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.