It was a week of some major political promises: Finance Minister Brian Lenihan promised us a savage budget in December. And Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny promised to get rid of the Seanad and to reduce the number of TDs by at least 20.
Let me deal with the Seanad issue first. As one who has been campaigning in this column for the abolition of the Seanad, I am delighted with the Fine Gael leader’s pledge.
There is no solid argument in favour of retaining the Upper House. We have heard all the excuses for retaining the Seanad. And none of them works.
I have some idea of what I am talking about. I reported on the proceedings of Seanad Eireann on a fairly regular basis for a number of years in the early 70s and can tell you that things have not changed there since then. It is still a useless talking shop.
Despite all the promises from all the parties about the need for reform, it has not changed since it was established in the 1930s. While there have been some good individual performances, notably from independent senators, the standard of debate has never been very high. Actuallly, the standard of debate was far higher on RTÉ’s Questions and Answers programme. And they had no problem about getting rid of that.
It is a pity that Enda Kenny did not discuss this matter in advance with the members of his parliamentary party. It sounds like another of Kenny’s off-the-cuff announcements made to please the gallery, but it’s only a minor quibble if he actually goes ahead and fulfils his promise. But that’s another day’s work.
Of course, Enda Kenny cannot abolish the Seanad. No more than the Taoiseach Brian Cowen can, or Dáil Éireann or even Seanad Eireann itself. That is a matter for the Irish people in a referendum.
My feeling is that the Irish people would support the abolition of the Seanad, especially in the present economic climate.
So, if we are to take Enda Kenny at his word when he says he will hold a referendum on the issue within a year of taking office, the Seanad may be abolished within the next four or five years.
Can we believe it? I’ll leave that to yourselves but forgive me if I will not believe it until it actually happens.
I have been around too long. I have no doubt that Enda Kenny means what he says. But who is to know what will happen in Irish politics in four or five years time?
Having constantly called in this column for a reduction in the number of TDs, I also have to welcome Enda Kenny’s promise in that regard. It is good to see someone in such a potentially powerful position as Enda Kenny make such a promise. He is in a far better position to do something about these matters than is any humble newspaper columnist.
Okay, I am somewhat sceptical about the whole package Kenny announced at the weekend.
A few months ago he was talking about radical reform of the Upper House of the Oireachtas and promising extra powers for that body. Now he wants to abolish it. Still, he is entitled to change his mind and I welcome his announcement.
I also welcome the promise – call it a threat if you like – from the Minister for Finance to bring in a savage budget in December. I am not a masochist but I believe that if the budget is not savage now, it will be far more savage next year and in the years to come.
As a state we are still living far beyond our means and we are borrowing around €500million a week to pay for the life we are living.
If we do not show those who are lending us this money that we are trying to reduce the debt, they are going to stop funding us. And then what will we do?
We will not have the money to pay social welfare allowances or the wages of our nurses, teachers or gardaí.
That is the reality. And I cannot understand how trade union leaders who represent those groups cannot see that.
I could understand them if they were being singled out to pay for the over-spending of the last dozen years or so.
But that is not the situation. Public sector workers generally do far better than their counterparts in the private sector and certainly far better than public servants abroad.
So if we are going to have a savage budget now let us welcome it with open arms knowing that if the minister and the Government funk it this time we are going to be far worse off in the future.
Meanwhile, I see that Fianna Fáil still have some posters up in the North Clare area calling for a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Isn’t there some law against that?
But, perhaps, I have got it wrong. Fianna Fáil, being the major party in government should know more than the rest of us.
Perhaps there is going to be a third referendum next year to decide the Lisbon question once and for all.
And perhaps Fianna Fáil are first in the field with their posters.