The Seanad should be retained and reformed.
The referendum to abolish it is not something that has gripped the public mood. People are ground down by the grim reality of The Economic War and probably could not care less, in many instances, whether the Seanad is retained or not.
Yet, in these dark days of our broken and battered Republic, there is an argument for having an Upper House. It is not simply a matter of keeping a check on the Dail, although that is a worthy function of the Seanad, it is simply a case of having an alternative voice in national politics.
It could be argued that the Seanad is not an institution that is always alert and alive to the Ireland of The Economic War. It is not a case that it has always distinguished itself over the decades as a forum of wisdom and useful debate.
But neither is it the dead beat Upper House of the Oireachtas that it has been portrayed at times during an inevitably lacklustre campaign.
Some of the debates over the decades have been constructive and innovative. And if they did not always visibly change the policy of the Government of the day, they certainly informed public debate and had some influence.
Not all members of the House used it as a Montessori political school on their way to the Dail or a temporary base after being cast into the wilderness. And even those who fitted that bill sometimes made worthy contributions, although they did not see the House as their long-term base.
Some – a small minority – have used it as a sinecure, trotting out the party line in cliché-ridden contributions and drawing the salary and expenses. Overall, there have been many fine Senators who worked as best they could under their limited electoral terms of reference.
Naturally, the disillusionment with politics has meant that the Senators have had a bad press. They sometimes did not help themselves. Sending out invitations to a pub opening at Seanad expense, as happened during this campaign, was hardly likely to win friends and influence voters.
A compelling reason to retain the Seanad is that the State needs, a second forum for ideas, criticism and analysis. The country is in dire straits and needs an alternative voice to the Dail.
Neither the current Senators, nor their predecessors, are to blame for the abysmal failure to reform. Report after report was compiled and a gather dust.
All parties who served in office are to blame. Enda Kenny’s declaration in Opposition that he would abolish the Seanad, if elected Taoiseach, was a political stunt.
The commitment was made to boost his ratings at a time when Eamon Gilmore and Labour were forging ahead in the polls. It was not the first time that abolishing the Seanad was used as a stunt. When the PDs were formed in the 1980s, it was high on its agenda. They soon changed their minds and were happy to share in the Seanad nomination spoils when they went into power with the old enemy, Fianna Fail, in 1989.
Now, a cheerleader for the No vote is none other than a former PD leader Michael McDowell. The political road to Damascus is paved with U-turning politicians.
All that is the political sideshow to an important decision to be made by the Irish people this week. If the referendum proposal is rejected, reform will have to come. The No vote will be an indication that the people want reform because the anti-referendum campaign has been based on retaining the Seanad but reforming it.
That reform must be extensive. True, there should be some involvement of councillors in the electoral process. But the franchise must also include the broader electorate. Perhaps the Euro constituencies could be used to elect Senators and give representation a regional balance.
The university seats, must be abolished. Above all, there must be significant representation for emigrants.
The referendum campaign has had little impact. Apathy has ruled. That was inevitable, given that people are, first and foremost, ground down by The Economic War. With economic survival top of the agenda for so many people, the survival or otherwise of the Seanad has not been a huge issue.
As in the case of all elections and referendums, people should exercise their vote. In a democratic society, the vote is the ultimate weapon of the people. It can be used to reward, punish or encourage. But used it should be.