When the people of Ireland voted in a referendum not to amend the Constitution to abolish Seanad Éireann, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, indicated at the time that he regarded this as a wallop. After a period of time he said that he would take the path of reform. Acting on foot of the programme for Government acceptance and inclusion of the Manning report, I and other Senators brought forward the Bill which was annexed to the report of the Manning committee to implement its proposals for the reform of the Seanad.
That Bill was considered on Second Stage, the Stage on which the principle of the matter is decided. When the Second Stage debate was over, the Government parties did not oppose its passage to the next Stage. At that point, I was informed that the then Taoiseach wished to address the matter in this House. He came to the House and told us that it was his intention to establish an all-party implementation group to push forward the implementation of the Manning committee report. I and others were left with the strong impression that as soon as the implementation group was formed, there would be progress on the Bill. That was a year ago and nothing has happened on the implementation group. After considerable pressure, the former Taoiseach invited various groups in both Houses of the Oireachtas to contribute Members to the implementation group, but that process appears to have stalled as well.
In the recent leadership contest in the Fine Gael Party I noted that the candidate who is now the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, put before his party colleagues the idea that a special panel would be created for emigrant voters. This is something that was not contemplated by the Manning report. He said nothing about the rest of the report. More recently, it has become clear that there is a total absence of commitment to the Manning report. Indeed, doubts were voiced at the most senior level within the Government as to whether it is wise or appropriate to proceed with the report.
In view of those circumstances, I have asked this House by way of this Commencement matter to give the Government, through the Minister of State whom I welcome, an opportunity to state where the Government stands on this issue. Has the commitment solemnly stated in the programme for Government to implement the Manning report wavered in any way?
Is the alternative scenario canvassed by the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, in his leadership manifesto now being investigated by the Government? I am giving the Minister of State the opportunity to state the intentions of the Government clearly and unambiguously.