A Rotten Borough




From top: Counting during the seanad election, 2011; Dan Boyle

But it’s our rotten borough.

Dan Boyle writes:

I’m coming home again to vote in that other election. The rotten borough one. This time I’ll be using my National University vote. It has, at least, the credibility of being the largest electorate and thus potentially the most democratic vote for The Seanad.

Since 1993, with the exception of 2007, I was an elector (one of about one thousand) and sometime candidate on the vocational panels. They are not actual rotten boroughs but they are not far off it.

The petty ‘gift’ giving I miss. The offers of pens, ties, boxes of chocolate, music CDs, mini tricolours, or holidays in Connemara, all unsolicited, made me feel ‘special’. I was never offered the bottles of Jameson, but there were tales of councillors who would put a particular value on their vote.

If the vote buying wasn’t distasteful enough in its own right, the vote swapping has been the most uncomfortable aspect of the Seanad. For smaller parties it’s necessary as it compensates for the lack of proportionality in the system. Votes are maximised. It leads to some very strange bedfellows.

In 1993 The Greens were involved in an arrangement with Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats. In 2007, having agreed to participate in government, we were obliged to vote with and for Fianna Fáil candidates.

.On other occasions there have been arrangements with Labour and for lower preferences with Sinn Féin. As recently as 2007 Labour and Sinn Féin had an arrangement with each other on vote sharing.

The most frequent vote sharing occurs between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Those parties that can’t be in government together. These have been informal arrangements to ensure that the ‘county’ gets represented. Because of these arrangements, and lower population ratios, a disproportionate number of Senators have tended to come Connaught and from the border counties.

I contested the Seanad on a number of occasions. They were fishing expeditions, attempts to work out the labyrinthine processes. These included five panels with different numbers of seats being contested. There is no reason for this, the Constitution doesn’t specify why the panels shouldn’t have near equal numbers of seats.

The reasons why De Valera developed the vocational panels, and why this formulation has been defined by the Constitution, was that he was a great admirer of the Corporatist system being practiced that time by Dr. Salazar in Portugal.

We’re still living with this 1930s slightly democratic House of Parliament.

I enjoyed my time as a Senator better than my being a TD, despite the heightened political circumstances. There was a better, more reflective, type of debate there. There was better scrutiny of legislation.

In 2013 I campaigned strongly for The Seanad to be retained. If and when reformed it has the potential to be the arm of accountability our system of government still sorely lacks.

As for my vote, my precious vote, I’m looking for a context to have it used. That has to be worth at least one bottle of Jameson.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD (and senator). Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

37 thoughts on “A Rotten Borough

  1. Anomanomanom

    The fact you get a vote shows what’s wrong with that retirement home for failed politicians and party friends.

    1. Sheik Yahbouti

      The Seanad is incapable of reform – not just my opinion but that of the late former Senator Eamonn de Butleir. He met a lot of nice people, had a good time and some interesting conversations but concluded that the thing was pointless. it’s sole purpose for many a year has been to keep the lips of ousted politicians firmly on the public teat for a further five years. Oh, and a little reward for party leader’s pals.

    1. Dan Boyle

      :-) It probably isn’t as blatant as it once was, as in “Here’s a little something for yourself.” The baubles were usually sent in the post, and yes to me they were a disqualifying factor. I do have a memory though of one candidate who brought along a tie rack with him….

      1. ollie

        Baubles. Give a few examples of these “baubles” Dan. Free holidays? Tickets to sporting events? A bribe by any other name is still a bribe. I take it you returned them all.

        1. Dan Boyle

          I’ve listed them in article. No sports tickets though I’m sure certain GAA circles may have been mined. One candidate sent vouchers for accommodation in Connemara. They were never redeemed.

          1. realPolithicks

            It looks like the two new green party td’s will once again be propping up another right wing government. What “baubles” will you be demanding for this support?

          2. Dan Boyle

            You seem to have more information than I do. Seeing a government formed is not the same as supporting a government in an ongoing basis. The choice is both or either right wing party anyway.

          3. ollie

            But did you return the vouchers Dan or did you accept the gift, albeit not use it?
            If you didn’t; return them, it’s like “the money was resting in my account” excuse.

          4. Dan Boyle

            Don’t be silly. It was laughed at and thrown away. (damn he’s found out about my unredeemed vouchers file…)

  2. kingo

    the whole thing is a bit of a joke. i have a vote in tcd but i wont be voting for averil power as she has gone in a heartbeat from wanting to represent dublin bay north to tcd. maybe ill get a calendar though.

  3. Nice Jung Man

    The Seanad is an embarrassing knuckle shuffling fest, a write-off and a complete waste of time and it was the only good idea that Kenny ever came up with – getting rid of it.

  4. DubLoony

    I always regarded having a vote by graduates was elitist and anti-democratic. So I never claimed mine.
    Then Ronan Mullen…. His treatment of the women campaigning for TFMR group was despicable.

    So I have now claimed my vote and have had literature from 30 candidates of the NUI panel come through my door as a result.
    I look forward to giving Mullen my No. 30.

    1. Wait For It

      Same here, and I’ve been nagging graduate friends to register with the specific intention of getting that odious person out.

  5. Stephen

    “There was better scrutiny of legislation.” Yet no bill has ever been defeated because of Senate opposition.

    1. Dan Boyle

      The Seanad only defers legislation. There have been bills withdrawn after failing in The Seanad. There are many many amendments made in The Seanad. Debates are deeper and more diverse. Compare debates on Civil Partnership in the Dáil and Seanad to see.

      1. Stephen

        How many bills have been withdrawn after failing in The Seanad? Would you say it’s a very rare occurrence?

        1. Dan Boyle

          Yes it is a rare occurrence, but many bills have been amended. Governments have controlled the numbers no certainty that will happen any more.

      2. Kieran NYC

        Hi Dan. I don’t know how close you are to some of your former Seanad colleagues, but why zero effort since the referendum to reform the Seanad? Haven’t heard a peep from any of them about it.

        You’d think after almost all losing their jobs that they’d try extra hard to look busy and to give the people what they wanted. Not even a modest proposal to broaden the electorate to graduates of all universities.

        1. Dan Boyle

          The Manning group produced good workable proposals which Enda Kenny chose to ignore. One thing The Seanad can’t do is initiate constitutional change. It should be able to, it’s the obvious place to initiate such debates.

          1. Kieran NYC

            Ah, I see. Thanks for the info. :)

            They didn’t exactly scream the place down demanding the reform either though.

  6. bisted

    …poor Dan…exiled to Wales…closest you are going to get to the Senate this time is to cast a vote. Why the fall from grace Dan? Genuine question…surely someone with your vast experience in h̶o̶r̶s̶e̶-̶t̶r̶a̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ negotiating should be with leader Eamo at this difficult time…but, I’m sure we can be assured that the greens will continue their policy of selflessly acting in the national interest.

  7. Truth in the News

    No wonder we had problems with planning when a bottle of whiskey will elect
    a seanad candidate….is this true.

  8. Peter Dempsey

    I didn’t enjoy myself in university but one benefit is being able to vote in Seanad elections.

    I give Ronan Mullen my #1 because I know the Angry Liberal People on Broadsheet and Rabble will be SO ANGRY if he gets elected again.

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