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Opinion: Government is making a mockery of democratic reform – so we're taking matters into our own hands

It’s shameful to think that a raggle-taggle group like ours, with day jobs and no money, are making a better go of inviting public opinion than the Government itself.

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“GRIPPING.”

That’s how one of our volunteers described reading the more than 200 written submissions we’ve received so far. Hundreds more have contributed to a multiple-choice survey of public opinion.

It’s humbling to read submissions that begin with, “Excuse my ignorance but…” when what follows the “but” is anything but ignorance. And it’s shameful to think that a raggle-taggle group like ours, with day jobs and no money, will likely make a better go of inviting public opinion than the Government itself.

What are we talking about?

Seanad reform.

And despite all of the publicity that surrounded the abolition referendum, few of you may know that time is running out for you to get your ‘spake in’ too.

Consultation? No thanks

In December, the Taoiseach announced that a working group would make recommendations on what to finally do with the Seanad by March. After 2013’s half-baked abolition referendum, this could be the last chance anyone will have to shape the nature of the Seanad for years to come.

You might sniff at that but the Seanad is one of our two houses of parliament. Depending on what’s recommended by the working group, it has the potential to radically change how politics is done in this country or to continue to let the Seanad sleep in its benign but dysfunctional way.

So, we wanted to know if the working group would be holding public consultations.

No time for that.

But there would be the opportunity for public submissions, we were told.

And when the working group met for the first time the week before Christmas, they announced that they would be accepting submissions. Did you not hear? The announcement was on a press release buried deep on the Government website.

Extra effort was made to notify embassies abroad — but no extra effort was taken to notify the public at home.

And best of all: The deadline? 20 January.

Have your say

Now, it is at this point that you will have to excuse our ignorance, but that is not how we imagine a “consultation process” of any kind should be done.

Can you imagine the British approaching reform of the House of Lords like this? A one-month window for public submissions, announced quietly the week before Christmas? The deadline was stretched out to 30 January earlier this week but it is still a mockery of the public participation effort that something so fundamental deserves.

So, to fill the gap, Second Republic have set up a public survey, which we will use as the basis for an omnibus submission. The better part of a thousand people have taken part so far. The level of participation and the intelligence of comments gives lie to the myth that the public are too disinterested or too ill-informed to contribute to reform of our political system.

We argued that the issue should have been put to the Constitutional Convention in the first place. That now looks off the cards for good. But you can still have your say.

Unfortunately, the group’s terms of reference preclude any constitutional change, so there are limits to what they can recommend — and to what you can submit. They will not do away with the system of university and vocational panels or the Taoiseach’s nominees, for example. But the constitution still gives wide berth to mould the Seanad in different ways, including how and when senators are elected and by whom.

To make a submission to the working group, email your ideas (within current constitutional limits) to: seanadreformwg@taoiseach.gov.ie.

Or join us in making our omnibus submission and take part at: http://www.2nd-republic.ie/site/our-campaigns/seanad-reform-survey

Oliver Moran, Liam O’Connor and Jonathan Victory are members of Second Republic, a non-partisan group advocating political reform. Matthew Wall is the group’s academic adviser.

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