Tuesday, October 1, 2013

VOTE NO in both referendums on Friday: Kathy Sinnott

Former MEP Kathy Sinnott calls for the Irish electorate to vote NO in the two referendums to be held next Friday.
It is almost 10 years since I sent off my submission for Seanad reform to the Oireachtas committee considering it. My proposals to make the Seanad the vibrant upper chamber it was meant to be and which we so desperately need were simple. Make the Seanad "panels" correspond to cabinet portfolios giving us Senators for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Senators for Finance, Senators for Health, etc. so that they cover all the major areas of government.
To make sure that senators are people who have real expertise and experience in these areas it was obvious that we needed to change the way senators are elected first by holding Dail and Seanad elections on the same day to discourage politicians from running for the Seanad and second by letting all voters qualified to vote for the Dail register to vote for up to three Seanad panels. For example, a farmer who is a parent might want to register to vote for the Agriculture, Food and the Marine panel of senators, the Education and Skills panel and the Health panel. This self selected electorate would vote with interest and knowledge and have a good chance of electing a Seanad which would be what it was meant to be, a non political, independent upper house with a wealth of relevant expertise and experience.

Just imagine how much better the country would have been served when the recession hit if there had been economists  in Leinster House who understood what was going on.

The day I was invited up to the Seanad by Senator Mary O’Rourke to discuss my submission I really thought there was a whiff of reform in the air. Unfortunately nothing happened.

A few years later attending the Constitutional Affairs Committee in Brussels, I could see that abolition not reform of the Seanad was on the cards. The EU federalist gurus of the committee who liked to see themselves as innovators but who always seemed to be apologists for the European Council and Commission were discussing change to governance in member states. They said that with the Lisbon Treaty (not yet ratified at that time) member states would no longer need elaborate legislative structures and that these should be eliminated or pared down.

Applying this to Ireland, and I had no doubt that our obedient politicians would apply it to Ireland,  it obviously meant eliminating the Seanad. After all who wants to reform that which is destined for the chopping block.

Yet, in my opinion, the more the EU and other global bodies encroach the more we needed a well reformed Seanad.

Additionally one of the changes wrought by the proposed Seanad referendum  is to eliminate our right to vote on EU treaties. This is another proposed change that would please the EU institutions which have little patience with us and   find Irish referendums dangerous.

There is another constitutional change that a yes vote would visit on us which is worth highlighting.

As the Constitution now stands a simple majority of the Dail and Seanad can initiate an investigation of alleged judicial mis-behaviour or incapacity with a view to impeachment where the finding indicate. If we vote to abolish the Seanad we eliminate this important safety net and in its place require an unwieldy  two thirds majority of the Dail to open an investigation of a judge’s conduct or incapacity to judge fairly or at all. A two thirds majority puts this provision out of reach in any situation which the government of the day finds sensitive.

This change is clearly not in the interest of the people of Ireland who must rely on the courts for justice nor does it serve judges who understand better than anyone the need to maintain the highest standards in Irish courts.

Even Fine Gael,  Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter has decried this aspect of the proposed referendum on the Seanad as dangerously open to government interference.

For this and many other reasons, I will be voting NO to both referendums on Oct 4th.
Kathy Sinnott
St Joseph
Co Cork
0872786552, 021 4888374