A campaign group advocating a reform of Seanad Éireann rather than its abolition has said that the removal of the upper house would silence dissenting voices, limit debate, and amount to a “power grab” for the Government.
Democracy Matters said yesterday it wants voting rights for electing Seanad members to be given to the diaspora and a gender quota for electing female politicians.
The campaign launch comes as the Cabinet is scheduled to discuss, later today, its plans to abolish the Seanad.
A referendum on whether to keep or get rid of the parliamentary chamber is due to take place later this year.
Senators, lawyers, academics, and members of arts community, among others, are backing the reform of the Seanad, rather than its removal, and say an overhaul of the upper house would see pay cuts for its members but increased powers too.
Campaign group member and former tánaiste Michael McDowell, said the political elite wanted to “destroy” the Seanad.
Democracy Matters was also a non-political group, he said yesterday insisting: “It is a power grab by the executive and the Dáil. It will be able to exercise power over us with nobody there to contradict or query what’s going on.”
Legislation for reform of the Seanad, proposed by senators Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn, promises to allow more people and civic and social organisations nominate Seanad members, as opposed to the current limited voting system in place, decided by the Dáil.
“If that happens, the Seanad will truly become a new melting pot of ideas, minority opinions and scrutiny and challenge to the political elite in this country,” Mr McDowell said.
Professor Gary Murphy, the group’s chairman said: “Abolition only strengthens the old political system which has already failed us. It will silence dissenting voices, limit debate, and give the Government even more power to ram through legislation.”
The group has asserted it is not interested in retaining the house in its current form but reforming it to give more powers to be able to hold the Government to account.
Campaigner Diarmaid Ferriter described the Seanad as “toothless” while former senator Joe O’Toole said it was a “failing structure”.
The Zappone/Quinn bill requires the Seanad to retain an equal number of men and women where they are elected from the five vocational panels. The reforms also propose a pay cut of nearly €20,000 for each Seanad member, reducing their pay to just over €46,000.
Fianna Fáil have already indicated they will oppose the referendum, which is expected to be held in late October.
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