James Carroll has been appointed to the Senate.
If you don’t know who that is, then let me direct you to his profile. As well as representing Ireland internationally in Pitch and Putt, he is a sitting councilor in Louth, and was previously the President of UCD Students Union as well as Chairperson of the UCD branch of Fianna Fail.
While this CV is not unimpressive, it could be argued that it is wholly insufficient to warrant a seat in the Seanad, one of the branches of government. However, the CV of a Senator is largely immaterial, and it is the contribution of the Senator to debate within the House, and amendments to the legislation passing through it that matters. The Senate, more so than the Dail, allows a talented individual to make an impact to a greater extent, enabling them to raise issues and proffer amendments that would otherwise be untouched by the timid hands of the Irish Politician. It is the seat of higher thinking in Irish politics, often producing debates of far higher quality than those of the lower house.
It is a pity therefore that in a time of national crisis, when the people are tired and jaded towards the political system, that instead of choosing from among Ireland’s intellectual elite, be it a business person, an economist, a journalist, a social analyst, or just someone very intelligent and well-read, the government chose a councillor with a chance of future election. The appointment of a person of unusual calibre could have sent a signal that the government is serious about political reform, both of the Seanad and of the Dail, and that it is focused only on repairing this country. Instead, an insider was appointed, yet another example of how the political parties have used and abused the Seanad, and stopped it filling it’s original function.
If the Constitution is read, it quickly becomes clear that the original, intended function of the Seanad was as a body of experts supervising the Dail. It was to provide an intellectual oversight of Dail decisions, removed from the petty realms of politics. The bulk of the appointments were intended to be from panels of experts, with several Senators elected from the Universities, and the remainder hand-picked by the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach’s Senators were intended to prevent a situation were the Dail and the Seanad would find themselves in conflict, and limit the Senate to an advisory role. I have no doubt that if the Senate had been operated in this manner, the nation would currently be in a far better state of repair. Instead of an intellectual elite critically examining and advising the Dail, the Senate is now home to a mass of politicians ranging from the possibly (some day) electable to the hopelessly unelectable to the outright rejected. The newest appointments to the Senate are a continuation of that failed policy.
What is particularly galling about the appointment of Mr. Carroll, is the comments that have accompanied his appointment. When congratulating Mr. Carroll on his election the Taoiseach stated “I know that he will work hard for the people of South Louth and I look forward to welcoming him to Oireachtas Éireann”. Mr. Carroll said ” I will be able to provide the people of Drogheda and South Louth with strong and energetic leadership”. There is no such thing as a local senator. A Senator is a national appointment – there is no Senator for Louth. The main justification for the existance of the Senate is that it is one step removed from the parish pump politics that contaminate the Dail; for a newly appointed Senator to make no bones about the fact that he sees his Senate seat primarily as a way to gain advantage for his future constituency, is a tragedy.
The Senate should not spend time fixing potholes, mowing grass or circumventing the planning laws. It should be focused on the national arc of public policy, on ensuring that all legislation passed is appropriately thought out, on commenting on national issues at a remove from local politics, or the politics of hysteria. The Senate should be the calming, mature voice in Ireland, the voice that cries “Stop!” when permanent legislation is hastily proposed to address a temporary crisis, or when knee-jerk reactionaries may be advocating a destructive course. It is the House of debate, of consideration, where issues should be aired that in the Dail would be verboten.
The Senate is supposed to be the counterweight to the overly local focus of politics in Ireland, but the appointment of an unashamedly local Senator once again shows that it is not fulfilling its role.