Maybe it’s the exposure of its bogus “save €20 million” and “fewer politicians” claims. Or maybe it’s the Taoiseach’s fear of debating anyone who would expose the deception of the Government’s referendum campaign. That campaign is now as insulting as it is misleading.
In his Irish Times article on 20 September, the Taoiseach claimed Seanad reform is impossible saying: “I came to the conclusion that the Seanad was unreformable”. Yet at the same time his colleagues from across the anti-reform campaign say there are just too many reforms plans out there. Well, they cannot all be right at the same time.
The issue at stake in this referendum is reform of the Seanad and the question facing voters is one of trust.
The denial of the choice of reform to the people makes it about trust.
This Government does not trust the one-in-three voters who would opt for reform of the Seanad, so it rigs the question by offering a Hobson’s choice of retaining the Seanad as it is or abolishing it; both equally repugnant.
To add insult to injury, having faced down the voters who want the choice, not to retain the Seanad as it is, but to reform it, the Government then seeks to promote its favoured abolition option with misleading information.
It very specifically misleads voters with the message that scrapping the Seanad will “save €20 million” and then suggests this “saving” would mean 350 more teachers or 1,000 Garda cars. The “saving” is bogus and the cynical offer to spend it on public services insulting when a budget two weeks later will take billions more in cuts and taxes.
It has known since January 2012 that the maximum gross saving would be in the order of €9 million. It knows this as the Clerk of the Dáil told them this at a Public Accounts Committee discussion. Yet it persists with its bogus claim. And now, having been caught out by the Referendum Commission, it confuses the issue of savings with costs.
This is also true of its “fewer politicians” claim. It tells the public that by abolishing the Seanad – like Sweden abolished theirs – we could have fewer politicians. It does not tell them that Sweden has almost 5,200 politicians per million of their population – as compared to Ireland’s 255 per million – 20 times as many! How is that fewer?
Let us be clear: the Seanad can be reformed. Most importantly, reforming it is neither complex nor difficult. The existence of a number of reform options is no bad thing – far from it. It shows what is possible and it demonstrates the commitment and sincerity of those who urge reform.
What has been missing up to now is not ideas on how to reform the Seanad but the will of the Government to implement reform. Not just reform of the Seanad – but reform of our entire system of governance.
The economic collapse has surely taught us that we need a new and better way of making decisions in this country? Far too many decisions have been made over the past few decades on the basis of inadequate, flawed or erroneous information and discussion – and by too few people operating without second opinion or independent oversight.
Too many big decisions have been made without an open and informed debate that examines the full range of options and their consequences. Isn’t this also an accurate description of the Seanad abolition campaign
We have a leader promoting the single biggest power grab ever made by government, yet he refuses to debate his proposal with anyone? We have a referendum question that refuses to offer the full range of choices. The headlong rush to Seanad abolition symbolises all that is wrong in Irish political culture. A culture that excludes independent voices and suppresses all dissent with a ‘we know best, you know your place’ attitude in the Government.