Order of Business. - All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution – Seventh Progress Report – Parliament: Statements.

The publication of the Seventh Progress Report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution deals with the Houses of the Oireachtas. Its treatment of the functions and composition of Seanad Éireann marks an advance in debate conducted with increasing intensity since the publication of the 1996 report on the Constitution Review Group, a report which raised the sunrise issues of whether the Seanad should continue to exist.

The seventh progress report and the second progress report on the Seanad which preceded it came, resoundingly, to the conclusion that the Seanad was an important element of our constitutional institutions but that it needed reform to ensure its progressively more significant and vigorous role. The 61 Bills initiated in the Seanad in our time, a Chathaoirligh, have changed our function. The taking of Committee Stages of Bills in committee confirms the important new role played by the Seanad in the passing of Bills under the current Administration.

The foundations for an organisation's significance and vigor derive in the first instance from the quality of the tasks undertaken by it. The O'Keeffe committee considered that Seanad Éireann should be a consultative body where people with knowledge, experience and judgment over the spectrum of public affairs should be available in a broadly non-partisan way to help the Dáil to carry out its functions more effectively and efficiently. It saw the scrutiny of EU legislation and the carrying out of examinations of the work of Government Departments as new and important functions which should be entrusted to the Seanad. However, it tended to take a limited view of the Seanad's legislative role. In debates on the role of the Seanad, Senators identified the scrutiny of EU legislation, statutory instruments and the investigation of the operation of the public services as areas in which the Seanad should take a more effective role.

The new report also recommends these additional functions for the Seanad but emphasises that the Seanad's key role as prescribed in the Constitution should remain the processing of legislation. In a debate on the role of the Seanad in December 1999, Senators expressed widespread satisfaction with the increased volume of legislation being initiated in the Seanad and at the more frequent attendance by the Taoiseach and Ministers during debates on Bills.

The seventh progress report also suggests that the Seanad might develop a particular interest in developments in Northern Ireland and in the North-South and British-Irish institutions established by the British-Irish Agreement. Everybody will agree that a Seanad carrying out the functions now identified could contribute immeasurably to the deliverance of services which the Oireachtas provides for the people. One only has to reflect on the value that a sustained focus maintained by the Seanad on EU legislation and business would add to Ireland's political debate.

The hard work and dedication of those honoured and privileged to serve as Members of Seanad Éireann since 1937 has been immeasurable. The wealth of experience and the cross-section of society represented by the membership of this House have played a major role in the quality of legislation passed by the Oireachtas. The composition of this House has been debated many times. An organisation also derives its sig nificance and vigor from the quality of those who carry out its functions.

The committee's second progress report presented a scheme by which the composition of the Seanad might be derived. The current Seanad is formulated as follows: directly elected members, 15; indirectly elected members, 28; university/third level representatives, six and the Taoiseach's nominees, 11. The seventh progress report presents a different scheme for consideration: 48 of the 60 Senators to be elected by proportional representation on a national list system on the same day as a general election to the Dáil; 8 to be nominated by the Taoiseach and a further four members to be nominated also by the Taoiseach in accordance with a procedure specified by law to represent citizens resident in the north of our island.

It is obvious that schemes for Seanad Éireann could indefinitely engage the attention of political theorists. I profoundly disagree, in principle, with the proposal by the seventh progress report that 48 Members of the Seanad should be elected on the same as election to the Dáil by way of proportional representation on a national list system. The current formulation of the Seanad is and has proven to be very successful. The old saying should apply – if it is not broken, do not mend it.

Next Wednesday, I will have served 20 years as a Member of Seanad Éireann. I can honestly say one will not find finer people, more qualified, more experienced or committed to serving the interests of the people of Ireland in a more dignified, respectable, courteous and meaningful way than the women and men who have served as Members of Seanad Éireann for the past 20 years. In a unitary State such as ours there is a major problem with how one derives the membership of the second Chamber. If both Houses are returned by universal suffrage they have an equally valid mandate from the people and, inevitably, issues about the respective powers of each House will arise. The seventh progress report seeks to overcome this difficulty by providing a different mechanism for election to both Houses. However, what is being transferred by each mechanism is the right to represent the people. Since that right comes directly from the people in both cases there cannot be a difference in the character of the right.

I believe, therefore, that membership of Seanad Éireann must be returned by indirect elections. The obvious electorate for indirect elections is one already used, namely, members of local authorities, members of the outgoing Seanad and Members of the newly elected Dáil. Members of local authorities are the product of election by the people. The recent referendum formally recognising local government in the Constitution will ensure its democratic mandate is always lively and fresh.

Local authorities have always been the keystone of the electoral system for the Seanad. It seems prudent and sensible to maintain that key stone. The local authority members of Ireland, who have served the people since the foundation of the State in a voluntary capacity, know the problems of all the people whether in the towns, cities or most rural parts of the country. They are the experienced politicans who elect the membership of Seanad Éireann. Who is more qualified to assess and judge the ability of those placing themselves before the electorate for their approval than the experienced electorate of the local authority, the newly elected Dáil and the outgoing Seanad?

Under this system over the years, local authority members have served voluntarily every Monday, whether on Westmeath County Council or any other council. They have placed themselves at the disposal of the people of their parish who were possibly first to instigate their nomination for council elections. It is they who make a judgment on those whom they wish to have as their representatives in the Upper House.

The seventh progress report proposes that provision should continue to be made for the appointment of a certain number of Senators by the Taoiseach. It is clear that a unitary State, the House to which the people's representatives are elected, should have the exclusive power to hold the Government to account. It appears reasonable that the head of the Government, the Taoiseach, should have the power to appoint a sufficient number of Members to the Seanad to ensure a majority there for the Government. I am sure Senator Manning will agree with those sentiments as he presided, very successfully, over a Seanad where he did not have full and outright control of the membership. This can create enormous problems with legislation with which the Government wishes to proceed. It follows that there is no problem in principle in providing capacity for the Taoiseach to appoint representatives from Northern Ireland or representatives who can cater for groups such as our emigrants. All Taoisigh, certainly all those since I became a Member, including Charles J. Haughey, Garret FitzGerald, Deputy Albert Reynolds, Deputy John Bruton and the current Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, have recognised and acknowledged the importance of appointing representatives from Northern Ireland. They include former Senators John Robb, Seamus Mallon and Bríd Rodgers, Senator Maurice Hayes, the late Senator Gordon Wilson, who served honourably and well, Senator Edward Haughey and many others who have served on behalf of Northern Ireland and made a big contribution to life as it existed in that part of our island.

University representation is a more difficult issue. The second progress report of the all-party committee proposed that six seats should continue to be allocated to third level representatives. It recommended that all graduates of the institutions that fell within the remit of the Higher Education Authority and the then National Council of Education Awards should form the electorate for the six seats. In the debate on the report in this House on 30 January 1997, most Senators agreed with this recommendation. The seventh progress report of the all-party committee shares the general view that the university Senators have played and continue to play a distinctive and valuable role in the working of the Seanad. I wish to salute their outstanding and valuable work which they are carrying out and have carried out over many years. However, the all-party committee goes on to say that in a root and branch reform of the Seanad it would not be possible to justify continued representation for graduates. The very practice is rooted in historical British political experience which gave representation in the House of Commons to representatives of Oxbridge graduates. The practice is no longer followed in Britain.

University representation in the Seanad derives from that experience and it aimed particularly to give representation to predominantly Protestant graduates of Trinity College, Dublin. In view of the composition of Trinity graduates today, that disposition has lost political validity. While it is difficult in theory to defend university representation, in practice the university representatives in the Seanad have contributed out of all proportion to their numbers. They have made an enormous and valuable contribution and are much appreciated by parliamentarians, Members of the Dáil, local authorities and organisations throughout the land for the good work they carry out.

I thank all those who served on the committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Brian Lenihan and on the previous committee under the chairmanship Deputy Jim O'Keeffe. There never was a more opportune time for the Seanad to be proud of its achievements and the hard work it has done in recent years. I see an opportunity for more EU legislation to be deliberated on and reports discussed here.

The role of a Senator today, compared to that of a Senator up to 15 years ago, is practically full-time, three days and sometimes four days per week. Taking that into account, the extra workload will have to be looked at. I look forward to the time when we can start at 9.30 a.m. and conclude at 7.30 p.m. As many Senators have said on a number of occasions, sitting late into the night until 11 p.m, 12 midnight or 1 a.m. is not good for family life. Perhaps we can have a look at that in the review process.

I thank the Leader for making time available today to discuss this report. I compliment him on his very thorough analysis of it. I do not intend to follow him to the same degree of detail. I pay tribute to the committee on its seventh report. Given that seven reports are available, all of which are very readable and contain much material, one begins to wonder whether this will be a process of indefinite research and publication by the committee or whether at the end of some particular day it is intended to act on the reports or put them into active debate to see if decisions will be taken. Otherwise the exercise, while it will have added greatly to our knowledge and provided many other options to us, would lack a certain amount of point.

I wish to put the debate in an international context. A century ago there were 35 parliaments in the world. Some of those that existed at the beginning of the 20th century did not survive. Today there are over 200 parliaments. Parliament in the 20th century has been a growth industry. The way in which people look at parliament has changed. There was a great burst of enthusiasm in the early 20th century and a feeling that, once a country got its parliament, all its problems were over. That was in a sense the embodiment of sovereignty, the realisation of independence.

In many countries that did not become a reality. We saw parliaments go into decline for much of the 20th century as governments grew stronger and imposed more controls on parliament. That was very much true of our Parliament, which has always been dominated by the Executive. We have not had a lively or difficult Parliament for Governments to handle during much of our lifetime. That was the case in many countries, but the position is changing significantly. It is changing because there are many more parliaments. Their members are learning from each other, from talking to each other a great deal. They are trying to assert themselves against the power of the Executive. They are trying to find new roles for themselves.

All of us who travel find that when we arrive at other parliaments we tend to talk about common problems and how we can better do our business. There has been a great deal of learning. This debate should take place in that context. The Scandinavian and German Parliaments are ones from which we can learn a great deal as opposed to the British Parliament from which perhaps we cannot.

Another important point about this report is that many of the reforms we would like to see in Parliament can be made quite easily without constitutional change. The ones that require constitutional change are in a minority. In one sense we have no excuse for not bringing in the reforms which we believe are in the interests of Parliament and of all of us. There has probably been more reform of Parliament in the past ten years than in the previous 70 years. We have a committee system which will be the template for many years to come. We are almost there. Perhaps there are too many committees. They need to be beefed up with research facilities and better secretarial, administrative and clerical services, but we are on the way to having a proper committee system.

A detailed examination has been carried out of what a 21st century parliament would need. That benchmarking review will be published shortly. I was on that committee. I think Members will be pleased that the problem of resources is being tackled and there is an attempt to leapfrog over 20 to 30 years of inertia to having proper structures in place. When we discovered how well resourced the parliament of Northern Ireland was compared to what we have here, we were surprised and realised how little has been done.

The Commission of the Oireachtas Bill has been published and, irrespective of who will be in power, it will come on to the Statute Book fairly early in the first session of the next Dáil. It will hand control of the running of the Houses of Parliament back to the Houses away from the control of the Department of Finance. We will be forced, if we are lucky enough to be here, to make hard decisions about our future. All of that is the context within which this report is published.

There are aspects of this report which do not deal with the Seanad. There is the question of electoral reform. In many ways electoral reform may be as big a question as that of Seanad reform. Twice in the past the people were asked to replace the current PR system, but on each occasion they were given a take it or leave it choice – they could have PR or the British system. It was a case of either/or. There is no worse electoral system in the world than the British one. It is a form of disproportionate representation whereby with 40% of the votes a party can have a majority of 200 in the House of Commons. It is interesting to remind ourselves that Mrs. Thatcher imposed a major economic and social revolution on Britain having never got more than slightly over 40% of the popular vote. Whole parts of that country were up in arms against her – she got no seats in Wales or Scotland. It is a bad system. When we asked the people to choose, we gave them that black and white scenario.

There are other systems. I applaud the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and Dr. Garret FitzGerald, both of whom have been pressing us to consider seriously other possible systems. I would like the committee to do more work – it has done some already – on the possibility of changing the electoral system. That will be difficult, but we saw last week that excesses of clientelism can have consequences which nobody foresaw or wanted and which can be very serious for the people concerned. Some of the competition between people in the same party is totally out of proportion and control. It leads to a madness and to some politicians doing things that demean their calling, which can bring all of us into disrepute. There are good reasons for examining the electoral system.

As to the Seanad, there is a basic rule of thumb. If we agree there should be a second House, how can we add value to it? We can learn a great deal from what happened in the UK. They have not had a happy experience in their attempts to reform the House of Lords. What they are moving to is a system whereby large numbers of Members will be nominated directly not only by the Prime Minister but by the leaders of the parties. All of us should be suspicious of a House where a majority of Members are nominated and owe their position to only one person, whether it be the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition or the leaders of the other parties. That places too much power in the hands of any one person. It also puts too great an obligation on the person elected. Having regard to what happened in Britain, it is clear that certain areas could be found where the House of Lords could do new things very well, especially in areas such as Europe and science and technology, in respect of which neither House here is particularly well equipped. There are also other specialist areas where the House of Lords could add value. When it came to deciding how the House of Lords would be elected, the real problems arose. What is happening now is pleasing nobody and may not end up with a better House of Lords than the one that was replaced where the life peers, in particular, could make an honest and consistent intervention.

I am not arguing to defend much of the current system on the basis of self-interest. If there was a list system, I would probably be very high up on my party's list and elected more easily than by touring the country. I am not sure that having a list system is the answer. A system of indirect election from a body of people who are elected has a democratic legitimacy. The French Senate is elected in that way, as are the senates of two or three other EU member states. We could argue forever about what sort of electoral system we should have and suddenly we would be into a morass of gender balance, quotas and questioning whether vocational groups should directly nominate people. In my view we will not get something better than we have because everyone will have their particular veto on what happens and the compromise may not be any better in what it produces than the very imperfect system by which Members of this House are elected. That applies to the university Senators as much as to the Senators elected from the panels. None of us can defend with total enthusiasm the system which elects us, but when one looks for a better system, one will find there is very little agreement or consensus. Everybody has his or her idea as to what it should be and generally it is what would suit him or her, but that is life.

In terms of where we should be going, this House should concentrate more on how we can improve the way we do our business. We have not done that. We have not had a commission of Members of this House to examine seriously how the role of this House can be enhanced. We have amended Standing Orders here and there, but that is not what I am talking about. There is a role for this House in examining European legislation. There is a crying need to make this House the "European" House of the Oireachtas with a right of audience and access for members of the European Parliament, where we could have far more of the hearings we had with Commissioners and so forth.

There is certainly a role for us in examining statutory legislation. The way in which statutory legislation goes into effect without any scrutiny is a scandal. This House should equip itself, as a matter of seriousness, to examine every statutory instrument and report back here, where necessary, to ensure there is proper and detailed scrutiny.

There are other ideas. These are just two of the ones I have on how we could enhance our role. The focus of our debate – I hope those of us who run for election are re-elected – should be on how we can enhance, add value to and do our job in a more effective way. We should be radical and daring. If re-elected, the first thing I would do is ask that a small commission be established, not the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which is the wrong body to do this sort of thing. We could bring in people from outside, if necessary, and should decide how the House should be reformed and enhanced.

We have a great deal to learn from the situation in the second Houses in other European countries. I will not praise anyone or say we are great; we are not, as we are in serious need of reform and radical reappraisal. I do not find much in the report which adds a great deal to what we know already or would make this a better House.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a contribution on the kind of reforms we could suggest for this Chamber. I admit I did not read the report, but scanned it. That is the reason it is a pity this debate is taking place today at the tail-end of the session. I would like to think we could have such a debate when the new Seanad is formed, of which I hope I will be a Member when I would welcome a detailed discussion. Senator Manning said it well when he suggested that perhaps some other committee should be used, which would include Members of the Seanad, which would have knowledge and give this matter serious thought. I would welcome something like that. I have ideas which I have not yet thought through very well.

At times I get very frustrated at the way in which business is done in the House. Given the way the Order of Business is shaping up, I am not convinced we get the best out of Senators. When it comes to a debate on an issue or legislation drafted by this or the other House, I am not convinced Members are used properly to get the best from them in what is being debated. I often have a lot more to say on an issue when my time runs out. We should not hop up to speak on every issue just for the sake of it. On the Order of Business I often feel Members stand up to speak purely to capture media attention, something I do not like. If I have something to say and I am committed to a particular issue, I would like a platform on which to speak.

I see nothing wrong with the way in which the Seanad is formed. Our electorate comprises local authority members, Members of Seanad Éireann and Members of Dáil Éireann. One could not get a better electorate and one which knows what is expected. Local authority members are very professional. They may not all have third level degrees, but sometimes third level degrees do not get one anywhere. Sometimes the best brains are those who have educated themselves, not those with letters after their names. When I met my electorate and spoke to councillors throughout the country, I was amazed at how bright they were and the way they grasped situations no matter what the topic. They have not learned from books, but from life. They are intellectually bright and good at what they do which is reflected in the membership of this House whom they elect to do the work for them.

I do not know about this national list mentioned in the progress report. I am not knowledgeable enough to say whether it is good or bad. Whatever reforms take place, we must have freedom to express ourselves. This Chamber needs to endorse such thinking. It is important we have the five panels – cultural and education, administrative, labour, agricultural and industrial and commercial – with the six university Members to whom I always listen intently when they have something to say because they say it very well and give it thought. It is great to have the university group, the members of which have made great contributions during my time in the House. Both Chambers have become a little removed from the world outside. We must remember we are here to reflect the views of the people and talk about the issues. Sometimes we get too comfortable in our surroundings and forget the reason we are here.

We have spoken about using this Chamber as a platform to link up with the European Parliament. We had many discussions at the forum on the Nice treaty on the reform of the Seanad and how it could be used as the link between the European Parliament and the public. This is a golden opportunity. We are just scratching the surface today. I hope I am returned with those listening to the debate. We should put this issue on the agenda early in the next session as we are only touching on it today. I do not know enough about it and would like to know more. I would like to be able to make a better contribution than that which I have made today. I have ideas which I am not expressing very well. Those of us who are present could do a lot for the future of the Seanad, of which I would like to be part.

I would like to share my time with Senator Ross. I had originally proposed to share my time with Senators Ross and Quinn, but it appears Senator Quinn has got a slightly better deal.

This is an important debate. I very much agree with what Senator Ormonde said, that is, that it would be very good for us to have a more extensive, inclusive detailed debate at the opening of the next session of the Oireachtas, of which, like Senator Ormonde, I hope to be a part. It is by no means guaranteed that any of us will be here. Anybody who takes their seat for granted is well on the way to losing it. I have seen this happen many times in the past, particularly if one is in the unenviable situation in which I find myself in that I topped the poll fairly spectacularly the last time and everybody now thinks I am as safe as houses. There are some malign influences around spreading this as hard as they can to their own advantage.

We have been well served by the Constitution. It has been a very useful, democratic and organic constitution which did not stop in 1937. Due to the interplay between the citizen, the courts and the Constitution, it has been possible for a large number of citizens to articulate the unenumerated rights which resided in the 1937 Constitution, of which I have been one of the beneficiaries.

I pay tribute to former Senator and President, who is now a UN High Commissioner, Mary Robinson. She was extraordinarily active in many of the cases which made our Constitution live. However, time passes. It is now 65 years since the 1937 Constitution was passed and it is time to look at it again. As Senator Manning said, this is the seventh report and reports are all very well in their place, but they lack what the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, included in the movement governing the establishment of the insurance advisory board – an implementation group. When we have come to the end of all these reviews, let us have an implementation group and put at least some of these proposals into practice. Obviously I do not agree with all of them and there are certain gaps, but let us start at the top with the President of Ireland.

This is a very important role. We have been extraordinarily lucky in having outstanding Presidents in every generation. We can be proud of the men and women who have served this country so well but a seven year term is much too long. It is ridiculous and one former President is on the record as asking what he did to get 14 years hard labour. One does not get that for murder. We should look at other countries – France had the same provision until last year when it reduced the term to five years. That is tolerable but seven years is much too long, particularly if one can go for a second term and get 14 years. I wrote to the commission about this issue and while I got an acknowledgement, it did not deal with the issue at all. If we want people of the calibre we have had traditionally, we will have people resigning, as President Robinson did, a year or so before the end of their term. People will be inhibited from putting their names forward or we will go back to the Presidency being a nice retirement pay-off.

We must look at how the report affects the Seanad and a glaring issue that strikes me is the fact that President de Valera, because he got such a rough ride from Fine Gael in the Seanad up to 1936, decided to clip its wings extensively and at one stage thought of abolishing it altogether. He brought it back in a weakened form which included the addition of the Taoiseach's nominees. That is an arguable feature, but most people now accept it.

However, I do not accept that we are not grown up adults. We are not allowed to have anything to do with the spending of money, which is a ridiculous limitation because it affects the way in which we table amendments. How many times have sensible amendments in the Seanad been ruled out of order because they involved a cost on the Exchequer? That needs to be looked at.

This issue also affects us in another way. I was one of the people who worked for the creation of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and I have been a member of it since it was formed. I am a bureau member of the committee and I have attended every single meeting except on those occasions I have been abroad on business for the committee. However, I am not entitled to attend, let alone vote at, meetings of the select committee which determine matters such as budgets. This is because under the Constitution we are not entitled to spend money at all. That is very insulting, particularly in light of the fact that I have almost a full attendance record while there are two members of the committee I will not name, who are also members of the principal parties, who have not attended once in five years. They can go to the select committee meetings but I cannot, even though I was one of the founders and architects of the committee and I have attended virtually every meeting. There is something fundamentally wrong with that situation.

I compliment the committee on its work. It also addressed the abortion issue and did a good job of the hearings, providing a menu of three alternatives, one of which was chosen by the Government. The committee did good work with its hearings and in providing information for the Seanad.

I thank the Leader for the gracious way in which he and other speakers referred to the university seats. I say this in the full knowledge that sometimes we can be very irritating, but that is part of our purpose and function. To a certain extent, we are the gadflies of political life and a ginger group. We play an important role in that but it was most gracious of my colleagues to pay us that tribute as we have put much effort into our work. It is heartening to know it was appreciated.

One reason there are generally good and energetic representation from both major university systems is because the ordinary membership of the nominating body is enfranchised. That is a good principle but I am not as extreme about it as I was when I came bouncing into the Seanad on my first day. I was then rather inclined to deride the method of election of some other Members in a way experience taught me was not fully correct. I say so because I have witnessed people coming in through the other electoral system and making significant and useful contributions; I often instance Senator Tom Fitzgerald in this regard. The first time I heard him in the House was when he was talking about a fishing Bill.

It is also useful for the Seanad to have the experience of people who have been in political life in a major sense, such as former Cabinet Ministers who lose their seats. That is the other side of the coin of the more radical view I used to take, which was that the Seanad was turning into a nursing home for failed politicians. There is an element of that of which we must be aware, but we must also honestly recognise the fact that the House is enriched by having people of wide experience and talent. If it is not too complicated an exercise, there should be some degree of loading of the vote so that perhaps 50% of the vote comes from local authorities and the Members of both Houses, but a proportion of up to 50% of the vote comes from enfranchised ordinary members.

It is ridiculous that a couple of elections ago the president of the Royal Irish Academy, a nominating body, was nominated but did not receive a single vote. There is something absurd about that. One has to raise questions about a situation where a nominating body nominates its own president but does not manage to get a vote at all. Does that raise the question of enfranchising all ordinary members or does one say the whole nominating procedure is a nonsense when nominating bodies are powerless and do not get the right people elected? It raises serious questions about this issue.

Regarding the existence of second Houses, the Seanad has proved its worth in a number of ways. For example, when the Competition Bill was introduced here a few weeks ago, a significant number of Seanad amendments were accepted by the Minister either directly or in principle. Many of them were put down by me and Senator Quinn. There was also a huge battle here on the Disabilities Bill. There was outrage and I honour those on the Government side who, even though they could not vote against their own party, expressed their hesitations. At the end of the day, Senator O'Toole and Senator Burke, with some assistance from me, got the Bill amended in such a way as to make it satisfactory. That would not have happened without the Seanad.

I visited the Czech Parliament some years ago when they were reviewing their constitution and looking at whether to have a second House. To my absolute delight, they said one of the cogent reasons which led them to decide to have a Senate was their reviewing of the proceedings of the Irish Seanad. They decided we did valuable work. That is the view of an impartial, neutral and practical observer. They did not say that to plámás us; they said so because they decided to have a second Chamber in their Parliament on the basis of our experience. I wish that fact was more widely known. It is a great pity the media does not just cover the sexy bits. I get lots of coverage because I am a cheeky sort of individual and I like having fun on the Order of Business.

I thank the Senator; that is most kind of her. It is the liveliest part of the day and it is fun. Television and print reporters generally cover it. However, the proceedings after 4 p.m. are not covered, nor are any technical matters. That is a real shame which does a disservice to the democratic instinct.

I am also a journalist and I speak from within the profession, but I plead with journalists to stop suggesting that when a Minister rises to his or her feet, only four Members are in the House and that taxpayers are being cheated. Taxpayers would be cheated if the Chamber was full as we would not be doing our work. We spend much time in our offices handling constituency work, reading legislation, preparing properly and appropriately for debates and watching the monitor to identify the appropriate time to come to the Chamber. Most reporters, particularly the political correspondents, know this so I do not know why they continue to push this notion.

The existence of the university seats is a privilege, a fact of which graduates are well aware. Even though the postal register by which they vote is complicated, the rate of voting in Trinity College is, I think, about 60%. That is amazing and shows how much the graduates value the system. I am glad that my colleagues feel that we play a useful role in the House. We should not abolish the university seats.

I wish to refer to a suggestion made by an academic. I know that the word "academic" more or less means something which is irrelevant. I hope that comment is not reported as it will have an impact on my chances in Trinity College. On the north side of Dublin it would be said, "Ah sure that's only bleedin' academic". One knows from where people who make such comments are coming. It is a theoretical model, but we need the experience of practical politicians.

The Senator has one minute remaining.

That will not do Senator Ross any good.

Acting Chairman

The debate must conclude at 2 p.m. and three other Senators are offering.

I am in favour of some degree of reform. The Trinity College constituency should be enlarged to include, for example, Dublin City University and the Dublin Institute of Technology which already has some degrees conferred by Trinity College. This constituency should be focused on the Dublin geographic area and the existing all-Ireland spread of the other colleges should be maintained so we have two larger constituencies. However, the numbers need to be kept down; otherwise it is impossible to electioneer.