Report on Seanad Reform: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann welcomes the commitment in the programme for Government, that this Government is to determine the extent of cross party agreement on the recommendations of the Report on Seanad Reform to advance proposals for implementation, which previously had all party agreement, and work collectively to ensure that as many of these agreed changes can be achieved during the lifetime of this Seanad.

I am grateful to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Seán Power, for his help in opening the debate. However, I am somewhat disappointed, given the enthusiasm expressed, that there are not more Members in the Chamber. It is possible, however, that as the debate progresses many more will make contributions. The motion was tabled in an attempt to have all Senators engage with the issue which has been talked about, not only in terms of this the 23rd Seanad but probably since its establishment in 1937. It is an unwanted statistic that 11 reports have been produced on Seanad reform, none of the recommendations of which has been implemented, outside of a referenda in 1979 to allow the university constituencies to be reconstituted. That is not a record that reflects well on either the political process or the willingness or ability of the House to change with changing circumstances.

When the Seanad was established in 1937, on foot of Bunreacht na hÉireann, it was a sister parliament of Dáil Éireann which, at the time, had 138 members. In the interim the population has increased by more than a third and the number of seats in the Dáil has been increased to 166. On those grounds alone there is a need to look at the Seanad, who it represents and how it represents them. For the most part, the Seanad can take great pride in its role as a revising chamber. The argument that has been made by some in the political process as to the need for a second chamber has been fairly well rebutted. In most democracies there is a second revising chamber and it exists for a reason.

In the history of the Seanad there have been many instances where its existence was more than justified by the role it played with particular pieces of legislation and in the role played by Members in leading debates that were important in Irish society at the time. We can take that as anon sequitur. That debate is not going to happen. There is a need for the Seanad and it needs to make itself as vital and as important to the people as it can. That 11 reports have been produced, without any action having been taken on them, is a matter we need to confront as a chamber. The most recent report carries the strongest degree of political consensus among all political parties and it offers the opportunity of achieving real progress in a short time.

The motion reflects the reality of what is included in the programme for Government about which some Members might express disappointment but it is written with a specific purpose in mind. The programme for Government promises to determine the extent of cross party agreement on the recommendations of the report on Seanad reform and to advance proposals for implementation. It was written in that way because of the recognition that elections followed the publication of that report. There is a new Dáil and Seanad and, with the participation of my party, a new-looking Government for which reform is very much a priority. On those grounds, we need to assess whether the consensus still exists. I would like to believe it does and that there is a hunger among most in this Chamber and the political process in general to achieve change in Seanad processes. What we can do is put in place a timetable to allow this to take place.

As a Member of Dáil Éireann in the previous Parliament, I sat with Senator O'Toole and other Senators on the informal group that was meant to implement the findings of the last report on Seanad reform. I must admit both disappointment and failure with regard to the working of that group, which was not entered into in the proper spirit. It was there to approach change from a minimal base and the very real agreement that existed in the report was largely ignored.

There is now an opportunity to reinforce the agreement that existed at that time and the 23rd Seanad is the perfect vehicle for doing so. It has 35 new Members, 25 of whom are in the Oireachtas for the first time and ten of whom were previously Members of the Dáil. On that basis, we can take ownership of a process that will make Seanad Éireann an even more respected political institution.

One of the changes which is necessary in terms of public identification with the importance and value of the Seanad concerns the element of public election. I stand over this as a personal achievement to be attained. Unless members of the public can identify individually with this institution, we are very much in a black hole with regard to our political legitimacy.

Political chambers throughout the world are elected by a variety of methods. The Australian Senate, which was elected last week on the same day as its House of Representatives, in what was a very successful election for the Australian Green Party, was elected by public vote. The German second chamber, the Bundesrat, is reconfigured during the lifetime of a government according to results in regional parliamentary elections. As a result, it is not directly but indirectly elected by the people, depending on whom they elect.

There is a mixture of three forms of selection and election to this House. The majority of Members are elected by people who themselves are elected, which is a sound principle. The report needs to examine whether the 1,000 people who comprise that electorate make up a representative enough sample. For example, town councillors, who are also elected, are not part of that electorate. Questions also arise as to whether the value of each councillor's vote is equal in that the population proportion for each councillor may be far greater or lesser depending on what part of the country is involved.

There are questions with regard to the panel system which, although it was introduced on the initiation of Seanad Éireann in 1937, plays a particular role in the Ireland of 2007. It is interesting that we are talking about a system that is now 70 years old. The panel system was meant to be a reflection of the corporatist approach to politics which was very much in vogue in the 1930s and was practised particularly in Portugal. We should be grateful we did not go fully down the road of Dr. Salazar and his like. While that was the model in vogue at that time, we need to ask whether the vocations which are meant to be promoted through the panels are those which express public life in Ireland today and whether the weight given to them is the correct one. Do labour and agriculture have twice the value of culture and education? Why is particular weight given to the administrative panel or the industrial and commercial panel?

The last report addressed this issue in a way that made more sense. Instead of putting the Clerk of the Seanad through some type of mental torture before every Seanad election in determining whether the candidates comply with the vocational heading under which they are seeking election, why not have an open election among people who themselves are elected and get rid of the fiction of the vocational panels?

Members of the House might find it more difficult to accept the recommendations in regard to the call for a degree of public election, which would mean a reduction in the number of seats available. There is talk of reducing the number of seats from 43 to 26. Nonetheless, a panel of 26 seats, however they are divided up, would still make for a lower quota than many of the present panels. If candidates were practised public representatives, the method of election would be less difficult and therefore the need to persuade many public representatives would be lessened.

I return to the fact we have a Seanad membership that is vastly changed from that of the previous Seanad and the likelihood the next Seanad will be composed of people who are part of this rolling process of membership of the House. As we are part of this period of Seanad history, now is the time to make these changes. Many of us can stand aside from being seen as having vested interests and can make the necessary arguments and changes.

Another recommendation in the report is that not only should there be a rolling membership of the Seanad but perhaps a rolling form of election. Again, this could be a matter of debate in determining whether consensus still exists. There is a value in having an ever-evolving Seanad outside the Dáil's election cycle. Other countries operate quite well on this basis. I referred to the German example in which the upper house constantly changes regardless of what is happening in the lower house. Some seem to think the evolutionary approach to membership of the Seanad might be difficult in terms of the public perhaps using the opportunity to give a mid-term Government a bloody nose or a kick in the shins, but this is not necessarily a bad thing because it would help inform the policy debate and give the public an involvement in policy issues they would not otherwise have between the main parliamentary elections.

The other suggestions as to how the Seanad should change relate to the other types of membership in the House. The first relates to the university membership. I have already outlined that the only effort at change to have been made in the 70-year history of the House was the holding of a constitutional amendment in 1979 that has never been acted upon. The principles argued then remain the same. While the membership of university Senators is a very valuable component of this House and their contributions are marked and often illustrious, they must reflect the sector they represent. At present, that representation is limited to Trinity College and the National University of Ireland colleges.

Including the DIT.

The Minister is of a mind that other universities and other degree graduates can be brought into this process in a newly enlarged university constituency.

My final point, before my colleague addresses the changing functions of the Seanad, concerns the Taoiseach's nominees, although I realise my difficulty in making this argument. The report referred to increasing the number of Taoiseach's nominees to 12. There is an argument that there should be a degree of nomination by the Taoiseach to provide a necessary Government presence in the Seanad at any given time. The number of nominees is a matter of debate. To use this as a mechanism to involve more people from Northern Ireland would also be of value.

Ultimately, if I were to invent a system for election to the Seanad, my personal preference would be to have a totally public election. However, I see the value in the Seanad reform report in that it outlines where consensus exists, which is where we can move from. If we can reignite that consensus, the changes proposed can be introduced in a very short time.

I welcome the opportunity to address the motion, which is the first Private Members' motion tabled by me and my Green Party colleague, Senator Boyle. That we have tabled a motion on Seanad reform shows the importance we attach to the question. The issue was quite extensively debated during our first couple of sitting days in the House when Senators expressed their support for Seanad reform. However, as my colleague Senator Boyle pointed out, while 11 previous reports have been produced on the proposed process of Seanad reform we have not seen any of those recommendations being implemented. Unfortunately, there is always a tendency to carry on with business as usual.

It would appear that the political will to embrace reform has not been there up to now. In its current form the Seanad has been in existence for 70 years and it is desirable to renew and upgrade our democratic systems from time to time. To date, however, we appear to have lacked the political will to do so. The purpose of our motion is to recognise the important work undertaken by the previous Seanad with cross-party support and involvement. The sub-committee was chaired by the former Senator, now Deputy, Mary O'Rourke and other Members of this House including Senator Joe O'Toole, former Senator John Dardis of the Progressive Democrats, and former Senator, now Deputy, Brian Hayes. They put together a well argued case for Seanad reform with coherent recommendations. One of the report's conclusions was that the recommendations should be implemented in full, as a package and on an all-party basis.

The purpose of this motion is to establish that cross-party support for the process of Seanad reform, as proposed in that report, still exists. If so, we will be able to move to the next stage. We currently have a Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who is willing to embrace reform. In examining this area, he has brought to bear the commitment to reform in the programme for Government. If Senators are willing to examine positively the recommendations in the report of the previous Seanad, we will have a good opportunity to bring about such reform, which is so badly needed and for which there is a public appetite.

There is a desire for reform because increasingly the Seanad is viewed as being less relevant than it should be. It is also seen as not having a distinctive political contribution to make to the overall political process. I know this from personal experience. Since having had the honour of being nominated to the Seanad, many constituents congratulated me but in the next breath they asked what the Seanad does and what are its functions. This highlights the extent to which Senators are disconnected from ordinary citizens. It also demonstrates that the popular legitimacy we could and should enjoy is currently lacking.

The functions of this House were clearly outlined in the report of the sub-committee on reform produced by the previous Seanad. Some of that report's recommendations are excellent. As regards the composition of the Seanad, it is proposed that Dáil and Seanad elections should be decoupled. It is further proposed that a system of rolling renewal of the Seanad be introduced whereby approximately half the seats would be elected every five years by a system of direct, popular election. As my colleague Senator Boyle said, if that were to happen, it would stimulate much greater public interest in this institution.

There are also proposals for a reformed higher education representation system whereby all graduates of third level institutions in the State, holding a primary degree or equivalent award at level seven in the national framework of qualifications, should be entitled to vote in Seanad elections under a separate higher education constituency.

It was also recommended that a system of indirect election be retained with a strong local government dimension. The Green Party supports that, as councillors around the country should have an input in Seanad elections. The report recommended that 20 Seanad seats would be filled by this method.

It was also proposed that the number of Taoiseach's nominees be increased by one, to 12, and that in making his nominations the Taoiseach should have explicit regard to the capacity of nominees to represent under-represented and excluded groups in Irish society. Proposals were also made to have two nominated Senators from Northern Ireland, representing the Unionist and Nationalist traditions, as well as Senators representing the interests of immigrants and emigrants.

Strong recommendations were also made on a revised legislative role for the Seanad. One excellent proposal concerned a formal system to allow for consultation with interested groups and individuals early on in the legislative process. That would appeal to members of the public who often do not know how to go about lobbying and thus influencing legislation that passes through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Other recommendations included a new role for the Seanad in EU affairs, which I strongly support. In that respect, we could review draft EU legislation of major national policy importance as well as providing Irish MEPs with a domestic forum to discuss European issues. Recommendations were made concerning public policy reviews in addition to giving the Seanad responsibility for scrutinising senior public appointments.

The work that was carried out on that report was both thorough and intensive. Its recommendations will involve constitutional amendments requiring a referendum, as well as new legislation and amendments to the Standing Orders of the House.

The challenge facing this 23rd Seanad is one for which there is a public appetite. It is up to us, however, to decide whether we have the political will to make it happen. Change is not easy for any of us and it must often be imposed rather than being voluntarily embraced. We are in a unique position, however, to bring about such reform. We have before us a report with excellent recommendations that we can examine and hopefully support. We now have an opportunity to review and improve the quality of democracy that attaches to the institution of Seanad Éireann. I call on my colleagues to lend their support to Seanad reform. The Minister, Deputy Gormely, made an announcement earlier today and will clarify his position here this evening. I am sure he will be willing to help in the process of bringing about this reform.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"notes

the importance to the democratic process of a vibrant and relevant Upper House;

the agreement of all parties on an agenda for change in the Report on Seanad Reform;

that the Report was published in 2004 and three years after has still not been implemented;

and calls on the Government to publish a timescale for the implementation of the recommendations of the Report prior to the next Election."

Perhaps I should check with Senator Boyle as to whether or not he is accepting our amendment.

I would prefer not to.

Good man. That is very polite of him.

He is very polite.

That sounds like the Senator is open to influence, given that he is looking for cross-party co-operation. A rash of requests for cross-party co-operation has broken out in recent days both here and in the Dáil. I am wondering if it has anything to do with the difficulties the junior partners are having in persuading the senior partner, Fianna Fáil, to accept their policies.

I agree with the points made by Senators Boyle and de Búrca concerning the quality of the sub-committee's report produced by the last Seanad. It is a most interesting document containing a good overview of the Seanad's work, the potential for reform, and practical recommendations on a range of matters. As the report said, some of the recommendations will be uncomfortable for people. There is no doubt about that. Change is uncomfortable for everyone, including politicians, and people will have differing views on some of the recommendations.

It has been pointed out that we have a new Seanad with 35 new Members, and parties are represented that were absent from the last Seanad. The Leader has said he would like to see what consensus exists on the recommendations of the sub-committee's report. While that is important, we do not need another report.

This report is impressive in terms of the 161 written submissions, the four days of public hearings and the great work done by Senator Joe O'Toole, the former Senators Brian Hayes, Mary O'Rourke and John Dardis, and the former Senator Brendan Ryan who was a member of the group for a period. Its recommendations are radical and far reaching. It recommends constitutional and legislative change and extensive revisions of the Seanad Standing Orders.

I heard what the Minister responsible said about the university panels this morning. I do not know whether he intends to select university panels and recommend change in that respect as opposed to what the report recommends, namely, the introduction of a package of reforms. That would be a preferable way to proceed. Such change affects everybody. The way to deal with it would be to opt for a package of reforms as opposed to any one particular reform mentioned in this report.

Fine Gael welcomes this debate. It offers us an opportunity once more to discuss the need to reform this House and make it relevant, radical and ready for the challenges ahead. I will not support the Green Party motion owing to its nature and context because the House should not congratulate the Government on its intentions. Rather it should condemn it for its inaction on the reform agenda and put pressure on it to move forward in that regard. The House should view the Government's stated intentions with nothing but a sceptical eye until we see that reform become a reality. That is the challenge we face and it has been a tough one in the Seanad over the years because we have had so many reports and even a constitutional amendment that was not acted upon. We should not welcome the commitment in this respect in the programme for Government until we see evidence on the ground of real change and commitment by all the parties in Government.

I acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Deputy Brian Hayes, who was the Fine Gael representative on the sub-committee. We published our agenda for change of the Seanad as far back as 2003 with a comprehensive programme for reform. Among the recommendations were for the Seanad to be given a watchdog role on secondary legislation. Many statutory instruments become law with no parliamentary scrutiny required only that they be laid before the Oireachtas for a 21-day period. Where more than 20 Members of the Seanad request it, the statutory instrument should be debated and voted on by the Seanad.

Whatever about secondary legislation we are in the business here of dealing with primary legislation. It is ironic to speak on reform of the Seanad in a week when the Government, backed by Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Dan Boyle, saw fit not to bring any legislation to the House. Not one Bill is before the House this week. I understand there is also an issue in the Dáil in regard to the lack of legislation. I have some idea about what has happened but where is the legislation to be introduced and the legislative programme for the Dáil and the Seanad in this term?

What is happening to the critical legislation to which the partners committed themselves in the programme for Government, of which we have not had sight and we are some eight of nine weeks into this term? That needs to be dealt with.

In regard to European affairs, we recommended that all MEPs elected on the island of Ireland should have the right to attend and speak in the Seanad but not vote. We are talking about real links between Leinster House and Brussels in the work ongoing at European level that increasingly influences our everyday lives. That suggestion is included in the recommendations in the report of the sub-committee.

We face a challenge in getting members of the public on-side to support the EU reform treaty and ensuring they understand its provisions, of which currently they have little understanding. A major challenge faces us to ensure the people understand what they will be voting on in a referendum on the reform treaty, if we are not to have a repeat of the outcome of the Nice treaty referendum. There is an opportunity here for the Seanad to play a strong role in European affairs.

The report of the sub-committee contains many recommendations. While it is not possible to go through all of them, the attendance here of former Taoisigh should be encouraged. That is an important recommendation and is a feature of other democracies. The attendance of the Leader of the Seanad at Cabinet is another important recommendation. Deputy Mary O'Rourke said at the time of the publication of the report that she did not wish to be appointed to Cabinet in her then role. She need not have worried so slow was the action on the report.

Senator Donie Cassidy might aspire to that role.

I believe that was the last thing that was going to happen. Since 2002, the Leader of the Fine Gael group in the Seanad has been a member of the party's Front Bench. We take this House seriously.

I agree with what Senator Boyle said and with what is stated in the report, namely, that the issue is not about abolishing the Seanad but that it is very much part of our democracy. The issue is how to move forward, of that there is no question. Without doubt the greatest issue that the public has with Upper House is its democratic legitimacy. Without a predominantly directly elected membership, the question of our mandate will always arise. There are a number of recommendations in that regard.

To enhance our democracy it is important that there is Seanad reform, and I support the principle that we should try to get as much consensus as possible on the matter.

I second the amendment.

This is an extremely important debate. I commend the Green Party on bringing forward the debate forward relatively early in this session of the Seanad. Its members are doing us a service in doing so. I am happy to support the amendment to the Green Party motion for reasons to which I will return. We are here to promote debate and, hopefully, we can do that.

One point on which it is worth reflecting initially is that, whereas the Seanad has an important role in the debate about the Seanad, this Seanad does not own this institution. The 60 Members who are honoured to be in this Seanad do not own it; it belongs to the people of Ireland. Whereas we have an important role to play as experienced people — some of us have long experience as Members while many of us have only recently become Members of this House — we should not lose the run of ourselves and think this is an opportunity for us to carve up this operation, as it were, for the benefit of those who are already elected here. We should have a wider perspective on it. That is reflected in the report prepared in the last session and in the motion the Green Party has put before us. I do not criticise anybody when I make that remark but it is something we should bear in mind.

While I commended the Green Party on bringing forward this motion and on sponsoring this debate, the wording of the motion is contradictory. Like Senator Fitzgerald, I have an aversion to being asked to welcome a commitment in the programme for Government. Words to that effect are included in the first line of the motion.

What about the word "acknowledge"?

Perhaps in future when Members on the other side are trying to get us to adopt a multi-party position on an issue, they might drop the word "welcome" in the context of the programme for Government, and that might get us thinking a little more quickly.

We could do it now.

It could be noted.

I do not mind noting it but welcoming it causes me some difficulty.

What about acknowledging it?

We can review the words. If we can discuss the basis for agreement as between the two proposals, let us do that in the course of the next two hours. This is an important debate for us to have.

On the few occasions this debate has arisen in the House since I have become a Member, it has tended to be quite loud and sometimes intemperate.

A bogus comparison, which I acknowledge is rhetorical, is made between the direct electoral college in the universities and the indirect college by which Members are elected by councillors. That does not compare like with like. Senator David Norris and other Members know that. There is a direct electorate in the universities and an indirect electorate of councillors. It is not unprecedented across the world to have an electoral college of persons who are themselves already elected. It is not new. There are plenty of precedents where parliaments and presidents are elected on the basis of an electoral college comprising persons who are themselves already elected.

(Interruptions).

It is no use for Senator David Norris to say he was elected by 150 people.

It is perfectly true.

It is true in the sense of 150 people.

(Interruptions).

Allow Senator Alex White to continue without interruption.

Are we going to have a debate or this nonsense of interruption, and intemperate interruption at that? Let us just listen to each other. I will be listening to Senator Norris because I have great respect for him.

On the question of universities, we need to know the proportion of all living graduates of Trinity College and the National University of Ireland who vote in elections or who are even registered to do so. If we want to throw brickbats at each other when deciding which panel is most representative, we must analyse the electorate pertaining to each in addition to the entire process. The main reason behind the amendment to the Constitution in 1979 was apprehension that the National University of Ireland would be broken up, and another reason was to facilitate legislation to ensure third level colleges other than universities could elect Seanad representatives.

In the debate on the representation of third level institutions, with which some have difficulty, we should at least ask whether such representation can be justified at all.

Let us debate this. I am not convinced, but am open to being convinced, that there is a real, democratic basis for having a sub-electorate of university graduates electing Members to this House.

If there should be, why should there not also be a sub-group of electors who have graduated from secondary schools, or of electors who are not graduates at all?

Senator Alex White without interruption.

The university panel was selected in the first instance for a very sound and solid historical reason dating from the 1930s. Trinity College and the Church of Ireland had a particular historical position that made the creation of the panel absolutely correct.

Since I have become interested in politics, I have admired the work of past and present Members on the university panel, including Owen Sheehy Skeffington and, I have no difficulty in saying, Senator Norris, whose contribution to public life has been immense. This is not intended as a condescending remark, regardless of whether Senator Norris interprets it as such. If anybody in public life deserves to be in an upper house such as this, it is he. In this regard, I would also include many of his colleagues, including Senator Feargal Quinn, who have made significant contributions. We want to hear their views, as does the public, but that does not mean they should be elected simply because they are university graduates. Why should we maintain what is essentially an anachronism, that is, an electorate of third level graduates? "Anomaly" is probably a better word to describe it. I am sorry the word "elitist" offends some — I am certainly not using it with this intention — but it hints at the criticism that the 30% or 35% of the voting population who are graduates are afforded special treatment. This criticism should be part of the debate. Five or six other proposals have been mentioned by Senators and I would love an opportunity to address them at another time.

It is true that nothing is ever perfect, irrespective of whether it is in vogue for a long or short time. As an elected forum, the Seanad is no different and it should be pushing out the boat in terms of how it does its business, how it is comprised and how it is perceived. Some do not see the Seanad in a good light but, as a House of the Legislature, its Members can be proud of how it reviews legislation. Its teasing out of legislation has been of proven benefit to Governments, both past and present.

Much has been said about the role of the universities. I have no problem with the universities or the inclusion of other third level institutions on the university panel, but we should consider a group that has been bypassed and overlooked for many years, namely, the borough and town councillors. They are elected but are not represented in this House. There are five county boroughs, with a total 60 members. There are 36 members from three 12-member town councils and 414 from 46 town councils, formerly called district councils, and 234 from former town commissions. This results in a grand total of 744 elected members without representation in this House. They are under the umbrella body of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland. It is well worth noting that a certain town, as opposed to a borough, that was represented until recently by at least one Member of this House has a greater population than either of two counties. The latter have county councils and I therefore support the retention of the right to representation.

I am not entirely happy with the proposal to reduce the input of county councillors on the five vocational panels. I have no difficulty in extending the number of seats in the Seanad to 65 to accommodate representatives from Northern Ireland, ethnic groups and immigrants or emigrants. I have no difficulty in supporting strongly the automatic return to the House of the Cathaoirleach. This is long overdue.

Past and present Cathaoirligh have been very badly treated by the system that has obtained to date in the Seanad. If nothing is done other than addressing this, a good day's work will still be done.

Nobody, including Members of the Oireachtas, will be too offended if I say the level of debate in this House is excellent. The contributions of Members on all sides have been innovative, reforming and productive. Above all, they have proven more than worthy in terms of upgrading and introducing legislation.

The report on Seanad reform recommends significant reform of the Seanad electoral system, including the rolling renewal of the Seanad and the introduction of direct election to a single 26-seat constituency. Reform involves a number of facets. I am not entirely satisfied or happy that the number of Senators elected by the county councils, county borough councillors, incoming Dáil Deputies and outgoing Senators should be reduced. The selection of only 20 would be unsatisfactory.

The point made on elected Members constituting a college is not only pertinent to Ireland but is also reflected in many jurisdictions worldwide. At the request of the Taoiseach, an informal all-party parliamentary group on Seanad reform was established in 2005 and chaired by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Of the 43 Members elected by county boroughs to the five vocational panels, only one was elected to the group, yet the five panels contain 43 Members of a 60-Member House. This bears thinking about. The informal reform group addressed proposals that attracted early consensus and which are capable of implementation in the short to medium term. Prior to the general election, the group referred to a number of draft Standing Order changes concerning the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of Seanad Éireann, to be piloted as sessional orders.

I am proud to say I am paid from the public purse. I run a full-time constituency office in Mullingar which I believe I should do as I am paid from the public purse. I will make no apologies to anyone for so doing nor will I give myself a slipped disc by clapping myself on the back.

It is common for federal states, such as the USA, Canada and Germany, to have an upper house of the legislature. In a federal system, the upper house is where the interests of constituent states are balanced. Ireland, however, is a unitary state and not a federal one. Under the unitary system of government, there are two main arguments in favour of having an upper house.

I am not exactly happy with what this report contains in regard to locally elected Members. I ask Members to bear in mind that there is a very large elected group which is excluded from representation in this House.

I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am firmly committed to an upper house. At present the Seanad is unrepresentative, undemocratic, anachronistic and unfair in the way it is put together. The point raised by Senator Alex White is right in that a university electorate is elitist, a cadre, exclusive and unacceptable in a democracy. However, it is not the only thing which is unacceptable. The only reason I am on the university panel is that I would not have got a vote on the cultural and educational panel despite the fact I was the boss of the largest, oldest and most widespread educational organisation in the country, nor would I have got a vote on the labour panel despite the fact I was president of the largest labour organisation on this island. The only way I could have a voice in the second House of Parliament was to be on the university panel. That is why it needs reform.

However, we must ask why there is a university panel. If we worked on the basis of one person, one vote I would not have a difficulty with maintaining the university panel. In other words, if we elected people by direct vote and if 10% of Members were elected by university graduates — although I have no doubt a lot more than 10% of the population would be graduates — I would not have a difficulty with that. I am not, however, enthusiastic about it. My view since I became a Member — I have been on every reform group for 20 years — is that if it comes down to that, farmers and fishermen should vote for those on the agricultural panel, education partners should vote for those on the cultural and educational panel, registered members of trade unions should vote for those on to the labour panel and business people should vote for those on the administrative panel. The nominating bodies should have votes. It is disgraceful that they have no impact beyond nominating people. These are some of the gaps in the system. In such a structure, there would be a strong case for maintaining the university panel.

I am completely in favour of extending the vote to all third level graduates. I am a great loser in this regard because primary school teachers, who are my base, who graduated after 1996 have not been allowed to vote. My vote potential deteriorates every year so, therefore, I have a vested interested in increasing the university franchise.

I have no problem with the concept of indirect elections, which works in France, the USA and in many countries. It is a distillation of democracy in that one layer elects the other. The only problem I have with it at present is that the preponderance of people elected that way is unacceptable. My view is that the Seanad should become slightly larger and that the number of Members should be increased to approximately 70 and that the number elected indirectly would not be reduced to 20 but should be perhaps 30. I very much agree with the point made by Senator Boyle. The idea of a national list, a national panel, to elect people indirectly makes much more sense than this nonsense of knowledge and experience of education, etc.

We need to make changes and implement the proposals. There is a roadmap for implementation and milestones and targets are included in the report. If we do not agree to the amendment, I will co-operate with the Government motion. The business could be done in two months and we could move forward. Let us make people put up or shut up. We must be conscious of people who have been elected by county councillors. People should be given time to adjust and make changes to what is proposed.

I will support the amendment to the motion. I indicated I would sign it but I am afraid it was a little too late. My problems with the motion are manifold. I refer to the word "commitment", for example. Senator O'Toole got a commitment from a previous Leader of the House, Michael Lanigan. When he asked if the commitment would be fulfilled, he was told it was not an absolute commitment so there are different kinds of commitments. They are not all musical groups. The motion is also grammatical nonsense in that it states "that as many of these agreed changes can be achieved". As many as what? Is it as many as I want? Is it as many as the Pope decides? Is it as many as the Minister wants? It does not make sense; it is not logical. However, I understand what the Government is at.

I agree with the idea of Seanad reform. That is why I tabled a motion which the Government voted down in the first couple of weeks. All the Members on the Government side trooped through the lobby to vote against exactly what it proposes tonight. However, I detect a greater degree of seriousness in the tenor of this debate. Something probably will happen but I hope it is not confined exclusively to the university seats, although I welcome the extension. However, we ought to look at the way it is being extended. I have suggested various ways to retain certain characteristics of the constituencies, but that will be up to the majority to decide.

I issue one warning. We should not make it a vast constituency of 250,000 or 500,000. That will Americanise the process. Only people with money and the incumbents will be able to go forward. It would be fine for me; I have a high profile on radio and television. If I am not being arrogant, I believe I would have a reasonably good chance of getting elected, but let us think of some young person with radical ideas. How would he or she get elected and how would he or she finance the election? If we are going to do that, we will have to provide a certain amount of finance.

The university panel has encouraged people. I would never have got elected but for it. It is 30 years since I started to campaign to get into this House. I never wanted to be a Member of the Dáil. I am one of the people who wanted to be a Member of this House. There are such people in all parties but we are a minority. Most people want to get into, or back into, the other House. I was the one who coined the phrase about this House being the intensive care ward of the Dáil. I am unrepentant about that. I have made submissions which Members should read if they are interested.

I am make no apology for the university representation. I do not agree with Senator Joe O'Toole on this. There is no need for an apology. It is not particularly elitist and if it is, what about it? There is a lot to be said for elitism and for people who have certain qualities. I salute the people who got university degrees; I think they are great.

I am not taking any lessons in democracy from the parties. I remember being in this House when people were dragooned in to vote for people for whom they were told to vote by their parties. There are a number of people on both sides who remember that. It happened in every party. There was no democracy.

In regard to this delegated university suffrage rubbish, Senator Camillus Glynn gave the lie to that when he spoke about the office in his constituency. His constituency is not Mullingar; it is the administrative panel. The way one gets proper representation is by enfranchising the people. It is a laughing stock. I remember the president of the Royal Irish Academy putting himself forward but he did not get a single vote. Somebody else, whose blushes I will spare, topped the poll. That tells one how representative and democratic it is.

In regard to university representation as opposed to the other, I am not taking back anything I said about county councillors earlier today. I saw the programme on Tuesday night.

I know there are very decent councillors such as Senator Hannigan, who is a former councillor. However, many Members of this House were caught by the tribunals with their fingers in the jam. This was because they were members of councils and this must be addressed and removed. I remember being in this House when every single named officer of this House stood for election and was rejected by the people. One of the most important of them stood for election to the Dáil and was rejected by the people, stood for the European Parliament and was rejected by the people, stood for the Seanad and was rejected by the people and was then nominated and made a Member of the Seanad. That is democracy.

Perhaps I will be told I am being inflammatory but that is the situation. If one is going to do something, one should not just target the university Senators where one gets bloody good value. One may not always like it but one gets good value out of it. One should look at the whole picture, enfranchise people and give voting rights to the ordinary members of the nominated bodies and then one will cover the whole country.

In respect of the point made by the eminent Senator Norris, good and worthy people are not always popular people. We have seen how the greatest people have stood for election and have not been elected at the early stages for one reason or another but have become probably the best parliamentarians we have had during that particular time in the country's history.

When I entered the Seanad in 1982, it used to sit for about half a day a week. It would then sit for only about seven months of the year. We have come a long way and have achieved a great deal. The greatest change I have seen in my time here has been the fact that almost 30% of legislation is initiated in this House. It is a great tribute to the Taoiseach, the present Government and those of the past ten years that this has been the case. The amount of good work that Senators have done in respect of legislation and the assistance they have provided to Ministers and their portfolios and Departments has been untold. We have certainly have made an immeasurable positive contribution in this House.

We must also say that over that period, there has been a huge amount of change in personnel here. If we look back over 25 years, we can see that only two Senators from that year are serving in the House and two others have just passed the 25-year service mark. If one looks at the new Seanad, one can see that it has 35 new Members and that 25 Members have not previously served in either the Dáil or the Seanad. It is not an old boys' club and that lie should be put to rest.

We must see the facts and use common sense. The Seanad is a necessary second or upper house for the protection of the Constitution on behalf of the people on a mostly non-political basis. The level of debate in this House deals with legislation and proposed amendments to legislation placed before us. The serious and urgent matters that arise occasionally need the urgent attention and the expertise among Members of Seanad Éireann that may not be available in the Dáil. There are Members of the Seanad who would never get elected to Dáil Éireann for one reason or another. This has been handed down for generations and we have all seen the greatest examples of it.

In respect of the job being done in the Seanad in respect of this review, all panels will be seriously reviewed. However, if something is good, one should not break it. Something that does not meet modern needs must be amended and adjusted. There is a place for everyone to play. I am fortunate to be one of those Senators elected to and represented on those five panels and am certainly very happy with the way they contribute to the House in a true vocational sense that was set up by the former Taoiseach and President, the late Éamon de Valera.

Given the work done by the Leaders and the Chief and Deputy Whips of all parties and everyone assisting in the Seanad, as well as the number of hours they put in, the issue of remuneration must be examined. There is no such thing as a part-time Senator; Senators are here for three and a half days. In my job as Leader of the House, I spend four full days here. Given the work done by the Government Whip, the small amount of money given to them borders on an insult.

These are serious matters which the review must examine. Given the calibre of the people who are asked to perform the duties of the Upper House, they must be seriously rewarded. Nobody does nothing for nothing nowadays, so to speak. I am saying this on behalf of other Members rather than on my own. I fully support the proposal that the Chair be automatically returned. The Chair must be impartial. We have a good Chair who can attend functions, cannot pose for photographs in a political basis and must be totally independent. The person who assumes this position is at a considerable disadvantage if he or she intends to stay in politics. We want people of the highest calibre occupying the Chair and I fully support the proposal that the Chair be automatically returned, as is the case in Dáil Éireann.

As I said on the Order of Business today, I will ask the Clerk to present the Members of the Seanad who were not previously Members of the Dáil or Seanad and the Members who had previously been Members of the Dáil with the last two reviews on Seanad reform so they can read over them. Senator Glynn made a valuable point that most Senators participating in the last review were selected Senators. The elected Senators, especially the 43 elected by the panels, should be representative and represented. I am not casting any aspersions on anyone as quite senior parliamentarians and very experienced people, both male and female from both sides, for whom I have the highest regard were on the group. I certainly acknowledge the great service they have given Ireland in their terms in both Houses. My former colleague, former Senator John Dardis, who was Deputy Leader of this House and with whom I worked so well down through the years, was a true gentleman of the highest standing. I value their advice. However, there was also a previous report so perhaps we will get the Clerk to give everyone two copies of those and we will have a look at them over Christmas. Perhaps then we can continue this debate, which will not conclude this evening. I know it is going to continue.

The question of the Six Counties must be addressed because we have seen the new Ireland. We must have representation from the Six Counties. As a member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I assure its members and Members of this House that I know that it would be wonderful if the Six Counties were represented. Four Senators represent Ulster but they are from Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. They represent these counties excellently but we must have representation from the Six Counties. If there is an increase in the panels and it must go to a referendum, I know the people of Ireland will overwhelmingly give their approval so that this could take place.

The Seanad Éireann of the future must be a 32-county Upper House. For that reason, we should have a review of the Seanad. Many good suggestions have been made which will be examined by the most experienced Members of the House. Everyone who is elected, irrespective of the panel he or she is elected to, is elected to bring change and enhance the legislative process in respect of bringing Bills forward and bringing everything before the House. The contribution they have made has been immense and must be acknowledged. I acknowledge it as Leader of the House. We are now looking to the 21st century to see how we can enhance it. Party politics have not been played to the same extent that they have at the present time. I understand that this is a levelling-off period. Young Members have entered the House who are enthusiastic and energetic. By the very fact of entering this House, they believe things can be changed very quickly. Coming from the world of private enterprise, the most significant change I came across was realising that getting things done can take a long time. Once Members get over that teething problem, they will make an immeasurable contribution. I look forward to Seanad reform. I congratulate the Minister, a man who takes on the challenge with gusto, on his appointment.

I wish to share time with Senator Buttimer.

I welcomed the report on Seanad reform when it was published some years ago. One of its main items was the suggestion that reforms ensure that "the Seanad, or more realistically Seanad committees, would become vehicles for more widespread and effective public consultation". There are a number of ways we can approach reform. We can amend Standing Orders, a proposal for which is before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at present. Many of the suggestions of the report can be covered under Standing Orders, such as allowing a former Taoiseach to attend the Seanad on a matter before the House or having MEPs speak in the House, which has already happened. These are laudable reform suggestions.

Another concerns scrutiny proposals for legislation under Community treaties, which the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny concludes is of significant and national importance. They should be debated here. Select committees can and should be formed to deal with the mid-term EU policy and consider the development of the European Union in the long term. There is the suggestion that a sub-committee on social policy and social partnership be formed, to be reflective on instruments of social partnership such as the National Economic and Social Council, the National Economic and Social Forum, the National Centre for Partnership and Performance and the National Economic and Social Development Office reports. These can be done under Standing Orders, constituting a major item of reform.

Most people think of Seanad reform relating to the manner in which Senators are elected. It is the item that grabs the headlines but it is a small part of it. The vocational panel system has served the House well and should be retained, with some modifications. Up to 20 people should be directly elected by the people, based on European Parliament constituencies or otherwise. There should be a five year set term. Perhaps holding the Seanad election on the same day as the general election would separate the powers of the Senate and the Dáil. I am sorry I agreed to share my time now because I could talk about this for a long time. It is laudable that we are having this debate. Anyone who thinks that Seanad reform refers to the method by which we are elected is losing the plot.

As one of the new Senators to whom the Leader referred, I deem it an immense honour to be elected to this House. Seanad reform should not focus on how we are elected, as Senator Cummins pointed out. I was elected by councillors on a panel including the Leader and Senator Cummins. From meeting councillors I know they take their jobs seriously, despite the criticism heard today. Some 99.9% of them, across all political parties, are decent, upright people who take their jobs seriously.

I do not see the Upper House as the intensive care ward of the Lower House. It is meaningful, there are 35 new Senators, new parties are represented and it represents the voice of the people. Parties who organise voting pacts and observe how their party members vote devalue this House. That should be stopped. It is important to have an Upper House. Reform of the electorate will not make the House more democratic. Reform is always mentioned with regard to this House but the manner in which we carry out our business is far more important. There should be Question Time in this House. Senators should have the ability to table parliamentary questions. We should be able to hold Ministers to account rather than having Adjournment debates or strategic motions. I agree with the Minister's statements inThe Irish Times with regard to the university panels. As a graduate of the Pontifical University of Maynooth I should have a vote in Seanad Éireann because my degree is no different from those of Trinity College, DIT, UCD or UCC.

The Senator does have a vote.

It is the Pontifical University of Maynooth.

Our party has been to the forefront in proposing reform of this House. Let us have a meaningful debate but let us not home in on the fact that most of us are elected from vocational panels by councillors. Like the Leader said, what is good should be retained and where there is a democratic deficit it should be changed. There is no such thing as a part-time Senator. I, like others here, work harder than some Members in the Dáil. We should get the recognition we deserve as a relevant House. It behoves us to make it relevant.

The media, which pays scant regard to this House, has a role to play in Seanad reform. The coverage is paltry and is not good enough for the Upper House of the Parliament.

I apologise for not being here for some of the contributions but I heard them on the monitor. I must leave for a meeting at 6.30 p.m. but I am glad the Seanad is debating this serious issue. I thank Senators Dan Boyle and Deirdre de Búrca for moving the motion.

Our national political institutions are at the heart of the State and it is vitally important that they remain effective and relevant in a changing world. As such, reform of the Upper House deserves our attention and our dedicated efforts to bring about beneficial change, when warranted, to strengthen the legitimacy and efficacy of Seanad Éireann.

The programme for Government makes a clear and unambiguous commitment in that regard. The programme states that the Government will determine the extent of cross-party agreement on the recommendations of the report on Seanad reform to advance proposals for implementation. The commitment to seek to advance Seanad reform forms a part of the Government's overall approach to Oireachtas reform. The programme states that the Government will also reconsider the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Constitution regarding Dáil reform, and will pursue the issue of reform of Oireachtas sitting times, Oireachtas procedures and strengthening the role of committees.

In February 2003 the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges established the Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform. The terms of reference of the sub-committee provided that it should review and make recommendations on the future composition and functions of the Seanad, particularly its electoral system and its role in the areas of legislation, parliamentary accountability, public policy and EU affairs. It is notable that the sub-committee did not work in isolation. The public's involvement was encouraged and 161 written submissions were received. In addition, the sub-committee held four days of public hearings. This demonstrates a considerable commitment on its part to engage as fully as possible with society.

The Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform published its report in April 2004.

On a point of order, will copies of the Minister's script be circulated?

I was obliged to rush back to obtain my copy of the script. I hope further copies can be circulated to Members.

The report sets out a package of comprehensive recommendations for further consideration and action concerning the composition, functions and future role of Seanad Éireann. Many of these recommendations are radical and far-reaching. The principal recommendations propose that membership of the Seanad be increased from 60 to 65; provision be made for the automatic re-election of the Cathaoirleach; 32 of the 65 senators to be directly elected — 26 of these seats would be filled from a single national constituency under a list-PR system and the other six by election from the reformed higher education constituency, with graduates from all higher education institutes in the State being eligible to register; 20 Senators to be indirectly elected by county and city councillors, Deputies and Senators under the PR-STV system; and 12 senators to be nominated by the Taoiseach. Another of the recommendations is that the Seanad would be renewed on a rolling basis, with direct elections — including in the higher education constituency — taking place every five years on the same day as European and local elections and, similar to current practice, indirect elections to take place and the Taoiseach's nominations to be made, within 90 days after a Dail election.

The recommendations also refer to widening the franchise for the higher education constituency in Seanad Éireann. The current restriction of the Seanad university seats to three elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and three by Trinity graduates has been acknowledged by all parties as anomalous. The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution Act (Election of Members of Seanad Éireann by Institutions of Higher Education) 1979 permits the extension of the higher education franchise, in a manner to be provided by law, to other institutions of higher education in the State. The 1979 amendment was originally introduced to facilitate the intended break-up of the NUI. However, legislation was not introduced or enacted to give effect to the constitutional amendment because the break-up of the NUI did not subsequently occur.

For the information of Senator Cummins, I understand there is a problem with the photocopier but that copies of my script are being made and will be circulated shortly. I apologise for the delay.

I thank the Minister.

The approach of the sub-committee to re-evaluating the role of the Seanad, advocating and embracing reform and developing new roles for this House, while maintaining its integral character and status as part of our modern democracy, is to be commended. The 2004 report was not the first effort made to address the reform of the Seanad. A total of 11 separate reports on the reform of the Seanad have been published. These principally focused on its composition and electoral system. The first report was published in the aftermath of the Seanad election in 1928 and, aside from the 2004 report, the most recent reports were published in 1997 and 2002 by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.

It should be noted that the conclusions and recommendations of the 2002 and 2004 reports differ in many respects. For example, the seventh progress report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, published in 2002, recommended the direct election of 48 senators and the abolition of all university seats. However, despite the differing approaches recommended by the various reports on its reform, the Seanad is widely considered to face several principal challenges. The 2004 report states that the Seanad's distinctive role is unclear and that the system of election to the House diminishes the public legitimacy of senators.

There is also the issue of university representation in Seanad Éireann. Current arrangements exclude the graduates of the vast majority of third level institutions, despite the fact that a constitutional amendment was passed in 1979 to broaden the scope of the franchise beyond Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland to other institutions of higher education in the State. Aside from the disparity between graduates who are entitled to vote and those who are not, the system has been criticised because it confers a basic democratic right to certain people and denies it to others solely on the basis of educational achievement. Given the constitutional opening, however, I am of the opinion that reform should focus initially on widening the third level franchise. That is a matter I am anxious to progress.

At the request of the Taoiseach, an informal all-party parliamentary group on Seanad reform was established in 2005 and was chaired by my predecessor. The group's role was to assess the extent of cross-party agreement on the sub-committee's recommendations and to advance, with consensus, proposals for the implementation of Seanad reform. The group addressed proposals which attracted early consensus and which are capable of implementation in the short to medium term. The group met on four occasions between October 2005 and November 2006, having adopted a pragmatic work plan with a view to initially progressing the recommended Standing Orders changes that could be implemented in the short term.

Prior to the general election, having consulted with the relevant Oireachtas committees and Government Departments, the group referred a number of draft Standing Orders changes, to be piloted as sessional orders, to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The draft sessional orders relate to the attendance of former Taoisigh and Tánaistí; assessing legislative and other proposals going before EU Councils; reviewing particular draft EU legislation of major national importance; developing a medium-term policy framework for EU affairs to address challenges andopportunities facing Ireland in the next ten years; and public policy review in respect of medium-term economic and social planning and social partnership. I understand the Seanad CPP is currently considering the draft sessional orders.

The all-party group also examined the higher education constituency reform proposals of the 2004 report but consensus did not emerge. Clearly, the question of Seanad reform is a core element of the wider debate on democracy and the political process. The 2004 report acknowledged that it has considerable political implications and that difficult decisions, involving sensitive political matters, will have to be taken. However, it is argued in the report that if progress is to be made, there is an urgent need to accept the political reality that Seanad Éireann must be reformed if it is to make a viable and distinctive contribution to the economic, social and political affairs of our country.

The election of the 24th Seanad is not due for five years. I intend to ensure that the intervening period is used to address reform, particularly the issue of the Seanad higher education constituency. I am anxious to see Seanad reform — based on an all-party, consensus approach — advanced. The reform of our institutions of national governance deserves and requires non-partisan, inclusive methods. I intend to establish and chair an all-party group in the near future which, I hope, will have sufficient weight to deliver consensus and which will reflect the fact that the Seanad does not operate in isolation from the Lower House. I will be writing to the party leaders soon, requesting their nominations in respect of that group. However, consensus cannot be allowed to become paralysis. If I cannot obtain agreement, I will be obliged to proceed in respect of extending the third level franchise.

I take this opportunity to state that the Government welcomes all contributions from across the House. Senators may rest assured that their views are key to the future of the reform process.

I wish to share time with Senator Quinn.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased my name is appended to the amendment to the motion. I fully support calls for reform. The amendment goes further than the motion by calling for the publication of a timescale in respect of the implementation of the recommendations of the 2004 report. The Minister provided a concise summary of those recommendations. They received all-party support and members of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Independent Members signed up to the amendment calling for a timescale to be published. We have consensus and we could proceed to implement the report on a comprehensive basis.

My concern following the Minister's speech is that he suggested he will move forward only on one element of reform if all-party agreement is not forthcoming. This would be a shame. The entire spirit and tenor of the report is that wholesale reform of the Seanad is required. If one examines the report, one sees it states a radical alternative to the vocational panel system is required as well as a radical alternative to the university panels which clearly require reform and I accept this.

I am sorry Senator Buttimer was not able to vote as a graduate of Maynooth. Persons who graduate from both NUI and Trinity have two votes and if such a person is a councillor or a Deputy he or she would have three votes. This is not democratic and, admirably, the report recommends that people choose which aspect of the Seanad election to vote in, for the higher education panel or for the 20 members to be elected by Deputies, councillors or Senators or for the national constituency. This gives choice and ensures no one has more than one vote.

I am not convinced about increasing the number of Taoiseach's nominees. This would have the effect of neutering the Seanad. The report points out the perception of the Seanad as being weak, ineffective and of questionable value is compounded by the fact that it is dominated by the Government. I do not see why the Taoiseach's right to nominate should be present, bringing with it an in-built Government majority. I appreciate the report correctly recommends that if the Taoiseach's nomination power is to be retained it should be placed within certain legislative parameters as to the criteria to be used in selecting the people to be nominated and include representatives from Northern Ireland and under-represented groups in Irish society.

On balance, I favour the recommendations in the report. However, I hope they will be implemented together and that not only the changes which can be made through legislation, namely, changes to the university panels, will be made but also the changes requiring constitutional change. Given that this report of 2004 is the 12th report we have had and it represents cross-party consensus we could see a timeframe put in place which would see us having a constitutional referendum, perhaps at the same time next year as the referendum on children's rights.

I thank Senator Bacik for sharing her time. I support the amendment and I was not sure whether I would do so until I came to the Chamber and listened to what was being discussed. My objective, and the objective of many of us, is to ensure the Seanad becomes a creative and viable force in the political process. I fear this is not likely to happen. I was disappointed to hear the Minister state he was anxious to progress. I know he has been in office only a short time but phrases such as "anxious to progress" and the suggestions he made indicate a danger that a talking shop will continue for a long period.

We need reform. However, I am not sure the public recognises this in the same way we do because I do not believe they regard us highly. Those of us here know the amount of work done and what we have achieved. A great deal can be stated in favour of a bicameral system. Recently, I was written to by a professor in New Zealand who is writing a report on bicameral systems throughout the world. He asked for details on the Irish system because he was anxious to learn about it.

When speaking about Seanad reform we tend to speak about the electoral system. While we need to reform the electoral system, we can do a great deal apart from this. This debate is similar to the one we had on 27 April 2004. Reading the speech I made on that occasion, I realise I could almost make the same one today.

Previously in this House, I made the point that what upsets me about our system and why I believe we lose credibility among the public is the use of lobbyists who come in behind the scenes. I would love to see this House used for open and transparent lobbying with no other lobbying allowed. Anybody who wishes to influence a Minister or a civil servant would do it in the full and open transparency of this House. If this system worked it would be a major improvement on the recognition for the political system and process we have.

Another change that could be made is the introduction of question time. When the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, accepted questions last week it was a healthy method of using this House.

I congratulate the Leader for organising it.

I am on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and I believe we need to do far more work with regard to the scrutiny of European legislation. If we do not do so in committees we could use the Seanad to do so. When I spoke in April 2004, I mentioned the need for changing the Constitution and I know there is great difficulty in doing so. We change it only for the electoral system. If we are going to change it again for the university electoral system we must to consider how seriously we can do so.

All, including those of us fortunate enough to have been elected by NUI and Trinity, recognise the unfairness of the system. I apologise to Senator Buttimer. When he stated he was a graduate of Maynooth, I assumed he had a vote. I recognise not only this college but other third-level colleges do not have a vote. It would be useful for them to have a vote. Having this system of election is of major benefit and extending it to nine seats, which has been suggested, would also be extremely useful.

I do not agree entirely with Senator Bacik with regard to the 11 nominations of the Taoiseach. One of the benefits of this is that it makes the House less confrontational because the Government usually has a majority. I have great difficulty with the five vocational panels being party political. It is beneficial to have independent seats. During the period from December 1994 to the change of Government in 1997 when the Taoiseach nominees from the previous Government remained, the joy of being one of the five Independent Senators with the balance of power made it well worthwhile. We had more forceful and capable debates. Let us hope something similar happens again.

I wish to share my time with Senator Hanafin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I listened carefully to the debate and a consensus is apparent. This is a political Chamber. It is subordinate to the Dáil and is dissolved when the Dáil is dissolved and because it is a political Chamber we must consider our electorate.

The Seanad is composed of five panels which have a range of nominating bodies. I am concerned about the number of nominating bodies coming out of the woodwork today. My nominating body is relevant to the issues which arise in society and which are discussed in this House and I speak for it when I can. We could examine nominating bodies.

Local authority members guard their right absolutely to select Senators and rightly so. It should remain like this for the simple reason that they have been elected themselves. Local authority members are professional people who know the electorate and who will not be told who they should elect. They are good at assessing every candidate. My first election to this Chamber was in 1993. I had to get to know my electorate and that was how I was elected. That is the only way any of us should be elected to this House. I do not want this Chamber to become a mere stepping stone to the Lower House nor do I want it to be a retirement home for those who have nowhere else to go. I am a professional Senator and I have a significant role to play here.

We have addressed many issues, such as the undocumented Irish in the United States, our overseas aid programme and EU legislation. There was public outcry in regard to EU directives on public service and agriculture but the public felt these issues were not being aired. I blame the media for that because after we debated the issues here, I looked for coverage in the newspapers and on television and radio but failed to find a single line. The media rather than Senators are at fault because we make good contributions and scrutinise and initiate legislation. That is how I would like reform to be introduced.

I am totally opposed to the proposals on direct elections which would be held alongside local and European elections. The public would be confused if any further elections were held on the same day. I also oppose the list system and I will not have my or any other party making a list of who should be elected. That is not democracy to me. Local county councillors will not be told by the hierarchy of any party who they should elect. I have problems with many of the recommendations before us.

We have opportunities for internal reform. Senator Cummins referred to reform on the Order of Business. I find it distasteful that the Order of Business is like a classroom in which we have to raise our hands for attention. Such a system is not professional for Senators and it should be changed. I would like to see reform in that regard. There is room in this House for continuity among professional Senators who are really interested in whatever comes before them. We should explore how we can enhance the role of the Seanad rather than use it as an opportunity to jump to the other House. I consider the people who do that as opportunists who are not fulfilling their role properly. One is either a professional Senator or going somewhere else. I do not want to be regarded as passing through or at a retirement stage of my life because that is not the way I conduct my business. This Chamber is being spoiled because too many people are in transition rather than concentrating on the proper role of the Seanad.

I share the views of many of the previous speakers with regard to the value of the Seanad. In many cases, the role played by the Seanad is not fully recognised. Between the 1980s and the present, the Seanad addressed issues such as the pro-life and anti-divorce campaigns and stem cell research in a coherent manner, to the benefit of the overall debates.

The most practical proposal is to retain a system that works. Some reforms may be required but the system of five vocational panels, university seats and Taoiseach's nominees, which was voted into being in 1937 by almost 1.2 million people and enacted in 1938, should be retained in full. Parts of the system may need to be tweaked, which implies small changes. These changes may include the number of nominating bodies and university seats. The number of Seanad seats should, however, increase by a minimum of 15, and possibly 20, to reflect the expansion of the Dáil from 122 seats in the 1920s to the present 166.

I am amazed at how certain proposals can be taken seriously, such as the indirect election of 20 Senators and the election of 26 through a national constituency. If Senators are elected by a national constituency, they would not readily accept the constraints preventing them from dealing with financial resolutions or amendments that could frustrate legislation. Most bizarre of all is the proposal that Seanad elections should take place at the same time as local elections. At a practical level, how could the 20 potential Senators from my panel alone meet each individual councillor? Some 100 people will be trying to meet a councillor who is standing for election and does not want to meet any Senators. I do not know how that proposal was made.

The system as it stands is not broken, although it may need to be tweaked. We need to increase our numbers but retain the basic principles of university seats, Taoiseach's nominees and vocational panels.

I wish to share time with Senator Doherty.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to be speaking about the issue of reform so early in the life of the current Seanad. All too often, members of the public have questioned me about the relevance and legitimacy of this House. I am glad the Green Party has put forward this motion and would like to see cross-party support on the issue. Some may argue that a certain section of society would not be well served by Seanad reform. To be more specific, Senators would argue it is like turkeys voting for Christmas. I disagree with that, however, because reform is in our interest. It will add legitimacy to the House and, as a result, increase its prestige and standing.

I would like to see change in the composition of the Seanad and the type of work it carries out. The 2004 reforms proposed 65 seats in the Seanad which would be elected by councillors, Deputies and Senators, as well as six from the university panels. While I am aware of the incomparable contributions made by Senators elected from the university panels, their system of election is archaic. We need to consider the complete removal of university panels because it is not fair to give somebody a vote purely on the basis that he or she had the benefit of a university education. It is unjust, undemocratic and elitist. A previous speaker asked what is wrong with elitism. Not long ago, people in this country fought for the right to share the franchise with women and those who did not own property. Elitism goes against the principle of equality and for that reason we need to scrap the system of election based on education. I want those seats to be added to a national list system.

Reform is also needed on the system of indirect election by councillors. I am aware the current proposals call for the number of seats thus elected to be reduced from 43 to 20 but I would like to reduce the number to ten. I recognise that some Senators and councillors will face difficulties in such a system, so we should consider the experience of the UK House of Lords and introduce reform on a gradual basis. After implementing the present proposals, we could wait then five years before considering a further reduction in the number of seats elected by councillors and Deputies. That should be built into the legislation.

With regard to the work undertaken in the House, we should spend more time dealing with European issues and, as recommended in the report, organisations should come before the House to present their annual reports and take questions from Senators. These steps would foster greater interest in the work of the House among members of the public.

I welcome the debate and compliment the Green Party on tabling the motion. I will, however, support the amendment tabled by the Fine Gael Party as the report on Seanad reform must be implemented sooner rather than later. Failing this, I will press my party to introduce a Private Members' Bill during the term of this Seanad.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús báire buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Hannigan fá choinne am a roinnt liom. Tá mé buíoch freisin leis an Chomhaontas Glas as ucht an rún seo a chuir ar an gclár inniu. Is cinnte gur díospóireacht fíor-tábhachtach, atá ag dul ar aghaidh ar feadh blianta, atá ann. Ba cheart dúinn rudaí a leanúint suas agus a chuir i gcrích i ndiadh na díospóireachta.

Sinn Féin was not part of the sub-committee which examined Seanad reform because the party was not represented in the previous Seanad when the report on Seanad reform was formulated. Reform is necessary. Although the proposals in the report do not go far enough, any reform of the Seanad, however small, must be welcomed because it is a fundamentally undemocratic, elitist forum. Sinn Féin advocates the establishment of a reformed, democratic, transparent, accountable and relevant second House of Parliament. The Seanad should afford a role for civic society and provide for fuller representation from all sections of society in the legislative process.

A second House could be constituted so as to represent those not adequately represented in the Dáil. It is beneficial for the democratic nature of government to have a second House of Parliament which provides a system of checks and balances on Government legislation and policy.

All Members of the Seanad should be elected by the citizens of the 32 counties, those who have been resident on the island for five years or more and all those aged over 16 years. I am disappointed the Minister does not intend to include these proposals in his reforms. Under the Sinn Féin proposals, which the party submitted as part of the process of drawing up a report on Seanad reform, pending the reunification of the country, those citizens of Ireland who are resident in the Six Counties would be able to cast their ballots by postal vote and Northern representation, a commitment across all parties in the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, could be realised in the House. I agree with the Leader that the House could become a 32 county forum in the Irish Parliament. Are we serious about bringing about this objective? Does every party subscribe to it? If so, the House has an option to allow citizens across the 32 counties to vote in elections to the Seanad.

Irish emigrants in London, Birmingham, Scotland, America and elsewhere in the world should be allowed to cast their votes by registering with the relevant Irish embassy. During the recent general election in Poland, candidates for the Polish Parliament travelled to Ireland to canvass members of the Polish diaspora here. Emigrants should be represented in the Seanad.

Sinn Féin favours having six vocational panels, including a community and voluntary panel, through which Senators would be elected. To tackle the under-representation of women, a gender quota of at least 30% should be applied in each panel.

These proposals address the mechanism by which Senators would be elected to the House. We must also deal with the functions of the House. Scrutiny should be its main role with Senators scrutinising draft domestic legislation and furnishing reports to the Dáil, including specific recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment and fast-tracking of progress. Sinn Féin proposes significant changes to the current legislative Stages. Prior to consideration by the Dáil, all proposed legislation would first pass scrutiny by the Seanad, in a process to be known as Second Stage. A new stage would include a community consultation process.

We cannot tinker at the edges of Seanad reform, as the Government proposes to do. The report on Seanad reform does not go far enough. One of the most undemocratic aspects of the election of Senators is the privilege afforded to the Taoiseach to nominate 11 Senators. This is a ridiculous mechanism which would be described as a form of dictatorship in any other country. To propose to increase the number of Taoiseach's nominees to 12 and allow the majority of Senators — 33 of the proposed 65 Members — to be political appointees does not make sense. We should not be afraid of allowing people across the 32 counties to speak. Let them decide who is best to represent them in the Upper House.

The most recent report on Seanad reform, which forms part of the motion before the House, was not agreed on an all-party basis and there were many dissenting voices in the Fianna Fáil Party on a range of its proposals. I propose first to respond to some of the comments made on the proposals regarding the university Members. Before entering the Seanad I considered it somewhat discriminatory to allow two universities elect six Senators. To be fair, however, since becoming a Senator, I have found that the university Members make a valuable contribution to the House. While I disagree with them on many occasions on a range of topics, they bring a dimension to the House which would be missed were they to cease being Members.

I thank the Senator.

Having said that, the franchise should be extended to include all third level institutions. I do not concur with those who argue for the abolition of the electoral mandate for graduates of third level institutions.

There is a notion that we should adopt a list system because this model is used elsewhere and is more democratic. Nobody stops to ask who would draw up the list, how it would be drawn up and what criteria would be applied. I have no doubts about how this would be done and will oppose any move towards the creation of a list system for Seanad elections. The current system may have some defects but, as Senator Alex White noted, Senators have a mandate. While Senator Norris may argue that a Senator may be elected with just 50, 60 or 70 votes, each of these votes probably represents 1,000 electors. Those who elect councillors at local government level give them a mandate to take decisions on their behalf. Many of these decisions impact directly on the people councillors represent. There is nothing anomalous about the fact that they also exercise this mandate to elect Members of the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

It may be necessary to extend the franchise to all councillors as only a little over half of councillors at county and city council level currently have a right to vote. It may also be necessary to change the vocational panels. While they probably had a purpose in 1937 when the Seanad was established, their resonance is missing today and they are no longer the best method of electing Senators. We could adopt regionalisation, an approach frequently suggested during election campaigns when one travels the country. While certain reforms may be necessary, fundamentally there is nothing flawed about indirectly electing Members to the House through local representatives.

Senator Doherty referred to the Taoiseach's nominees. I do not know how one could abolish this system while ensuring a working majority for Government in the House. This is a practical difficulty which those who served in the rainbow coalition from 1994 to 1997 experienced when they introduced legislation. As somebody who lobbied on particular issues in the marine area from the outside during that period, I recall engaging the Independent Senators with a view to thwarting the measures the then Government was endeavouring to introduce. I see some sense in looking at a better or more effective method of doing it, if there is one, but I cannot think of anything better.

I feel particularly strongly about Northern Ireland representation. The House can play a pivotal role by having among its Members all shades of political opinion on this island. We should have a minimum of ten Members from Northern Ireland. I have discussed this with Unionists and people interested in the development of politics on this island who have a role to play. They have said that without a minimum number it would be too difficult for them to take part, as they are so easily isolated within their communities and parties. This should not be done by nomination, but by election and our current system would be one way to do it. We should work through the various conduits we have with politicians of all shades in the North to try and bring this about. This would be a major step in rationalising political thinking on the island.

I thank Senators for their contributions and particularly for the tone and tenor of the debate which demonstrates that membership of the House is consistent with the belief we exist to serve. How we do so depends on the quality of this House and its structures.

I cannot accept the amendment put forward by the Fine Gael and Labour Party Senators as it is too descriptive. I ask those who moved the amendment to consider the Minister's speech, in which he gave a clear commitment that an all-party committee will be established immediately. The first task of that committee will be to determine in a short timespan that all-party agreement still exists on the basis of the last report.

I was struck by the final comments of Senator Walsh, that some Senators, who were Members of the last Seanad also, do not agree with the recommendations. We are not talking about unanimity or the views of individual Senators. We are talking about how all political parties and Independent Members can come to a consensus. As I said earlier, this is not how I would propose the Seanad to be. I would like to see a publicly elected Seanad. However, I recognise that the Seanad is the way it is for a reason. Any changes we bring to it should bring the best of what exists currently with it into the future.

We should not kid ourselves. There is a list system in our current arrangements for electing Senators. It is called the inner panel and it is determined solely in the backrooms of party offices.

On a point of order, the parties vote to select their Members.

The coalition is in crisis. There is no consensus, come to our side.

Senator Boyle, without interruption.

I withdraw that. The basis of what I said is that the existence of a place on the list is determined by a small number of people, which is an even greater diminution of the electoral process. We should examine this.

It is important, in order to get greater public acceptance of the important work we do as Senators, that we get a degree of public involvement in the selection of Members of this House. This was the most important recommendation of the last report. The degree to which we can agree that and the extent to which we can bring in the necessary proposals for constitutional change will determine how successful the 23rd Seanad is in ensuring we have a vibrant Seanad in the future.

I am glad there is consensus the legislative changes should be made with regard to the universities will be made in the short term. The committee to be established by the Minister will have as part of its brief a reason not only to advance that legislation, but to ensure that in the course of this Seanad we make proposals for constitutional change. Otherwise, any bringing forward of particular legislation would be unfair to the spirit of the existing and all preceding reports. Either we believe in change that is consensual and wide-ranging, or we will continue without any change at all.

I welcome the Leader's call to return to this issue. I am glad I and my colleague, Deputy Déirdre de Búrca, have had the opportunity to use Private Members' time to raise this important issue of discussion early in the life of this Seanad. The promise of a full day's debate in February on the wider issues, following the formation of the committee and, hopefully, after it has made an early assessment of its work, will give the House another opportunity to deal with how it can advance the agenda for change. I thank all Senators for their contributions.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 27.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Harris, Eoghan.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Dominic Hannigan.
Amendment declared lost.
Motion put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.