Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013: Second Stage

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Bill is to fulfil the programme for Government commitment to hold a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad. It will be held in the autumn. The Government also intends to hold a referendum on the establishment of a court of civil appeal on the same day and possibly other issues arising from the early reports of the Constitutional Convention.

As the Government is proposing this referendum, it is appropriate that I, as Taoiseach, should outline the reasons why we are doing so. In July 2009, at the MacGill Summer School, I announced that Fine Gael was embarking on a root and branch analysis of the political system. As part of that analysis, we looked in detail at the role of the Seanad and came to the clear conclusion that reforming it was not realistic or achievable. The key difficulty with all of the proposals for reform is that they take the existence of the Seanad, with its widely-acknowledged flaws, as a given. It would either remain an unrepresentative elitist composition or a directly elected entity that would seek to duplicate the Dáil.

Instead, the correct approach is to start by asking whether we need a second House at all. I do not believe we do. For 75 years political insiders have discussed and debated Seanad reform. Ten reports on reform of the second House have been published since it was established in 1938, yet not a single one has been implemented.

Many of those who ignored Seanad and Dáil reform when in power have argued vigorously against the holding of a referendum, yet it is the Constitution that declares the people are sovereign. What could be more appropriate or more democratic than asking the people to decide on the future of the Seanad following 75 years of inaction by the political establishment?

The proposed abolition of the Seanad is part of the Government's comprehensive programme of political reform. This is a programme that will establish a new politics in our Republic - one that is more accountable, more democratic and more responsive. It is time to create a new political system that will put people's faith and hope back into Irish politics. This Government's proposals to modernise the political system with major reform of the Dáil and abolition of the Seanad, the most radical reform of local government in 100 years and the establishment of a Constitutional Convention to review the country's supreme law represent the biggest package of political reform since the passing of the Constitution in 1937. We have cut the number of Deputies and increased the number of Dáil sitting days. We have reduced the pay and allowances of all politicians. We have halved the cost of ministerial transport. We are already radically reforming local government, reducing the number of local authorities from 114 to 31 and the number of councillors from 1,600 to 950. However, the truth is that we still have too many politicians in Ireland. When combined with a reduction of eight in the number of Deputies, the abolition of the Seanad will enable this country to cut the number of public representatives by almost one-third. It has been estimated that abolition will save up to €20 million per annum over time on the running costs of the Oireachtas. I make no apology for seeking to cut the cost of politics in Ireland. There is something fundamentally wrong with politicians asking others to change - asking the citizens of this country to make real sacrifices - and not doing the same ourselves. The reason Ireland has significantly more politicians than other small countries is very simple: we have a second House. Five European countries have approximately the same population as Ireland, between 4 million and 6 million. These are Denmark, Finland, Norway, Croatia and Slovakia. None of them has a Senate.

No Government would seek to abolish a House of Parliament simply to reduce the number of politicians. We are in favour of abolition because the Seanad has not worked. It is an outdated institution that owes more to 1930s vocationalist ideas than it does to modern constitutional thinking. The theory on which the Seanad is based is no longer relevant and its elitist composition does not reflect modern Irish society. Parliamentary democracy has moved on around the world. Maintaining a House of Parliament in which 43 Members are elected by a tiny electorate, with six elected by an incomplete third-level electorate and 11 nominated by the Taoiseach of the day, is simply not defensible.

The following critique of the Seanad summarises the case for its abolition very well:

Much of the rationale for the inclusion of the Seanad in Bunreacht na hÉireann has ceased to be relevant over time. Serious questions must be asked about the continued role of an entity which is still struggling to justify its existence after three-quarters of a century.

The critique also states: "It is important to note that second chambers are not an essential part of parliamentary democracy." If these words sound familiar to the Members, they should. This damning critique of the Seanad was contained in Fianna Fáil's election manifesto of 2011. Supporters of Seanad retention are deeply divided about the kind of reformed Seanad they want. Some want it to be an elected second Dáil and others want it to be a House of experts, while others want some form of citizens' assembly. It is precisely this lack of consensus which means that reform has never happened and never will happen. The experience of Canada suggests that the "no reform" option is the most likely outcome. There have been more than 20 major proposals for constitutional Senate reform in Canada since the early 1970s and all have failed.

The contention that a second House is crucial to democracy is simply untrue. All of the Scandinavian countries have abolished their second Houses. These countries have some of the most accountable and effective political systems in the world. Other small successful countries, such as New Zealand, have shown that it is perfectly possible to establish checks and balances within a single-chamber, unicameral Parliament. Most of the new nations in central and eastern Europe have also decided that they do not need a Senate. If a second House is so central to democracy, as some would maintain, why have so many of these emerging democracies decided to do without one? In a strong, long-established parliamentary democracy such as ours, a second Chamber is even less of a requirement.

The correct approach is to start by asking whether we need a second House. The Government believes that a second Chamber is no more necessary here in Ireland than it is in other small unitary states. We believe that a reformed Dáil can give this country a fit-for-purpose Parliament - one that fully meets the needs of a 21st-century democracy. As I said, we have started the process of real Dáil reform. Much more is obviously needed. The Government believes that, in tandem with the abolition of the Seanad, further change is required to strengthen the role of the Dáil. First, we will reform the way in which the Dáil deals with legislation. Legislation will first be submitted to the relevant Dáil committee in heads of Bill format. This means that suggestions for changes in legislation can be considered and any key flaws identified before the full legislation is even published. To allow for extra consideration and scrutiny of legislation in the Dáil, a new schedule will increase the time allocated to legislation. I expect that four-day sittings will become the weekly norm. Each Bill will be referred back to the committee that originally considered it for a final examination. Furthermore, a Minister will have to revert to the relevant Dáil committee within 12 months of the enactment of a Bill to review and discuss its functioning and effectiveness. This new legislative process will ensure, therefore, that legislation is fully considered before, during and after its enactment. We will empower committees to carry out investigations and inquiries into matters of major public importance. The legislation to give effect to this has recently been published.

Furthermore, we propose to radically overhaul the committee system in the Dáil. A total of 14 Dáil committees will be established. Each committee will have 12 members and will be able to invite external experts to provide specialist input into its work. The Government has been impressed by how the expert panel has contributed to the work of the Constitutional Convention and will examine how a similar type of panel could contribute to the work of Dáil committees. We also believe that the independence of committees should be strengthened. We will, therefore, introduce the d'Hondt system to distribute chairs of key committees on a proportional and equitable basis. If this is approved by the people, the Government and I are convinced that we will create a better, more effective political system with better accountability, better oversight and deeper scrutiny of legislation.

I will say a few words about the Bill itself. The Bill provides that Seanad Éireann will be abolished from midnight on the day immediately before the day on which Dáil Éireann first meets after the next general election, and that from abolition day the Oireachtas will consist of the President and Dáil Éireann only. Articles 18 and 19 of the Constitution, which deal with the composition of the Seanad, elections and nominations to it, etc., will be deleted, and the Bill provides that no general election to the Seanad will take place after the next dissolution of the Dáil. As a consequence of abolishing the Seanad, it will be necessary to amend or delete all articles in the Constitution that either relate directly to the functions of the Seanad or are premised on the existence of that House. Many of these changes are purely technical. They will be made to articles that deal primarily with matters that are not directly related to the powers or functions of the Seanad.

Other references in the Constitution do relate to the functions of the Seanad and I will say a few words about these. The function that may come first in people's minds is the Seanad's legislative role. As a consequence of abolishing the Seanad, the articles in the Constitution relating to the Oireachtas legislative process will have to be amended or, where appropriate, deleted.

Articles 20, 21, 23 and 24, which deal with the relationship between the Dáil and Seanad with regard to the passage of legislation through the Houses, will be deleted as they will no longer be needed in a unicameral parliament.

Article 20 deals with the initiation of Bills in either House and the Seanad's power to amend Bills while Article 21 limits the Seanad's powers as regards Money Bills and the time within which it must consider them. Article 23 deals mainly with the time for the Seanad to consider other non-Money Bills while Article 24 provides that where the Taoiseach certifies that in the Government's opinion a Bill is immediately necessary to preserve public peace and security in an emergency, the Seanad's time for considering the Bill can be shortened by a resolution of the Dáil if the President so agrees.

As well as deleting these articles, it will be necessary to amend Article 22 which deals with Money Bills. Article 22 defines a Money Bill and provides a mechanism to resolve a dispute between the Dáil and Seanad on whether a Bill is a Money Bill. The Article 22 procedure relates only to whether a Bill is a Money Bill: it is not concerned with the merits or otherwise of the Bill. The reason it is proposed to retain and amend this article is because under the Constitution the President cannot refer a Money Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. Nevertheless, to provide clarity on whether a Bill is a Money Bill in the context of the possibility of a reference to the Supreme Court by a citizen, there is a need to retain an Article 22 procedure. The Bill, therefore, proposes that the Ceann Comhairle's certificate that a Bill is a Money Bill shall be final and conclusive unless the Dáil resolves that it is not a Money Bill. The Article 22 mechanism has never been used.

The Bill proposes to delete Article 27 of the Constitution. This article provides for the possibility of a petition from a majority of the members of Seanad Éireann and at least one third of the members of Dáil Éireann to the President to refer a Bill to the people on the grounds that it "contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained." The President must consult the Council of State before deciding whether to agree to the petition. This procedure does not apply to Money Bills or to Bills to amend the Constitution. It applies only to Bills which are deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas under Article 23 of the Constitution. This means that it applies only to a Bill that is not passed or rejected by the Seanad within 90 days or that is passed by that House with amendments that are not agreed by the Dáil. Also, for Article 27 to apply, the Dáil must have passed a resolution to deem the Bill to have been passed by both Houses. Essentially, Article 27 provides a way of resolving a dispute between the two Houses on a legislative matter. Once the Seanad has been abolished there will no longer be a need for this provision and consequently the Bill proposes its deletion. The Article 27 procedure has never been used.

I want now to deal with a number of items that while not relating directly to Bills that come before the Seanad involve the Seanad in actions relating to legislation or measures proposed by the Government. Article 28.3 provides immunity from challenge on constitutional grounds of any law, other than one imposing the death penalty, that is expressed to be for the purpose of securing the public safety and the preservation of the State in time of war or around rebellion. The article provides that the term "time of war" includes a time when there is an armed conflict in which the State is not a participant but where each House of the Oireachtas has resolved that arising out of the armed conflict a national emergency exists affecting the vital interests of the State. The article also provides that the expression "time of war or armed rebellion" includes such time after the end of the war, armed conflict or rebellion, as may elapse until each of the Houses of the Oireachtas has resolved that the national emergency has ended. The powers in this article for each House will, with the abolition of the Seanad, necessarily reside in the Dáil.

Articles 29.4.7° and 29.4.8° relate to the exercise by the State of certain powers conferred on the State under certain provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon. The State may exercise these powers only with the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. Article 29.4.7° concerns the exercise by the State of options in relation to enhanced co-operation, Schengen and the position of Ireland and the UK on freedom, security and justice matters. Article 29.4.8° relates to the State proposing to agree to authorise the Council to act other than by unanimity, to agree to authorise the adoption of the ordinary legislative procedure or to agree to certain decisions in the area of judicial co-operation in criminal matters. The abolition of the Seanad will mean that the power of approval will reside in the Dáil alone. I believe it is far more satisfactory that it will be for a democratically-elected House to make approval decisions in this area.

I will now address the role of the Seanad in the procedures laid down in the Constitution for the removal of certain officeholders. In the case of the impeachment of a President, abolition of the Seanad will remove the current arrangement whereby the House that prefers a charge of stated misbehaviour against the President cannot be the House that investigates that charge. To ensure the highest level of protection for the independence of the Office of President, the Government has carefully considered this procedure and is proposing in the Bill that a resolution to prefer a charge against the President, and if an investigation sustains that charge, a resolution to remove the President must each be passed by four fifths of the total membership of the Dáil. The current requirement in this regard is two thirds of the total membership of the Dáil.

In the case of impeachment of the Comptroller and Auditor General and members of the Judiciary, the Government has also considered the procedure in the Constitution for removal of the Comptroller and Auditor General - Article 33 - and of Supreme and High Court Judges under Article 35. The removal of the Comptroller and Auditor General requires a resolution not only of the Dáil but also of the Seanad. While no Comptroller and Auditor General has ever been removed from office, the abolition of the Seanad raises the question of whether some additional safeguard should be provided for the independence of that office. The independence of the Judiciary is central to our system of government and the constitutional balance of powers. This is reflected in the fact that, as in the case of the Comptroller and Auditor General, a resolution to remove from office a judge of the Supreme or High Court must be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Government is eager to ensure continued independence for these offices. Accordingly, it is proposed that two thirds of the total membership of the Dáil be required to remove either the Comptroller and Auditor General or a judge of the Supreme or High Court.

The Bill also proposes that, following abolition of the Seanad, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will replace the Cathaoirleach on the Presidential Commission under Article 14. Abolition of the Seanad would reduce parliamentary representation on the Presidential Commission to one member and would reduce membership of the commission to two. To maintain the current constitutional balance between parliamentarians and the Judiciary on the commission, it is proposed that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil, given that the office is already mentioned in this article, will replace the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad as a member of the commission. It is also necessary to designate substitutes should they be unavailable. Accordingly, the Bill provides that Dáil Éireann shall, as soon as may be after it reassembles following a general election, nominate two members to act as substitutes for the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle should either or both be unable to act on the commission. In keeping with the approach proposed in relation to the membership of the Presidential Commission, the Bill proposes that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle should replace the Cathaoirleach on the Council of State. Article 31 will be amended accordingly.

Turning to other matters, the Bill proposes to amend Article 12.4 of the Constitution to provide that no fewer than 14 serving members of Dáil Éireann may nominate a candidate for President. Currently, a nomination under this provision requires no fewer than 20 members of both Houses.

This reduction is proposed in the light of the proposal to abolish the Seanad, as well as the planned reduction in the number of Deputies after the next general election. The combined effect of these changes will be to reduce the overall number of Members of the Oireachtas from 226 to 158. The reduction proposed in the Bill, therefore, is designed to retain the existing ratio between the overall number of Members eligible to nominate a presidential candidate and the number of nominations required to secure a nomination.

With the other necessary provisions arising from the amendment of the Constitution, the Bill also provides for the insertion of a new Article 50A to cater for the transitional arrangements that will be necessary in the move from a bicameral to a unicameral parliamentary system. It provides that any Bill not passed or deemed to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before abolition of the Seanad will be deemed to have lapsed. Any such Bill may, however, be introduced or reintroduced in Dáil Éireann following its reassembly after the general election. It also provides that any Bill passed or deemed to be passed by both Houses but which has not been enacted before the abolition of the Seanad can complete the process of signing and promulgation into law. The Bill also provides that any procedure to remove the President, the Comptroller and Auditor General or a judge of the Supreme or the High Court or of any new court not completed prior to abolition of the Seanad will lapse. Any such procedure can be initiated again under the new provisions of the Constitution set out in the Bill. If, however, in relation to the removal of the Comptroller and Auditor General or a judge of the Supreme or the High Court, the only remaining procedure is for the President to act on foot of resolutions from both Houses, the President may complete that procedure.

I should end this part of my remarks by drawing the attention of the House to a minor constitutional curiosity. The transitory provisions set out in Articles 51 to 63, inclusive, of the Constitution provided for the transition between the Irish Free State and the new State created by the 1937 Constitution. While the transitory provisions, as they themselves require, are not published in official texts of the Constitution, the Bill proposes to delete two of them. Article 53 deals with the election and assembly of Seanad Éireann after the coming into operation of the 1937 Constitution. Article 55 dealt with the composition of the Oireachtas and the signing and promulgation of Bills passed by it in the period between the coming into operation of the Constitution and the entry into office of the President. It provided for the signing of Bills by the Presidential Commission during that period. Both articles will now be deleted.

The people have demanded a new politics that is leaner, more responsive and more democratic. They want a politics that can truly meet the needs and demands of 21st century Ireland. In putting forward the Bill I recognise that it is the people who will have the final say on the future of Seanad Éireann and major political reform.

The amendment proposed to the House is the most extensive produced by any Government in the 76 years since Bunreacht na hÉireann was adopted by the people. It seeks to amend more than 40 provisions of the Constitution but has been prepared without consultation. No public or private body, let alone any elected representative outside the Government, has been asked for an input. No supporting studies have been published. This is a proposal to hack out a significant part of the Constitution purely on the basis that the Government wishes to claim it is reforming politics. Never before has a Government proposed an amendment to the Constitution which involved so much change and so little reform. The manner in which the amendment has been prepared is a powerful demonstration of the strongest reason people should fear its impact. A Government which already has too much power is seeking even more. The Taoiseach is entirely right to say the Bill is historic. It is historic because it marks the moment that a Government elected on the promise of deep reform decided to bury any chance for real reform. It marks the moment when this Fine Gael and Labour Party Government has confirmed that its only agenda is to keep concentrating ever more power in its own hands.

The Government's proposal is radical only because it ignores every lesson of the recent crisis. Rather than opening up politics, introducing new checks and balances within the system and delivering a more effective Parliament, the Government has chosen to double-down on the current model of governance. The amendment seeks to increase the power of the Government, halve the parliamentary review of legislation and make a flawed system much worse. It will not reform Irish politics but will, in fact, mark the end of any chance to reform it. Fundamentally, this is not purely a debate about the future of Seanad Éireann. What we are beginning is a debate on whether there will be any reform of Irish politics. If the Government succeeds with its plans, we will carry on with an even more concentrated form of a system which has clearly failed in vital areas.

Five years into an unprecedented economic and political crisis and two and a half years after an election which completely changed the make-up of this House, there has been not one significant change made to the structure of government. While there has been a dramatic increase in claims to have reformed government, the exact opposite is the reality, which can be seen every day. Many minor changes have been implemented, but the basic structure of decision-making and governance in Ireland remains absolutely untouched. During their time in opposition, Fine Gael and the Labour Party - their leaders, in particular - developed a certain approach to politics. This was to always find a villain and offer soundbites rather than solutions. It was a public relations-led strategy, which has also become a defining characteristic of their Government. They believe that if they keep making a claim, people will eventually accept it. Of course, anyone who spends time talking to people in their homes and communities knows that this has stopped working. At the core of the Government's low level of public trust is a near universal belief that there is no link between its rhetoric and the reality of its actions.

The Taoiseach has spoken again today about reforming the Dáil, but the House should remember that for two years he has been claiming that the Dáil is already reformed. A few months after taking up office, the Government pushed through a series of changes to Dáil proceedings. Opposition proposals were ignored, but a major media effort was undertaken to talk about how fundamental reform was being implemented. There was some success in persuading commentators to talk about a new dawn in the Dáil. The Chief Whip came to the House and made a statement about what Deputies would find on the next sitting day. He said:

They will return to a Dáil where Members can play a more active and meaningful role in the legislative process and where Members will have more opportunity to raise issues with Ministers in a more effective manner. They will return to a Dáil better equipped to hold the Executive to account, a Dáil that has started to turn back the tide and to recover some of the power it has been losing to the Executive for over a decade.

When we returned on the next sitting day and on every sitting day since, we have faced an Executive exerting ever tighter control over everything we do. We have faced Ministers who believe they do not have to answer even basic questions about their decisions. We have faced a determined policy to shout down opponents and shut down debate. We have met for longer but have been allowed to decide less.

The Dáil today is more marginalised and has less influence on public affairs than at any time in its 94 year history. The situation is so bad that even the Chief Whip has this week been forced to acknowledge that the Government's record is "deplorable". The same thing has been happening in nearly every Department. While Ministers put out releases praising their own visionary reforms, all that happens is that they gain more power. A succession of Bills have been introduced which increase the direct power of Ministers and reduce independent input and oversight. In areas as diverse as health and basic research Ministers have been giving themselves greater direct control. The word "reform" has been abused so much by the Government that it has been reduced to Orwellian newspeak and drained of any meaning.

The abolition of the Seanad and the concentration of all legislative functions in a Dáil tightly controlled by the Government is nothing less than a cynical power grab. It is a rejection of a more open democracy, a rejection of genuine accountability and a betrayal of the commitment made to the people to change the way Ireland is governed.

Just as the claims for having delivered reform are bogus, so too are the arguments being used to promote the amendment. From the moment of launching the amendment to his speech opening the debate, the Taoiseach has used a mixture of exaggeration and misrepresentation to promote his record and to attack the Seanad. There has been no attempt to engage with the issue of reform. Unlike previous taoisigh of different parties, the Taoiseach has approached the amending of our constitutional law in a deeply partisan manner. The Taoiseach was asked on dozens of occasions to hold cross-party consultations. He refused, and he refused even to allow the issue to be discussed at the Constitutional Convention, the forum that is supposed to be in charge of recommending constitutional reform.

This is the first time in over 40 years that a Government is seeking to make a significant amendment of the Constitution without publishing any background material to justify the measure. As it has been from the evening it was announced at a Fine Gael dinner, it is gesture politics designed to cover up a lack of substantive policies. There is no thought-through strategy behind it and no area of public policy that will be improved because of it. Arising from his tribal refusal to acknowledge the achievements of figures from different political traditions, the Taoiseach allowed the 75th anniversary of Bunreacht na hÉireann to pass without comment. In preparation for this debate, he would have been well served by taking the time to read Mr. Justice Hogan’s book on the origins and drafting of the Constitution. It shows an incredible level of debate and consultation, which ensured the Constitution was reflective of extremely modern conceptions and entrenched liberal democracy at a time when it was under siege from fascism and communism throughout Europe. In a radical decision, which has been an anchor of democracy in this State ever since, Eamon de Valera proposed that the majority in Dáil Éireann would lose the right to amend the Constitution and sought ways to broaden the voices in the Oireachtas.

He abolished it.

He had earlier abolished the Free State Senate because it sought to prevent the implementation of key republican principles in the Constitution, but he restored it in the 1937 document. Eamon de Valera actively sought out different opinions and the record shows how he was respectful of other opinions. He even managed to handle with good grace the claim of James Dillon that he was introducing a dictatorship.

The record also shows how W. T. Cosgrave approached the creation of a second Chamber in a generous way. He consulted widely and absolutely understood that the new Senate would make Government control more difficult. In the manner in which he has prepared and introduced this amendment, the Taoiseach has departed from the tradition of openness and respectful consultation that defined the approach of his predecessors to the issue.

In the referendum on Oireachtas inquiries, the Government lost a measure that started with general approval because it showed contempt for anyone who opposed it. It refused to step away from a hyper-partisan campaign and got a stinging response from the people.

The Taoiseach knows that not a single person in this House or in Seanad Éireann is happy with the role of the Seanad. It is badly constituted and it has not been a dynamic presence in our democracy, but to try to construct a case whereby it has all of the ills of our country heaped on its shoulders is ridiculous, as is the refusal to acknowledge its many positive contributions to the State. Over many decades there have been reports recommending specific reforms and they have been ignored. I fully acknowledge that I and my party, just like the other parties here who have been in government, failed to act on the reports. We were comfortable just letting things proceed as they were. The failure to reform the Seanad before now is not the Seanad’s fault; it is our fault in this House.

In a very bad sign of the approach the Government appears likely to take in this campaign, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, wrote in the Irish Independent deliberately cherry-picking and misrepresenting my past comments, as the Taoiseach has done today. This empty opposition research is to be found in the Fine Gael notes for this debate. We will hear it repeatedly. This is what its members do every day. They have refused to acknowledge the context of the words they quote and refused to acknowledge the Taoiseach's stirring defence of the Seanad at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties.

In drawing up our manifesto for the last election, my party developed a series of proposals for reforming politics that were especially radical in terms of reform of the Oireachtas and the Government. We set out proposals for separating the core work of legislators and Ministers, opening up the political agenda and redirecting our work to be more strategic and expert-based. We stated that only in the context of these genuinely radical reforms would there no longer be a need for the Seanad. Members can write all the misleading articles they want but they will not find a statement from me in which I support the abolition of the Seanad without a fundamental constitutional reform of the Dáil and the Government. Since then, the Government has refused to consider any of the major reforms we proposed. More seriously, we have seen what happens when a Government has a majority so large that it can brush aside any uncomfortable questions.

It has become obvious that the single most important reform our politics needs is a parliament that has the capacity to act as a check on the Executive. We have a non-Executive Presidency, which serves us well and provides a focus of unity even at times of great division. Therefore, the need for a second Chamber, which has the potential to act independently of Government, has become clearer. The arrogant and unaccountable behaviour of the Government in Dáil Éireann has made the most powerful case for retaining a second Chamber of the Oireachtas. While the Government is again talking about reforming the Dáil in tandem with abolishing the Seanad, it has chosen to propose no change to the constitutional provisions relating to the Dáil. Therefore, the Government cannot deny that the proposal it wishes to put to the people is simply to abolish the Seanad and give its powers to an unreformed Dáil.

In recent weeks and again today, the Taoiseach has advanced a wide range of arguments for making more than 40 changes to Bunreacht na hÉireann in order to abolish the Seanad. It is worth taking the time to examine the major ones in order to see exactly how empty the case for this amendment is. The Taoiseach’s most consistently used argument is that we should have only one House of Parliament because this is how most small and medium-sized countries in Europe do it. In particular, the Taoiseach has claimed that we would come into line with the practice in Nordic countries, whose standards of governance we should aspire to.

The truth is entirely different. The Government’s proposal would give Ireland a parliamentary system unique in the world. No other country has one chamber of parliament combined with a non-Executive President, weak local government and total control by the Government of the agenda of parliament. The Nordic countries actually provide very strong arguments against what is being proposed. Not one of them has a parliamentary system that looks even vaguely like what the Government is proposing. Finland provides a good comparison. It has a unicameral system that is profoundly different from ours. While Finland has recently reduced its President’s powers, he is still a principal leader in foreign affairs and has major influence on the government's formation. Finland has 200 Members of Parliament and a constitution that gives them powers beyond anything held by Deputies in this House. Key parliamentary committees have constitutional status and have built a long record of acting independently. They have never had a case of Government sources briefing against a committee chairman in a campaign to have him removed before an important investigation. The Finnish constitution also gives members of parliament specific rights to get information from any Government agency and it requires Ministers to attend for rigorous questioning when it is demanded by 10% of members of parliament. It would not be possible for a Finnish Minister to refuse to answer specific questions about the abuse of information given to him by the head of the police. Many parliamentary rules cannot be changed without broad consensus. In addition, it has strong local government with more councillors than we do and councils that control major areas of public spending and revenue raising. In the search for a justification for abolishing the Seanad and giving more power to a Government-dominated Dáil, no country in Europe or anywhere else backs up the Government’s claims.

The evidence from abroad is that the Government should have less control, not more, as is now being proposed.

The Taoiseach has also stated the Seanad must be abolished because of its cost. At the launch of the amendment last week he and the Tánaiste claimed that we would save €20 million every year from abolition. This argument falls apart on basic examination. First and most importantly, nobody can doubt that the poor functioning of the Oireachtas was an element of the cause of the current crisis. Our work was not expert or strategic enough. In an economy of over €160 billion, with public expenditure of almost €55 billion, a properly functioning parliament is important economically. It can and should benefit the State and the economy in terms which would dwarf its actual annual costs. We must ensure we keep the costs of the Oireachtas as low as possible, but we must also ensure the Oireachtas is effective in its economic and fiscal work. Concentrating all powers in a Government-dominated Dáil is not the way to achieve this.

While the cost of a second Chamber of the Oireachtas can be justified in economic and fiscal terms, we cannot even trust the figures the Government provides for what these costs are. Last week the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste claimed that we would save €20 million per year if we were to abolish the Seanad. The evidence shows that this is untrue. The Accounting Officer, legally responsible for the expenditure of the Oireachtas, has stated the savings would be half the figure claimed. When a figure net of tax and other revenues is used, the savings are half again. Whatever way one examines the Taoiseach's claim of major savings from abolition, the facts do not support him.

On top of this, there is the cost of the referendum. In response to a question I tabled earlier this year the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, stated the cost of holding a referendum on one item, with no other election on the same day, was over €14 million. This referendum will not take one cent off the level of cuts to be imposed in the next three years. In fact, because the deficit targets are not being changed, it will increase the size of the required cuts by over €14 million. This is €14 million extra from schools, hospitals and policing at a time when every cent counts. If a primary concern of ours is to save the State as much money as possible in its time of greatest need, abandoning this referendum would be the appropriate start.

In a ridiculous comment last week the Taoiseach said we should abolish the Seanad because it had not stopped the financial crisis. As the man who was the leader of the largest Opposition party for the six years before the crisis, the Taoiseach was in a much stronger position to advocate alternative policies than any Senator. The record shows that he demanded even more spending, less tax and did not propose policies which would have avoided the crisis. In the years before 2008 Dáil Éireann spent more time debating a Fine Gael proposal on greyhound doping than debating financial regulation. The Taoiseach knows enough about the Constitution to know that the Seanad is precluded from having any power on matters of tax and expenditure. He is attacking it for failing to use powers it did not have.

The Taoiseach is also promoting a view of the Seanad as being without achievements. This is a travesty of history. During the years many distinguished Irish men and women have served in the Seanad and made a significant and positive contribution to Irish life. The Seanad has provided an essential forum for diverse opinions which would otherwise have had no voice in public life. On a more practical level, it has performed the role of a substantial contributor to legislation. The majority of Bills which the Seanad is empowered to amend are amended there. Equally, the Seanad regularly amends Bills which have already been passed by the Dáil. Only if one believes thousands of amendments have been irrelevant can one argue that the Seanad has failed to play an important role in legislation. The Government has made many empty claims during its term to date, but none can match the idea that halving the opportunities to review legislation will deliver better legislation.

I have never been a Member of the Seanad, but I brought a great deal of legislation through that House and have responded to many of its debates. Seanad debates are always more civil and generally more informed than those held in the Dáil. As a matter of course they discourage partisan comments.

Was the Deputy listening this week?

There is no example in its history to compare with the recent habit of many Government Deputies systematically heckling Opposition speakers to protect Ministers who have legitimate questions to answer.

None of this is to say the Seanad should remain as it is. The vocational panel system is anachronistic. It is also the case that it is hard to justify giving people an extra opportunity to vote for Members of Parliament based on their level of education, although there were historical arguments for it. That said, many systems have minor anachronisms in parliaments which make them less than fully representative. The reform Bill proposed by Senators Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn is a positive one, which we support and which shows what can be achieved quickly to increase the effectiveness of the Oireachtas. The fact that the Government is denying us the opportunity even to vote on it is an eloquent testimony to its dismissive approach to others.

Changing the constitutional provisions concerning the Seanad is something which should be done but only in the context of also changing the provisions relating to the Dáil and the Government. The Taoiseach has again claimed that he will reform the Dáil and make his Government more accountable if the Seanad is abolished. Like St. Augustine, he is saying, "O Lord make me pure but not yet." The programme of supposed reforms which will be delivered following abolition is so thin as to be transparent. The supposedly radical change to committees about which the media were briefed last week involves changing only one of the current committees. The rest remain in their current configuration.

The allocation of committee Chairs proportionately is a positive proposal. What the Taoiseach does not acknowledge, however, is that his Government was the first in decades to remove all Opposition Deputies from any agenda setting position on the committees which oversee Ministers in their core day-to-day work. His supposed reform is mainly about reversing his own actions. The proposal to require non-urgent Bills to be circulated in draft stage is a continuation of the practice started by the former Deputy Eamon Ryan in the last Dáil. It is also a practice which is irrelevant if the Government adopts the policy of rejecting nearly all amendments and imposing the guillotine at an unprecedented rate. In recent years parties have campaigned for a European treaty partly on the basis that it introduced a citizens' initiative to the legislative process. Without explanation, the Government is proposing to remove our constitutional provision for a citizens' initiative.

In all, the sum total of the reform to follow concentrating all power in the Government controlled Dáil is that we might have a little more consultation and be allowed to influence the agenda of a few committees. In essence, that is what the Taoiseach is proposing. The reality of how little this means was summed up unwittingly by the Taoiseach recently when I sought discussion of a reform of Taoiseach's questions. He said: "We will have a chat about the matter before we make it a fait accompli." Ultimately, this is a Government which believes it should have absolute control over every element of our work. It talks about accountability but works against it every time a serious issue is raised. Even when it is willing to hold advance discussions, it always presents the Oireachtas with a fait accompli.

The final argument the Taoiseach has used to force this measure through with unjustified haste is that it must be done because it was in Fine Gael's manifesto. There are five Deputies who have been expelled from Fine Gael and the Labour Party because they wanted to vote for the policies in their manifestos. Why is this promise more important than protecting child benefit or special needs education? Why is it more morally important to abolish the Seanad than to honour promises to local hospitals? Why is a solemn pledge to reform rental contracts which are destroying thousands of businesses and jobs to be ignored but Members are to be threatened with expulsion if they vote against abolishing the Seanad?

Having spent years obsessed with attaining power, the Government is now focused on expanding and keeping hold of its power. Abolishing the Seanad and concentrating its powers in a place more directly controlled by the Government is the proposal which is its priority change to the way Ireland is governed. The Government has reviewed the Constitution and found 40 changes it wishes to make, none of which involves handing over a single area of power in the hands of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet. If this amendment passes into law, Ireland will have a governing system unique in the developed world for the amount of power it concentrates in the hands of Ministers. It will take a major step away from the models of accountability which dominate in other European countries. The Government will have spent scarce resources at a time of our greatest financial need in order to achieve a small longer term saving. Most of all, if the amendment succeeds, it will spell the end of any realistic hope Irish politics will be reformed. On the other hand, if it is defeated, the Government will have been sent a message that its power grab has failed and that the people want real reform. It is because of the behaviour of the Government in Dáil Éireann, its growing contempt for differing opinions and its dismissive approach to accountability that we need greater parliamentary oversight, not less. The experience of the past two years is a powerful argument to retain and reform Seanad Éireann.

That is why my party and I will vote against this Bill in the Oireachtas and campaign against abolition before the referendum.

The real starting point of this discussion should have been about how best we can organise our democracy and governmental system, and about how this could best be done in the context of creating an inclusive society on this island while reaching out to the diaspora.

The Ceann Comhairle will be pleased to learn I do not intend to set out a full critique of Irish society at this time; suffice it to say we live in a partitioned island. Members present forget that. That reality shapes society in all parts of the island. The institutions of this State are deeply partitionist. They are also corrupt, as evidenced in the range of tribunal reports over recent years. It goes deeper than that, however. Partition created two conservative states, ruled by two conservative elites. The political culture was weighted against citizens' rights and both states have been characterised by economic failure, emigration, inequality and the failure to protect the most vulnerable citizens. If we are to tackle these issues effectively then we need to have an all-Ireland view.

The most significant political reform since partition has been the Good Friday Agreement. The impact of this is most obvious in the North but not so obvious in this part of the island. None of the reforms, safeguards or checks and balances of the Agreement has been inculcated into our institutions here. Why not?

The Government should be actively pressing ahead with the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including those aspects that impinge on us here. I refer to the creation of more areas of co-operation and implementation and greater harmonisation; the strengthening of the protection of human rights, including through a charter of rights for the island; and a forum for consideration of human rights issues in the island, as included in the Agreement.

The centenary of the 1916 Rising and Proclamation is approaching. It is often cited by establishment parties in this Oireachtas as the foundation of the State. The 1916 leaders are frequently described as the founders of this State. The Proclamation was not the foundation of this State. The leaders were not the founders of this State. This State is the product of the counter-revolution that followed the Rising. The Proclamation, which sets out the ethos and principles that underpinned the objectives of the 1916 leaders is as relevant today as it was when it was written. It guarantees religious and civil liberty and equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens, and it contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally. These words are a solemn pledge to every Irish citizen that she or he can share in the dignity of humankind, as an equal with equal opportunity, and that we can enjoy freedom, educate our children, provide for our families and live together with tolerance and respect for each other. That should be our starting point, and the process of political reform should be grounded on these core values and be about measures, structures and protocols that empower citizens and create a fully functioning, democratic, transparent, republican system of government that is accountable, citizen centred and rooted in equality, human rights and communal solidarity. It should also have at its core the imperative of actively seeking to fulfil the constitutional obligation of bringing about the reunification of this island and of its people, as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement.

Instead of this, however, the Government has decided to opt for cuts and greater centralisation of power. Instead of creating a more effective, transparent and accountable democracy, the Government wants to abolish the Seanad, cut the number of elected representatives in the Dáil and in local government, and centralise even more power and authority into its hands. That is not real reform; it is power grabbing. It may be a very democratic coup but it is a coup nonetheless. There is more power for government, less accountability and democracy and fewer checks and balances against political abuse and patronage.

The cuts agenda that dominates this Government's thinking does not bring efficiency, as we have seen from the austerity policies. Those cuts lead to hardship, inefficiency and more inequality.

The Constitutional Convention has been considering the reform of aspects of the political system. However, the Government chose not to include the future of the Seanad in its considerations, despite the commitment in the Labour Party's pre-election manifesto. This is another broken promise to add to its growing list of broken pledges. The Constitutional Convention could have played a very constructive role in reforming the political process. Instead, this has been stymied by the Government, which has significantly restricted the convention's remit.

Over the past two weekends, the convention discussed the Dáil electoral system. I attended last week's deliberations. The citizen delegates were enthused and focused but limited in what they could discuss. They could consider only the very narrow agenda of Dáil electoral reform. Why did the Government not trust the Constitutional Convention to discuss political reform? Was the Government afraid to allow citizens to have their say on these matters? Was it afraid they would advocate substantial reform of the Oireachtas, including the Seanad? It would have made sense to address the issues of how we do our business and govern ourselves and what is wrong from the citizens' perspective with these institutions, and to ventilate all the ideas of reforming the Dáil, Seanad and local government. Instead, the Government, which promised a democratic revolution and claimed to be committed to the radical reform of an outdated system, has failed yet again. Its approach to political reform has been piecemeal, minimalist and all about reducing the number of elected representatives. It has been more about spin than substance.

In addition to getting rid of 60 Seanadóirí, the Taoiseach plans to reduce the numbers of councils, councillors and Deputies. He has cut numbers but brought forward no real, positive, progressive change. He has done nothing to rebalance power between central and local government, nor has he done anything to rebalance power within the Oireachtas or between the Executive and Legislature. He risks missing an opportunity to create historic political reform and leaving behind a mess for a future Government to clear up.

This State has one of the most centralised systems of government in Europe, based entirely on the British system, and a weak system of local government that has been hollowed out by successive Governments. This concentrates too much power in the hands of the Executive and the two Houses of the Oireachtas, which are not fit for purpose in 21st century Ireland.

The flaws evident in the Seanad are reflective of a broader malaise at the heart of our democracy and this institution. The Seanad has not been reformed because successive Governments refused to reform it. On 12 successive occasions, reports have been produced proposing reform of the Seanad. Not one has been implemented. In 1979, the people voted in a referendum to broaden the franchise to all graduates of institutes of higher education. This was never implemented. No Government was prepared to allow further scrutiny of its work. As a consequence today, we have a Government that is increasingly unaccountable, arrogant and apparently oblivious to the impact of its policies on low-income and middle-income households and disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens. This is a Government that is abusing its massive majority to force through legislation.

In the words of the Chief Whip, the Government's record on Dáil reform has been deplorable. More than half of the Bills introduced to the Dáil since the coalition came into office in March 2011 have been rushed through or guillotined. Do Members remember the promise that this practice would occur only in the most exceptional circumstances? Up to mid-March, 52 out of 90 Bills were guillotined. Rushed legislation will invariably end up with flaws that will be challenged in the courts.

The legislation to provide for the family home tax was rushed though the Dáil before Christmas and had to be amended in the new year.

Another pledge, and one of the major planks of the reform programme, was that senior Ministers would make themselves available to deal with Topical Issue debates. Instead, they have failed to appear in the Dáil three times out of four, on average, to respond to Topical Issues. In addition, the system of ordering Dáil business is not agreed through a system that is fair, inclusive and transparent for all parties.

The Friday sitting was presented as a means for the Dáil to pass more legislation and to be more efficient. It has failed on both counts. There are no votes or questions to Ministers. It is a farce. Leaders' Questions, as the Taoiseach has acknowledged, has become a source of huge frustration for Opposition parties. It serves no real purpose in its current format and is in no way holding the Taoiseach to account.

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is not inclusive of all the parties in the Oireachtas and its decisions frequently exclude Sinn Féin and others. There is no access to media facilities for Opposition parties, unlike Government parties. If they want to do a press conference, Opposition parties can chose between the plinth or, if the weather is inclement, huddle under the portico. How is that indicative of an efficient political system at work?

The Government also lauds its decision to allow Dáil committees to question newly appointed chairs of State boards, but these committees have no power to do anything about these appointments. Sinn Féin believes a case can be made for a second chamber that is democratic, relevant and fit for purpose, and is part of a wider reform of the political system. Any reform of the Seanad must be underpinned by clear principles of democracy, accountability and efficiency in its role, and has to be on the basis of the universal franchise and direct election by the people.

Sinn Féin rejects a Seanad whose Members are hand-picked by county councillors, university graduates or nominated by a Taoiseach. Those who serve in any part of the Oireachtas should be elected by the people. A radically reformed Seanad should also give a voice to citizens in the North. It should be a genuinely national institution. There is currently no provision for the participation of those citizens who live in the North in the political life of the State.

The Seanad should be elected by universal suffrage of the 32 counties of Ireland by citizens over the age of 16. Citizens in the Six Counties should cast their ballot by postal vote. The diaspora also should be represented. It is astonishing that a Government which so regularly looks to the Irish diaspora to help with the economic crisis then denies the very same people the right to have a voice in the Oireachtas.

Sinn Féin believes that it is possible to have a Seanad that is an elected forum for civic society, particularly for those sectors not adequately represented in the Dáil and the more marginalised sections of our community. This is the kind of real reform we should be debating. Let us look around the Chamber. It is mostly male, all white and mainly middle aged, Catholic and heterosexual. A reformed Seanad should address this imbalance.

There is no voice in the Dáil for ethnic minorities, whether they are Irish Travellers or the myriad other ethnic minorities who have come to this country in recent years. A reformed Seanad could change this. A reformed, democratically elected and accountable Seanad could serve our democracy well and act as an important counter-balance to the political party dominated Dáil.

A reformed Seanad could, for example, further scrutinise domestic and, in particular, European legislation. We have seen in recent years the results of the failure to properly implement or interpret European legislation. Waterford Crystal workers had to take their fight for pension rights to the European Court of Justice due to the failure of the system here to properly implement the insolvency directive. The sugar beet industry was decimated by the closure of the Carlow and Mallow sugar plants which, it later emerged, should never have been closed. A second chamber, elected in a different manner, and with a less constituency focused membership, would be better placed than the Dáil to discuss technical and complex policy issues at length, perhaps along the lines of the hearings on the X case.

The Taoiseach has spoken about comparisons with other EU states which function with a single chamber. In EU states with unicameral or single chamber systems there are much stronger systems of local government. There is also a very clear separation of the executive from the legislature and sufficient checks and balances within the system to hold the executive to account. This is clearly not the case in this State and the Government seems to have set its face against any real rebalancing of power between local and central government or between the Legislature and the Executive.

When I heard the Taoiseach recently criticise the Seanad for failing to hold the excesses of the last Fianna Fáil Government to account and blaming it for the economic crash, I was amazed. The reality is that the Taoiseach and his party were as much a cheerleader for the Celtic tiger and its excesses and lack of regulation as the Fianna Fáil politicians who ran the State into the ground.

Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil were part of a cosy consensus in this State for decades. It was Sinn Féin who argued during those years for the wealth of the Celtic tiger to be redistributed and invested in public services, infrastructure and sustainable jobs. It is the establishment parties which failed to act as a brake on the Celtic tiger and to ensure that the economy was properly managed and invested, and the corrupt activities of the golden circles confronted and exposed. That continues under the Taoiseach's watch. The cosy consensus is still there.

To point the finger at the Seanad for the mess that all the other parties made of the situation would be laughable if it were not so serious. They collectively failed to legislate for the banks, developers and speculators, and when it all went disastrously wrong they still could not hold them accountable but chose to make ordinary citizens pay for the greed of the golden circles. The Taoiseach now seems intent on proceeding with a decision taken on a whim at a Fine Gael annual dinner, without proper discussion, analysis or scrutiny.

Citizens should not be rushed into further curtailing the Oireachtas without looking at the consequences or without any serious consideration of the alternatives. A referendum should not be limited to abolition or retention. Why does the Taoiseach not give citizens the option of voting for root branch and reform? Would that not be the decent and democratic thing, and part of what he promised in the election?

One of the reasons offered for the abolition of the Seanad is its cost. Sinn Féin has consistently argued for the need to reduce high salaries in the public sector, including for politicians, Ministers and their special advisers. If the Government wants to reduce costs in the Oireachtas it should cut the salaries of Ministers, Deputies and Senators, reduce allowances, cut the salaries of special advisers and stop breaching its pay caps.

The Taoiseach proposes to reduce two dysfunctional Chambers to one dysfunctional Chamber without giving the people the option of voting for an alternative. Successive Governments had the opportunity to reform the system and all failed to do so. The Government is now papering over the cracks and presenting this abolition Bill as reform. It is not.

Sinn Féin put forward a reasonable proposal that the Constitutional Convention should look at reform of the Oireachtas. There is still the potential to do so. It could properly tease out all these issues with the aim of achieving the best checks and balances and the most democratic outcome for our system of government. Why rush things? Why not give people a number of choices and put in place a reform package which is meaningful, sustainable, democratic and effective? Sinn Féin would support the Government in such an approach. We will not support this amendment.

I propose to share time with Deputies Stephen Donnelly, Joan Collins and Catherine Murphy.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "that" and substitute "Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a second reading on the basis that it seeks to abolish Seanad Éireann without affording the opportunity to reform Seanad Éireann as set out in the Seanad (No. 2) Bill 2013".

I am determined that the issue of Seanad reform should be put on the agenda this evening, because the proposed constitutional amendment does not allow for it. As well as putting forward this amendment, I have put on the Order Paper of this House the Bill brought forward in Seanad Éireann by Senators Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn and passed on Second Stage in that House. I do not agree with everything in the Bill, but I agree with the thrust of it and with the attempt to give the people an alternative to either abolition or retention of the Seanad in its current form.

It seems the Government has not thought through the consequences of a defeat of this referendum proposal. If it is defeated and reform is not considered, then we will simply go back to the old rotten system which everybody agrees, in both Houses, needs reforming. Will the Taoiseach indicate his plan B in the event the referendum is defeated? Are all the rightful criticisms he has levelled at the Seanad to be ignored and indulged? Will we have the same rotten system we have always had - the 1937 vocational system, as the Taoiseach calls it - which is discredited at this stage?

I was a Member of the Seanad for nearly 30 years. The first thing I did when I entered the House in 1981 was to put down a motion, much against the wishes of certain very powerful and rather manipulative civil servants, calling for its reform in very much the same terms as I am calling for it today. I made my proposal on the grounds that the method of election, the systems and procedures and the composition of the Seanad were unsuitable for the modern day of 1981. I congratulate the Taoiseach on his courage in confronting the vested interests in his own party by way of his undertaking to abolish the insiders' club which has dominated the Seanad for so long. He took that on - perhaps not with a great deal of thought, but he took it on all the same - and he is now finding it very difficult to push the proposal through his own party. Most of the opposition to the proposal has come from vested interests.

My view of the Seanad is that it is rotten and full of insiders. I agree too with all of those who say the university seats are elitist. The main problem, however, is that it is and has been for many years a home for patronage for all political parties and political leaders. I include the Taoiseach in that because some, though not all, of his nominees were his own people. The vast majority of Senators - 43 - are elected by insiders. It is absurd that it is county councillors, outgoing Oireachtas Members and incoming Members who elect this self-perpetuating body of installed insiders. That is why it has become a home for both failed and aspiring Deputies and a poor reflection of this House.

One of the most extraordinary things I found when I was in the Seanad was that the party Senators - I do not seek to exclude university Senators from criticism in making this point - consistently referred in their contributions to their constituencies. There were constant references to "In my constituency...". What they meant, of course, was their geographical constituency, the place they were aiming for or from which they came. In reality, Senators do not have constituencies. In fact, their constituencies are the county councils. These Senators were giving away the fact that they were there for one reason alone, to get into the Dáil. That was their only ambition and their performance reflected it. Incidentally, all Senators received some 1,500 envelopes per month, even though most of them required only some 60 votes to get elected. Yet they received 15,000 envelopes per year for an electorate of 1,000. What was going on here was an attempt to get elected to the Dáil. That was how it worked and it was a rotten system. That patronage will continue if this referendum is defeated and the Government has no plan B.

What I propose is that the ingredients of the Bill produced by Senators Zappone and Quinn be adopted as the basis of reform of the Seanad. Universal suffrage must be the basis, with everybody having a vote to elect the Members of a reformed House which would not, however, be simply a reflection of the Dáil in terms of geography and constituencies. We could have a system whereby Members are nominated by other bodies with an expertise in certain areas and who are elected by the people. It absolutely must be the case, if the bicameral structure is retained, that elections to both Houses take place on the same day. That would prevent individuals from standing for the Dáil, as candidates can do under the current system, and, where they are unsuccessful, approaching their party leader about standing for the Seanad or asking the Taoiseach to appoint them to that House.

I say to the Taoiseach, in the presence, in the Gallery, of two Senators nominated by him and who are nobly defying him on this issue by arguing for reform rather than abolition, that he is to be congratulated on some of his nominees. The fact remains, however, that the system of Taoiseach's nominees, which gives the Government the in-built majority it requires in the Upper House, is unacceptable. The temptation - and in many cases the practice - is to install party hacks. That temptation will continue to be yielded to unless reform is introduced.

There is a solution to these problems.

The Deputy's time is up if he wishes to allow his colleagues an opportunity to speak.

I will set out the solution on Committee Stage.

The Bill before the House, and the question that will be put to the Irish people, is whether or not to abolish the Seanad. That is a false choice. I have yet to meet anybody who believes the Upper House should be kept in its current form. As a new Deputy I was shocked to discover how Senators are elected, and dismayed at the functioning of the Upper House. If the referendum is defeated, and I hope it is, then I will be strongly advocating for the total reform of the Seanad. I am proud to co-sponsor a Bill which aims to do exactly that.

The real question before this House is whether to abolish the Seanad or reform it completely. There are sensible arguments on both sides of that question. It is true that some effective democracies have only one House, but it is also true that other effective democracies have two. What is absolutely clear, however, is that those democracies with one House have an effective House and an effective system of local government. It is here, unfortunately, that the Government's proposal fails. We are asking the Irish people to abolish the Seanad before we reform either the Dáil or the local government system. The Upper House is deeply flawed but it is one safeguard against a broken Dáil and a broken framework of local government. It is useful to imagine oneself sitting on a leaky boat and the person in charge proposing that he is going to fix all the holes in the boat and passengers should therefore throw their life jackets overboard because they will no longer need them. One would be an idiot to take off one's life jacket. The correct response would be to propose that the boat be fixed in the first instance and only then should there be a conversation about whether or not life jackets will be required in future.

In considering the future of the Seanad there are two questions we must ask. First, do we abolish it before reforming this House? Second, if we reform this House and the system of local government, is there or is there not then a meaningful and proper role for an Upper House in this country? The answer to the first question seems unambiguously clear to me. We should not even consider abolishing the Seanad until we have fixed the Dáil.

The Government has pinpointed at least two areas for Dáil reform: strengthening powers of key committees and establishing sectoral committees to scrutinise the work of Departments. Both reforms are much needed and I would welcome both. If that is the right thing to do, let us do it, whether or not we abolish the Upper House. While we are at it, let us reform the Whip system. The Government backbenches are full of bright, passionate Deputies who want to use their expertise but cannot because they are not allowed to say what they think when they disagree.

The Government must stop hiding behind the guillotine. I looked up some information before making this speech and here is what I found: from the start of this Oireachtas to March of this year, 52 out of 90 Bills have been guillotined. That is nearly 60% of Bills. Sensitive Bills such as the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill, the Finance Bill and the emergency financial measures Bills are guillotined.

The Government should let the Technical Group speak on the Order of Business. For sure, it is a diverse group and it comes in for criticism, but it is the second biggest group in opposition and changing Standing Orders with two words would allow it comment on the proposed Order of Business in the Dáil. That has been consistently refused for a long time.

Let us get rid of the ridiculous rule that means that no Deputy on any side of the House is allowed to propose an amendment to legislation that incurs a charge on the State. It is antiquated and ridiculous. Let us get rid of it. We can make these changes and more. We can make this House do what it is meant to do and what it is constitutionally obliged to do, which is to hold the Cabinet to account. I do not think any of us on any side would suggest that this House as it stands fulfils its constitutional role.

The Government has correctly pointed out that many small countries have unicameral systems. Five of the top ten democracies in The Economist's democratic index are unicameral but many of these systems boast safeguards and rules that the Irish system does not. In Denmark two fifths of members of parliament may petition the speaker of the house to delay the final stage of a Bill by 12 weeks. That is very useful. In Sweden all legislation is considered by committee before it goes to parliament. Finnish municipalities control health care, education and infrastructure and levy two thirds of all tax. Article 29 of the Finnish constitution is very interesting. It states: "A Representative is obliged to follow justice and truth in his or her office. He or she shall abide by the Constitution and no other orders are binding on him or her." No other orders - that would cause havoc in our Whip system.

The Government position is clear: "Trust us, abolish the Seanad and we will fix the Dáil". Unfortunately, there is no greater proof of the problem in that demand than this Bill and the way it is being brought in. There was no consultation in the House. No analysis was provided and there was no pre-legislative input by a committee. Surely if this was a signal of a new way for us to work, we should have done it with this Bill?

If the Government wants to discuss abolition versus reform of the Seanad, there are many valid opinions on that around this House and in the Seanad. I ask it to please reform the Dáil first, to make this House work. The Seanad has nothing to do with that. Reform local government first. The Seanad has nothing to do with that. Until we fix the holes in the boat, let us leave the life jacket on.

I believe the Seanad should be abolished but I also believe that the debate around it is going to be a distraction from the budget, which is due in October. We should not be having this debate. The Government has promised reform in four key areas: the Constitution, the abolition of the Seanad, the Dáil and local authorities.

Reform of the Constitution to update it and make it relevant to the 21st century is supposed to be initiated through the Constitutional Convention. This is made up of 66 citizens selected at random across different age groups, genders, etc., and 33 politicians put forward by political parties, including parties in the North. It discusses issues that may require constitutional change. These issues are decided by the Government. It is not allowed to discuss the Seanad or the X case legislation. It then votes on the issues and makes a recommendation to the Dáil. If the Government wants to legislate on that basis it will; if it does not, it will not. That is not a reforming Constitutional Convention. To date it has discussed the issues of same-sex marriage and more women in politics, with a majority in support of both. It also reviewed the voting system in general elections and a large majority favoured keeping the present system. The convention is a talking shop. That is not a reflection on the people there but on the way it is set up. I call for a genuine, elected people's convention to sit for a definite period of time to draw up a new Constitution which is much shorter and simpler than the present one, emphasising the rights of the citizen as opposed to those of the State and the Catholic bishops and those relating to property rights, which are entwined in the present Constitution. The citizens should be able to review the Constitution which has been in place for most of the past century.

Abolition of the Seanad was included in the programme for Government and there was no big row about it then. The row is now predictable. The Seanad has always been a grazing ground for has-been Deputies, a platform for wannabe Deputies and an elite elected by an elite. It is completely irrelevant. People have no interest in it whatsoever. It has no impact on the ordinary citizen and it is a waste of money. It has existed for 75 years without anybody who lives in the real world taking any more than the slightest bit of notice of it. The campaign to save the Seanad is completely opportunistic. We have talked about reforming it for decades and it has never been reformed. Now all of a sudden when we are discussing its abolition we are talking about reform at the same time. Deputy Ross said he tabled a Bill for reform of the Seanad. That was probably one of the few such Bills introduced. A former Deputy, one Michael McDowell, is attempting to use the issue to relaunch his political career and test the waters for a new party. In 1992, in his election material, he clearly identified the position of the Progressive Democrats Party on the programme for constitutional reform, the first demand in which was the abolition of the Seanad. The same person is now defending the Seanad and saying we must reform it. Some people ought to think about where they are coming from and going to, and others should be aware of this.

The proposal to reform local government justifies this debate because we would not be discussing that if we were not discussing the abolition of the Seanad. We should think about what we need to replace the Seanad. This will focus people's minds on the role of this institution and on local authority reform under the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. Local authority reform has amounted to a cull of councillors and a further reduction of local democracy. I am for the fullest level of democracy at local level. The more local and close to the ground it is, the more democratic it is. Could we implement the Latin American model of proper participatory politics here? This would give more power to citizens to decide what communities need in the way of health services, transport and education services, etc. That is what this country needs, not a top-heavy institution that bases itself on a smoke and daggers approach, with the members calling themselves legislators when really they are focused on using that position to get re-elected. The cronyism has not changed. I cannot believe it is still the case that a hospital consultant can tell a citizen to go to his or her local Deputy to get an appointment to have surgery.

That is outrageous and not the reason we are here. We are here to introduce progressive legislation. Political parties put forward policies to the people during an election to get into power. However, those elected to government can change these policies which, in turn, puts pressure on backbenchers who stood on a platform for change. The Government has already broken its promises on Dáil reform, as it has on a range of other issues. It has guillotined the debates on up to 64% of Bills it has introduced. In saying this the previous Fianna Fáil Government guillotined the debate on 74% of all legislation it introduced; therefore, Fianna Fáil cannot criticise the Government. The most outrageous examples of the use of the guillotine were the local property tax, the wind-up of the IBRC, the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, and the promissory notes, as well as the ramming through of recent cuts to public sector pay. Friday Dáil sittings are a sham as we cannot vote on the legislation on the day. This, in turn, allows Deputies to go back to their constituencies for the weekend to lay the basis for re-election.

The right to recall an election is important. If an individual or a party stands for election on certain policies but does a complete U-turn when elected, one should have the right to recall the election. While I accept the proportional representation system makes it difficult to have a recall facility, some mechanism must be put in place, whereby 25% to 30% of the people can recall an election in which a candidate was fraudulently elected on policy issues.

The fact that the Government will not concede on one Standing Order to allow a group that represents 29% of Members to come in on Standing Orders is a joke.

Not only is political and institutional reform needed, it is expected by the citizens of the State. We need to ask ourselves what kind of institutions a modern state requires and what checks and balances are needed to ensure these institutions act in the interests of the citizens of a democratic republic. What is it about our political institutions that is broken and how we can redesign them in a way that captures what is best about us as a people? How is it that we have great local and national movements in practically every walk of life, yet our political institutions can at best be described as mediocre? One explanation could be that we have no real cultural memory of institution building. We can point, however, to pre-Norman times and a set of laws designed by our ancestors that were highly regarded because they were of the culture rather than inherited which dictate the kind of institutions we have.

We know the State is highly centralised, but we can fix this by decentralising power to a radically reformed local government system and by separating the Executive from the Legislature, as is the case in countries such as Norway and France. Clientelism flourishes because citizens cannot easily navigate the various State institutions to access their entitlements. This fosters a type of middleman or woman political system in which the focus is all about fixing the individual citizen's problem, not about fixing the system. A political culture in which the focus is all about fixing the system would lead to a clash of ideas where real choices would emerge and politics would become more policy rather than personality driven.

What we have seen to date in political and institutional reform has been either superficial or primarily a cost-cutting exercise. While I have long held the view that a country of this size should have a unicameral system, if this debate is just about saving or not saving the Seanad or what it costs to run it, we will have missed a unique opportunity not just to debate reform but also to secure guarantees of reform and see them happen quickly.

If we analyse the Seanad, 43 of the 60 Senators are elected by public representatives at local and national level. It is a process wholly owned and controlled by the larger political parties. Independents and others were elected to 16% of the county and city council seats in 2009, while securing 17% of the first preference votes in the 2011 general election. However, not one Independent Senator emerged. Seanad elections are all about horse trading behind the scenes by the political parties.

I acknowledge that many of the Taoiseach's nominees on this occasion were imaginative and certainly added some diversity which was part of the original idea behind the second Chamber, but that has not always been the case. The six university Senators are elected by a limited number of institutions. This could have been expanded in the past couple of decades. However, the panels are still elected by a sizeable electorate and have been the panels most often referred to in terms of the Senators who have made a significant impact.

It would be wrong to say the Seanad is meaningless or that it could not be reformed. In the overall scheme of institutional reform, the reform should occur elsewhere. We need a functioning Dáil, with a functioning committee system. We need to decentralise power and trust our communities to make decisions for themselves. As public representatives, we all have unique insights into how our communities function, with impressive stories about the get up and go attitude that is visible in organisations such as the Tidy Towns, sports organisations, caring organisations and associations, all usually run on a shoestring, with a significant voluntary input. The community-led, as opposed to market-led, model in which place shaping is the primary purpose of local government should be the foundation of our political institutions. I favour this being delivered through a district council model, with the phasing out of county councils. Counties, as we know, are not uniquely Irish. They were formed between the 12th and 17th centuries and designed as a system of control by the Crown. If anything, that control was further tightened by the new State and is the origin of Ireland being the most centralised state in Europe.

Imagine what would happen if we freed our communities to run themselves. We would unleash a unique genius that we all know is there. In addition to district councils with a place shaping role, we need small regional councils, I would say three at the most, acting as a service delivery tier. The value of both would deliver a functioning local government system and would take the excessive localism out of our national Parliament.

If I am certain about one thing it is that we cannot have meaningful Dáil reform without local government reform. Democracy should not merely be about control and retention of power. Article 40 sets out the rights citizens may enjoy in our republic, including the right to form associations and unions. There is no specific reference to political parties. That right to form associations has been limited to one model, the party political model, in our system, and it is unfortunately designed to protect that system. There is excessive control by political parties and some of that is a misuse of power.

Reference was made to the dire consequences of losing the Whip. The person who is elected ceases to be independent because of the Whip system. Reference was also made to the fact that we are losing vital contributions from both sides of the Houses as a consequence of that.

There is control of the timetable by the Executive with excessive use of the guillotine. I checked all the legislation introduced during the term of the previous Government and 74% of it was scheduled for guillotine. Some 64% of the legislation introduced by this Government to date, right up to this week, was scheduled for guillotine. Ironically, this item of legislation that is supposed to reform our institutions is scheduled for guillotine.

I must ask the Deputy to conclude.

A simple issue of changing Dáil Standing Orders, to which reference has been made, to allow one member of the 16-member Technical Group to input into the Order of Business is being resisted. I have been flatly told that it will not be acceded to by the Whips. Essentially, if we cannot even get that small change, we must ask ourselves what chance is there of getting meaningful change in terms of Dáil reform. That is not the way our democracy should function.

Thank you, Deputy.

I believe in the unicameral system but I want to see meaningful Dáil reform in advance of the Seanad being abolished.

Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.
Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 14 June 2013.