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Seanad vote - A cynical manoeuvre gone bad

12 October 2013

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's attempt to abolish the Irish senate can be compared with Tony Blair's adventures with the British House of Lords. Blair was elected on the expectation that he would reverse Thatcherism while actually planning to extend it. He needed a distracter to establish some form of radical cover.

Enda promised to save Ireland through a process of debt renegotiation while in reality planning to defend Irish capital and the transnational companies, implementing the Troika program in full down to the last micro-managed detail - to be paid in full by the working class in punitive instalments extending until 2054.  He has presided over years of grinding austerity – the latest in the form of a new €3 billion austerity budget under discussion in the government.

Under these circumstances Enda's pretence at modernisation - the abolition of the Seanad - was decisively voted down in a referendum.

He believed that the abolition would be a small price to pay in the greater scheme of things as a smokescreen running up to yet another dose of Troika ransom demands.  Kenny thought that public perception of the senate as a corrupt, undemocratic and elitist institution used to reward rejected election candidates and party hacks would win the day and make him look like he was in charge and making decisive decisions rather than being a mere quisling implementing the Troika’s program.

The Seanad is certainly corrupt and undemocratic but its lack of democracy is nothing to rule by the Troika. Corruption is standard at all levels of Irish society, extending even to a network of partnership committees involving trade unions, bosses and government in the implementation of the austerity. Any discussion of democracy in Ireland would have to include these hidden structures of gombeen capitalism and their relationship to the domination of imperialism.

The fact that these issues were not part of the left intervention indicates the low level of political discourse. 

A combination of hatred of the government and distrust of any centralisation of power ensured that the constitutional amendment fell.

However, as a distracter, the campaign actually succeeded. The referendum dominated the media right up to the week before another disastrous budget was due. There was heated discussion of the savings to be generated by abolition. Would they be €20 million or a lot less? In the background the government was preparing a further €3 billion austerity budget and the Trade Union bureaucracy were working with the Labour component of the coalition government to propose a cut of "only" €2.5 billion – and that mostly creative bookkeeping!

The outcome of the Seanad vote was a blow to the government and showed the strong disconnect between the resentment of the population and the concerns of the political class. That gap can only grow with the imposition of yet another austerity budget.


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