Today’s proposal from Green Party leader Eamon Ryan  on the reinvention of the Seanad is extraordinary. In an Irish Times article, he is effectively suggesting two directly elected chambers, one for full time politicians and another for part timers! Imagine trying to explain that on the ballot paper. His only other condition is that candidates could not run for both chambers.

Ryan says such a second chamber could ‘preview’ legislation ahead of the Dail and that it could and ‘take responsibility’ for further initiatives like the recent Constitutional Convention. But his recipe is woolly and dangerous – and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and integrity of our legislature.

In common with other pro-Seanad advocates, Ryan laments the apparent centralisation of powers in the Executive, and even within Cabinet, with the creation of a four Minister Sub Committee known as the Economic Management Council. But Cabinet Sub Committees have long been a feature of Government and surely he would agree (given his own experience) that the current unusual circumstances require precisely such a dedicated and specialist Cabinet Sub Committee. But regardless this is irrelevant to the debate about the Seanad.

Finally, Eamon Ryan also wrongly misapplies the point about ‘international reviews’ of our crash which lamented the group-think that didn’t question the State’s economic policy. But this State group-think was at the interface of senior civil servant/ministerial level and not in the faraway Seanad which, for all its faults, was hardly in a position to change national fiscal policy. And it is this crucial interface, incidentally, which we must continue to interrogate and improve in making thorough our systems of governance and implementation of policy. Modernising our legislature, and strengthening the actual parliament, should be a complement to that.

The Green Party leader either wilfully misapplies the point of these ‘international reviews’ of our group-think, or he misunderstands them. In which case, it brings to mind the cruel quip about the recent history of our Green party: that they were in the Cabinet alright but not in Government!

Eamon Ryan’s Irish Times article: