What is the purpose of Seanad Éireann?

Does anybody know what real purpose Seanad Éireann serves? Not only is its membership appointed by a flawed and undemocratic process but its programme is erratic and tendentious and frequently overlooks crucial issues.

Little illustrates this better than its agenda last month. While giving prejudicial vent to its hostility towards China, it failed to mention an important issue relating to policing in the Southern Irish jurisdiction.

Twice within the past four years the current Garda commissioner, Drew Harris, has been severely criticised for major errors of judgement in relation to important, sensitive issues. In 2017 Mr Justice Seamus Treacyruled in the Belfast High Court that the decision by Harris to shut down the Historic Enquiries Team, investigating state collusion with the Glenanne gang, was an “extreme” abuse of power.

Then last month the Supreme Court in London ruled that the decision by the PSNI in 2014, also made by Harris, not to proceed with an investigation into the maltreatment of internees known as the “hooded men” was flawed and irrational.

One could surely be forgiven for thinking that there is, at the very least, a serious absence of priorities by our unelected senators when they could devote their attention to self-serving allegations of events 5,000 miles distant yet overlook a serious and well-authenticated operational deficiency by a holder of high office in the Republic.

There is, however, the hard reality that these political manoeuvrings in Seanad Éireann are not random acts or egregious aberrations: rather they are part of a right-wing, pro-imperialist strategy being promoted by well-connected members of Ireland’s ruling class.

These reactionary advocates have two main concerns and objectives. On the one hand they are determined to maintain, at all costs, the present social and economic free-market capitalist status quo throughout this country. This, they believe, can best be guaranteed by preventing constitutional change that would challenge Ireland’s position within the imperialist matrix.

The Irish bourgeoisie’s concern with China is generated by their slavish adherence and dependence on the needs and demands of American capital. The North American superpower is in decline. Of course it has a massive military capacity, but its economy is faltering and its population riven with dissent. As a consequence of building an economic system concentrated on reaping ever-increasing profit for an ever-smaller number of people, much industrial production has been outsourced overseas, with the inevitable loss of what once was well-paid employment.

Mellody Hobson, chairwoman of the Starbucks Corporation and a director of the investment bank J. P. Morgan Chase, stressed the difficulties facing the American economic model in an article last month in the Financial Times.[1] Writing that “systemic inequalities exist,” she mentioned the fact that in the 1970s, 61 per cent of American households lived in middle-income households, while that figure is now 51 per cent and falling.

In contrast to the faltering American economy, China is growing all the time. Significantly too, and in spite of disapproval by the White House, America’s financial sector recognises this fact and is eager to invest in China.[2] Consequently, the People’s Republic is increasingly seen as offering an alternative to the US-led economic bloc, both as a successful, sustainable model for economic development and as a valuable trading partner.

It hardly requires a great deal of imagination, therefore, to understand why Ireland’s bourgeoisie would be determined to bad-mouth the Chinese government. A prospering state led by a competent communist party could, and most probably would, set an example for others to follow. This would be especially so in a country with a festering housing crisis, an iniquitous two-tier health system, and structural inequality, together with an unresolved national question.

Unwilling to risk contesting the arena with China in the area of economic development, Seanad Éireann’s right wing has opted instead to try to blacken the country’s reputation through reference to events in Hong Kong and criticising China’s long-time “one China” policy in relation to Taiwan. In doing so the Seanad was demonstrating not only astonishing arrogance but also contempt for the history of colonial exploitation.

For more than a century China suffered what its people call the “hundred years of humiliation,” when the country lost territory, including Hong Kong, to Western powers and control over its own governance. Just how humiliating, not to mention damaging, this period was can be gauged by the fact that in the nineteenth century British gunboats bombarded China’s east coast to force Chinese people to buy opium from British merchants.

Interestingly, when spokespersons for China talk about Hong Kong and Taiwan they speak in terms of national reunification. Indeed when the Chinese embassy in Ireland issued a statement critical of the anti-China motion recently adopted by Seanad Éireann it drew a pointed parallel with Ireland’s own and long colonial experience.[3] With a powerful reference to Ireland’s past, it requested that Irish politicians respect the Chinese people’s aspiration to realise national reunification as much as they (the Chinese) respect the Irish people’s aspiration to realise national reunification.

Let’s be clear about what motivates the Irish bourgeoisie’s fixation on China—and it’s not concern for human rights. If that were the case there is a long list of violators (beginning with the United States and Britain) demanding censure well before the People’s Republic might come up for mention. The reason is the changing balance of power in the world.[4] Consequently, those benefiting from the current US-dictated imperialist world order (including the Irish ruling class) are determined to preserve the status quo.

There is nothing new in this tactic. Every progressive development in human history has been vilified by a reactionary ruling class—from Spartacus to the Jacobins and then the Bolsheviks, to name but a few.

Little of this will come as surprise to most readers of Socialist Voice. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that many well-meaning people are misled by the establishment media, both print and broadcast. It is important that we maintain and where possible increase our drive to correct this false propaganda. In the course of doing so it would also be worth raising a few queries about Seanad Éireann’s odd position in relation to the British state’s employees condoning of torture and collusion in the Northern jurisdiction.


  1. Mellody Hobson, “The US must confront financial illiteracy head-on,” Financial Times (London), 18 December 2021.
  2. See, for example, Steve Johnson, “Investors shrug off Beijing intervention worries to pump money into ETFs,” Financial Times, 22 December 2021.
  3. Xinhua, “Chinese embassy in Ireland expresses opposition to China-related motion passed by Irish Senate,” 3 December 2021 (https://bit.ly/3EtE2MV).
  4. Zanny Minton Beddoes, “Rivalry between America and China will shape the post-covid world,” Economist (London), 14 November 2021.