Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell (above)

There have been many stories of late about the misbehaviour in our Seanad: the eccentric moments, the scandals and its use for a nursery home for former politicians and a nursery for new ones. But surely the most damaging story has been the most recent revelations in the Irish Independent on Monday (link below) about the shocking attendance record of Senators and the fact that the worst offenders are, among political parties, Fianna Fail, which has been calling for Seanad retention. But worse again were the revelations about the attendance record of many of the Independents, who are supposed to exactly illustrate what a new reformed Seanad would represent. Some of the Senators have barely shown up for one in every four votes. Surely this is an utter indictment of the idea of a second ‘specialist’ parliament attended by part-time Senators who presently seem to not bother showing up for actual votes. Why would it not be exactly the same with a new such specialist Seanad?

But if we look at the details in the article, it gets even more interesting – and damning. Independent Senators Fiach MacConghail and Marie Louise O’Donnell have two of the worst records but they were only recently appointed by the Taoiseach with great fanfare – on his behalf. Others were more sceptical. And no wonder. O’Donnell seemed to have been appointed for no other apparent reason than that she praised Enda Kenny’s leadership style in the media, notably on a crucial RTE Prime Time Special. And MacConghail was appointed for his arts experience but more specifically because he was chairman of We the Citizens civic group which was founded to bring new energy and accountability to Irish political life! Imagine.

The hope was that MacConghail would bring this focus into the Seanad, although many saw the appointment as a clever emasculation of this new group by sending its chairman into the discredited second chamber and thus impugning its ‘independence’. So what does it say about We the Citizens, that its chairman should then not bother showing up – for votes, and debate? How do they feel about it? Many of them are eloquent and original thinkers who still want to see more efficiency and focus in our political system.


( Fiach MacConghail, above)

And what about the group’s great promised campaign for political reform? And how does Chuck Feeney feel, after the lavish funding which his Atlantic Philantrophies organisation gave to the group on their formation?

Given that the very same sort of people – political scientists, academics – are pushing for a new reformed Seanad and a ‘specialist’ assembly, why would we believe that they wouldn’t show the same level of indifference and contempt for such a chamber. Another independent, Lily Anne O’Brien, has derided the party members as being ‘pond life’ because they are under the whip system and have to show up. But she doesn’t and can come and go as she likes in the part time parliament. What a joke! This elitist attitude shows exactly what is wrong with the notion, and reality, of a specialist extra parliament. In the real parliament, representatives are directly elected by the public and have to answer to the people for their actions, and their inactions. Under a whip system, they are expected to carry out the duties they were elected for.

But Seanators Fiach MacConghail and Marie Louise O’Donnell don’t have to answer to any electorate or party leader. They can just come and go as they wish, collect their expenses and use the second chamber as a handy ‘talking shop’ and a convenient platform for further career advancement. This tells you all you need to know about the prospect of bringing ‘reform’ to a second elitist parliament called the Seanad and what it means to the great majority of Irish people, which is very little, apart from acting as a vehicle for indifference and abuse.