Bicameralism

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Bicameralism

Introduction:

According to L.S Wynn;

“In government, bicameralism is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. The relationship between the two chambers of a bicameral legislature can vary. In some cases, they have equal power, and in others, one chamber is clearly superior to the other.” (Wynn, 2012), the latter being the case in Ireland. The Irish constitution provides that the national parliament be known as the Oireachtas and it consists of the President and two houses, namely Dail Eireann and Seanad Eireann. (Toole, 1998),

The two chambers or houses in Ireland consist of Seanad Eireann and the more powerful of the two, Dail Eireann. How both houses perform their functions has long being under scrutiny and the subject of great debate in Ireland. Taking into account the influence of the British style of government on the Irish system at independence, John Coakley and Michael Gallagher perceptively state that,

“it is no surprise that Ireland has some features of the archetypal Westminster system” (John Coakley, 2010).

The most notible, in relation to this assignment, of these influences being unbalanced bicameralism. Taking this statement into account it then raises the question and also outlines the aim of this research, which is to explore Bicameralism as an affective check and balance through the following objectives, examine how affective the second houses are in carrying out their functions, explore and contrast the merits and demerits of the Seannad in Ireland and analyse weather it should be reformed or abolished.

Functions of Second House & Should it be Abolished?:

John O’ Toole reveals that reform of the Seanad has being debated almost since its establishment. That debate has now moved onto abolition. (Toole, 1998)

The Seanad was fashioned in its current form in the 1937 Constitution. It was inspired by the idea of ‘corporatism’, shared at the time (particularly in Fascist countries). There was the certainty that voters should not be structured into collections according to geography (as in the Dáil), but founded on occupation. The Seanad’s main failing is that it cannot halt legislation; as an alternative it can only postpone it for 90 days. This was done to thwart it from hindering the activities of the government, as the Fine Gael Seanad frequently did to the Fianna Fáil government in the 1930’s. (Nielson, 2011)

So what exactly are the functions of the Seannad? The main role of Seanad Eireann is in relation to legislation. A Bill may start life in either the Dáil or the Seanad. In practice, the vast majority of bills originates from the Government and is approved by the Dáil initially. They are then referred to the Seanad for examination and consideration. Inside 90 days, the Seanad may recommend amendments, reject or pass a Bill. The Dáil has the authority to over-ride the Seanad's rejection of a Bill. (Functions of the Seanad, 2010)

Also powers shared equally between both chambers include the declaration of emergency, impeachment of a President or the removal of a judge. (John Coakley, 2010)

The Social Science and Parliamentary Affairs team effectively point out that a bicameral structure is too expensive and/or redundent for countries with small populations. In January 2012 the Public Accounts Committee was informed that the abolition of the Seanad could result in savings of up to 22.5million euro. (Team, 2012)

The more convincing arguments against the Seanad are clearly laid out in Fine Gael’s New Politics Document. A brief summary of their document points out that:

On account of the Seanad, Ireland is exaggeratedly represented by politicians with no increase in efficiency. Constitutional theory has evolved so that checks and balances no longer require a second house but instead have strong committee systems. If the memebrs of the Seannad are elected by a popularity vote then it is simply replicating the Dail. Then also if the...
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