Citizens say hands off our democracy! #seanref #seanad

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Ballot paper from the Abolishment of the Seanad Referendum

It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it’s ours. Today the government got the message loud and clear, hands off our presently dysfunctional democracy! ( see results here )

Among the count day coverage was an interview with a female politician I have huge respect for, Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin. She was talking to Cathal Mac Coille on Morning Ireland while standing in the RDS count centre. At the time, the ballot boxes were being opened and the imperfect tally figures predicted the no votes just pulling ahead.

Mary Lou quite admirably stated that in her experience, and on this occasion, that it was evident that Irish citizens had taken seriously their independence of thought and used balanced judgement in deciding what way to vote. Whether buttering up the no voters or not, Mary Lou has a point. We can be an unpredictable, independent bunch at times, much to the annoyance of PR companies and political advisors who have become accustomed to treating our democracy as a commodity; utilising all too often market research to devise public policy.

In the coming days the biggest losers in this campaign will be seen to be the optics peddlers, over paid marketing types that got the campaign message all wrong ( click here ).

Right behind them will be Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his advisors who have now painted themselves into a corner by threatening not to reform the Seanad if the electorate voted to keep it ( click here ). A position, no doubt, that will fade into the distance as the FG pedalo frantically reverses.

Reverse pedaling in a pedalo

Fine Gael will now have a big gap on their 2016 election manifestos and God only knows what they’ll try and fill it with! Might I suggest they begin work on their policy on tackling suicide, as the existing one ( click here ) runs out next year or perhaps Enda will swallow his pride for the betterment of this country and support some of the new bills on Seanad reform ( click here and here ).

Only time will time, but for the moment it’s back to the drawing board for the government and they’d be well advised to steer clear of the PR & Marketing department and go back to policy making basics.

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Policy for Dummies.

Some Senators, it seems, make good use of their time in the #seanad #seanref

Is it all the Seanads’ fault? Has it all been a bicameral failure for this small unitary state?

Maybe it has, or perhaps this government will use the abolishment of Seanad Éireann coupled with local government reform as fodder for their next election campaign literature – the one election promise they managed to keep!

I’ve pulled from the archives a speech made by Dr. Mary Robinson on the 24th November 2011 in which she addressed the Seanad on the importance of her experience as a senator in her future roles as the first female President of Ireland and  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I have been asked to share some of my experiences as a Senator and to outline how it contributed to my later work. I am pleased that the first discussion theme chosen by the Seanad relates to human rights and that a former Senator, Dr. Maurice Manning, the chair of the Irish Human Rights Commission, IHRC, has already addressed the Chamber in that context.”

Click here for the entire speech.

Dr. Robinson outlines four main areas where her work in the Seanad contributed to her future work;

1. “My experience of contributing to the legislative process taught me to read closely the small print of legislation and to understand the technical side of drafting, amending and speaking on the different Stages of a Bill before the House. It was an honour as President of Ireland to sign Bills into law or, after consulting the Council of State, to refer some of them to the Supreme Court under Article 26. Obviously, one does not need to be a former Member of the Dáil or Seanad to become Uachtarán na hÉireann, but it was undoubtedly helpful for me, particularly in respect of that function.”

2. “My second reflection is on my first Bill that I sought to promote as a Private Members’ Bill, which was meant to amend the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935 as it related to access to contraceptives

3. “A third point is the ability to table motions on different issues. It allows a very wide range of issues to be raised that otherwise probably would not be raised in the Oireachtas“.

4. “The fourth area, was the opportunity as a member of the Seanad to participate in international issues and discussions and, to some extent, to travel abroad in that context…….That early experience of linking with the issue of apartheid, the need to build up democracy in African countries, the opportunities in the Inter-Parliamentary Union certainly contributed to my growing interest in international human rights, going beyond the human rights at the European level that I was very much engaged in and taking cases to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the court in Luxembourg.

 

So perhaps it’s not the institution here at fault, but rather what an individual does while a member of said institution that is important. I for one, will not be helping FG fulfill this ill-conceived and ill-judged manifesto promise.

Link to the Mary Robinson Foundation.