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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Jul 2013

Vol. 224 No. 9

Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thairg an tairiscint seo ar Dé Céadaoin, 26 Meitheamh 2013:
Go léifear an Bill an Dara hUair anois.

The following motion was moved on Wednesday, 26 June 2013:

That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Atógadh an Díospóireacht ar leasú a 1:

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after ‘‘That’’ and substitute the following:

"the Bill be read a second time on 17 September, 2013, for the following reasons:

(i) to request the Constitutional Convention to consider the constitutional role of the Seanad and to allow time for such consideration;

(ii) to facilitate a consultation process with the Nominating Bodies and the Nominating Universities who have for more than 75 years fulfilled the constitutional role for Seanad General Elections as required by Article 18 of Bunreacht na hÉireann;

(iii) to allow other interested parties to make submissions; and

(iv) to have the views arising from these consultations and discussions available to the people as they prepare to vote in the Referendum."

- (Senator Feargal Quinn).

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. When he ran for election for the Seanad, I gave him a number one vote. It was important as the tremendous work he has done over the past two years may not have happened if he had not run for the Seanad.

The idea that a significant amount of money will be saved with the abolition of the Seanad is not true. A figure of €21 million has been knocked around but salaries for the Seanad come to €6 million while Seanad staff will be redeployed. The proposed scrutinisers could cost up to €150,000 a year. Taking on 30 of them will cost €6 million. Arguing that abolishing the Seanad will lead to significant savings is not true.

I would have hoped all Members are valued for their input, as in a business. In business, when one has inputs, one also has outfalls. There is a belief that Senators just drink tea for all three days of sittings; that is not true either.

I have no problem voting for the legislation. However, I will not be canvassing for it. For the first time, I will declare how I will vote before I enter the polling booth - I will be voting not to abolish the Seanad. I am in favour of the bicameral system. No one can tell me the Dáil is any worse than the Seanad. I have had plenty of experience of politics for the past 19 years. The role of the Seanad should have been referred to the Convention on the Constitution if we are to be honest in the way we are doing business.

There is a notion that no one in the Seanad said “Stop” when it came to the economic crash. I said it clearly on Clare FM between 2007 and 2009 and when I was mayor of Clare. I could see where the problems were coming up. During that time, I questioned the transfer of €7.8 billion from Irish Life and Permanent to Anglo Irish Bank to bulk up balance sheets in September only to hand it back in November. I will not be lumped into that claim that no one called for a stop.

In my two years as a Senator, I have been able to build up relationships with Ministers. While I may not contribute very often in the Chamber, I certainly work here. I have been involved in getting the International Air Transport Association, IATA, to hold various meetings in Ireland comprising 2,500 representatives from all the airlines. This will allow us access to these people and will assist in developing our overall airline maintenance and composite, as well as tourism, industries. The value of these visits will be approximately €15 million which does not include the added value business that comes after that.

Developments at Shannon Airport happened a lot quicker because I was in the Seanad. I believed we needed one management body for the airport and industrial estate. I have no doubt the airport will now go from strength to strength.

I am also working on two major biomass plants to the value of €180 million, €90 million in Sligo and €90 million in Shannon. It is important we put our personal inputs on the record. No one outside this House has the right to throw around statements like the Seanad is useless and they do nothing. I heard a Labour Deputy claim the Seanad is rotten, an appalling statement. That did a disservice not just to the Seanad but to the body politic.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

Many views have been expressed on this issue in recent days and weeks, for example, by younger Deputies in my party who have not served in the House before. Some of them had not even served on a council before their election to the Dáil. People need to be measured in their criticisms. They should judge others on their merits. There are many damn good people in both Houses who work very hard for the betterment of the country. I certainly will not deny that.

Tá lúcháir orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an mBille seo. Ar an drochuair, ní thugann an Bille seo an dara rogha do mhuintir na tíre seachas cinneadh a dhéanamh an Seanad a choinneáil nó deireadh a chur leis. Níl aon idirdhealú ann i dtaca le deis a thabhairt do phobal na tíre athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar obair an tSeanaid agus Seanad níos fearr agus níos gníomhaí a chur in áit. Measaim go bhfuil botún mór á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas sa mhéid sin. Caithfidh mé é sin a rá. I have listened to much of the debate both here and in the Dáil on this Bill which proposes the abolition of the Seanad. As a former Member of the Seanad, the Minister of State will be aware that many of the politicians currently serving in the Dáil cut their political teeth in this House. Some Deputies spent a period in this House after they had lost their seats in the other House.

Democracy is wonderful. It gives the people an opportunity to have their say. The 1937 Constitution provides for a bicameral system of parliamentary democracy in this country, with two Houses of the Oireachtas. Martin Luther King once said, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy." Before the last general election, Fine Gael and the Labour Party went before the electorate and promised a new form of democracy that would be closer to the people. The leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Enda Kenny, said the people would have their say and that their representatives would represent them effectively and properly. We have since seen a change in the way the democratic institutions of the State are operating. Irrespective of the promises made, more people have been appointed to State agencies and the boards of semi-State organisations, etc., during the short lifetime of the Government than during the term of the previous Administration.

The real crux of the issue is the attack on democracy happening under the Government's watch. The proposal to abolish town councils is an attack on democracy at its lowest level because town councillors are the closest public representatives to the people. The town of Letterkenny in my constituency has flourished under a thriving town council, the abolition of which will be proposed under legislation that will be brought before this House later in the year. The Government blocked the holding of an election to the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta, of which I am a former member. Bhí deis ag muintir na Gaeltachta a gcuid vótaí a chaitheamh agus daoine a thoghadh ar an mbord. Bhí mé i bhfábhar an chinnidh a ghlac an Rialtais líon na gcomhaltaí ar an mbord a laghdú ó 20 go 12. I had no difficulty with the proposal to reduce the size of the board from 20 to 12. While I supported the decision made by the Government in that instance, I felt its decision to remove the vote from people who live in Gaeltacht areas was an absolute attack on democracy. Now that the members of the board are appointed by the Government, the board consists entirely of members of Fine Gael or the Labour Party who were appointed under the Government's watch. That does not represent democracy - it represents the creation of another quango by the Government. That is not what was promised before the 2011 general election.

The proposal to provide for the abolition of the Seanad was made before the last general election. In 2009, during the MacGill summer school in my constituency, the then Leader of the Opposition and current Taoiseach issued a statement saying he envisaged that a reformed Seanad, playing a greater role in Irish society, would be the best option for the people. At a Fine Gael dinner or gig later that year, he engaged in a finger-licking exercise to see which way the wind was blowing. Politicians are sometimes accused of doing this.

There are no gigs in the Burlington Hotel, rather there are dinners.

On his way into the Burlington Hotel that night the current Taoiseach licked his finger to see which way the wind was blowing. Rather than doing what he had promised to do a few months earlier, he decided to do the popular thing in line with how the wind was blowing that night. Much to the shock of his own parliamentary party - his own Senators were certainly shocked - he announced that Fine Gael would abolish the Seanad if it were in government. A few months previously he had spoken about the need to reform the Seanad to make it work better for the people, but in the Burlington Hotel he instead announced the proposed abolition of the democratic institution of Seanad Éireann.

We all recognise that this House has its flaws. Gandhi once said, "The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms [but] requires change of heart." Clearly, the Taoiseach has not had a change of heart since 2009, when he decided that the abolition of democracy was the answer. He is giving the people an opportunity to vote on the issue in a referendum, which is due to take place some time in October. I appeal to the Fine Gael and Labour Party Senators who are saying they will vote for the Bill but will oppose the proposal in the referendum to stand up and be counted and say they are not prepared to support this legislation unless the people are given an opportunity to vote for the reform of this institution. The people should be given a proper choice between abolishing the Seanad, reforming it or keeping it as it is. Having spoken to many people about this matter, I believe the people would vote for reform. We live in a very dangerous Ireland because we have a Government that is controlled by four or five people. Influences from outside the Government are dictating, through the lobbies in Leinster House - in the Dáil or in the Seanad - what way to vote on certain issues.

The pressure on members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party in respect of a Bill going through the Dáil, the abortion legislation, is all over the newspapers today. To stifle democracy in that manner, whereby evidence from the medical and legal professions is left to one side and three or four Labour Party, or old Democratic Left, Ministers dictate what my conscience should be-----

On a point of order, the Senator is straying very far from the topic of this debate. Furthermore this is Government policy.

It is to do with democracy.

Senator Ó Domhnaill is talking about Government policy in respect of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. It was passed by 138 votes to 24 in the other House.

Some of Senator Ó Domhnaill's party members voted for it.

Thankfully Senator Bacik will not judge my decision in respect of that or any other legislation.

I am not trying to influence the Senator's decision but his own party leader voted for the Bill.

The Senator should stick to the debate.

The old Democratic Left stickies have not gone away, as someone said to me recently. They have not. RTE might be interested in hearing those words.

That is pathetic and well off the point.

The Senator should stick to the debate please.

Going back to this debate, and keeping to this debate, it is wrong that instead of reforming we abolish, that instead of giving the people more of an opportunity we abolish. Great debates have taken place in this House. During the Minister of State's time here great debates took place. We could reform this House to be an institution that could be reforming, reflective and scrutinise legislation, particularly that coming from the European Union. Only 2% of the European laws that affect this country are scrutinised by the Oireachtas. That means that 98% of all the laws made in Europe that affect this country are not scrutinised by the Oireachtas. We do not even need a referendum or legislation to scrutinise those laws, all we need is to change the order under which the Seanad does its business.

We can make this Chamber a reforming Chamber, one that works more effectively for the people. We can give everyone in the country a vote to elect people into this Chamber. I would support that, whether it was done on a European Parliament constituency basis or some other way. Let us give the people the option to decide what they want and not just go black and white, yes or no because if there was a referendum in the morning to abolish or keep Dáil Éireann who is to know what way people would vote? Maybe the Dáil should be abolished and not the Seanad. Has the Taoiseach reflected on that idea? If he really wants to save money why not keep this Chamber and get rid of the other Chamber, which costs almost ten times more than this House? If the Taoiseach is serious about saving money then he would simply decide to get rid of the Dáil and have the people directly elect Senators into this House and they would form the Government.

The Senator has spent too much time in Cairo.

Shades of Cairo alright.

Like every Senator I am going to vote against the Seanad's abolition.

That is obvious. It would be utterly hypocritical of anybody to sit in this House and draw a salary and believe that it should be abolished. There are many positive aspects to the House and a great deal of very positive work is done here. All Senators, of all parties, make very valuable contributions but we must look at the big picture. For the first time in the existence of this House it will be to the fore in political debate and discourse for a few months. I support the holding of a referendum. It is the correct decision. The Taoiseach made a commitment to hold a referendum on abolition. Many people here will not like to hear this but most people in the country do not believe that the Seanad is working and do not believe that in its present form it should continue. I happen to be one of those. I believe that a reformed Seanad is important and will play a useful role into the future. If the people do opt to retain the Seanad it will be with a strict caveat that we have fundamental reform.

Many have asked why reform is not being put to the people in the referendum. There is no provision within our Constitution for a preferendum. The Constitution provides for a referendum with a yes or no option. I hope that the people will opt to retain the Seanad. If they do, it will be very clearly with the obligation on a future Government to reform it. If the people opt to retain this House, within the present Government and its programme for Government there will not be the opportunity for reform. In future election manifestos and in a future programme for Government I suspect that Seanad reform will be one of the top priorities. It has probably gone too far to be reformed. There have been ten or 11 reports on Seanad reform. I understand that when Mary O'Rourke was Leader of the House and the Minister of State was Leader of the Opposition they worked very hard on a report that was widely acknowledged to be very good. It was a shame and a pity that the previous Government did not move towards implementing that report. The referendum will probably be the best thing that has ever happened to this House because it will be endorsed by the people. I do not think that the people are going to abolish this House.

On a personal level I consider it a great privilege to be a Member of Seanad Éireann and it gives my community an opportunity to have a representative in the Oireachtas. It gives County Clare an extra two national representatives. With Senator Mulcahy and me, instead of there being four Oireachtas Members from Clare, the four Deputies, there are six. The county can see the results. In my area as a result of my work in Seanad Éireann, speaking to Ministers and so forth several projects have got the go-ahead. In the past few months we have seen the results of that in north Clare, where some vital infrastructural projects such as the Doolin coastguard have got the go-ahead, some years in advance of the community's expectation which was that it would go ahead in 2016. Thankfully, the project will be finished and put to bed by the end of this year.

We have made inputs about aviation policy with Shannon Airport and the new independent structure and there was an announcement yesterday of direct flights between Shannon and New York and Shannon and Boston all year round. As Oireachtas Members all six of us from Clare have worked extremely hard together to put forward the case for Shannon Airport which has worked in our favour and in favour of the country. There are initiatives such as the Gathering. The fact that there are two Senators in Clare, along with the four Deputies, helps tourism figures.

I hope that my being a Member of the House with a disability and the first Member of the Oireachtas with the disability that I have has created a precedent for others. After a recent television appearance I received several letters and e-mails from teenagers with significant disabilities saying that they now believe that a career in politics is possible for them. That would not have happened if the Seanad did not exist.

The initial purpose of the Seanad was to reflect, and give a voice to, minorities. The 42 new Senators here reflect a vast array of minorities, for example Senator Van Turnhout with her expertise in the area of children's rights has influenced and helped to shape Government policy. History will decide that the Government has done phenomenal work for children and Senator van Turnhout's amendments will enable her to claim justifiable credit for that type of work.

Senator van Turnhout, through her role in this House and through the amendments that she has put forward, certainly will be able to claim justifiable credit for that type of work. I look at what Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has done in terms of the arts, what Senator Eamonn Coghlan has done in the area of sport, what Senator Mary Ann O'Brien has done in the area of small business, and many more. We are fortunate here in this House to have such an array of talent, not only on the Independent benches but in the main political parties as well. This House provides a wonderful forum for discourse and debate that does not happen in the other House. The 60 Senators here punch way above their weight as compared to the 166 TDs. If due diligence was done on the contribution and ability of the Seanad in terms of numbers as compared to the Dáil, one would be surprised at the results. Often we have debates here on the economy and finance and I regularly take great pleasure in listening to Senator Sean D. Barrett, probably one of the country's best economists. We have his expertise in this House available to the Government free of charge. That is something that really needs to be acknowledged.

The people will ultimately decide whether we need a Seanad or not. I would suggest that comparing Ireland to other countries is not particularly relevant because few countries use the proportional representation single transferable vote, PR-STV, system of voting. The only other country that has a PR-STV style of election is Malta. With PR-STV, there are competitive adversarial multi-seat constituencies. Countries that have a single parliament do not have that type of electoral system and their MPs can focus all of their resources and time on national politics and legislation. In this country, that is not the case. If one wants real political reform, one must start with the electoral system. One cannot really suggest having a single House with a PR-STV electoral system, particularly with the multi-seat structure that we have in this country, because invariably there will be TDs who should be concentrating on national politics but are really focused on self-preservation, getting themselves re-elected and dealing with local issues. As long as we have that type of system, we need a House of Parliament such as the Seanad which will represent interest groups and expertise in various areas.

The Irish people are a discerning electorate. They will see this as being a small short-term gain but in terms of the long-term strategic benefit of Ireland, they will vote to retain the Seanad. I want to send a clear message to the Government. If the people vote to retain the Seanad, there will be a clear requirement for a future Government to introduce reform, and I suggest starting with the report of the former Leader, Mrs. Mary O'Rourke.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Brian Hayes, back to the bosom of his political life.

When introducing this Bill, the Taoiseach stated that there were too many politicians in this country and his remedy to this terrible malaise was to abolish, abolish, abolish. The Government has taken a wrecking ball to the sum of our democracy. Town councils, for instance, are being done away with altogether. They are being wiped off the map. City and county councils are being amalgamated. My own county of Limerick has a modest political representation of 45 councillors and now, with both local authorities combined, is losing five. We will be down to 40.

What we have now is a personal solo-run against this Chamber. I played in a junior B county final on Tuesday night last and there are not many lads who would go on personal solo-runs in those circumstances. The Taoiseach may end up on the flat of his back after this particular solo-run. I wonder from where this crusade has come. When the Taoiseach came into this House as a chap a long time ago, maybe a Senator told a Mayo joke that he took up the wrong way - I do not want the Cathaoirleach to be offended.

It is amazing that the Taoiseach, the longest serving Member of the Oireachtas, has been here nearly 40 years and suddenly this light switch has gone off in his head. He had his St. Paul on the road to Damascus moment just as he was about to give his address to the Fine Gael presidential dinner. I often wonder whether the few glasses of Merlot he had with the dinner did not agree with him fully. He came up with this gem of wisdom that, as he was not getting the attention anymore and the spotlight had been taken off him, he would shout, roar and scream his head off until he got the desperately needed headlines that he deserved, and he would call for the abolition of the Seanad. After 40 years here, it suddenly dawns on him that the Seanad was the problem all along and he wants to hang the Seanad out to dry. It was always a bonkers proposal.

The Taoiseach was on the record the previous summer at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal - maybe there is something in the air in Donegal - stating that Seanad should be reformed. He spoke of how fantastic a contribution a reformed Seanad could make to democracy in Ireland, but then, all of a shot, he changed his mind. It is becoming somewhat of a feature that leaders and members of this Government can change their minds at the drop of the hat. They say one thing and then turn around and do the other.

The Taoiseach, when he proposed this Bill, compared this country to Finland. In fairness, Finland has a similar population to Ireland. I studied in Finland for a while. Finland has an elected politician for every 550 people. It has a fantastic devolved system of local government that has real powers, and it works. Here, we have a politician for every 2,476 people, including local and national representation, but when the Taoiseach is finished with these fantastic reforms that he promises, there will be one politician for every 4,144 people. It does not add up.

The Constitutional Convention was an admirable notion. Fair play to the Government for taking the initiative. The Constitutional Convention was set up by the Government to debate the Constitution but it has become an utter farce. The Constitutional Convention, made up of fantastic persons such as Senator Bacik, can debate changing the voting age from 18 to 16 years, yet it cannot debate the future of this Chamber-----

-----which is one arm of the Oireachtas equal to the Dáil and the Presidency. It is not to be debated there at all. What a load of rubbish. It is complete bunkum. I do not know whether that word is allowed but that is what I feel.

It is very alarming - I think this goes for every citizen - to see how dictatorial the Government has become. Power and decision-making are in the hands of - I do not want to be ageist but let us face up to it - a few grey haired old fellows. More dangerously, they are in the hands of unelected and totally unaccountable spin doctors, the guys in dark suits who lurk around these great men and earn double and, in some cases, more than double what a Senator earns. They never have to face public scrutiny or stand before the people to account for their actions.

The Taoiseach's assertion that we have too many politicians is absurd in the extreme and populist bloody nonsense. I, for one, will not support the Bill, either in the Chamber, on any doorstep or in the ballot box.

I wish to take up a point made by the previous speaker. I stood for election and canvassed on behalf of the Fine Gael Party during the last general election. Its manifesto contained a commitment that the matter would be put to the people in a referendum. The same commitment was stated in the manifesto of the Labour Party and the Senator was a candidate for that party. The referendum was also mentioned in the programme for Government. The Taoiseach made that point clear when he was in the House last week. The matter was not referred to the Constitutional Convention because we did not want to sidestep the question but wanted to put it straight to the people.

I have listened to many of the contributions and read some of them. It is clear that most people who have contributed to the debate recognise that the Seanad cannot continue as it is and needs to be changed. A question has hung over it for a long time and, as we all know, numerous reports have recommended changes. The reports were worthwhile and should have been considered, but this and previous Governments did not do anything about them.

This Seanad differs from others because we have invited many speakers to attend such as Mrs. Mary Robinson and, recently, Mrs. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. Other speakers have made worthwhile contributions to the debate. The attendance of Irish MEPs here in recent months has been a constructive and worthwhile exercise. The Government has also been requested to allow the Seanad to consider EU legislation. That would be an invaluable use of the Chamber and the request still stands. Since the Lisbon treaty, the Parliament has been granted more powers and functions, which means that we must supervise and scrutinise EU legislation. The committees carry out this task, but EU legislation still does not receive enough attention. The Seanad could play a valuable role in scrutinising such legislation.

I have been a member of local authorities and the Dáil and I am now a Member of this House. The problem with the Seanad is that it is a mini-Dáil and has a Government majority which allows for legislation to be voted through. A criticism of both Houses is that the hierarchy has the power and the numbers to pass legislation. The same criticism can be levelled at Irish politics in general. Members of Parliament, be they in the Dáil or the Seanad, really do not have an opportunity to contribute as much as they would like because power is centralised and lies with the Executive, the 15 members of the Cabinet. "Power" is a strong word and needs to be used to emphasise and describe the situation in this instance. As somebody said, this House and the committees are about ideas, information and bringing forward issues that would not necessarily receive the same attention as in the Dáil. That is the history in this House.

We need to change politics. We need to change the way we operate right across the board. I would like to see stronger regional authorities and assume that many Members of both Houses would be interested in serving on them. I look forward to seeing how the changes introduced at local authority level will manifest next year and hope councillors will step up to the mark. I am sure that they will, if they are given further powers. Like many Senators, I travelled the country during my Seanad campaign and gained a wonderful insight into the strength of councillors. I have met people who serve their local community and make decisions on a regular basis for their local community, town and the area in which they reside. I greatly admire local authority members and the valuable role they play is not appreciated enough. This House provides a connection to local authority members by way of their nominating Senators. That is the one say they have. Some of us are better than others at communicating with them and it is important that they communicate with us.

I have examined the various options proposed for Seanad reform and view it as a weakness that Senators are not directly elected by the people and do not receive a direct mandate from them. I am concerned that if they were directly elected, it would be done on party lines and party politics would infiltrate the House again. I have listened to the contributions here on reform and do not think that is what people want.

Reform should also mean that we reduce the number of Deputies. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has told us that he cannot reduce the numbers in the Dáil as he is prevented from doing so by the provisions of the Constitution. The referendum is expected to take place in October. If we are serious about reform, why not include a question on the ballot paper a question on whether to reduce the number of Deputies? If we were to do so, we could then prove that we had introduced real reform the next time the political parties faced a general election.

The Taoiseach has spoken about committees and announced that he will establish new ones, but I have not seen the details. The current committee system can be and has been good. We can point to very fine examples such as the health committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Jerry Buttimer and the hearings it has undertaken. That is an excellent example of how a committee can work. The Committee of Public Accounts also meets on a weekly basis and commands respect, particularly for the DIRT inquiry. I hope a banking inquiry will be established. However, the regular committees do not seem to have taken off as originally envisaged and we should take the opportunity to strengthen them. Committees will break down along party lines and any question tabled will be voted on in the way the Government wishes.

I have been a Member of the House for a number of years and know that the Independent Senators have played a valuable role in previous Seanads. They continue to play a valuable role in this Seanad.

I have received an email from my cousin who lives in Qatar. He has asked me not to support the proposal to abolish the Seanad because it is the only opportunity he has to have a say. I thought he did not have a vote, but as a graduate of the National University of Ireland, he can vote in Seanad elections. He has made the valid point that he values that vote.

Of course, not everyone is a graduate of our universities. The university Senators play a very valuable role and connect with emigrants. This man says he is living in Qatar and I have two sons who are away. The one who lives in Boston listens to RTE and Newstalk throughout the day and reads The Irish Times, the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent online. My son in Chicago recently got up at 5 a.m. to watch a Lions match. Emigrants may be abroad, but they are working to get back here and maintaining their connections. They have Skype and come home as often as they can. Those who are fortunate enough to have a qualification from our universities have a say in the election of six Members. If we could expand the franchise further, it would be an opportunity to include the emigrant voice. The prospect of giving the vote to emigrants in presidential elections was raised, but that would not be enough. While the details of any condition can be ironed out, including an obligation to hold an Irish passport and time limits after which a person living abroad could no longer vote, the concept is very worthwhile.

I will support the Bill today. We should put the matter to the people whose House this is. I look forward to the public debate. If the question were put now, people would vote to abolish the Seanad. The campaign will be important and provide a focus to articulate the way the House operates and its potential.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. It is ironic given that he participated in producing a very good report by a committee chaired by Mary O'Rourke and attended by Joe O'Toole and John Dardis, that he should be the here. Is he the gamekeeper who became the poacher or the poacher turned gamekeeper? I am not sure. He participated as a Senator in the preparation of what was a reform report and put his name to it.

"For my part, I will resist to the last gasp of my existence and the last drop of my blood. And when I feel the hour of my disolution growing, I will, like the father of Hannibal, take my children to the altar and swear them to eternal hostility against the invaders of their country's freedom." I did not say this, rather it was said by William Plunkett, MP, against Lord Castlereagh and the Imperial British Government. On 22 January 1799 the Irish Parliament had its first opportunity to express an opinion on the British Government's proposal to unite Great Britain and Ireland under one Parliament in Westminster. The debate lasted for 21 uninterrupted hours, during which 80 MPs addressed the House. We have been given a paltry eight hours to do justice to the proposed abolition of the Seanad. The patriot orator, Henry Grattan, whose Parliament was called the Grattan Parliament, also spoke. I have some recollection of publishing a related stamp on behalf of the philatelic section of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1982. I launched it here but never thought I would be back in the House to talk about Henry Grattan who purchased a seat in the Irish House of Commons, which cost him £1,200. He had been a Member previously but had left Parliament. He rode overnight to Dublin and the House of Commons where the Bank of Ireland is located now. He spoke for two hours and was seated, as he was not well. He charged the Government with bribery and deceit and, waving his finger at Lord Castlereagh, stated:

The thing which he proposes to buy is what cannot be sold - liberty. He proposes to you to substitute the British Parliament in your place [...] Against such a body, were I expiring on the floor, I should beg to utter my last breath and record my dying testimony.

That is our great orator and patriot. The betrayal culminated in a poem which was soon taught in every Irish school.

How did they pass the union? By perjury and fraud;

By slaves who sold their land for gold,

As Judas sold his God.

It is not too dissimilar to the proposal before the House.

The Constitution was voted for in 1937. My parents voted for it and never expected that I would be here. They voted for it because it was right and they voted with the majority. It has served the people extraordinarily well during the years. They have held it against the Blueshirts and the fascists. It has been good to Ireland and should be held, honoured and preserved now. As far as I know, I am the longest serving Member of the Oireachtas in the House. The Taoiseach and I are the only Members of the Oireachtas who voted for a Taoiseach in 1977. I voted for Jack Lynch and the Taoiseach voted for Liam Cosgrave. Before I was elected to the Seanad in 2002, I had enormous respect for the House. As a Minister of State with responsibility for trade and marketing, I brought numerous Bills to the House and accepted from it many worthwhile amendments. I sat where the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, is sitting and received the greatest advice from Senators who included Mary Robinson and Pat Kennedy from Limerick who was an expert on law. We brought the Companies Act through the House. I will not go through the litany of Bills. I did not come to the House disrespectfully on my election. I fought elections in 1992, 1997 and, successfully, in 2002. I was elected to the Dáil in 1977 on the first occasion on which I stood. I record these matters as a context for my respect for the House. It is not that I am trying to preserve something for the future, rather it is something I believe.

The Taoiseach said we should abolish the Seanad because we had too many politicians. This is the only commitment he gave in the 2011 election which he hopes to honour. He promised in Roscommon town that he would retain its 24/7 accident and emergency service. He broke that promise and the accident and emergency unit is now closed. He said he would not legislate for abortion, but he is now legalising it. He said he would reduce the Dáil by 20 Members, but it is to be reduced by only eight. He has refused to put that proposal in a referendum on the same day as the proposal to abolish the Seanad to see if he would achieve it. Possibly, he would. The only promise he has honoured is his proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann and the case he makes is not sustainable. When one takes account of both local and national representation, Ireland has far fewer elected politicians per capita than other countries. The Taoiseach provided the example of Finland to back up his assertions. It has a similar population, at just over 5 million. Currently, it has five times more elected politicians than Ireland. If the Government succeeds in its proposal to abolish the Seanad, we will have one eighth of the number of politicians in Finland which is a very successful country.

The Government is being disingenuous when it argues to advance the cause of Seanad abolition that we have too many politicians. The Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, have acquiesced to an increase in the number of local authority seats in Dublin to protect Labour Party councillors from the wrath of the electorate next year. That is a fact and a very cynical exercise.

That is a political interpretation.

Putting Labour first.

Senator Terry Leyden to continue, without interruption.

It is a fact. The fact is that the number of local authority seats in Roscommon is being reduced from 26 to 18. In Dublin the city council is being increased to 60 members, while in Wexford and elsewhere, council chambers are being rebuilt at enormous cost because the Labour Party wants to preserve whatever representation it has on the east coast. That was negotiated with the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan. While it was delayed for a long time, the Labour Party has now succeeded, just as it has succeeded in bringing forward an abortion Bill which Fine Gael did not want to introduce. Fine Gael resisted it.

On a point of order, once again, the Senator is straying very far from the topic of the debate and making all sorts of allegations which are political challenges and certainly not fact.

That is not a point of order.

The underlying political system in Ireland is completely different from the systems in Scandinavia.

The constitutional structures of the Nordic countries have devolved far more political responsibilities to local level. The facts speak for themselves. The most successful countries have bicameral situations.

I can go into greater detail. As far as cost is concerned, the Taoiseach is citing a figure of €20 million, which has no basis in reality. It is in stark contrast to the position set out by the Clerk of the Dáil, Mr. Kieran Coughlan, who is a former Clerk of this House. As the Accounting Officer of the Oireachtas, Mr. Coughlan publicly testified in January 2012 that the gross annual saving from the abolition of the Vote of the Oireachtas will be less than €10 million. The net savings will be very much less if we take into account the fact that 30% of it goes back to the Exchequer in taxes, levies and VAT. The real annual cost of the Seanad is probably in the region of €6 million, compared to an annual €28 million for councillors in pay and allowances.

I am appalled by the proposals to abolish a House of such quality, which such quality contributors. I find it extraordinarily insulting to those who went before him as holders of the office of Taoiseach. Returning to my earlier remarks on Henry Grattan, another point was made in this contribution:

Some MPs were raised to the peerage or promoted, for example from a baronage to an earldom. In a few cases direct money bribes were made. The viceroy wrote in despair: "My occupation is now of the most unpleasant nature, negotiating and jobbing with the most corrupt people".

I heard Senator David Norris lecturing me this morning and I am sorry it was not recorded because it was very impressive. He said that we should not sell out the Seanad, that we should stand firm and oppose the abolition and that we would be doing all a favour. It reminds me that the people who were against the removal now find themselves in more elevated positions and are in a position to say that the Seanad should be abolished. An example is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who led the Opposition party in this House and is now in Cabinet. None of them stood by the House because the Taoiseach felt, for political reasons, it was to his advantage. I will not be beaten. I regard the referendum on the Seanad as a referendum on abortion and a referendum on this Government and I will therefore ask the people to vote "No", "No", and "No" again.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I find it bizarre that we are debating the abolition of the Seanad. Which one of us will say that we should not be here? None of us will do so because, if we believe it, the door is there and we should walk out. Every Member believes he or she is doing a good job and should be here.

When I was a member of Kerry County Council, we could not debate a motion where we had a conflict of interest. We had to leave the council chamber yet here we are, 60 Members debating a referendum in which we all have a conflict of interest. However, a commitment has been given to the people of Ireland that a referendum will be held. I will honour the commitment and I will support the motion to hold a referendum. The people, in their wisdom, will make the final decision.

Much of the debate in recent months has centred on the idea that the House is full of failed Dáil candidates and would-be Deputies. Perhaps there is some truth in that but as someone who aspires to represent the people of my county in public office, I make no apology to anyone seeking election to this House, as I did in 2011. It is perfectly legitimate that someone who has narrowly missed out on a seat in the Dáil seeks election to our second Chamber, not as the second-best option but as an attempt to bring experience and ability to bear in our national Parliament. People who have contested the general election bring with them the experience of the most recent general election campaign and of being a candidate who has spent months talking to, and listen to the views of, the voters. These views can be brought more easily to the floor of this House than the Dáil.

There is also an impression in certain quarters that Senators are part-time politicians. I cannot speak for others in the House but I am anything but a part-time politician. I gave up my employment to take this job and devote myself to politics full-time. If I am not mistaken, I am the only Senator from Kerry who maintains a full-time office outside Leinster House. I also hold weekly clinics all over south Kerry, where I meet my constituents, address their concerns, hear what they say and advocate on their behalf. This influences the contributions I make in this House. When in Leinster House, I devote my energies to my legislative duties and when I am in my constituency, I provide my constituents with a service that is as good as any Deputy.

Members remember the late Michael Moynihan from Kerry South. He contested general election after general election for many years and finally made it into the Seanad, before becoming a Member of the Lower House and a Minister of State. The late Michael Moynihan was one of the best public representatives Kerry South ever had. I put my hand on my heart and say that.

President Michael D. Higgins went through the Seanad, on to the Dáil and became President. President Obama went through Congress and the Senate to become President. I cannot see anything wrong with people seeking election to this House. Although we do not get elected by the members of the public, we get elected by people elected by the public. We bring forward their views.

A notion put forward by those who do not believe the Seanad is worth retaining is that the House has moved a long way from what Éamon de Valera envisaged in the Constitution of 1937 and what it was intended to achieve in the period after the foundation of the State. The aim, in part, was to bring together diverse voices from a variety of sectors and vocations to offer an input into political debate. In many ways, it achieved that objective for many years. Like everything else, institutions evolve and the Seanad has moved away from being the preserve of sectoral interests and has in many ways become a more democratic institution.

We still debate the many issues that hardly ever get a mention on the floor of the Dáil, including equality issues, international issues and minority issues. I recently moved a motion on the issue of domestic violence on behalf of my Labour colleagues. It is a topic rarely discussed in the Dáil and I urged that domestic violence be included on our Statute Book as a specific criminal offence. I have tabled an amendment with regard to deposit retention to the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. It will be accepted by the Minister and I am also working on a Bill to bring to the Seanad.

There is need for reform and successive governments have failed to take reform seriously. However, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If we look closely at the Dáil and the Seanad, there is not much difference except in how we are elected. The Whip system is the same, time constraints are the same and turns to speak are the same, etc. It has been reiterated by speakers in this debate that legislation comes out of the Dáil and needs to be amended in this House. If they do not want us, why does legislation come out of the Lower House in that state? Why are amendments not made before it leaves the House? What will change when we are gone? Will fewer public representatives in the Lower House be able to handle the extra work? If so, why are they not doing it now? What will be the difference?

I have already said that I run a full-time office outside Leinster House. We cannot claim expenses for the office, telephone calls, heating or insurance. I pay for it out of my Seanad salary. If the Taoiseach is serious about saving money, why can Deputies not receive a cut in pay to the same amount as Senators and provide for their offices out of that?

I am doing that and if I can do that, they can. They have two assistants working for them: a parliamentary assistant and a secretary. I have one and I still provide the same service. There would be additional savings if the 158 Deputies in the next Dáil had their pay cut to the same level as a Senator. We would not even have to abolish the House to make savings in that case.

Hear, hear. Well said.

I will support the Bill because we have to give the people the choice but once it is passed, I will campaign for a reformed Seanad because we need this House. It is unfair to ask the public "Yes" or "No" without giving them options. How can we expect to people to vote "Yes" to save the House if they do not know in what form it will be saved?

But all the Government Members will vote to extinguish it.

Senator Moloney without interruption.

I am voting to put the referendum to the people.

No, the Senator is not. She is voting to extinguish the Seanad. There should have been two Bills.

Senator Moloney without interruption.

I also cannot understand why a stand-alone referendum is taking place when local elections will be held early next year. The State would save money if it were held on the same day as the local elections. I await the Minister's response on that.

This is an unhappy debate. It is a sad day for the Oireachtas and, in particular, for the Fine Gael Party. My colleagues in the party know that because I have been watching their expressions over recent days. I regret that because, even though I am in Fianna Fáil, I always have respect for members of other parties and Fine Gael has always prided itself on being the party that founded the State and being the party we could depend on to support and protect the institutions of the State. That was a claim Fine Gael could make with some justification. However, there are occasions in its history when the party has behaved in an unusual and arrogant manner. It has a rogue gene and the best example of this was in the days of O'Duffy and the Blueshirts when a serious effort was made by a man who became party leader to subvert the Government of the day, and had it not been for the resoluteness of de Valera's Government in tackling the Blueshirt threat and the threat of the IRA at the same time, we might not be debating the merits of either House today. In the main, Fine Gael is responsible but that strange gene has come back in the form of the Taoiseach's unilateral decision to abolish the Seanad.

It was the Fine Gael Deputies who stopped O'Duffy. They put it to an end and resolved it.

Senator O'Sullivan, without interruption.

Fine Gael spat him out but de Valera had him well stopped by then.

It was all over in 12 months.

I do not compare the Taoiseach to General O'Duffy but an element of the general's arrogance is attaching to him. The most recent example of this was in the Dáil last week when the bank tapes were revealed. The Taoiseach's response was not the same as every other individual in the country, which was to focus on the criminality of the bankers. He directed his ire and animosity against my party and, in particular, he tried to malign the reputations of two sound, honest and decent politicians - Brian Cowen and the late Brian Lenihan - who found themselves in the middle of a huge unprecedented financial storm which engulfed the entire world shortly afterwards. The Taoiseach implied there was an axis of collusion. It was an extraordinarily low moment in Irish politics that any Taoiseach would say that about his predecessor-----

Yes, it was. The Senator is absolutely right.

-----and another decent man who tried to do the best they could in difficult circumstances and who succeeded in producing a roadmap which the Minister for Finance and others have followed since. It should not be forgotten that Fine Gael supported the bank guarantee at the time.

All that pales into insignificance compared with the arrogance of pulling the proposal for Seanad abolition like a rabbit out of a hat. The Taoiseach must have had a bad night's sleep in Mayo before waking up in the morning and having to come up with something. This is what he came up with. He did not discuss Seanad abolition with anyone nor did he consult anyone. It was a fantastic soundbite at a time when he was under pressure from his own backbenchers. Who will ever forget the look of shock on poor Senator Frances Fitzgerald's face, the leader of the Fine Gael group in the House at the time, as she looked on at her party leader announcing on live television that he would abolish the House without even consulting her? To describe it as ungallant and graceless is as understatement. It was a poor show.

The de Valera Constitution was passed by the people. It was an exceptional document by any standards and for all its flaws, it has stood the test of time. From time to time naturally, with society evolving as it does, particularly since our accession to the European Union, we have had to amend it, but no previous Taoiseach or Government countenanced the notion of putting a referendum such as this on a simple "Yes" or "No" basis to the people. This involves taking out one third of the entire Oireachtas and ripping the heart out of the 1937 Constitution. Is there a subliminal anti-de Valera thought in the Taoiseach's head? Who knows? Between that and the rogue gene, he has got it all wrong anyway.

The people are not being well served by having this question put to them. We are all democrats and I believe the more democracy there is, the better. Is it fair to the people to present such a question on a "Yes" or "No" basis? There is no simple "Yes" or "No" answer and we all realise that. I will vote against this proposal not because I am anti-democratic or anti the people but because the people need to be protected. If this behaviour catches on, a future Taoiseach could decide to do something crazy as well and go to the people with it. Checks and balances must be in place before one goes to the people on a subject of this enormity. How many articles of the Constitution are affected? It is not fair to the people that such a referendum should be put to them when no earthly attempt has been made to reform the House in the meantime. Every Member realises the House needs reform. All the proposals to do so have come from the Seanad and they were all blocked in the Lower House, including by a Government led by the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. He refused to entertain reform proposals and to come to the House to debate them with us, but then he said the Seanad was no longer fit for purpose and it should be abolished. It is good that he is not into horse racing because if he was, we would have a horse in the Oireachtas with a ministerial title just like when Caligula put his own horse in the Roman Senate long ago. This proposal smacks of the same effrontery and craziness.

I am not an expert on the bicameral system of government but having studied politics all my life, I believe it is the best system and it works well. The Seanad takes a significant workload from the Lower House. Bills are initiated here and it makes it easier for the Dáil to go through them afterwards. An enhanced committee system would not do a better job on legislation than we do. Senator Terry Brennan made that point well yesterday. Committees are structured differently from the House. An unelected Star Chamber appointed by the Taoiseach would certainly not be better than the Seanad. The Taoiseach had talked about this for a while but he has been silenced on it. The proposal that the Taoiseach of the day would fill this room with his own appointees with special skills or experience instead of the Seanad represents a diminution of democracy.

Another old canard that has not been tackled and is a favourite with the media is that the Seanad is a stepping stone for those with political ambition or a retirement home for defeated Members of the Lower House. I believe that any young man or woman who aspires to go into politics should start at the bottom, in what W.B. Yeats described as the "rag and bone shop of the heart". They should get their experience serving on the town council, then the county council and if they are lucky enough to get a seat in the Seanad they will be highly equipped from what they learn in a short time to go to the other House and into the higher echelons of Government and become Taoiseach. I think that is a valid aspiration.

When a Deputy loses his seat, his choice is to retire or try to stay in politics. His wisdom and experience will be valid and useful in any Chamber. That is a legitimate aspiration.

We do not want the Seanad to become a second Dáil Chamber. We want something different. The main reform is that everybody can vote in a Seanad election. Under the current structure, the Taoiseach can appoint 11 members. All the Taoiseach's nominees need is one vote from the Taoiseach, but I am not underestimating them because the reason they got that vote from the Taoiseach of the day is because they had given a significant contribution to the community, were outstanding in the fields of social work, the arts, business, farming and so on. They earned that vote.

Six graduates are elected by the University Panel. I would not stand for that election even if it got me into heaven because they face the battle of finding the electorate, establishing where they live and getting them to register as electors, then they must get sufficient votes to be elected. My colleagues and I, the 43 Members that are elected by the county councils, have been elected by a system that only de Valera could have devised. It is electoral torture. One has to go around the country meeting all the county councillors and one will not be successful if one lands on the day with a smile on the face or a silk tie in one's hand. Members must be in touch with councillors way before that and for the duration of the five years in office because, if not, they will be forgotten about for the next election. Members must learn about local problems. As Senator Moloney said one learns from councillors the problems of the people they represent. We are a legitimate democratic conduit of opinion from the people, through the councillors up to the Seanad. Let me say that county councillors are no fools and they will not elect a fool. There are a great many of us but we are not fools.

It is easy to write a smart letter to The Irish Times denigrating politicians at large and we are the target at present. One can go on the "Joe Duffy Show" and have a great rant. How many of these people would go through the system of election that either a Deputy or a Senator has to endure? How many of them would go for it and how many would be elected?

I oppose this Bill because I think it is unfair to the people. It is badly thought out. It will create a terrible precedent that a Taoiseach can pluck an issue and put it to the people. If the people are asked to vote in a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad, I will fight it tooth and nail. I would be very surprised if my colleagues on all sides do not have enough pride in themselves and in the position they hold and won hard to go out and defeat it.

Senator O'Sullivan spoke about Fine Gael arrogance. If Carlsberg did arrogance, it would be Fianna Fáil arrogance. He mentioned General Eoin O'Duffy and the rogue gene in Fine Gael. I want to address that point. There have been three incidents in the history of the State. We all know the first time and we have made up since that. The second time was in 1969 when a man from a prominent family with political connection drove to Dublin Airport to collect a load of mild steel plate for the relief of distress in Northern Ireland, as it was called. The former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave had to go to whisper into Jack Lynch's ear to protect democracy on this island.

And Jack Lynch did.

Will the Senator address the Bill before us?

Yes I will but I am entitled to rebut that statement. On the third occasion, tá sé connected leis an rúd a duirt mo chara thall ansin. He said the third time was when Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan - we will not castigate any individual, decent people - put us in economic bondage. We are faced with a task and I think we are doing it honourably. We have a proud tradition in politics on this island.

I received an e-mail the other day from a gentleman in Monkstown who stated he looked forward to the abolition of the Seanad. He said that our dysfunctional system now has two Chambers, the Seanad and the Dáil and they propose in the future that there will just be the Dáil, in other words we are to drop the part of the system that is irrelevant while being left with the part that ruined us. I did reply to him. I suppose that is a fair categorisation of the mood of the people although it may not be the reality.

There is no doubt that if the Seanad is to be abolished the Dáil needs to be reformed. I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Government on the steps they have taken on Dáil reform. They will preview, consider and review legislation in expert committees comprising Deputies and outside experts. I would give that four out of ten but it is a suggestion.

I take that point.

The programme for Government includes a provision to put to a referendum of the people the proposal to abolish the Seanad. We on this side say it is right that this be done. One would think from listening to the contribution of Members on the other side that the Taoiseach will just announce the Seanad is abolished. That is the tone of their comments. Senator Leyden referred to the Act of Union, and the role of fraud and corruption. This will be done correctly and democratically through a vote of the people. There is no comparison whatsoever. It is a well meaning but false assertion.. It will be done democratically by the people.

I look forward to the forthcoming debate on the proposed abolition of the Seanad. Many people say the Seanad is irrelevant.

The Seanad is full of decent, intelligent and worthy people. I believe the Seanad is for wisdom while the Dáil might be for energy, not that there is no energy in the Seanad or wisdom in the Dáil. That is not what I am saying but if one was asked which of them was higher, I would say wisdom is higher in the Seanad.

I think the Senator is right.

I think I am right. I am not very wise but I am not a bad judge of other people's wisdom, and I believe there is more wisdom, consideration, reflection and higher order qualities in the Seanad. That is the purpose of the Seanad. It makes a significant contribution.

I am particularly impressed by the standard of debate and the scrutiny of legislation. I was very impressed with Senator Ivana Bacik bringing forward her Bill on equality in the workplace. I do not believe that would ever have happened in the Dáil. It might happen in the future but not at present. I am not alone in believing that. Ministers, including I believe the Minister of State, have repeatedly referred to the quality of legislative scrutiny in the Seanad and compared it very favourably with the Dáil. In addition, some Members of the Seanad are particularly significant in respect of the constituencies they represent and bring an interesting and somewhat unique voice to politics.

I pay tribute to the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, for the way he handles the business of the House and the way in which he has widened its scope. The visit of Mr. Drew Nelson of the Orange Order, which was highly significant and will have a lasting significance for peace, reconciliation and progress towards a new Ireland was a highlight for me as a Border politician. Mr. Drew Nelson told me of the impact his visit had on him. Nevertheless, in the opinion of many the Seanad does not have a unique selling point at the moment as the argument is made that there is nothing done in the Seanad that could not be done by other means, such as an enhanced Dáil committee system. In addition, the Seanad is seen by many, as my colleague stated, as a waiting room for the Dáil or a retirement home for former Members and others. That this is a perversion and not its original function is sad and regrettable and it is not true, as the original vocational function of the Seanad has been replaced by a rigid party political system with the accompanying Whip system. It was not the present or the previous Government that did that. That happened within three years of 1937 so we are dealing with an historical legacy. Therefore, those who would favour reform rather than abolition have their work cut out in persuading the people that this is the correct road to take. As an aside, it is not today or tomorrow but the two or three weeks before the referendum that will be crucial. Notwithstanding that, this is a very important debate.

Many say we need the Seanad to keep a check on the Dáil and its loss would be an attack on the democratic system. That is the major argument I hear in Haggardstown about the abolition of the Seanad.

In Sextons in Haggardstown.

And in other places. I do not spend all my life in Sextons but I admit I do hear it there. I hear it at home and in other places. In fairness to Senator O'Sullivan, behind this rhetoric we are close.

The Seanad is a very important institution. It is part of our democratic structure. I support the proposal to put a referendum to the people. I look forward to the argument for and against and, at the appropriate time, I will make up my mind on how I will vote on the issue.

This legislation must be opposed for a number of reasons, the first being the origin of the idea. Last week Senator Eamonn Coghlan wondered whether the idea arose over a pint or a cup of coffee, and for all we know, that is the case. Certainly the idea was landed on a surprised Fine Gael Parliamentary Party in a hotel in west Dublin before a Fine Gael dinner live on television. Therefore, Senator Eamonn Coghlan's theory has a semblance of some truth. The idea came from the Citywest Hotel in west Dublin to radically change the Constitution with dozens of amendments. I challenge anyone in the House who has not yet done so to read every single section of the Constitution that will be amended, because if not one should not vote to put the legislation through. I suggest there are very few people who have read through every line of the legislation and every line of the Constitution that will be demolished. What a kick in the teeth for Fine Gael Senators, in particular, who gave loyalty to their leader at a time when others were noticeable by their disloyalty and their opposition to that Taoiseach.

Maybe those who were disloyal and opposed the Taoiseach had a point. His behaviour last week was disgraceful when he referred to the axis of collusion. It is a theme he has continued with because he once stated that a file had been done away with or dispatched within the Department of the Taoiseach. I do not know how civil servants who are in charge of these files reacted to that. It has been rarely mentioned since that outrageous statement by the Taoiseach in relation to the files but Fianna Fáil put in a freedom of information request and found dozens of documents in the Department of the Taoiseach, and they are included in the thousands of documents the Nyberg commission examined. Instead, we have had a Taoiseach who has been willing to use his office and the Dáil to smear people, and the smearing has started to move on to his own now. I see colleagues in the House and Deputies who are shaking over what is happening within the Fine Gael Party. The loyalty the Taoiseach seeks from his members is not the loyalty he gave to Members of the Seanad who, from media reports, backed him and ensured he remained as Fine Gael leader. What is going on within that party is not fair and it relates back to the way the Taoiseach does his business.

Like Senator Marie Moloney, I am delighted I was elected to the Seanad. I was a Deputy and I make no apologies for seeking election to the Seanad. The Fianna Fáil Party got the second highest number of votes in County Meath, but due to the structure of the constituencies, we did not win any Dáil seats. It is legitimate that Fianna Fáil has a voice in County Meath, having got more votes than some of the parties who got seats. I have sought to represent the 6,000 people or so who voted for me in the general election and also the other thousands who voted for my colleagues to represent a viewpoint that is important in society.

In regard to Seanad electoral panels, there is an idea that somehow it is a doddle to get on to a panel and that one just goes in and ticks the box. That is not true, and I speak from experience.

I was initially asked by my party to consider running on the agricultural panel. The Clerk of the Seanad in her wisdom, and she was right, refused to allow me to run on the agricultural panel because my qualifications were insufficient for it. I was quite bluntly told that the cultural and educational panel was the only panel for me. If one reads the Constitution, and many do not, it includes professions such as medicine and law. As a solicitor, that was the panel for me and I was bluntly told as much. Many people consider it to be the toughest panel due to the fact that it has the lowest number of seats and the highest quota. I could do that because I had considerable experience in the law for many years before my election first to the Dáil and then to this House.

It is said that nothing happens in the Seanad. Only last week the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform did not quite accept an amendment I tabled but offered his own alternative amendment to provide for something I had proposed regarding the public service Bill. I was annoyed last week to see the Taoiseach in the Dáil blame the Seanad for the delay to the reform of commercial rates. The Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill was introduced in the Seanad by the Government and the Taoiseach was asked about its status last week on the Order of Business. He said he would have to inquire with the Seanad but that he knew it works slowly, or words to that effect. The reality is that the Bill was stopped in the Seanad because it was deeply flawed, possibly unconstitutional and harmful to business. The Bill was debated on Second Stage, when concerns were raised by the Opposition and, indeed, some Government Senators, and it is now back on the shelf, presumably being redrafted because it has not reached Committee Stage and appears to be going nowhere. Significant constitutional issues were raised about the Bill, and the mode of appeal, by people in the industry and these were raised in the Seanad, so the Bill has been stopped. It is thanks to the Seanad that it has been and it should not go to Committee Stage unless the Government puts forward significant amendments.

We have been given yet more promises about Dáil reform. All the people ask the Government to do is implement what is in the programme for Government. Huge Dáil reform is promised in the programme for Government but, in effect, nothing has been implemented. Instead, the Government has taken over the committees. There is no Opposition Member in the chair of any of the sectoral committees. In the last Dáil the two European committees were chaired by Fine Gael Deputies, the industry and commerce committee was chaired by a Labour Party Deputy, the Committee of Public Accounts is always chaired by an Opposition Deputy and I believe the committee on the Constitution was chaired by an Opposition Deputy. Vice-chairmanships in some committees were also given to the Opposition. However, the Opposition holds no vice-chairmanships in any committees at present. The Government has gone backwards.

There are more guillotines now than ever. The promise in the programme for Government that there would be two weeks between each Stage of legislation in the Dáil has been observed more by its breach. There were not even two hours between Second Stage and Committee Stage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill this week. In promising more reform the Government is merely highlighting the failure to implement what it promised previously. The Friday sittings are a farce. So few Members attend the Friday sittings that the divisions are held on the following Tuesday. That is the reality and it speaks for itself. The Government cannot whip a division in the Dáil on a Friday because not enough Members attend. Real political reform was promised by the Government but it has not been delivered. Instead, the abolition of the Seanad has been handed up on a plate while all the other problems continue.

A fundamental overhaul of the political system is required. We need more than stunts, and this Bill is a stunt. However, I will repeat my challenge before I conclude. No Member should vote against this Bill until they have read every line of it. There is a great deal more in this Bill than in the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention. There was very little from the Constitutional Convention but this Bill amends the Constitution throughout that document. It must be read by every Member before they vote to change the Constitution in such a way. I will repeat that challenge to the public and ask people to look at every line of the legislation. The reason a number of European treaties were rejected is that Ministers admitted that they had not actually read them. Shame on them. That is happening with this legislation as well.

There is another point. The Seanad is referred to approximately 1,100 times in Irish legislation. Has anything to be done about that? Perhaps the Minister can answer that question. We are told that the Parliamentary Counsel is extremely busy and that important legislation on health reform, sectoral reform and the legal services sector is being held up because of that. Will the Parliamentary Counsel now have to amend the more than 1,000 legislative measures in which the Seanad is mentioned, aside from in the Constitution? I have not heard anything about that. It would take a huge amount of parliamentary time and a huge amount of time for civil servants.

I will ask the people to read this document and vote against it to ensure that this Government is held to account. The super majority in the Dáil is not doing that. I urge the public to look at the promises and commitments in the programme for Government relating to Dáil reform, see the evidence that they have been observed more in their breach and wonder about the promises being made now to change the way the Dáil works.

The first Seanad met on 11 December 1922 in the National Museum on Kildare Street. Sir Thomas Henry Grattan Esmonde, the great-grandson of Henry Grattan, was the first to take his seat in the new Seanad in what was a very different Ireland. Of the 489 Bills received from 1922 to 1936 the Seanad substantially amended 182 of them before they became law. The weight of the Seanad's authority was such that of the 1,831 amendments made to primary legislation, the Dáil agreed to 1,719. In 14 years the Dáil accepted 95% of all amendments and only rejected outright 86 Seanad amendments. That was a time when the Seanad had real power, a time when it was a democratic and effective second Chamber in which real contributions were made to legislation.

Regrettably, this role has changed over the years. It has changed to the point where we now have an Upper House that is treated with contempt. It is a shadow of what it once was. It disappoints me when I hear the Seanad, once a great institution, referred to as a cross between a political convalescent home and a crèche or training ground for the Dáil, where the real action takes place. The Seanad was never designed to be a training ground or a resting place. It was designed to give a voice to vocational interests to check and balance legislation to ensure that it was effective and, more important, to ensure that we operate as an effective parliamentary democracy.

Seanad Éireann was established in our Constitution in 1937 and is mentioned 75 times in the Constitution. It appears that it would be a great deal easier to draft a new Constitution than to go through the process of changing 75 times. The references to the Seanad highlight just how integral it is to the functioning of our nation. I stand today to argue that abolition will not solve but rather cause problems. Let us be very clear. Abolishing the Seanad is the easy option or easy way out. While I agree it must be put to the people to decide on the future of the Seanad, we should be considering concrete reform proposals to give voters an alternative option and to show people what the Seanad could be if we radically reform how it operates.

Abolishing the Seanad for the sake of political grandstanding will be a retrograde step, one which I am sure we will regret in years to come. What we need is a dynamic, cost effective, gender equal, functional second House that will act as a check and balance on the powers of the Dáil. A reformed Seanad would be a tool used by the people to hold the Government of the day to account. Who knows what Governments we will have in the future? Who knows what majorities they will have or what type of power they will wield? Perish the thought that some Member of the other House would become Taoiseach with a massive majority. It beggars belief. In my opinion, in the case of some Members, and I will not name them, we could have a dictatorship in a very easy way.

We now need new ways to choose Senators, ways that involve the wider population and give the public a role and say in the make-up of the Seanad. We do not need constitutional change to allow direct election to the Seanad by functional or vocational groups in substitution for the existing system of panel elected Senators. A reformed Seanad could represent diverse interest groups from all over Ireland and give them a real input into how we craft and pass laws. We need to create a Seanad that reflects the modern Irish nation which is confident, proud and emerging from years of mismanagement and political cronyism. We need a second House with teeth that can hold the institutions of Government to account. We need a second House that acts in the interest of people and on their behalf.

People are looking for an institution that they can turn to because the Government, the church and even the media have not covered themselves in glory for the past 20 years. People are looking for an institution of the State that they can trust. A reformed Seanad could be that institution but only with real and substantial reform. Let us allow the Seanad to do the job that it was established to do, namely, to represent civic society, interest groups and all elements of a diverse island. Let us not mutilate the Constitution and allow the Dáil unlimited powers for the sake of saving a few euro. I support giving the public a voice in the referendum but I cannot support the notion that democracy in Ireland will be enhanced if we abolish the Seanad. I am disappointed that we are not giving the people concrete reform proposals for the Seanad in advance of the referendum, in other words "a preferendum."

It is with regret that I sometimes look around me at the layers of useless State agencies and quangos that depend on taxpayers' money. Instead of examining their role and function we are looking to abolish a pillar of the State, one of the foundations upon which Irish democracy was built. The Seanad is an institution that we could be proud of and it carries on the democratic principles of the men and women who fought so hard to bring peace and prosperity to Ireland. Accordingly, I call on the people to direct their anger in the forthcoming referendum, and not make the Seanad the sacrificial lamb for the sins of a few.

A proposal to get rid of the Seanad really means that democracy is being centralised. I do not think that it will be abolished. I think that the people, in their wisdom, will maintain the Seanad. The intention of the proposal is to centralise democracy and not to the Dáil but just to the 15 Members of Cabinet. That is what we will be left with. That is why we could in time have a dictatorship in this country.

It is ironic how many Deputies favour the abolition of the Seanad. There are two reasons. First, Deputies do not want an annoying Senator biting at their heels seeking to gazump him or her at the next election. They want to rid themselves of Senators and get them out of their way.

The parish priest would not know what else to do with himself. There are many one-horse battles.

Second, an amendment could be made to the legislation, or done in some way, to ensure that many of these young turks, naysayers and people who want rid of the Seanad are not allowed to stand for election for the next Seanad.

I call Senator Diarmuid Wilson and he has ten minutes.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House. This is very familiar territory for him. Only for the Seanad, the Houses of the Oireachtas and the people of this country would have been deprived of his contribution to the national Parliament.

God help Ireland.

Five years of which I was honoured to have served with him in this House.

We were all honoured.

What did the Irish people do to deserve me?

I welcome back the Minister of State. He has made an excellent contribution to national politics since he first came to this House and I mean that genuinely.

Like any other citizen, I have a responsibility to speak out and shout out loud when I see a great and important institution being vandalised. That responsibility is even greater when the vandalism is being done to the most basic and fundamental institution in the State, namely, our Constitution. That is precisely what we, as legislators and guardians of the Constitution, are being asked to do in voting for this Bill.

Some colleagues on the Government side may want to comfort themselves by thinking that we are merely referring a matter to the people for their decision. A quick read through the 19 pages of the deletions from the Constitution, set out in the Bill, should stir them from their complacency. The Taoiseach acknowledged this himself when he stated earlier in May: "My book is the Constitution." Why is he now taking a slash hook to the Constitution to abolish the House? Why is he giving the Constitutional Convention almost a year to reflect, debate and consider a range of individual changes yet expects the Oireachtas to swallow such a major democratic transformation in a matter of days? A fundamental change to the Constitution and system of government merits far more consideration, discussion and debate than the Government is allowing. Ironically, we are supposed to be doing all of this in the name of political reform.

The proposal before us is based on a series of glaring myths. The first myth is that this proposal was ever anything other than a political stunt. Other colleagues have mentioned the Fine Gael Party's dinner. I am not sure whether it was held in the City West Hotel or the Burlington Hotel.

It was the Burlington.

At the dinner the Leader of the Opposition in the Seanad at the time, Frances Fitzgerald, nearly collapsed on live television beside the Taoiseach when he announced that he would get rid of the Seanad. As Senator Heffernan and other colleagues have said, it had more to do with the opinion polls at that time than genuine political reform.

The Taoiseach, at the MacGill Summer School in July 2009, said with regard to the Seanad:

I see a different role for the Seanad here. I would change the electoral system and give every graduate a vote here ... There is a real need for proper scrutiny of European legislation. There is a need to have a forum for MEPs. There is a need to challenge the Seanad in the work that it does. Many people feel that it has just been a cosy House for far too long ... It has got real potential but it has got to be challenged in that sense.

That was late July. What happened in August and September to change the Taoiseach from being a reformer to an abolitionist?

The second myth is that the proposal is about reducing costs. Senator Barrett and other colleagues have correctly pointed out that the abolition of the Seanad will not save a cent because the potential saving of a few million euro will be spent on extra committees to deal with the business that elected Members of this House should be doing.

There are more myths but I shall not go through them. Colleagues in both Houses asked for a calm, balanced and reasoned debate on this proposed legislation. I shall mention a few words to the Minister of State that have been used by Ministers of both Government parties but not by him.

This concerns me and all of my colleagues in the House. We are surplus to requirements; we are wasters; we are not fit for purpose; and we are irrelevant. Is that a balanced debate? On 11 June a senior member of the Labour Party, Fergus "head on a plate" Finlay, said that we were "a fossil, a meaningless artefact that adds no fundamental value" to politics. Is that a balanced and reasoned debate? I suggest it is not. Looking back in history, similar words were used to condition the German people on acts carried out in their name. I will not get into that matter. This House has had honourable and decent Members since its foundation right up to this day.

Political reform is not getting rid of town councils or reducing the number of Deputies by eight, when Fine Gael promised to reduce it by 20. It will not reducing the number by 20 because we would need a referendum to do so and we could not have that. Political reform is not reducing the number of councillors elected in rural Ireland and moving them to the east coast. It is certainly not getting rid of one arm of democracy in our national Parliament. The public wants a Parliament that scrutinises public policy, questions public officials and makes sure those who exercise power in the country, elected and unelected, are held accountable for their actions. Getting rid of the Seanad would make the task more difficult. The Government, particularly the Taoiseach, is proposing to replace this House with a committee. We have all seen in recent days what happens to members of committees if they do not toe the line. That is what our democracy will face if the people vote to get rid of this House. We are asking that the question that we get rid of the Seanad or reform it be put to the people. That is all we are asking if this dictatorial Taoiseach insists on putting a referendum to the people.

Another quotation is that it is "populist nonsense for the Taoiseach to say that Ireland has too many politicians" and that he is "anti-politics and anti-democratic when he makes that assertion which contributes to the ongoing denigration of politics." That is not good for any of us and it is not good for our democracy. That comment came from a former Member of this House, Deputy Joanna Tuffy, who is now a Member of the other House, like the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. This is anti-politics and anti-democratic and I cannot disagree with the words of Deputy Joanna Tuffy. I thank the Minister of State for sitting through the entire debate. Only for this House, the country would have been deprived of him for almost five years.

Before I call the next speaker, the Minister of State has been unavoidably called out of the House for a couple of minutes. We will wait until he returns.

We are all good democrats in this House, living as we do in a constitutional democracy which is what this little republic of ours is. There have been many complaints, even on the Order of Business, that this is a Bill the objective of which is the abolition of the Seanad but its Title refers to the 32nd amendment of the Constitution, which implies the holding of a referendum. We cannot change the Constitution without holding a referendum. I compliment all those Senators who have spoken on their wonderful arguments. I also compliment the Minister of State who, as Senator Diarmuid Wilson said, has great patience. It is trying his constitution to have to listen to this debate, with some of which he does not agree, but we are all good democrats. I, therefore, subscribe to what Senator Diarmuid Wilson said about him. It was an honour to serve with him.

I recall that the Minister of State, with the then Leader of the House, the former Senator Mary O'Rourke, and three other colleagues put together a wonderful report. We might not have agreed with all of it, but we went with it because we were reformists in our own minds. Perhaps I will come back to that theme.

We accept that the people must rule supreme in our democracy. That is why this proposal is going to be put in a referendum. The timing is lousy, in the sense that the term of the Government presumably has another two and a half years to run. I do not know whether the referendum will be passed. If it is - as a good democrat, my attitude is "so be it" - how will Senators be fixed for attending public meetings, etc? Someone spoke about the jibes in newspaper letters and columns. If this proposal is passed, what will people say to any of us when we attend various events? I think the Minister of State understands why I think the timing could be better. This referendum should have come much later in the term of the Dáil, if at all.

I am a total reformist. I subscribe to that view. Like many other Senators on all sides of the House, I see this as a lessening of our democracy. Obviously, there will be an automatic reduction in the number of politicians. Some say it is a cheap shot to get rid of 60 politicians in one fell swoop. It is obvious that this measure will increase the significance of the Executive, which is already pretty powerful in our system. The Minister of State does not have to say anything because I understand from his smile that he agrees with me. If the Seanad is abolished, this little country of ours will probably have more advisers than ever.

The referendum campaign will be very difficult for existing Senators. I expect that the overwhelming majority of us will vote "No" in the secrecy of the voting booth. The campaign will be difficult because whether we like it, we will be perceived to have a vested interest. I do not intend to campaign in the referendum. It will be difficult for me, given that the Taoiseach has already announced we will have at least one other referendum on the same date. I assume that was a Government decision. The Minister of State might confirm this when he responds at the end of the debate. It is planned to hold a referendum on the same date to facilitate the establishment of a court of civil appeal. Such a court is badly needed because the legal system is clogged up and a large number of cases are before the Supreme Court. The Minister of State might comment on how many cases there are. That is very bad justice and, of course, justice delayed is justice denied. How many years will it take to have an appeal heard now? I have no doubt that a court of civil appeal is necessary.

Much has been made of the financial saving that might result from the abolition of the Seanad. Senator Feargal Quinn who is watching me like the wise old owl that he is has exploded that myth. We know there will be no savings whatsoever. There have been disputes about the figures. I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has said these resources will be diverted into a revised or reformed committee structure. With respect, that is a possible waste. All Deputies have to serve on one committee or another. I am not sure they are all fully committed to committees unless a constituency matter arises, but perhaps I should not say that. It is understandable, given our human nature, that the constituency is everything. I am sure the Minister of State is always focused-----

I think that is changing.

I hope the Minister of State is right, but I do not think Deputies really see themselves as legislators. They see themselves as glorified county councillors.

The Senator is dead right.

That is a terrible indictment of them.

I watch them and salute them. We have all engaged in it. I go to county council and town council offices, although possibly not as often as Deputies do. I do not get as much of that kind of work and do not want to interfere with councillors. A Deputy is continually focused on his or her re-election. That is human nature. He or she has to watch the constituency. In fairness to Deputies, they do watch their constituencies and the people choose whom they want. It does not matter what a candidate drinks, drives or smokes. The people will make up their minds on him or her. We must salute them and we do so.

Dáil reform has been promised in the place of the abandoned Seanad. It is probably needed in the light of how people view that Chamber. I do not mean this as a slight on the Minister of State who is an exceptional person. The same can be said about an awful lot of Deputies, if not most of them. When the interaction and the play get going in the Dáil, they feed into people's perception of the Dáil as a hurdy-gurdy dysfunctional Punch and Judy show. I am not saying it does not happen here on an odd occasion. However, this is a more objective and less partisan Chamber. It is sad that many people have that impression of the Dáil. It has been said the people might abolish the Dáil also if they were given the choice. That is a reflection of the effects of the recession and the terrible times people are going through. From a cynical point of view, perhaps this is a good time to propose a referendum to get rid of this House. Perhaps that is the way it is. I just do not know. We will wait and see what happens in the debate.

Any Government with a large majority in a single Chamber will tend to do what it likes. That is human nature. The Executive can make things easier by giving itself more power. In this case, it would prefer not to have to bother with another Chamber and what its Members might think and do. As we know, there is a constitutional obligation on this House to process all legislation, just as the Dáil does. Many Ministers, past and present, have found this a more objective and less partisan Chamber which is more conducive to teasing out the core issues involved in every Bill. The current ones do not go on the record about it, but some of the former ones do. It may be the case that Senators have, or used to have, more time to devote to legislation. This House has been good at considering legislation and it still has a reputation for-----

The Senator has one minute left.

I have ten minutes.

Yes and the Senator has used nine of them.

You are joking me. I have three pages left.

The Chair will give some latitude to her fellow Kerry person.

I do not believe in shrinking the democratic space. This measure will lead to a huge loss on the democratic side. It is wrong to blame the Seanad for any lack of reform. It has repeatedly shown a willingness to engage with the reform process and the Minister of State was part of that process at one time. Every previous Government failed to address this matter. In 1979 we had a referendum to extend the franchise for the university seats. Every Government since has left that constitutional amendment in abeyance and failed to legislate for it. It would have been wonderful for graduates of our third level institutions who live in Ireland and abroad to have had a say in the composition of one of the Houses of Parliament. There will be far less accountability in the absence of the Seanad. The fact that approximately 600 amendments to legislation have been accepted in this House is testimony to the valuable work done in this Chamber.

I will not say the idea of bringing in outside experts is crazy, but it will increase costs and further reduce democratic accountability. As I have said, the referendum is being held too early. There is a danger that if this proposal is passed, very dedicated Members of this House will decide to quit in order to run in next year's local elections.

Much as I like to hear the Senator speak, I have to ask him to conclude.

I will conclude.

The Senator should be given a chance.

No, I have to obey the Chair.

The Senator will get another crack of the whip on another day.

I might be as awkward if I was in the Chair. The people are not being given a proper choice. Dáil reform is fraught with difficulty and it could be mission impossible. We have no control over people's choices. I could speak further about democratic principles, but I will leave it at that. I am very grateful to the Chair.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for sticking with us. We are at a defining moment in Irish parliamentary democracy and we must proceed with great care lest we be sorry in the future. The fundamental question we need to answer concerns what type of parliament we need to best serve the Irish people and whether the abolition of the Seanad will provide for that through this Bill. I do not accept that it will.

Leaving out Seanad reform for the moment, this Bill could have presented a once-in-decades golden opportunity for the reform of politics, but it does not do that. Unfortunately, this proposal is lazy and minimalist. There are serious deficiencies in this Bill for what it envisages in the absence of a Seanad. The first of these is the lack of any form of legislative delay provision, which is a glaring deficiency. This is somewhat ironic, given the way this Bill was guillotined through the Dáil, which is not unusual. If this is agreed, there will be no constitutional requirement for a Bill to have even more than one reading or to go through more than one Stage in the Dáil. It will be quite feasible, even if unlikely, for a future government to change Dáil procedures to require only a single vote to pass a Bill. This is a clear danger of not having a second House.

Many of the small unicameral countries held up as shining examples in the past few days or weeks have explicit constitutional requirements for at least two Stages when passing a Bill. Most have some delay built in between these Stages, or at least the potential to trigger some delay. This happened here naturally when a Bill had to come to the Seanad. With the Seanad gone, this protection will be gone. This is not good for democracy and will not provide for the necessary scrutiny of legislation which affects Irish people's lives daily. For example, Luxembourg has a minimum delay of three months. Finland has a veto of up to three months and in Iceland there is the potential for referral to a referendum.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, mentioned Denmark. There, two-fifths of MPs can direct the Speaker to delay the Final Stage of a Bill by up to 12 weekdays. Many larger countries still have their second chambers and the delay that comes with that. Can we assume our Parliament functions so splendidly that such conventional safeguards would be superfluous? We cannot. We should not diminish democracy and nor should our Taoiseach. Nor should we diminish the importance of reflection and consideration, which come only with time and legislative review.

What are the Taoiseach and Government offering instead in terms of an improved Parliament, which is ultimately about serving the people? They are offering Friday Dáil sittings, which are essentially window dressing. These are not realistic for country Members and do not constitute meaningful reform. Dáil Deputies need to be in their constituencies to take soundings on the issues that matter to people if they are to inform policy and legislation effectively. A strengthened committee system has also been promised, but that is not mentioned in this Bill. I love the capacity for exchange in committees and find it useful. However, only members of a committee can propose amendments and vote on them. Committee members nominated by parties are frequently groomed into consensus. Consider, for example, the effect of this on the health committee hearings on the abortion Bill. Apart from a few independent voices, that committee in no way reflected the level of difference across the House or among the public. Contrast that with the diversity and detail offered in the 2,664 amendments introduced to improve legislation in the Seanad during this term alone. I was stunned by the number of amendments introduced here when I checked the number. There is not time for such detail in the Dáil. Let us be careful, therefore, that in deciding to abolish the Seanad we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Remember, the devil is generally in the detail.

What is possible with this approach, with the promised referendum to change the Constitution? Ideally, an amendment Bill would have transferred the Seanad's notional delay powers to the Dáil and made them functional. For example, it would write in an explicit requirement for two or more Stages into the Constitution and perhaps it would allow for a qualified minority of one third of Deputies to ask the Ceann Comhairle to delay the Final Stage of a money Bill for 21 days and that of a non-money Bill for three months. This provision is already in the Constitution for the Seanad.

Look at the folly of the blanket bank guarantee - something we rue to this day - which was rushed into overnight and left us in hock up to our ears for generations to come. Of course we must move swiftly sometimes, but the provisions for emergency Bills already exist, if the President assents. It is a concern that a Government with a majority of almost two-thirds, which guillotines more Bills than not, has neglected to include any form of legislative break whatsoever in this amendment.

The second major deficiency of this Bill is the elimination of the possibility of having two non-Dáil Ministers, which may come as a surprise to Members. A former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, appointed a Senator, Jim Dooge, as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I would like to have seen that provision retained because, as we know, the necessary expertise is not always elected to the Dáil. What, for example, would be wrong with having an Elderfield, a Honohan or a Ken Whitaker appointed to Cabinet to provide expertise? This would demonstrate thinking politics, rather than simplistic populist politics designed to pretend that abolition equates to reform. I am sorry to say that the leader of my party, the Taoiseach, has subscribed to that approach.

The third deficiency is one the people need to be made aware of. This amendment Bill will lead to the deletion of Article 27 of the Constitution, which provides the Seanad with the ability to petition the President for a referendum. I know the people will be concerned by this when they are made aware of it. Do other single-house parliaments have this provision? They do. Denmark, for example, has had an even stronger provision in its constitution for decades, whereby one-third of its members can petition the Speaker for a referendum. I feel that the retention of this provision would be very useful, because it provides a useful safeguard for Bills of national importance, such as the abortion Bill. However, with the proposed amendment to the Constitution, there is no replacement provision and this safeguard is gone. Would Members consider that less or more democratic? I see it as a further indication of a power grab and a move towards more absolutism. If that is not the case, let us change this.

The fourth opportunity lost with this Bill was the opportunity to reform the election of the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The fifth deficiency is that there are no proposals for Dáil or committee reform in the Bill. Despite the fact the Government has had two years to draft this Bill, there is no indication of any proposed Dáil or committee reform in it. This is appalling. If the Government genuinely believes in Dáil reform, why does it not enshrine the proposed new Dáil and committee structures in our Constitution by way of this referendum? This is a great opportunity. Either the Government is serious about political reform or it is not. If it does not want to do it in the Constitution, the Dáil could, as we know, pass these reforms next week if it were serious about doing so.

As I see it, there are two options for genuine political reform. The Seanad could simply be reformed in a way that would not need a referendum - for example, through the passing of a Bill such as either of those put forward by Senators Quinn and Zappone. Alternatively, these improved roles or powers could be transferred to the Dáil. However, that is not built into this Bill. It does neither of these. It would be easier to vote in favour of abolition if the Bill provided for reform. The Bill proposes a very poor offering to the people. Thus, I believe that once the people realise what is going on here, there will be a strong vote against the abolition of the Seanad.

With regard to my position, I am fundamentally a democrat. On that basis, I will vote in favour of a referendum and give the people the opportunity to vote "Yes" or "No" to abolition. However, I do not agree with their being given only that choice. Today I call on the Taoiseach to frame the choice offered to the people in the form of a yes-or-no question asking whether they agree with reform of the Seanad. Democracy is not something to be trifled with. It was hard won by our forefathers. All of us in these Houses, including the Minister of State, are but guardians of the Constitution for a very short time. Therefore, before we decide to throw the Seanad, our second limb of democracy, away, I recommend that we look very carefully at how to improve and reform it before the referendum.

If the choice is "Yes" or "No" to abolition, I will be recommending a "No" vote on the basis that "No" will be a call for a reformed Seanad at the next general election, or at the very least, a radically reformed Dáil.

I want to speak very quickly on the opportunities for reform. First, there must be universal suffrage. Second, expertise matters. A reformed Seanad should provide the expertise needed to represent the needs of Irish society in a functioning and effective democracy. Third, a reformed Seanad does not need a Whip system. That is not envisaged at all in the Constitution. Without the party Whip system, the people could have more confidence in the independence of thought of its Members. With the Whip system, one is essentially asked to leave one's brain and one's conscience outside the door. That is appalling and is not what Irish people expect when they put their confidence in electing politicians. Without a Whip system, a consensus and a majority view can still emerge in the Seanad. Directly elected by the people to the various panels of expertise, its members can represent independent thinking without fear or favour of the Whip system.

The Whip system in the Irish Parliament is more oppressive than any other in the Western world. The American President, Barack Obama, tried to bring in gun legislation, but he could not do it because his party did not back him. They do things over there by negotiation and by making a strong case. In Westminster, Conservative Party backbenchers can introduce a Bill against the wishes of their leader, yet they do not lose the Whip. Maggie Thatcher, as British Prime Minister, voted against her own Government on hare coursing, which is not unheard of here. Such a democratic approach instills the confidence of the people in the Members they elect.

Between the lack of a free vote on conscience grounds, about which we have heard a lot in the last few weeks, and the elimination of the Seanad without a stronger alternative, I believe something very bad and unhealthy is afoot. Our Taoiseach should not be afraid of losing control. Nobody wants this Government to fall or to fail. We want it to succeed, but we want it to be democratic in the process.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He is showing the stamina that he displayed in his first Seanad election. I can confirm that I helped give him his first break in politics, and I am very honoured to have done so.

I think I got more votes than I actually-----

They all add up. I could not but support him, given his Ballinasloe and Garbally connections at the time.

And undoubted merit.

I certainly made a very wise decision. The Minister of State has learned his skill well and made a major contribution to Irish politics since he first became a Member of this House and subsequently a Member of the Dáil.

I was present on the night in 2009 when our party leader announced the decision to hold a referendum on the future of the Seanad. I remember the shock and horror on the faces of Members of the Oireachtas that night when they heard the news. However, I think everybody expected it would be quietly dropped and forgotten after the general election. People misread the determination of the Taoiseach, and the commitment to hold the referendum was included in the programme for Government. That is why we are here today debating this issue. I have always had a high regard for Seanad Éireann, and as a political junkie I have always followed the proceedings of the House with great interest over the years. I am acutely aware of the contribution that Members of this House have made to society and to our country in different walks of life. It is worth recalling the contribution that was made to peace and reconciliation by people such as Seamus Mallon and Gordon Wilson, the contribution made to advancing human rights by people such as David Norris, Rónán Mullen and Ivana Bacik, and the contribution made to business by people such as T. K. Whitaker, Seán Barrett and Feargal Quinn, among many others who have occupied these seats over the years.

I was very honoured to be nominated by the Irish Vocational Education Association to contest the Seanad election on the cultural and educational panel in 2011. I will always be grateful to the members of the local authorities around the country who elected me. Because of that, I have a mandate to represent my constituency and people throughout the country. I got a very significant first preference vote from councillors who in many cases were elected by up to 2,000 people. Having served on a local authority for 25 years, I feel that the electoral process for the Seanad needs reform. Even though we all have a mandate, it is somewhat elitist that 43 seats are filled through election by members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad and local authorities, and six seats are filled by graduates of the NUI and Trinity College, to the exclusion of other third level graduates. The Taoiseach then gets to fill 11 seats to ensure a Government majority.

In his contribution to the debate here, the Taoiseach rightly highlighted the fact that after 75 years and ten comprehensive reports, not one iota of reform has taken place in the Seanad. Successive governments failed to do anything about reform because it suited them to keep the Seanad neutered. Senators over the years must take responsibility for the lack of reform, particularly those from government parties that held power for long periods. They failed to convince their government and ministerial colleagues that the Seanad had a significant contribution to make to our democracy and was worth reforming, in spite of significant reports highlighting the need for reform by many political heavyweights, including a former Minister and former Leader of the Seanad, Mary O'Rourke. The Minister of State had an input into that particular document. If he had had the opportunity, I feel that our current Leader would have succeeded in convincing the Government of the need to reform the Seanad, given the many innovative things he has brought to the House since 2011.

I was very disappointed that Seanad reform and the future of the Seanad was not included for discussion at the Constitutional Convention. As the Taoiseach said, "The convention is a new and stimulating means of examining constitutional reform, one which puts people in their proper place at the very heart of the process, because it is to them that the Constitution of our country belongs." If the people of Ireland decide to retain the Seanad, I hope the Government will ask the Constitutional Convention to deliberate on this particular issue.

Few people will disagree on the need for reform of our political system. We need better and stronger local government in which we devolve real powers to our councillors and our elected members. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is to be commended for his Putting People First programme, and I hope it works. There are some sceptics out there who are disappointed that town councils are to be abolished. I share some concerns about that as well, but I feel the Minister is on the right track and he will have the support of this House in his endeavours.

The Dáil and Oireachtas committees need radical reform and I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment to this. However, our economic crash of recent years highlighted the impact of poor politics and poor regulation of our financial institutions. As we prepare to exit the bailout, we need to put in place a political system that ensures we never repeat the mistakes of the past. In my opinion, a reformed Seanad can play a crucial role in rebuilding our country and protecting our democracy through better scrutiny of legislation. As we all know, the Dáil does not always get it right. This House has made many amendments to legislation that had been overlooked in the other House.

As we know most of our legislation now comes from Europe and there is certainly no appropriate system in the House for the scrutiny of EU legislation. What better place to do that than in Seanad Éireann? The Seanad should hold Government to account. We should be using the expertise of the Seanad in a more productive way for the benefit of all our citizens. We should have direct elections to this House with universal suffrage on panels of expertise. Very few would disagree with that.

Much has been made of the cost of the Seanad and many Members have identified opportunities for reducing costs. That is achievable. The cost of the Seanad, even at the highest figure quoted, pales into insignificance when we consider what bad and poor government and bad regulation have cost this country over the past five or six years. When they go to the polls the people will have major decisions to make. They will have to decide whether they want to remove Seanad Éireann, a major plank of our democratic system since the foundation of the State. They will have to ask themselves whether they have confidence that a reformed Dáil will be more effective than the current one and whether they want to give more power to unelected advisers, given our experience of them in the past. I will be supporting the legislation here to enable the people to have their say but I must confirm that on referendum day I will be voting to retain the Seanad. We must remember the people always get it right.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House today. Like other Members I do not believe that the Seanad should stay as it is. It has been an enormous privilege for me to be here for the past two years. I am extremely grateful to the members of the county councils around the country who elected me. It was a tough campaign, harder than the general election campaign, believe it or not, for a Fianna Fáil candidate in 2011. While the general election campaign was tough I had a team of people in my local area and I went home to my own bed. For the Seanad campaign I met county councillors in different counties and was interrogated quite rigorously by them on a range of issues. It was a tough campaign and assured me that the electors take their job quite seriously to ensure that they put all candidates through their paces.

At the same time I fully appreciate that every citizen does not have a vote. It means that the House is seen as elitist. It is seen as the preserve of a small few and that is a shame. The lack of universal suffrage means that, no matter what we do, our legitimacy is undermined. Often the House makes a far greater contribution than is appreciated. My experience is that in general debates here are much less partisan, reflect more on and tease out legislation. Members take their job very seriously and do their best by proposing amendments and suggestions that some Ministers accept. As spokesperson on education I have always found the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruarí Quinn very receptive. He has accepted some of my amendments to important legislation on quality assurance in the third level sector, child vetting and other similar issues that had not been addressed in the other House. He has taken them on board because he has come into the House with an open attitude and a willingness to listen to ideas from all sides.

We have brought forward excellent Bills in the past two years. I hope that the Dáil will pass Senator Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill next week. It is incredibly important legislation which would not have come to fruition but that we had an outlet in this House for somebody of Senator Quinn's expertise and business acumen, and the perspective which he brings to the Oireachtas. The same is true of Senator Crown's Bill on smoking in cars. I hope that, while the Government shot down the employment equality Bill that I brought forward last year, the principles behind it will be taken on board. That has helped to put pressure on the Government to deal with an important gap in our protection for employees. Much important work is done here.

There are parts of the House and its business that frustrate me. It will be no secret to Members that generally I do not participate in the Order of Business. I table Adjournment Matters, two of which were selected this week and two last week because I prefer to have a debate with a Minister. I do not see the point in shouting at Senator Cummins of a morning about all the ills of society. I do not do the amateur dramatics. I regret the fact that while excellent work is done here on legislation the only thing that is covered on "Oireachtas Report" and other programmes is the first hour of the day which makes it look like that is all we do. That is a great shame. We had a really good debate here a few weeks ago on youth unemployment, with really good suggestions put forward by Members on all sides of the House but that was not covered. The same applies to mental health, jobs and other key issues. Unfortunately that is not covered. I am not blaming the media for that because that it is too easy to do. In some ways we give them that content. I respect the fact that people have different ways of contributing but that is part of what we do that I wish we did not do. I wish we could just agree the Order of Business and get on with discussing issues and ensuring that we present that view to the outside world because there is much good done here.

This Seanad has performed better than is sometimes appreciated but I believe that it needs to be changed. I do not believe the House should remain as it is. The electoral system is deeply flawed and undermines our legitimacy. There is too much duplication of what goes on in the Dáil. As things stand we get the same business a week or two later. That is good for checks and balances but it means we miss the opportunity to do extra business. The Leader of our House was very supportive, and said so in his speech last week, of an increased role for this House in the scrutiny of EU legislation and made that request to the Taoiseach. Incredibly important EU decisions are made week in week out and most of our legislation now comes from Europe. The Fine Gael Leader of the House suggested to the Taoiseach that we play a role in enhanced scrutiny of that legislation but that was declined. That is a shame. It means that important decisions are made that are not considered by either House. Some of it gets to the bottom of a committee agenda somewhere but it does not get anything like the scrutiny it deserves.

Our Leader also made the point that there is a new EU yellow card system whereby national parliaments can give a yellow card to European measures and ensure that they are thought through again. I understand that has been used once since the Lisbon treaty was passed. That is regrettable. This House should have been given the opportunity over the past two years to fulfil its potential. This is because the Taoiseach has a point to prove about wanting to run down the Seanad and not wanting to give us the opportunity to do our best to represent the people and bring forward issues which would prove that we need a second House. That is why there has been constant guillotining of debates.

It is also very unfair to the people that they will not be given a choice in the referendum because what is there to fear from asking ordinary citizens whether they want abolition, reform or the status quo? Why is the Taoiseach willing only to allow the people consider the status quo or abolition? This House has put forward excellent legislation. There is a general framework for a radically reformed and powerful Seanad in the Bill published by Senators Quinn, Zappone and others. It would provide for a far better electoral system, a totally different cadre of politicians from those elected to the Dáil, people with different perspectives, representing vocational interests, a direct vote and increased powers. That option will not be put to the people.

It has not even been put to the Convention on the Constitution. I am a member of that convention and the citizens who take part in it take their role incredibly seriously. They give up their weekends to deliberate on political reform issues. At our first meeting the Taoiseach sent us an agenda to discuss the voting age and the length of the presidential term. We disposed of the second matter in half an hour because people wondered why, in the scheme of things, with all that is going on in the country they were being brought together in a hotel to discuss the length of the presidential term. It is crazy that when it was suggested at one of the convention meetings that we would discuss the Seanad a very clear message came from the Taoiseach that it was not our business and we should not do that.

A very clear message came from the Taoiseach to say that was not our business, we should not do it and that as far as he was concerned a referendum on abolition was being put to the people and that was that. It has made a mockery of the convention process, which is a good idea and if the Taoiseach took it seriously it would have a lot of potential in terms of deliberative democracy and better representation.

I find it very frustrating and disappointing that people will not be given that choice. I would love to be able to engage in a referendum campaign and talk about how we could change how things are done here. The role of senates in the US and other countries involves two totally different houses of parliament which are elected differently with different agendas. That means proposed legislation is better thought through and considered from different perspectives. There is a strong system of checks and balances. Ultimately, it delivers better value for money for the taxpayer because it stops governments making mistakes and ensures things are thought through properly.

In contrast to what we could achieve with reform, all the option of abolition will do is consolidate more power in a Cabinet and flawed democratic system. We have a Dáil, which is where the real problems in the Oireachtas lie in my view and that of most political scientists and commentators in the country who follow what goes on in the Dáil. There are huge problems there. Despite all of the promises before the election, the Government has refused to make any real effort at political reform, as has been mentioned by Senator Healy Eames and others. All we have seen is constant guillotining of legislation in both Houses and much more concentration of power in a very small number of people.

As I said at the start of my contribution, I do not believe the Seanad should remain in its current form. I would be the first person to admit there are flaws at times in how some of our work is done. The House makes a greater contribution than is often appreciated. The people should be given a genuine choice and real option in a referendum. If we are to go to the bother of spending a fortune on a referendum at a time of limited resources, we should at least make sure that it is worth people's while going to the polling stations and give them an option. What is the Taoiseach afraid of?

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I thank him for the patience and diligence he has shown in listening to the arguments.

When the Seanad was founded in the early years of the State, it was envisaged that it should offer real opportunities for building bridges for all citizens. It was supposed to have developed into a political platform where the citizens representing different sectors of society, be they from the north, south, east or west, abroad or at home, but that did not happen. That is not how it evolved and is not the Seanad we have today.

This year we had an attempt by the Leader of the House, Senator Cummins, to address this lack of participative democracy. Various groups have addressed the House with valued input from our EU representatives, but that has not been enough. We did not get the help we need to ensure it was and it could have been more.

We all knew when we signed up to put ourselves forward for election to the House that there would be a referendum and, true to his word, the Taoiseach has followed through on that. I will vote "Yes" to ensure the people of the country are given the choice. I ask that the people of the country are fully informed when they vote and are provided with the full facts and information on the functioning and cost of the House, and the cost of government as a whole, and the democratic deficit that will follow if the House is abolished. Some 72 areas of the Constitution will be changed. How is it proposed to inform the people? Is it proposed to publish the 72 areas in booklet form by the Referendum Commission or whoever will provide the information?

I will give some evidence on the positive elements of a bicameral system of parliament. The evidence suggests that bicameralism is not on the decline. That is a verifiable fact. Currently 40% of parliaments in the Interparliamentary Union have two legislative chambers. Of 34 developed countries in the OECD, 19 have bicameral parliaments and 11 are unicameral. Ireland is one of 13 EU countries to have a bicameral system and over five sixths of the population of the European Union live in countries with a bicameral system. I congratulate the Minister of State on the role he and the Taoiseach played during the Presidency of the EU.

Studies illustrate the positive effects of bicameralism on parliamentary democracy in terms of representation, such as the process of legislative bargaining and the quality of legislative oversight of the executive. Bicameralism affects policy and law. Of course, this will be made more significant when one chamber has enough leverage over the other to act unilaterally. This has proven to be true even where one chamber has to decide policy after the other has voted, as is the case in the Irish system. Bicameralism also has the potential to protect minorities. This could have been stronger had we had a reformed Seanad. Many Governments had the opportunity to do so but did not take it. I want to see wider representation in the Seanad if the people choose a reformed Seanad. It is up to them.

We passed Second Stage of a Bill tabled by Senators Zappone and Quinn. Homework has been done on how it could be implemented if the people choose not to abolish the Seanad. They may not know the Bill exists. People have spoken about the fact that the legislative process is not covered by the media. The Order of Business is covered. I was in the Chamber for three weeks when I asked for the Order of Business to be abolished. Such a move may result in media covering the legislative process.

When I was elected, people asked me what we do in here. People do not know what happens here. If the foundations of the democracy continue to be weak whatever we build on them will also be weak.

Senators focus more on legislation than on local issues, unlike Deputies, present company excluded. I congratulate the Minister of State on his focused attention to his brief, not just in government. He has done Trojan work in the EU, as I mentioned. His input ensured Ireland performed in an excellent manner during the Presidency. As as a constituency colleague, I know the Minister of State's ability and capability are not everyday happenings.

I thank the Senator.

Can we blame many Deputies for focusing, as some other Senators have mentioned, on their constituencies? No, we cannot. That is the system we have and it badly needs reform, perhaps more so than this House.

We also need reform at local level. Devolution of functions is something we have long spoken about. Councillors must be given real powers and revenue raising abilities, taking the national politicians out of the power broking equation. This applies equally to Senators. We have seen reform from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government with the abolition of town councils and 1,254 local town councillors, to whom I pay tribute for their Trojan work and commitment to local democracy.

I recognise what the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has done in transferring some power from councils to districts. Some 81 powers have been transferred to local district councils, which is a great improvement on what was in place when I was involved in an area district council. More has to be done. Deck chairs are being shifted from county to district level but not from central to district level.

The Minister has asked for reports from each Department on where more devolution of functions could take place, and I await the completion of that exercise. In respect of the devolution of functions, I agree with the Taoiseach when he said in 2009 that a huge centralisation of power in Ireland is incompatible with a healthy republic.

The Seanad has a role in counterbalancing the Dáil, something to which many speakers referred and on which I will not dwell. Since I came to the House I have heard many times that the quality of debate here far exceeds that of the other House, not because of lesser ability but because of time management and systems. As one person who visited both Houses said, "I know now why the Seanad is called the Upper House."

I also wish to note the non-adversarial methodology and style which usually pertains in the House. It is not always the case, such as on the Order of Business, but we can usually implement non-adversarial methodology.

In regard to the argument on financial savings, which many have mentioned, can we get rid of 50% of backbenchers without affecting the democratic balance? Perhaps the answer to that question should be put to the people, and then we would be able to really talk about saving money. All of the facts should be placed before the people, including the full costs of the Houses of the Oireachtas, including committees.

Then we would really be talking about saving money. It will it be shifting the cost of €8.5 million from the Seanad to the committees, with less democracy. I do not have the answer. Participative democracy must be encouraged as well as the participative budgetary process. Hopefully this work is progressing. I have confidence in the Taoiseach in this regard. This has not been a policy of any previous Government and it is time for a change.

Some years ago while in Germany I attended a local district authority meeting to observe local democracy in action. The people participated in the budgetary process for their local area. Previous Governments had plenty of opportunities for reform. Ten reports were published and nothing was done. They sat on the fence but now the Opposition is getting into action. However, everyone is to blame. This Government has only been in power for two years during which time there has been massive change and I look forward to more. We sat on the fence for so long but we are ready to press the "Exit" button now if the people wish it. They must make an informed choice. At least the Taoiseach is doing something, even if we do not particularly like it. We knew it was coming when we signed on the dotted line.

I ask why reform of the Dáil must wait. Why not carry out the reforms promised by the Taoiseach? I suggest a simple change to Standing Orders of the Dáil to provide for advance scrutiny of intended legislation, committee chairmanships and revised procedures. As an avid attendee of committees of which I am a member I am not enamoured with the committee system as it stands. It needs radical reform. Participation is minimal and input is poor. Why not try to reform and strengthen the committee system before the Seanad is abolished? We have only a couple of weeks and I do not think that will be done.

The current Dáil scrutiny of EU legislation in the post-Lisbon treaty EU legislative process is virtually non-existent. I do not believe that Members of the Dáil have any intention of really doing that work. It will not happen in the future for exactly the same reason that it is not happening now because it will not help a Deputy to be re-elected, as many Senators have said. Senator Maurice Cummins, the Leader of the House, attempted to address this issue but it is not possible to achieve if our hands are tied behind our backs.

At least the Seanad offers an opportunity to contribute to political life to those other than politicians, such as from the universities and other institutions and this also offers voting opportunities to people who are abroad. The Whip system is not ideal but I ask if anything could be put through the House without that system.

Finland, with a similar population to Ireland, has been referred to as an example of a unicameral system. However, there is a significant difference between Ireland and Finland. The independence of individual parliamentarians is constitutionally guaranteed in Finland. The Finnish Parliament also has an opt-out conscience clause. When comparing democracies and the bicameral and unicameral systems, like should be compared with like, because everything matters in democracy. If we give away one, we should ensure that we retain the other. I trust the people that they will make an informed choice and that they will be provided with information.

If the Seanad is abolished, issues to be dealt with will include: Article 36 of the Constitution which deals with the removal of judges - and I am sure they will have something to say about that; the Presidential Commission; Article 27 which provides for a petition to refer Bills of national importance to the people; Article 28-----

I ask the Senator to conclude.

-----provides that the Seanad has the right to ask for an inquiry. I will not advocate a "No" vote nor a "Yes" vote because if I advocated a "Yes" vote it would involve a conflict of interest. I am not minding my seat because I may not have a seat. I thank the people who put me here and for placing their trust in me, the councillors and Deputies of this country. I will be voting to put the question to the people. Ar aghaidh linn chun tábhacht a thabhairt do mhuintir na hÉireann.

I propose an extension of time to 4.40 p.m. to allow the Minister of State to respond.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and all my colleagues in this House for their very thoughtful contributions in what I am sure is a very difficult debate for them. I also thank Senator Cummins for facilitating me on behalf of the Government. A month ago, the Taoiseach took me aside one evening and asked me if I would take responsibility on behalf of the Government for the Second Stage, Committee Stage and Report Stage of this Bill in the Seanad. My first thought was to question what I had done to deserve this. This is a fundamental change to our Constitution. Any Bill which provides for a radical change to the Constitution is a matter of huge import and seriousness. I appreciate the very serious contributions made on this Second Stage debate on all sides of this debate. I am convinced that the Government's decision to ask for the view of the people on this issue is in no way a slight or some diminution of Members of this House-----

As someone who avidly reads the Constitution, as far as I am concerned, this House has done its job in so far as the Constitution allows. I have always made that point. However, the question which the Government is united in putting forward is a fundamental question of first principles, whether our parliamentary democracy needs a second House of Parliament. This question is really the issue which the Irish people will be asked to decide upon in the autumn period.

If the Taoiseach is so full of respect would the Minister of State ask him to explain to us how it is that he is telling the Irish people every single day that we are a waste of time and a waste of taxpayers' money.

The Minister of State without interruption.


It is my view and that of the Government that the fundamental issue that will be broached in this referendum campaign and the decision of the Irish people, is a first principles issue of whether, in our current state as a country and as a parliamentary democracy, we need a second House.

Senator Mullins made the point that when this view was first expressed by the Taoiseach when he was Leader of the Opposition, many people in our party were surprised by that announcement, it must be admitted. However, the key issue that I faced in my constituency as I went looking for votes in the general election was a complete disbelief among the Irish people that he and the Government would actually follow through on our commitments. This is a commitment that we, on behalf of the Irish people-----

The Minister of State cannot answer that one.

There will be plenty of opportunities on Committee and Report Stages to give the Senator as much time as he needs-----

I ask the Senator to please give me the opportunity that I gave him.

I do not feel any respect.

Please, Senator, the Minister of State without interruption.

I ask for the same opportunity I gave the Senator. We gave a firm commitment to the Irish people that if we were in government after the general election we would put this question of whether a second Chamber is needed. As the leader of the party and as the Taoiseach of this country, he is following through on that commitment. It was also a commitment given by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. There has been significant flip-flopping on this issue by everyone over the past years. We can all look at what we have said over that period. Why did the Taoiseach say it then? I think it is obvious why he said it then; because of the fundamental crisis facing this country. It is not just a crisis of banking, of regulation or supervision; it is a fundamental political crisis. How are we going to change the political system in this country to make sure that this crisis is never again revisited on this country-----

Abolishing the Senate will solve all our problems; that is an insult to our intelligence.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

How are we going to ensure that the architecture we put in place now is properly fit for purpose to ensure we can get through our particular difficulties?

That is the fundamental question we face. It has nothing to do with what happened in 1801 or any dictatorial aspirations on the part of the Taoiseach. It is about the latter following up on a commitment he gave to the Irish people, a commitment that was supported by the Fianna Fáil Party and Sinn Féin in the course of the election campaign that followed. The Irish people are sovereign on this issue. It is for them to decide whether they want a bicameral or unicameral parliamentary system. I spoke recently to a person from the United Kingdom who is the same age as me. When I asked why there is such upheaval on the question of Britain's position's in Europe and in respect of the euro, the reply was that this person, at 42 years of age, had never had an opportunity to vote on these matters. We are simply asking Senators to support our proposal to put the matter before the Irish people. The referendum will, for the first time, give voters in this country the absolute right to decide what type of parliamentary model they want.

The people expressed a view on Seanad reform in the 1979 referendum, but nothing was done about it.

It is a sovereign matter for the Irish people to decide.

Why is the Government forcing people to vote for the extinction of the House? The word "referendum" does not appear in the explanatory memorandum at all and only once in the Bill itself.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

Some Senators might have difficulty accepting that the Irish people are ultimately sovereign here.

It is the firm view of the Government that it is ultimately a matter for the people to decide this matter.

The public is being swindled.

The Minister of State must be allowed to speak without interruption.

He needs interruption. Seeking to destroy this House is an act of violence and the Minister of State is talking rubbish.

Senator, please.

We will let the people decide that, Senator Norris.

Yes, let the people decide, and let the Taoiseach meet me in debate on television or some other public forum. I will take him to pieces. Of course he has not answered the letter in which I issued that challenge to him.

The Senator must resume his seat and allow the Minister of State to reply without interruption.

For people to suggest there has been no reform either in the other House or in the further proposals we have set out is simply untrue. We stand over the actions we have taken thus far while acknowledging that there is a long way to travel. We are not suggesting for a moment that the whole issue of parliamentary reform stands or falls on the question of the abolition of the Seanad. We have initiated a far-reaching process of reform, some of which is already in place. We have, for example, substantially increased the number of Dáil sitting days. While that number was 76 in 2007 and 97 in 2008, it increased, under this Administration, to 108 in 2011 and 123 last year. The Dáil is changing.

Some people have suggested that Friday sittings which facilitate debate on Private Members' Bills by Opposition Members and Government backbenchers are worthless. That is not true and I ask people to consider the facts. I recently took part in a Friday debate where 25 Deputies spoke on a Private Members' Bill brought forward by Deputy Robert Dowds of the Labour Party on the question of rights of landowners. That would never have happened in the old Dáil, but it is happening every Friday now. There has been a dismissive suggestion from certain quarters-----

Did the Government accept that Private Members' Bill?

The Government accepted the Bill and it has gone to committee.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

That has been happening in the past two years. Friday sittings do work.

They are a meagre and insubstantial concession.

Senator, please.

Second, we have introduced a new petitions system which gives an opportunity to the public to petition Parliament in a direct way.

We have the same system; in fact, we pioneered it.

Third, we have put through both Houses a proposal whereby at least one third of all candidates at the next general election must be women. That will radically increase the number of women who stand for the Oireachtas. Fourth, we have radically transformed the way in which the Ceann Comhairle deals with parliamentary questions, which has been a significant reform. Another innovation is the introduction of a Topical Issue debate. For people to posit the view, in an uninformed way, that parliamentary reform has not occurred is simply a lie. Only yesterday the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, published the Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 to provide statutory protection for whistleblowers.

The Minister of State is making me laugh.

The Senator might not see that legislation as important but many others do.

I consider it so important that I tried to get provisions in that regard through myself, but the Government left that proposal to dangle in the air.

The Senator must allow the Minister of State to reply.

We also intend to publish amendments to the freedom of information legislation. We have effectively abolished corporate donations, something which people have been seeking for a long time. All of these changes were introduced in a very short period of time. To suggest that nothing has been done is untrue.

On the question of the cost of the referendum, the most recent examples would suggest it will be somewhere in the region of €15 million to €17 million. As I understand it, however, there are at least two proposals, possibly three, to put to the people in the referendum we are holding in the autumn. On any cost benefit analysis, therefore, the specific cost of the abolition proposal itself will be some €4 million or €5 million.

What about the €2.1 million the Government has already spent?

I take the point Senators have made that amendments to legislation which are introduced in this House are regularly accepted by Ministers. The truth of the matter, however, is that the great majority of those amendments are Government amendments.

Yes, because the Government has made a balls of the legislation in the other House.

Senator, please.

In other words, that is an argument for changing the way in which we deal with legislation in the other House. In that regard, the Government has indicated its intention to introduce a new stage in the legislative debate process whereby Bills will be a subjected to an initial forensic scrutiny, after which there will be a cooling-off period during which the Government must respond to that initial debate before proceeding to Second Stage.

When will that reform be introduced? Give us a date.

Senator Norris must allow the Minister of State to speak.

As the Senator knows, that reform will be introduced in the event that the Seanad is abolished.

Why will the Government not simply introduce it now?

Some of the preparation is already under way. An additional reform will mean that within a year of enactment of any Bill, there will be a full assessment of the legislation. Again, to posit the view that there will be no change in the way in which the Dáil does its business is, with respect, incorrect.

The Minister of State should stop saying "with respect". He and his Government have no respect at all for this House.

The Senator must allow the Minister of State to conclude.

The Senator might have no respect for himself but I certainly have respect for him, even in his wilder moments.

The Minister of State has no respect for this House.

I have respect for this House.

We will go through all of these issues as calmly as we possibly can on Committee and Report Stages. It is important that the Government follows through on the commitment it gave to the public. The Irish people will decide this issue once and for all and many of them will be delighted with the opportunity to do so. We have at least ensured, irrespective of the outcome, that this debate will be centre stage for several months and that everybody, not merely a small elite, will have a say in the outcome. The Government is united in seeking and campaigning for the abolition of the Seanad.

Like hell it is.

Will the Minister of State repeat that? I am sure I must not have heard him right.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

Clearly there are many colleagues in this House who will not support the referendum. I fully understand that.

We will support the referendum, but we will not support abolition.

Senator, please.

I will accept the view of the Irish people even if Senator Norris cannot do so.

Of course I will, but I do not tolerate three-card tricksters.

I am happy to leave the matter in the hands of the people. Their judgment will be far more considered than that of the Senator.

For the information of Senators, under Standing Order 119, the question to be put to the House on amendment No. 1, as proposed by Senator Feargal Quinn, is as follows: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question". If the question is carried, Standing Order 119 also provides that the Bill shall forthwith be declared to have been read a Second Time.

It means there will not be a second vote.

That is if Senator Quinn's amendment is accepted.

If the question is carried.

Yes, that is fine. That means the Bill will be delayed.

The question is, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question." Is that agreed?

Do Senators want to vote for Senator Quinn’s amendment?

On a point of information, I am totally confused. I do not know what we are voting on. The Cathaoirleach needs to take a minute to explain this.

It is a question of whether Senators want to vote for Senator Feargal Quinn's amendment.

For the information of the House, under Standing Order 119, the question to be put to the House on amendment No. 1, which is being proposed by Senator Feargal Quinn, is, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question." If that question is carried, the Bill will be declared read a Second Time.

If the amendment is defeated, we get another vote.

Yes. That is a different question.

If we vote for Senator Quinn’s amendment and it is accepted, we will have succeeded in deferring the referendum for three months.

If it fails, we can vote again. Is that right?

The question is-----

On a point of order, do I, the proposer of the amendment, vote "Yes" or "No"?

I cannot possibly say which way the Senator should vote.

What if the Senator wants to accept his own amendment?


The effect of a "Yes" vote is that the Bill will be read a Second Time.

Unamended. Therefore, we are voting "No".

As it is. The effect of-----

That is not what the Cathaoirleach said the first time.

On a point of order to assist the House, the purpose of Senator Quinn’s amendment, as I read it, is to ensure the Bill will not be read a Second Time until 17 September.

If the amendment is passed, the Bill will not be deemed read a Second Time.

Under Standing Order 119, the question on an amendment to Second Stage of a Bill is, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question." If the question is carried, the Bill is declared read a Second Time.

One a point of order, Senator Quinn’s amendment seeks to defer the Second Stage reading of the Bill.

Of course it does.

Therefore, if the amendment is passed, the Bill-----

Standing Orders define the questions I put in the House. We must put the question to the House under Standing Order 119. The question is, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question." Those in favour, say "Tá".

What about the following? The amendment is very clear. It is not just deleting but actually deleting and substituting. Why can we not address this amendment?

We are not, because the Cathaoirleach has left out a substantial portion of it.

I am putting the question again. I ask Senator Norris to resume his seat. The question is, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question."

No. I demand a proper explanation. The Cathaoirleach is refusing to put a legitimate question.

As there seems to be a malfunction with the electronic voting system, we will proceed to a manual division.

Cuireadh an cheist: "Go bhfanfaidh mar chuid den Phríomh-Cheist na focail a thairgtear a scriosadh".

Faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis diúltú don leasú.

Amendment declared lost.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main Question."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn.
Question declared carried.

"Fógraím gur léadh an Bille an dara huair de réir Bhuan-Ordú 119(2)(i)."

"I declare the Bill read a Second Time in accordance with Standing Order 119(2)(i)."

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed?

I propose 17 September.

Cuireadh an cheist: "Go dtógfar Céim an Choiste ar an gCéadaoin, 10 Iúil 2013."
Question put: "That Committee Stage be taken on Wednesday, 10 July 2013."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh leis an gceist.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday.