I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for public service reform and the OPW to the House. We will now turn to the Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage.
Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013: Committee Stage
On a point of order, the Cathaoirleach kindly wrote to me today and told me that amendments Nos. 5, 8 and 14, which I tabled, were ruled out of order.
That is not a point of order.
It is. It is very important. I would like to give the experience of the longest serving Senator in this House.
I am not discussing decisions I have made in the House.
The Cathaoirleach cannot deprive me of a right to put down amendments in this House and have them debated. He has no right to do so. Until this Bill is passed-----
Can I explain things to the Senator? If I rule an amendment out of order, it is out of order.
I intend to-----
Wait until we get to the amendments.
I intend to speak on the amendments.
The Senator is out of order at the moment.
I intend to speak on them.
I have a preliminary matter of procedure to announce to the House. Before Committee Stage commences, I would like to deal with a procedural matter relating to Bills to amend the Constitution. The substance of the debate on Committee Stage relates to the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment contained in the Schedules to the Bill. The sections of the Bill are merely technical, therefore, in accordance with long-standing practice, the sections are postponed until consideration of the Schedules has been completed.
No, absolutely not. Rubbish. I do not accept it because the Cathaoirleach is talking about tradition. One could make that up as one went along. It is not a rule of the House. I do not accept it. We are going to take the sections, oppose them and do it the way this House wants to do it and not the way the Government wants to do it. To hell with long-standing tradition. May I remind the Cathaoirleach that this House is a long-standing tradition - as long-standing as Dáil Éireann.
There is nothing at all sinister in this. I was merely quoting from Standing Order 122. It is long-standing practice in the House that Bills of this nature are dealt with in this way.
It is not a binding rule. It is long-standing tradition and it is about time it was turned over.
This is an unprecedented Bill coming before this House to abolish a second Chamber of the Irish Parliament. Any rules prior to this do not apply. This is not a normal Bill. This is the greatest disempowerment of this House and country. This is a takeover of power by a hungry Taoiseach and a Government that is beyond-----
How many Members have a letter?
We all have. It is all rubbish and we know where they came from.
I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
Will the Senator please resume his seat? There is no problem. We can take the Bill in the ordinary way. I was only quoting from the long-standing procedure of the House under Standing Order 122.
To hell with tradition.
I am delighted that reason prevails.
This is unprecedented. The Senator has made his point and I want to make mine.
Will the Senator please resume his seat?
I am sorry, but I am making a point on the Cathaoirleach's point of order.
We are not discussing my point.
I accept that the Bill will be taken step by step.
We were always going to take the Bill step by step.
No, it was going to be taken from the back before starting at the front.
We were always going to take the Bill step by step, Senator. We are taking the Schedules first because-----
That is not step by step. We should start at page 1.
-----most of the debate is on the Schedules. That is why we were taking them first and then moving on to the sections. The House has decided that we will move on section by section.
Section 1 deals with the abolition day and brings into focus what the Bill is about. We have a Government with the largest majority in the history of the State. We have seen the consequences of such a majority where the Government wants to assume onto itself extraordinary powers. We have witnessed the totalitarian tendencies, referred to by a number of Members, including me, in the past 18 months or thereabouts, which became particularly apparent in the early stages of the Government. That has significant risks for democracy and society. The propensity with which the Government has been quick to apply the guillotine and to use its very large majority in the Lower House and in this House is alarming. I am amazed the matter has not received much more thorough analysis in the media. Unfortunately, we have a media that has become very compliant in issues and policies proposed by the Government. That, in itself, has significant dangers for democracy. It is not only the thrust of what is happening but in recent times we have witnessed extraordinary pressure, which is unprecedented in my 16 years as a Member. Some who are Members for longer period than me have mentioned the exertion and coercion of Government Members to comply with the Whip on issues on which they have deep convictions and, in some instances, strong conscientious positions, which oppose some of the polices being pursued by the Government. They are being pressurised to abrogate those convictions and their conscientious positions. While we are debating that and other Bills to which it is particularly relevant in the overall interest of how our democracy functions, it is imperative to remember that this measure, which is before the House and will be put to the people, will have extraordinarily adverse affects for our democratic system.
The Bill was put forward for the purpose of abolishing the Seanad. The Government has moved away from highlighting the paltry savings which will be achieved because it is aware that will not find attraction, perhaps, with the electorate at large. Some people are starting to focus on the democratic deficit within our structures and systems. If we stand back and allow this to happen, ultimately, because of peoples' antipathy in general to the political establishment and also because of the severe pressures under which they are endeavouring to survive economically - debates in this House every day cover issues of people in debt, distressed mortgages and various other scenarios which are a severe and deep challenge for them - it will lead to fractures in society. It has happened elsewhere and if we allow it to happen here we will have to take responsibility.
Like others, I have tabled amendments to the Bill because the principle of allowing the people make the decision is one to which any democrat cannot seriously object. It is extraordinary that this Bill came about because of a whim. I noted in the Taoiseach's address on Second Stage that he said efforts at reform of the Seanad have been ongoing for 75 years. That is not quite accurate. It has been ongoing for a considerable number of years, and perhaps a number of decades. He forgot to mention that he has been a Member of the Houses for more than half that period of 75 years. To the best of my recollection, at no stage is he on record as making any serious effort or attempt at reforming or improving the Seanad, nor, for that matter, improving the Dáil. When we look at the structures of our democratic system - there are three elements to the Houses of the Oireachtas - I would be a strong proponent of everything being done to improve and increase the productivity and effectiveness of the Houses. I do not deny that the Seanad is in need of reform. I may have differing views from some of my colleagues as to how that reform should take place. The position of Uachtarán na hÉireann and the Dáil are equally in need of reform, and in my opinion the Dáil is in far greater need of reformation than this House.
Part of the reason we are suffering so badly economically is due to the structure under which a small coterie of people, generally 15 from the Dáil - there was only one exception where a Member of the Seanad was appointed to Government - with their advisers and public servants, decide most of the policy issues and legislation that come before us. When the Whip is applied, as is done rigidly in this House, which is at variance with most other democracies including the common law systems from colonial days in other jurisdictions, Members are reduced to rubber-stamping what has already been decided. The consequences of that, particularly in the economic area, are pretty obvious. I know from debates and discussions we had among ourselves that many people in the Government parties in the past 13, 14 and 15 years had different views and concerns on economic issues but because of the Whip system and the groupthink which applied, we went with what was decided by that Government.
I am dealing with the abolition day and the effects it will have on our democracy. That is reason I am bringing this into the debate. To put forward the idea of abolition as distinct from giving the people a choice to abolish or reform the Seanad is, in fact, a serious mistake.
In part, it is done in order to achieve a situation where people, because of their angst and antipathy to politicians and the political system generally, will use that hostility to set aside one of the institutions of our democracy, which is Seanad Éireann.
In past debates, comments were made and papers prepared which said that the primary purpose of an Upper House is to provide a system of checks and balances on the legislative process. The powers of the Seanad were talked about and it was said that the House was a deliberative body with limited powers of initiation and review of legislation, but with the capacity to initiate discussion on matters of public interest. One such paper went on to advise a new role for the Seanad. It proposed that Seanad Éireann should establish a standing committee for future strategic policy needs. It said that Seanad Éireann should have a particular role concerning the EU and equality issues.
All those issues can be discussed in the various sections of the Bill.
Absolutely but I ask the Cathaoirleach to bear with me while I come to the point. It also said the House should devote more time to legislation and Senators should be provided with more research facilities to assist them in their work. It said, specifically, that Seanad Éireann should be given a watch-dog role on secondary legislation. Many statutory instruments become law with no parliamentary scrutiny, requiring only that they be laid before the Oireachtas.
The paper said that Seanad Éireann could produce specific reports on the application of Government policy and such reports could then be put to the relevant Ministers. It talked about reducing the Taoiseach's nominees from 11 to eight.
The Senator is going way outside the scope of this section.
It talked about allowing 20 seats to be directly elected, with the remaining 23 seats being voted in by local authority members. Finally, it stated that Fine Gael would consider the potential of a system allowing voters in Northern Ireland to participate in Seanad elections. As the Cathaoirleach will be well aware, that was the Fine Gael document on Seanad reform, which was presented to this House when Mary O'Rourke was the Leader. That was a few short years ago but, of course, when stuck for a headline for a dinner dance, the idea of abolishing the Seanad emerged over a cup of tea and a chat among a small number of people, and it is now taking off as a reality.
The bullying tactics that have gone on in the main Government party would, in any other area of employment, be serious issues to be challenged. However, in the political sphere, for some reason, they are regarded as good practice. In my opinion, it is highly dangerous to give more power to that kind of leadership mentality.
The Senator is outside the scope of section 1.
No. I am talking about the abolition date. After that day, we will not be able to talk about these things if the Seanad is abolished. People need to be aware of the consequences of what they are doing.
Within the last few weeks, I spoke about visiting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, which is the museum dedicated to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. One of the first plaques one sees there highlighting the issues that arose during the terrible era of the Holocaust, shows how the Nazis dismantled the Reichstag when they came to power. I am not comparing this Government to the Nazis but I am saying that once one starts to dismantle democracy, one is taking a road without knowing where it will lead. In weighing up all these issues, we need to be well advised that talking about an abolition day is not the direction in which we should be going.
As Senator Zappone said, many amendments have been ruled out of order. Like others, I received a letter stating that my amendments have been ruled out of order.
There are no amendments in this section.
I know that but people should have had a clear choice of abolishing or reforming the Seanad. That would have been democratic and a much more advanced way to go.
There is no provision for that in the Bill.
I know that. It is because it does not suit the agenda of the Fine Gael leader, in particular, and the quotient of support he has within his party.
There are constitutional restrictions under Article 46.4 of the Constitution.
I am accepting that one cannot do it, but the Government could have done it. That point has been made over quite a long period by many Senators on both sides of the House. If we embark on this route, it will lead to a situation where the proper and effective functioning of the House will be seriously challenged. All of us here are on one Oireachtas committee or another. When the abolition day comes, and it is decided that the Seanad should be abolished, we know how many members are in attendance at committees in the last 30 minutes or even before then. Invariably, it is recognised that because of the level of constituency work - which is part and parcel of the system of the Lower House - most members will obviously have to contribute a large proportion of their time to ensuring that they satisfy their constituents' needs in order to be re-elected. Therefore, we will not have an enhanced committee system, but rather a dysfunctional one. That, in itself, will have ramifications for the operation and effectiveness of these Houses. All these issues are coming into play and unless we highlight them in this debate it could well be too late when people become aware of the downside of this legislation.
There are plenty of sections where all these issues can be highlighted.
I do not object to the principle of the people having a choice, but if we are really serious about reform, this Bill is not reforming legislation; it is about dismantling our democracy. It is a bit like what the Government has been doing in local government by dismantling town councils.
We are not talking about town councils.
I know that.
We are dealing with section 1 which specifically refers to the date in the Bill.
The Bill is dismantling our democracy and our democratic institutions. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, who was previously Leader of the Opposition in this House, was in New Ross for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the JFK visit. He saw the tremendous work the town council had done there.
That has nothing at all to do with section 1 of the Bill.
The Minister of State is agreeing with me that the town council has done tremendous work. It is symptomatic of town councils across the country. I am concerned about the tendency of the Government to gradually erode our democracy and the rights of our people, while giving bankers more power so that they can crucify people, having landed the country in this mess. It is all in the interests of a larger elite in our society, but not in the interests of the ordinary citizen. Democracy has to be about ordinary citizens.
I am opposed to this Bill on the basis that a clear choice of reforming or abolishing the Seanad should be put before the people. By virtue of the fact that that choice is not being given to the people we are running a real risk, particularly in the current climate of total disenchantment with politicians and the political system - not just in Ireland but elsewhere, although it is very evident here - that we may get an outcome promulgated by the Government which will not serve future generations of Irish people well.
Even at this late stage I appeal to those who have influence to make the necessary amendments to the Bill in order that a clear choice will be given to people. My concern is that if people are offered a choice to abolish the Seanad, they would not vote for its retention because they would not trust either of these Houses, or the Government, to reform it. There are good reasons for that. We have all seen the broken promises from the previous election. We have seen the damage the Government has done. We have seen commitments made. One only has to ask any pro-life person about the written commitments from various parties and individuals prior to the election that count for nothing. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, probably told the truth when he said that they are things one does before an election but they are not of any significance subsequent to it. In that climate, I am concerned that by not offering a clear-cut choice to people, we may well end up with a situation which will not serve the people in the future.
I do not propose to visit either Yad Vashem or The Dunbrody. It is a question of tactics. I understand exactly what is going on and I commend my colleagues. We must have the fullest possible discussion of this matter. I intend to be a little bit concentrated at the beginning because if we start the filibuster now, we are in danger of goading the people into extinguishing us through sheer boredom, if anyone is watching.
I thank the Leader of accepting the vigorous assertion from this side that we should not just follow an empty tradition. I salute him and thank him for doing that. We should have an orderly progression of the Bill. It is perfectly clear that the Government and in particular those who are unfortunate enough to be members of a harassed minority on the Government side-----
-----are in disarray. That was obvious from the first moment when that glorious statement that I hope turns up-----
One of the problems is that there is a specific amendment, No. 9.
I am addressing it.
Let me explain. Senator Barrett tabled amendment No. 9 but we are dealing with this section before we get to the amendment.
Have you ruled it out, a Chathaoirligh?
Had Senator Norris acceded to the ruling I set out at the beginning, we would take amendment No. 9 before we would get to the sections.
Absolutely. I am talking about the abolition. I will be quick. I hope we have money to fund a campaign. I accept the Government has already spent €2.1 million in advance of the abolition and the estimates could possibly go as high as €25 million. I do not know how they can persuade-----
Yes, the Government has. I can quote the Ministers in that regard.
My look of surprise is because-----
I am reading Senator O’Donnell’s explanation.
I would like to see that.
There is a reference to €21 million. It is a huge waste of money. I hope we will have money for an advertisement about abolition day. When abolition day was announced, the then Leader of the Opposition in this House, the then Senator Frances Fitzgerald, gave the greatest jaw drop in recorded history, because the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, did not even have the courtesy to tell her that he proposed to abolish the Seanad. He did not even know at that stage that he had to ask the people for permission. He was going to do it all by his little self. There is a touch of the political groundhog day about abolition day as well. This has been done before. We have been here before in another bloody expensive, futile political exercise and then they reversed it. They might have to do it. I am calling this political groundhog day.
I said the Government is disorganised and that the people on the Government side of the House are clearly disorganised. They would have to be. They are either disorganised or witless, because they are voting for their own abolition. That is the maddest thing I ever heard in my life. They are disorganised because of the way in which the Bill is being taken. I tabled an amendment to the Title of the Bill and I would have thought that it would be discussed. It is on page 4 and I would have thought page 4 came before page twenty something. The amendment I had was a proposal to allow the people to exercise their democratic right to vote whether to retain Seanad Éireann or to concentrate all power in one Chamber and the political parties who have membership of that House. That is a perfect description of what is being proposed.
I take it that you will be back in the Chamber to deal with some of the amendments, a Chathaoirligh, because I wish to ask about the instructions you might have received from Government. I am very suspicious. I will make a request under freedom of information because I would like to know. I hope you will be back in the Chair, a Chathaoirligh. The next time I see you I will ask the question directly of you. You will have plenty of time to think about it in light of the fact that I am making a freedom of information request on what contact there was between the Cathaoirleach’s office and Government, either directly or second hand, giving instructions to the way in which amendments were to be treated. This is not the view of the Cathaoirleach because it is plainly rubbish.
The other point I wish to make relates to the abolition day. I have to laugh at the way the Government stuck out three cábógs who had all been in the Seanad themselves. That is an interesting approach. When one looks at the way people have behaved in the other House and in this House, it reminds me of when they abolished Grattan’s parliament. I am pleased to say I had relatives in both Houses and they voted against the abolition but the rest of them were bought off.
As may be happening again today. We are told that there are investigative journalists. I would like to have someone follow, not the money trail but the promotion trail, because it is amazing the way those people who were shy little violets in Seanad Éireann have blossomed out into bloody rhododendrons now and they are all over the place denouncing the House they were damn glad to be in at the beginning. Let us get someone to have a look at the successful careers of those who pulled up the ladder after them in the traditional style of the Irish peasant and, to use Senator MacSharry’s phrase, urinated on all the people who tried to climb up after them.
From one Irish peasant to another.
It is important we take this stand and ask for information. We want to know who is pulling the strings and who is giving the instructions to the Cathaoirleach, which is illegal. If there is correspondence and the Government is dictating to this House, that is illegal and the Government should be impeached. I hope there will be a long, interesting, informed debate. We are now told at the last minute that the debate will continue from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Some of my colleagues might not be present but I will stay until 10 p.m. and I will be here every bloody day to fight because abolition is an absolute disgrace. Members on the Government side will vote for their own abolition.
That is what they are doing. I say to any Member who votes in favour of the Bill and for the abolition of the Seanad that I could accept if they thought the Seanad was rubbish and no use, regardless of whether they were parachuted in or they got in through the rotten boroughs of the councils or whatever other bloody way they got in, but if they vote for this Bill, they are not worthy to be in this House. They are not fit to be in this House-----
-----and they should not be permitted to perpetrate a fraud on the people by drawing a salary for being in a House that by their very vote they have said is not worth a damn.
How dare they do that and continue to take their money. If they have any integrity or decency, if they vote for abolition, they should get to hell out of here.
That was a pantomime.
I urge Senator Zappone to be less intemperate.
I wish to start by welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House. He knows that I have the greatest respect for him. We know that he sat where we are sitting and now he is sitting in the Minister’s chair. The reason I have the greatest respect for him is because I know he will provide us with a very robust exchange, one based on rationality and deliberation, not messages and spin. The Minister of State is a worthy opponent.
I listened to Senator Norris.
I let a little cough. Could Senator Zappone spell what I said? Only if she can spell it does it constitute an interruption.
Senator Norris. I urge Senators to show decorum in the Chamber, address the Chair and not to have argy-bargy back and forth.
I deeply apologise for my little cough.
I may not be able contain any further outbreaks but I will stifle them as much as I can.
Is the Senator apologising to me or to the Chair?
Through the Chair, I am apologising to the Senator.
We are on section 1 and I ask Senator Zappone to continue without interruption.
Thank you, Senator Norris. Having said what I said, followed by a cough, this is the definition section. The first note in the section is that the Government intends to abolish the Seanad, to provide for its abolition. What is the definition of "abolition"? It is to destroy, to do away with completely, to make null and void and to put an end to. If that is not enough, if we go to Roget's Thesaurus it indicates it is to nullify, to destroy, to abrogate, to invalidate, to cancel, to tear up, to repudiate, to unfrock, to void, to quash and to depose. The first note in the section is that the Government intends to do all of those things to Seanad Éireann but not to reform it, about which several of my honourable colleagues have begun to speak, not to reform the Dáil, nor to view the governance of our State as a whole, but instead to put a piecemeal choice before the people.
Why abolish the Seanad now without tested Dail reform? Will the Government's proposals for Dáil reform, some of which the Minister of State identified in his concluding speech last week, work? The people deserve better than this. The Government is offering a new politics that is piecemeal. Why not have a central governance referendum in 2015 that could be inclusive of constitutional reform of the Dáil as well as the Seanad so that people would have a clear choice of how they want the whole political system reformed, rather than getting supposed reform piece by piece and being forced to vote on the abolition of the Seanad without knowing what is coming in its place?
The next speaker was to be Senator Wilson, but as he is not here, I call Senator Cullinane.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House again to take Committee Stage of the Bill. We all gave our Second Stage speeches, and I am sure many Second Stage speeches will be made again today, the reason being that all the amendments that have been tabled have been ruled out of order.
That is shameful.
The reality of the position and we have to take the opportunities that are given to us-----
It is a fraud.
-----to make our points on the sections on Committee Stage by speaking to the sections. I am sure at some point that the Leas-Chathaoirleach will pull me up and say that issues I am raising are not relevant to the section, but to what sections will they be relevant? We need to be given an opportunity to explore properly and tease out in detail all the issues we raised on Second Stage in general terms, but that opportunity is not even being given to us because all we can do is again make general statements in respect of the sections. If we try to deal with specifics that are not exactly relevant to the section, the Leas-Chathaoirleach will pull us up on that. That is regrettable. We should have been able to debate the amendments which have been tabled. I do not accept some of the reasons the amendments were ruled out of order but that has been ruled on.
Abolition day is not something to be proud of. It is a sham, a fraud and a failure. In reality, it is an acceptance of failure that the political establishment has failed to reform the Seanad. The Government was very quick to bring forward legislation to abolish the Seanad. That is what this is, a Bill to abolish the Seanad. Fianna Fáil has to take responsibility as well as Labour and Fine Gael, having been in government numerous times during the past 30 or 40 years, as all parties had numerous opportunities to bring forward reform Bills and each and every Government failed to do so. The failure to reform the Seanad has nothing to do with the people inside or outside this Chamber but everything to do with the political establishment which failed in its job to reform the Seanad.
Even when the people had their say about increasing the franchise for university graduates, that small piece of reform was not put in place by way of legislation. We should not be discussing abolition day but discussing reform not only of the Seanad but also of Dáil. One thing on which I think we can all agree, even those who have put forward views to reform the Seanad, is that this House in its current form needs to be reformed. We have two excellent Bills that were agreed on Second Stage but they have been left hanging. We have the abolition Bill, the one being discussed, but we are not allowed to discuss the reform Bills on Committee Stage of this Bill. We are not even allowed to discuss reform and are not being given the opportunity to do so, and neither are the people.
I believe the Government made a mistake in rushing to abolish the Seanad and I said that during my contribution on Second Stage. I believe it was a genuine mistake, not because I believe we can stand over this House in its current form but because I believe in reform and not only reform of the Seanad but reform of the Dail and of local government, and we are not getting that. We are not getting any reform of local government or reform of the Dail. All we are getting is abolition of the Seanad.
I cannot understand why the Constitutional Convention was not given the opportunity to discuss reform. It could very well have said, had it been given the opportunity, that it did not believe in a bicameral system, a second chamber, and that rather it believed a single robust chamber with proper checks and balances would be the best thing for this State. It may well have decided that but it was not given the opportunity I know for certain that if the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were to have put forward a proposition that an arm of the Oireachtas be severed, abolished, cut off, done away with - all those the terms Senator Zappone gave, they would not have recommended that in any seriousness had they not also spelled out what would come in its place and how we would reform the Dáil. In fairness, some proposals have been put forward by the Government but they are only cosmetic changes and will not bring about the checks and balances we need.
We have two dysfunctional Chambers, the Dáil and the Seanad, and if we abolish the Seanad, we will be left with one dysfunctional Chamber. We will have fewer Deputies and the committee system will not work with fewer Deputies and no Senators. It will fall apart and while it may not collapse, it certainly will not be effective. It will not do its job. The committees will not be fit for purpose, and for that reason also, I will oppose this section and abolition day.
For me, the core principles that should underpin political reform are democracy, accountability, representativeness and checks and balances. No one could argue that this House is democratic. I certainly would not argue that it is. It is undemocratic, unrepresentative and elitist and it needs to be reformed, but abolishing the Seanad will not improve democracy. It will not do anything to improve the situation. It may get rid of one dysfunctional chamber but where will the improvements be? How will that improve democracy? I would challenge the Minister of State and the Government to point out how abolishing the Seanad will improve democracy. How will abolition day, which is what this section is about, improve accountability in this State? How will abolishing one arm of the Oireachtas without looking at reform improve accountability? We know what happened in the banking sector. There is no abolition day for what the bankers did, for the bankers in this country or for the lack of regulation, but there is an abolition day for one arm of the Oireachtas which is not responsible, despite the contention the Taoiseach, for the problems this country is in. What will abolition day do for representativeness in the Oireachtas?
The Government made a great play about wanting to improve access to Oireachtas for women, and I accept that and support all the proposals it brought forward in regard to quotas. However, if we have no Seanad, 60 Senators will be gone and we will have fewer Deputies. How will that be good for getting women into the Oireachtas? One of the Government's proposals, which it has talked about, is four-day week, and perhaps five-day week, sittings. How in God's name will that be good for working mothers who live in Donegal, Galway or Waterford who will be asked to sit in the Dáil four days a week in Dublin away from their families? These are the kind of cosmetic rushed changes we will get because the Government has not properly thought out abolition day.
The Government was bounced and rushed into this.
The Taoiseach was head-strong and no one in his party called for reflection on the consequences of abolition of the Seanad. If the Government is minded to abolish the Seanad it should at least tell the people what will replace it. We are again being asked to buy a pig in a poke and to take a leap of faith. We have been asked by this Government and previous governments to take several leaps of faith and we all know where they got us. I do not believe we should take this leap of faith. I believe that in being asked to support abolition of the Seanad we should know what will replace it. We have not been given this level of detail.
Another issue in terms of the principle of this is that of checks and balances. Where are the checks and balances in the system? We will not have any. We will have only one House and, with no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, four Ministers running the country. The reality is that there are four Ministers and a Taoiseach running this country. Where are the checks and balances? What new powers will be given to backbench Deputies who, if truth be known, are as powerless as Members of the Seanad? I see no provision for checks and balances.
For all of the above reasons, I will be opposing this legislation. I believe the day on which Seanad Éireann will be abolished will be a sad day for this country. It will be a sad day for this State, the Taoiseach of which refuses to allow debate on reform and for people to vote on that reform. It is a sham for the Government to say that the people rather than it will be responsible for abolition of the Seanad. The Government will campaign for its abolition. This Bill will enable that process. The Government is not allowing the people to vote for reform. That is its failure. It is a sham and a lie to say that the people rather than the Government will make that decision. The Government is putting only one option to the people, namely, abolition of the Seanad. There will be no reform, which is a failure of this Government.
It is time the Government stopped peddling untruths on this issue. It is untrue for the Government to say that it is leaving this decision to the people. It is giving the people Hobson's choice and no real option. If the option is for the Seanad to remain as is or be abolished many people may vote for its abolition. I believe if they had the option the majority of people in this State would vote for reform and for a democratic second Chamber that is fit for purpose. They would also want to vote on Dáil reform, which opportunity they will not be given either.
Before I call Senator Ó Murchú, I wish to read a note from the Cathaoirleach. The Leader of the Fianna Fáil group has asked that the House be informed that while only Senator Wilson's name is included in the list of those opposed to sections, it is representative of all Fianna Fáil Senators.
We do not often expect to be successful in our attempts to have amendments on some issues accepted. It is often the case, where a Government has a huge majority, that we go through a ritual not expecting any major change at the end of the day. One of the reasons for this is the Whips system. I have been listening to the debate on the abolition of the Seanad, in respect of which I have heard some wonderful contributions from the other side of the House. It is clear that if they had the choice some Members opposite would be voting against this Bill. However, the Whip system does not permit this. While it is necessary to have a Whip system in most cases, as clearly shown by the House of Commons, it is possible to allow people a free vote at times without the whole Parliament falling apart. As such, the argument in this regard could be left to one side.
I believe that because this is a fundamental issue, not only for Senators but for democracy, there should be a free vote on it. We know from earlier contributions that this is a fundamental issue. It should not, therefore, be treated lightly or glibly by sticking to the tradition of the Whips system. I do not support this legislation and hope that Senators who are bound by the Whip but are committed to this democratic House to which they have made huge contributions, and not because of their salaries and so on, will have a free vote. I fully understand the emotion and outrage expressed by particular Members of this House. I know their track records and the amount of time they have dedicated to this House. I am aware of the research they have undertaken and how seriously they take their role. I know that they have invested their own professionalism and expertise in this House. This will not be available in the future in any mandated way if this House is abolished.
It is important to acknowledge that the train has only barely left the station on this one. Already, there is some light for Senators and what they stand for at the end of the tunnel, even if it is dim. I have been surprised and delighted at the number of people who during the past few weeks have initiated discussion with me on the proposed referendum. It is clear that when people realise what is on offer they are shocked. Up to now, things were quiet, we were moving along at a leisurely pace and people believed the country was in good hands and that everything would come right on the other side. They then realised we were in recession and began to question our regulatory system and those whom they had looked up to and thought were pillars of society, including bankers and so on. They are now questioning the reason for the proposed abolition of one Chamber of the Oireachtas, asking questions such as is it because Senators have not done their job well or because they are not aware of who they are? That is not our fault. It does not mean we have not contributed in this House, that we have not beavered away for long hours on legislation or that we have not been successful in having hundreds of amendments accepted. If does not mean any of that, rather it is a lack of knowledge, which is not our fault. That is a matter for those who make that information available to the public.
The people are beginning to question whether abolition of the Seanad will be good for democracy. They wonder why this is being proposed and if the Government is genuinely committed to having a better system and structure. I will be opposing this legislation because as I have said from the outset I do not believe this issue has been handled properly. There is no question about that. This matter was dropped into the middle of an emotional election campaign. Nobody but the Taoiseach knew about it. Much of the spin around this issue has been deflated. We were told about savings that would accrue as a result of this measure. It is clear there were no facts to back that up. We were also told there was a major restructuring taking place in the Dáil. That is not true. There will be no major restructuring of the Dáil.
In my experience, the committee system has deteriorated in recent years. It was proposed, based on a populous concept, that committees would cover up to nine portfolios. The result has been small attendance at meetings and meetings held at the same time as the Seanad is sitting. The committee system is not what it is being made out to be. It has deteriorated. The idea of replacing the Seanad if abolished with a non-mandated committee has been floated. While I do not wish to be derogative about our civil servants, who are the best in the world, it is more than likely that most of those appointed to that non-mandated committee will be civil servants. The accountability provided by this House will not be replaced.
I am of the view that we still have an opportunity to deal with this matter in a logical and reasonable manner and not in a way which appears to indicate that we just want to defend our own positions. People are ready to listen.
In the context of the amount of money the Government is going to spend on the referendum campaign, it must be remembered that judgments handed down in past court cases indicated that the way in which money was spent on particular referenda was not legal. I genuinely hope that will not be the case on this occasion.
The Government is not offering any further arguments in respect of this matter. Even if the amendments are not accepted, I hope we will be successful in ensuring that, as far as is politically possible, this House will present a united front. I cannot imagine a situation whereby the Seanad will be abolished and the Dáil will be left as it is currently constituted. We live in strange times and people are angry. They expect that some form of remedial action, which will get rid of the difficulties that exist and offer remedies in respect of the suffering and problems they are experiencing, is going to be taken. If the House is abolished, there will obviously no longer be a reason for Ministers to come here. I accept that at times Ministers feel somewhat uncomfortable when they are subjected to the type of informed interrogation they are obliged to endure in the Seanad.
They deserve it.
Unlike the Dáil, this House is not all about personalities and soundbites. This Seanad is charged with holding Ministers to account in respect of their actions. Ministers do not want to be scrutinised in this way and they would prefer if it did not happen in the future. However, this will not help democracy and it will not be fair to the people. As a result of what is proposed in the Bill, people will not obtain the response they deserve. The legislation before us does not represent the wishes of the people, nor does it reflect what Senators are hearing from them in respect of this matter.
There is another bit of light at the end of the tunnel. When this proposal was first floated, one would have been obliged to peruse the back pages of the newspapers in order to find any type of comment that was supportive of the Seanad. However, a recent editorial in the Sunday Independent referred to the vandalism connected with this proposal. The tone used in The Irish Times and other newspapers indicates that a change is coming about. This is because we have moved away from the stereotyping and the clowning and are now involved in genuine consideration of the democratic structures which obtain in this country. In my view, this represents light at the end of the tunnel. When the media - which is coming on board - ourselves and all like-minded people who genuinely respect and support democracy come together, I am convinced that everyone will see the Bill for what it is, namely, an ill-thought-out proposal. The Bill is anti-democratic. It takes the people for granted and does not provide them with the leadership to which they are entitled. If it is enacted, they will not even be given an option in the context of how they might vote in the referendum. This is because the Bill does not contain any reference to reform. When the Seanad is abolished, what will be left? Nothing whatsoever.
This matter should have been referred to the Constitutional Convention. There is no argument about that. The convention would have been the ideal forum in which to discuss the future of the Seanad. It is an insult to the people to present them with a "to be or not to be" style referendum and not even offer them the opportunity to vote on reform. I am of the view that they will take that insult to heart. I hope it might still be possible for us to retrace our steps and - I will not hold my breath in this regard - for once show the nature of real democracy. People are losing respect for those in public life because they see the shenanigans that occur. They are also aware of the hypocrisy relating to the systems and structures that are in place. Let us provide them with real leadership. This matter does not come down to being opposed to the Taoiseach or ranting against the parties in government or anyone else, it relates to why we are here in this House, namely, to represent the people. Never has it been more necessary for us to fulfil that responsibility than is the case at present. Who knows? We may just experience a miracle when it comes to the vote on the legislation. Let us keep our fingers crossed.
Who will be happiest if the Bill is passed? The answer, of course, is the Cabinet, senior bureaucrats and bankers. In other words, the people who avoid checks and balances all the time. This is their Bill and that is why I know both the Seanad and the people will reject it. I welcome the Minister of State. In Trinity College we welcome all visiting teams to College Park in order that we can beat them.
On Friday last, my research assistant - who is well known to the Minister of State - presented to the Department some 400 pages of photocopied articles relating to the regulation of banking. He is one of the people the Government is seeking to fire. If I am not a Senator, I cannot keep him in employment. He delivered those articles free of charge. His costs are included in the Government's bogus figures in respect of how much it costs to run the Seanad. Much of what we do involves working for Departments which need the expertise which Members of the Seanad possess. This fact must be acknowledged, even if the Government likes to treat people in the way in which my research assistant is being treated.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, has been in contact with me in respect of his road safety legislation. I will charge him for whatever research I carry out on his behalf in this regard and there will be the usual cries regarding useless Senators wasting money. This is despite the fact that we will assist in drawing up a better Bill for a Department which does not have a great reputation for preparing legislation. We are here to help and that is why we all came to this House following the most recent election. The Minister of State can inform his friend the Taoiseach that he has completely managed to demoralise his own team, the members of which are slumped in their seats across the way.
We are idealistic individuals and we are interested in bringing forward ideas. In the context of our treatment at the hands of the Taoiseach, the seat I occupy was held by many who came before me. Of the 190 or so successive Heads of State who - at College Green, at Westminster and here - held responsibility in this area, it is the Taoiseach who has chosen to proceed with abolition. He has stated that this is nothing personal to the current Members of the Seanad. It is highly personal when we work our socks off in order to bring forward legislation, etc.
The Taoiseach has decided that he does not want us anymore. That makes it personal, unless, of course, the Minister of State wants to convince me that it was the previous incarnations of the Seanad that were at fault and that all our difficulties were caused by Mary Robinson, Owen Sheehy Skeffington, Trevor West, W. B. Yeats, Garrett FitzGerald, Sir Horace Plunkett, Jim Dooge and others.
And President Michael D. Higgins.
Yes. What is being done is highly personal in the context of the way in which it has been directed at the Members of the current Seanad. In my opinion, the current crop of Senators are 60 of the finest people one could meet. A total of 42 of them are new to the House and they should not be blamed for whatever misdemeanours those in government believe occurred in the past.
The Minister of State indicated on Second Stage that what is happening here is not a rerun of what occurred in 1801. It is an exact rerun of the abolition of the Grattan's Parliament in that year. We never got Grattan's Parliament back and we will not get the Seanad back if those on the Government side succeed. In his article in Patrick Geoghegan's book on the Act of Union, Dr. James Quinn states:
In the end, the passing of the Union was something of an anti-climax. Edward Cooke commented on how quietly it was received, even in Dublin. But the anti-climactic nature of the final debates on the Union to some extent obscured the magnitude of what had been accomplished. Within a year a parliament that existed for over 500 years was persuaded to agree to its own extinction.
The Senator should tell us what Patrick Geoghegan says in the book, which I have read.
Dr. Quinn also states:
Ironically, among the instructions that the Castle had received from London was that the Union should not be a means of introducing any radical measure of parliamentary reform. Yet, carrying the Act of Union itself was a step of breathtaking radicalism. During the debates on the reform of the Irish Parliament in 1797, one member summed up the mood of the Commons when he maintained that, although it was perhaps true that the Irish parliament needed some reform, "it was bad policy to thatch a house in a hurricane." Just over a year later, with the storm still raging, the British government concluded that the bill for renovations was too high and decided to pull down the entire edifice. In Cornwallis and Castlereagh, they found two unlikely but effective levellers.
That is what the Taoiseach is about, namely-----
That is a selective reading of Geoghegan's book, which I have read. I think I am more familiar with it than the Senator.
-----demolishing a House of Parliament. I hope the Minister of State is ashamed and that he sees the parallels.
The Senator has just indulged in a selective reading of Patrick Geoghegan's book.
We never got anything similar to that which was afforded to Grattan's Parliament.
The Senator should read the entire book.
I have done so and I can read more quotations from it into the record. The Minister of State need not worry on that score.
The Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond.
I apologise to the Senator for my interventions.
I thank the Minister of State.
The Minister of State need not worry. He should just give us another flap of his wrist.
Senator Barrett to continue, without interruption.
Patrick Geoghegan is a very fine historian. I would not want his work to be misquoted.
Earlier today, Senator Mullen quoted the German Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller who was imprisoned by the Nazis.
He gave us some parallels. This Government came first for the Údarás. It does not matter because we are not Gaelic speakers. Let it abolish the Údarás-elected people. Then it came for councillors. We are not councillors. Who cares about that? Let it abolish the councillors. Then it came for eight Dáil Deputies, mysteriously located for the most part in Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. We are not from Monaghan, Cavan or Donegal so we do not care. Now, it is coming for 60 Senators. That is the track record and it is about time the Seanad stood up against this antidemocratic Government at every opportunity.
Let me address what we had last week. Some 29 people on the opposite side voted to progress the legislation. It must be directly from Joseph Porter's song in "H.M.S. Pinafore":
I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call-----
"And I never thought of thinking for myself at all."
We agree with the Minister of State. He never thinks of thinking for himself at all. He is his master's voice.
But I know it and Senator Barrett does not.
Will the Minister of State sing it for us?
"I thought so little, they rewarded me by making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!" What will happen to these 29 Haulbowline recruits when they turn up, these 29 new members of the Naval Service? Will the make Admiral? No, they are not really Admiral material. Are they able-bodied? I would not say so. Could they be petty officers? Absolutely. The name of their ship, a destroyer, is "Enda". However, the destroyer "Enda" is going nowhere because there are two captains who are steering it in different directions, Captain Enda and Captain Eamon. I call on the people opposite to come across to the splendid ship "Reform and Retention". We have Admiral Norris in charge, the captain. We have very good afternoon speeches. We have a very good captain's high table. The person of Senator Quinn will give the best food, drink and service. The ship's surgeon, Senator Crown, will ensure everyone is healthy. Monsignor Mullen, the ship's chaplain, will ensure that they will all have a direct relationship with the Almighty.
Senator Barrett has been reading too much Patrick O'Brian.
Those on the opposite side should leave this silly case whereby they speak in favour of the Seanad and then vote against it, as 29 people did last week. There will be more of those days and those Senators will discredit this House. It cannot be a place where people say one thing and do another.
The Government does not like the university seats or northerners. The Minister of State would not believe the amount of correspondence I have received from my northern voters. A man from Enniskillen asked me not to let the Government abolish the Seanad because he said it was vital for this country. The Unionist parties were down last week and representatives from the SDLP were here yesterday. The man asked why the Taoiseach had become a partitionist Taoiseach. He said we need measures that unite the two communities in this country and that the Taoiseach would be denying his people their voting rights. He said that it would go against the Good Friday Agreement and the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Those voting rights were in place when the agreements were signed but the Taoiseach is sweeping them away. It is too awkward having northerners around here. What will be next? Will he ban northerners from the Irish rugby team or ban them from the Irish cricket team? It would certainly solve the Rory McIlroy problem. This Taoiseach does not like northerners. Let him play for the United Kingdom in the Olympic Games.
The Taoiseach does not like universities either. He is getting rid of the university seats. I have come to try to help the Government but not only in matters of economics. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Kelly, was here. He did not believe in satellite navigation systems. We got in the professors in the relevant subjects to explain that it was not necessary to do a written examination for every county in Ireland in order to drive a taxi. We managed to cure somewhat the technophobia of the Minister of State. How do we tax heavy goods vehicles on the roads? We got in touch with the civil engineering department in the college and learned that it should be done by the fourth power of the axle weight, not the unladen weight per vehicle. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy O'Dowd, was here for that. He said that he could not consider it for six months and that he would have to do the research. I put it to him that it was done already and it was simply a matter of pressing the button and the data could be printed out.
There is a problem with a lack of technological development in the Civil Service. We are trying to help mitigate that in the House. If it is not wanted, that is fine. Trinity College Dublin ranks eighth in Europe and 48th in the world. There are many other people who will listen to the type of wisdom that universities bring. Anyway, it is a shameful act, without any reference to the record of service since 1607, to seek to abolish an entire constituency of people who have served the country splendidly.
Why is this Taoiseach different from his predecessors? The former Taoiseach, Mr. Cosgrave, nominated Michael D Higgins to the Seanad. The former Taoiseach, Mr. FitzGerald, began his career here. Mr. Douglas Hyde became President after serving as a Senator, as did Michael D Higgins. Why is the Taoiseach in a one-person minority, with people grovelling to him saying that they agree with them now, but they do not put up any argument? Why is he dominating a traditionally democratic party, which the Fine Gael Party was once? Senators from the Government side have quoted James Dillon and espoused the creative tension between the two Houses of Parliament.
This is a shameful exercise and I am pleased to see the opinion polls moving in our direction. I imagine that when the Taoiseach turns up on "Prime Time" for the debate with Senator Norris it will complete the process and we will then have won. This is such a waste of money and time. The Government is destroying its political capital. It is not reforming banks or senior elements in the Civil Service. They are crucial people. The Government blamed the collapse of the Celtic tiger on the Seanad without a shred of evidence to support the proposition. The Government has now backed itself into a corner and, as Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú said, it should get out now while the going is good. I will be praying every day that the Seanad will be retained and I believe people on the Government side should say the same prayers for the Seanad to be retained.
I welcome the Minister of State. I had an opportunity on Second Stage to direct several questions to the Taoiseach in my contribution but I have not had an opportunity to get answers to any of them, although the Taoiseach gave a commitment that he would come back on Committee Stage for his third visit in two and a half years, and I hope he does so. There are several things I wish to ask the Minister of State directly since he is the main proponent in his party. I believe the Minister of State will be the director for his party in abolishing the Seanad.
No, Senator O'Brien has the wrong man.
That is the other man, the Minister, Deputy Bruton.
I am sorry. The one thing I asked of the Taoiseach-----
Senators should be aware that we are on section 1.
I am on section 1. I call for honesty in the course of the debate. There is a colleague of the Minister of State in Dáil Éireann, a former Senator, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. More than likely, if things keep going the way they are, he may regret the fact that there will not be a second House, because it will be the end of his political career. He lied in an article, frankly. He said that this House cost €50 million. The Taoiseach has bandied about a figure of €30 million.
The word "lie" is a strong word to use.
He told a blatant mistruth. He should know better. I believe from talking to colleagues who were in the last Seanad that he was quite an effective Senator. I call for honesty in the debate. Does the Minister of State agree with the figures from the Office of Public Works about the cost of running the House? Is it €50 million, €30 million or €8 million? The Department of Finance answered parliamentary questions on the matter in the other House. If that is the case, we need a debate and I would welcome that if it was truthful.
The Taoiseach has started off in a very lacklustre way because he is couching this as part of reform. Senator Barrett put it clearly. He referred to the abolition of Údarás na Gaeltachta, the reduction of the number of councillors, the abolition of town councils and the reduction in the number of Deputies, which was to be 20 and will now be eight in number. Reduction and abolition do not amount to reform. I speak as someone who served in Dáil Éireann during the last Dáil and as someone proud to serve in the Seanad now. I see many things done in Seanad Éireann that would improve what happens in Dáil Éireann and vice versa. The simple abolition of this House is not the way forward. I will campaign vigorously against it, not as a Senator but as a citizen. Other Senators remarked - as did I - on Second Stage that there have been over 540 amendments dealt with in this House and accepted by the Government. One could put it that there were either 540 omissions or mistakes from the Dáil which had to be corrected in law. What is the Taoiseach proposing should go in its stead? Perhaps the Minister of State will inform us today of what is being proposed in place of the Seanad, should it be abolished.
It was cowardly in the extreme for the Taoiseach to say that if this referendum is defeated, there would be no reform. We have tried. There have been reforms in this Seanad. I commend the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, the Cathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke, and all Members of the Seanad.
We have endeavoured to make this Chamber more relevant to open it up to the public, which we have done. We have far more constructive debates than I experienced in Dáil Éireann, and I still watch there. We have had rafts of legislation introduced here, including another excellent Bill produced by Senator White this evening. Where do we go if there is no Seanad? What is in place? The Taoiseach is proposing to give some additional powers to Dáil committees. With the exception of the Committee of Public Accounts, Dáil and Oireachtas committees have failed because they have not been given the resources required to carry out their jobs.
There is no scrutiny of European legislation of any note in committees. We have asked repeatedly for the Seanad to be given that role in scrutinising EU directives and legislation. Senators could unpick those and report back to Government, which could report back to the EU. However, the Taoiseach did not allow that either. The Taoiseach will be remembered as one of the most autocratic taoisigh the country has ever seen. His reform agenda is simply an agenda to centralise power. He has already centralised power in his Economic Management Council of four people who have served in the Dáil for more than 30 years. I would love to know what the Taoiseach's own record as a legislator is for the more than 35 years he has served in Dáil Éireann. Prior to entering government, how many Bills did he actually publish? How many amendments did Deputy Enda Kenny table and get passed in Dáil Éireann?
I would say it was very few. Most Senators, even first-term Senators, have produced more legislation than the Taoiseach has done as Father of the Lower House in more than 35 years.
This House has a role and we will argue for that role. Senator Norris was 100% correct in saying last week that it is inappropriate to publish a Bill that makes no reference to a referendum. The Government will not even tell us when the referendum will be held. When will the Government inform people of the date on which they will vote on Seanad abolition? Will it ensure it is as soon as possible in late September or early October so that once the House comes back in the middle of September, we are straight into a referendum?
Before the budget.
Senator Walsh is right. It will put it in before the budget and use it to try to divert the people from the decisions the Government will be taking in the budget.
A number of years ago, the Taoiseach famously said, "Paddy likes to know". Paddy does know. The Irish citizen knows and is not stupid. The Taoiseach should never underestimate the intelligence of the electorate. When this constitutional amendment is debated - if we are given time to debate it and the Government does not try to ram it through in two weeks, as it probably will - the flaws in what is being proposed will be seen by the people.
The fact that a deeply unfair Social Welfare Bill the Government put through earlier this year was not defeated in this House is still a great regret of mine. A Bill that was cutting disability allowances and the respite care grant was only passed by one vote. However, I believe the Government got a fright that day and over the course of that week. Most of the Seanad stood up for the people in what they saw were deeply unfair cuts being made, particularly to the respite care grant. I believe the Taoiseach got a fright and has decided to go on a solo run disguised as reform. He claims to be the champion of reform by abolishing one third of the Oireachtas.
I accused him of it on the last day and I accuse him of it again. I accuse the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and the Government of constitutional vandalism. It is tearing asunder Bunreacht na hÉireann for a potential political gain of its own. It is very easy to hang 60 politicians out to dry by claiming they cost €50 million and should be got rid of. They do not cost €50 million. The cost of running this House is approximately €8 million. What does a referendum cost? The children's rights referendum cost more than €14.7 million. That is what it will cost the Exchequer and it will be a diversion.
There will be two referendums on the day.
Yes. The other one will be on the courts. It will still cost about €14 million.
There might even be three. It is half that amount.
The Minister of State said there could be three. It will probably be six because the Government loves referendums. Every time I open a newspaper there is mention of another referendum.
Reform requires a referendum.
The Government is planning a referendum on a massive change to reduce the voting age. Anytime I am out and about the first thing anyone on the doorstep says is that we must reduce the voting age. The second thing they always say to me when I am out in my constituency is that the presidential term should not be seven years but should be five. That is playing on everyone's mind, big time.
That is a big one.
It is absolute nonsense. Abolition of the Seanad is not even in the top ten. It may be in Tallaght but not in Swords.
Perhaps if they saw today's proceedings, they might change their minds.
The Minister of State will be aware of this because I have raised it with him directly. For the past two weeks I have endeavoured to get a one hour debate on the new statutory code of conduct on mortgage arrears. One hour is all I seek and I cannot get it. I cannot get that debate here in the Seanad to get a Minister to outline why the Government is proceeding with this. If we are discussing reform, surely to God Ministers should be answerable, if not accountable, to this House. As Senators and legislators, we should be able to raise issues on behalf of our constituents, the people who elect us and whom we represent. That includes university Senators, Taoiseach's appointees and Senators, such as I, who were elected through the panel system. I cannot even get one hour and yet the Government spent all day last Friday debating a Bill - which is good legislation - on moving to Central European Time. That is fine. Let us have that debate if the Government wants. However, I cannot get an answer on why the Government is pulling the rug from under people in mortgage arrears.
A reformed Dáil and Seanad would enable legislators to raise those points and hold Government to account. However, we are not permitted to do so. Apparently we are concerned about reducing the presidential term from seven to five years - big deal - and reducing the voting age from 18 to 16 - big deal. The Government will not even give people the option of Seanad reform. It would not even allow it go to the Constitutional Convention to be discussed. It is putting a referendum to the people on reducing the voting age when only 52% of the Constitutional Convention agreed to that. However, it is not holding a referendum on how people can get nominated to stand for the Presidency because it did not like the answer. It did not take on board suggestions Senator Norris has made over the years and that were made at the Constitutional Convention to allow citizens to nominate people to run for the Presidency.
The Government is picking and choosing what it wants to drive the agenda. It is driving its agenda by ripping asunder Bunreacht na hÉireann which in the main has served the State very well in the time it has been in place.
What checks and balances will the Government introduce to the legislation as published? In the Taoiseach's Second Stage speech he mentioned the powers of removal and impeachment of a President and removal of a Comptroller and Auditor General. If the Seanad is abolished, just 60% of the Dáil can vote for the removal of a Comptroller and Auditor General and 70% for the removal of a President. I asked the Taoiseach directly if that would be done in the context of the removal of a party Whip. An autocratic Taoiseach, like the current one, could simply propose the removal of the Comptroller and Auditor General because he did not like he was doing with a banking or any other inquiry and then whip every Fine Gael Party Deputy into removing the Comptroller and Auditor General or even the President.
I hope we never have a Government with as sizeable a majority as the one this Government has, regardless of the lead party in that Government. It is proven that large majorities are bad for democracy. There is no question in my mind about that but if a Government had a large majority without a Seanad to make Ministers feel uncomfortable, answer questions, or at least request a Minister to come into the House to answer questions, hold him or her to account on social welfare Bills and produce legislation that was helpful to Government, where would we be heading? Where is democracy heading in this country? It is not too late for the Minister of State to change tack on this, even though he has published the Bill.
I do not mean to be derogatory but the Taoiseach did not give me the impression when he was in this House that his heart was in this measure. That is strange for someone who, until a few years ago, was saying that a reformed Seanad would work and who, in that Fine Gael reform paper, spoke about the then Taoiseach coming to the Seanad once a month to answer questions. He certainly has not lived up to that when he has been in the House twice in two and a half years, but it is not too late. All of us must ensure the structures of the Legislature are protected and improved, and there is no doubt in my mind that they can be vastly improved. The Leas-Chathaoirleach, my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, has produced a very good reform document, as have Senator Zappone and Senator Quinn, who published a very good Bill the Government accepted on Second Stage. I do not understand the rush. The Taoiseach continually states this measure is a commitment in the programme for Government, but numerous commitments in the programme for Government have been set aside. It is not as if the Government is following commitments it made prior to the election or in the programme for Government. It has ditched many of them.
Your party is in government.
It was in your manifesto as well.
You are the one who is proposing-----
You proposed it in your party's manifesto.
You produced the Bill. You are proposing this.
Which was in your manifesto, Senator.
Members should speak through the Chair.
I will give the Minister of State a direct answer, which is more than what his Department has given me about the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. The abolition of the Seanad was proposed by my party in the context of overall Dáil reform, something with which I said at the time I did not agree. That is not our party policy now. It is the Minister of State's policy. I say to the Minister of State directly, as leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the Seanad, that it is not Fianna Fáil Party policy to abolish the Seanad and we will vigorously oppose the abolition of the Seanad.
Is it the case that the Minister will hold this referendum before the budget this year? Does he know that? I bet the Minister will do that. He will have this fake campaign of reform during which people will be told to trundle out on RTE, TV3 and on radio and be their master's voice about the way the Taoiseach is a reforming Taoiseach and this is a reforming Government when we all know that is nonsense. The Government is trying to hoodwink the people by diverting them from the decisions it will be taking in the budget in early October. If the Government wants to have a referendum, why not have it after the budget? Allow us debate the budget and allow the people see what it is proposing in the budget. It should not use this mock reform as cover for the decisions it will make at budget time.
I am always grateful that the Minister of State participates in debates. He is a former Senator, and he was an effective Senator. I do not believe he agrees with the abolition of the Seanad, and most of his colleagues do not with agree with it. I have not met a Government Senator who agrees with its abolition, yet all of them vote for it on the basis that the people have to have their say. That is fine, but when will take place? Will the referendum be held before the budget? Will the Minister of State give me the date or will he have a rushed two to three week campaign? That is what he intends to do. Have the days that the Government and groups of civil servants spent putting together this Bill been useful? Is that time best spent for this Government? Would its time not be better spent trying to fix some of the problems it faces, some it inherited but others it created, and some of which have got more serious such as the worsening mortgage arrears crisis? Will it even allow a debate in this House on issues like that?
We will have other items to raise with the Minister of State but I ask him, in a non-partisan way, to look at the record of this Seanad so far and what has been done by way of debate, amendments to legislation and Bills being proposed. Excellent work has been done here, and I say that as someone who has served in both Houses. I am incredibly proud to serve as a Member in this Seanad and I have no doubt that if a truthful campaign is allowed happen and if enough time is given to that campaign, this will not be the last Seanad. I hope the Taoiseach, on his personal crusade, will be sent away with his tail between his legs on this issue because he has got it incredibly wrong, and I believe he knows that. If the Government holds this referendum before the budget, it will be an opportunity for the people to give it a bloody nose. I will be asking everyone in my area to oppose this referendum and send a clear signal to the Government that the electorate is not happy with the road it is taking on many issues. I look forward to responses to those questions.
The Minister of State is very welcome. I remember well the time we spent together in this House and what an enthusiastic leader he was for the Opposition. It was a good Seanad. A great deal was achieved in that time and the Minister of State's enthusiasm, commitment and intelligence worked very well. I am delighted he is here today and that he has given so much time to come to this House because, as Senator O'Brien has said, we have been disappointed that in two and a half years, the Taoiseach turned up only twice, and one of those occasions was to tell us he was planning to abolish us.
What we are debating is abolition day and the detail of the abolition, although many people have moved somewhat from what we were talking about. Section 1 reads:
(1) This Act may be cited as the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), this Act shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister may appoint by order or orders either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision, and different days may be so appointed for different purposes and different provisions.
I would like an explanation of what that means. It further reads:
(3) Where the Minister proposes to make an order under subsection (2)—
(a) he or she shall cause a draft of the proposed order to be laid before each House, and
(b) he or she shall not make the order unless and until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each House.
When that happens-----
On a point of order, with respect, that is not in the Bill. I am not sure what the Senator is reading.
My apologies. The Minister of State is right. I have the wrong Bill.
We are on section 1.
I quoted from the Bill that will come before the House at 5 p.m. My apologies; I picked up the wrong piece of paper.
When this State was established in 1922, we established a State with two Houses of the Oireachtas. That was 91 years ago. After 15 years, the Government of the day decided it did not like the second House and then put forward a Constitution in 1937. At that time it considered the options open to it, and these were such that it could have done without having a second House but it thought it through. I believe the Government, and the people of the day who supported that Constitution, thought that through and decided they wanted checks and balances in place on the power of the larger House, which was democratically elected. On that basis we have had a second House since then,and in 75 years it has served us well.
He was a very bright man.
On that occasion the Ulster team won. I am probably the only person here who remembers the Second World War. I also remember the shortages and the effort the country put together and the threats there must have been to the country in those days. I am quite sure the Taoiseach and Government of the day worked hard to ensure the Constitution they established in 1937 was not abolished. Not only did the Constitution survive, but democracy did also.
We went through a tough period after the war. In 1958, I had an opportunity to spend a winter in France, and what an exciting time to spend in France because Algérie française took place and the revolution or coup d'état occurred. The army took over the French Fourth Republic and the constitution failed. They got Charles de Gaulle to come in and take over and he introduced the Fifth Republic. I was in France for the referendum which introduced the new constitution. I mention this because it is a reminder of the fact that we have a Constitution on which an abolition day has never been foisted.
Our Constitution survived as did our democracy. The Fifth Republic came into being and France ended up with a new constitution on this basis.
In 1973, we had to vote on whether we would give up our independence - we thought - and join the European Economic Community, EEC. We held a referendum and it was a big challenge to our future. We joined the EEC as it was in those days. Our Constitution survived as did our democracy. In 2008, the Minister of State was a Member of the other House and, like everybody, I remember the banking crisis of that year. It threatened our future, our Constitution and our democracy. The economic collapse which occurred in those days and seeking the bailout were major challenges but no abolition day was discussed. Several years later, in the run-up to an election, a man hoping to become Taoiseach sprung this suggestion on us and proposed an abolition day. We are not quite told when this would occur but we know the intention is it will occur.
Our Constitution will survive, as will our democracy, but only if we manage to have checks and balances and ensure we have a second opinion. If a doctor tells me he or she wants me to have a serious operation, I will seek a second opinion. If I go to a lawyer who tells me he or she wants me to go to court, but it will cost a very large sum of money if I lose, I will seek a second opinion. Senator Norris spoke very well today about the second opinion in this House. Senators Zappone, Crown and I have tabled two Bills which have passed Second Stage and they are worthy of consideration. These Bills are with regard to a reformed Seanad. Reform of the Seanad will not take place if we do not vote the correct way on abolition day. I want our democracy and Constitution to survive. This will not happen unless we commit ourselves to where we are going.
The Bill need serious consideration today. Everybody should have a view on it and everybody should speak on it. The Leader has put his heart and soul into the Seanad over the past two and a half years. Sitting more hours today would give all of us an opportunity to debate it and ensure our Constitution and democracy survive by paying serious attention to the detail in the Bill. We must ensure it gets attention today. I hope every Member of the House has an opportunity to speak his or her own mind, particularly those who are party members and obliged to have a Whip. They should be able to speak. Those on the Government side can state they are not in favour of an abolition day being fixed as proposed in section 1 but, as some have already stated, are in favour of holding a referendum so the people can decide. Some have stated they intend to vote "No" and not to campaign in favour of a "Yes" vote. If we argue the case well and make the case clearly, we will put off this abolition day; we will decide there is no need for it because there is a need for a second House which will provide a second opinion and the checks and balances which other nations have.
The United States is a good example. Without having a strong Whip system in its Senate or House of Representatives, its constitution has survived since 1792 and has worked very well. There have been amendments to it but it has not had an abolition day. One of our tasks today is to ensure we debate this and ensure we do not have an abolition day as proposed in section 1 of the Bill. I urge the Minister of State to listen very carefully and I urge the House to consider everything being said. I also urge honesty and integrity from those who speak. We should not shorten the debate.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House for another joust. He drew the short straw in government today-----
You could say that.
-----because he will spend quite a lot of time here. I do not know who will look after the office. It is significant that the Government benches are so empty.
It speaks volumes. No one in the Fine Gael or Labour parties has any stomach for what the Taoiseach is doing. By their absence, they are verbalising it.
I wish to discuss for a moment the idea of democracy. Some excellent contributions have been made this morning. I listened to them closely. We all subscribe to the principle of democracy. We also take it for granted that it will always be there. We are wrong to do so. Democracy is a fragile flower.
One does not destroy it in one fell swoop. The history books show us that those who subverted democracy did so in an insidious way by inches. All of a sudden, one woke up in the morning to find one's parliament was gone.
For our ancestors in the cave, there was no democracy. The biggest caveman with the biggest club became the tribal leader and everyone else did what he said. To a certain extent, this approach still obtains in undemocratic countries, except it is no longer a club that he wields, but an army of tanks and guns. It was a primitive way of organising society. Somewhere along the line, wiser heads decided that there had to be a better way. In ancient Greece, democracy first found the light of day. The word "democracy" comes from two Greek words, "dêmos" and "kratos", meaning "rule of the people". The Athenians were the first to formulate society on the will of the people when they formed their city states. The Greek work for a city state was "polis", from which we get the word "politician". Everyone had a say. In fact, there was too much of a say, because Athens needed to consult almost its entire population to make any decision before it trimmed the process down.
The Athenians began to hone and perfect a form of democracy. They even used a plebiscite, a crude type of referendum. For example, if a piece of broken pottery - this was called an ostraka - with a man's name on it was put into a bowl and a sufficient number of people followed suit, the man would be ostracised, in that he had to leave the city state for ten years. This is where the word "ostracised" comes from. I am giving a Greek lesson. The Athenians perfected their democracy and it worked. Athens went on to become one of the wealthiest states in the world.
The Romans picked up on this. Although they had kings at one point, they quickly turfed them out and put in place the senatus populesque romanum, the senate and people of Rome. The tribunes represented the people and the members of the senate, while a privileged class, had a democratic semblance. They made sure that no dictator could come to the fore. As we know, they dealt with the great Julius Caesar in a certain way.
It was effective.
Yes. In more modern times, we have seen how fragile democracy can be. With the exception of the French revolution, which was an overnight and sensational affair, other governments were gradually taken over. The classic example was the fascist movement. Mussolini appeared to be a man of the people at the beginning, but he then decided to usurp control and famously marched on Rome, frightening the life out of the king and everyone else. Hey presto, he was in government. He ruled through fascism and hatchet men, the Blackshirts.
Observing this, Hitler decided that it was the way to go in Germany, leading to the Brownshirts, the bully boys. He did not get into power overnight. He fought umpteen elections, going from 5% of the total poll to 28% or 29%. Clever people believed that they could handle him and they allowed him into government but he was smart. Like the cuckoo who got into the nest, he quickly kicked out the other eggs and took over. Then he decided that parliament was a hindrance to him because people like the socialists and communists were saying things with which he did not agree. Then there was the mysterious fire in the Reichstag one night when the entire building went up in smoke. I think the Taoiseach missed out on that one. Maybe he was afraid that the entire building would go.
Is this relevant to section 1?
Very relevant, because it is about democracy. As Senator Walsh and others have stated, it is about opposing "abolition day". I rage against that expression. It will be a day of shame.
"Abolition day" sounds like a farmer saying that he or she will kill a pig next week. We will have an abolition day because the Taoiseach wants to kill the Seanad. This is why I am contributing on the Bill, rehearsing old democratic institutions and discussing fascism, of which this country has some experience. I referred to it on Second Stage. A famous member of the Fine Gael Party stood up in the Dáil and pointed out that the Blackshirts were winning in Italy, the Brownshirts were winning in Germany and the Blueshirts would win in Ireland. The Government of the time needed to deal with that serious effort at subverting democracy. It also needed to deal with the subversion of the so-called IRA, which was collaborating with the Germans-----
I have never called a quorum, but Senator O'Sullivan's speech deserves the attention of Government Members. Is a quorum present?
I do not believe so.
It is nice see Government Members filling the benches. Clearly, they have no stomach for this debate.
I was speaking about the danger to democracy and how a previous Government, under the leadership of Éamon de Valera, also had to contend with a subversive organisation, the so-called IRA. It spent the Second World War collaborating and playing funny games with the Germans and raided the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park. The organisation also brought German spies into this country and in doing so was totally at odds with the then Government. The IRA remained a threat to democracy in this country until recently, when it finally decided to pack in its activities. Some remaining splinter groups of that organisation believe democracy is not important because they, even though they represent only 1% or less of the population, do not agree with it. That is the background to my opposition to section 1. It is important democracy is protected. Erosion of democracy starts small and continues until it is gone.
The Taoiseach's commentary around an alternative to the Seanad was ill-advised. Following that commentary, the Taoiseach was immediately called aside by his handlers and we have not heard any more on the matter. The Taoiseach suggested that this House should be peopled by so-called experts and others of exceptional wisdom, to be appointed by him. Such people are to have no democratic mandate. While we may be flawed in many ways we have been through an electoral process. It is not easy to get elected to this House. It is a difficult and testing process. The Taoiseach proposed to wave a wand and fill the seats of the Seanad with his friends and people in whom he has confidence and trust. It was a hair-brained idea, one which the Taoiseach has not repeated. However, it is a matter that will have to be addressed if the proposed referendum is to proceed. I hope it will not. I hope this Bill will be defeated by a sufficient number of Senators, not because I want to deprive the people of a vote - far from it, we are all democrats - but because they should be offered a proper choice. If this Bill is defeated, the Taoiseach and the Government, to its relief, will be forced to reconsider the matter and introduce alternative legislation based on proposals such as those put forward by Senators Zappone, Quinn and O'Donovan. Let those proposals be put to the people.
Those Senators opposite who say they support retention of the Seanad but propose to support the passage of the Bill in order that the people will have an opportunity to decide on the matter are doing a disservice to the people. There is no point putting the wrong question to the people. To do so is unfair. It is giving the people a Hobson's choice. Let us defeat this Bill, following which the Taoiseach might come back with a more considered, intelligent and progressive approach which, if put to the people in a referendum, we could all support. We do not want a star chamber in place of the Seanad. The star chambers were invented by the kings of England in medieval times. When they needed advice they would convene a star chamber, the people of which would advise on how to proceed. They quickly became a dictatorship themselves. That is what would become of what is being proposed. Such a chamber would be answerable to nobody but the Taoiseach, who could probably dismiss them as quickly as he or she appointed them.
We have seen from the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 how important this Chamber is. There has been much more debate on that issue in this Chamber, even if only on the Order of Business, than there has been in the other House. It has also been a much more enlightened debate. I am in the minority among my party in the Seanad in that I will be supporting that legislation. I have listened with great interest to the commentary of people on all sides of the debate. Without the Seanad, that debate would be greatly diminished. While I am critical of the Taoiseach in terms of his attitude to the Seanad and his arrogant behaviour of late on many other issues, he has shown great courage in staying the course in the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill despite fierce and unprecedented pressure from within his party and from powerful institutions and organisations, some of them public and others anything but public.
I recently raised the issue in this House of who is funding the group opposed to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.
It would be nice to know that.
That information will have to be made known because there will be other debates in which this group will get involved. What amounts is it spending? We must account for what we spend in even a town council election. These people are spending millions of euro more than any political party ever spent on a referendum or general election. I want to know from where that money is coming.
The Senator is straying a little from the Bill before us.
Yes, a little. However, I am crediting the Taoiseach's courage on this issue.
I must apply the rule of ultra vires.
Let him off.
I will conclude shortly.
The Senator should take his time.
While the Taoiseach often does what is right, his judgment on this matter is off as everybody in this House and in Government, including Cabinet Ministers, knows.
The statement by a former Senator and colleague that abolition of the Seanad would result in savings of €50 million was repugnant and subversive in its own way.
It is a lie.
I will not use the word used by Senator O'Brien as it is unparliamentary. It was certainly a shocker and a whopper. It, too, has not been mentioned since. The two main issues put forward thus far by the Government in support of the abolition of the Seanad, including the creation of a star chamber as proposed by the Taoiseach and that €50 million would be saved, as suggested by Deputy Donohoe, have been blown out of the water. I look forward to continuing this debate should this legislation be passed. Those who support it have nothing other than codology to say, with which they are trying to fool the people.
There is another issue worth mentioning. Two groups are responsible for electing the 43 panels of Senators. These are made up of the nominating bodies and the electorate, made up in the main of county councillors. The nominating bodies take their responsibilities seriously. They will not nominate a person for election to the Seanad unless they have interviewed and vetted him or her. It is a stiff process. Once nomination is secured, the person then has to face his or her county councillors. As I said earlier, county councillors do not vote for fools. They put candidates through a rigorous process before electing them to this House. These people are legitimately entitled to a vote in respect of a chamber like the Seanad. They have earned that right. There is a real connection between Parliament and the people because every county councillor represents an average of 2,000 people. The quota in County Kerry when I was up for election was 2,500 voters. Those elected are answerable to those 2,000 people and the councillor who votes for them. As such, if one gets 50 county councillor votes, one has a lot of people to account to and look after. Councillors know how to use this privilege. They use us as a conduit to Government. We make arrangements for them to meet Ministers, present them with information, circulate them with legislation and so on. This will be taken from them. Also, university graduates will no longer have the privilege of voting for someone from their college. It is proposed that this system will not be replaced. This must also be resisted.
The timing of this referendum has been raised a great deal.
I would say a lot of midnight oil was burned by the mandarins to get this particular date lined up. Would it not be wonderful to take the eye off the budget or, even better, would it not be great to hold the referendum in the context of an austerity budget and make the abolition of the Seanad another saving in the budget? It would be very clever. These people are earning their high wages. They would probably be happier if they did not have to account to the likes of us either. I urge all Members to oppose this Bill and not to vote for it because they think it is pro-democracy. It is actually an insult to democracy.
It would be very attractive to fall into the slipstream of the wonderful filibustering of Fianna Fáil. It is democracy in action and it is wonderful to see how we are still stuck on section 1 after a couple of hours debating it. They all made Second Stage speeches but I will not fall into that trap.
There are 11 more speakers to speak on section 1.
I will keep my contribution very short.
I am not trying to curtail the Senator.
We know that.
No curtailment but encouragement.
I wish to make a few points arising from the debate so far on section 1. I resent the question being put to us by the Taoiseach, which is about retention or abolition. It is disingenuous and it is also highly dysfunctional because it does not allow debate. I listened to Senators David Norris and Ned O'Sullivan and I am in a quandary not about whether the Seanad should be retained or abolished but about whether there is a need for a bicameral model. I believe there is a need for a bicameral model. The subdivision of that debate is whether the Seanad, as it exists, should be abolished. That is quite a nuanced debate and there are plenty of arguments to be made on both sides, some of which have to do with the way the Seanad is run.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, were involved in what is called the "Mary O'Rourke report" in 2004. The Minister of State made a lot of suggestions in the deliberations on how to reform the Seanad but the clearest sentence in the report was that the Seanad had no distinctive role in Irish society, or in Irish politics. It was not a subjective comment or a kind of judgment on the Seanad but it was the House itself saying in 2004 that there was no connection or no emotional, philosophical or, indeed, constitutional connection between the citizens and the work of the Seanad. That is not the fault of this Seanad or its Members but it was a very clear statement of the shortcomings of the Seanad.
We have been put in a position where we cannot discuss the nature of bicameralism. The question is, therefore, loaded. I am not a member of either of the Government parties. As to whether I should vote in support of this Bill so that it becomes an Act and, therefore, the question can be put to the people, Senators David Norris and Ned O'Sullivan said that if I do so it makes me somebody who opposes democracy.
It does not. Does it mean I oppose the Seanad, or Seanad reform? The problem is the issue of trust, in particular the trust of the Taoiseach and the Minister in not enabling the citizens to form their own view. We have been given a very narrow choice, which really is not a choice at all. It is highly disingenuous and insulting to citizens.
I am a proud Member of Seanad Éireann and I value every minute I am here. I learn a lot from the debates and I contribute when I have the capacity to do so. We speak about reform all the time and, as I said previously, there is not a Member of this House who does not favour reform of the Seanad. Every Member of this House has a view on that and, to continue the dysfunctionality theme, we know we have no power to change that.
Two years ago I came in here all guns blazing. I run the Abbey Theatre and when I come up with an idea to put on a play - I say to the Minister of State that it will not be a Gilbert and Sullivan one, although I see parts for him and Senator Sean Barrett-----
Walk on roles.
Maybe Senator David Norris might have a view on that because he might want to be cast in the lead role.
I think Little Buttercup might be an excellent one.
The Minister of State might say so but I could not possibly comment.
I was very impressed by the Leader's elegant and eloquent defence of the Seanad the other day within millimetres of his boss, the Taoiseach. I urge other Members to read the Leader's remarks because they were very smart and intelligent. I suspect I know how he will vote if this Bill is passed and the question is put before the people.
I mentioned "Four Roads to Glenamaddy" as a metaphor earlier. There are four roads in terms of political reform. It really is disheartening and depressing to think that this Government came into power on a tidal wave of reform, a sense that it could re-imagine Irish politics and heighten that level of trust and participation between citizens and the Oireachtas and yet it is taking quite a piecemeal and disruptive approach to political reform. The first of the four roads is the Presidency. We are looking to reduce the term of office of the President, a matter which was discussed at the Constitutional Convention.
The second road is Dáil reform which has been really piecemeal. It was interesting to hear somebody as moderate as Deputy Charlie Flanagan, who is chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, being quite clear and critical of his own Government not only in regard to the progress of reform but the depth of it. The famous Friday sittings - I am reminded of the catch phrase "It's Friday, it's five to five and it's Crackerjack" - do not, in any way, prove that the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government is interested in reform because those sittings are not a coherent response to reform.
The third road is the committees. Potentially, the committees are the one area in which real engagement and real action can occur. I have had the privilege of sitting with Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and for the year and a half before Christmas, we watched the brief of six or seven Ministers. Clearly, there are not enough committees. I would not hold the popular view that we need fewer politicians. If anything, we need a sufficient number of politicians to do the work. The committee system, as it operates, disincentivises Deputies and Senators from investing in the work as there are no votes there because of the fourth road to Glenamaddy, local government reform. There is still a sense that Deputies and Senators need to spend more time in their constituencies dealing with important work.
I am not in any way undermining that but the time to spend on policy and research is quite limited. The engagement and the level of expertise at the committee level should be greater, and there should be more committees. I can see the possibility of improved committee structures leading to greater trust, engagement and deliberation on legislation.
The nearest I have come to what could be called non-adversarial and constructive politics are debates in the Seanad. I know there is difficult legislation ahead of us in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill but I know we will respect each other's views. There will be grave concern and disagreements but the process will work in a way that will show manners and respect. I can see this at committee level too, although some reform is necessary. The problem is we are being asked to assess this Bill when critical political reform is non-existent in other areas of our parliamentary democracy, which is a concern. We are being asked to vote on this either on a nod and a wink or as a promise without evidence of political reform.
I have been quite proud of the Constitutional Convention and I previously worked on the We the Citizens programme, which showed how such a convention can work. I know Senators Norris and Zappone wanted to amend the work of the committee but could not because the Oireachtas agreed a work programme. One of my amendments to the Bill was rejected as being out of order, and I got the notice this morning although I put the amendment in last Friday. I prepared a long speech but I cannot give it.
The Senator may do so on the section. The ruling is wrong in any case.
I thank the Senator for that advice. There is a series of mixed messages around parliamentary democracy reform. The Constitutional Convention is a very valuable and important initiative and Seanad reform should be part of that in its own time. I wanted to include a provision in the Bill that if the referendum was rejected, the Constitutional Convention should consider Seanad reform and report to the Government within 12 months to detail areas of reform within the Seanad. That is, mar a deireann siad as Gaeilge, rogha an dá dhíogha - is é sin atá agam. Céard go baileach a cheart dom a dhéanamh? Ar cheart dom tacú leis an mBille seo agus é ag dul tríd an Seanad, ag súil go ndéanfaidh pobal na hÉireann vótáil i gcoinne an reafrainn, rud a thabharfadh seans don Seanad athnuachan a dhéanamh air féin, nó ar cheart dom dul i gcoinne an Bhille ag súil go ndéanfar an t-athnuachan istigh anseo? The challenge is that in a way I am disagreeing with the views of Senators Norris and O'Sullivan but I do not disagree with the content of their argument.
This referendum is likely to be defeated by the citizens and the polls are close. I would like to hear from the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and all former Senators in the Government parties on how this is articulated. I do not like using the term "power grab" and although I am in favour of a bicameral model, I do not favour the way the Seanad works now. A bicameral model could work in many ways and there could be a system involving full-time politicians and members of civic society, which sometimes cross over. The Upper House could operate on a part-time basis and deal with important checks and balances.
We are not discussing how a Seanad could be made up. We are dealing with section 1.
I am speaking to the section, and I thank the Cathaoirleach for defining that for me. It is regrettable that the option of reform was not given an opportunity to be decided by citizens. I am in a quandary in that respect.
I disagree wholeheartedly with Fianna Fáil's argument and voting in favour of the Bill does not mean I am in favour of abolishing the Seanad or that I do not favour a bicameral model. That is a fact.
Senator Norris made some assertions relating to the Chair. I advise the Senator and the House that I do not take any instruction from the Government on whether amendments are in order.
I will be challenging the Cathaoirleach's rulings because they are completely absurd.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is appropriate that he is here as he is the new Lord Castlereagh in this abolition of the Seanad. He has taken on the role played by Lord Castlereagh in 1800, with the one difference being that he is not wining and dining Members at Dublin Castle. Members at the time were given large quantities of the best quality sherry and food before being brought to the Irish House of Commons to vote in accordance with Lord Castlereagh's wishes. The winning margin was one vote. I do not believe the Minister of State has yet reached that stage.
It is absolutely essential that all 60 Members in this House have an opportunity to contribute to the most important Bill to come before this House since its foundation.
They did so on Second Stage.
It is unfortunate that more Government Members are not here to listen to Senator Leyden.
I ask the Cathaoirleach for guidance. I have tabled and amendment which reads "In page 4, to delete lines 9 to 17.". Is that not in order?
Would that not be put there as well?
I have made a ruling on it. The Senator received a letter in respect of my ruling on that particular amendment. We are dealing with section 1 so the Senator must speak to it.
That is in section 1. It is very appropriate that the Minister of State is here because he co-signed a document which was chaired by former Senator Mary O'Rourke in 2004 and written by the Minister of State and formers Senators John Dardis and Joe O'Toole. I think former Senator Brendan Ryan opted out. It stated that:
When the 22nd Seanad convened in September 2002, there was a widespread consensus among Senators that the issue of Seanad reform needed to be addressed. In particular, there was a strong view that the Seanad should lead the reform process by facing squarely the major issues and dealing with them objectively and comprehensively.
In its first week of sittings, the new Seanad held a debate on the reform of its composition and functions. At the conclusion of this, it passed a resolution instructing the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to establish a Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform to bring forward proposals on reform of the House.
This report contains those proposals and it is our privilege to present them to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges. Our report sets out our analysis and findings following-----
Has this anything to do with section 1?
This is the genesis of the situation. I can argue it very forcefully and the Minister of State would have to agree with me that he would love to know what he said, agreed to and signed in 2004. He spent days and weeks here in this House.
Read my speech.
I will get to his speech, do not worry.
He has not read it.
I will read every bit of his speech.
If he can provide it, I will have it but I will get it before I finish.
The report went on to state that "our review was wide-ranging and thorough, involving the analysis of eleven previous reports on the Seanad, research on upper houses overseas and an extensive public consultation process." It went through them all, analysed them and came up with the definitive report. It stated that "of particular importance to this review was the involvement of the public-----
We are not discussing that report. We are discussing section 1.
The section is so obvious. It is so clear.
The Bill is not talking about reform. It is talking about abolition. Section 1 is about the abolition date.
On a point of order, those of who oppose the Bill are talking about reform and it is important that the reform side is put forward in this debate as part of section 1.
Section 1 only concerns the date of abolition.
Our friend from the Abbey Theatre could make any point about this but I am not allowed so I wonder what is fair play. He could say what he liked about the reform and why he wanted reform.
He was not discussing a report or two reports.
He was discussing the same thing. This is the entire basis. This is the bible of reform chaired by former Senator and former Minister Mary O'Rourke and written by a former Senator who is now a Minister of State.
The Senator is the new policy of reform.
Let us leave that aside for the moment. I have plenty of other research. The Minister of State will enjoy this.
The Seanad was abolished in 1936. This is fascinating and relevant. Why was it abolished in 1936 and restored? The Seanad was abolished in May 1936 after serious clashes with the Dáil over the Seanad's use of its powers to delay legislation, in particular, the implementation of priority legislation of the Government like the Constitution (Removal of Oath) Bill 1932, which was very close to the heart of Éamon de Valera, and the Wearing of Uniforms (Restrictions) Bill 1934. The enactment of the Bill to abolish the Seanad was also delayed. The Government did not have a majority in the Seanad at the time. Professor Tom Garvin attributed the political imbalance which resulted in the abolition of the Seanad to triennial elections. Abolition of the Seanad featured in the Fianna Fáil election manifesto in 1933, according to Professor Dermot Keogh and Dr. Andrew McCarthy in The Making of the Irish Constitution 1937 (2007). I had an audience with de Valera in Áras an Uachtaráin in 1972 with my wife who was then Mary O'Connor. He was a wonderful, inspirational man.
Although de Valera was opposed to having a Seanad, he established a commission, which the Minister should possibly look at, to look at the proposal for a second Chamber in 1936 as part of preparations for a new Constitution. It was a concession to the many people who felt that a second Chamber was desirable. The same applies now. The Commission produced three reports - a majority report and two minority reports. Each of them supported the proposal for a second Chamber but recommended different powers and compositions. The constitutional provision for the new Seanad took ideas from all three reports. To de Valera, the value of the Seanad lay in its legislative role. Introducing the draft Constitution in a Dáil debate on 11 May 1937, de Valera stated that:
My attitude is that, even though some of us may be largely indifferent to the question of whether or not there is a Seanad, if a large section of the people of the country think that there is something important in having a Seanad, then, even if we ourselves are indifferent to it, we should give way to the people who are anxious for it.
In 1937, the Constitution - Bunreacht na h-Éireann - was voted for by my and other Members' parents. To my knowledge, nobody in this House voted for it but their parents and grandparents certainly voted for it. It provided for a Seanad based on ideas of vocational representation and corporatism popular in Europe at this time and which were endorsed by the papacy in the encyclical produced in 1931 by Pope Pius XI. He was a brilliant man. This stressed, as an alternative to class conflict, an institutionalisation of sectoral divisions based essentially on groupings-----
When are we going to get back to section 1?
I am dealing with section 1 because this is the genesis of abolition. One needs to know what one is doing when deciding in this House how to vote. How in Heaven's name can one vote for something when one does not seem to know the background? I went to the trouble of researching the background so we know exactly what we are voting for and what happened the last time. I am not finished yet as I have a lot to say.
If the Senator has done so much research on everything, he would know exactly what section 1 is about. It is not about what he is talking about.
Pope Pius XI was very influential at that time but not so influential, seemingly, with Mussolini or Adolf Hitler - both good Christians, allegedly. They were and Members can check that as well.
I said they tried to be. One was a clerical student.
What has this got to do with section 1?
The Senator wanted clarification. Not in their activities. They were monsters who destroyed the whole Continent of Europe. Let us be quite clear about that. They destroyed 6 million people.
Could the Senator move back to section 1 of this Bill?
The Seanad of the 1937 Constitution retained a type of representational function and a checks and balances function. That is what we are here for. Its role as a check and balance was limited to the legislative process because the Government is responsible to the Dáil. The new Seanad would have 60 Members with a term following that of the Dáil. Its power over money Bills was the same as that of the old Seanad and its suspensory power over legislation was reduced from 18 months to 90 days. If this Bill is rejected here, 90 days must pass before the Dáil can overrule our decision. That is three months, which will go into next year - September, October, November and December.
The panel elections were provided for in legislation in 1937 and later under the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947. The 1937 Act provided for 355 electors: Deputies, Senators and seven city and council electors who were elected from the councils. The Cathaoirleach benefited greatly from that and was a most popular choice of councillors from all over Ireland, north, south, east and west. He will be back here again if there is a new Seanad.
Can we get back to section 1?
A little bit of flattery is nice, is it not?
The 1947 Act altered the nomination process for candidates and extended the electorate to include all city and council members, of which there are approximately 1,000 now.
I will now talk about my own experience, which is quite interesting. I served as Minister of State at the Department of Transport and Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs from 23 March 1982 until 14 December 1982. I also served as Minister of State at the Department of Health from 12 March 1987 until 12 July 1989. I will talk about the main legislation I steered through the Seanad while serving as Minister of State to show the benefit of this House. This is the point I made here. I am the longest serving Member of the Oireachtas in this House and the only former Minister in this House. How and why did I respect this House? I can prove my respect for this House. I respect the Minister of State coming here as he has always treated this House with enormous respect and given it an enormous amount of time. I brought in the Adoption Act 1998. The primary purpose of this Act was to enable the adoption of certain categories of children, mainly legitimate children with a parent or parents alive, who were not eligible for adoption under the law as it existed.
During the Seanad Committee Stage I, as the then Minister of State, accepted an amendment proposed by the late Senator Nuala Fennell, Fine Gael, and supported by Mary Robinson, Independent, to delete the word "illegitimate" from the Bill. That amendment was not proposed when the Bill was brought through the Dáil. That is another example of a very important issue. The word "illegitimate" hurt many people and was banned in that Bill.
The Health (Amendment) Act 1987 provided for the imposition of charges in respect of outpatient services. It sounds familiar. I did not like bringing in that Bill but I had to. In introducing the Bill, as the then Minister of State I said I was pleased to have an opportunity for the second time that day to come before the Upper House. I had not previously been a Senator. The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act 1990 was initiated in the Seanad. The purpose of the Act was to provide the Garda Síochána with powers to take bodily samples such as blood, urine or saliva from a person suspected of serious criminal offences for forensic testing. The main purpose of the Trade and Marketing Promotion Act 1991 was to merge Córas Tráchtála and the Irish Goods Council. The Liability for Defective Products Act 1991 gave effect, in Irish law, to European Community directive 85/374/EEC on liability for defective products which was adopted on 25 July 1985. The directive was described by me as the then Minister of State as, "without question, the most significant measure to emerge so far in the Community in the areas of consumer protection" and that, as a result of the Bill being passed the "Irish consumers will be advanced in a very significant way by providing additional legal redress." One of the contributors was a former Senator Pat Kennedy, who was an expert in that particular field. I listened to him. We debated the Bill for days and he made a great contribution.
There was also the Patents Act 1992. I was then Minister of State with responsibility for trade. The main purpose of that Act which replaced the Patents Act 1964 was to establish examination procedures for patent applications which were less officially time-consuming. The Act also enabled the State to ratify the European Patent Convention and the Patent Co-operation Treaty. I got great support from the Elan Corporation which happened to be located in my constituency. It was more than helpful and I took much advice from Don Payne who was then managing director who created about 500 jobs in that area.
Will the Senator please return to the section?
I am trying to make the point how effective the House has been. I am one of the people who can give evidence here because nobody else, except the Minister, has brought forward legislation to this House. I have and I am trying to prove the point.
Lots of people have.
Excuse me. I am the only Member of this House who has done so.
Senator Feargal Quinn introduced legislation in the House.
Let us clarify the issue. I am the only Member who has been a Minister or Minister of State. I do not know of any other former Minister here.
Will the Senator please return to section 1. It is in relation to the abolition date.
It is getting better.
And how it has been created.
I want to prove the point about bicameral parliaments. What is the whole point of bicameral parliaments? There are currently bicameral legislatures in 75 of the 186, or 40%, of countries which are members of the Interparliamentary Union, IPU. Bicameralism is even more common in the OECD and the EU. Some 19 of the 34 developed countries in the OECD have bicameral parliamentary structures and what is wrong with that? If it is good enough for them, it might be good enough for us also. There are 13 bicameral parliaments in the 28 member states. The list of 75 countries with bicameral parliaments in alphabetical order are interesting: Afghanistan, not working too well, Algeria, Antigua, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Czech Republic, Democrat Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Egypt, under major pressure, and if it had a good bicameral system it may not have the problems it has today, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Grenada, Haiti, India, Ireland for the moment, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Liberia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Lucia-----
What is the purpose of this?
The point I am making is that other countries have accepted the fact that bicameral parliaments works very well. I am trying to influence the Government not to go ahead with this section and to agree that the bicameral approach is right on the basis of the reform brought forward by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. The Minister is here to testify the effort he made.
There is nothing in this Bill about reform. It does not provide for reform.
As I have started the list I will finish it.
This Bill only provides for abolition. We are on section 1 which is on relation to----
That is the whole problem.
We are bound by the Article 46 of the Constitution.
As I have it here I will read it out.
In this House we cannot change that.
I am ready for that too. I will get to Article 46. Article 47 reads:
1. Every proposal for an amendment of this Constitution which is submitted by Referendum to the decision of the people shall, for the purpose of Article 46 of this Constitution, be held to have been approved by the people, if, upon having been so submitted, a majority of the votes cast at such Referendum shall have been case in favour of its enactment into law.
2. 1° Every proposal, other than a proposal to amend the Constitution, which is submitted by Referendum to the decision of the people shall be held to have been vetoed by the people if a majority of the votes cast at such Referendum shall have been cast against its enactment into law-----
That is the referendum.
We are on the legislation for the referendum.
I want to finish the list of bicameral parliaments and prove the point about the House working so well. The list continues as follows: Saint Lucia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinidad, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Unites States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Zimbabwe. Those are all worthwhile countries that have proved clearly why it is so good.
The document which I have at my disposal on bicameral parliaments, Seanad Éireann and OECD countries states that federalism and large populations are the normal indicators of bicameral parliaments. Ireland is unusual for having a second Chamber - I will have to change that one. The composition of the Seanad is unique in terms of representation and indirect election and appointment. This is an excellent document and the Seanad deserves to have it. One has to study this to cast a vote on this House. Every Member should have an opportunity to contribute to the debate and then to make up his or her mind and say, "Sorry, we will reject this Bill and will not have a referendum." After 90 days the Government may decide to bring in an amendment to the Bill to have a choice based on the recommendations of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, which are excellent. I believe the people would decide to have a reformed Seanad, not to abolish it. That is the main purpose of my contribution.
I will deal with each section as it arises. In the circumstances I think there are others who wish to contribute. I am sure Senator John Crown will wish to contribute. I will conclude my contribution but I intend to come back with further elaborations and information which I have at my disposal. I hope to get some more details from the Minister of State's report because it is important to get it on the record.
I do not want to continue to do this, but it is unfortunate again that there are only four members of the Government parties in the Chamber for this important debate and on that basis I am calling a quorum.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. There is something seriously wrong with our system of government. The evidence for this has been apparent for the past several years. Those of us who have a visceral, emotional and fanatical devotion to the concept of absolute democracy will freely admit that, to paraphrase the old adage, democracy is a terrible system of government but it beats the hell out of all the others. There are many historical aspects to our stable democracy of which we can be very proud. I refer to the peaceful transfer of power in the early days of the State between the two rival parties whose members had actually shot at one another during the Civil War some years before, the fact that we survived the Second World War, sundry economic emergencies and armed sedition - from within and without - on the part of the forces of extremist nationalism. Those forces sully the word "republicanism", which should itself always be spelled with a small "r". However, there is still something seriously wrong with our democracy.
I say this because it is fairly obvious that most of the events surrounding the economic meltdown we experienced in recent years were not acts of God. These could have been prevented by the actions of certain men and women if they had been in the right place and made the right decisions. However, that did not happen. While we are delighted that we have a system of government which minimises, but does not entirely eliminate, the potential for despotism and which maximises, although does not completely translate into, the will of the people being reflected in the halls of Government, it does not operate optimally. How else can one explain the fact that, with the honourable exception of the Labour Party, all of the major parties helped to inflate the Celtic tiger economy and then supported the blanket bank guarantee, two actions which, as we now know, were catastrophic? How else can one explain the fact that those who are now loudest in their criticism of the actions of the then Government were proponents of such actions when they were in opposition? Nobody was prepared to put his or her hand up and say "Stop". The reason for this is that our system of government often - although not always - incentivises the election of the wrong people in the wrong way.
We hold local elections which are fought by people who basically campaign on local issues and who invoke a thin veneer of national interest from time to time. This bizarre system is brought to its apotheosis in circumstances where if one is running for election to the Dáil, one's bitterest opponent will be one's party and constituency colleague. I am not a professional politician and I do not like it when people refer to me as a politician. I like to think of myself as an advocate and that my day job is my day job and that is how it will always be. I can, therefore, consider this matter from the outside and perhaps wag my finger in a slightly accusatory manner when I say that it seems awfully bizarre that two individuals who are supposed to be buying into the same ideology and the same set of values, aspirations, goals and ambitions for their country can find themselves locked together like feral beasts during that quinquennial gladiator festival that is our general election cycle.
I intend no disrespect and I am a great believer in absolute democracy. I am also of the view that democracy should reflect the will of the people. I am not instinctively in favour of technocracy. In view of the fact that all the decisions relating to a very complicated economic situation are currently being made by three teachers - I am sure they were very good teachers - and a former union representative and that no one in the Lower House, or among the front-line officials in the Department of Finance, possessed a PhD in economics when critical decisions were being made in the late summer and autumn of 2008, one must ask whether we are putting forward to run for election the right people who possess the right expertise and national perspective. Even though I am sure there were smart people in the previous Dáil who understood that Ireland was not going to be the first country in the world which, despite the evidence of history, was going to have an infinite and ever-accelerating property bubble that would never collapse, no one stated - in the national interest and despite the fact that it might not be wise to do so from an electoral point of view - that it might be time to stop, even if doing so would precipitate the inevitable decline in property prices that eventually occurred. Had someone done so, that decline might have happened in a more controlled fashion. However, no one was prepared to speak up because all people were interested in was the next election.
That is one of the reasons I decided to run for election to the Seanad. In many ways, this House is "Dáil lite". It is a place to which people who do not want to give up their day jobs but who are prepared to sacrifice their time can come and can hopefully make some contribution to the national discourse. I would like to believe that the latter was the original intention of those who framed the 1937 Constitution. The Seanad was never supposed to be another Chamber filled with full-time politicians and functionaries of political parties. It was supposed to be a House with limited powers and a well-defined role which could augment the pure democracy of the Dáil by introducing an extra level of scrutiny and expertise without in any sense trying to foster some notion of elitism or make an attempt to subvert the Dáil's role.
However, that is not what happened. We all know what happened. Again, I am not pointing fingers. Those who are full-time politicians and who are interested in political careers and political parties will always consider ways to advance their careers in politics. The Seanad was a great big turkey waiting to be plucked. It was another prize that could be grasped by politicians and used as a place where careers could either be built or sheltered and nurtured during the rocky times of rough weather in the Dáil, and where there could be a gentle let-down towards the end of their careers. It was also seen as a place where people who did not necessarily want to be full-time politicians but who were party loyalists could obtain some degree of reward. That is what happened in the Seanad.
It is obvious that the Senator never ran on the panels from which we were elected.
Senator Crown, without interruption.
Senator Crown interrupts me now and again.
Senator Crown, without interruption.
The Seanad became one of two highly dysfunctional Chambers which we have now in the Oireachtas. The catastrophe which befell the country in 2008 was due partly to the builders and partly to the property boom.