalists and citizens.

Each individual was asked to sort a set of 43 opinion statements that represented most diversity in a stream of 200 drawn from newspapers, radio interviews, Seanad debates, Twitter, working papers, citizen conversation, online blogs etc.  Participants were asked to place each opinion on a grid from -4 to +4 depending on how close it was to their opinion. All of the completed patterns were then analysed and three main perspectives were identified. These perspectives accounted for 65% of the variation in the data.

The following set of findings reports the most important opinions for each perspective. Statements where there is ‘consensus’ across opposing perspectives are also reported.

Perspectives

Three coherent perspectives emerged from participants ranking of the 43 diverse opinions. These can be interpreted as follows:

1. Reform the Seanad.
This perspective fears the wider impact on democracy in the absence of the Seanad.  An important concern is the unchecked centralisation of power in the Dail. This perspective is generally positive about Seanad as an important space for debate and scrutiny of legislation, while acknowledging its need for reform.  This perspective argues for the Seanad to be retained and reformed.

2. Abolish the Seanad.
This perspective believes that the Seanad is an undemocratic institution and should be abolished.  It is dysfunctional and there will be little impact after its removal.

3. Mix - Seanad Ineffective but keep until Dail reformed.
This perspective is a mix of both 1 and 2 above.  It believes the Seanad could be abolished when Dail is reformed.  This perspective is generally negative about the Seanad seeing it as irrelevant and ineffective. However, there is a strong need to first reform the Dail to avoid concentration of power in the Executive.

Interestingly, all perspectives agree that the removal of Article 27 from the constitution is unnecessary. There is also positive consensus that Parliamentarians are 'ruthlessly precluded from thinking'. The argument regarding cost savings is not important for any of the perspectives. The Abolish camp are more of the view that no savings will be made by abolition whereas Reform and Mixed are neutral on this statement. See the consensus table below for further statements that do not distiguish between any perspectives.

The following two tables report the most important positive and negative statements for each perspective.

 

Table 1: Statements ranked as closest to participants' point of view for each perspective

 

Lack of Trust. Pro Seanad Reform.
Fear of Impact on Democracy.
Abolish Mix- Seanad ineffective but keep until Dail reformed. Practical.
Having abolished a whole layer of local democracy and having centralised government decision making In a committee of four,I am afraid I don't trust them yet with more power.I think we should take some back and give the people the power to elect the Seanad The Seanad represents a very blatant Inequality at the very heart of our political system.In Its current form It should be abolished The focus on Seanad abolition Is a deflection from the absence of Dall reform.
Our legislation needs more scrutiny not less. No Seanad means no mechanism to delay or amend bills from the Dall or refer them to the President for consideration by the people - removing Important potential breaks In our system Abolition can't be a power-grab because the Seanad has no power Part of the danger of only having the Dall Is that it gives the government too much power especially when they have a large majority
My big worry Is that we are choking off voices, closing down an area for debate and free and open debate Is the stuff of democracy. Governments like silence.Democracy Is noisy A country of this size and nature does not need a second house of parliament. The Seanad represents a very blatant Inequality at the very heart of our political system.In Its current form It should be abolished.
Abolishing the Seanad has a number of knock-on effects on the Dally,Presidency, localgovernment and how legislation Is processed.Abolition has to take place In the context of a wider reform of these other lnstltutlon.s. Otherwise, all that abolition will achieve Is to strengthen the power of the Executive. The way the party polltlclal system operates In relation to the Senate has been dysfunctional and at odds with the original Intention for Its role. The Seanad simply duplicates the work of the Dall,In weaker form
Senators can often bring new and Important perspectives to legislation that might otherwise not be heard In the more pressurlsed Dall chamber. The case Is compelling for moving on from the Senate which Is undemocratic In Its base and has been Ineffective over Its lifetime. If the Dall ever becomes so effective and democratic that it can carry all roles on Its own,then,and only then,should we decide to abolish the Seanad.
This Is a democracy.we dismantle democracy at our peril. Cronyism and elitism that are synonymous with the upper house has fostered the type of politics that has brought this State to Its knees Parllamentarlan.s are ruthlessly precluded from thinking. Original thought Is one thing that can get you fired from political office.

 

Table 2: Statements ranked as furthest from participants' point of view for each perspective

 

Lack of Trust. Pro Seanad Reform. Fear of Impact on Democracy. Abolish Mix- Seanad ineffective but keep until Dail reformed. Pragmatic.
We should abolish the Seanad because change Is too difficult The focus on Seanad abolition Is a deflection from the absence of Dall reform The Seanad has been the only arena In Irish politics for dissenting voices, particularly on socialIssues
We just simply cannot afford the Seanad anymore. The money thars saved,no matter what It Is,would go to more worthy causes Seanad abolition would exacerbate the problems of the state since the banking collapse In 2008 at a time when proper scrutiny, fresh Ideas, and the potential for true political reform are most The abolition of the Seanad will bring significant savings.
Iwouldn't be In favour of reform at all. I'm totally In favour of abolition. This Is the extinction of the Seanad,It Is force majeure and a power grab. Iwouldn't be In favour of reform at all. I'm totally In favour of abolition.
The Seanad doesn't matter either way.I
couldn't care less what happens to lt.
Abolition of the Seanad Is a miserable little act of political vandalism We should proceed slowly with change of our political system.A lot Is happening In this country much too quickly and with not enough time to reflect and debate.
A country this size doesn't need a second house of parliament. Seanad abolition Is not reform,It Is a filleting of the Constitution that consolidates the problems of the system Into one chamber Instead of two Abolishing the Seanad has a number of knock-on effects on the Dall,Presidency, localgovernment and how legislation Is processed.Abolition has to take place In the context of a wider reform of these other lnstltutlons. Otherwise, all that abolition will achieve Is to strengthen the power of the Executive.
A watchdog that has only barked twice In 75 years Isn't much The Government Is concealing a power-grab that will also enable It to Impeach the President and Supreme Court  

 

Table 3: Statements where there was consensus between perspectives

No: Statement
Scale -4 to + 4
Most Like my opinion or neutral Reform Abolish Mixed
3 Article 27 is an unnecessary deletion from the constitution.If the government wanted to abolish the Seanad but still ensure there was a check on the power of the Dail and keep the role of the people in the legislative process they could have found other creative solutions,such as citizen initiatives
2
1
1
16 There is a pressing need for the role of the Seanad to become more relevant and more accountable to the lives of Irish citizens
2
1
2
22 Parliamentarians are ruthlessly precluded from thinking. Original thought is one of the few things that can get you fired from political office in Ireland.
1
2
3
23 The powers of the Seanad • namely to reflect upon and revise legislation • are perfectly appropriate.However,it is the composition that renders it undesirable.
2
1
1
25 No money will be saved by the abolition of the Seanad because the money will be redeployed to
25 Dail committees
0
1
0
Least like my opinion
24

The Seanad is a body that does some good,though not a lot, and imposes a cost, though not a lot .not good enough to be worth saving. not bad enough to be worth abolishing.Perhaps it is hardly worth making it the focus of so much political activity

-1
-1
0
26 From an economic perspective, the micro inteiVention of abolishing the Seanad would have long-term macro consequences
-1
0
0
 
Other
42 The Bill is badly drafted,highly technical and deliberately confusing
-1
1
0

 

 

 

Figure 1: Participants positions across perspectives.

 

Figure 2: Visual representation of how each opinion was evaluated across each perspective.

For example the opinion 'Statement abolition would exxacerbate the problems of the state' was ranked at 0 by the Pro-Seanad Reform perspective, ranked -4 by Abolish and ranked -2 by the Dail Reform perspective.

 

 

Opinion Line Graph Pro Seanad Reform Abolish Keep Until Dail Reformed