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A ‘New Politics’ Without the Seanad: Concerns from a Human Rights Perspective (June 2010)

Fiona De Londras

Ireland currently finds herself in a time of economic and constitutional crisis. Part of the response to this has been the proposal from the main opposition party - Fine Gael - for abolition of the upper house of parliament (the Seanad) and a move towards a unicameral parliamentary system. This proposal is contained within a broader programme of political reform entitled New Politics. In this short essay I identify the main claims for abolition of the Seanad within the New Politics agenda and argue that, in fact, a convincing argument for so fundamental a shift in constitutional structures has not been made out. The perspectives presented in this paper are clearly rooted in a concern with the effective protection of human rights in Ireland and with ways in which parliamentary reform (both structural and attitudinal) can contribute to the cultivation of a rights-based ethic in Irish politics. In this respect there are three main areas of concern: the extent to which parliamentary structures themselves reflect and vindicate basic democratic principles, the extent to which the parliamentary process takes human rights into appropriate account in designing and debating legislation, and the extent to which legislation in fact introduced protects and vindicates human rights as enshrined in the Constitution and the various international instruments to which Ireland is a party. The essay starts by putting the New Politics agenda into its broader political context and by outlining the five basic claims for the abolition proposal contained in New Politics. The paper then proceeds to reject the abolitionist case around two arguments. They are, first, that Seanad abolition has the potential to pose a serious threat to individual rights whereas a reformed upper house together with appropriate reform of both the Dáil and political practice holds potential for more effective rights protection; and, second, that a re-imagined and reformed Seanad constructed around principles of democracy, representativeness and expertise has the potential to meaningfully enhance Irish democracy.

UCD Law Working Papers in Law, Criminology & Socio-Legal Studies

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