Mick Mulholland’s political notebook - Talking shop on politics

Well, we have the Olympic Games in London as something of a diversion as the summer rolls on.

Well, we have the Olympic Games in London as something of a diversion as the summer rolls on.

It certainly beats dodging the showers back home, as we must surely wonder if the weather is a grim metaphor for the wretched state of the economy.

There is the usual lull on the political front, with the Dail adjourned for the summer recess and the Cabinet having had its last meeting before the break.

Some of the summer schools are underway with the politicians, to their credit, taking the time and effort to attend and make policy statements.

Political reform is on the agenda to some degree this year. The Government has put it on its own agenda with the setting up of the constitutional convention.

Well, in a kind of way!

It might surprise us all in tie, but the constitutional convention right now seems nothing more than a talking shop on some fairly basic issues.

The topics given to it by the Government for consideration, such as reducing the voting age, hardly require prolonged debate.

Involving the public in the convention is fine, but surely politicians are as close to the public mood as anybody ?

They meet the public in their constituency clinics and at meetings.

So is it necessary to go through a charade with a convention discussing peripheral constitutional issues ?

And it has to be remembered that the recommendations made by the convention will not be binding on the Government. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has said that the convention would be “an influential’’ adviser to the Government. Time will tell.

Apparently, because it is Government policy to have it abolished, the future of the Seanad will not be on the convention’s agenda.That is a pity in a way.

The public would have strong views on the role of the two Houses of the Oireachtas, although it could also be argued that a sample of opinion by current members of the Houses might be more productive than handing it over to a convention that really looks like a diversionary tactic by the Government.

There are very good reasons for having an Upper House in the Oireachtas.

But the Seanad desperately needs reform. Report after report on reforming the Seanad has been allowed gather dust in Government departments over the years.

That failure to reform on the part of all Governments has inevitably led to a public scepticism about the role it plays in Irish politics.

And that public mood was capitalisd on by Fine Gael in opposition when it made a commitment to abolish the Seanad if it won the election.

It put the party centre stage for a time.

The emphasis was on rooting out waste and abolishing the Seanad would be a dramatic gesture catching the public interest.

It showed voters that Fine Gael would begin with austerity on its own Leinster House doorstep.

Recently, a number of former members of the Seanad called for its retention but as a reformed institution. They made a valid point. It would be useful to have a Seanad with a much wider voter-base and the kind of powers which would give it a better profile.

But time is running out. The recession has left people battered and bruised and in short supply of patience.

It might be that voters, out of frustration at the pace of real reform, would simply vote in sufficient numbers to call it a day on the Seanad.

The current Seanad must do its bit for reform. Surely it is time for a cross-party group of Senators to come together and draft reform proposals.

The next referendum on the Government’s agenda will deal with children’s rights, probably in the autumn.

So it is likely that the referendum to decide on the Seanad’s future will be held next year.

The race to win the hearts and minds of the Irish people should start when the politicians return to the Oireachtas in September.

How real, at the end of the day, will be the political reform introduced by this Government ?

It will not be very real, one suspects. The blunt reality is that the rhetoric of election campaigns fades as soon as a new Government takes over.

In fairness to the Government, there has been some reform. The Dail is more efficient, with the long holidays a thing of the past.

The Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, attends on Thursday mornings to answer Opposition questions.

Genuine savings have been made in the running of Government, although the Coalition lost a lot of goodwill by breaking the pay rates set for some special advisers.

Indeed that level of public anger was made known in no uncertain manner to politicians when they called to the doors canvassing in the fiscal treaty referendum.

There is a compelling argument that the Government should not spend too much of its time dealing with issues other than the economy.

Winning The Economic War must be the priority all day, every day.

And how meaningful is a promise of political reform to people languishing on the dole queue or simply waiting to leave the country as that relentless pattern of emigration becomes a terrible Irish reality once again ?