I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill. It gives us a great opportunity to convey our views, as Senators, on the reform of Seanad Éireann, the way it will progress and how it will work for the next 20, 30, 40 and 50 years. It is also important that we take stock of where we are. Nowhere was the way the Seanad is viewed by the public and organisations expressed better than in the past couple of weeks.
Senator Michelle Mulherin will not thank me for raising one incident in particular which showed clearly how the Seanad is viewed by certain organisations. The Senator highlighted publicly, as an instance of discrimination against Members of this House, a letter she received from the GAA indicating that Deputies would be offered tickets for sale for the all-Ireland football final, but Senators would not. I got the same letter and I fully subscribe to the Senator's view on the matter. I understand any Member of this House from a participating county who sent in a letter and cheque received the same response. The GAA proceeded to roll out its former president and current MEP for the Ireland South region, Seán Kelly, who said the organisation had to draw a line somewhere. It certainly drew a clear line between Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in this case.
To make matters worse, RTE's Mary Wilson, in an interview with Senator Michelle Mulherin, observed that the latter was only a Taoiseach's nominee, as if to say Members nominated to the House in this way are different from other Members. In my time in the Seanad we have had several Members nominated by the Taoiseach who also worked in the media, including former Senators Eoghan Harris and Maurice Hayes, the latter going on to co-author the Manning report. None of those people was treated in any way differently by his or her colleagues. I can say with certainty that Taoiseach's nominees are not treated differently in this House.
This particular incident affords us an opportunity to take stock of how we are viewed by the GAA and the media. In advance of the biggest day in the Gaelic football calendar, the GAA drew a clear line between the Dáil and the Seanad. Moreover, the Cathaoirleach was likewise discriminated against because he is the only officeholder who is not invited to be seated in the ard chomhairle in Croke Park on all-Ireland final day, with all the Ministers, Ministers of State, Garda and Army officials. All the other arms of State are represented there on these occasions but not the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. The Bill and the recommendations in the Manning report will not change any of that. There will still be Taoiseach's nominees and this House will remain subordinate to the other House. The actions of the GAA squarely set out how we are viewed as a House of Parliament.
The people who drafted the 1937 Constitution could not have envisaged what would happen in this Seanad. They could not have foreseen a scenario in which everybody would be represented, including the diaspora. We have lawyers, doctors, farmers, shopkeepers, business people and members of the media. A range of political parties is represented, as well as Independents. Moreover, no party or group has outright control in the Chamber. The drafters of the Constitution could not have envisaged an Upper House better than we currently have. Notwithstanding the proposals in Senator Michael McDowell's Bill or in the Manning report, the reality is that we will not achieve a better representation than we currently have. We will not get more organisations or parties than we have today. This Bill will make way for hundreds more organisations to put forward nominees, but it remains a fact that there can only be 60 people appointed.
With no party having outright control, we are in the ideal position in this Seanad to make changes to how we do business. Instead, we seem to be putting the cart before the horse. We could go ahead and implement every provision in Senator Michael McDowell's Bill and every recommendation in the Manning report - many of them would not even require legislation - but there is little point in so doing if we do not have the necessary resources and funding. For example, there are only four members of staff for Seanad Éireann, two of them are almost always seated beside the Cathaoirleach. People can put forward whatever proposals they like, but unless there is backup funding, we cannot do what is proposed in the Manning report or any other report or Bill.
The current Seanad could not be any more diverse and is not controlled by any party. If the Government really is committed to reform, it should go about the business of giving more power to this House to scrutinise legislation and deal with the various matters as recommended in the Manning report. The working group recommended, for instance, that the Seanad give particular attention to North-South Ministerial Council proposals and secondary EU legislation, consult with relevant bodies prior to and during Second Stage debates, investigate and report on matters of public policy interest, and consider reports from regulators and other statutory inspectors. Senator TerryLeyden has repeatedly called for a role for this House in the scrutinising of EU legislation, a proposal I fully support. It cannot be done, however, because the Dáil will not allow it. Instead, the other House has decided the European committee will deal with European legislation and scrutiny, with other committees also having a role. The view, apparently, is that we cannot have the same work being done by a committee and the Seanad, thus making the proposal a non-starter.
Another proposal was that we might have a role in pre-legislative scrutiny, with Ministers presenting heads of Bills to the House for discussion before a potential redrafting of the legislation prior to Second Stage. However, as soon as it was decided to implement a pre-legislative process, that function went straight to a Dáil committee. The last Member of this House to chair a committee of both Houses was Pat Magner back in the mid-1990s. It seems there is no person in this House good enough to be Chairman of any of the 15 or 16 joint committees. As I said, most of the various proposals for Seanad reform could be implemented without ever changing the legislation. What is required, however, is a commitment by Government to provide the resources and staff necessary to do the work.
The Acting Chairman has indicated my time is up. This Bill will put an enormous cost on the Exchequer - certainly €30 million, which is a substantial sum, and perhaps as much as €50 million. It will see the franchise extended to nearly half the world in order to have the same groups, organisations and parties represented here. We cannot have real change without a commitment to give more funding to enable us to do the business that is proposed to be done. We could start doing that work in the morning if there was the necessary commitment.