It occurred to me this week that a referendum campaign is a lot like a sheep dog trial. You’ve got a sheep farmer with his collie dog herding a flock of sheep til eventually they’re all in the pen, as planned. They may have looked like they were at liberty to begin with, but by the end the farmer has them just where he wants them.
As part of a full and frank debate on such a serious constitutional issue as the upcoming referendum, here’s a thought; could abolishing the Seanád have an adverse affect on the opportunities for women to enter the male dominated world of Irish politics?
As I have mentioned before in a previous post, female participation statistics are woefully low in this country. As of September 2013 we languish in 89th position with Burkina Faso and the Republic of Korea with 15.7% female participation in our lower house (Dáil). However, as your eye is drawn across the table to the healthier but still not ideal figure of 30% female participation you will find under the title upper house (Seanate). See figures here.
Although some democratic countries do not have upper houses, as pointed out by campaigners for the abolishment of the Seanad, of the ones that do, in the IPU.org figures, our 30% female participation figure in the Seanád means we lie in a respectable 16th position.
The abolishment of the Seanád will currently remove 18 women from Irish politics and who knows potentially how many in the future. The gender quota bill proposed after the last general election will force political parties to find female candidates or face cuts to their party funding, but will that be enough to remedy the political route offered by the Seanád? I would argue that the governments position on the Seanád demonstrates an inadequacy and incompetence in dealing with the issue of female participation in Irish politics that does not involve the predominantly supportive role of answering calls and mailouts.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone happy with the Seanád in its current form, but once it’s gone it’s gone, another route into Irish politics removed under the guise of cost savings.
The Government wants to remove the Seanád, that’s the plan; like the sheep farmer looking at his empty pen. The farmer sends out his collie dog to the sheep grazing on the hillside like the government sends out the PR and marketing campaigns to round-up the electorate. However, the pedigree of this governments’ collie dog may be a little dubious this time around, as possibly inaccurate messages have been sent out to the electorate (Oireachtas: It’s not possible to estimate how much abolishing the Seanad would save – The Journal.ie) and this mess they got themselves into this week with Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg.
Superficial optics are the bane of Irish political life and electoral campaigns now, like a rabid collie scattering sheep everywhere; and I believe the reason why electoral turnout is suffering and will suffer, as the electorate becomes more disaffected.
The upcoming referendum will in all likely hood confirm this, and probably with a low turnout, sadly be passed. Whether you’ve 20 sheep or 3 sheep in the pen, they’re in the pen, and that’s all that matters.
Removing our upper house with a 30% female participation rate is a serious issue devoid of any analogy. Female participation in Irish politics will undoubtedly take a step backwards if the government succeeds with its plan. Our only hope is intelligent debate and failing that a rabid collie.