Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Potential reform could open up Seanad for northern voices

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Dublin Castle as the Irish Government suffered an embarrassing defeat in a referendum to abolish the country's upper house of parliament, with 51.7% of the public voting against it.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Dublin Castle as the Irish Government suffered an embarrassing defeat in a referendum to abolish the country's upper house of parliament, with 51.7% of the public voting against it.

This weekend's Seanad referendum result could potentially open up incredible opportunities for northern voices if the Irish government grasp the opportunities now presented.

The Irish electorate rejected the option of scrapping the Seanad at a time when they are facing real austerity and might have taken an easy option reducing the number of their politicians and making the subsequent financial savings. Yet the electorate chose to reject this option.

It is clear that the Seanad in its current guise doesn't work. There were few, if any, voices who argued for it to remain in its current form. In this context reform should now be the priority.

The forum to discuss this reform is already in place. The Constitutional Convention was established to consider certain aspects of the Irish Constitution to ensure that it is fully equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

It will make recommendations to the Oireachtas (the Irish houses of parliament) on future amendments that will be put to the Irish electorate in referendums.

The SDLP, with our representative Alban Maginness MLA, are enthusiastic contributors to the Constitutional Convention. It was disappointing but understandable that discussion on the reform of the Seanad was off the agenda because of the referendum, but now is time for that discussion.

In discussing the potential reform of the Seanad the SDLP will be pushing strongly for the inclusion of a strong and robust northern voice. This is not a new call from the SDLP.

In our 2011 manifesto we made our support for that Northern representation in the body which replaces the Seanad, or in a reformed Seanad very clear. We also said that we would press for an agreed number of directly elected Senators from Northern Ireland who would be entitled to vote on matters including foreign affairs and the budgetary process and importantly, this would give a Northern voice on crucial matters like NAMA.

Alban Maginness with the support of the SDLP has written to the Chair of the Constitutional Convention to reiterate the need to put Seanad reform on the table and that providing a strong voice for northerners should be an integral part of that reform.

It is actually in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement which, following overwhelming endorsement from the electorate on both sides of the border allows for dual citizenship.

There is a unique opportunity here, we should all support it.

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