As with most referendum campaigns there are claims and counter-claims, but some arguments just don't stack up. I think this is the case with John Waters argument for voting no in the Seanad abolition referendum next week. He points to two changes associated with the abolition of the Seanad that he claims would lead to greater concentration of power in politicians and the judiciary. I am not a lawyer (nor is John Waters) but it is clear from the proposals that the changes are needed to ensure checks on government power rather than removing them.
John Waters says:
The proposed change to Article 35.4.1, for example, will significantly raise the threshold of difficulty to be encountered in seeking to impeach a judge. At present, a judge may be impeached on grounds of stated misbehaviour or incapacity on a simple majority of members present in both Dáil and Seanad. We know from some relatively recent cases that, even under these constitutional conditions, removing a judge poses significant challenges. If the Seanad is abolished, the impeachment bar will be raised even higher, requiring a majority of “not less than two-thirds of the total membership” of the Dáil, in effect changing the odds of removing a miscreant judge from evens to two-to-one against......
It is disingenous to argue that the proposed changes make it easier to impeach a judge. A simple majority is easier for a government to gain in both houses since it is likely (by definition) to have a majority in the Dail and the Taoiseach's nominees are likely to ensure a majority in the Seanad. The protection here is for the judiciary who could be impeached by a government who disagree with his or her judgements. A judge that makes decisions that are uncomfortable for a government should be protected from impeachment by a spiteful government with a simple majority. In the absence of a Seanad it is necessary for a greater hurdle than a simple majority of the remaining single house.
A second proposal questioned by John Waters is the referral of a bill to the President to request a referendum. He says:
At present, the Constitution provides that Bills may be referred to the people for a referendum if a majority of the Seanad and at least a third of Dáil members request the President to refer the Bill to the people on grounds of its national importance. The President has power to implement or disallow such a request. If the present amendment is passed, these provisions will be dispensed with.
This power has never been used so it's importance in terms of the overall debate is questionable. This may be why this proposal has not featured as a major issue of the debate. That aside it is unclear how this increases the concentration of power. As I argued earlier it is unlikely that the government would not have a majority in the Seanad. If they did not it is not difficult to imagine the opposition (majority in the Seanad) making the job of government very hard by referring all bills - even those they know the President would not refer to the people - simply to make governing next to impossible.
These proposals are required if the Seanad is abolished. These proposals do not intensify the concentration of power and are necessary to ensure appropriate checks and facilitate government is a single house Oireachtas.
I'm an economist so many of these posts will be about economic issues. But since everyone is allowed a view on economics I am inclined to go beyond my profession to throw my tuppence ha'penny into other issues.