Gordon Wilson campaigned for peace after his
daughter was killed in an IRA bombing in 1987.
He was appointed to the Seanad by
Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in 1993.
{Photo: from the BBC}

Ireland has problems. The economy has a pulse, but not much more than that. Young people are streaming out of the country in search of jobs and opportunity. Tens of thousands of families all over the country are living in homes they can no longer afford, under pressure from our bankrupt banks.

Yes, Ireland has problems. However, one of those problems is not the upper chamber of the country's parliament. Yet the Irish government is holding a referendum next month and going all out to convince the public to vote to abolish the the Seanad (Senate).

Why? For the same reason governments do things everywhere: things are going wrong and they want to divert us by throwing smoke in our face. So we're being bombarded with daily government statements on how costly, elitist and ineffective the Seanad is. You'd swear it was the source of all that ails us.

The funny thing is they may be right that the Seanad is costly, elitist and ineffective, but it's far short of being a big issue. Already a member of the governing party has been forced to concede that the the cost-savings from eliminating the Seanad have been grossly overestimated. Even the government's faulty figure was hardly a significant sum. Now the savings are even punier.

But it's "elitist." I can't tell you how many times I have heard or read that word with regards to the Seanad. I don't think I've actually heard anyone explain what makes the Seanad elitist. The only thing that makes it elitist as far as I can determine is that six of the 60 Senators are elected only by graduates of Ireland's universities. Non-graduates have no vote.

I guess that's elitist and not all that fair to those who didn't have the opportunity to go to college. However, it doesn't seem anything like the injustice of forcing those who didn't have the chance or the wherewithal to go to college to subsidize the education of those who will someday be the elite."

The rest of the Senators are either selected by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) or appointed/drafted/whatever by the local county councils. I don't know anyone who thinks our County Councilors are "elite." The process of electing the members of the Seanad may be somewhat undemocratic, but "elitist" is a bit of a stretch.

The last charge, that the Seanad is ineffective, is indisputable. It is and it always has been. It was designed that way. The power is supposed to reside in the lower the chamber, the Dáil. It's hard to think of any real accomplishments of the Seanad, although by the same token when compared with its more powerful sister chamber it has done very little harm. Every so often someone is appointed as a Senator as a way of honoring their contribution to the nation, which may be the only mark in the Seanad's favor.

The truth is if the Seanad is abolished I won't really miss it. Occasionally a Senator makes a speech that entertainingly badly thought out, but for the most part nobody knows or cares when it meets.

If the people vote to abolish the Seanad I will not shed a tear. I'll be voting 'No' however because the arguments against the Seanad are fatuous: "elitist?" - change the voting process; expensive? - cut the wages and budget; ineffective? - give it teeth.

Seriously, the answers are so obvious, and all in the gift of the government, that it's obvious that the referendum to abolish the Seanad is a diversion. This is the government's way of saying, "Look at me and not that car wreck over there." Thanks, but I'd rather keep my eyes on the car wreck of Ireland's economy and I'd sure prefer if the government did the same.