Irish Blog Whacked

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Expediency and the will of the leader are being elevated above individual conscience

Opinion: The political dynamic is arcing inexorably towards autocracy

The whip is a brutal instrument, designed to draw forced obedience from slaves. It has no place in a democracy as an instrument of terror. It is an obscenity that a TD should be intimidated, bullied and silenced for refusing the whip. The party masters will argue discipline is necessary if a programme of government is to be achieved and carried through but is the use of force, the threat of censure and banishment from privilege their only option?
Yes, of course, a dissenting member may be expelled from the party – that, after all, is the party’s prerogative; but it is not acceptable that they be silenced in the Dáil chamber, that they be prevented, as TDs, from serving on committees or be removed from committees.
To permit this is to consolidate the absolute power of Cabinet and party managers on the one hand, and on the other hand to elevate expediency, the will of the leaders, above the conscience of the individual elected representative and above the interests of those people who, however notionally, have chosen that person to speak for them in parliament.
The political dynamic at work here is one that arcs inexorably towards autocracy. Consider the point we have reached in Dáil Éireann: the Government TDs have been silenced and are no more than voting fodder for the diktats of Cabinet; the Cabinet is subordinated to the will of the Economic Management Council (EMC), the Gang of Four; and it is inconceivable that the council will seriously challenge the will of the Taoiseach – certainly not at the risk of precipitating an election.
Meanwhile, to the extent that legislation is debated in the Dáil, no opposition amendment, no matter how intelligent, thoughtful or nonpartisan, will be for even a moment entertained. Those TDs who are not in Government and those Government TDs who have been cast into exterior darkness have been silenced – and all those who voted for these TDs have also been silenced, deprived of any and all influence they might try to exercise through their elected representatives.
Over the years, power in this State has been quietly, inexorably consolidated into fewer and fewer hands. If four people, bent to the will of a single dominant individual, had seized power in the land, would they be in any way less omnipotent than the EMC and the Taoiseach? Would the Dáil, as it operates at present, be any less impotent?

Seductive concentration of power
A thinking citizen might well pose the following question: what if, after the next election, the Gang of Four was composed of the four individuals we would least trust with unfettered, unanswerable power? The present administration is merely the latest in a long line of governments that have inherited this creeping, infinitely seductive concentration of power. At what point can we realistically expect this power to be ceded?
The party managers will tell us that government has to answer to the people at elections – but who do we get to vote for? Those whom the party has decided to offer us, inevitably men and women who can be trusted in large part to bow to the whip.

Comments (60)
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william great

Lets break the mould and elect 150 independents......we can do it and declare our independence.

Damian Collins

Where would that leave your pal, Enda Kenny, William ? Are you out of love with Enda these days. Is the " great liberator" no more ?

Why would we want 150 politicians ?


brilliant idea...all this nonsense abolished in one fell swoop...
& now for the real job market...


The island of Ireland is politically dysfuncrional with two neo-colonial states. No amount of tinkering with it will heal the island. A totally new blueprint without outside interference with a charter of citizen rights and forums of political debate and local empowerment is needed. I have yet to find any other document or blueprint which surpasses Eire Nua and allows all traditions a voice and reaal saay in how the island is governed. For those sincere about peace and progress this bleprint at aminimum needs to be explored. I am not currently a member of any political party in Ireland:


Reform all around needed..who will reform who? they all sup from the same cup.


"Towards a Constitution for a 21st Century Republic..." Lovely idea. But it must pass the Taoiseach and his supporters. Theo says it himself: "If our rulers will not countenance the simpler task of reforming the Seanad, who in their right mind believes they will in any meaningful way reform the Dáil"

Whatever way the Seanad vote goes, the problems remain. Will the "no" voters tell us that real reform is now on the way? Why might they think so? Will the "yes" voters tell us that now they can tackle the Dáil? Does abolition of the Seanad make that easier--or does it make it harder?

Among all the pro and con posts below, I don't see one says the status quo is acceptable.

Can Theo, or someone else, convene a group of thinkers and doers to tackle the problem of the status quo? Surely, somewhere in the dole queues, in the universities, and Aosdána there must be the makings of a quiet, bloodless revolution? Unfortunately, experience tells me that the likely people are already up to their ears in commitments. Is the army of retired too tired? 


Someone speaking some sense on the abolition of the Seanad.
However, Theo, you are way too late talking about the brute force of Party Managers. It is now twenty years since one Party Manager - to whit Fergus Finlay - forced the resignation of Albert Reynolds both as Taoiseach and Fianna Fail party leader and ensured that John Bruton - who incidentally regularly writes for this newspaper - would become Taoiseach. Enda Kenny may have been elected by a couple of thousand Mayo voters - Finlay was elected by no one - yet to many, this unelected "Party Manager" is heroic - Undemocratic but heroic.
Who said we live in a democracy?


Twice in a generation the Irish economy was brought to the brink of ruin.

The Seanad as an institution was comatose but while the majority of private sector workers have no occupational pension, members of local councils as electors lobbied senators during the bubble to successfully get pensions and severance payments.

An Irish solution to an Irish problem, no doubt!

It would be good if Irish power was decentralised but the land rezoning record of local councils hardly inspires confidence.

It appears New Zealand is a better governed democracy than Ireland. 

Between 1854 and 1950 NZ had the Legislative Council (the Upper House).

An account of NZ history says the members of the Legislative Council were appointed rather than elected. Its major role was to amend or revise the legislation passed in the House of Representatives.

The Council was meant to be New Zealand’s equivalent of the British House of Lords and play an independent and influential role. But in practice the Council never had too much to do..

Now and again Council members bucked against the government. The big showdown came in 1891 when the Council obstructed the policies of the Liberal government. An attempt to stack the Council backfired initially when the governor refused to approve the nominees; Britain finally ordered him to co-operate. From then on there was no chance of an independent Council. It continued to exist mainly as a means of rewarding loyal members of the House.

The last Legislative Council, appointed in 1950, was known as the ‘suicide squad’. Its 25 new members were appointed by the new National government to make sure that the Legislative Council Abolition Bill was passed. The Council sat for the last time on 1 December 1950 (the Act came into effect on 1 January 1951). No one was too upset at its demise and few people turned up to watch its last moments.

That was 1950.

In the 2011 NZ general election there were eight political parties represented.

Government gross direct debt amounted to 38.9% of GDP in the year ended June 2012, up from 36.6% the previous year.

In August in Ireland there were 486,000 on the Irish Live Register and in publicly funded activation programs. How bad would things have to get for Michael McDowell, Feargal Quinn and Theo Dorgan to protest about the failure of power and the resultant lack of a credible jobs strategy??

Michael Hennigan




In New Zealand they abolished their second house because it had long been corrupted by a central government using force of main to corrupt it, and then dispose of it, first in 1891 and then in 1950.

They have eight political parties in New Zealand. One assumes they're all serious contenders. Here we have Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, each encapuslating the worst aspects that the other has failed to descend to, each bound to essentially the same authoritarian / violent / terrorist / civil war root, and a couple of satellite makeweight parties that have sold all their principles to power, like Labour and well Labour (I was going to say the Greens but they're pretty brown and shrivelled these days like the leaves blowing in the road outside) while in the long grass there bulks a shadowy party, close and dark as archetypal sin, that may well form the next government.

In New Zealand they abolished the whip when they abolished the second house.

Here there is no proposal. A neutered Dail, an abolished upper house, and a power-crazed executive with a cabinet within a cabinet all paying absolute homage and fealty to one individual.

An ocean of tears I tell yiz. Oceans.


Here there is no proposal to abolish the whip I should have typed.


we will survive, there are good swimmers around.


"Autocracy?" Maybe, but the autocrats are not in Leinster House. Try Brussels, and if you must, Rome.
Organise and agitate, agitate, agitate.!


It's not surprising that the dominant conservative mindset would not support any departure from the status quo. Why change unless the crisis is dire; 65% of the population, the current one is not.

We didn't need Vodafone to tell us that we love to talk. However, governance and building credible structures for changing times as the Swedes and Finns did after their economic troubles in the early 1990s, well that can be left to later.

Theo Dorgan's proposal of a more enhanced talking-shop of people who want to appear on television, is going to be a solution to endemic failures including a reliance on foreign companies to provide a first world standard of living? Think about it.

As for those folk who see the Economic Management Coucil as a sinister development, they seem to hark back to the times of Calvin Coolidge.

There shoud be all-day debates in Cabinet to give all1 5 a chance, to debate every economic decision??

The NO folk are being led by people who were either directly involved in the economic crash that has ruined the lives of tens of thousands of fellow citizens or cheerleaders of it.

So how many members of this august institution warned of the inevitable calamity (yes I was among the bubble dissenters and it wasn't a popular stance) or since 2007 have inspired the people with credible solutions in the intervening period?

There were a few distinguished people over the decades who were lone voices in this bastion of orthodoxy.

In 1943 Senator Sir John Keane told the Seanad that 1,600 books had been banned since independence in 1922 as he argued there against the banning of 'The Tailor and Ansty.' Leading the debate for the status quo was William Magennis, UCD professor and member of the Censorship Board. When he had been proposed as a director of the Abbey Theatre, William Butler Yeats is reported to have said that he would prefer to close the theatre rather than have him on the board.

Frank O'Connor said in respect of the Seanad debate: "Reading it is like a long swim, through a sewage bed."

Owen Sheehy-Skeffington in later years had in earlier years was one of the few public torch-bearers for liberal values and the writer Seán Ó Faoláin said on his death that he was “a man undefeated by all the weaklings and the cowards who yapped at him while he laughed and fought them, a man who, in a country and a time not rich in moral courage, never swerved or changed and who kept his youthful spirit to the very end.”

Michael Hennigan


An analysis of your comment by the naysayers, may influence their decision making at the ballot box...may..


What a lovely recitation of the names of heroes, the Cuchulains who stood against the hordes of gombeens. Maybe someone will do an exposition on Ken Whitaker. His role in making the new Ireland was real, and didn't involve much debate at cabinet or Seanad. But how might he be seen now in hindsight, with the rubble of an economy and of a public polity all around?

Whatever. Life is like a bluebag. Give it another squeeze.


Glad you like the Tailor and Ansty be glad you can read it not so long ago you wouldn't have been let.


In all unicameral countries the whip was abolished along with the second house. I can't but imagine they must have felt there was a very good reason for that. Perhaps Lord Acton's advice to Bishop Melville?

No government relinquishes power willingly once it has it. That is why it is not a good idea to let governments become all-powerful. Cometh the hour cometh the wo/man and we're all just the wrong mediocre little house painter away from an ocean of tears.


"we're all just the wrong mediocre little house painter away from an ocean of tears" - whatever your smoking Con will you give me the name of it - sounds divine!


I think it sounds ugly. Every misanthrope quotes Hitler.


John Player Silver. And I'm NOT supposed to be!! Ssssh. Giving up again this weekend.


he's not quoting or mi- quoting Hitler - he's just saying that the momentum of politics in Ireland have developed in such a way as to provide an opportunity for a person and or persons of a mindset - either right or left wing - to behave in a similar manner as a certain house painter - and that mindset doesn't have to be anti-Semitic - not - just dictatorial - and who would stand up to them??? - well based on the track record of the pathetic Irish voters and the equally pathetic Irish political and civil servant class - no one!! - of course this 'dictator' wouldn't be so obvious as the appear like Hitler - go no - they would appear ever so reasonable and practical - just the kind of person needed to get us out of the situation we are in - and anyone against them would be portrayed as non team players - not pulling on the green jersey - after all look how reasonable this person is - they are only concerned with whats best for Ireland - how could any right thinking person be against that!

And then its too late - hence the ocean of tears!


Bang on.




I can't believe that this "whip" exists. It is obviously a blue shirt conspiracy invented since the last election and I am grateful that this author has brought it to our attention. I ask why the Irish Times never brought this undemocratic FG abomination to our attention prior to now. From this failure (by others), it is clear that the IT has obviously been almost completely taken over by blue shirt dictators. I just hope that he is now in some kind of Seanad- sponsored witness protection programme that can protect him from the terrible FG totalitarian edifice.

Damian Collins

What does the Seanad actually do these days ? Can anyone name three substantial achievements of the Seanad in recent years ? I can't appear to find any.

Why did these politicians, who are talking about reform now, do nothing to Reform the Seanad when they were in office ? Kenny could well be making a power grab here as his critics claim but those like Michael McDowell and Micheal Martin are only in favour of Reform now that the upper Chamber faces extinction.

10 reports on Seanad reform have been published since it was established in 1938, and not a single reform has happened.

Fianna Fáil, which did absolutely nothing to reform the Seanad while in power. In fact, just three short years ago, Fianna Fáil favoured abolishing the Seanad.

Abolition of the Seanad was official Progressive Democrat Policy.

The abolition of the Seanad would, if passed, bring Ireland into line with other small European countries.

Within Europe, six countries have a population of between four and six million, including Ireland. Our country is the only one with a second chamber.

It has little or no power and as such, cannot act as either a check on the government or a balance to the Dáil. In addition, many other countries have shown that rigorous checks and balances can be created in a single-chamber parliament.

Ireland’s second house owes more to the legacy of the British empire than it does to modern constitutional theory.


Yesterday I commented that the abolition of the Seanad would be the first step towards totalitarianism. Small wonder that Enda Kenny, who has already demonstrated despotic tendencies, should be the one to introduce this idea. Some have commented that the Seanad has done little in 30 years. Perhaps if proper reforms came in- such as making it a true legislative body on par with the Dail-- it could act to prevent the Taoiseach from becoming an autocrat. The right course is to reform, not abolish, the Seanad.


we cannot afford is not worth the financial outlay.


In today's letters page I wrote that "...........realisable annual saving amounts to less than 10 per cent of the cost of running Leinster House and to an almost invisible 0.02 per cent of total annual State expenditure. Holding a referendum to secure these minor savings is hardly significant in the current scheme of things, so I assume that there are other more pressing reasons which may not have been fully disclosed to the electorate."

Theo's piece explores these reasons when he talks about "this creeping, infinitely seductive concentration of power." 

Malleus Maleficarum

Indeed, today's details of pensions paid to politicians who presided and continue to preside over the ruination of this country gave me a couple of ideas of how we could save, for ex. E20 million.




All I would say is what did the Seanad do to protect the Irish Public from the excesses of Fianna Fail, Bertie, Haughey,Burke,Lawlor etc, etc,etc. Absolutely nothing! Why? It is supposed to be a watch dog, well the dog has been asleep for 30 years and any criminal worth his salt has been able to take what he liked.


It was a muzzled watchdog. Now is the time to take off the muzzle and give it real teeth.


Of 60 members, 11 are appointed by the Taoiseach and 43 by members of the Dail. How can anyone expect them to challenge legislation which comes before them? Ireland will benefit from an independent upper house which can be chosen directly by the voters, with veto power. This is the reform which is needed.
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I still lean to "no," but Arthur's "veto" is eye-opening. I seem to remember that the clipping of the wings of the UK House of Lords began in 1912. Should we go back that way?


That may well require REFORM - not abolition.

Consider - the Banking industry, aided and abetted by the Building Industry, the Accountancy Profession and the Central Bank flushed this country down the toilet for their own profit and bonuses. Consider how much abolition of these saboteurs would save us! "Fewer Bankers"! An end to financial Elitism!


"The political dynamic is arcing inexorably towards autocracy"

Paranoid rubbish. People have such short political memories. Would-be dictators have long been part of Irish politics - Cowan and Haughey being classic examples.


At least Cowan and Haughey were elected. Who elects the Party Managers who now call the shots?