Ireland has too many politicians, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has claimed today as he called for the abolition of the Seanad.
Announcing details of a referendum on the scrapping of the upper house of the Oireachtas, the Taoiseach said “radical change and reform” was needed to create a leaner, more effective and more accountable political system.
“Ireland simply has too many politicians for its size,” Mr Kenny said.
“We must question the very relevance of a second chamber. If the last decade of misrule has proven anything it is that modern Ireland cannot be governed effectively by a political system originally designed for 19th century Britain.”
Despite claims from critics that the abolition of the Seanad will allow the Government to run the country with no checks or balances, the Taoiseach insisted there will be more scrutiny and oversight than ever.
He said the Seanad did nothing to challenge the “unattainable policies of the Celtic Tiger”, describing it as an “outmoded” and “elitist” institution that is no longer relevant.
The public vote on whether to abolish the upper house, which is made up of senators who are not directly elected by the people, is expected to take place in early October.
Scrapping the Seanad, combined with a reduction in the number of Dáil TDs by eight, will cut the number of public representatives by nearly a third.
Mr Kenny said it would also save €20m a year – or €100m per Government term.
“In re-building our state, we – the elected public representatives, leaders - must create a political system, that is leaner, more effective, responsive and more accountable to the Irish people,” the Taoiseach added.
Senior Government Ministers today approved the bill to hold the referendum, entitled Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013.
The Bill provides that should the public vote in favour of the Government’s proposals to get rid of the upper house, it will be dissolved after the next general election and before the first sitting of the Dáil.
Pledging a “more accountable” and “transparent” political system with the abolition of the Seanad, Mr Kenny said Dáil reforms would see cross-party committees given more powers.
There will be 14 Dáil committees, including four strategic committees on issues of major strategic and political importance, such as Public Accounts Committee and Finance; seven sectoral committees to shadow Government departments; and three thematic committees to focus on specific issues, like the Good Friday Agreement.
More time will be spent deliberating new legislation, and major non-emergency legislation will be first submitted to a Dáil committee, which will then scrutinise it at different stages, including a final examination before it is passed by the house.
A new system will also be introduced to distribute the chairmanship of key committees on a “proportional and equitable basis”.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he expected Government TDs to campaign for the abolition in the run-up to the referendum.
He said it was a “Government proposition” and that members should support it accordingly.
“Ultimately, it is for the people to decide whether they want to have two institutions dealing with legislation and holding Government to account, or one,” Mr Gilmore said.
“This Government is simply giving them that choice.”
The Taoiseach added that senators will have adequate time to consider the referendum Bill.
He also pointed out that they were well aware of the Government’s plans for the abolition of the Seanad when they took up their posts.
Senators have no final say over new laws passed in the Oireachtas, but they do have the power to delay legislation by up to 90 days.
Elsewhere, campaigners have described the Government’s plans to get rid of the Seanad as “constitutional vandalism”.
Democracy Matters, which has called for the reform of the Seanad as an alternative to its abolition, said the latter would make an already broken political system more centralised, more whipped and more controlled by Government.
Senator Feargal Quinn said the Fine Gael-Labour coalition was elected on a promise of real and radical political reform.
“Instead what we are seeing today is yet more of the same, deeply cynical and short-sighted proposals dressed up as reform – these proposals are anything but reforming, they will damage our democracy, vandalise our constitution, and concentrate more power in the hands of cabinet members,” he added.
Opposition parties Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have argued reforming the Seanad should be considered, rather than outright abolition.
Sinn Féin Seanad leader David Cullinane said the Government’s constitutional amendment Bill was premature, while Fianna Fáil honorary secretary Dara Calleary announced his party would campaign against the abolition.
“We all agree on the need for real political reform in this country,” Mr Calleary said.
“But abolishing the Seanad outright will actually result in less accountability, less transparency and will give a government with a record majority even more control over the political process.”
He said getting rid of the upper house would be a step back for democracy.
Sinn Féin’s Mr Cullinane added: “Simple abolition, without even allowing the opportunity to discuss considering reform is foolhardy.
“We have continually argued that the question of the future of the Seanad needs to be referred to the Constitutional Convention.”