Role of Seanad Éireann: Statements (Resumed).

Since the then Leader of the House was elevated to the position of Cathaoirleach many tributes have been paid to him, particularly in regard to the emphasis he has always placed on his commitment to Seanad reform and his open attitude to the distinctive, separate nature of this House from that of the other House. For example, in his opening remarks to this House as Cathaoirleach, he said this House was not a carbon copy of the other House but rather "should carve out for itself an individual, definite and distinctive role". We look forward to his continued championing of reform of this House.

We were glad to note that certain basic reforms were agreed unanimously by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Nonetheless, since becoming a Member of this House in 1989, I remain disappointed that universities, regional technical colleges and other third level institutions have been discriminated against, being excluded from having Seanad voting rights. I contend that two and a half years is a long time to wait for the elimination of such discrimination. Graduates of the University of Limerick are becoming extremely anxious about this discrimination. I predict it will not be long before there will be a lobbying force since the numbers of graduates increase annually particularly since the incorporation of the Thomond College of Education and the Mary Immaculate Teacher Training College into the University of Limerick. This means there will be a strong lobby of graduates in the humanities occasioned by the integrative process of the Mary Immaculate Teacher Training College and the Thomond College of Education, affording the humanities a strong niche in the University of Limerick.

I appear to be repeating myselfad nauseam seeking what I regard as a very basic reform. I appeal again that the universities I have mentioned the University of Limerick, Dublin City University and the other third level institutions, particularly the regional technical colleges, be included for Seanad voting purposes.

We will be debating the two colleges Bill. With the enhanced status of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology the time is ripe for them to be allocated that status. For example, the Culliton report, which I hope will be debated shortly in this House, places enormous emphasis on the excellence in our vocational education sector. It obtains already within the academic sphere but, we do not appear to respond as readily as we might to its importance within the vocational sphere. In not extending Seanad voting rights to the regional technical colleges I wonder whether we are not rendering ourselves even more elitist. Surely we Members of this House must realise that the only way forward for the country is by representation in both Houses of all sectors of our community, the academic as well as the vocational sector.

I appeal earnestly to the Cathaoirleach to put an end to this discrimination during his term of office because it is esential that it be abolished. I predict mine will not be a lone voice in the future since the many graduates are becoming most uneasy about this matter, having allotted a certain time within which this matter was to be pursued. While there may not be huge numbers of them, they feel victimised and excluded.

Because we do not have an education Act there is little scope for debating the subject in this House. After all, it should be remembered that education impinges on all our lives. Indeed, looking at Members of this House it will quickly be realised that there are representatives of first, second and third levels in education, with a dispersal of university professors. Another Member is the general secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, a past president of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland. While some may have given up teaching to concentrate wholly on politics, others may be continuing part-time teaching. It is a shame their expertise is lost through the lack of an education Act.

One might well ask why this is relevant to reform of the Seanad. I contend that, if and when the Green Paper, White Paper and, ultimately, the education Bill come on stream it would be appropriate that it be this House which would initiate this legislation since we have the time, expertise and broad cadre of Members capable of debating its provisions fully. Education should not be the prerogative of educators solely. Everybody has a vested interest in ensuring the best possible education for themselves and their children.

A day, if not an hour, is now a long time in politics, in that there have been two major changes on the Irish political scenevis-a-vis Ministers for Education since I last commented on this matter. It is my hope that the new Minister for Education, Deputy Brennan, will immediately get to work and introduce this long awaited education Bill.

From time to time we have debated major reports in this House, a feature of our role I welcome. For example, one such report thoroughly debated was that of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, which committee has the statutory mandate of vetting EC Directives, particularly since we are now in 1992.

I should like to see the chairpersons or directors of agencies like NESC, the ESRI and others — whose reports map a course for us through the nineties and well into the next century — to present their reports to this House. We have had plenty of representations made to us, by mail, from the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, the Combat Poverty Agency and others: daily we receive such representations. I would focus attention on the major agencies which have had a major impact on budgetary provisions, that have consistently raised the matter of poverty in recent years. I should like to see them present their pre-budget proposals to us, indeed even perhaps their post-budget comments when poverty and other issues tend to be forgotten. I would recommend that they return to this House to review budgetary provisions, there by concentrating all our minds on waht should have been apropriate budgetary provisions in this area.

One might well argue that that is not the business of this House. I contend it is because, though separate, there is that interlink between this and the other House. It is my hope that when we have an opportunity to debate the Culliton report that their chairman, Mr. Jim Culliton, would come before us and present the report. It appears to be extremely simple and easy to digest but between the lines it is radical and controversial report. To encapsulate all the submissions by the various bodies that reported to that group, the report itself is not sufficient. I would like to see Mr. Cullition come before us. After all, the report was commissioned by the Government and it is mapping the change industrially, educationally through tourism, transport and so on. Chapter after chapter, it maps out where we should be going.

In relation to the structure of the Seanad, I join with many Senators in expressing the need for debating two matters on the Adjournment: I am not sure whether we need the full 20 minutes. The issues are very important to the Senators who raise them. Sometimes the issues may be regional, provincial or even local but it is the only opportunity Senators have of responding to people who see them as real politicians. There is always this feeling that the real politicians are in the other House. Local councillors are politicians, we are politicans, and we get the same representation as Dáil representatives. We do not have the opportunity to go back to the electorate and inform them on issues that need immediate action. That request does not appear to be too radical and I think all Senators are happy that we should have two matters on the Adjournment each day to accommodate four Senators. That would be most welcome.

I was a teacher in the post-primary sector and I feel when I go through the Tá and Níl lobbies when voting that I am back in the classroom. I find the system extremely cumbersome and outdated. At this stage with modern technology, computers, electronic devices and so on, there should be an easier way to record our assent or dissent. Surely, we could have a device that would record automatically or perhaps we could have an electronic device in our offices with an override facility to ensure it could not be tampered with where we could record our assent or dissent. There were some days here when we had to rush across Kildare Street to vote on important amendments. We are in the last decade of the 20th century and that is not too extraordinary a request and it would allow us to spend more time on the debates. Let us get rid of the antiquated Tá agus Níl voting system and use the modern systems of voting used in other Parliaments where they can do their business very rapidly.

In relation to the question and answer session, the Cathaoirleach mentioned in his presentation that it would be very similar to the system which operates in the Dáil. In fairness to the Cathaoirleach, he has tightened considerably the Order of Business and I say this as somebody who may not always use it in the proper way. It is frustrating that we cannot raise something that is urgent and important to us. I see no reason we cannot congratulate Ministers from the other House on their appointments. It is extraordinary that that is ruled out of order on the Order of Business particularly when Senators from the opposite side wish to extend congratulations to new Ministers, or to the Taoiseach. Indeed we have had many changes recently and I think it is common civility and courtesy to congratulate the people involved.

The position of Leader of the House is a very important and prestigious one. It is time to give the Leader of the House financial recognition now that county council chairpersons throughout the country receive a token recognition. They are happy with that and realise it lends status to the position.

As we move towards European integration I join with other Senators who would welcome MEPs to this House. They will not be a threat to us as some people think because they are so busy with their business in Europe they will not be here every second week dominating the proceedings in this House. I hope we will have an opportunity in the House to hear our Members of the European Parliament explain, analyse, discuss and debate with us the importance of the forthcoming referendum which will be held in early summer and that will have an opportunity to respond to that debate so that the people can understand the complex issue.

When Europe appears on the agenda sometimes people yawn and do not appreciate the importance and influence it will have on our lives. Europe is important not just for Structural Funds but for the whole concept of unification. It would be a welcome move if the MEPs would come before the House and give us the benefit of their knowledge in preparation for what I consider to be an extremely important referendum.

I am glad I have had the opportunity of contributing to the statements on the role of the Seanad which began last November. An indication of the importance of reform can be seen from the list of Senators who have contributed, and the many others who are still waiting to contribute. It shows we respect this House, that we wish it to continue but that we would like it to operate more speedily.

I would like to begin by echoing the sentiments expressed in Senator Jackman's closing remarks. We would all like to see this House improve, change its image and deal more positively with legislation and with various reports. Contributing at the end of a debate has its disadvantages because all the good points have been made. I have listened to the debate and read some of the reports and some very positive suggestions have been made over the past few weeks, and I agree with many of them. We can all play a part in trying to change this House, to make it more amenable and to make it fulfil its role as the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

It is true that this House is not a carbon copy of the other House and this has been stated by you, a Chathaoirleach, and others. As one who has served in both Houses I agree with that statement. This House has its own job to do. It is doing a good job and Members should strive to make it better. Very often people outside the House get a wrong impression. We are seen as not doing as effective a job as we might. That is wrong because during the past few years in particular, we have been sitting longer hours, we have paid more attention to legislation, to reports, etc. than had been the case heretofore. I can remember a time when the Seanad sat only occasionally, but those days are gone and we now sit two days a week and sometimes more. I would like to see this trend continue. By making a few changes we should be able to improve the working of this Seanad.

The Order of Business has been mentioned by many speakers. Time and again it has dragged on for an hour to an hour and a half. With the agreement of all the parties in the House, we should be able to improve this procedure because many of the items raised are not relevant. It is a pity that so much time is wasted when we could be debating legislation and other matters of importance.

The Acting Leader was asked today if there was any possibility of the Taoiseach addressing the House to give us some idea of how his Government intend to face up to the problems affecting the nation. I am glad he responded favourably and that there is a great possibility the Taoiseach will address the House next week to outline his views and indicate what he proposes to do during the next couple of years — during the lifetime of this Government — to tackle the serious social and economic problems facing the Government. It is great that the Taoiseach has recognised this House. I would like to see this trend continue with the Taoiseach coming into the House occasionally to give us the benefit of his experience and to outline what he proposes to do to tackle various problems. I can see no reason this should not happen from time to time.

I have mentioned time and again that our MEPs seem to be cut off from this Parliament. Apart from those who have a dual mandate — there are only one or two — there is no forum to help them keep in contact with our Parliament and legislation. That is a pity. They should be invited to address this House occasionally to give us the benefit of their knowledge of the European scene, to inform us of what legislation is before the European Parliament and how it might affect us. The only forum available to them is the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities to which they are invited occasionally. I think they should be allowed to address the Seanad. I am not sure, however, if they would be allowed to do so under the Constitution but I am sure changes could be made to allow them to do so.

I would like to see Question Time, introduced in the Seanad. Many Senators are actively involved in politics in their own constituencies and from time to time there will be a number of issues of great importance to them that they would like to raise in the Seanad. I would like to see them being given the opportunity to do so. An hour could be set aside, perhaps once a week, for Question Time when a Minister would be questioned on matters affecting his Department. That would be good for all of us and allow those Senators who are active in their own areas to raise issues of great importance to them.

The system of election has also been mentioned. Those of us who have taken part in Seanad elections know how difficult and cumbersome the system is. Despite what Senator Norris and others may have to say, I still believe it is very democratic. Indeed there could be no more democratic system because those Senators who have to travel around the country to seek the votes of county councillors and Deputies are seeking the votes of those who have been elected by the grassroots and who are actively involved in politics. I think it is a very democratic system and cannot see any changes being made.

The Taoiseach has the right to appoint 11 Senators; I think this is a very good idea because it gives the Taoiseach——

He might be one of them one day.

——an overall majority in the Seanad and the opportunity to appoint those who have made a contribution at local or national level. People who are very prominent in the arts and other areas have been appointed to the House and we have benefited from their presence. A number of very important people from Northern Ireland have also been Members of this House and it was a pleasure to serve with them. They include John Robb, Séamus Mallon and Bríd Rogers. It is very important that the northern part of our country should be represented here. I hope some day we will again have representatives from Northern Ireland in the Seanad because the three people I have mentioned made a terrific contribution to this House. As I said, it was a pleasure to serve with them and they were always constructive. They came from different sides of the political divide but this did not stop them from expressing a view here. We all benefited from their presence.

There are six University Senators. Like many other speakers, I would like to see the graduates of other universities being given a vote. This will probably happen in the very near future.

There are many issues we could debate here from time to time. Indeed, some excellent reports have been prepared but they are gathering dust in the corridors of power. It is a pity we cannot spend more time debating them. Given that some major reports have been prepared I hope more time of the Seanad will be used to debate them. We could all benefit because a lot of hard work was put into the preparation of those reports and it is a pity they are gathering dust on the shelves in Leinster House and not being debated.

It has been mentioned that we should allow two items to be raised on the Adjournment. Again, I agree with that suggestion, and perhaps when changes are being made agreement could be reached on that.

I hope the Seanad will be used far more and that more legislation will be initiated here. That is what we should be looking for. As we are aware, there is a backlog of legislation waiting to be introduced in the other House. I see no reason some of that legislation could not be sent to the Seanad because in my experience legislation has been debated far more effectively in this House than in the other House and that we have spent far more time on it. We have the necessary expertise and Senators are knowledgeable about various matters. Any legislation initiated in this House was debated very well and our amendments were accepted by the Dáil. I would like to see a greater flow of legislation initiatied in this House under the present Government and we will be pressing for this at every available opportunity. All that I can say is I hope the House will be busy this term and that we will all have to work harder to earn our money.

I find myself in the very difficult position of agreeing with a great deal of what Senator Hussey said. Why are we debating this subject today? Why are we once again indulging in this extraordinary piece of navel gazing and this self-indulgent self examination as politicians? This is the third debate of this sort which I remember in recent times in Seanad Éireann. Although it has been debated three times there has been very little action as a result. The reason we are debating this is that the Seanad, as it has been run in the past few years, is in danger of becoming redundant. We are debating this subject not because we are particularly interested in it but because we do not have legislation to discuss. The Seanad, since 1989, has been a toothless body and has given rise to a great deal of dissatisfaction among the public and the parties in it. This debate today is symbolic of that because it is a filler, it is on the Order Paper because we do not have anything else to talk about. Let us be honest about it; that is why we are discussing it today, that is why it has been retained on the Order Paper for so long.

We were waiting for Senator Ross's majestic contribution.

We always had this motion to fall back on and the reason is that the Seanad is now completely dependent on the other House for its workings, procedures and debates. We are in danger of becoming redundant if we accept that dependence. Certainly, for the past two and a half years, the Government have not only accepted that dependence but, under the former Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, they encouraged it. We were taking our orders and our agenda from the Dáil; we took our legislation when it suited the Dáil and debated it when it suited the Dáil. As a result we have achieved virtually nothing in the past two and a half years; in fact I put it to Members that the Seanad is fast going backwards, not only in the eyes of the public but in the eyes of the politicians.

We have a chance to remedy the matter now and to do something about it if we respond to this debate and to other suggestions which have been made about the gross inadequacies in this House and the deteriorating situation. I may be wrong — I am open to correction from the Government side — but it is my belief that between July and December this House passed only two Bills, a small Bill from the Department of Justice and the Sea Pollution Bill. The rest of the time was taken up in debating internal Government problems, motions which meant nothing, or simply not sitting. The House is really in danger of becoming a laughing stock which simply rubber-stamps the business of the Dáil, which does not sit for a reason of its own and which does not have a mind of its own. Now that we have, in effect, a new Government I hope that fresh life will be injected into the House because, if not, we will go downhill fast.

I do not subscribe, and I do not think I ever would subscribe to the views of the Progressive Democrats — in so far as we know their views as they are difficult to ascertain — that this House should be abolished. I cannot repeat often enough the total hypocrisy of that party in sending three very able and surprisingly committed Members to this House who have made good, valuable contributions, when they believe the House is of no value. Despite all their purity and supposed integrity, they have decided to play the system and to put three Members in this House who want to get into the Dáil while still believing that this House should be abolished. It is not a principled situation, it is one which politicians can understand but they should make up their minds whether they really believe this House should be abolished or whether they are simply playing to the populist gallery. They have taken three seats because it is convenient for them to do so. That slogan, which they adopted in Opposition, was a gimmick, a cheap shot which encouraged public ignorance of this House instead of educating them about what was going on in it. Indeed, when they took up that position the Seanad was working far better than it is working now. It was doing valuable work in all sorts of areas on which I will elaborate in a few minutes.

This House produced magnificent legislators and parliamentarians such as Alexis FitzGerald, Yeats, Noel Browne, Skeffington, Gemma Hussey and Jim Dooge who all achieved a great deal in this House. To say the Seanad should be abolished is short-sighted and cheap and shows no knowledge of the great work which has been done in this House in the past and the way it has led public opinion on issues where politicians in the other House feared to tread. That has been one of the great roles of this House in the past but it is a role which is in danger of being stifled by the Government because their attitude is that this House should shut up and pass legislation as quickly as possible on the instructions of the Leader of the other House. This is unacceptable.

Senator Hussey's comments are sensible considering the way he was elected. However, the concept of the Seanad as a democratically elected House is completely wrong. The first thing we must accept is that the Seanad is not elected by the people and that it was never meant to be elected by the people in a popular vote in the way Members are elected to the Dáil. There was no pretence — or indeed intention — that the Seanad should be democratically elected by the people. It was certainly the intention that most Members of this House should be elected but not in a popular vote because, if they were to be elected in a popular vote, it would be what it is in danger of turning into anyway, a mere mirror image of the Dáil.

The first principle which I understand was established about the election of Members of this House was that they were not to be elected on a constituency basis which was purely geographical because, if that was the case, they would simply reflect the numbers, views and origins of Members of the Dáil. It was not meant to be like that. What I think was, quite rightly, in the mind of Eamon de Valera when he set up this House was that it should have a completely different role, examine legislation from a different angle and that there should be — as there is superficially in the House — a large vocational input and that the primary loyalty of the Members concerned should be to that vocational input rather than to political parties. Unfortunately, if that was his intention he made an enormous mess of it by then deciding that the nominating bodies could nominate people to this House and that they would then be elected by politicians. The result is that it is virtually impossible, except for the university seats, for people who do not have political affiliations to be elected to this House.

The proportions elected in this House are roughly the same as the Dáil. As a result, the outlook, majority, workings and political divisions in this House also reflect the numbers in the Dáil. As a result the Seanad, to a large extent, reflects opinion, numbers and procedures in the Dáil. This is unfortunate as I believe the Seanad can play a real role in the running of the country if it approaches legislation, public opinion and many other issues from a different angle. Obviously members of political parties could not be denied access to this House. We could have a bicameral system without such strong party loyalties but the people who come to this House would have primary, or at least equal, loyalty to something else. Their expertise is so evident in certain fields that they make a contribution which is valuable in itself and is not diluted by loyalty to a political party. This is a very important point. Such a system would change overnight the approach and value of this House and the respect in which this House is held. We have to get away from the idea that it should be a purely democratically elected body.

Of course the Dáil must have the greater and ultimate power because it is popularly elected, but this could be the House with the moral influence, the experts, the people who offer impartial advice gained through experience of life rather than politics, for which they would be respected and listened to. We do not have to have the power to defeat legislation, but we must have the moral power to have an input into legislation. This is important.

This House was set up in 1937 under the Constitution and has remained unchanged. There was a constitutional amendment in 1979 but since the legislation was never followed through the composition and method of election remain the same. The Seanad is outdated in its procedures and outlook. It has served its purpose well but it now needs drastic reform. The procedures, composition and structure of 1937 no longer apply in 1992. A great deal has been said about the procedures of the House but I will come back to this point later.

I should like to refer to a subject on which Senator Hussey touched, that is, the Taoiseach's 11 nominees. I do not have a principled objection to people being appointed to this House, I do not see any problem with that, but I see a problem if people are appointed to this House simply and solely to give the Government a majority. If they are nominated to this House so that they can lobby for the Government, as were the last 11 nominees appointed by the former Taoiseach, then they should not be appointed at all. If the Taoiseach's 11 nominees are appointed because they have an important contribution to make to legislation then, of course, they should be appointed.

It was unfortunate that the former Taoiseach's 11 nominees, all good people who have a lot to contribute to Ireland — it is symbolic that this happened in the case of the former Taoiseach — had exclusive loyalty to one political party and that is why they were here. The 11 nominees appointed by the Taoiseach in 1989 were very unfortunate because they exclusively belonged to a political party, were here to give a majority to that political party and were appointed because the Taoiseach of the day was vulnerable and could not afford to appoint non-party people in political terms. This is not a party political point and it should not be taken as such because the same would happen if Fine Gael were in a similar position. Leaving it in the hands of the Taoiseach of the day to nominate 11 appointees means that in certain, if not all, political circumstances political pressure will be on him to appoint political people whose loyalty is to a party and who will gain seats in the other House. These people were appointed to the exclusion of those who could play a strong important role in this House.

In 1987 the Taoiseach of the day, Deputy Haughey, made some very enlightened appointments to this House. I am referring in particular to the appointment of the former Senator de Buitléar who was a Member of this House from 1987 to 1989; unfortunately, he had to be sacrificed by Deputy Haughey for political reasons in 1989. Mr. de Buitléar was an ideal example of the type of Senator about whom I am speaking. He was appointed by Deputy Haughey because he was an expert on Irish wildlife, nature, etc. He was non-partisan, he played a vital role on legislation in this area and had a moral and actual authority in that area which none of us had. At a time when the environment was, and remains, such an important all-consuming public issue, it was wonderful that the primary commitment of a Member of this House was not to the Taoiseach of the day but to the environment. That is the type of Senator we should be looking for who should be appointed by the Taoiseach. Unfortunately this is not the case at present due to political pressures and this will remain the case as long as the structure of the House remains unchanged and as long as this House is dependent on the Dáil and the Taoiseach of the day.

Like Senator Hussey — he did not regret the lack of them this time round — the greatest, most constructive, interesting and innovative contributions I have heard during my ten years as a Member of this House were made by the people from Northern Ireland who were appointed by the Taoiseach. They were not, as Senator Hussey said, from both sides of the political divide. He got that wrong; they were from one side of the political divide. However, that does not really matter. I am talking about Séamus Mallon, Bríd Rogers and John Robb. Their contributions to this House were unique and vitally important.

Although we were on different sides, I can remember Séamus Mallon's emotional and deeply felt speech on extradition when he conveyed in almost unprecedented terms the real deep feelings of the Nationalist people of Northern Ireland about extradition and matters of that kind. He conveyed their feelings in a way which could not have been done by anybody in this House, regardless of their political hue. He told us from the heart what the Nationalist people of Northern Ireland felt about extradition and matters of that sort. I have to say quite honestly that this contribution was an eye opener for me. As I said, I was on the other side — it will not surprise Members of the House to hear that I was not convinced by his argument — but I understood the depth of his emotion and realised the value of such a contribution. We should remember that the former Senator Mallon was a democratically elected Member of the House of Commons and a very significant political figure in Northern Ireland before and after that time. We were very privileged to avail of his contribution in this House.

Similarly, for a short time Bríd Rogers from Northern Ireland was a Member of this House, as was John Robb whose departure from the House we all mourn. Mr. Robb contributed not only on Northern Ireland but also on other matters and his points of view were refreshing and authoritative. Maybe they did not carry quite the same authority as did those of Senator Mallon because John Robb was not an elected representative in Northern Ireland, and I think he never has been so. These people had authority, provided information and brought a message from Northern Ireland to the Republic and from here to Northern Ireland. Their contributions were invaluable. Those three figures, the former Senators Robb, Mallon and Eamon de Buitléir, were indicative of the role which Seanad Éireann could play in this State, a role which is not played at present.

The absence of these people makes this House a poorer place. I do not wish to make that statement as a party political point. I am sure a similar situation could easily arise if a Taoiseach was elected from Fine Gael and a coalition was formed in circumstances similar to those at present. In that case a Fine Gael Taoiseach might be forced to make appointments for political reasons, and that would be understandable. When considering reform of this House we should take the prerogative to make such opportunities out of the hands of the Taoiseach of the day so that he would not yield to such temptation. This House is worse off as a result of the absence of the individuals I mentioned and as a result of the fact that no Taoiseach has been capable or reappointing people in that way.

We can go even further back and mention former Senators such as Ken Whitaker who was reappointed by Jack Lynch and by Deputy Garret FitzGerlad. Dr. Whitaker made expert contributions to this House which were respected on all sides of the political divide and which carried moral weight similar to that carried by the other people to whom I have referred. There is a role for people such as Dr. Whitaker, Eamon de Buitléar, Mr. Mallon and Mr. Robb, and that is a matter we must seriously consider in reforming this House. Those people brought credit to the House in a non-partisan and moral way.

I would now like to refer to the procedures in this House. I hope this debate will not result in a report from the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which suggests tinkering with the system as it works in the Seanad. That would not be enough. It would be much too cosy and would improve only in a peripheral way the workings of a House which needs radical surgery. There is something fundamentally wrong with the workings of this House and that has been most apparent in the past two and a half years.

Several suggestions have been put forward as to the improvements that could be made to the House, but they are inadequate, ill thought out, short term and basically a little silly. The suggestion is constantly put forward in this House that Members of the European Parliament should address the House on matters of interest. I do not think I have ever heard anything less radical or less interesting. If I want to know the views of Members of the European Parliament I can read about them or I can hear them in many forums, but I do not have to listen to them here. To suggest that by inviting Members of the European Parliament to address this House would make a radical change in the workings of the House is absurd. These people would come in, make a speech and go away again, and we would congratulate ourselves on reforming the Seanad. Interesting as it might be to hear them, such a suggestion is ill thought out and would do nothing to improve the workings of the House.

There is a tremendously good case for initiating a great deal of legislation in this House. It does not matter what the powers of the House are once legislation is initiated here, as was done so successfully between 1983 and 1987 and to a lesser extent between 1987 and 1989. Ministers should take on board amendments from all sides of this House before bringing the Bill to the Dáil. In that way we would not have to go through the absurd nonsense that we go through week after week whereby Ministers who bring legislation from the Dáil refuse to accept amendments in this House, whatever their merit, because they do not want to take the Bill back to the Dáil. That practice is unacceptable. If Bills were initiated in this House, non-contentious Bills in party political terms, and amendments put forward for consideration by objective Ministers, the Bills would not have to come back to the House again. The improved Bills would go to the Dáil and there would be no delay in legislation. In practical terms that is by far the most sensible way to proceed.

The Companies Bill, the Clinical Trials Bill and other such Bills were initiated in this House. The Companies Bill was published by a Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government in 1987 and was introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government. It was initiated in this House by the present Taoiseach and his Minister of State at the time, Deputy Seamus Brennan who is now in the Cabinet. That legislation was a role model for procedure in this House. With over 150 sections, it was very long and very difficult but very good legislation. That Bill went through a careful, well-examined analytical Second Stage debate by many Members on all sides of this House. It then went through Committee Stage where the Minister, to his great credit — I think it was Deputy Brennan who dealt with it on most occasions here — considered the amendments put down and accepted many of them. The legislation was changed quite dramatically as a result of amendments put down in this House. The Minister listened to the debate on the amendments, assured the House he would consider them and came back on Report Stage with fundamental changes on insider dealing and other matters.

The debate in this House on the Companies Bill was one of the finest we have had. It was conducted in a civilised, non-adversarial way, with everybody intent on improving it before it left this House. It is legislation of which this House can be proud. Had it been introduced in the Dáil, it would have been the old story; having taken so long to get through the Dáil the Minister's riding instructions quite simply would be to get it through the Seanad as quickly as possible and on to the Statute Book. That is what happens so often to legislation in this House. It is regrettable but that is the system and that is why fundamental surgery is necessary in order that this House can do justice to the legislation.

The problems of this House are apparent to the public and certainly much more so to those who are here. I have no solution to this. I regret that this House appears continuously to be getting its marching orders from the Taoiseach of the day; the legislation we consider, the business we order, and the controversial matters that are taken come not from ourselves but from the Government, the Cabinet, the Taoiseach. As a result it appears that the Seanad does not organise its own affairs. There is a sort of facade that we are an independent House. I was told, as everybody else is told when he or she comes in here first, that the Seanad and only the Seanad makes its own rules. That is true in theory but it makes its own rules, unfortunately, on the instructions of the Government and the Taoiseach of the day.

It is absolutely essential that a way of separating the Leader of this House from the Government Chief Whip is found if this House is to have some sort of life of its own because there appears to have been, and Members on all sides of this House have been aware of it, a wish on the part of the previous Government that this House would keep its head down and not be noticed, that it was there to a large extent to rubber stamp what was happening in the Dáil and that anything original or different was an obstruction to Government business and was a nuisance.

That was noticeable in the way the House was continuously treated with contempt by the Government in the last session. I am sick and tired of hearing and seeing the wrong Minister come into this House. I welcome the fact that Ministers come into this House; some take it seriously, some take Committee Stage seriously, but time and again during the past four years we have seen junior Ministers from the wrong Department come in to talk on legislation about which they know absolutely nothing. That is not acceptable. It simply shows the Government cannot be bothered or that the appropriate Government Ministers are too busy to deal with legislation in the Seanad. I do not believe it would be tolerated in the other House. Any old Minister will do in the Seanad — you can rent a Minister, send him in, especially on Second Stage debates. If he is able, he will be able to bluff his way through Committee Stage no matter what legislation we are debating. That is not good enough. It makes for bad legislation and it shows contempt for the Seanad.

We will have to order our business better so that we do not have these absurd guillotine motions at the end of every session. We had a farcical situation coming up to Christmas — we always have a farcical situation coming up to Christmas — where two Bills were discussed between July and December 1991 and God knows how many were rushed through between the beginning of December and the Christmas recess. The same happens in the summer. We are so dependent on the business coming from the Dáil that when it has finished with it, we then take it on board and finish it as quickly as possible without proper examination because we will not be allowed to amend it anyway.

That system has to be changed. If it means that all legislation should be initiated here, so be it. I believe there is a very good case, if we are to have a Seanad at all, that every piece of legislation should come first before this House if we are to keep the same laws and constitutional arrangements. We could amend it in this House before it is sent to the Dáil and it would not have to come back here. At present if it is amended in this House it goes back to the Dáil as it rightly should do. We should be able to improve the Bill in a non-contentious political manner. I would like to see less Government contempt for the operation of this House.

It has been suggested many many times by Members of both Houses that we should introduce Question Time. I am not sure that the Adjournment matter procedure does not work rather better and it could certainly be improved. Normally five or six specific matters are tabled for the Adjournment and we have a very comprehensive discussion on the subject chosen. I must say that I have been treated very fairly on the Adjournment recently and there is no undue delay in raising a matter. The Member is able to state a position on a particular issue and the Minister replies in detail on the Government's position. This is possibly more informative and better than a question and answer session in very limited time where one basically does not get satisfactory answers at all. One will not get a satisfactory answer if the Minister does not want to give it. There probably is a case for the suggestion already before us that we have the opportunity to raise more matters on the Adjournment. The House would seem more relevant if we could raise matters of immediate public interest. Whether that is done by way of the Adjournment, under Standing Order 29, or on the Order of Business does not matter very much but it is a procedural improvement which is important and which should be initiated.

I would like to address briefly a few remarks to the Progressive Democrats who have been so loud in their criticisms of the activities of this House. The role this House has played in the past ten to 12 years has not been redundant or useless, although I think it is deteriorating now. The Seanad has played a very proud role in these ten or 12 years in influencing matters which are significant in Irish life. On the whole it has been a progressive body and a focus for change. With the exception of the past two years the democratic element of the House has influenced Irish life disproportionately. It should be said that certain subjects which were taboo were initiated in this House and started the public debate and, as a result, legislation was introduced and changes in the law were made. I want to state quite categorically the particular issues involved. They remain controversial but they were brought on to the agenda by Members of this House. I shall first take the issue of Northern Ireland and then the question of extradition in particular. All of the major legislative initiatives on Northern Ireland that I can remember were first taken in this House. For example, in 1982 I proposed a motion in the House, which was seconded by Professor Murphy and signed, to his great credit and on his first day in the House, by former Senator John Robb, calling for the extradition of so-called political offenders — terrorists — to Northern Ireland. That motion provided the first opportunity for Members of either House to debate that issue. The debate attracted a great deal of coverage and interest because at the time the subject was thought to be taboo, which it was. The motion calling for extradition was defeated by 48 votes to five, and even those five Members voted for us for technical reasons only.

The debate on that motion prompted a national debate on extradition. It provoked a great deal of thought on the issue because at the time members of the IRA and the UVF were able to plead in Irish courts that terrorist offences were political offences and as a result judges allowed them walk free. At that time there was no extradition for such offences. Although there would have been an extradition warrant issued for those offenders.

Despite there being a very hostile reception to that debate, the Supreme Court changed its mind on the issue two years later and started the extradition process after the Dominic McGlinchey case. Three years after that public opinion had moved so far that at last Ireland ratified the European Convention on Terrorism and legislation on extradition was passed through the Dáil and the Seanad. Such a move would have been unthinkable five years previously. The Bill on extradition was opposed by the Fianna Fáil Opposition of the time for reasons that were historic and understandable but, I think, wrong. Fianna Fáil later, with mixed feelings but with a certain amount of determination, implemented extradition out of this part of Ireland to the other part of Ireland.

That process started in this House, when the Dáil would not touch the issue. It does not really matter about the merits of the case, what matters is that a subject of that kind was first raised in this House, it was brought into the public arena here and it then was put on the Statute Book; it was accepted. That process is valuable in itself.

The question of family planning is also relevant. It was former Senator Mary Robinson who in 1973 or 1974, as an Independent Senator then and a Labour Party Senator later, introduced the first family plannning Bill in the Seanad, thus starting a controversy which is still bubbling in the public arena and for which we are now looking for a solution. That subject, for which Mrs. Robinson clearly got the cold shoulder treatment, was not raised in the Dáil but in this House. There is a great tradition that the pluralist issues are raised and have been raised in the Seanad rather than in the Dáil. Again, the merits of the case are not so important as the fact that those issues have been raised and debated in this House. Members of this House have forced Members of the Dáil and the public to take positions on those issues. The great merit of being able to produce a motion on pluralist issues is that it forces political parties to take a stand on such issues when they are not willing to do so in other forums. That is the merit of this House and that sphere should be extended. Rather than being allowed to recede, it should be encouraged.

I also think of the debates on Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. There is now consensus amongst at least four of the five major political parties in the Dáil that Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution should be at least amended and taken out of their present form. There is now consensus that those Articles are outdated, that they reflect the attitudes of 1937 but not the attitudes of 1992. The Fianna Fáil Party dissent from that view. The debates on Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution were initiated here, not in the Dáil. Many people will not thank Senators for starting that debate because it attacks what many regard as Irish traditional core values, but if we are anything we must be a questioning House; we must be a House that questions traditional values again and again. That is a role that this House has played in the past and one that we will continue to play if we are allowed to do so.

We are lucky that the issue of homosexual law reform has come before this House as a major issue; that a thorny, taboo issue of that kind has been championed in this House and that it was in this House that the Minister chose to announce that he would respond to the European Court of Human Rights. In a tacit way, that is acknowledging that we are the House that has played a most prominent role in pluralistic, liberal issues.

I should like to make one or two points about the University seats, a subject that has been debated for a long time. I was elected by university graduates — I do not know if I shall ever again be so elected — and I have experience of the University seats system that may be of some value to the House. The accusation that they are in some way rotten boroughs or not representative of the people is unfair, principally because the Seanad is not meant to be a purely democratically elected body, an area on which the debate has already touched. However, the House is meant, in its concept at least, to produce people from all kinds of diverse angles who will approach legislation, motions and issues from different directions than would those who are purely directly elected.

There is perhaps one compelling reason for the retention of the University seats. They number a small but significant number of people who live in Northern Ireland. I was conscious, as were my colleagues and as are my colleagues from the National University of Ireland, of that section of the electorate, whether they be Nationalist or Unionist, it does not matter. We have to be conscious of that sector of the electorate not because they have votes but because, like every other constituent, they write to us and invite us to speak at meetings and, I suggest, we go to Northern Ireland many more times than other Members of this House.

For that reason among others, the University Senators are sensitive to the realities in Northern Ireland as they change from day to day. They cannot afford to adopt the traditional Irish Nationalist position from the safety of the Republic of Ireland, because they have constituents in Northern Ireland who are moving all the time, and who do not take that traditional Nationalist position. For that reason the University Senators have to listen to the opinions of those who live in Northern Ireland and they probably articulate those opinions. Other Senators are not subject to that sort of pressure and are not in touch on such a day-to-day basis with so many people. For that reason, if only for that reason, it is valuable to have University Senators.

It is vital that this House continue to have a significant number of Independents because the opinions of Independents contain a different value from those of Members of political parties. We must encourage Independents, even if on some occasions we are a little irritated by what they have to say, by their opinions and by the mileage they get from them.

There are some serious gaps in the composition of this House. If we are to look at a true vocational role for this House and not just a party political role, we should widen the franchise. I am thinking particularly of the unemployed. It is anomalous that in this House we have panels named after various vocational interests which do not include, possibly the greatest vested interest in this country, the unemployed. As we head for a 300,000 unemployment figure, this House has representatives of teachers, farmers, trade unionists, the CII and many other bodies and yet the great mass of unemployed people have no representation in this House. This would be worth considering because the unemployment problem, despite what many politicians say, will not go away in the foreseeable future. It is imperative, if we are to be representative of groups, that we hear the voice of the unemployed, their suggestions and their complaints. They do not have a realistic voice anywhere else. It would be absurd to suggest that representatives of trades unions in this House represent the unemployed. They represent the employed, those who have vested interests in staying employed. There are many other areas of vocational interest which are left out but if we are going to insist on radical reform of this House we must look for those vocational interests to be included in this House.

At the moment we are in danger of becoming irrelevant. We are in danger of reflecting merely the numbers and the points of view in the other House. We are in danger of simply accepting legislation which is handed down to us and not being allowed to find a life of our own. That scenario is reasonably simple to amend. We need constitutional changes, but there is to be a constitutional referendum shortly. I hope this debate will not just be the filler it is. It is filling gaps because we do not have enough legislation. I hope this debate will be the forerunner of constitutional changes this summer which will see this House being reformed and made more relevant.

Is deacair teacht i ndiaidh cainteoir chomh breá leis an Seanadóir Ross ach tá roinnt pointe ba mhaith liom a dhéanamh agus tá cuid acu ag teacht leis na pointi atá déanta ag an Seanadóir a chuaigh romham.

As far as I am concerned the primary role of any House of Parliament is its legislative role and I will address my attention to that role of the Seanad. When we talk about legislation coming to this House we have to first decide which type should be initiated here and which type should come here through the Dáil. I support what Senator Ross and many others said, that a large part of our problems with regard to legislation derives from the fact that it all seems to come in a rush at the end of term.

The idea of a second House is to ensure that there is a time for reflection, for amending, for second thoughts. We have seen time and again the problems that arise from rushed legislation, from legislation which is put through because it is expedient to do so. The danger of rushing legislation through in the last two or three days before Christmas, for instance, was brought home to us in the famous rod licence legislation. A lot of disharmony, disunity and argument arose over a matter of minor importance. If that legislation had come to the Seanad in good time and it had been debated more thoroughly, the massive opposition that was subsequently shown would have manifested itself at that time and we would not have had the rod licence dispute nor would we have had to introduce amending legislation subsequently. That is not to indict one Government, that is something which has been happening under numerous Governments and is something which Senators on all sides should resist.

It is important that this House should be a House of review. There are people who are always calling for the speeding up of the passage of legislation. There is an old saying — marry in haste and repent at leisure. We could amend it as follows — pass legislation in haste and regret it at leisure. The Seanad is a very fitting place for the initiation of Bills which, by common consent, are needed but which require a large amount of detailed work. I refer to Bills such as the Companies Bill and the Bill setting up the Environmental Protection Agency, which is now going through the other House.

There are two other major roles for the Seanad. Thagair an Seanadóir Ross do thábhacht an tSeanaid maidir le díospóireacht a thosnú faoi ghnóthaí a bhaineann le maitheas an phobail i gcoitinne. Luaigh sé cuid de na díospóireachtaí a bhí ar bun sa Teach seo, ábhair a tháinig faoi bhráid an phobail agus ar tháinig athrú mór ar intinn an phobail fúthu thar tréimhse ama.

Ba cheart dúinn tuilleadh díospóireachtaí mar sin a chur ar bun. Tá gá, mar shampla, go mbeadh díospóireacht phoiblí ar chúrsaí tionsclaíochta, ar fhadhbanna an iarthair agus, ar ndóigh, bhí díospóireacht an-tábhachtach againn ar chúrsaí árachais. Bíonn díospóireacht againn ó am go chéile faoi ghnóthaí na hEorpa. Is maith an scéal é sin ach creidim go minic go mbíonn na díospóireachtaí sin ró-theoranta agus ró-ghinearálta. Is ainneoin go bhfuil comhchoiste sa Teach seo a bhíonn ag plé le gnóthaí na hEorpa nach bhfeictear ó thaobh an phobail de go ndéanann Tithe an Oireachtais trí chéile dóthain plé faoi na ngnóthaí sin agus go mór mhór faoin i liomad rialacha atá ag teacht chugainn ón Eoraip an t-am ar fad.

We must accept, some of us more reluctantly than others, that day by day regulations are being passed in Europe, drawn up by people who have no experience of our lifestyle or of our country. These are having a profound effect. No longer is this Parliament sovereign in the sense of being the only law-making authority of this country. I am concerned that a vast volume of legislation and regulation is being passed which, under constitutional amendments, is becoming part of our law and there is very little public debate about it. At times it strikes me as odd that this legislation is taken so calmly. If similar legislation were to be introduced in either of the Houses of the Oireachtas it would be subject to major national debate. I accept that there is a committee within these Houses dealing with secondary legislation, but that committee has not the same impact that debate on such legislation would have in a House of the Oireachtas. Perhaps we should consider setting aside a certain amount of time to debate EC legislation or regulation. We could heighten the awareness of people about how this legislation is affecting the lives of ordinary people. A valid point was made lately that it is very easy for Europe to introduce legislation which has cost implications in our public service and that there is no debate about it. It just slips in, the cost is borne and no more is said about it.

This leads me to the whole role of a Senator. Senators have traditionally been considered as part-time legislators. I have no doubt that in the simpler administrative world of the thirties that was a valid opinion, but we must recognise the reality of the very complex world in which we live. It is not a question of the Seanad being a luxury. If public representatives are to fulfil their role thoroughly and properly, it is a full-time job. Although I am a full-time Senator and work very long hours, I cannot give the time and the detailed effort I should like to my senatorial role. The remuneration of Senators is such that very few would or could be happy without some other form of employment. This is a pity. We must stop accepting the Seanad and seanatorship as some second class citizenship within the Houses of the Oireachtas. We must define a clearly separate role for Senators as distinct from that of Dáil Deputies. It should be no less a role because it is different.

I was appalled on my election to this House to find that the conditions under which legislators in the national parliament operated were so antediluvian and so inferior to those which I had been used to as manager of a small co-operative in a very small rural community in the west. There is a total waste of time due to the fact that even the most mundane tasks have to be performed by myself, due to lack of secretarial assistance. There is a total lack of any research assistance. I could not even be provided with a secretary who could do my work in the first official language, which is the common spoken language of a large part of the area in which I live. These things appal me as a Senator. It shows either that we are too shy to state our requirements or that we do not have due respect for this House. A junior executive in any of the State services, public bodies, semi-State companies or county councils would be provided with better facilities in terms of equipment and staff than we who believe we are legislators.

People say that the public would not countenance better facilities for us and greater expenditure on equipment. I do not believe this. If it is true it is because we have not explained to the public what our role is and what we are doing. As legislators we are probably too apologetic about our role. If we take the full gamut of activities in which any public representative has to be involved, it is quite obvious that we would need top class facilities to perform our role properly. To legislate one has to be informed. This means that, in addition to time spent in this Chamber or around this House, one needs to move throughout the country, reading reports and reviews, meeting individuals and groups, while carrying out the normal duties of any public representative wishing to fulfil his or her role properly. However there is no recognition of Members time, effort or facilities needed to properly undertake their task. If nothing else emerged from this debate than an analysis of what we should be doing, or how we can do it most effectively, then it will have been worth while.

There were references in the course of this debate to different Senators, some who had come from the Lower Chamber to the Upper Chamber, reference even to those in his Chamber who might well have aspirations to become Members of the other House. Such debate is totally sterile, without meaning, and I hope will not be repeated.

I would say to those Senators who tend to criticise Deputies who lose their seats and become Senators, or Senators with aspirations to become Dáil Deputies, it would seem totally illogical to advance such criticisms on the basis that, if one held a job outside this Chamber while aspiring to become a Senator, that would not mean that, for as long as one remained in that outside employment, one did not fulfil one's functions properly. Similarly, as long as Senators perform effectively while Members of this House, I cannot see what relevance any ambitions they may hold for their future careers have to their present membership. It must be remembered that many people in various employments or professions change their type of employment or career at various times throughout their lives. Yet nobody questions their right to move from one to the other as long as they undertake their tasks effectively in whatever sphere.

The whole method of election to and make-up of this House has been the subject of much debate. As was proven in the early thirties, if this House were not to become somewhat obstructive, rendering the activities of Government and the passage of legislation virtually impossible, then it is necessary that its make-up be intrinsic so that, in the normal course of events, legislation passes smoothly through this House. Any other aspiration might be idealistic but, in the imperfect world in which we live, would be totally impractical and, at the end of the day, lead only to the demise of this House. Nonetheless it is important that the membership of this House be comprised of representatives of diverse backgrounds, holding many different views. It is important that its membership be comprised also of some Members who might not necessarily have any allegiance to any political party so that, flawed and all as it might be, its structure would have merit. It is important that the Seanad, in the main, be representative of the main political parties and have an intrinsic mechanism to ensure the smooth passage of legislation.

I contend that the University seats in this House have added a certain colour and experience without which the House would be all the poorer. After all, this House is not meant to be similar to the other House, that is a direct representation of the ordinary citizen on one to one basis. Rather its membership is meant to be comprised of people of diverse views. Therefore, to abolish those University seats would take from its intrinsic character. However, it is a matter of urgency that that franchise be extended to all graduates, particularly those of the new universities that have sprung up in recent years, something I understand needs to be given legislative effect only. It is a pity that that has not come about. It would be my hope that such would be in place for the next Seanad elections.

If we, as University Senators, are seen to represent perhaps the esoteric or finer points of life, then it is important that the Seanad be very conscious that the concerns of the majority of our people are very much about the mundane, that the public at large would not have much time for us were we all to talk continuously and solely about abstruse points with regard to social legislation without ever coming down to earth to discuss matters affecting people on a daily basis, such as social welfare, taxes, jobs, farming and so on. The fact that many Senators, in the main, represent that strand of politics, does not in any way detract from the real purpose of the Seanad but rather creates a much needed balance in this Chamber.

Reading through much of this debate I was surprised that, in all the discussion regarding the various electoral panels and their membership, nobody alluded to the right of the various nominating bodies to nominate candidates they regard as fit to represent their interests. As Members will be aware, there are seats reserved on each electoral panel for nominees of the various nominating bodies. Therefore, it cannot happen that candidates nominated solely by the Oireachtas become Members of Seanad Éireann. To make this Chamber work as a vocational body a huge onus is placed on the nominating bodies to ensure the people they nominate broadly represent their interests.

Bheadh súil agamsa, nuair a toghadh do Sheanad Éireann mé, agus ó shin, go bhfuil an dream a thug ainmniúchán dom don Teach seo, is é sin muintir na Gaeltachta, sásta gur sheas mise do na rudaí a sheasann siadsan dóibh, agus go gceapann siad go bhfuil mé tar éis ionadaíocht mhaith a dhéanamh ar na rudaí a bheadh gar don chroí acusan.

Dúirt an Seanadóir Ross nach raibh aon ionadaíocht ag an dream dífhostaithe ar na painéil a cheapann daoine do Sheanad Éireann. Is fíor dó, ach sílim gurb í an fhadhb atá ansin ná, go dtí le gairid, nach raibh aon eagraíocht ann féin a bhíionadaíoch do dhaoine dífhostaithe. Tá a fhios agam gur féidir nach bhfuil eolas ag an bpobal i gcoitinne go ndéantar athbhreithniú tar éis chuile thoghchán Seanaid ar na heagraíochtaí a bhfuil cead acu daoine a ainmniú le seasamh do thoghchán an tSeanaid. Mar shampla, de réir mar a thuigim ón toghchán deiridh don Seanad, tá ainmniúchán faighte ag Údarás na Gaeltachta le duine a ainmniú le seasamh ar an bpainéal Cultúrtha agus Oideachais. Cheapfainn, dá mbeadh eagraíocht na ndaoine dífhostaithe le cur isteach ar ainmniúchán, mar shampla, don Phainéal Saothair, go mbreathnófaí go báúil ar sin, agus bheadh súil agam go nglacfaí leo don phaineál áirithe sin.

Senator Norris in his contribution on this subject referred to the fact that we may get only 64 or 65 votes to be elected to the Seanad and that the 1,000 is added on, not to give an air or respectability, but for pure mathematical convenience. However, if one followed that through to its logical conclusion the President of the United States of America who is not elected by direct franchise but by an electoral college at the end of the day, would not represent the people of the United States and would only be elected by a few hundred people. It is a two tier system. Technically, a President of America can be elected without a popular mandate once he secures enough votes in the electoral college. It is akin to the way we are elected on the panel system to Seanad Éireann because the people who elect us in turn are elected by the people. They represent a good many of the concerns of the people. Most Members are elected on party tickets because that is the way most people here choose to elect their public representatives. Because of the increased number of small parties and independents amongst our electorate, they will have a much greater say in Seanad elections. They may still be party people but the determining factor between various candidates could lie with the uncommitted independent vote which we will have to deal with in the next election.

I should like to say a few words about the Taoiseach's nominees. It is a pity that in this Seanad, for reasons that were very good at the time due to the form of Government we have, that there were no nominees such as Éamon de Buitléar, Séamus Mallon, John Robb and so on. Like the Independent Senators they would add colour to the Seanad. However, political exigencies determined what the position would be. To take away the nominations of the Taoiseach would not address that. The type of situation we had in 1989 will arise from time to time. However, it is likely that in a future Seanad one, two or three people of that calibre will be nominated. It would be foolish because of particular circumstances, no matter how the rules are applied, to make a fundamental change and take away those nominations. It is important, no matter what Government are in power that they have intrinsically the power to pass legislation.

In relation to representation in the Seanad one matter ought to be looked at for the future: there should be some established method of ensuring representation from the North in Seanad Éireann. Certainly it would add reality to any debates we may have on that subject. It would add a breadth to the Seanad that, unfortunately, at this time cannot be added to the Dáil. I would like to see some method of permanent representation from the North in Seanad Éireann so that we would have a northern view of events.

I see another role as fitting for the Seanad. I have been concerned for a long time about the relationship of semi-State agencies and bodies to the Irish Parliament I remember the difficulty I had in raising the question of charging by Telecom Éireann in the Seanad. When I tried to raise it I was told that since charging was purely a matter for Telecom Éireann I could not ask the Minister responsible a question regarding it. I did manage to get around the problem by asking the Minister for Industry and Commerce to ask the Fair Trade Commission to investigate the matter. I do not think I should have to twist backwards to raise questions regarding fundamental State services. I accept we have a Committee of Public Accounts and a Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies but they address their accounts and their spending of money rather that their role as agents of public policy.

There should be a mechanism whereby we could debate the general thrust of the operation of semi-State bodies. They play a huge and increasing role in our lives. More and more facets of Government are delegated to Stage agencies. Once we do that and once the legislation is put in place those agencies can act without any reference to us. I accept they are responsible to the Minister, but there is no way we can have a debate about their policy and direction. That is a great pity. We have seen time and again how fundamental policy changes in An Post, Telecom Éireann and Teagasc can be affected by the semi-State bodies and politicians are left carrying the can for their actions. The public think public representatives have a say in how those bodies act. They think we can make our views known, in an official way through the Houses of the Oireachtas, to those bodies. In my experience that is not so. We are left to make individual representations or get on radio or television programmes and into the local papers to highlight something of major public importance.

Ar deireadh ar fad, is dóigh liomsa go mba cheart dom mar Sheanadóir ar thaobh an Rialtais focal a rá maidir le ról Sheanadóirí Rialtais agus an bealach chun oibre atá acu le hais Seanadóirí atá sa Fhreasúra. Sílim féin go bhfuil an tuairim curtha thart go mbímid i gcónaí ag aontú le gach rud atá molta dúinn ag an Rialtas, ag an Státseirbhís. Ach ní thuigtear i gcoitinne, maidir le ceardchumainn agus dreamanna eile, go n-éiríonn linne go leor den bhrú agus den athrú a chur i gcrích taobh istigh de choistí, agus bíonn teagmháil eadrainn taobh istigh dá bpáirtithe féin. Mar go ndéantar scaití é taobh istigh de dhoirse dúnta, ní hionann sin agus a rá nach bhfuil an díospóireacht chomh beo agus chomh bríomhar agus a bheadh sé dá mbeadh sé ar urlár an Tí. Creidim féin chomh maith, dá léifí oráidí atá tugtha ag Seanadóirí Rialtais ar gach aon taobh don Teach ag amanna difriúla, is é sin, nuair a bhíonn an Freasúra atá ann anois ina Rialtas agusvice versa. go bhfeicfí go mbíonn deis ag Seanadóirí atá ar thaobh an Rialtais go leor tuairimí a nochtadh agus nach gcuirtear ina gcoinne ag a bpáirtithe féin. Dáiríre, ag deireadh an lae, is é an t-aon laincis atá orainn ná go bhfuiltear ag súil, tar éis na díospóireachta ar fad, go vótálfaimid leis an Rialtas. Is rud nádúrtha agus ciallmhar é sin, mar, mar a dúirt mé, mura mbeadh sé sin ann is beag dlí a rithfí i dTithe an Oireachtais.

Ní amháin sin, ach níl aon amhras orm ach go dtiocfaimid faoi bhrú dhamánta ó bhrúghrúpaí a bheadh ag iarraidh iallach aonaránach a chur orainn le seasamh áirithe a ghlacadh nó seasamh amach ar cheisteanna áirithe. I ndeireadh báire, is é an toradh a bheadh air seo ná briseadh síos chóras na bpáirtithe agus in ionad dreama mar atá againn a thiocfadh, eatarthu féin, ar chomhthuairim faoi chúrsaí éagsúla, bheadh an tír á rialú ag brúghrúpaí a bheadh ag cur a dtuairimí pearsanta ar aghaidh agus ag iarraidh pionós a ghearradh mura n-aontófaí leo. Ní Rialtas maith a bheadh ina leithéid de chóras.

Mar sin, dhéanfainn cosaint ar an gcóras páirtithe atá againn mar chóras a dhéanfadh cinnte gurbh fhéidir linn teacht ar thuairim gan an iomarca tionchair a bheith ag brúghrúpaí beaga ar na cinnte a dhéanfaimis agus a thabharfadh cosaint dúinn on a leithéid sin de bhagairt. Tá siad ann a déarfadh go mbeidh go leor cainte déanta ar an ábhar seo ar fad faoin Seanad, agus ról an tSeanaid, agus nach dtarlóidh aon ghníomh, ach is dóigh liomsa gur éirigh leis an Seanadóir Ross a chruthú, an áit a dtosaítear díospoireacht, cuma cé chomh lag agus chomh beag a bhíonn sé, agus go gcuirtear tuairimí ar aghaidh — agus, go minic, b'fhéidir, bliain nó dhó ina dhiaidh sin — bíonn toradh ar na tuairimí sin.

Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé mar thoradh ar an díospóireacht áirithe seo go dtabharfar aitheantas breise do ról agus do sheasamh an tSeanadóra, agus go gcuidfear na h-aiseanna is gá chuige ar fáil dúinn chun go ndéanfaimid an jab atá le déanamh againn níos fearr agus níos foirfe.

Let me at the outset acknowledge the thoughtful nature of the last contribution. I will allude to some of the suggestions made later. In particular, we should consider taking on board the suggestion that there be a permanent input from Northern Ireland.

The power of this House is obviously being curtailed at present by the social partners and by the process taking place outside the House in relation to pay bargaining. It is also being curtailed by the role being played by the European Parliament which has an input in our legislative process and our economic policies. I suspect, however, that it is being curtailed most — and perhaps this marks a change of direction on our part — by our willingness to take on board suggested reforms. We should with confidence take account of our role, the importance of what we do and give it serious consideration.

The first thing we need to do before reforms will have any meaning is to commit ourselves to extending the number of sitting days. It is absurd that this House sits on so few occasions. For a start we should not sit just two days a week. If we are to put all the other reforms into place we must start at the beginning and extend the number of sitting days. That is a necessary reform. We should have a three day week and curtail our holidays so that we have a more standard-type holiday.

I accept this might infringe on the liberty of people who have to earn a living outside of Seanad Éireann. No one would question that this is necessary given the level of pay. It will, therefore, be necessary to introduce reforms in the area of salary. These would be accepted by the public if they resulted in a greater output. It is my conviction, however, that we must extend the number of sitting days. It is nonsense to suggest that legislation might not be ready on a given day; there are enough important issues to be discussed. We have been elected to the Seanad and it is our responsibility to do so. As such we should accept the notion that we should extend the number of sitting days. I commend the suggestion to the House and I would be delighted if it were to gain all-party acceptance and were to be put forward to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges as a recommended reform.

Secondly, we need to respond urgently, quickly and more comprehensively to issues of the day. We should have had thorough debates in recent months and weeks on Northern Ireland and on unemployment. As someone who comes from a rural area — I will refer to this in the debate on the Appropriation Bill; it is not relevant to go into this matter in depth now — it will be necessary to have an urgent debate shortly on the depopulation of rural areas and on what is happening there with particular reference to the up-to-date census figures. That matter needs to be examined urgently.

The next thing we need to do — and this has been trotted out here so often that we should do something about it — is initiate more legislation in the Seanad. There is nothing wrong with this if one accepts the principle that this House acts, to borrow a phrase, as a distillery, a strainer or filter in relation to legislation and has a less sharp political edge to it. Since that is generally accepted to be the case, clearly it would be worthwhile to initiate legislation here. This should be done more often. Given that we are not able to give effect to this change from within, obviously we will have to put the required pressure on at political level and maintain it to have more legislation initiated here.

Because legislation is not initiated in the Seanad there is a lack of willingness to accept amendments here. I was delighted, however, that a couple of amendments I had tabled to the Child Care Bill were accepted. That Bill was debated in a constructive fashion but it is very noticeable that generally amendments are not accepted. If amendments are not going to be accepted it is nonsense to suggest that we are serious about the Seanad or that it has a serious role to play. What I am saying, therefore, at this stage is that we will have to extend the number of sitting days, expand the range of issues to be debated and respond urgently. We must show our willingness to initiate legislation here more often and there will have to be Government acceptance of amendments in this House; otherwise it is a farce.

I know plans are being mooted by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at present to increase the number of Adjournment matters which may be raised in the House. I welcome that. It is timely and necessary and it should help the House to respond more comprehensively, fully and immediately to issues of the day. I strongly believe that we should introduce questions for written answer to this House. I accept that there may be a logistical problem in regard to Ministers answering questions in the House on a regular basis — although there would be merit in doing so occasionally — but I see no reason for the facility to ask written questions not being extended to Members of this House. It must be done and it might even have a desirable effect on the Order of Business because when an issue of importance to a Member's constituency arises, which is also relevant to his or her nominating body or to the electorate, Members are forced to abuse the Order of Business or Standing Orders to refer to the issue. A system of written answers would partly rectify the problem and increased Adjournment debates will also help, although they will not be adequate.

Senator Ross gave an excellent discourse on the role of the Seanad, based on years of experience. However, I disagree with his view that it would not be fruitful to have MEPs addressing this House. It would be fruitful if, occasionally, MEPs addressed this House; we should constantly review what is happening in Europe and there should be a constant link with them. I know there is an Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities but, progressively, Europe has a much greater input to the day-to-day lives of people here. Senator Raftery, as a former Member of the European Parliament, may elaborate on this. We should constantly monitor the European scene, have interaction with our MEPs and ongoing discussions on European affairs, which would be a worthwhile exercise.

This House should provide an obvious vehicle for dealing with the situation in Northern Ireland. It should provide an obvious forum for bridge building between North and South and should be a focus for reconciliation. That can be achieved by accepting the principle, however we implement it, in our proposed reform of the Seanad. There is no point in having a debate if we do not act on it. I made a number of recommendations — and recommendations have been made by other speakers — and they will all have to be distilled and analysed and a programme of action initiated.

We should accept that Members of this Assembly from Northern Ireland should be accepted as a permanent feature. We should have membership here of progressive opinion within Ireland and as wide a spread of opinion as possible. If we are to give right of audience to and consult Members of the European Parliament — which I previously suggested — I see no reason for this House not having regular consultation with elected representatives with leaders of Northern Ireland opinion. It is critically important, at a time when events in Northern Ireland are of such gravity to see what extent this House could be used as a vehicle for reform or reconciliation. I would accept the principle of Northern Ireland representatives being here, it is a shame that in the Taoiseach's 11 nominees we do not have a number of people from Northern Ireland. I hope that in future this anomaly will be corrected. Of the 11 nominees there should be at least four people reflecting a spread of opinion in Northern Ireland and reflecting the potential for greater understanding.

I am heartened to hear that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges are considering extending Private Members' Time each week. I welcome it as a new initiative which can lead to more fulfilment in the House and a better reaction to events of the day. That is why I argued at the beginning that we will have to increase the number of sitting days in this House. It is an absurdity that the House sits on so few occasions and it cannot continue if we are to be taken seriously in our efforts to reform the House. I support increasing Private Members' Time, that it is used much more often and that it involves all the parties putting forward their motions in sequence. It is crazy to have so little input at that level at present.

We have not attempted to implement a proper committee system in this House. I know we are frustrated by the fact that amendments are seldom accepted in the House and that legislation is, too often, initiated in the Dáil. However, a committee system will have to be introduced which will examine a range of issues which are relevant to society and which arise in current legislation. There is no reason for not having a committee, specific to this House, examining European legislation, our input to Europe, what is happening in Europe relevant to this country and how we could link with Europe in certain matters. There is no reason for a working committee of this House not functioning on the Northern Ireland crisis on an ongoing basis. The committee could be a focus for special trips to Northern Ireland and for special inter-parliamentary delegations between the two parts of the island.

It is absurd that there is not a proper committee system specific to this House and initiated by it. The committee would not necessarily conflict with the Oireachtas Joint Committees of the two Houses because our committee would seek to make our work here more effective, our reaction to events more thorough and would result in an in-depth study of issues. For example, the Culliton report has presented us with a very challenging situation. It challenged thestatus quo on education, investment strategy and industrial organisation.

Why not set up a specialist committee, an all party committee of this House, who would do nothing for the next six weeks except to analyse the Culliton report? The report could be brought back to this House in plenary session. There is no reason for that not to happen. It is the kind of thing we are supposed to be doing and because we have failed in that regard there is cynicism about politics and politicians. I commend this very strongly to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because I do not want this debate to be just a nebulous set of abstractions and good wishes, we should make specific proposals. One of the specific proposals I am putting forward is that we implement such a committee system as a matter of urgency.

With great respect to all our colleagues — I am not referring specifically to any individual — we will have to look at the qualification system for panels. One of the objectives of this House is to ensure that we have expertise in a range of professional areas. I suggest that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges reexamine the qualification system for panels so as to ensure that there is a clear delineation between panels. Some of my colleagues have said that they would qualify for all panels at the one time. That should not be the case. Irrespective of the brilliance and comprehensive experience of individuals it is a bit much to think that they can automatically qualify for every panel. For this reason the qualification system needs to be examined thoroughly. This might prove an uncomfortable experience for all Members of the House but if it does so be it; the system needs to be tightened up.

It was said to me that a person who makes even one speech could qualify for the Cultural and Educational panel. If that is one of the criteria for qualification to that panel it is absurd. I am not for one moment suggesting that Members who were elected on that panel are not suitably qualified — I am not in a position to comment on that one way or the other — but this kind of loose system of qualification has to be done away with if we are serious about reform.

If, as I have suggested, we are to extend the number of sitting days of the House, to perpetually demand the initiation of more legislation here, to ensure that our amendments are accepted and are to be fully committed to what we are supposed to be doing we should not be embarrassed to point out that the Leas-Chathaoirleach is the only office holder who does not have the facilities normally given to office holders of the Oireachtas. I would argue that it is wrong and unacceptable that the duly elected Leas-Chathaoirleach of this House is not given facilities commensurate with that office. The other Oireachtas office holders have access to a car and other facilities. I should like these facilities to be extended to the LeasChataoirleach of the Seanad. If we are to be confident about our duties and role we should demand that these facilities be extended to him. Why should we accept any secondary treatment of this House or its office holders?

Due to recent events — it would be totally wrong to go over these issues which have been adequately thrashed out over the past six months — and the frustration felt by people who are unemployed and so on the level of cynicism among people, particularly young people, towards politics is at an all time high. There is no question about this. All independent market research carried out by agencies who have the proper scientific qualifications and back up have found that there is an enormous level of cynicism among people towards politics. If we do not endeavour to eliminate that cynicism and reduce our level of unemployment a very real threat will be posed to our democratic process. I contend that we have a duty to do this as a matter of urgency.

However, before we can do this we must first reform the Seanad. I have put forward a number of suggestions in this respect. Doubtless other suggestions will be put forward during the course of this debate. One of my greatest fears is that this debate will make its way to the archives to be considered by post graduate students of sociology and politics in ten years time. If this happens we will have nobody to blame but ourselves. We have the capacity to reform the House if we come to a consensus that this should be done. Nobody can stop us doing this as this is a sovereign House of Parliament; it cannot be prevented or thwarted from introducing reforms should it so wish.

We should ensure that the procedures of the House are reformed as a matter of urgency and that a set of reforms, which will remain under review, are put forward within a number of weeks. Otherwise we will be giving people who propose that the Seanad should be abolished legitimate reasons why this should be done.

In discussing the role of the Seanad, we need to be conscious that reform of the Dáil and Seanad is part of the Government's programme. For that reason I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is very easy to say what the role of the Seanad should be but it is very difficult to define this role. Many speakers have said that the Seanad should be apolitical. I welcome this opportunity to decry that illusion. The best way to do this is to refer toThe Pickwick Papers when the mottled faced gentleman addressed Sam Weller and said, “I object to the introduction of politics”.

Some people believe the Seanad should be above politics, that it should be composed of eminent ladies and gentlemen of great distinction from various walks of life and that they should be politically neutured. They believe that those eminent people should discuss political questions from time to time but that they should do so from an independent and detached point of view and, above all else, be unmoved by party politics.

A case can rightly be made for ensuring that the Members of the Upper House be less dependent on party considerations than the Members of the Lower House. I welcome the fact that there are a large number of Independent Senators. I should like to pay tribute to them for the contributions they make on Bills and other matters. If the Seanad is to be anything more than a debating society or a discussion circle, whether or not we like it the word "party" is likely to arise. If the Seanad has the power to discuss and vote on Bills, even if Members are limited to suggesting amendments or delaying the passage of a Bill, surely it will become obvious whether there is a majority of Members for or against the Government. One would think that after 12 months the politically neutered eminent ladies and gentlemen in this House would have to play a political role in that they would have to come down on one side or the other. The case would then be made that the Government side had or had not a majority.

Let us look at the Seanad, why it was set up and what its functions are. The Seanad is expected to give opinions on measures which are promoted by Government. I would ask how can the Seanad avoid party politics or, indeed, why should it? A second House is part of a political system and its business is politics. While I agree that this House need not be as partisan as the Lower House it would be completely powerless to express views or take decisions without being political. A number of speakers mentioned vocational representation. If we go down the road suggested it is inevitable because of the way the Seanad is structured, that instead of having more politically neutral vocational representation there would be much more political interference in the vocational presentation sector. I have had the experience of being a Member of the Dáil and I am now very proud to be a Member of Seanad Éireann. I listen with great attention to those who say there is something wrong with having a political agenda. For example, people say it is wrong for Members of this House to hope to progress to the Dáil or indeed to the European Parliament, but I see nothing wrong with that. It is an important aspiration. It is vocational in itself and is part of the make-up of each individual.

Independent Members, in particular, give the impression from time to time that everything they say is more important than the contributions of the political parties. In all political parties in this House there are people who are totally dedicated to the positions they hold in the Seanad and they work actively to ensure that it runs properly, efficiently and effectively. The reason there is so much interest in the debate on the role of the Seanad is that Members are committed to it. By being politically ambitious it does not take one iota from the commitment of individual Senators to the House.

As regards the operation of the House, it is fair to say that all of us, including those on the Government side, from time to time feel that insufficient time is given to discussion of various bills. Perhaps Ministers from time to time do not treat this House with the respect that is its due. I would ask the members of the new Government to have regard to the Seanad and to the important role it plays in the legislative system. Calls have been made for the setting up of committees of the Seanad, but what is needed is the initiation of a greater number of Bills in this House. It is time wasting to introduce in Dáil Éireann Bills which could be effectively debated and amended in this House. The recent example was the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. As can be seen from the debates on that Bill, the standard of debate was extremely high and valuable points were made. However, by the time that Bill came to the Upper House the time spent debating it was cut by a number of hours.

Senator O'Reilly suggested the setting up of a committee system in this House, but we want to avoid duplication. A number of committees have been set up already. These committees should not be solely Dáil committees but rather joint committees of the Oireachtas. There is scope for the setting up of such committees and in future all committees should include Seanad representation. I would urge the new Taoiseach, in view of the importance of foreign affairs to this country, to set up a foreign affairs committee and to ensure that there is Seanad representation on that committee. I regret that there is no Seanad representation on the Committee of Public Accounts. I see no reason why that is so because Seanad representatives would have a major role to play on such a committee.

I am bemused by the fact that Senators request the proper ordering of business because the Order of Business each day reminds me of champagne corks popping, with people hopping up, patting each other on the back and congratulating each other for raising certain matters. Very often it is the people in favour of reform who are responsible for lengthening discussion on the Order of Business. Some of these people see the Order of Business as an opportunity to grab a headline, and I can well understand that because we are all political minded and none of us backs away from such an opportunity.

In the Seanad there are various groupings — the Government side and the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael, Labour and the Independents. Surely it would be possible in the ordering of business to make arrangements with regard to the questions that might arise on the Order of Business. This calls for a discipline within each group so that the time for dealing with the Order of Business can be reduced and this House is seen to act in a proper manner. I say that genuinely because this side of the House — certainly since I became a Member— likes to raise matters on the Order of Business, as do Independent Members who frequently use the opportunity of doing so. It is unacceptable that four or five Independent Members should raise matters on the Order of Business on any one day. Unfortunately, this side of the House has taken the view that if Independent Members may raise as many matters as they wish on the Order of Business why can we not do the same? It is a question of putting our heads together to agree on a procedure to restore normality to the Order of Business.

Somebody spoke about the voting procedures. Funnily enough, I like the archaic way we vote as it gives Senators the opportunity to come together and mingle. It is good that all Members are in the House at the one time. However, it should be an order of the House that Senators be seated in their place after voting rather than standing around and talking to each other. That would be in keeping with the dignity of the House.

With the advent of televising the Seanad, the proceedings of this House are being viewed in the public arena. I agree with all the Members who said that the Seanad should be made more meaningful. We are all aware of the restrictions on having topical matters of national importance debated. Indeed, over the past 12 months I have being trying to initiate a debate on the banking system. When I gave notice that I wished to raise this matter on the Adjournment I was told that no Minister had a function in the matter. Therefore, it appears to me that the time has come to give Members the opportunity to make statements without a Minister being present. In making that suggestion I am conscious that there is not much point in a Member making a statement if somebody is not taking note of what has been said. Some Members have suggested that we should be allowed to put down questions but as this is a costly and difficult procedure I cannot see that suggestion being taken on board. However, I suggest that the relevant Minister could respond to the Member's statement the following week, outlining the Government's view on the topic. That would be meaningful and at the same time we would be eliciting a response from the Minister, which is exactly what we want to achieve.

There are a great many topical issues that are relevant to this House. Is it not strange that with so many unemployed we have not had a debate on job creation? I would advocate any forum— even an all-party group that could come up with good ideas for the creation of jobs, indeed, everybody would.

Members would like to have the opportunity to raise matters of local importance but there is no scope at present for doing that. I agree that there should be grievance time and that we should be allowed to raise at least four topics on the Adjournment each week. Some Members suggest that the sitting time should be extended by another day. I am not sure if that is a good idea, one has to be practical. A Senator is paid in the region of £14,000 per annum and many Senators would find it very difficult to provide for their family and exist on that. However, I suggest there is scope for extending the sitting time in the two-day period. Is there any reason why we should not start at 12 noon and continue until 10 p.m. on Wednesday night? I know we have done that in certain instances but perhaps we could structure the sitting time in that way. This would give us time to raise topical matters of local and national interest.

A number of Members suggested that we could arrange for dignitaries to visit this House. I agree with that. For instance, we could invite the Commissioners of the European Communities to address this House. Senator O'Reilly suggested that we invite members of the European Parliament but I am wary of inviting parliamentarians because of the political nature of the EC Parliament. The EC is important to Ireland and will become increasingly so and it is important that Senators be aware of the various EC programmes from which Ireland can benefit. Therefore it would be a good idea to issue an invitation to the EC Commissioners to address this House on various issues. I believe that the regions should have direct access to European funding and we could initiate the process here. I support the idea of extending an invitation to the Commissioners.

I would like to comment on a remark made by Senator Ross. He said that in the period from July to December 1991 only two Bills were passed by this House. That is very unfair to this House. Let me put on record what exactly transpired in this House from January to December 1991: 34 Bills were passed by this House — a far cry from the number mentioned by Senator Ross; 13 non-Government motions and 12 Government motions were accommodated; statements were made on nine occasions on issues such as the Gulf War, the EC, the Kurds, etc. Finally, in case the message goes out that the Seanad is not functioning well, let me commend the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader of the House and the party leaders for the excellent way, by and large, that business is now ordered. We have had far less acrimony in recent times than we had in the past. We are all learning. There is an across-the-board commitment to a more effective and efficient system in Seanad Éireann. For that reason I am delighted that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges propose to adopt a number of procedures that will enhance the reputation of Seanad Éireann.

This is my third time discussing the role of the Seanad in the last two years. It is clear from the debate so far that there is a will and a need to reform and change the role of the Seanad. We need to look at ourselves and at the way in which we must see this House.

This House is an undemocratic Chamber. It is a Chamber which, in many instances, is unrepresentative. It is very often irrelevant and as a debating Chamber it is emaciated in that it has lost its power in many ways. That is not to say that it does not have extraordinary potential nor is it to say that it does not have a critically important role within the structure of the Oireachtas.

In regard to legislation, the role of the Seanad consists of reviewing legislation that is already on the Statute Book and revising legislation initiated in the other House. More importantly than any of those is its role in initiating legislation. Those are the three legislative functions of this House. We fall down on all three. We are at our best in the area of initiating legislation and do that better than it is done in the Dáil for the simple reason that a Bill gets far more detailed consideration and attention during the course of its passage through this Chamber.

The procedure in the Dáil — the only reason I refer to this is just simply to show the comparison, not to say one is better than the other in that sense — is that there is a set period of time in which to deal with legislation. Very often, particularly on Committee and Report Stages of a Bill, all the amendments are not debated in the Dáil. This House has a different approach. We insist on addressing and dealing with every amendment. Consequently, a Bill which has passed through the process of initiation in this House is likely to have far fewer defects in it than a Bill which was initiated in the Dáil. That is a fact that is not widely known and one that we do not sell ourselves. It is our strongest point and our greatest contribution.

Three major Bills, the Companies Bill, which now is an Act, the Insurance Bill and the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, were initiated in this House and were changed beyond recognition between the time they were initiated and the time they were passed by this House. That is the reality. The changes were for the better.

Changes in this House can be made in a non-confrontational way because it is not seem as a party against party type Chamber. In this House the groups address legislation and put forward proposals which are far more likely to be accepted by the Minister of the day. Unfortunately the problem with Bills which have been initiated in the Dáil and which come here, is that Ministers very often set their faces against accepting changes because that would mean bringing the legislation back to the other House. That is unfortunate. It results in weak legislation. As regards the initiation of legislation there should be a balance between this House and the Dáil.

On the question of the review of legislation, that process does not take place at all. There are areas where, as part of the process of legislating, we should address older legislation, run the rule over them to see if they are still relevant and reflect the views, attitudes and philosophies of the country at this stage. We do not do that. Some form of that process is done regularly by the Law Reform Commission. Unfortunately the reports of the Law Reform Commission are far too rarely debated. I accept the point that it might be better to have the Law Reform Commission doing the professional work of lawyers in addressing legislation and giving their reports to us but, at the end of the day, it would be a mistake to think that lawyers are the best people to review legislation. They are not. Lawyers are the best people to examine legislation. They are the best people to make comments on its worth, safety and effectiveness but not to make the political judgment as to what is necessary, correct or right. That is our function and it is an area where we are losing out.

This is an undemocratic Chamber and however much that puts our backs up, or however much people react against it, that is the reality. We cannot sustain the method of election to this Chamber much longer. I think I am the only person on the Independent benches who has never criticised the role of members of local authorities, county councils, corporations, etc., despite the fact that during the course of this debate Senator Finneran made strong comments about my views on this. I put it on record that I have never offered a view in public. My view is that I see a role for county councillors and city councillors in the election to this Chamber. I am the only one on the Independent benches who has taken that view consistently. I would never underestimate the important role and function of county councillors and I would not deprive them of their input into the election of this Chamber, but I would restrict it.

I spend my life working in the area of education and trade unionism. There is a Labour Panel and an Education Panel but I would not have the remotest possibility of being elected on either panel despite the fact that I am at the most senior level in trade unionism and in education. There is something wrong with that system. It seems extraordinary that the only way I could be elected was on the most exclusive — in terms of social position — the University franchise. In general terms, one-tenth of this House, six members out of 60, are elected through the University vote. In terms of the population at large, approximately one person in ten receives third level education. It represents one cadre of people within the community and it sticks in my throat to find it is the only one on which I could become elected.

As far as the University panel is concerned — and I have been saying this since 1981 despite the fact that some people think it is a new issue — every graduate of every third level institution, RTCs, colleges of education, the new universities, should have a vote on the panel that elects me. I will develop that point.

Sitting suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.