Can the Seanad be reformed?

This government has been at war against working people since it came to power. It is clear that we need to oppose this government and its austerity policies. However, the majority of trade union leaders have utterly failed to do this.

Many on the No side in the Seanad referendum say that the Seanad could frustrate this government and be a ‘watchdog’ for ordinary people. It is very clear that the Seanad in its current form, populated with elitist university seats, party hacks and appointed cronies cannot serve such a role. But could a reformed Seanad stand up to unpopular governments and be a voice for ordinary people?

The proposed reforms of the Seanad are severely limited; university seats, Taoiseach nominees and archaic ‘vocational’ constituencies will remain. The reforms will not be anywhere near enough to prevent the Seanad from remaining a place where the political establishment dominates.

The key question however is can we trust the political establishment to deliver democratic reforms?

The established political parties do not represent our interests. They are tied in a thousand different ways to the richest and most powerful capitalists in the country and fundamentally represent their class interests. We saw this in the votes to bail out the banks and to vote through ruthless austerity budgets year after year. They took these decisions not because they were mistaken, foolish or ill advised but because they are the measures that were in the interests of big business.

The crisis has seen an assault on democratic rights, unelected ‘technocratic’ governments have been installed in Italy and Greece, the unaccountable EU / IMF troika dictates economic policies and the austerity treaty attempt to tie the hands of elected governments. Basic democratic rights such as the right to protest, organise political activity and be active in a union are being chipped away at. The millionaire owned media is also less and less objective and is openly partisan to anyone challenging the status quo.

For the capitalist class increased democratic rights mean an increased challenge to their system and their ‘right’ to maximise profit at all costs. History has shown us that the capitalist class will not give rights and allow working people a greater say in the running of society without a struggle.

The right to vote was won after monumental battles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The right to form and join trade unions was fought for and won after battles such as the 1913 Lockout.
Likewise with the Seanad, the establishment will not give us a second chamber that could genuinely act as a challenge to their interests. Any reforms offered will be minimal and ineffective.

When people stand up and get organised that they have tremendous power and can win victories. Pensioners and people with disabilities have won reversals of some cuts. The mass boycott of the household tax pushed the government back and made the tax uncollectable.

Working people getting organised and fighting back is what can really hold this government to account, not the undemocratic institutions like the Seanad.