05 December 2008

If I can hand it in tomorrow it'll be alright

Ah, can there be anything more baffling than the progress of a bill through the Dail and Seanad? The latest 'crises' for the government came yesterday with the passing of number of opposition amendments to the Charities Bill 2007 in the Seanad by an overwhelming 19 votes to 18. The Seanad is the appendix of the Irish legislature, serving no useful function and going largely unnoticed on a day-to-day basis, though occasionally bursting without warning and causing severe pain to the government. The more astute amongst you might remember that there are 60 members of the Seanad and yet apparently less than 2/3 of Senators actually turned up to vote.

While technically Senators represent various aspects of Irish society, the Universities, arts, industry, agriculture etc, in practice everything is organised along party lines, with exactly 50% +1 of current sitting Senators belonging to the three government parties, so in theory no Bill sent to the Seanad for approval should ever result in a government defeat. This theory, of course, works on the assumption that Senators actually show up. Yesterday's vote was notable for the absence of ten Fianna Fail, the only PD and both Green Senators. This is somewhat unbelievable as it is very unlikely that any of them could have had something more pressing to be doing elsewhere, given that they actually have no real function other than showing up to vote. At least Green Senator Dan Boyle had the decency to try and give an excuse for his absence, but his excuse, that he got delayed on the way to the chamber and missed the vote, was as imaginative as saying his dog ate his homework. He will no doubt be getting a "must try harder" on his Christmas report card.

The more cynical amongst you might assume that the contents of the Bill or its proposed amendments were explosive, political suicide for any who supported it, and the no-show was a politician's form of "Blue Flu", so that in years to come these poor souls could not be accused of supporting a deeply unpopular law.

Nope.

This is not the Health Bill, this is not the Education Bill, this is a Bill to regulate charities, a Bill that 99.9% of the electorate have never heard of. On their behalf I took the time this morning to download both the Bill, and the opposition Amendment that was passed yesterday, and to be honest I wish I hadn't. It's 60 minutes of my life that I will never get back. The majority of both the Bill and associated amendments outline the regulation of how charities can fundraise and what can be done with that money, but there are a couple of things did strike me about the amendments.

The Bill as passed by the Dail defined a charity as an organisation that was dedicated to:
(a) the prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship;
(b) the advancement of education;
(c) the advancement of religion;
(d) any other purpose that is of benefit to the community.
which yesterday's amendment altered to read:
(a) the prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship;
(b) the promotion and protection of human rights;
(c) the advancement of education;
(d) the advancement of religion;
(e) the advancement of sport;
(f) the advancement of human rights;
(g) the advancement or promotion of equality and social justice;
(h) any other purpose that is of benefit to the community.
Yes, 'Human Rights' is in there twice as the result of separate amendments sponsored by different Senators, who apparently didn't manage to talk to each other before submitting their proposals, which is odd given the fact that less than 40 of them bothered to show up to the vote. Interestingly enough the "Human Rights' addition in (b) was proposed by six senators, the reference in line (f) by one, and the Sporting addition in line (e) was proposed by eight, clearly showing the priorities of Irish politicians. Also of interest to me was the following definition of Religion:
“...for the purposes of this section, “religion” shall not include any organisation or cult which in the opinion of the Authority is primarily economic in nature or employs oppressive psychological manipulation of its adherents”.
which is a welcome poke in the eye for Tom Cruise and his buddies.

So basically it was a relatively unimportant Bill in the mind of the electorate, and thus 1/3 of the Seanad couldn't bother their arses to show up and vote on it. Unfortunately for the government it was their 1/3 that didn't show up, and they suffered an unnecessary and embarrassing defeat on what should have been a simple rubber stamping exercise.

Bloggers in other countries get to write about their government's Machiavellian schemes, and vent their wrath and ire at the injustices and crimes perpetrated against the people by the political oligarchy. I get to write about the kids from "Saved by the Bell".

It's just not fair.

Links

Charities Bill 2007 as passed by the Dail
Seanad amendments

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