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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 23 Oct 1928

Vol. 10 No. 30


Question proposed: "That this Bill be now read a Second Time."

The finding of the Joint Committee on which this Bill has been based was one of the findings of that Committee on which there was perhaps the greatest degree of unanimity. As the Constitution stood originally, members of the Seanad were elected for twelve years and members of the Dáil for four years. Subsequent amendments of the Constitution extended the life of the Dáil to five years, and when this Joint Committee met the initiative was taken by a representative of this House on the Committee with a view to reducing the period of office of members of the Seanad, because it was generally agreed that twelve years was too long a period while the Dáil was only elected for five years. An amendment to have the period reduced to six years was opposed and negatived, only one member voting for it out of ten members of the Joint Committee who were present. The position, therefore, is that when this Bill becomes an Act members of the Dáil will be elected for five years and members of the Seanad for nine years. In other words, as compared with the Constitution as originally agreed upon, the lifetime of the Dáil has been extended by 25 per cent. and the period of office of Senators has been reduced by 25 per cent.

Personally, I have no predilection in favour of nine years as against six, except to the extent that the more you assimilate conditions of election, etc., of the Dáil and Seanad the more you are likely, under the existing method of election, to make one a replica of the other. Even as it is, I am afraid that in course of time the Seanad will become to a certain extent a replica of the other House; but unless there is some material difference in the period of office of each that condition of affairs will come about sooner and it will be more marked than would otherwise be the case.

It is only with great reluctance that I feel compelled to refer to one or two wild and misleading statements made in connection with this House in another place. I do so more in sorrow than in anger, because a greater medley of nonsense has rarely been uttered. I should pass over those statements and treat them as the meanderings of a child were it not that to allow some of them to pass without comment might create genuine misunderstanding in the minds of honest but prejudiced people outside. It has been said that with statistics you can prove anything — at least to your own satisfaction. I never realised the significance of that assertion until I read the astounding conclusions of a speaker elsewhere, after he had waded laboriously through the public records of the Seanad. A veritable wizard of frenzied finance he has proved himself to be. Like Charles Lamb's Chinaman, who burned his house to cook his dinner, he misrepresented the whole Seanad for the purpose of dealing with some members of it who did not attend regularly. Dealing with the bad attendance of these people he told his startled listeners that if every member of the Seanad attended every meeting Senators would be paid at the rate of £4 10s. per hour but as the average attendance is only two-thirds of the total, they were paid for their labours at the princely rate of £6 15s. per hour. For downright whimsical nonsense and inaccuracy this statement must be almost without parallel. As one who has been a very regular attendant here for the past six years I only wish the speaker was dealing with negotiable currency and not in fairy gold. Whatever his delusions, he must have known that, presumably on the principle adopted in the Biblical vineyard, the man who came in at the eleventh hour was paid at the same rate as the worker who toiled for the whole twelve.

As a matter of curiosity, and in order to show how ridiculous was the basis of calculation adopted, I tried to apply the same unique method to the other House. The result was startling. I find that in the first year of the present Parliament the Dáil met on eighty-one occasions. Taking the speaker's method of calculation, each sitting cost the taxpayers £982 for the salaries and travelling allowances alone of the members of the House, including Ministers, without making any allowance for the salaries of officials, reporters, attendants, and the cost of heating, lighting, printing, etc.


And gas.

It is frequently stated in the Press, and without contradiction, that you rarely find more than two dozen Deputies at the same time in the Dáil unless when they come in to vote in a division without having listened to the discussion. That statement is not contradicted and, certainly, there have been numerous demands for counts to see whether there were twenty Deputies present. According to this particular speaker's method of calculation a Deputy is only working when he is in the Chamber, so that taking that as a basis, each working Deputy costs the taxpayer £40 18s. 4d. per sitting of five and a half hours which works out at the rate of £7 8s. 8d. per hour. And even on the basis of an occasional longer sitting of seven hours I find the payment is at the rate of £5 16s. 11d. per hour.

I have merely applied this basis of calculation to show how humorously absurd are the deductions drawn by this speaker. In fact he was as unfair to himself and his colleagues as to the members of this House. Yet people who should know better profess to treat this remarkable statistical wizard seriously, and proceed to erect pyramids of words upon this crazy foundation. Personally I should be disposed to leave arguments of that kind to a certain section of the mosquito press which lives on that type of argument but a leading politician who wishes to be taken seriously should try and observe a better sense of proportion when dealing with the amendment of the Constitution. It is time that some people finished sowing their wild oats. Statements have been made that would make the duties of a Senator commence when he enters the Chamber and end the moment he leaves it. Nothing could be more absurd than this assertion. Many of us get much more correspondence, on public matters, and act for more people than the average Deputy, to say nothing of the work of the various committees of the House. We are approached by people from all parts of the country while a Deputy concerns himself only with his own constituency. I have had times out of number to take up cases in which the applicants allege that they got no attention from their Dáil representative. A man who waits until he comes into the Chamber to consider what amendments he is going to move to Bills and what he is going to say in connection with them instead of being a public asset is a public nuisance. It is perhaps this practice that accounts for the rather lengthy speeches heard elsewhere. The less a speaker has to say the longer he takes to say it.


Might I suggest that the Senator has now disposed of the substance of the complaint he had to make, and that it is not quite in order to make this elaborate comparison between the methods by which members of the two Houses perform their duties. I did not stop the Senator in view of the one point he wanted to clear up, but I suggest to him not to proceed any further because it is really not strictly in order.

I do not want to set a bad example while criticizing disorderly conduct elsewhere. But I want, at all events, to make clear, what I believe is the opinion of the majority of the people in this House, that we do not believe that Parliamentary efficiency depends upon the amount of oratorical output. What the public thinks of these oratorical pyrotechnics has been very accurately described by an impressionist writer in one of the daily papers in the past few days. He says: "Progress was reported. It was difficult to discover what progress had been made unless progress which takes us a day nearer to the grave. Coming out through the front gate into Kildare Street, said one visitor to another: ‘All this talk would put years on you."

I want to say in conclusion that, despite discussions of the kind to which I have referred and discussions of a similar kind which will undoubtedly occur in the future, I hope the Seanad will still be an unfavourable hunting ground for stage Irishmen and "Eloquent Dempseys," but that it will address itself seriously and conscientiously to its work without being influenced in any way by cheap and irrelevant criticism elsewhere and that in any improvements which it may be able to effect in its procedure as a result of experience, it will care nothing whatever about the gallery and try and not forget the nation.

Question put and agreed to.