Role of Seanad Éireann: Statements (Resumed).

I thank the Leader of the House for his usual courtesy and cooperation in allowing me to resume this debate although it was the turn of the Government side. Like Senator Manning, since I became a Member of this House I have attempted to put forward proposals and opinions for the improvement of the House.

I am particularly pleased that Senator Manning holds a pivotal role in the House because he has expressed, both inside the House and outside in the course of his academic career, specific proposals on how the House should conduct its business and how it should progress in the future both in the constitutional context and in the legislative context. I would ascribe much of the inspiration for the debate on reform of the Seanad to Senator Manning. His integrity as an academic and as a politician of stature has carried considerable weight outside the House. I do not make these remarks in a patronising sense but primarily to convey the view that we in this House sometimes underestimate and undersell ourselves and, as a result, the wider public perception of what we do is downplayed. It is only by constantly reminding the public through newspaper articles and media appearances that we can convey the importance of our role as an equal member of the constitutional trinity, as it were.

I will not offer radical proposals other than to add my voice to the well researched debate that has taken place thus far. Obviously, the electoral system is an old chestnut at this stage. Irrespective of how much I look at the system, I find it hard to arrive at an alternative that would be accepted by us as Members, by the public and by the Government of the day. The Government of the day, as I have discovered since 1987, is reluctant to tamper with the Seanad. It is sometimes forgotten that any changes in the role, structure or operation of the Seanad would require constitutional amendments. I am not referring to how the Seanad orders its business. However, its role in the constitutional sense would require constitutional amendments and no Government really has the stomach for that.

Some years ago, when a new Senator proposed at a meeting that all Senators should have word processors, a former leader of our party, who shall remain nameless, rounded on him and said that if a poll was taken in the morning the public would vote to abolish the Seanad. The retort was that if a further poll was taken the following morning the Dáil would also be abolished.

People feel dissatisfied, marginalised or cynical about the political structures which govern them and most people would say that a dictatorship would be best for this country. People in developed democracies have a strange view that democracy is the worst system. Those opinions are usually expressed by people who have no experience of totalitarian regimes or have not even read history books about fascism, totalitarianism and dictatorship. Our democracy, flawed as it is, is the best system we have. I would stoutly defend its right to exist and we should build on it.

I have very little to offer in the context of electoral reform of this House. Regionalising the voting structure would be an easy road to take. As matters stand, there is an electoral college of 970 members which elects 43 Members of the Seanad through the five vocational panels; six are elected through the university panels and the remaining 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach of the day. Any debate on changing the system of election tends to focus on the 43 Members elected by the five panels. When these panels were set up they were intended to reflect in a general sense the main vocational activities in this country — industry and commerce, culture and education, labour and trade unions, administration and agriculture. Those priorities have not changed much since 1937.

I would like to see more direct input from the vocational bodies. I am a nominee of the Library Association of Ireland. There is a common error in the public mind that Senators are appointed and not really elected. These are perceived as purely political appointments where the parties in power decide who is going to be in the Seanad. I wish that were the case as it would make life much easier for us all.

I have represented the Library Association since 1987 but somehow, despite my best efforts, it feels marginalised to a degree from the political system, which is not right. It is, effectively, a lobby group and Governments' response to lobby groups depends on their importance in society. For example, farmers and the trade union movement are seen as the most powerful lobby and, in recent years, IBEC has increased its muscle. They are seen as strong lobby groups to which Governments seem to respond within minutes of an issue arising. However, there is a range of other activities and interests, from the libraries through to the voluntary sector, which do not always get the same response from the Government, partly because they are not perceived as representing major activities. However, they are important and essential to the overall life of the country.

Perhaps there could be some way of addressing this issue of a balance between the vocational and political sectors. I know that de Valera's Constitution, in its theoretical sense, thought that it had addressed this issue, but the reality is that politics took over very quickly. Any vocational body which has wished to have one of its representatives elected to the Seanad has found — cruelly, in some cases — that unless its appointee is a political activist he or she has little real chance of being elected to this House. It is a courageous action to go before an electorate, irrespective of its size. Irrespective of party or ideology, one must admire anybody who stands up to be counted in the cruellest test of all.

I remember an incident where a vocational body nominated one of its own members — I will not name the body or the individual to save him the embarrassment. It was either my first or second election and the gentleman concerned embarked on a very sophisticated marketing and advertising campaign to local councillors. Enormous sums of money were spent on this mail shot. I am not sure if he went around the country shaking hands and meeting councillors. If he did, I was not aware of it, although he was on a different panel to me and, as Senators will know, they are five separate elections. At the end of the day an enormous amount of money, time and energy were expended and he got one vote, which was probably from his mother-in-law or a personal friend. He is a very able individual in his chosen profession, which is why his professional body nominated him. They must have been cruelly disappointed that not only was their man not elected but he got only one vote in what was supposed to be a vocational election. I do not wish to labour the point but there is a need to balance the needs of the vocational sector and the political realities. How the two can be married is a question which we may need to debate separately.

I am on record as being in support of votes for emigrants. I am unequivocally and unambiguously in support of the right of emigrants, with certain conditions attached, to have a vote in our elections. Having said that, I fully understand — perhaps better than most — the fear particularly of TDs, of enfranchising thousands of the Irish diaspora.

The Tánaiste made a very telling comment that he would hate to be waiting for the results from the box in the Bronx to decide the outcome of the election in north Kerry, He was not joking as, after all, he was elected with only four votes to spare in a recent election. My colleague, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, told me at the height of a debate on this issue some time ago that when she was in Boston during her ministerial stewardship she was told that there were more people in Boston from the Galway West constituency than were living in the constituency. Most of them were emigrants who would be eligible under a ten or 15 year rule if the legislation was introduced.

For every approach which has been made to me because of my continuing contacts with emigrant welfare groups in the UK asking about the vote, I have received other representations from long term emigrants saying that they do not wish to have enfranchisement. In other words, they do not want power without taxation as they live in their adopted country and do not want to be involved here.

I am raising this mainly because it is relevant to this Seanad and, under the proposals put forward by the Government, it will become even more relevant. I understand why the Government responded in the way in which it did. On one hand, it did not wish to ignore what it saw as a very significant, relevant and powerful lobby, as every family in this country has somebody who has emigrated. On the other hand, it has taken a soft option in channelling it into this House.

The last thing people lobbying for representation ever thought was that they would be represented in the Seanad. They want direct voting rights in this country. In the order of their priorities, Dáil elections come last on the list because they recognise the PR system and its vagaries. Their first priority is to have the right to vote in presidential elections and I see no problem with that. They also seek the right to vote on constitutional amendments, which might open a different debate.

I am not sure three Senators, purportedly representing emigrants' interests in the House, will go even a short distance towards satisfying the lobby which is primarily made up of young emigrants, those who left this country in the last ten or 15 years. The older the age profile among emigrants, the less likely they are to look for voting rights. In narrowing it even further, the main thrust of the lobby comes from our near neighbour and the Irish in Britain, who are closer to what is happening here because of better and less expensive access in recent years. They now see their sojourn in England as of a temporary nature and even if they decide to live there for a considerable length of time, they can fly back to Ireland.

We all know of people who regularly fly home or take the ferry. They are in constant touch through Irish newspapers, local and national, and as a result of RTE's initiative, people across Europe can now receive that station as clear as a bell if they have a satellite channel; they can hear the news on the radio and there are plans to broadcast RTE television programmes through the European satellite network.

A mix of Irish television programmes will be available to the Irish diaspora in Europe; this is happening already in the United States. The world has become a global village perhaps much faster than even McLuhan recognised. There is a clear split in the Irish diaspora between the younger element, who are looking for enfranchisement, and longer stay emigrants, who do not care one way or the other. I am not sure that the Government's proposal is a good idea and it may take time to reflect before the move is implemented.

Apart from votes for emigrants, there are other more mundane matters. The right of audience has come up in this House on several occasions. Some years ago, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in its wisdom introduced limited right of audience for distinguished visitors but I would like it to go further. I do not understand why this House should not be in a position to invite distinguished visitors to the country, not just to sit in the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery but to address the House. There is no reason this cannot be done; it has happened previously in the Dáil. As Members know, the Protocol is that a Head of State addresses a joint sitting of both Houses, while a Prime Minister, who is not a Head of State, addresses only the Dáil.

In a sense, this marginalises the Seanad. It happened during my time in the House, where distinguished visitors have addressed only the Dáil because of their status in their own country. Why cannot the Seanad invite people to address the Seanad? It may be that, in the normal event, the invitee would be asked to address the Dáil. It does not necessarily follow that it would have to be the Prime Minister. It could be a Foreign Minister or anybody who would enhance the workings of the House by their presence, and their speech would inform, educate and hopefully entertain us. There are many areas that could be examined in this regard.

In the context of Europe, there is no reason an initiative could not be introduced which would allow Members of the European Parliament a right of audience and a right of contribution in the House. Why not have a European question time? There is no facility at present, nor has there been since the first directly elected Parliament in 1979, to allow right of access to MEPs beyond the barrier in Dáil Éireann and the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery in the Seanad, even if they were former Members of the House.

This is an area the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should examine. It is a decision that the Government would have to ultimately make because it would involve a change which might not be within the remit of the House. However, of all the points I have raised, the question of MEPs being given a right of audience could be addressed in a practical manner. It would enhance the House because so little about events in Europe is filtering through to the average person. I am not sure if Senators remember the most famous survey of all carried out during the Dublin South-Central constituency by-election, in which the current Taoiseach, Deputy Bruton, was identified by a percentage of the population as a Member of the European Parliament. Other well known politicians were similarly identified but I use that as an extraordinary example of people's indifference to what is going on in Europe.

They consider it as that far country, which Chamberlain once talked about in the context of Czechoslovakia. It is still endemic in this country that foreign affairs are foreign and do not matter. However, what happens in Europe matters greatly, and what will happen in Europe matters even more. One way of addressing this problem is to ensure that MEPs come into the House and give an account of their stewardship in their areas of expertise, and there could be a short question and answer session. This could be done not every week but perhaps once a month. This might be within the remit of Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

On a completely different level, there is the question of facilities provided for Senators. I understand that a number of my colleagues, Senator Cassidy in particular, have already requested that Senators be provided with similar secretarial facilities to TDs. As the matter stands in most cases, a Senator is entitled to a one-third share of a secretary. This is inadequate. Senators have an enormous amount of constituency work, and I mean constituency in the broadest sense. Our electorate is national and we must respond to it. I am a career Senator and I value this House. I am honoured to be a Senator and I have no aspirations to be elsewhere.

The current position is no longer acceptable if a Member is to achieve what I believe a Senator should in responding to his or her constituents, such as county and municipal councillors, TDs and the myriad of lobby groups now writing to us because of the increasing amount of legislation initiated in the House and the increasing number of debates on current topics. It is unacceptable that a Senator should have only a one-third share of a secretary. We should have the full facilities which are available to TDs. This matter may not necessarily come under the reform of the House but it should be put on record; I know Senator Manning would not be against the idea if it were within his gift.

To summarise, I do not agree with the proposal regarding Seanad representation for emigrants. I agree in principle but it is not the way to proceed. The status of MEPs arises in the context of right of audience for distinguished visitors. There is an obligation on them and on us as legislators to continually update ourselves on what is happening at European Parliament level. Facilities for Senators should be on a par with those of Members of the other House.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss Seanad reform. I place on record my appreciation to the Leader of the House, Senator Manning, and the former Leader, Senator Wright, for facilitating this type of discussion. We have been most fortunate in that Leaders of the Seanad in the recent past have been more than open to change and reform and to making the whole system more effective.

When the founding fathers of America described their own parliamentary system, particularly the Senate and Congress, they used the imagery of the cup to describe the Congress or House of Representatives — which is elected by the people — and described the Senate as the saucer that could take a reflective look at legislation and deal with it outside the heat of the moment. I think it has worked extremely well in the United States.

People on all sides of this House are increasingly becoming more open to honestly and objectively look at various issues. We are all prisoners of our own parties in a way, willing prisoners but prisoners nonetheless. We listen to a contribution on one side of the House and somebody is saying things with which we agree and would love to support and vote for, but because of the nature of the parliamentary system we cannot. This is the downside of that system. All the good arguments could not conceivably come from one side of the House. We had another indication of this in an earlier debate today when Senator Daly introduced a worthy Bill. In a better ordered House Senator Daly and the Minister, Deputy Jim Higgins would have gone through this legislation together, agreed it would become the Daly/Higgins Bill and brought it into the House and had it passed. In a sensible society that is how it would have been done.

This Government will have to accept that some Opposition legislation should be passed into law. That will be a fact of life. There will be an onus on the Opposition to forego the straightforward political play, to accept that the Government has to do certain things and can only go a certain part of the way. If that spirit begins to permeate this House, we may make real progress in terms of passing legislation.

There have been many suggestions made about the role of Seanad Éireann and it is only possible to look at this in an á la carte manner. Some discussion took place regarding the Order of Business and the way it can get out of hand but in the absence of Question Time the Order of Business is a very important ritual in this House. A suggestion was made that in relation to the Order of Business, written notice would be given. That would be the death of the whole thing. There is nothing wrong with put-thing the Leader of the House on the spot every morning. It keeps him fit and it keeps his brain active and, more importantly, it enables him to put the pressure on the Executive. It hits him without warning or notice, he has to go to a Minister for answers. It is a terribly important mechanism that should not be distilled out of existence. If we have to give prior written notice that distillation process will render it ineffective in the long run. I believe that, in the cut and thrust of parliament, it is better that people can stand up and ask questions of the Leader of the House without any prior notice, written or otherwise and the Leader has to instantly respond to the queries raised and then come back later with a more substantive reply. That is a good system and ought to remain.

I would like to see Question Time in this House with Members of the Government present. The only caveat I would put in is that it seems to be an enormously costly business. Whenever a question is put down in the Dáil in relation to the cost of Deputies' questions there seems to be a horrific amount of money spent on research. Frankly, in this age of the information super highway, how could it cost so much money to get what seems to be basic information out of the system? I simply do not understand that. I cannot understand that an American company can do its business from Fermoy using this information super highway and yet it costs a small fortune to have a simple question answered by the Civil Service through the question system in the Dáil.

They probably do not have to dot "i's" and cross "t's" for Ministers and say: "In the event of being pressed, Minister..."

I take your point. The problem sometimes is that they give too much advice and not enough information. I believe that if we had Question Time in this House, for instance, a lot of the debate which took place on flooding would have been unnecessary because we would have put the Minister through his or her paces. It gives a Member a greater feeling of being involved. There is no question, in my mind, in relation to Seanad reform but an attitude of reform must happen within every political party. We all attend parliamentary party meetings and know full well that we have to push to be heard and for our views to have weight. Everybody knows that in each parliamentary grouping the views of Deputies predominate over those of the Senators. That is an attitude of mind which changes dramatically when the Minister of the day loses his seat in the Dáil and appears in this House. Suddenly this House becomes all important, but when Ministers have the power to respond rapidly to Members of this House they are slow to do so. There is a mindset which has to be corrected within the body politic before we can begin to convince the public that this House is worth keeping and worth looking at and listening to.

As I said many years ago while in Brussels looking at the system, we created this tier of parliamentary representatives called MEPs and did not bother to integrate them into the political system in Ireland. We just shot them into space, or wherever they go, and that was the end of it. It is inconceivable that they could relate to their constituents given the size of the Munster constituency, the Leinster constituency, etc. It is difficult enough in the Dáil——

Apparently they fall to ground in places like Barcelona and Guadeloupe.

I am sure the Senator has also travelled.

Indeed, I have and if were an MEP I would be out there too.

Perhaps as a Member of this House he has travelled, I do not know.

If he has not he should get in touch with us; we could send him on a trip.

Unfortunately the Leader has already made me that offer.

And immediately.

My offer does not entail your return.

On the serious point of the MEPs that system was never integrated. I believe that the right of audience in this House, perhaps by invitation, would be a change which would allow the Seanad to become the watchdog on European legislation. Somebody spoke earlier about committee reports that are never debated. Masses of European legislation are shipped through the bureaucracy in Strasbourg and Brussels and simply rubber stamped in Ireland.

Ministerial orders are just as bad.

Exactly. The whole system works by default. There is no real or intensive scrutiny of what is going on particularly now that European legislation frames and dictates, to a large extent, the shape of the economy and of the social map in Ireland. The Seanad could play a very important role as the watchdog on Europe. We deal with the legislation as it comes from the Dáil and specialise on European legislation. Many debates in this House which are very worthwhile have not the same relevance to citizens as the impact European measures have on their daily lives. I believe we could do that with great effectiveness. The right of important persons to address the House is something we should have the courage to introduce.

I would love to have heard Jim Molyneaux speak in this House. I would love to have somebody like Mr. McMichael address the House. It does not have to be a combatitive thing. The Seanad is a reflective type of Chamber — to use the softer analogy of the US system — and they could come here without any side being taken. We would simply listen to what they have to say. We should be proactive in that area. This year we should all sit down in an all party way, perhaps by way of the Committee of Procedure and Privileges or a Seanad group, and make out a list of people we would agree should come to address us on important topics, not necessarily of the day but of the long term.

Reference was also made to the fact that the closing dates for Dáil and Seanad nominations should be locked together. I strongly disagree with this proposal. I have been involved in this business for approximately 30 years. I have seen people stand for election, lose their businesses and being defeated. I have also seen both them and their families in tears and with nowhere to go. This House is part of the political system and that system should not be closed off in any artificial way. There is no reason to stop somebody of vast experience who has served in the other House other than that of malice. In a business situation it would be considered criminal not to ensure that such a person was brought back into the business. It seems that there is something not quite right about doing this in politics, but that is a nonsense. If people — unlike myself, I was nominated to this House — have to seek election through the Seanad panel system, they are more than entitled to come into this House. We should not put any artificial barriers before people who fail to get elected to the Dáil. There is only a limited number of seats and there are a lot of candidates.

Members from this House have in my lifetime made enormous contributions to Irish public life. Former Taoiseach, Garrett FitzGerald, the current Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, and other distinguished Members were Members of this House. If there were no avenues for these people to continue their public service careers, the country would be at a serious loss. We should not try to pander to those who, as Senator Mooney said, would abolish the Oireachtas overnight anyway. That is the way this country operates as regards begrudgery.

The possibility of the Government nominating Ministers from the Seanad was also mentioned in the course of the contributions. That has been used in the past, again with great distinction. Ex-Senator Dooge was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs to the overwhelming approval of the country.

I thought it was a good precedent, but unfortunately the Taoiseach did not listen to me this time.

Even though Senator Manning is from the right college.

If that happened, I am sure it would receive the same unanimous approval. Senator Dooge brought great credit to that position and to this House. Nobody but the most begrudging person would have said that he was not the best person for that post. All of us live in hope that some of us in this House would get the nod in becoming a Minister or Minster of State, but of course the competition and pressure to appoint people for the other House is overwhelming.

My last point concerns accommodation. In this day and age no Member should have to share an office with two, three or four other people or even with a secretary. People come to see Members about all sorts of private and delicate matters and it is a nonsense that Members must find a corner of the bar, the restaurant or one of the interview rooms to do their public business. They are entitled to some privacy. There are buildings which are part of the campus of this House that could be put to use and reallocated. The quicker that is done, the better. It was done with great success in regard to Government Buildings, for which the much abused ex-Taoiseach, C.J Haughey, deserves the greatest of credit. He had the vision, foresight and courage to put in place something that is now admired by all as a wonderful innovation. It was criticised by all parties, including my own, at the time, but we were shortsighted. It is a credit to him that this building was used in that manner. Without naming any institutions, there is room here that can allow us to expand and provide proper facilities for Members.

On the question of remuneration — Senator O'Toole has mentioned this on a number of occasions — we are paid far less than a general operative in almost any industry. The Seanad salary is meaningless in terms of an income. The last increase given, while welcome, came nowhere near making it a salary that one could live on or could call reasonable in any shape or form. We should look on 1995 as an opportunity to bring into this House real reforms that will last into the future and that will also bring credit to the House. We should try, as best we can, to ensure that the public understand that we are trying to do the best possible job, in most cases under enormously difficult circumstances.

The sort of debates we have had largely reflect the maturity of the Irish political system of late. There has been much more common cause among us recently to try to prepare the best possible legislation for this country.

This is the fourth debate we have had on this issue in the last seven years. I do not think I will raise anything that has not been said before; there is an element of going on the record here. Over the last number of years I have found that the debates have led to a more consensual approach to the issue. While people may have hardened in their positions, there is also a general movement towards a more open approach. The fact that Senator Manning is now the Leader of the House is a positive step, because his views on this matter are well known. Even within the constraints of leading on Government business, there are many matters that he could permit us to examine.

I am speaking without a time limit. I could stay on my feet and contribute as long as I like, but I will not because I would bore the House to death; I did that on one famous occasion until 3 a.m. Since then I have taken the view that there should be a time limit on every contribution. I know that Senator Manning and all of the Leaders of this House I have worked with since 1967 would take that view. It has increasingly become the position in the last five years that if one cannot say what one wants to say in 15 minutes, one cannot say it at all. That has been accepted, even on important issues, and has been implemented under the leadership of Senator Manning and, previous to him. Senator Wright, in an open and flexible way. If there was a need to take time from other Members so as to give a Member with a real concern or interest in the issue a few extra minutes, it could be done. It has been proven to work effectively.

Over the last seven years I have changed my view that the Dáil and Seanad nomination dates should be the same. The first time I spoke on this issue in 1988, I was strongly in favour of having the nomination dates for both Houses at the same time so that candidates would have to give a commitment to both Houses. I said this, not in the hope of keeping defeated Dáil candidates out of this House but of showing commitment to one House or the other. I would not support that line anymore. I have consistently held the view that I felt it in order for Members of this House to aspire to becoming Members of the Dáil if they wished to. There is nothing wrong with that. People can contribute to both Houses. I have always rejected the purist line which many Members on my benches have taken. People who are prepared to give to public life should be encouraged. Members of this House have had aspirations to the Park, third leg of the Oireachtas, and to the Dáil.

This House has often been described as a platform for young hopefuls who wish to be elected to the Dáil and, conversely, as a retirement pasture for those who failed in the other House. I do not subscribe to either view, although misinformed Members on both sides of the House have often accused me of holding that view. The House benefits from the experience of politicians who have been Ministers, whether I agree with them or not; I tend to disagree with most of them. I see the value of their experience being brought to bear. This House often provides an entrée for many into national politics. Some uncharitably refer to their youthful inexperience. It is a good thing to be shoved into the milieu of this House as an instrument of change.

Some Members are committed to this House. I have no wish to become a Member of Dáil Éireann — that is not to demean Members of that House — but I believe that I can best make the contribution I want to make in this House. That is not a statement about either House but about myself. It also relates to an issue which I will deal with later — the way we fail to reward our public representatives.

Constitutional reform is required as regards the method of election to this House, which is unrepresentative and undemocratic. I do not want people getting up on their high horse; I am not pointing a finger at anybody. I find it extraordinary that I am elected by university graduates. I am grateful for their support over the past seven or eight years and I hope they will continue that support. But the idea that the rest of the vote is purely in the hands of county councillors is not good. This may be interpreted by people as being anti-county councillors, far from it; I hold county councillors in the highest regard and they are entitled to participate in the voting system here.

If I had my way the inner and outer panels in each election would be separate. The inner panel would be elected by county councillors and public representatives, while the outer panel would be elected by popular vote. That could easily be done without constitutional change; it would simply require an amendment to the legislation. The Agricultural Panel, for example, would involve those in the agricultural industry, farmers or their representatives, and the Labour Panel would involve those in Labour, including trade unions, businesses and those representing the view of registered members of certain organisations. The partners in education should make an input into the Educational Panel, while fishermen or their representatives should have a vote on the relevant panel. I believe it would add considerably to the sense of participation in the Seanad and could ensure universal participation.

My constituency needs to be reformed and my views are well known in this regard. Before I was elected to the Seanad I suggested that graduates of all third level institutions should be able to participate. Graduates now form a large percentage of the population; it is still a privileged percentage. That they are able to elect people is useful and should be maintained. Third level institutions which do not have a vote on this panel are being demeaned or diminished to certain extent. The constitutional change which would allow this was brought in by Gemma Hussey in 1979 and it should be implemented. Like any politician I do not like anyone tampering with my constituency and it is a challenge which politically would be better if it passed me by. However, I cannot see any justification for excluding those people at this time.

As regards the constitutional power of the Seanad, I do not agree with those who believe its powers should be extended. The balance in the Constitution is correct and if it is used to its limit, it is good enough as far as I am concerned. I like the idea of a bicameral Legislature where the second House does not have the absolute authority to overturn or undermine the decisions of the people as articulated in the Lower House. I do not like the American model where Governments must fight in two Houses and face the possibility of losing major planks of policy which they were elected to implement. It is a difficult issue, but I believe we have enough power.

I do not believe we are doing business correctly in terms of legislation. The consolidation of legislation should be the function of this House. It should be done by a special committee with a lot of advice. It should move forward and put existing legislation into consolidated Bills and then Acts. Its power to modify legislation should be more open. One of the great attractions of the present situation in the House — however tense and stressful it may be for the Leader — is that it will allow for changes in legislation. People will come to terms with that and it will not be a big deal. We have all had amendments accepted to legislation, so it is not a huge move forward.

This issue of a Question Time should be put on the agenda. It has been used before in debates on education. At the conclusion of each debate it was agreed that questions would be taken. The novel aspect was that it was without precedent in the case of Deputy Seamus Brennan and had only one precedent in the case of Deputy Niamh Bhreathnach. There was an understanding among the Whips that it was not an occasion to bury the Minister and that questions of clarification and information should be asked. It worked well and saved the cost of Parliamentary Questions — Senator Magner was correct in that regard. This week I needed to get statistical information from a Department. It refused to give me the information unless I said what I wanted it for. I refused to say and I said that I would have ten Parliamentary Questions put down seeking that information. I said I would point out to the Deputies who would ask the questions that this is where there are inefficiencies in the public service. The Department faxed me the information an hour later. A Question Time in the House would make life a lot simpler.

As regards our business, I believe there should be a four pronged approach to issues. The Seanad is a good forum for dealing with international issues. We will be discussing East Timor shortly, an issue which was first debated in Ireland in the Seanad — it was raised back in 1988. Many other issues have also been dealt with, such as the Middle East and South Africa. This is a useful forum where Ministers can come and test out ideas and have debates on international issues and certain issues, such as neutrality, would be better debated here than in other places.

We can also deal with the business of Government rather than legislation; the topical issues of Government and Irish life. As I mentioned we can deal with legislation. We could also deal with individual cases, such as the issue we discussed today under the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Bill, or individual problems which have national import.

There is also the question of inviting speakers. We all agree it should be done and we have agreed a procedure as to how it might be done but we need to take the next step. All of us who have been involved in pushing the issue to this point want to make sure that we get it right the first time we do it. A European Commissioner might be a reasonably neutral person to invite for a discussion on a European issue. Granting a right of audience to MEPs for particular debates might also be useful.

The question also arises of the resources we provide for our public representatives. I agree with Senator Magner that the representatives in this House are not properly rewarded. I speak as somebody who is not dependent on the Seanad salary. For five years it was my only source of income. It is impossible to rear a family or to operate on the Seanad salary alone and Deputies are in an even worse position in many ways. Many Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas have refused to grasp this nettle. I am the only Member of either House who has consistently called for the implementation of the Gleeson report in this House and in the negotiations for the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. Before we signed the agreement in January 1994, I insisted on a commitment from the Minister that the Gleeson report would be brought in within six months.

The Gleeson report is badly needed but it does not nearly meet all our needs. We should be able to argue and defend anywhere the office and secretarial needs and the salary and expenses of Members. The people will never jump up with delight when politicians travel abroad or get an increase in salary or expenses nor will they for any other group because it is not just an anti-politician feeling; teachers must get a better deal and I do not see people jumping up to support them. There exists a certain element of begrudgery in society.

I have ranged softly over a number of issues. I hope to contribute to the subcommittee, when it is up and running, to bring forward changes. Many changes have taken place over the past few years. There has been an increase in Private Members' time, an increase in the number of Adjournment Matters and the option of grievance time. The opportunities and the sitting times have also increased. It is significant that in recent discussions on the Order of Business there have been fewer demands for debates on long lists of subjects because it is readily agreed that we should debate important items. I look forward to playing a part in improving the role of the Seanad.

I speak with little knowledge and experience of this subject, but I am a good listener. I have listened to some of the debate and I wonder if I can contribute any more to what has been said. I looked through previous reports of debates on this matter and the old arguments are being repeated. Why are we repeating what has been said when nothing has been done?

On a point of information, I could enlighten the Senator. I announced at the beginning of the debate, and to this end I circulated a copy of what was said last time, that I wanted to have a short debate before setting up an all party committee to put matters into effect. Half the Members of the House are new to the present Seanad and I felt they might want to bring their views to bear before we get down to specifics.

I appreciate that. Having listened to what has been said I am at my wits' end to see what I can contribute to the debate. Have I anything new to say? When I was elected here people asked me how I liked the Seanad. I replied that I liked it a lot. "What do you do there?" they would ask. I replied that it was a debating forum; we discuss issues which may be current or that come to us from the Dáil, and sometimes deal with legislation initiated in the Seanad. I did not really grasp what the Seanad was about.

I would like to think it is a debating forum and I would love to have discussion here. However, I make a contribution on an issue, I sit down and that is the end of it for me. The next person then contributes, and the process is repeated for the rest of the debate. At this stage my part is over. I have made a speech but I have not discussed the issue.

Sometimes I make a contribution and another idea is put forward later by someone else. It would be useful to be able to come back into the debate and respond. We are lacking in that respect. The Seanad should be about seeing debates through but I do not get that impression. I walk away from the Chamber having done my bit and I go back to my office. Where does that get me? Have I done anything with the speech?

I would like to think there would be a follow through. If, for example, I am spokesperson on education I will not know everything. I would like to think I should make a good contribution but I will welcome other ideas so that we can discuss them and devise a worthwhile policy or solution. We should not play politics all the time, although I accept we must play politics because this is a political forum. Senator Daly's Bill should have been combined with Government policy instead of playing the politics of "I can do better than you on compensation". Such issues deal with people's lives. We were dealing with the whole country and we played politics. If we are talking about reforming the Seanad, are we going about it in the right way on issues such as Senator Daly's Bill?

I would look for Question Time, more discussion and an opportunity to contribute again on a topic. That, to me, is discussion or debate. I am not debating at present. I put forward my ideas and then somebody else puts forward their ideas, but at the end we do not get together on it. As I was coming in here I wondered what I could say on this. Maybe I should have discussed the issue somewhere else first. Perhaps we should sound one another out on things, use ourselves as a sounding platform before we come into the Chamber to discuss issues, or perhaps we should use the Chamber as the sounding platform. I do not know. I was having some problems with whether I should do it elsewhere or say what I am saying now in here and getting somewhere with what I have said on it. That sounds very confusing, the more I think about it.

I would like, perhaps, to have a Question Time, to be able to come back in on a debate. Perhaps the spokesperson on the particular area could come back in, follow it up and take the points made rather than the Minister. Perhaps there could be a debate with the Minister rather than he or she making a presentation. That is the first point.

We could extend the time spent dealing with European issues now that we are moving more into European thinking politically, socially and educationally. There are many other areas in which we need to feel that we are part of Europe, yet I feel we are isolated, so we could forge a stronger link with Europe and perhaps allow our MEPs and representatives of other European bodies to have access to the Seanad and put forward suggestions to us. We could debate with them as to how best we can form better links. I know that we have started our committee system which would complement that idea, so perhaps that is a move in the right direction.

I wish to mention the electoral systems used in the Seanad. Having gone around the country, having got myself elected the hard way, I have no difficulty with the easy way; but perhaps the European constituency concept would make it easier for Senators rather than going around the country looking for votes, particularly in the winter. I would look for a change in that, but we should not move from the present electorate, the councillors. The people they elect to this House reflect very well on them and it is certainly democracy at its best, there is no doubt about that. We have five vocational panels, perhaps from time to time we should invite a representative of the areas covered by the panels to address us on a particular issue where the spokesperson from each party would participate in a full discussion with them so that we are reaching out more to the public.

We are not reaching out enough to the public. They do not really understand what we do in the Seanad. Colleagues of mine at work ask me when I am going to bring them into the Seanad. They tell me that they do not know how it works. They really do not know what Senators do. These are all people with a third level education, yet they are lacking in knowledge as to exactly what we are at. The reform will have to reach out more to the public.

I advocate an improvement in our research facilities. When I came in here first I did not have a clue where to go, how to act, how to put down a motion or what the procedures were. We need more back up from civil servants; indeed, I compliment the ones we have, they are excellent. However, having said that, we do need a system working for us to show us how to put down motions and how to word them properly, to help us with how to do research or to go about our business rather than we alone trying to find somebody to give us a bit of information. Most Parliaments today have a back-up research facility for Senators and that would be welcome.

The situation in relation to our secretarial assistants is appalling. It keeps changing all the time. I sometimes feel that I have just moulded a secretary and I am very pleased with her and suddenly she is whipped away from me and I am given somebody else. That is a pity because I have allowed myself time to get to know the person and then suddenly the system is telling me that it does not work that way.

The Senator should put her foot down.

I do it all the time with the result that I am getting whingey about it. I do not want to be like that in anything I do, but we need better secretarial assistance and a system that is consistent, not one that changes with the mood of whatever Government is in or whenever the musical chairs start again.

Finally, in relation to salary, I feel sorry for those who live down the country. It takes three or four hours to come up from the country, so that is a day up and a day back. It is a full time position and the salary does not meet the needs of public representatives in that regard and should be reviewed as well.

I hope that I am just not re-hashing what others have said. I do not want us to feel that in two years' time there will be another debate on the reform of the Seanad and we will start all over again. I would love a bit of action in relation to the reform of the Seanad. It is a great Chamber. I am delighted and privileged to be here. I want to stay here if I am not somewhere else. I love making contributions to the best of my ability. I want to help make the Seanad an effective platform, so that all of us participate in any way we can in implementing the best reforms of this Chamber.

I welcome the opportunity of contributing to the discussion on this issue. I confess that I have been engaged in other meetings, both last week and again today, so I have not heard previous discussion except that of Senator Ormonde. Since Senator Ormonde came into this House two years ago, all her contributions have been extremely informative and very well researched. She has made a very fine contribution to the Seanad. Although she is being very humble in what she has to say, she has made her mark in this Chamber. People like her are of great value to the Seanad.

The original reason for the establishment of the Seanad was to highlight and to bring on board the various vocational interests. It was not meant to be politicised. It was meant to be a body truly representative of the various and wide vocational interests, hence the panel system. All members of political parties know how we, the political parties, have hijacked that panel system since its foundation. The Seanad is in a sense a replica of the Dáil, although through a different method of election — basically through the method of election of county councillors across the country in addition to the 11 Seanad nominees.

I agree with Senator Ormonde's point in relation to the panel representation. I agree with her suggestion of highlighting and reflecting that representation in the Seanad more accurately and affording opportunities to the various interests to come in here and interact with the Seanad on points of interest to them. That may be unconstitutional. I am sure the Leader of the Seanad will investigate that aspect of it, but there is an opportunity to open up a wider forum for maybe one day a month, where this could be considered and where the various interest groups could present their case. It could be considered if that is possible constitutionally; it would reflect the wider interests of the Seanad and the representative interests of the Seanad.

Interestingly, this Government is making a very welcome recommendation that three Members would be elected to the Seanad from the emigrant group. I hope that that will be put in place for the next election. Whether that means we will have three additional Senators, or whether we will have one fewer Senator on the Educational and Cultural Panel——

Three from the Taoiseach's nominees.

That is even better and is highly commendable. That is a good breakthrough and must be welcomed because it is making the Seanad more relevant to the current difficulties we are experiencing in our community, so many of which are outside the State.

I was a Member of the other House for ten years and was then elevated to the Upper House. Senator Ormonde might not wish to stay here too long and I would like to get back down there. This is a confession and open confession is good for the soul sometimes. We recognise the difficulties in securing seats there. Since I came to this House two years ago Senator Wright did an excellent job as Leader and Senator Manning has done the same since his appointment to that post. Both have, within the limits imposed on them, accommodated Senators as far as humanly possible.

One of the differences between the Order of Business in the Dáil and in the Seanad is that in the Dáil one can have a good go at a Minister or the Taoiseach. I know, a Chathaoirligh, that this would be totally against your instinct. In the Dáil, if a Taoiseach or a Minister is present for the Order of Business, one feels that one has direct accountability from Government. This is no reflection on the Leader of this House. To have the Cabinet answerable to the Seanad, it would be good at least once a week to have a Minster present in the House to answer questions and interact with Senators, as happens in the Dáil between its Members and the Taoiseach.

The only opportunity we get to question Ministers in detail is on the Committee Stages of Bills or on the Adjournment. The Cathaoirleach has always been very accommodating in affording us as far as possible opportunities of questioning Ministers on the Adjournment. There is a real opportunity here to do something novel and different and not have a Question Time similar to what takes place in the Dáil, where there is an Order Paper for the day, with a list of questions.

I visited the Australian Parliament seven or eight years ago and was impressed with the spontaneity of questions. There were no lists of questions on order papers. Individual Ministers were open to spontaneous questions from members. Speaking from this side of the House, I may be audacious in suggesting that a Minister — say the Minister for Education — should come to the House and leave herself open to questions which would not be on an Order Paper. Ministers should come to the House to test this system. It could be useful for Ministers and Members and could make this House more relevant to what is happening.

In recent times this Government and the last one have used the Seanad far more effectively than previous ones. The Taoiseach and his predecessor have come here a number of times, have made formal and very important national announcements here and have made the Seanad more relevant by doing so. Ministers in this and the last Government initiated Bills here; and a continuation of that by this Government would be extremely welcome, because legislation gets clogged up in the other Chamber.

There is an opportunity to initiate and pass legislation here before it goes to the Dáil. More of this could and should be done. Within the media over the years there has been criticism of the relevance, necessity and usefulness of the Seanad. It is up to Senators themselves, of all persuasions from all sides, to use the Seanad more effectively. It can be made more relevant by more active participation and involvement in debates. This needs to be examined by all political parties.

The House is a forum which should be respected. It was set up as a constitutional entity and we should value and recognise it for what it is worth. We should use it to the full under the guiding principles which exist at the moment. We should be prepared to be daring and push out the boat in different areas and try other ways by which the House can be made more relevant. I suggest to the Leader that some form of Question Time, not necessarily every week but occasionally, would be very useful. The presence of a Minister occasionally on the Order of Business could also make the Seanad more relevant. It is up to us to use it, make it relevant and not allow it to be subjected to the types of criticism which have been levelled against it in the past.

Traditionally the Seanad has been highly respected for the constructive amending of legislation and the level of debate which has taken place here. A very fine tradition has been established and we should ensure that it is not allowed to slip in any way. We should take example from former very esteemed Senators. I speak particularly of the former Senator, Alexis Fitzgerald, who used this House very effectively in amending legislation in a very thoughtful and constructive fashion. Senators should not lose sight of the ability of Senators to do this.

It is interesting that this debate has taken place. I have every confidence that Senator Manning, who has proved to be a very effective Leader, will be able to put ideas like this to the Government and encourage Ministers to involve themselves more in the activities of the Seanad.

I welcome this debate on the role of the Seanad. I am a little disappointed that there is not somebody here who could take the message a little further.

On a point of information, it is deliberate that no such person is here. It is our job to reform our House. The last thing we want to do is depend on a Minister of any Government to do it for us. We must do it ourselves.

That has been agreed time and time again.

I agree with this point. I believe in the role of this House and that we should have more input into the running of the entire Oireachtas. Not one Senator was represented at the meetings of the recent Dáil Select Committee on Legislation and Security. Any legislation which goes through the Lower House must be debated and approved here. If problems arise of the magnitude that arose on that occasion, both Houses should be involved in dealing with them. Every Oireachtas committee should have Seanad representation to give the Seanad more strength and make it more useful.

Senator O'Toole spoke about the structure of the Seanad. I am pleased at the way Senators are selected. People from every walk of life, such as fishermen, farmers, teachers, trade union representatives and business people are represented in this House. They can be elected to panels from which they can be elected to this House. This works fairly. They can make their views well known.

I welcome the decision of the Government to appoint three Senators from the 11 Senators nominated by the Taoiseach to represent emigrants. That is a very good and positive step and I look forward to seeing how he intends to select or elect these people.

People may get the opinion that this House is very refined, that we are all very dignified and that we do not have the same banter as the Lower House. I have seen the trend change in this House and the odd good tussle takes place now and then. The main emphasis is on the Lower House because if the Government lose a vote there it is faced with a vote of confidence and the ultimate possibility of a general election.

Since the new Government took office the emphasis seems to have shifted to this House. Suddenly, there is much interest in seeing if we, on this side of the House, with the support of the Independents could defeat the Government on a particular issue. That is a little unfair because an Opposition is there to oppose legislation in which they do not believe. If the shoe was on the other foot, Senators on the other side would do the same. I look forward to an interesting period in this House over the next year and a half to two years.

Two and a half.

I look forward to that with keen interest. I hope we will have some narrow shaves.

Not too narrow.

It might be no harm to focus the attention of the public on this House.

On numerous occasions people have spoken on the Order of Business about the coverage the Seanad gets on RTE's "Oireachtas Report" and so on. We seem to play a very small role in the running of the affairs of this country. At the same time, all legislation which goes through the Lower House has to come before the Upper House. It is debated in the same way and amendments are put down. It is a very good structure because if the Government realises that it has made a mistake in the other House, it has a chance to correct it in this House. The Opposition can also propose amendments. If the Government feels the pulse of the people, it can further amend legislation. That is why this House is so relevant.

Once during my term of office — and I know it happened before — a Minister was appointed from the Seanad by a member of a Fine Gael Government. This was good for the House. It gave recognition to this House. I would go a step further and say it should be mandatory that a Minister and one or two Ministers of State be selected from this House. Then one would really put——

The cat among the pigeons.

That is right. That would put real power into this House.

As Senator Ormonde said, members of the public ask us what we do in the Seanad and we tell them we participate in debates and so on. We are legislators and another House of the Oireachtas. Many people think we are just a rubber stamp but that is not true. When legislation is introduced one can stand up and speak against one's own Government if one does not believe in it: a person might even be lucky enough to have an amendment accepted by the Minister.

I am glad to see the changes in the committee system. It is good for this House and it is high time Senators were regarded as legislators and involved in all the activities in the State. We are not elected directly by the public but those who elect us are. We go through a similar process as any person elected to the Dáil. It is fair, even though it is a difficult election. The election should be regionalised. We should explore the possibility of a new system because at the end of the day it would work out the same way.

I welcome the debate. I thank the Leader for the way he is handling his job in this House and my own leader for the way he handled it when he was Leader of the House. I compliment them both and I also compliment you, a Chathaoirligh.

I presume the debate is not being concluded this evening.

We will simply adjourn it.

Sitting suspended at 5.45 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.