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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Oct 2015

Vol. 894 No. 1

Electoral (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2015: Second Stage

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

I am glad to have the opportunity today to outline the provisions in the ninth Bill in the electoral area brought forward by this Government. This short Bill contains three measures, each separate and distinct. The Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 provides, as the name suggests, for amendments to existing electoral law. The need for these amendments has become apparent in the operation of the relevant provisions in electoral law. The Bill was described in summary in the autumn legislation programme published last month.

It provides for the continuation of the existing arrangements for candidate entitlement to free postage at Seanad university member elections, when the household distribution provision for Dáil elections is commenced. It provides for the Association of Irish Local Government to be included in the register of nominating bodies for Seanad panel member elections.

It also provides that persons who become Irish citizens after the qualifying date for the register of electors may apply for entry in the supplement to the register of electors to have their new citizenship status recognised. Entry in the supplement would entitle them to vote at all elections and referendums arising before the next relevant register is prepared.

I will elaborate now on the provisions in the Bill. The first provision relates to the entitlement to free postage for candidates at elections in the Seanad university constituencies. The Electoral Acts provide that candidates at presidential and Dáil elections, and elections in the Seanad university constituencies, are entitled to send an item of election communication to each person on the register of electors, free of postage charge. The postage costs are met by the State. The communication issued is colloquially known as the "litir um thoghchán", and I think it is so labelled by An Post. Under these provisions and where more than one person is registered at the same address, multiple copies of the same item of post are sent to that address. This is unnecessarily costly and wasteful.

In line with the Government's commitment to achieve efficiencies and reduce Government spending, the necessary provision to allow for household distribution of the litir um thoghchán at European elections was commenced in 2014. This generated estimated savings of €2.5 million in the cost to the State of running the 2014 European elections. It is now the Minister's intention to commence section 78(a) of the Electoral Act 1997 to provide for household distribution of the litir um thoghchán at Dáil elections. The potential savings at a general election are estimated at €3.6 million, based on the same number of candidates availing of the facility as in 2011 and with similar postage costs.

The commencement of section 78(a) of the Electoral Act 1997 will amend section 57 of the Electoral Act 1992, which is also applied to Seanad elections by section 25 of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937. However, household distribution would not be workable for elections in the Seanad university constituencies, as registration in those constituencies is on an individual basis. The Bill therefore inserts a provision into the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937 to provide that candidates at elections in the Seanad university constituencies may send, free of postage charge, one election communication to each registered elector in the constituency. This effectively provides for the continuation of the existing arrangements for elections in the Seanad university constituencies and it mirrors the existing provision for Dáil elections in section 57 of the Electoral Act 1992. The necessary provisions are made in section 1 of the Bill.

The second provision in the Bill relates to nominating bodies for Seanad panel member elections. The Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 Act provides for the establishment and maintenance of a register of bodies entitled to nominate persons to panels of candidates for the election of 43 members of the Seanad, as provided for in the Constitution. This register is renewed annually in accordance with the provisions in the Act. The Act provides for the bodies representing local government to be registered each year automatically - that is, without application. The bodies named in the Act are the Irish county councils' general council, which was most recently known as the Association of County and City Councils, and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland. In 2014, following the reforms in local government, the two bodies representing local government, the Association of County and City Councils and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, merged to become the Association of Irish Local Government. That association is not named in the 1947 Act and there is no provision in that Act for a successor body to the previous bodies to be included in the register of nominating bodies.

The current register of nominating bodies came into force on 21 March 2015 and, even though there has been no policy change as such, the body representing local government in Ireland is not included in the register of nominating bodies for Seanad panel member elections. This is an inadvertent consequence of the changes in local government that took place in 2014 and one that is being addressed in this Bill. The Bill provides, in section 2, for the amendment of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 to provide that the Association of Irish Local Government shall be registered, without application, in respect of the administrative panel in the register of nominating bodies for Seanad panel member elections.

Pending the next annual revision of the register, in March 2016, the Bill also provides, in section 2(c), for the Association of Irish Local Government to be registered in the register of nominating bodies which came into effect on 21 March 2015. It provides for the publication of a notice in this regard in Iris Oifigiúil by the Seanad returning officer. Section 2 also makes consequential amendments to sections 27 and 58 of the 1947 Act. The effect of all of the amendments is to replace the references in the 1947 Act to the Irish county councils' general council and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland with a reference to the Association of Irish Local Government.

The third provision in the Bill is about application for entry in the supplement to the register of electors by persons who become Irish citizens. The three requirements for voter registration are age, residence in a constituency and citizenship. One's citizenship dictates what elections one can vote in.

Since 1992, arrangements have been in place for persons not on the register of electors to be entered in a supplement to the register so that they can vote at an election or referendum taking place before the next register comes into force. Initially, persons would have had to meet the necessary requirements on the qualifying date for the register in any year, that is, 1 September. The supplement provisions were modified in 1997 and again in 2001 to provide that persons reaching 18 years of age, changing address or moving constituency after the qualifying date could apply for entry in the register. However, no modification was ever made to provide for a person whose citizenship changed after the qualifying date to apply to be entered in the supplement to the register of electors. The Minister is proposing that this anomaly be addressed now. The Bill provides that a person who becomes an Irish citizen after the qualifying date for the register of electors can apply for entry in the supplement. This means that those who become Irish citizens will not have to wait for a full turnaround of the register of electors to be registered to vote at all elections and referendums. They will be entitled to apply for entry in the supplement to the register and to have their new citizenship status recognised and so be entitled to vote at an election or referendum taking place before the next relevant register of electors comes into force.

The new provisions are set out in section 3 of the Bill, which substitutes section 15(1A) of the Electoral Act 1992. The new section 15(1A) repeats the provisions in the existing section and includes the new provision that a person may apply for entry in the supplement to the register of electors if he or she was not a citizen of Ireland on the qualifying date, that is, 1 September each year, for the register of electors and subsequently became a citizen of Ireland. Such applications could be from persons who were never registered to vote. They could also be from persons already registered to vote, for example, as local government or European electors, who wish to change their registration details and so be entitled to vote at all elections and referendums.

Finally, I want to signal to Members that I will bring forward an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage. The amendment will provide for the introduction of a revised format for the ballot paper used at Dáil elections. I hope the changes proposed will receive the support of all Members of the Oireachtas and I look forward to the new format of the ballot paper being used at the next general election.

The Minister committed to a review of the ballot paper in this House in April last. At that time, Deputy Stanton raised concerns about voters misplacing their marks on the ballot paper.

At present, political party emblems are placed along the left-hand side of the ballot paper. In the case of non-party candidates the space for the emblem is required to be left blank. It is reported that some voters express their voting preferences by placing their marks in these boxes in the left-hand column. While it is understood that such marks may not necessarily make a ballot paper invalid, any potential confusion should be eliminated, where possible. Following the review of the format of the referendum ballot paper earlier this year, Department officials also consulted with the National Adult Literacy Association and the National Council for the Blind in the review of the Dáil election ballot paper.

The revised form of the ballot paper should help voters avoid misplacing voting preferences and it should be more user-friendly for voters with visual and literacy difficulties. The main change proposed is to move the space for including the emblem of a political party from the left-hand side of the ballot paper to a new location to the left of the photograph. There will, therefore, be no boxes along the left-hand side of the ballot paper. This should help voters avoid misplacing voting preferences, given that there will be only one box that can be marked for each candidate after voters have read across, from left to right, all the information on each candidate. In addition, italics and parentheses will be removed from the front of the ballot paper and the wording on the back of the ballot paper and the counterfoil will be in both Irish and English.

As I said at the outset, this is an amending Bill containing three separate and distinct measures. Each of the measures in the Bill is important in itself. On Committee Stage, the Minister will propose that a fourth measure, on the Dáil ballot paper, be added. The Bill seeks to resolve issues that have arisen in the course of the operation of the electoral codes. I commend the Bill to the House.

As the Minister said, the Bill contains three minor provisions, namely, an amendment to the Electoral Act to provide for the newly named Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, to be included in the register of nominating bodies for Seanad panel member elections; an amendment allowing candidates for the Seanad university panel the right to a free post for each household in their constituencies; and, perhaps most important, an amendment allowing newly qualified Irish citizens the right to apply for entry in the supplement to the register of electors. This is a necessary change for people who become citizens after the register of electors has closed.

We support the Bill in principle, although it contains very little as it stands. We support and welcome the amendments the Minister will introduce which will change the format of election ballot papers and eliminate possible confusion over where voters should place their preferences. However, if the Bill is the sum total of the ambition of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Government for electoral and Seanad reform, it is a very sad indictment of the Government's inaction during recent years. The Bill should have represented an opportunity to reform the archaic and duplicated electoral register before the coming election. It should also have been an opportunity to reform the administration of elections by taking steps to establish the independent electoral commission that has been promised for four and a half years.

Once again, the Minister and Government are taking the path of least resistance and declining to introduce any meaningful reform, despite the Government’s promise of a democratic revolution since its inception. The Bill also, unfortunately, represents another lost opportunity to introduce Seanad reform which would not have involved constitutional change. The Seanad needs to be a more representative body and should have a role as a check on Government power to scrutinise national and EU legislation. The Manning report, as well as Fianna Fáil proposals, offered an immediate legislative route to help to achieve those goals, and could have been implemented by the Minister over the coming weeks. However, it is clear that the Government will, once again, let political reform slip off its agenda.

On the need to reform the supplementary register, I had hoped the amendment in the Bill would have raised an important point about how unnecessarily complicated the voter registration system is. Being included in the supplementary register is a complicated and time consuming process for anyone, not least someone who is relatively new to the country. We must question whether it has to be this complicated. While voter and electoral register fraud must be guarded against, the current system for registering voters, especially the supplementary and change of address register, is cumbersome, inefficient and out of date. People applying to the supplementary register due to a change in address, for example, often remain on the register in the previous constituency in which they resided, resulting in much duplication on the register. There is no reason an online and postal system could not be introduced for the supplementary register, as in another countries. It would be more efficient and accessible for most people as opposed to the current process by which a citizen must visit a library to get a form, visit a Garda station to have it stamped and then send it to his or her local authority franchise office.

There is a dire need to reform the administration of elections. Although there is almost universal consensus on this need, no action on reforming the administration of elections has been taken, despite repeated promises by the Minister and his colleagues. Although the Minister has continually promised reform, the single reform proposed to election administration has been the change the format of the ballot paper which, although welcome, is only a drop in the ocean of the reform required. The Minister has questions to answer about why he and his officials have done nothing to forward the reform of electoral administration, despite four and a half years of promises.

A new, independent electoral commission is required to take responsibility for the administration of elections and amalgamate responsibilities for the management of our electoral process, which is dispersed across several bodies, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, 31 local authorities and a host of different agencies such as the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, the register of parties, the Constituency Commission, the Referendum Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The franchise section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has, unfortunately, shown itself to be unwilling to address failures in electoral administration and elections. For example, when asked by the Constitutional Convention what measures the Department has taken to clean up the electoral register, the franchise section responded that “the electoral register is not at present the subject of detailed scrutiny in the Department”. The Minister has continually pushed away action on the issue, arguing that more reports and investigations are required rather than taking proactive measures.

Again, the franchise section of the Department has been remarkably disengaged, admitting in public that increasing the electoral turnout is not a priority for the Department. In response to concerns submitted to the Department by the Constitutional Convention over the levels of voter turnout at elections, the Department responded that “the question of measures to improve voter turnout is not at present the subject of detailed scrutiny in the Department”. There has been a complete dereliction of duty by the Minister and his Department regarding responsibility for increasing turnout at elections. Many sections of the Government and Government Members agree that an electoral commission is needed to clean up the register and make voter registration easier. An electoral commission should take proactive measures to improve voter turnout and amalgamate oversight powers currently dispersed across SIPO and local authorities.

The Bill introduces an amendment allowing candidates for the Seanad university panel the right to a free post for each household in their constituencies. It is, unfortunately, a sad indictment that this measure represents the sum total of the Minister’s ambitions for Seanad reform.

The Taoiseach believed this matter was of such pivotal importance to the nation that he put the survival and the future of the Seanad before the people in a referendum. His response to the result of that referendum was to ensure any proposals for the reform of the Seanad are now at the back of his mind and that of the Government. He said at the time "sometimes in politics you get a wallop". It is obvious that the wallop in this case has put him into submission in terms of any proposals that might emanate from the Government on Seanad reform. It is a complete dereliction of responsibility. The sum total of the Government's response to the need for Seanad reform is this amending legislation, which merely gives certain candidates in Seanad elections the right to free post.

Many of the recommendations contained in the Manning report on the reform of the Seanad, which I mentioned earlier, could be put before the Dáil by the Government for immediate implementation. These proposals would empower the Seanad by giving all citizens a vote and broadening representation across specific minority groups. A fundamental overhaul of the political system is needed to tackle the big problems in Irish politics. That requires more than political stunts and power grabs. The referendum on the abolition of the Seanad was nothing more than a political stunt and an attempt to grab power. When that failed and the people rejected the referendum, no effort was made to take on board the wishes and feelings of the public. It was quite obvious to everybody concerned and all who took an interest in the referendum that the intention of the people was for the Seanad to be reformed. The voters were doing more than merely rejecting the Taoiseach's stunt. They wanted reform, but the Taoiseach has disregarded the public's views on the matter.

It might have been appropriate for the Government, as it leaves office, to take this opportunity to start the sort of reform it promised when it assumed office. Unfortunately, that is not happening in this Bill. While we might recommend the provisions of this Bill, unfortunately there is very little contained in it. We had hoped that more of an effort would have been made in any Bill brought before the House to address the real reform that is required from an electoral amendment perspective. I see this as nothing more than a ticking exercise on the part of the Government. I repeat that I want to register my dissatisfaction and disappointment, and that of my party, with the Government's failure to take another opportunity to introduce real and meaningful electoral reform. Perhaps, despite its murmurings and its commitments to the public prior to entering office, that was never its intention. It might be the case that having entered office, and having failed to accept the will of the electorate as expressed in the Seanad referendum, the Government has decided to rub the people's noses in it again by introducing a Bill that does not provide for the sort of reform that is urgently required to address this situation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Almost five years of promises of electoral reforms and new ways of doing things - we remember the "democratic revolution" - I am underwhelmed by the contents of the Bill, even if they are hard to argue with. A measure allowing people to post electoral items for free is almost the sum total of what is in this legislation. While I am happy to support it, this opportunity should have been used to address the need for Seanad reform. My party, like other parties, has made comprehensive proposals for the reform of the Seanad. The Constitutional Convention also pointed to the need for work to be done in this regard.

This Bill proposes to give Freepost envelope facilities to Seanad candidates. This will differ from the new provision for Dáil candidates, who from now on will be allowed to send just one free post item to each household, rather than one such item to each registered individual. I can see no problem with making such provision. It is likely that a person who registered to vote in a Seanad election will be the only person living at his or her address who is entitled to vote in that election. I support the provision that will give the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, status as a nominating body in Seanad elections. I know this is an updating exercise. The third provision simply regularises the situation regarding applications to be placed on the supplementary register.

Earlier this year, I raised with the Minister the need to recognise the AILG and the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA. I note the presence in the Gallery of members of the AILG, which was formed following the amalgamation of the General Council of County Councils and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, two important bodies that did a great deal of work over the years. I would like the Government, in the short amount of time it has left, to give due recognition to LAMA and the AILG, in addition to identifying them as Seanad nominating bodies. Local government has to be taken out of the twilight zone. It must be given its place. In addition to deeming the AILG and LAMA to be nominating bodies for the Seanad, which is important in itself but is no more than a token exercise, the Government needs to treat those two important bodies properly as representatives of local government and local councils. I hope that will be done by this Government, in the remaining months of its term in office, and by those who occupy the Government benches in the future.

I would like to mention some issues relating to the overall reform of the Seanad. Since the defeat of the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad, a number of proposals have been made that would radically reform the way it operates at present. Unfortunately, the Government appears to have moved from wanting to get rid of the Seanad, in what had to be described as a "power grab", to being prepared to leave it exactly as it is. We wanted to completely reform it, but the Government wanted to banish it forever. Now it wants to make the minimum number of changes required. Our party would reform the Seanad by increasing the representation of women in the House and by broadening the franchise to provide for the representation of Irish citizens living in the northern Six Counties of our country and the Irish diaspora. I have heard a great deal of talk about how difficult it would be to organise that. I remind the House that people of all nationalities who are living in Ireland - from eastern Europe and from different parts of the world - can vote in those countries' elections by going to their embassies or using other means of voting. I am sure it is not beyond our wherewithal to organise a system that would allow the Irish diaspora to vote.

Fundamentally, we would like to see the second Chamber elected in direct elections involving all registered electors. This happens in other countries with some success, but it does not happen here. We nominally call this place a republic, but one cannot have a republic if one takes the word "public" out of the word "republic". The public comprises the people on the streets who put us in here to represent them. It should be the very same in the case of the Seanad, which is supposed to be the Upper House. It is farcical that we have something akin to a version of the British House of Lords. The Seanad may have started out with good intentions of representing various sectors and interests. I accept that it was devised with that intention by previous Governments and generations of politicians. We all know it has gone a long way from that, however.

We would abolish the existing right of the Taoiseach to nominate 11 Members of the Seanad because it has to be the worst aspect of how each Seanad is constituted. It cannot be stood over. It is within the jurisdiction of the Government to change it. Even at this late stage, the Government could introduce an electoral Bill to abolish the gift that is handed to each Government to give it an automatic majority. Ireland must be one of the few countries in the world that gerrymanders the system in a way that ensures the party occupying the Government benches in the lower house of parliament has an automatic call on a given number of seats in the upper house, thereby guaranteeing it a majority in that house. I suggest that the current system poses a significant problem for the legitimacy of the Seanad.

It has been proposed that the franchise should be broadened to include graduates of third level institutions other than those currently entitled to vote. That is fine and dandy, but we do not believe it goes far enough. There have also been proposals to include representatives of the broader community, including people involved in sport and the arts, representatives of emigrant groups, people from the North, disabled people and so on. That is all worthy and could be accommodated through a panel that would be elected through universal franchise. We would go that step further with it.

In reality, while including those groups would make the Seanad more representative than it is at present, it would still only provide a token representation and do nothing to address the fundamentally undemocratic nature of Seanad Éireann as it is constituted. That is the key issue. The Government, in response to the rejection of the referendum proposal to abolish the Seanad, gave all third level graduates a vote in future Seanad elections. While that is welcome as a small improvement on the current situation, Sinn Féin cannot accept it as a meaningful attempt to reform the Seanad, nor is it a genuine attempt to address the Government's commitment in the wake of the rejection of the referendum to radically democratise the Seanad. I heard several Ministers in the aftermath of the referendum saying that big changes would be introduced and that the Government was committed to reforming the Upper House to make it more accountable and representative. That was all a puff of smoke; we have seen none of it. Another proposal considered by the committee set up by the Taoiseach after the referendum was to give voting rights to emigrants. That was approved in principle but it was claimed that nothing could be done to bring it into effect before the next election. What about the election after next? Will something be done before then?

The only meaningful way to create a truly democratic, republican second Chamber would be to extend the vote to everyone entitled to vote in Dáil elections, citizens of Northern Ireland and the Irish living abroad. Unless we do that, we are simply engaging in window dressing. As it is currently constituted, the Seanad simply replicates the Dáil, the sitting Government and the Government's majority. It provides a means to reward political cronies and compensate failed general election candidates or would-be candidates. That is the reality of retaining the Government's nominees in the Seanad. That is the big black mark writ large across that Chamber. It is one of the fundamental elements which the Government has in its gift to change now.

The Sinn Féin delegates to the Constitutional Convention called on the Government and the Oireachtas to empower a second Constitutional Convention with a broader mandate to consider issues related to the strengthening of constitutional protection of human rights and outstanding political and institutional reforms, including reform of the Seanad. We believe that rather than the current Government, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or any other party or, indeed, a Government appointed committee coming up with proposals to tinker around with the Seanad as it is currently constituted, the issue should be passed over to the Constitutional Convention to deliberate on and to come up with genuinely democratic proposals and solutions. We have heard much praise for the Constitutional Convention in this House. That body should be reconvened and we should trust it to do this job.

While there is nothing to prevent any political grouping from submitting ideas and having them debated here, we believe that a broader discussion involving societal and community representation is required. The Taoiseach, despite his contention during the referendum campaign that the Seanad is elitist and requires radical reform, has blocked any suggestion whatsoever of the Constitutional Convention being reconvened to consider this matter. The convention published its report last year and one of its key proposals was that it be reconvened to consider Seanad reform. However, the Taoiseach rejected that proposal. Despite the Taoiseach's description of the Seanad as elitist, nothing has been done by this Government to alter that reality.

The only post-referendum reform introduced to date is the extension of the franchise to a relatively small section of the electorate through the university panel. That is minor reform. While any extension of the franchise is welcome, it is farcical to have a second Chamber that does not have the legitimacy of its members being elected through universal franchise. It is a pity that this legislation does not address at least some of those core issues. I understand that time does not allow us to do everything at once but the situation with regard to the Taoiseach's 11 nominees is within the gift of the Government to change now. That could be done very quickly. The 11 nominees' seats could be filled from two new panels. The Government could create new panels, one for voters in the North and the diaspora and one for some disadvantaged group in society such as the disabled.

There are several other issues relating to the electoral process which must be addressed. There are continuing problems with the electoral register and Sinn Féin has put forward proposals in this regard. There is also a proposal to establish an electoral commission because we need a single body to deal with the organisation and oversight of elections. The Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht has been considering this issue for several months. I and others on that committee as well as other sectoral groups and interested individuals have submitted proposals to the consultation process. This led to a document on which there is considerable agreement across all parties. However, the process is unlikely to be completed in time for legislation to be drafted, debated and passed in order that such a commission could be in place prior to the next general election. That means that the very reasonable and practical proposals relating to voter registration and other issues will not be implemented and that problems with the electoral register will continue into next year, which is regrettable.

While supporting this Bill, I would point out that we also need legislation to change Seanad Éireann radically which was promised in the aftermath of the referendum by those on the Government benches. That said, many Labour Party Deputies were very quiet on the issue. The Government's position was quite mixed really. While I recognise that we cannot do it all in a short period, by the time of the next election the Government will have had almost two years to institute some meaningful reforms that would give the Seanad more legitimacy, make it more republican, fairer and remove some of the elitism inherent in it, about which the Taoiseach spoke so eloquently. Had the Government introduced some meaningful reforms, it could have removed a sizeable element of the elitist nature of our second Chamber. The Government should have taken one or two sizeable steps rather than the very small tiptoe it took.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this legislation, the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015. I warmly welcome the Bill and the debate on it which gives us an opportunity to speak about elections, electoral politics, the Seanad and related matters. We must reform the democratic system and introduce the new and radical changes which were promised in 2011 following the banking crisis and the economic crash. We must be open to change and put our citizens at the centre of this change. If we do not do that, all the talk of reform is just hot air.

Today, once again we witnessed more sad and tragic funerals of members of the Traveller community who were killed in the horrific fire in Carrickmines. Our hearts go out to the victims' families and I express my sincere sympathy to them. However, we need more than sympathy for Travellers in society. The Traveller community needs respect, equality and decent services. For too long they have been ignored and discriminated against and this must change. Travellers in this country are our Palestinians. They have been ignored and neglected for many years.

It is criminal that funding for Traveller housing and accommodation has not been drawn down. All politicians must be brave and stand up for Traveller rights. I raise this issue in the context of the Bill and the urgent need for a new brand of politics. Regardless of political differences, prejudice, racism and failure to show respect for the human person should never be tolerated in any political system or democratic society.

The purpose of the Bill is to make three distinct amendments to electoral law. First, amendments are proposed to the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937 concerning the free post entitlements for Seanad candidates. Second, the Bill amends the Seanad Electoral (Panel) Act 1947 to provide that the Association of Irish Local Government assumes the entitlement to be a nominating body of its predecessors. Third, the Bill makes amendments as to who can apply to the supplementary register, as outlined in the Electoral Act 1992. These are the three components of the legislation.

It is important to discuss the Seanad and parliamentary democracy. Sadly, certain sections of society wanted to close down the Seanad a couple of years ago. I was one of those who campaigned to keep the Upper House open, while making it more democratic and inclusive. We won the debate against the odds and in the face of a great deal of populist nonsense. We were promised necessary new reforms at the time. I support extending the Seanad franchise to emigrants and the diaspora. The Seanad also needs voices from the North, because we must be vigilant with regard to the peace process. We need to build on the Good Friday Agreement rather than trying to pull it down.

I want the Seanad to be more inclusive and respectful of democratic values. The issues of cronyism and elitism must be challenged and wiped out. I am strongly in favour of major reform of the process by which the Taoiseach nominates 11 persons to the Seanad. Members of the Traveller community could have done with a voice in the Seanad in the past three weeks. I would welcome any decision to have a voice in the Seanad speaking on behalf of Travellers because many of those who spoke out on the issue were ignored by certain sections of the media.

I am equally in favour of ensuring that people with disabilities have a voice in the Upper House. Every day, we meet quality people with great ideas about politics, the rights of persons with disabilities and the United Nations Convention on Human Rights. They are people with brilliant minds, yet their physical disability appears to be a major problem. I ask members of the Government to open their minds and hearts to the quality people with disabilities in broader society who could make a contribution and change the political agenda in the Oireachtas. I raise these ideas in the context of the broader debate on electoral reform. As we approach the 1916 commemorations, it is important to ask ourselves whether we have implemented the democratic programme and vision set out in the Proclamation. Modern Ireland needs a vision of equality and respect. We must look after the weaker sections of society.

We must also focus on supporting and developing many of the core principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a meeting of the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association with the Ceann Comhairle. It was pointed out at the meeting that the Speaker of the Stormont Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin, and the Ceann Comhairle have a strong relationship and have worked together to build trust between Unionists and Nationalists and the North and South in recent years. One does not hear much about that, even in this Chamber. We need to highlight the good work being done among all strands of political opinion on this island. I raise this issue in the context of this discussion on elections, politics and electoral reform.

To return to the implications of the Bill, if this legislation is enacted, candidates in Seanad university elections will continue to be entitled to send material in respect of their candidature by free post to each voter on the relevant electoral register. The requirement that material be sent to households only, which is to be commenced for general elections, will not be applied to the Seanad university elections. The delivery of communications to households rather than individuals is intended as a cost-saving measure, as has been pointed out. This is part of the broader brief.

Many youth groups have raised wider issues regarding elections. For example, the National Youth Council of Ireland has highlighted registration barriers and linked these to the high number of younger voters who are not registered. It has called for a centralised system of online voter registration. While it is currently possible to check whether one is registered, it is not possible to register online. I raise this issue because many young people believe they are not being shown enough respect to persuade them to get involved in politics. We need young, fresh voices to enter the political system. The turnout among young people in the recent referendum on marriage equality was substantial. However, we need young people to turn out on issues of poverty and the rights of people with disabilities. They must step up to the plate and show support for tough political issues such as the rights of Travellers. We must not run away from difficult issues.

Debate adjourned.