Sean Melly, one of my respected rivals for the Seanad, has made two appearances in the Irish Times recently. One is an attack on me and three of the candidates running for the NUI panel. The attack is on the basis that we are all associated with Fine Gael, in different ways, and hence unable to serve as ‘independent’ candidates. This is reported by Miriam Lord, under the heading ‘Seanad university seats and a different independence‘. Lord, one of our more acute journalists, writes ‘Melly, who is an independent Independent, is deeply unimpressed. “Candidates need to be honest and political parties should not compromise the integrity of the Seanad,” he says. “The independence of the Upper House must be maintained and its original function rescued and preserved.”’
I agree, though I think reform, rather than restoration, is required. The Seanad does pretty much what Fianna Fail designed it to do – as little as possible. This is no longer acceptable.
I am a Fine Gael member, though not exactly a well-hidden one, see my Twitter account, Facebook Page, or my LinkedIn profile, if you doubt this. It seems odd to suggest that aspiring politicians ought not be interested in politics, and one legitimate way of showing this is to be a member of a party. Being a senator is a political position and having some experience of politics might well be an asset. Certainly, knowing how to work with politicians, and civil servants is essential, if you hope to get anything done.
So why am I member of Fine Gael, rather than any other party? I am, like most Irish people, fairly centrist. I believe that States have a big role in providing good quality services, and high levels of personal protection to all residents. These include, health care, education, transport, housing, and direct protection (Gardaí etc.). This has to be paid for. I support progressive taxes, where people, like me, on high incomes pay much more than those on lower incomes. I believe that social solidarity matters, and that we need a more equal, and more just society. Fine Gael is not a perfect party, nor are our leadership perfect, but, for me, it tries to go in the right direction.
I agree with Sean that it is important for the Seanad to build on the independence of its members. I do not think that it would help me to work effectively in the Seanad, were I to join a parliamentary party, and I believe it might hinder me. If you know me personally, you may think that I am not well suited to taking a party whip!
There are more impediments to independence than party membership. I have fully declared all my personal and family financial interests, as well as my values, and my religious, and political views. including my latest P60, and my SIPO declarations. Anyone who wishes may inspect these, and draw whatever conclusions you wish.
I mentioned that Sean had appeared twice in the Irish Times recently. The second time was a story here, on February 15th of this year, which I suggest you read, and then consider what else independence might mean, and what else might affect the independence of a politician.