Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) (Amendment) Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran.

In the past the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, made a number of applications to be included in the list of bodies eligible to nominate a person to go forward for election to the Seanad from the Administrative Panel, but its efforts in this regard were unsuccessful. I have no difficulty with the Bill in principle, but it is strange that it has been brought forward by Fine Gael which wants to abolish the Seanad. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, clearly outlined his position on the matter and I am obliged to state I hold the same position. As stated, it is strange that a party which wants to abolish Seanad Éireann has brought forward this measure. I am completely opposed to the abolition of this House which is an important institution of State. I am extremely proud to be a Member of the Seanad and believe it has an important role to play. However, like all institutions and bodies it requires reorganisation from time to time. We will be debating a motion on that matter later in the day.

The Bill before the House is extremely important. It is our job to represent the local authority members who have placed their trust in us for many years. It is an honour and a privilege to be elected to the Seanad.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, for coming before the House and, as on many previous occasions, giving of his time. He is fully supportive of the local authority system and a former chairman of the General Council of County Councils which has become the Association of City and County Councils. He is a distinguished former Member of this House and prior to his election to the Dáil, he served here as the Government's spokesperson on finance.

Like many other Senators, I support the proposal before the House. However, I represent the Government side and I am, therefore, obliged to respect its decisions and those of the Department and the senior Minister. Departments are, in conjunction with Ministers, responsible for making plans in respect of long-term strategy. From time to time Ministers outline to the House the policies of various Departments and the Government. I understand a White Paper on this matter is at an advanced stage of development and will be published some time in the future. It will deal with the reforms such as those included in the Bill which has been brought forward by Senator Cummins on behalf of Fine Gael. As I said, in principle, Ihave no difficulty with the Bill. As stated, however, I must respect the position of the Government.

The establishment of LAMA was a wonderful development. As I stated at its annual conference, I salute those pioneers who set up the association on a voluntary basis. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, served as its first secretary. In addition, Senator Walsh is numbered among its former chairmen. Former councillors Michael Lawlor and Willie McKenna who hails from Monaghan both served as chairmen of and made major contributions to it. The current chairman, Councillor Hugh McElvaney, and secretary, Councillor Noel Bourke from Edenderry, are also making tremendous contributions.

LAMA is strongly requesting parity of esteem with the Association of City and County Councils in order that it might nominate a person to go forward for election to the Seanad from the Administrative Panel. Councillor Bourke is a most efficient man and has relayed to me that it is the strong view of the association's chairman, Councillor McElvaney, and its executive that the House and the Minister and his Department should give serious consideration to its application which has been submitted to the Clerk of the Seanad.

The request made by the Government in respect of the Bill makes common sense. We should await publication of the White Paper before evaluating what progress might be made on the proposal contained in the Bill. I have been working with Senator Cummins on the matter and I am aware that he has the best interests of LAMA at heart, for which he must be commended. As stated, in these Houses we represent hard-working and dedicated councillors throughout the country who give of their time — in some cases it is possible that individuals work up to 100 hours a week — in the interests of democracy. I have outlined my position on the matter and look forward to progressing it when the White Paper is published.

I thank Senator Cummins for introducing the Bill. Perhaps his actions might focus minds on how we might bring about reform of the Seanad. We have been down this road so many times and, in such circumstances, it is absolutely appalling that we are discussing the matter again. When I spoke at the annual conference of LAMA on this matter, I stated I would support the Bill. I do support it and thank Senator Cummins for bringing it forward. However, I am sure I will be bound by the party whip in respect of it. As a result, I feel I am speaking out of both sides of my mouth.

The Bill will do one thing, namely, it will speed up the process of reform. We have no choice but to reform the House. I am glad Senator O'Toole has tabled a Private Members motion on the matter and that we will be in a position later to discuss how we might move forward. Since I became a Member in 1993, we have been discussing reforming the Seanad and how best we might bring about such reform. All the Bill before the House would require of us is to include LAMA as one of the nominating bodies. The Association of City and County Councils is already included as such a body and the same privilege should be afforded to LAMA.

I am aware of the work done by LAMA. I attend all of its conferences and support it in everything it is doing. It does great work in representing councillors, seeking greater power for them and giving them a platform to expound and expand on their ideas. It is a pity, therefore, that I cannot support Senator Cummins on the Bill. However, I am with him. If I can assist him in progressing the matter — with the exception of voting in favour of the Bill — I will do so. All I can say to him is, "Well done and keep up the good work." I will continue to support his efforts and ensure the matter is discussed.

I would welcome it if we could engage in some reform prior to the next general election. The system governing how people are nominated for election to the Seanad is wrong. We cannot remove from councillors the power they possess in this regard. God knows their powers have been eroded to a substantial degree. They do not tend to come up short with regard to the people they nominate for election to the House. It has been proven time and again that county councils are able to judge who they want to represent them in the Seanad. It is one area to which we must stick. The Association of City and County Councils, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland and LAMA should be part of the group of nominating bodies as they push for councils, have a feel for us as Senators and understand what we are at because we all came from the same ship. We were councillors and reflect their views. I want to continue with that system.

I will do my best for the Senator behind the scenes. I feel awful standing here today. I support him in principle and I wish I could vote in favour of the Bill but, unfortunately, Icannot.

Like me, Senator Ormonde was at the LAMA conference in Listowel. I shared the top table with Senator Cummins. Like my colleagues on the other side of the House I agree with the sentiments, but the Government has a view that the Bill should be part of a widespread and comprehensive reform of local government which I am sure will involve the inclusion of LAMA as a nominating body. One of the more disturbing parts of local government reform is currently taking place. While we were promised White Paper as part of the programme for Government, we have essentially local government reform by stealth.

The efficiency review implementation body was appointed in recent days by the Minister, Deputy Gormley. While we all agree that there must be efficiencies within all Departments, we will have reform of local government without having a debate on the 106 recommendations of the efficiency review report on local government, some of which are wide-ranging, including the merger of various offices within local authorities, including county managers. I can see a lot of sense in having shared facilities when it comes to payroll and other issues. If there is a payroll department in a city council like Limerick and a county council has a similar staffing arrangement, surely efficiencies could be found there.

When I look at the names of the people who are on the efficiency review implementation body, I note one of them is a former deputy chief executive of the HSE, Pat McLoughlin. If we are now looking for efficiencies in the HSE with the loss of 5,000 people, which is only coming this week, what was Pat McLoughlin doing when he was deputy chief executive and why was he not implementing those efficiencies in the HSE over recent years? He is now being asked to do a job which he was not able to do in an agency. There is also a former Secretary General of the Department of Finance and John O'Hagan, who is a professor of economics in Trinity College. We all know economists cannot agree on anything and that if one put all the economists in the world end to end, they would not come to a conclusion.

On a point of order, is it in order to name people in a derogatory fashion in a debate, as has been mentioned? A number of people have been——

I am just making the point——

A number of people have been named and they are not here to defend themselves. I would have thought that, under Standing Orders, it is not appropriate.

The Senator cannot name people who are not in the House.

The people to whom I referred are members of the board and none of them is a public representative. That is my concern. None of them was elected to public office and they have been appointed to do a job which should be part of local government reform, which we were promised as part of the programme for Government and which may not happen for a number of months now that the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill is being siphoned off as a stand-alone Bill.

The local government reform which we were looking for, through the White Paper, is now taking place under the 106 recommendations of the efficiency review implementation body. I ask the Minister of State that, every two months, the members of the board be brought before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to be challenged on the review and efficiencies they are to implement as part of their programme of work and questioned, as part of their job in implementing the report, on the rationale behind the decisions in the report and whether they will bring about efficiencies, make a difference or deliver better local government.

To return to the issue at hand and the Bill, it will come as part of a more comprehensive document and a White Paper and I look forward to it coming to the House at some stage in order that we can have genuine reform of local government debated by Members of this House and the other House and implemented by elected representatives, not by an efficiency review implementation body which was not elected by anyone.

I thank the Members for their contributions to the Bill. I find it extraordinary that the Government will vote against it, as outlined by the Minister of State. I find it extraordinary that about 12 months ago it was agreed unanimously by all present at an all-party meeting, including the Minister, that the Bill would form part of his proposals on Seanad reform. He rushed the all-party meeting last October because he wanted to have his proposals out by last Christmas. We had two or three all-party meetings and we agreed on a number of proposals. Christmas has come and gone, we are nearly at another Christmas, and we have seen no sign of Seanad reform.

This Bill was introduced and has been on the Order Paper since 2008. When people inquire about my party's policy on Seanad Éireann, they will find the Bill was proposed in 2008 at a time when we had legitimate proposals for the reform of the Seanad which have not been acted upon by the Government despite all the promises. We have had numerous reports agreed by all parties. Even in the last Seanad a report that was agreed with the two leaders of the main parties in the House at the time, Deputies O'Rourke and Hayes, and in which all parties took part was shelved, as have all the others. I was very surprised that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, after the meeting in October last year and having stated that he would publish the White Paper by last Christmas, reneged on those responsibilities and commitments.

I agree totally with the assertion of the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, that legislation should not be introduced piecemeal. When there is an anomaly, however, whereby two of the representative associations have a nomination to the administrative panel but not LAMA, which came into existence after the original Act, the only way to proceed is to address the anomaly and bring them all under the authority of the Act, as this Bill proposes to do. The purpose of the Bill is to correct this anomaly. I did not think we would have disagreement from the Government. I am very surprised that we have disagreement on this short Bill when it is agreed that there is an anomaly in the legislation and that the Government is not prepared to plug the gap. Whether this legislation is accepted, it will certainly not bring down the Government, but I would have thought common sense would come into it. We will have another debate later on Seanad reform, but that is another day's work.

Like Senator Daly and Senator McCarthy of the Labour Party, I attended the Local Authority Members Association annual conference in Listowel recently. The Leader of the House gave an undertaking that the Bill would be dealt with in the House and told the conference that we would receive Government support for it, but, like the snows of last winter, that support has vanished. It is extraordinary that the Government and Fianna Fáil Members cannot stand up and be counted, as they agree with the Bill in principle. What is preventing them from voting for it? I certainly agree it is piecemeal legislation, but the Government has failed to bring forward any proposals on Seanad reform, despite the meetings held last year about which I spoke.

I still appeal to Members to support the Bill to address the anomaly identified. I hope Fianna Fáil and Green Party Members will reconsider their positions. The Bill would address a wrong which Members on the other side of the House have acknowledged, but they are not prepared to right it, although they have an opportunity to do so now. I appeal to them to grasp the nettle and support this short Bill to correct an anomaly in the existing legislation.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 30.

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared lost.
Sitting suspended at 4 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.