-----John A. Murphy, Justin Keating, Tom Fitzgerald, a long-standing Member of this House who recently passed away, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, and a group of Fianna Fáil Senators, among others.
I do not wish to take away from the work done by Mary O'Rourke and others but this is probably the most significant report on the viability and future of the Seanad ever compiled. I wish to read a few paragraphs into the record, the first of which states:
The Committee is persuaded by the argument in Coakley/Laver that the Seanad does make a useful contribution to the democratic life of the state. The savings achieved if it were abolished – it costs about £2.8 million [the figure which obtained at that time] per annum to run – could be illusory because some of the functions it carries out would need to be reallocated to other parts of the political system. Furthermore, there would be a serious loss to the Dáil because the disappearance of senators would make the task of manning the committee system extremely difficult. The Committee also agrees with Coakley/Laver that the Seanad is a resource that could be deployed to far greater effect if it were reformed.
It is important that this point should be borne in mind. The report also states:
Seanad Éireann should be a consultative body where people with knowledge, experience and judgment over the whole spectrum of public affairs should be available in a broadly non-partisan way to help the Dáil to carry out its function more effectively and more efficiently.
I take this opportunity to nail a particular lie which has been circulating during the debate on this matter and which is extremely unfair. I listen to Pat Kenny's radio show quite frequently and I heard this lie repeated on it on a particular morning. I refer to the kite that has been flown to the effect that it costs €200 million to run the Seanad. As we now know, that is completely incorrect. The Library and Research Service of the Houses estimates the actual cost at just over €8 million. As the second progress report indicates, in 1997 the cost was estimated at £2.8 million. The lie which has been circulating must be nailed. It does not cost €200 million, €50 million or €30 million to run this House. It is unfair that certain people are allowed to utter nonsense to the effect that it costs €200 million to run the Seanad on Pat Kenny's programme on RTE Radio 1. Such comments sow the seeds of disdain among members of the public who listen to Mr. Kenny's programme, particularly when they believe that it costs €200 million per annum to run the House. If the latter were true, it would mean that it would cost €1 billion to run the Seanad during its five-year term.
The second progress report also states, "The nomination, electoral and appointment procedures for senators should aim to produce gender balance in the Seanad". The latter is an issue of major significance. Such a balance is fairly accurately reflected in the House, particularly on the Government side. It is also reflected among the Taoiseach's nominees. I recall campaigning with the late, great Erskine Childers when he ran for the Presidency in 1973. I am of the view that the Taoiseach stands as the bravest among those who have held his office in the period since 1973 in the context of the 11 individuals he nominated for membership of the Seanad. The Taoiseach stood aside from the norm in that he did not divvy out positions to people as a reward for political loyalty. He went beyond that, was very brave and appointed some excellent individuals to this Seanad. I am very proud to work with those Senators.
The second progress report further states:
The Committee believes that the legislative function of the Dáil could be greatly improved if legislation were either:
introduced in the Seanad, brought through its first three stages, sent to the Dáil with the Seanad’s observations and taken from a third stage in the Dáil to final decision
having been introduced in the Dáil and taken to its third stage there, sent to the Seanad for its observations, returned to the Dáil, and brought to decision there.
The facility should remain with the government of expediting urgent legislation through the Dáil with only formal reference to the Seanad.
The importance of this is that since the report was published, many Ministers have taken the opportunity to introduce legislation in the Seanad. Senator MacSharry indicated that the figure in this regard is as high as 34% to 35% on average. This reflects some of the work I carried out in compiling a report for my party during the past 12 to 18 months.
The second progress report was produced by some very capable and learned men and in it they also state:
The Committee believes that the Seanad could play a major role in ensuring that this important task is carried out. Provision could be made to have MEPs take part in debates in the house, although without voting rights. [In fairness, I fully endorse the moves the Leader has made in this regard]. Relevant EU commissioners and senior commission officials could be invited to the house for discussions on the EU's legislative programme and the Seanad should monitor EU regulations and directives and produce reports for the Dáil on the impact of, and trends in, that legislation. It seems to the Committee that, if the Seanad tackled such a task with imagination, energy and high critical power, it could convey to the people in clear realistic terms what the European dimension adds to our lives and offer sound advice on how the state should seek to shape EU policies.
The House should have more of an input in this regard. I understand that something of the order of 75% of all laws and regulations introduced in this country currently emanate from Europe. Very little debate takes place in respect of EU directives, which are imposed without this or the Lower House really teasing out the benefits or otherwise of them.
The second progress report also comments on matters relating to statutory instruments, policy reports, etc. In the context of policy reports it states, "Such reports should be debated by the Seanad in such a way that the medium and long-term perspectives are developed and sustained which would provide the proper intellectual context for the critical appraisal by the Dáil of the policies contained in Bills". I am of the view that if this had been done by the Fianna Fáil-led Governments which held power from 1997 to 2011 - which I blame for the lack of action in this regard - particularly in the context of economic direction and policy, then the boom might not have developed in the way it did and might have been less expansive in nature. In such circumstances, the subsequent crash might not have been quite so severe.
I have no wish to delay proceedings but I am of the view putting on record some of the conclusions to the second progress report would be a worthwhile exercise. I will conclude my contribution thereafter. I was in the Chair during some of the debate yesterday and I am conscious of not engaging in a filibuster. It is important, however, to place on record the thinking of the then All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, which probably also informed the work done by the committee chaired by Mary O'Rourke. The committee to which I refer included among its members a number of former and current Ministers. Former Taoisigh such as Garrett FitzGerald, John Bruton, Jack Lynch, Liam Cosgrave and others were of the view that the Seanad had an important role to play. I regret that my party did not have the courage, the initiative or the imagination to implement Seanad reform. However, that is no excuse for the current Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, a person for whom I have great respect, deciding in a moment of madness to abolish the Seanad. The abolition of this House will weaken rather than enhance democracy.
The Government has a huge majority in the Dáil at present. I could almost see a dictatorship emerging by virtue of the fact that an inner politburo of three or four individuals within this Administration is dictating what happens. Members of this House and backbenchers in the Lower House have become increasingly less important to the political system.
Such Members are only fodder for the votes when necessary as happened last night and today when Members were whipped into line. Croppy, my boy, must sit down and do what he is told. He has no impact on policy but he is there to vote in order that the Government can drive through its policies and legislation.
I will put my conclusions on record. It is important that this be done. I am coming close to the end. Page 92 reads: "Each of the options outlined in the previous section has considerable merit, although introducing the more ‘radical’ changes will require, as we have seen, some fundamental political decisions." However, these were not taken. The report continues:
Our review of the ways in which the powers and functions of a future Seanad might interact does, however, enable us to make some general points in conclusion. In these we take into account both the comparative dimension and the history of Ireland’s second chamber.
In this regard, the current Taoiseach is forgetting the history of Ireland's second Chamber and the comparative dimensions and the significant work it has done, especially at this time. I am not trying to put a halo around the head of Senator Maurice Cummins. I rarely do that and he knows me well enough. However, I acknowledge that he has given a meaningful role to the Seanad in his role as Leader. Perhaps that was lacking in previous Seanaid. As Members, we all went along in the slipstream.
Page 93 of the report reads:
We feel that the case for the abolition of the Seanad has not been strongly enough made by its ‘elite’ critics, while there is clearly no groundswell of popular opinion in favour of abolishing the upper house. Given the contribution that the current Seanad does in fact make, even if much of this is outside its ‘core’ role as a legislative chamber, we can see little to be gained by abolishing it.
That was a unanimous decision of the committee only a few years ago. The second paragraph on that page reads:
We also feel that the mainstream critique of the current Seanad carries considerable force. Having so little real power, and operating so much in the shadow of the Dáil and government, the Seanad is certainly not fulfilling the aspirations of the 1937 Constitution. Those who defined a role for the Seanad in 1937 anticipated neither the powerful government control of the legislature brought about by a combination of standing orders and the whip system, nor the arcane system of nominating and electing senators put into place by subsequent legislation. This leads us to go along with the view that, while the Seanad should not be abolished it should indeed be reformed.
Page 93, paragraph 3 reads:
Once we are in the business of reforming what in theory is one of the most important political institutions in the state, it scarcely seems worth fiddling around at the edges of the matter. Thus we do not feel that there is a case for tinkering with the existing arcane legislation that defines the composition of the current Seanad, but rather for rewriting this from scratch to define the composition of a Seanad that will best equip it to make a real contribution to Irish political life in the twenty-first century.
We are currently in the 21st century. The important point is that all of what has been suggested - it was the nub of Senator Quinn's Bill as well - could be achieved by a legislative programme of reform rather than having a referendum at all. That was well-captured in the Bill produced by Senators Quinn and Zappone. Let us be honest. There are 60 Members, including the Cathaoirleach. If we are to be truthful, if we let our hearts speak rather than our heads and rather than be whipped into line, all 60 Members would in some way like to avoid the Armageddon or the famous guillotine. We should find out what is happening.
There is a famous story which I will tell about the guillotine. I will be brief. It is somewhat humorous but it shows where we are at the minute. The guillotine was introduced at the time of the revolution in France in 1796. An Irishman, a Frenchman and an Englishman were facing the guillotine for some razzmatazz they had in Paris and they were all sentenced to die. There was a rule at the time that if, for any reason, when the string was pulled and big blade of the guillotine came down, the head was not sliced off, then the convict was pardoned. The Englishman was first up. He said his prayers and his head was put down on the block. The operator of the guillotine pulled the string. For whatever reason, when the blade was two inches above his neck, it stopped and he was pardoned.