Though not technically a sporting contest, last Friday’s referendum decision to retain the Seanad did have many of the attributes of one. Preparation, critical decision making under pressure, allegations of dropping the ball and a narrow victory for the ‘underdog’ made the language of the result feel familiar.
The dearth of alternatives for reform in the aftermath showed how much of a surprise the result was to at least some Government ministers but now that the second house has been vouched for by the people, its reform should be high on the political agenda.
Many of the arguments used by the ‘Yes’ campaign are valid, particularly around the narrow electorate that gets to have a say. Going to university does not necessarily grant you more democratic rights than going to an institute of technology.
The presence of a second house in the legislature does present an opportunity to move politics beyond the political and to introduce a broader range of experience to the process of Government.
Nominations to the house have a mixed record in terms of party politics versus the good of the nation but appointments like that of Fiach McConghail of the Abbey Theatre show that experience gained in particular and diverse field can be of value when brought to bear on other areas.
There is an existing system of panels of nominees to the Senate but reforming this might be a start in terms of defining how it is we see ourselves as a nation.
There are no right or wrong answers on how to reform but there is a clear need and public impetus to do so. Given the fact that ministers have admitted to ‘scratching their heads’ on a new approach, how about the following new approach…
That the Seanad be constituted in the manner of a ‘governing board’ with ten panels of six representatives drawn from different sectors of society which we deem to be important.
By way of starting the debate those panels could be drawn from business, the arts, civic society groups, sport, emigrants, the political class though a ‘lucky loser’ qualification from among those who came closest to election to the Dáil, Youth, drawn from those below the age of 25 at time of election or nomination, and three other groups that are open to debate but unlikely to be short of supporters.
The Seanad of 60 members could formally convene twice a month for a single day of debate so as not to impinge full time of the kind of people you would want to have involved. Within the 60 there could be a smaller executive team that would be elected by the larger group and would ‘shadow’ the Government departments so as to provide a less politically motivated contribution to the debate.
The Seanad should be given the power to bring forward legislation for debate and to overturn legislation it did not agree with by a significant majority that was sent over from the Dáil.
The process of nomination could be done either by specified bodies within each of the groups or by open nomination, moderated by securing a minimum number of say 1,000 supporters, and election by the whole electorate on a national basis to each of the panels.
For starters, the sporting panel could consist of people who have either excelled in managing their own sports or been vocal in terms of expressing their opinions.
If choosing six nominations from sport at present how about Nicky Brennan or Christy Cooney former Presidents of the GAA, Tony Griffin who has translated sporting excellence into charitable giving, Pat Hickey who represents Ireland on the International Olympic Committee, Fiona Coghlan who led Ireland to Grand Slam glory at the same time as holding down her job as a teacher, Denis Brosnan who served many years as Chairman of Horse Racing Ireland and kept the country as a world leader in that sport, Anne Ebbs the first Secretary General of the Paralympic Council of Ireland or Olivia O’Toole who played 130 times for Ireland in soccer and now runs community programmes in Inner city Dublin.
It would be a blend of passion and experience, good for sport and good for the country.
It’s just an idea, doubtless with many gaps but there is a vacuum there at present and it will be filled. Why not with people that we as a nation can at least know and support?