20 October 2009

Politics can be such a wonderful hybrid, at once deeply serious and yet simultaneously hilarious. I have never cared for the word “gobsmacked” but that’s the only word in the English language to describe the expression on the face of the Fine Gael leader in the Seanad Frances Fitzgerald. “Gobsmacked” or perhaps “Poleaxed” was how she looked as Enda Kenny unburdened himself of his back of the envelope notion to singlehandedly eliminate 50% of the democratic representation of the State i.e. abolish the Seanad.

We have seen this kind of top of the head stuff before, notably from Charlie McCreevy when he landed us with the notion of decentralisation. Like Enda’s little ploy that was also not fully thought out or costed. My own belief is that far from solving the nation’s economic woes (a laughable notion in any case) it’s very likely to actually cost money in terms of golden handshakes, pensions, remuneration of various kinds and reallocation of staff. However this apparently is Enda’s notion of leadership. In fact he mentioned the word “leader” four times in as many sentences which suggests either a bad case of Political Attention Deficit (i.e. he feels neglected) or Suspected Testosterone Deficiency (i.e. he has to prove his “manliness” as a leader.)

Nevertheless there is no doubt whatever the Senate does need reform. At the very least Enda Kenny’s precipitate action has galvanised the move for reform. And by God does the Senate need reform. The Senate would be transformed if following the lead of the university constituencies, the ordinary members of the other nominating bodies the nurses, the trade unions, architects, business organisations etc. could also vote for the appropriate representation on the different panels instead of leaving the election of the majority of Senators in the hands of a parochial minded clique of less than a thousand local authority members. This would turn the Senate into what it was supposed to be. The political parties have always resisted this in their own interests. Indeed Mr. Kenny’s own lack of altruism was illuminated when he bewailed the abolition of the dual mandate. He gave every appearance of thinking that double jobbing i.e. holding down both local authorities and Senate seats was a good idea. I never thought so. As I have been pointing out for the last twenty five years the Senate has been used by the major parties of Government and opposition as a combination of an intensive care unit for political casualties and a launching pad for aspirants into the Dail. It would help if the dates of Seanad and Dail elections coincided, thereby cutting off the escape route for TDs expelled by the democratic wish of the voters. There are of course a small number including, but not exclusively, those from the University panel who have opted for the Senate as their first and only political choice.

The contempt felt by Government for the Senate has been reflected by the promotion of a series of mediocre and incoherent persons to designated positions within the house, while their often unintelligible pronouncements on serious matters of State have been held up to ridicule in the media thereby exposing the upper house to the contempt of the public. But the media itself is also guilty of endlessly recycling half truths and canards a list of which would be too tedious to give here.

The Senate even in its current defective form has made a significant impact in certain areas, but it does clearly need further reform. In the meantime to mix as many metaphors as possible in a single paragraph, we should be grateful to the Fine Gael leader for setting the cat among the pigeons. It reminds me of a macabre rewriting of animal fables in the spirit of the late Roald Dahl in which it is not the Big Bad Wolf but Goldielocks who blows down the Piggy Mansion so foolishly constructed of straw, exposing the three little occupants Fine Gael Piggy, Fianna Fail Piggy and Labour Piggy to the elements before they flee off squealing in the direction of the more solidly constructed pigsty of the Dail. I don’t expect I shall ever quite get to see pigs fly in the real sense; but then I never expected to see turkeys vote for Christmas either and I can certainly already hear a disconsolate if acquiescent gobbling from the direction of the Fine Gael voting machine. Of course there is always the delicious possibility of an uprising in Animal Farm.