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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 24 Sep 2019

Vol. 267 No. 2

Seanad Reform Implementation Group: Statements

As a former Member of this House, I am delighted to see the Seanad back in its rightful place and to address it here for the first time. I thank Senators for the opportunity to discuss the report of the implementation group on Seanad reform. I recognise and acknowledge the work done by the 23 members of the group in preparing the report and the accompanying Bill. I thank Senator McDowell for chairing the group. I also want to make it clear that the Government supports in full the principles underpinning the recommendations contained in the report and wants to hear the views of Members of both Houses.

Before I comment on the report, I will provide a quick reminder of the background and context that has brought us to this point. First, this Government is committed to Seanad reform. There is some wind from Senator Norris.

It was a hollow laugh.

In order to progress that commitment, an independent working group on Seanad reform, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, was established in December 2014. The principle focus of that group was on possible reforms of the Seanad electoral system and the manner in which the House carries out its business within the existing constitutional parameters. The group published its report, known as the Manning report, in 2015, together with an accompanying Bill. The key electoral reform recommendations in the Manning report were: that the majority of Seanad seats would be elected by popular vote in a one person, one vote system; that this principle would be extended to include Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and those living overseas who hold a valid Irish passport; provision for online registration of voters and downloading of ballot papers; and a greater role for the Seanad in the scrutiny, amendment and initiation of legislation. A conservative estimate of the electorate under these arrangements is 5.3 million people.

Since the publication of the Manning report, the Seanad has had a number of opportunities to discuss Seanad reform, including statements on the report in July 2015 and again in June 2016, when Senator McDowell, along with a number of other Members, introduced the Seanad Bill 2016, a Private Members' Bill based on that prepared by the Manning group. However, it was apparent during the course of those discussions that while we had consensus on the need for change, we still did not have broad consensus on the detail of that change.

Against that background, and with the agreement of those on all sides, the Seanad reform implementation group was established. Its main terms of reference were to consider how to implement the recommendations of the Manning report and whether any variations to those recommendations were needed. The group was also asked to provide the text of a Bill to implement its proposals. One of the very obvious issues in the report, however, is the lack of consensus among the group. The report sets out different statements of position from members who had dissenting views. These range from re-examining the constitutional provisions relating to the Seanad with the aim of achieving more meaningful reform to having an electorate composed only of residents in the State. Today's statements arise as a result of the Government's consideration of the report and its wish to reflect on the position of the Oireachtas before taking any further steps. I am here to listen to the views of Senators.

The implementation group has not proposed any change to the widening of the electorate at Seanad elections from what was recommended in the Manning report. The proposal to widen the electorate includes extending the franchise at Seanad elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and those living overseas who hold valid Irish passports. The Government is proposing to hold a referendum to extend the franchise to citizens outside the State for presidential elections and the relevant constitutional amendment Bill was published last week. That referendum could serve as a useful barometer of the views of our existing electorate for extending the franchise in this way. My view is that we should await the outcome of that referendum before proceeding with extending the franchise for Seanad elections.

I will now turn to the variations to the Manning recommendations proposed by the implementation group. The first of these is a proposed change to the number of Seanad Members who would be elected by the public. The group now proposes that 34 of the 60 seats shall be directly elected from the five vocational panels, whereas Manning had recommended 36. The group also proposes that 15 seats be elected from an electoral college of Deputies, outgoing Senators and city and county councillors, two more than the 13 seats recommended in the Manning report. I am interested in hearing the views of the House on the vocational panels. Is changing the numbers to be elected by the public and by elected Members, as proposed, satisfactory or are there more fundamental questions to be asked such as, for example, whether the panel structure is fit for purpose? Do the proposed reforms of the panel system go far enough?

I note that the implementation group supports the proposal in the Manning Bill for a single six-seat university constituency, the franchise for which would be extended to other institutions of higher education apart from the National University of Ireland and Dublin University. This would give effect to the 1979 referendum on that point. However, I also note with interest that the group did not have a consensus on this proposal. An alternative proposal was recommended by some members of the group to divide the university constituency into three sub-panels, each of which would elect two Senators. Again, I am interested in hearing Senators' views.

The implementation group proposes to depart from Manning concerning the downloading of ballot papers by voters. This recommendation removes existing doubts regarding the integrity of Seanad elections being compromised by the use of Internet or other technology. I agree with the implementation group on this point and with the report where it concludes that we should tread carefully in the harnessing of technology in the context of the electoral process, particularly in light of past experience in Ireland and also other issues regarding the integrity of voting systems across the world in more recent years.

As already stated, under the Manning proposals, a conservative estimate of the number of persons who would be entitled to register and vote in Seanad elections is 5.3 million. The implementation group does not propose any change to that electorate so we are broadly looking at the same numbers. There is no doubt about the operational and logistical challenges in dealing with such large numbers of postal ballots and, therefore, careful planning and adequate resources would be needed.

The implementation group upholds the Manning recommendation that a separate register of Seanad electors should be established and maintained by a new Seanad electoral commission. However, we estimate that nearly two thirds of those who would be entitled to be on the Seanad register are already on the register of electors maintained by local authorities. The group puts forward the argument that having a separate register that requires voters to voluntarily apply for inclusion on the Seanad electoral register would mean that the register would largely be populated by those members of the electorate who have demonstrated an interest in participating in Seanad elections.

The group argues that this would reduce costs and limit the potential for voter fraud because there would be fewer unwanted or unused ballot papers in circulation. The group anticipates that, under these arrangements, rather than there being a rush to register, the growth of the register would take place gradually.

The group further anticipates that the number of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and of those living outside the State likely to exercise their right to register would be much lower than the total number entitled to register. I am not entirely convinced by that argument. It is likely that the uptake to register at a Seanad election could be very high among certain groups but would not be representative of the entire State or of Irish citizens living outside the State. It is important that we design a system of electoral reform that accommodates the full representative electorate rather than some anticipated reduced uptake of registered electors. I am not convinced that having parallel registers, one for Seanad elections and one for all other elections, is the right approach, particularly in view of the work which is well advanced in my Department to overhaul and modernise the register of electors. This is a matter that requires careful examination.

The establishment of a Seanad electoral commission was originally proposed as an interim measure pending the establishment of an electoral commission with a broader remit. Work is well under way in my Department to prepare the general scheme of an electoral commission Bill, which will see a commission up and running sooner than previously thought. As such, a Seanad electoral commission may not be necessary.

Other Seanad electoral reform proposals need to be teased out more fully. For example, it is proposed that when applying for inclusion on the register of electors, a voter would choose the constituency in which he or she will vote at Seanad elections. This could give rise to some constituencies having significantly more voters relative to others and relative to their respective numbers of seats. The implementation group's Bill does not make any provision for balancing constituencies, so we must consider how that can be achieved in a practical and manageable way.

There is provision in the Bill to place a time limit on the period a person has been resident outside the State in order to qualify to be registered at a Seanad election. This would effectively limit the overall number of electors based overseas, but it is a proposal that leads to several questions. For example, what time period would be fair and how would such a criterion operate in practice? How would we know how long a person has been resident outside the State? These are issues that merit further consideration.

There is no doubt that reforming the electoral system as proposed will require significant resources. I welcome the suggestions provided by the implementation group for minimising costs where possible. They include the use of ordinary post rather than registered or prepaid post and the issuing of combined candidate election literature rather than separate items of literature for each candidate. However, we must bear in mind that ballot papers and combined election literature would have to be sent to a significantly higher number of electors than currently is the case, which means the associated costs will inevitably be significantly higher than at present.

The Manning report recommends several non-statutory reforms to the way the Seanad conducts its business. These could be implemented by the Seanad itself at any point, which this House should consider doing at the earliest opportunity. Examples of such reforms include strengthening of arrangements for Seanad scrutiny of reports from committees dealing with EU matters, facilitating debates on committee reports on EU matters which would be opened and closed by a chairman, rapporteur or member of the relevant committee nominated for that purpose, and regular scheduling of committee reports to improve the effectiveness of the House as well as the level of attention given to its work. The report adopted the principled objective of developing and strengthening the vocational nature of the Seanad. However, the report points out that the existing vocational panels are not evident in the way debates are structured in the House. Greater prominence could be given to the panels by periodically scheduling special debates on broad relevant themes and prioritising Senators elected to the relevant panel when assigning speaking rights in particular debates.

Today's debate provides a welcome opportunity to deepen our consideration of the electoral and non-electoral reforms we want to see. The Government is committed to implementing the reforms contained in the report but is also seeking views from Members about possibly going further. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators on the proposals by the implementation group regarding the election of Members of this House and its recommendations for changing the way the Seanad conducts its business.

Since becoming a Senator in 2016, I have learned a lot, seen a lot and thoroughly enjoyed my work in the House. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Seanad Éireann has been the subject of no fewer than 14 separate reports on proposed reforms. It is widely accepted that the Upper House can and should play an effective role in Irish politics. Irish people voted in 2013 to retain the Seanad and its function of providing checks and balances in our political system. However, no changes have yet been implemented.

The report from the implementation group on the 2015 Manning document offers a clear path forward to achieving a reformed and effective Seanad. It reflects much of what is contained in Fianna Fáil's constructive Bill on Seanad reform, which put forward a series of measures that could be implemented immediately by the Government. The key word here is "implement". Given the clear appetite for change and our understanding of the need for such change, let us proceed with it. We should give all citizens a vote and broaden representation for specific minority groups. We listened to what the wonderful people who took to the streets had to say. They are asking for listening ears and active hands. Let us give sports committees, school organisations and minority campaigners a shot at representing those who would vote for them to do so.

My party was the only one to oppose the proposed abolition of the Seanad in the 2013 referendum. Since then we have used our three Seanad nominations to facilitate independent voices in the Upper House. The people of Ireland crave a change in how we do our business in the Oireachtas, but we cannot offer that change without a complete overhaul of the political system. This is not a party political issue but, rather, a national issue. It is time for us to insist on Seanad reform and to work together to achieve it. We, in Fianna Fáil, will work with the implementation group to build a consensus. We want the Seanad to function as a check on Government power. It should have a meaningful role in scrutinising national and EU legislation. We want to see the doors of the House opened to a broader representation of people and groups throughout Ireland who would not be heard in Dáil Éireann.

Our reform Bill offers an immediate legislative route to achieving those goals and could be implemented in a matter of weeks. We must not allow the Government to ignore the need for real political reform and let it slip off the agenda. Our Bill would offer a voice in this House to young Irish people throughout the world. As citizens of this country, they deserve such a voice no matter where they live. We propose to introduce votes for eligible Northern Irish citizens, reserve seats for minority groups, achieve greater gender and identity equality, and curb spending on campaigns. My party is committed to working with the committee to advance the Manning report and our own proposals for reform. We want to implement the real and tangible change voters throughout the country are seeking.

There was much talk about a democratic revolution from members of a previous Fine Gael-led Government, but silencing the voices in the Upper House was not the way to achieve it. Every Member of this Seanad has used the power of this House to debate questions, raise issues, instruct and inform. In effect, we have tried in recent years to revive the powerful Upper House that existed under the 1922 Free State Constitution. In 1937, following its brief abolition, a new and reformed Seanad was established under the new Constitution, comprising five panels, namely, agriculture, labour, industry and commerce, national language and culture, and public administration, to reflect the spectrum of Irish life. The remaining seats were appointed by the Government and via university representation. The American author, John Jay Chapman, said, "The world of politics is always 20 years behind the world of thoughts." Irish life has changed since the restoration of a much weakened Seanad in 1937. If we are to have a meaningful representation of modern Irish life, we must reflect that change by giving representation to the Irish abroad, those in Northern Ireland who are eligible to vote and other voices in our society.

Fianna Fáil has pushed forward Dáil reform as the basis for real change in the way we do politics, and we will work with the implementation group to do the same in the Seanad. We are committed to finding common ground in developing a consensual approach to reforming the Upper House. The Government should use our proposals and the recommendations of the implementation group as the starting point for genuine reform, not the severely restricted proposals it originally brought forward for broadening university graduate voting rights.

We will also look to meaningful reform of the Dáil and expansion of local government in order to effect change in politics to reflect the real Ireland. All Senators are very passionate about this issue. It is an honour for us to be making changes to people's lives. Legislation is of great importance. The Seanad needs to be reformed and the sooner, the better. We should work together to make that change for the good of the people. Ireland is changing and we need to change too. It is a new Ireland. We face many bigger issues such as climate change that seem to affect us all. If we work together, we can make a change for the betterment of the people we represent.

I wish to politely welcome the Minister of State and note that he indicated that he is in listening mode, which is simply not good enough at this stage. Listening has gone on for a long time. The time for action and implementation has arrived, as has the time for ending the pretence that Fine Gael has any interest in reforming the Seanad. There is no appetite in Fine Gael for reforming the Seanad-----

In any of the parties.

-----and that can be fairly conclusively proven. We must remember that at a time when Deputy Enda Kenny was leader of the Opposition and fending off an internal dispute within Fine Gael, he was inspired to come up with the gimmick of announcing - at a president's dinner, national conference or whatever - an intention to abolish the Seanad.

Senator McDowell does not know that.

Senator Paddy Burke knows.

It was a shameful gimmick and the Irish people eventually saw through it. Senator Paddy Burke will have his opportunity. The abolition of the Seanad, as proposed by Deputy Enda Kenny, would have left the Constitution in tatters. The checks and balances provided for in the Constitution would have ceased to exist. There are many such checks and balances. I will not recite them all, but I wish to make clear that this House has many serious functions under the Constitution, not least of which is that its assent must be obtained before the Government surrenders our entitlement to unanimity on any issue in the European Union. This House has a veto in that regard and not solely in respect of the removal of judges or the President. The House was designed by former Taoiseach Eamon de Valera to be independent of the Government. If it was not designed to be independent of the Government, would it be the case that the will of this House in objecting to legislation passed in the Dáil could be overridden after 90 days? If it was intended that this House be under the thumb of the Government - where, as currently constituted, it has been kept most of the time - that provision would not be necessary.

The House has a great future in bringing to this Legislature voices which would not simply filter up through multi-seat proportional representation geographic constituencies. I was in Belfast recently with Senator Marshall and I visited the vacant senate chamber in Stormont. It is now widely understood in Northern Ireland that it needs a forum along the lines of this House, to which members of civil society would be elected on non-party lines by the electorate generally to represent various interests. That is desirable to bring forward different points of view and voices that would not otherwise be heard. Senator Dolan and the university Senators are examples of people who would not, in the ordinary course, find their way up through the geographical mutli-seat constituency system to a single-chamber legislature. Their voices would be lost. I refer to people such as Mary Robinson, who proposed in this House that the law on contraception be reformed. She was told by the then Archbishop of Dublin that she was bringing a curse upon Ireland. The House was so much under the thumb of the Government at the time that it did not even give her Bill a first reading. It refused to allow it to be printed.

One does not have to go back to former Senator W.B. Yeats and his speech on how we are no petty people, to Mary Robinson or to the countless other individuals who contributed in the House through the years - and who would not have been in the Oireachtas if we did not have a Seanad - in order to prove that this House is of significant value. In particular, I wish to mention the late Feargal Quinn who, as a Member of this House, was a great statesman in terms of pursuing various topics and interests of his in the national interest. It is worthwhile reminding ourselves that his final article for The Sunday Business Post was posthumously published the day after his funeral in Sutton last year. In the article, he pointed out the shameful way in which Seanad reform was apparently being abandoned to the back burner and put for further discussion or polite listening with no action. The decision of the public to retain the Seanad was due, in no small way, to Feargal Quinn's immense popularity. He went around Ireland and stood in town squares and people flocked to him. He reminded them of the value of the Seanad by his simple decency.

When the proposal of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, was defeated in that referendum, he said the people had given him a wallop. He badly abased himself by stating, in an effort to win the referendum, that there would be no reform of the Seanad if the people voted to keep it. That was a shocking statement. It was designed to bully people into disbelieving the possibility that Seanad Éireann was capable of reform and needed to be reformed. After he had been defeated in the referendum, the then Taoiseach slowly came around to the view that he would reform the Seanad because that was clearly the wish of the people in retaining it. He established a group under the chairmanship of Maurice Manning to advise him on how the electoral system for the 43 vocational seats in the House could be reformed without recourse to a referendum in order to make it more democratic and take it out of the hands of 220 Members of the Oireachtas and approximately 1,100 county councillors. Maurice Manning produced the report, which was handed to the Government. His group took submissions from every party and looked at the subject matter inside out. It came up with what it had been tasked with doing, namely, establishing reform without another referendum. What happened next? Nothing happened until pressure came on in the course of the formation of the Government. I pay tribute to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, who insisted that implementation of the Manning report be made an aim of the Government. It was included in the programme for Government that was adopted and put before the people. What happened then? Absolutely nothing. There was procrastination and delay until I and other Senators put a Private Members' Bill before the House. At that late stage we were informed that the Government wanted to establish an implementation group to deal with the matter.

The implementation group worked long and hard. I pay tribute to Members of this House from all parties, who worked with me to produce a report in accordance with the terms of reference which we were given. We did that. What was our thanks for doing that? It was to receive complete indifference from the Government and, finally, for the Taoiseach to stand up in Dáil Éireann and give the message that if somebody wanted to do something about this, he would not stand in the way. That is the present Taoiseach. As Senator Feargal Quinn pointed out in a posthumous article, the Taoiseach was a person who at one time was an ardent advocate of Seanad reform. In 2007 when he was an earnest Deputy only three months in office, he issued a press release announcing that he had conducted a survey of nominating bodies which play a key role in Seanad elections. He suggested: "This survey exposes the urgent need for Seanad reform", and went on to suggest that this should be the last time the Seanad is elected in this way. Those were the words of the young tyro entering into the political domain, but now we see a very different Taoiseach, a man who languidly and disgracefully said that if somebody wants to do something about this, let them do it. Let somebody propose it in Dáil Éireann and he would allow a free vote. The grace of the man is extraordinary. He said that in the hope that it would be voted down by people who are hostile to it. That contrasts dramatically with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill which is driven by the Minister, Deputy Ross.

Is it Boris Ross or Shane Johnson?

The Government bows down in acceptance of the Bill against the muted hostility of its Members in this House, as explained to the media. I do not expect the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to resign in protest at the way the Government has shabbily treated this issue, but I object to the way the Minister, Deputy Ross, has come in here since, having established a group. The Minister, Deputy Ross, insisted on being in the group and then contributed nothing to its proceedings, except to try to obstruct my being made chairman of it. He made no constructive suggestions on the subject whatsoever at any point that I can recall. The Minister, Deputy Ross, can have his way on judicial appointments but this piece of major reforming legislation is thrown in the wastepaper bin by this Government.

The Senator should conclude.

I will finish on this point. Members of this House have nothing to fear from the passage of the Bill, which is appended to this legislation. I recommended to the Taoiseach in my covering letter of the report that the Bill should be initiated in Dáil Éireann not here, because turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas, but Members of this House do not have anything to fear because the Bill itself acknowledged that on the best estimates they would, most likely, get one or two more terms of re-election under the present system before it fully came into effect. It has been cynically foot-tripped as a report. The efforts put in by those members of the all-party group have been traduced. This is a shameful moment for the Fine Gael Party.

Fine Gael has let itself down.

Senator McDowell has the floor, but he is over time.

I am concluding. Fine Gael has let itself down very badly. The people will not be fooled. If the next Dáil is the place where this must be dealt with, so be it. I hope there are people in that Chamber who will do-----

-----to this Government what it richly deserves to have done to it; kick it out, because it is a shamefully dishonest Government, which has conned the Irish people long enough.

The Minister must be standing for election.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I was going to open my contribution with the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny's remarks to the House in 2013: "I come in peace, not war", but after hearing the clarion, rabble-rousing rendition of the candidate in Dublin Bay South by Senator McDowell I fear that the platform for the next general election has just begun. I know his former constituency had the highest vote to retain the Seanad in the referendum. Therein lies the nub of the question Senator McDowell has posed. He failed in his 12-minute contribution to mention the report-----

He did mention it.

No. Senator Norris should let me finish.

Senator Buttimer has the floor.

He never mentioned in his contribution the report that he chaired. I compliment him on his role as chairman. It is extraordinary that Senator McDowell is such a democrat that a person who can propose a different person for the position of cathaoirleach is now obstructing democracy rather than having an alternative viewpoint. It is quite extraordinary that he said the Minister, Deputy Ross, was obstructing. I have been in committees where we have had votes for chair and vice chair positions. We have had votes for the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach of this House and for the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle in the Dáil. It is extraordinary that the Minister, Deputy Ross, who seems to have become the bogeyman for many people in this House, is still the bogeyman for many Members.

We know him only too well.

He is the bogeyman who will lose Fine Gael seats right across Ireland.

Senator Buttimer has the floor.

As Senator Paddy Burke said off mic to Senator McDowell, he was the leader of a political party and he did nothing in terms of Seanad reform. In fact, at one time he and his party were in favour of abolition if I am not mistaken. Let us put things in context. We can all change our position and our minds. That is fair enough.

One of the main reasons this Seanad was retained is that, along with other Members of this House, including the then Cathaoirleach-----

Everyone is getting their say. Could we just calm down? Senator Buttimer has the floor.

I am very calm, Acting Chairman. I welcome Senator Wilson to the House. I look forward to his contribution. I hope he can articulate and outline the reform that Senator Murnane O'Connor did not enunciate. That is okay too.

If there is enough time.

I thank all involved in the process. I genuinely thought it was a very worthwhile exercise. There was not unanimity on the report. I am in favour of reform. I expressed my own views at the meetings. To be fair, the secretariat of Síle de Búrca and Amanda Reilly deserve our praise, as do the experts who appeared before us. We had 13 meetings from May to December, which in many ways replicated the 13 reports that were put before us from 1928 to 2015. As Senator McDowell said, the Manning report is the bedrock of where we started from again. I welcome that. We have all participated in the group. I know that Senator McDowell articulated in his letter to the Taoiseach that it is not a matter that should be left to the initiative of the unreformed Seanad but on which the will of the people, as expressed through the Dáil, should be ascertained and implemented. The will of the people was to retain the Seanad. That is the question that was put to the people. The follow-on from that is a bit like Groundhog Day; we are here again discussing the matter. It is a bit like Brexit. The Senator is right. Those who want reform do not know what actual reform means and those who want to retain the present situation are steadfast in that.

To be honest, I am halfway in the middle in that I want to see an element kept, as we proposed in the report, and to see reform as we have outlined as well. As Senator McDowell is aware, I have serious concerns regarding some of the content of the report. That is the reason our party put a minority view in, as did the Sinn Féin Party and Deputy Broughan. Deputy Broughan made a point in the report which coincides with a view I hold, namely, that the people should have a further say in what happens in terms of reform. I think Sinn Féin is of the view that we should have elections to the Dáil and the Seanad on the same day.

Is it time to have a White Paper?

I am not procrastinating because I agree with Senator McDowell.

Those of us who are incumbents at the moment are fortunate and privileged to be here. In the future then one is at best talking about one or two elections. The Senator is right and I concur with what that. I am 52 years of age and I am not particularly worried about my position, and I am being very honest and candid about that unlike others, perhaps.

I have a very clear view. I would say to Senator McDowell that there is no pretence from me. I have an appetite for reform. My appetite is like the Senator's. It is in respect of our serious constitutional function. I believe the reform of this House requires constitutional reform to reflect a modern democracy. De Valera allowed for a 90-day delay of a Bill but delaying a Bill for 90 days is not real power. The House of Lords can delay a Bill-----

-----but it has question time and it can hold Ministers to account. I would much prefer to have Ministers come to this House to be held to account as well. There are issues that the Manning report addressed that we can implement and we should do so perhaps. Senator McDowell said we are not petty people. We are not but there is a view that some elected to this House on the vocational panels are lesser beings. Many of us in this House, and many who have left it and the other House, have made very fine contributions to public life.

I take umbrage at the inference that because we are not from the NUI or Trinity panels, that we are lesser beings.

I have never heard of a Trinity representative make any remarks in the slightest like that.

Senator Buttimer without interruption, please.

I am not saying the Senator Norris has done so but there is a view out there-----

No, there is not.

-----if Senator McDowell wants to read up on the matter.

It does not come from the university representatives.

I am not saying that it does, to be fair.

I do not believe those things.

Senator Buttimer without interruption, please.

I suggest this is a straw man that the Leader has put up to knock down.

It is not. The question I would pose is about whether there is a settled position on agreed reform. There is no agreed position on reform other than we all want to see reform, if we are honest about it. The dissenting views in the report is one view. Another view has been expressed by others who have not been elected to the House. They supported the retention of the Seanad and yet now say it should be abolished. I do not believe that there is a position around reform.

I compliment Senator McDowell on the following. We have reached a certain agreement. We have made progress on the road to reform and we should look to see what the next steps are. I am looking to the next steps in bringing about reform because they are critical in bringing about reform. I guarantee Senators a pound to a penny that Senator Norris will not agree with having one university panel.

Senator Norris will want to retain the Trinity panels. Others have a different viewpoint. There are Members here who want to retain the vocational panels in their entirety. I am of the view that it is time to reform the vocational panels and have a wider vote by the people. I might be signing my political downfall and the end my membership or whatever but I hope to be elected elsewhere at the next general election. How do we eliminate the elitist attitude that exists to the Seanad? Is it by going down the road outlined by Senator McDowell or others? Is it by having complete constitutional reform?

Let us consider what we do at the moment in terms of our business. We have general debates, legislation, debates on committee reports, departmental debates and Private Members' business but no Question Time. We do not hold Ministers to account, which is a fundamental part of what we should be about in the future.

County councillors take their role as the electorate very seriously. I might get slagged here for saying so. Members of county and city councils engage and take their job seriously.

We all want to see checks and balances. I do not believe, as Senator McDowell said, that there would be no checks and balances if the Seanad was abolished. The Lower House provides certain checks but I agree with him that we need to have a Seanad that provides checks and balances.

We have been well served by our Brexit committee and the Seanad public consultation committee. They are examples of what we can do. The Manning report mentioned other areas at which we should look.

I do not agree with the Sinn Féin proposition to abolish the Taoiseach's nominees. Irrespective of who the Taoiseach is, and Senator McDowell is partly right, there should be independence as well.

My party's report said that the electoral registration process is complicated and that could lead to difficulties. I very much share the view expressed by Senator McDowell in the report in terms of the downloading of ballot papers and the integrity of the ballot paper. That element is important. I agree with the Minister of State "that ballot papers and combined election literature would have to be sent to a significantly higher number of electors". He also made a point about cost. That is an element we have to debate as well. It should not be the be all and end all but there is a need to consider how much a reformed electoral system will cost.

The Minister of State said he was not convinced about parallel registers, one for Seanad elections and one for the other elections. That is something we need to consider as well. We need an electoral commission, which I hope that he can expedite.

I will conclude by saying that I speak not in war but in peace. I commend Senator McDowell on his clarion call to the people of Ireland but shame on him for turning the issue into a political football. He should not have done that. I hope that the people of Ireland, if they get the opportunity, will return this Government at the next election, whether that takes place this year or next year. The report has done this House and the Oireachtas a great deal of service. I thank Senator McDowell for chairing it and the Members for their participation.

Sinn Féin's message today is very simple. This Bill - the draft legislation attached to this report - should be put to the Dáil. The Bill is not perfect but it is free to be amended by any party. The Taoiseach specifically asked for legislation to accompany the report. Why would he do so if he did not wish to put the legislation to these Houses? Let us put the Bill to these Houses and not delay any further.

We are all paid very well.

No, we are not.

As far as I am concerned, we are all paid well for doing this job. The Taoiseach set up the Seanad reform implementation group and 20 or so people sat around a table on around 15 occasions. I thank the staff, the civil servants and the guests who helped us in our work. The cost would be significant if one did the calculation and yet I feel mugged as I stand here. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I heavily engaged in the process and did so in good faith. We tabled as many, if not more, amendments to the Bill and the report as anyone else but we all worked together, as a collective, to produce a report. There was never going to be a unanimous report, which is why the Dáil and Seanad are still free to amend the legislation, if they so wish, and yet I feel mugged. Where in the terms of reference are panels mentioned or the modern relevance of the panel titles? The Minister of State mentioned this as being a "fundamental issue". The Taoiseach said the same thing when he came to the Seanad or certainly when he stood up in the Dáil and addressed the launch of this report. The names of the panels do not matter a damn. What matters is universal voting, all students being allowed to vote in whatever capacity, and voting rights for citizens who live in the North and abroad.

The legislation has gathered dust and there has been no progress on it. We now face a situation whereby Senators will return to the electorate, probably next year, and canvass for fewer than 1,000 votes in the case of those standing for one of the vocational panels. Every time the Leader of the House addresses this issue, he refers to the section at the back of the report which includes our other or extended ideas. Sinn Féin did not produce an alternative report.

I did not say that it did.

Every time Senator Buttimer speaks on this issue, he suggests that Sinn Féin, like Fine Gael, produced an alternative and diverging report. The report of the Seanad reform implementation group report includes all of our legislative ideas-----

On a point of clarification and to assist Senator Warfield, I stated that Sinn Féin is a dissenting voice. That is to what I was referring in terms of the document. I did not state that Sinn Féin had produced another report.

It was not a dissenting voice; supplementary points were made.

I agree. I thank Senator Higgins.

Senator Warfield without interruption.

These were supplementary notes. They were presented as such largely because the terms of reference did not allow for suggestions relating to constitutional change. Although we support the legislation, the suggestions we made which might be looked at in future-----

The Government's terms of reference.

The report was produced in line with the Government's terms of reference. Our additional notes at the back of the report relate to constitutional change, the abolition of nominees of the Taoiseach, the holding of Seanad elections on the same day as general elections to the Dáil, the abolition of a requirement of postal votes, the provision of equal gender representation and the provision of representation from traditionally marginalised groups in society. That said, we believe the recommendations of the report should be implemented as soon as possible.

Today, for the first time, the Minister of State referred to using the result of the referendum on the extension of voting rights in presidential elections to gauge whether people in this State wish to include people in the North. People voted for the Good Friday Agreement which provides for citizenship rights for those in the North. That should be the primary gauge of whether people in the North should be entitled to vote in Seanad elections.

We will see after this debate whether someone will commit to bringing the Bill forward. I hope the Government does so within the next six months such that it can be enacted this term. If not, the Seanad and the Government will be failing to address one of the key objectives of the programme for Government. It would be embarrassing for a Senator to return to the electorate and refer to Seanad reform on his or her election literature if his or her party stifles these issues.

There has been progress as well as disappointments in terms of political reform which falls under the brief of the Minister of State. Prominent among the disappointments is the failure to hold the promised referendum on the right to vote at 16, particularly when we look to the 16 year olds who are leading the world today. It is extremely unfortunate that that referendum was not held last June as promised. There are many other such issues to which I could refer.

The Taoiseach should be present in the House for the discussion of Seanad reform to answer questions and engage with Senators on the issue. The report we are discussing was specifically requested by the Taoiseach. It is an initiative he put forward and a promise made in the programme for Government. He should be here to answer our questions. I will presently turn to some of the inconsistencies in his statements on this issue, but let us first take a step back and address the question of the mandate that exists.

We are not simply brainstorming possible solutions in pursuit of an ideal form of Seanad reform. The report was based on a clear mandate with very serious origins. A majority of those who voted in the 2013 referendum chose to retain and reform the Seanad. The referendum was not limited to the few members of the public who currently have the opportunity to vote in Seanad elections but, rather, was decided by all of the public. As the Taoiseach acknowledged, the voters in that referendum did not endorse the status quo; they wanted reform. A previous referendum in 1979 was also incorporated in the report of Maurice Manning and reflected in the legislation brought to the House. The proposal in the 1979 referendum - which is of the same vintage as the Taoiseach - was approved by 92% of voters. They created a constitutional imperative for the expansion of the university franchise. There is a significant mandate for that expansion. There is a mandate from the 2013 referendum for reform.

The Manning report involves an aggregation of all previous work on the issue, carried out on a cross-party basis. The programme for Government, for which the Taoiseach has ultimate responsibility and to which the Minister of State must adhere, includes a clear commitment to implement the Manning report rather than discuss it.

This 25th Seanad exists by the grace of the Irish public and has a mandate to reform. On the first day it met, Senator McDowell and I, along with nine other Senators, brought forward a Bill to implement the Manning report. We were asked by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, not to progress further with the Bill because the Government wished to engage on the issue. We were explicitly told that such was the commitment of the Government on this issue that the Office of the Taoiseach wished to engage on and lead the process of implementing the Manning report. In a spirit of good faith, we agreed to engage in a process and form a committee. Several Senators who are present were members of the committee and sat for many hours on it. In line with the explicit terms of reference we were given relating to how to implement the Manning report and what small changes, technical or otherwise, might be necessary in order to deliver effective implementation, the committee produced a new Bill. This is not a Bill put forward by 11 Senators; it is legislation drafted by a committee put together by the Government and which reached cross-party agreement. We did not reach a consensus; we reached agreement. I and many others sat in a room and voted on the content of the Bill, sometimes paragraph by paragraph. There other elements which I would have liked to have included, but I did not win every vote. Similarly, there are elements which Senator Warfield wished to have included. However, the committee reached agreement.

There has been much reference to four alternative reports. To be clear, they are four supplementary documents, one of which puts forward the view of an individual who wants the Seanad to be abolished rather than reformed. Another addresses additional issues. The committee took seriously its terms of reference and the content of the programme for Government regarding implementation of the Manning report. As such, additional ideas for constitutional reform were included under those supplementary annexes in order that they could be considered once the long-overdue and mandated necessary steps emanating from the constitutional imperative delivered in 1979, the referendum in 2013 and the programme for Government had been addressed.

This idea that it is ambiguous and impossible is not true. I must challenge the Minister of State on what I believe was a disingenuous opening statement when he spoke about a conservative estimate of 53 million people.

It was 5.3 million people.

Yes, a conservative estimate of 5.3 million people. Where did the estimate come from? Why is it considered conservative?

At the end of his speech, the Minister of State acknowledged that it is very much in his control to determine and set the scale of this overseas vote. Regarding a person with an Irish passport resident outside the State who may be able to vote in this referendum, the definition states it is a person who has been continuously resident outside the State for a period not exceeding that which has been prescribed by the Minister. It may be five or ten years. The evidence shown by academic experts is that the uptake of the vote, for example with the Mexican diaspora, was not as large as feared. Indeed, the provision may be changed by future Ministers.

It must be clear that this is not an abstract amount involving every person claiming Irish citizenship. This is an issue which can evolve and be changed. That is in the legislation and was acknowledged by the Minister of State at the end of his speech. However, it was not reflected in the beginning of his speech. We have heard again and again from the Minister of State and the Taoiseach about the millions of people who may suddenly claim a vote.

The Taoiseach stated he decided a Seanad committee should be established. He also said everyone supports reform but tends to be much less enthusiastic about change. It is the case that we hear much lip service paid to reform. The Government, and Fine Gael specifically, has proved to be extremely unenthusiastic about Seanad change. The lack of enthusiasm was reflected by the Taoiseach saying that he would not stand in the way of anyone who brought forward legislation on Seanad reform. We did so on the first day of this Seanad. He has stood in the way of that legislation by seeking engagement in an implementation process with others.

That has been an obstruction for the past two years. This is legislation prepared for the Taoiseach.

That is nonsense. This is the most ridiculous contribution I have heard on this matter for the past ten years.

He has stood in the way of universal suffrage. He has stood in the way of every person walking on the streets-----

This is mad stuff.

-----who wants to have a chance to vote. The key principle that everyone would have an opportunity to vote in Seanad elections and be reflected in some way has been challenged.

This is utter nonsense. Where is this challenge?

Apologies. The Minister of State will have his opportunity.

Will the Senator point out where this is referenced?

In his speech in the Dáil on this report, the Taoiseach said he questioned the idea of a voting system where councillors would cede some of their seats to the public.

He did not say that.

He had concerns-----

The Senator should read the speech.

Please. The Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond later.

He had concerns about the loss of voting power for councillors.

He did not say that.

Please. The Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond later.

Most of the speakers so far have had some basis to what they said. What the Senator has said are utter lies.

Please. The Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond later.

I will happily look up the reference.

Let us be very clear.

You cannot just come in here and say the first thing that comes into your head.

Apologies. Through the Chair, please.

I will check that reference and ensure it is accurate. We will make sure the record is corrected.

However, I will stand by the fact that An Taoiseach has not delivered on his programme for Government commitment to implement the Manning report. In his consistent delays in moving forward on this issue and in his refusal to put forward legislation, he has stood in the way of the delivery of Seanad reform. We are now moving to the end of the Twenty-Fifth Seanad with no legislation put forward by the Government or action taken to implement the Manning report. Accordingly, it has failed in its commitment in the programme for partnership Government.

The Minister of State must acknowledge in that regard that the Taoiseach has stood in the way of the delivery of meaningful Seanad reform.

That is a political charge.

The Minister of State will have an opportunity to sum up at the end of the statements.

Before I call the father of the House, I welcome guests of the Leader to the Gallery, Gino Carrera, Anthony Bellew, Mark Fettibene and Dr. Aidan Fox. I hope they enjoy their evening with the Leader in the House.

I call Senator Norris.

Now for the rational voice of Dublin University.

I have been speaking on this matter and advocating Seanad reform-----

On a point of order, will Senator Norris allow me to correct the record?

Do not be too long about it.

I will not.

The Minister of State has accused Senator Higgins of being untruthful to this House.

That has nothing to do with me.

Yes, it has nothing to do with Senator Norris.

In the Dáil the Taoiseach said the following:

My view, which is not the view of Government because we have not discussed it at Cabinet yet, is that I have reservations about it on several levels. I referred to those reservations already in this Chamber. The first of them is that it would diminish the role of councillors and local authority members. I know many Members of this House will not want that to be the case.

That is what he said.

That is not what the Senator said.

Will the rational voice of Dublin University be allowed to resume and prevail over this interminable petty partisan squabbling?

With respect, I wish to make a point of order.

Keep your respect. It is not a point of order.

Members have had an opportunity to make their points.

For the record Senator McDowell, that is not a point of order.

I call Senator Norris.

We have a candidate for a duet here.

I am sorry but-----

Senator Higgins resume your seat.

I have been subject to an accusation.

Senator Higgins resume your seat.

I asked to be given the opportunity to respond and I was told I would be.

Senator Higgins resume your seat. The Senator had an opportunity to contribute. I ask her to respect the Chair and resume her seat.

I would like the Minister of State to withdraw his comments.

Senator Norris without interruption.

As I was saying before I was so intemperately interrupted, I have been speaking and advocating for Seanad reform for 32 years in this House and ten years before that when I was a candidate for the Seanad.

Several phrases were used such as “elite”. Of course, the Seanad is an elite and it is a bloody good thing that it is. Why apologise for it? This anti-elitism stuff and political correctness is all tripe. One wants the best people in the Seanad, not nincompoops. Of course, we are an elite. We should be proud of it.

The Senator should not use unparliamentary language.

Of course, we are an elite. We should be proud of it. The word “elite” comes from the Old French meaning selected or chosen. We are chosen by the people because we have elite qualifications. Otherwise, there would be no expertise in this House.

Senator Warfield said we are well paid. We are in our fannies well paid. My income from Seanad Éireann is down by 50% since the economic crash. First, €10,000 was taken in a long-service increment.

It is not down enough.

We are the only job in Ireland that does not have a long-service increment. After 32 years of having been elected successfully to this House, I am on the same as somebody who was never elected but nominated last week.

That is surely a discrepancy and it is absolutely stupid.

We are paid enough.

Having made those two points, I would like to turn to the Minister of State's speech. It is perfectly obvious that there will be no major intervention on reform from the Government. It is stated in the second paragraph that the Government supports in full the principles underpinning the recommendations. It is not agreeing with any of the recommendations, just the principles behind them. It is very easy to do that and it means the Government is going to do nothing or very little indeed.

With regard to the university constituency, I have stated many times that if over 1 million voters are put into the university system, the Independent voice will be squashed out by the political parties. The latter will finance campaigns for their candidates. That would be the end of the Independent voice. It would be rather stupid.

I noted with great interest that the Minister of State referred to non-statutory reforms and the possibility of doing a certain amount relating to the business of the House. His statement was absolutely true. I ask him to support me in the moves I have made to get rid of Standing Order 41, which prohibits the discussion of any amendment that creates a charge upon the Exchequer. We could do this without a referendum. It is in the charge of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and this House to vote as they feel. There has been a fair amount of classic Sir Humphreyism regarding this matter. It was referred to the Dáil committee. Why in the name of God should that be the case? No Dáil committee can lay down the law about the Standing Orders of this House. It would be an impertinent intrusion that I hope would be strenuously resisted by Senators. The concept of a charge on the Exchequer could be used to rule out any amendment whatever.

It is not but it could because it could be said that the printing of an amendment-----

-----created a charge on the Exchequer.

Reference was made to the making of regulations.

This happens very rarely and, in my experience, almost never.

It is getting worse.

It seems to me that we have to get rid of this facility. I have never seen it said that printing amendments-----

Making regulations.

What Bill was that in?

Making regulations-----

No, I referred to printing the amendments.

Senator Norris should address his remarks through the Chair.

I said "printing the amendments" and I stand to that. It has never been done. It could be used to rule out any amendment whatever. What I am looking for could easily be facilitated by the Government. This House could easily do it. Every single Senator has, at one time or another, complained about this restriction, yet people are hesitating to do anything about it. Therefore, I call on them to get their courage together, get off their backsides and pass an amendment getting rid of Standing Order 41; otherwise the public of Ireland will know perfectly clearly that neither the Government, the Opposition nor anybody else in this House, save for a few like myself, really wants Seanad reform. They all talk about it but they will never get there because there are too many vested interests. There is no vested interest threatened by removing Standing Order 41.

Therefore, let us get on and do it.

Before I move on to Senator Paddy Burke, I advise the Minister of State that he might have used the word “lie” inadvertently in his interjection concerning Senator Higgins.

I did. I withdraw the word “lie”. It may have been a misquotation. Certainly, the quotation that was read out was correct but what was referenced was slightly different. I have no problem withdrawing the word “lie”.

I thank the Minister of State.

The quotation was directly relevant to the point I made, which was specifically on the balance between universal suffrage, of the 43 panel seats, and the councillors. My points were accurate. I thank the Minister of State for withdrawing his comment. I have never been subject to such a comment in this House before.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words about Seanad reform. I was also a member of the Seanad reform committee. We had some great discussions. Everybody did not agree but we had good discussions. Senator McDowell stated that the Seanad has been under the thumb of every Government. This is the first time ever that this House is not under the thumb of the Government.

What Seanad reform is trying to achieve is what we have here already. Over the 25 years in which I have been a Senator, there has never been such a diverse Seanad. It includes Independents, party members and all shades of political opinion. The Senator indicated that every Seanad was under the thumb of the Government. We have it in our grasp or power to make whatever changes we wish but we have not done so as a Seanad. Nothing leads me to believe any future Seanad will do so either. We should have the courage to make changes but we have not done so.

I was hoping we would have a more robust debate on what is entailed in the report. I am not against Seanad reform; in fact, I am for it. As Senator Higgins stated, however, there are small changes proposed but considerable costs. As I said at a meeting of the committee, I could not stand over the proposed costs that I believe would be the costs of reforming Seanad Éireann and holding general elections. In a Seanad general election, it would probably cost four times more to elect 60 Members than it would cost to elect 158 to the Lower House.

It is not rubbish. The Senator, as Chairman of the committee, has not put forward any costings at all.

Postal vote, ordinary post.

Senator Paddy Burke should continue, without interruption.

This needs to be spelled out in great detail for the public.

Where are the Senator's figures?

I will tell the Senator what is involved. One could have up to 40, or maybe 50, candidates on each of the five panels. Consider the cost if the State were to provide free post for each candidate. This is the case for the university panels, although not the others. I do not know what it has cost but I am sure it represents a considerable cost to the Exchequer. The Minister of State stated that we could have up to 5.3 million people. There will be an enormous cost associated with having two electoral commissions. That is what is proposed in the Bill.

We are going to have an electoral commission for the Seanad. There is going to be an electoral commission for the Dáil-----

The Senator has not read the Bill.

I have read the Bill.

On a point of order, it states that if there is an electoral commission-----

Is the Senator attempting to raise a point of order?

I am merely correcting the Senator. I ask him to give way.

I will give way.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has taught us all a lesson on that.

Excuse me, colleagues. Senator Paddy Burke is entitled to his 12 minutes, without interruption.

I will give way to Senator McDowell.

Unfortunately, the Senator may not do that-----

-----because the Chair is ruling on this matter. Senator McDowell has had his 12 minutes. I will see to it that Senator Paddy Burke has his, without interruption. I ask Senator McDowell to allow Senator Paddy Burke to continue without interruption.

On a point of order, the Chair is mistaken. It has always been the habit of this House to allow Members to give way to others.

I have given way to the Senator.

Senator McDowell has had his 12 minutes and I am making a ruling on this matter. Senator Paddy Burke has 12 minutes. I am trying to be fair to everyone.

There is a proposal in the report for a Seanad electoral commission.

The Bill says that it is subsumed into the other electoral commission once it is formed.

That may well be, eventually.

The Bill says there will be one envelope for every voter which will contain all the candidates' literature.

Yes, but there are five panels. One of the suggestions Senator McDowell put forward was that it might help the local post office. That was during the crisis with post offices, but Senator McDowell has no more regard for the local post office in Ballyglass or Belcarra, where I come from, than the man in the moon. However, we should calculate the cost, and I hope the Department will examine that. There could be an electorate of 500,000 on one panel. The Senator is saying that literature from each of 40 candidates will be sent to them. There is the size of the ballot paper that will be posted to them and them having to post the ballot papers back.

It is not worrying the university electorate.

That might well be, but that will be even worse.

It is the Government's policy.

Then there is the problem of counting 500,000 votes. We saw this during the European elections. A recount was called and it was proposed that the recount could take up to six weeks.

That was rubbish too.

It took less than 48 hours.

It did not happen but if it had, it could have taken six weeks-----

How could it take six weeks?

-----at an enormous cost to the Exchequer. There are no detailed costs put forward by anybody. I cannot stand over what I believe the costs will be and the imposition they will be on the Irish taxpayer with a reformed Seanad. I support Seanad reform but I believe constitutional change is required for proper reform. We are trying to reform the Seanad without changing the Constitution and I do not believe we can do that. I would support constitutional change to reform Seanad Éireann. However, extending the franchise to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and throughout the world as well as to people in the State will be an enormous cost to the Exchequer. That is the first issue.

What about the vote for the President? Is the Senator against that too?

Second, do we need to have two Chambers that are elected by the popular vote? That question must be asked. Senator McDowell is a great advocate for having an independent Seanad, and the current one is the most diverse I have seen, but there will be campaigning for the popular vote in both Houses. When a Bill is going through one House or the other, Members will have to deal with the popular vote, so what becomes popular will be the issue of the day. That will cause problems. At present, Members of this House are not here on foot of a popular vote and they do not have to face the people on issues, so it is easier for them to make an unpopular decision.

I see from the Minister of State's speech that the Department has reservations about some issues, and rightly so, not least the cost. There are many issues with regard to the vote. A section of the report says that where a person entitled to vote in a Seanad general election or by-election states in writing to the Seanad's returning officer that he or she duly returned the ballot papers and the form of declaration of identity by ordinary post to the Seanad returning officer, and the same do not appear to have been delivered to the Seanad returning officer and that he or she desires duplicate ballot papers to be issued to him or her, the Seanad returning officer, if such statement is received not less than 48 hours before the close of the poll at the election, shall forthwith, or if such statement is received by him or her less than 48 hours before the close of business, may send out another ballot paper by ordinary post to such person at his or her address as stated in the electoral register. With the amount of the panel at 500,000, how will that paper be found? Another ballot paper will have to be sent out if it cannot be found. It might appear simple but it is complicated. Perhaps I have missed something.

A barcode on the envelope.

Yes. Everything seems to be very simple but I cannot see how that can happen. There will be many issues. There will also be personation. If ballot papers are to be downloaded in a house where there are four or five votes and the people concerned are missing or are overseas, one person in the house can download all the papers and send them in. There will be a great deal of personation. Many angles and issues have not been teased out in this regard. There is no personation when one must go to a polling station, get the ballot paper from a presiding officer or polling clerk, put one's mark on it and put it in a box.

I cannot stand over the cost of this anyway.

I welcome the Minister of State. I will take as my starting point Senator Paddy Burke's comment that the current Seanad, in a way that has never previously been the case, is not under the thumb of the Government. I suspect that depends on how one defines the "Government". I am not sure that historians will necessarily take the view that this Seanad showed itself to be completely independent of the will of the Dáil in significant ways. The real test of independence is that this would happen from time to time. Whether it should happen or whether our system should allow that type of conflict with the directly elected Legislature or how such a conflict might be allowed and managed are matters for another day's debate.

I commend the members of the implementation group on the work they have undertaken. Senator McDowell, in particular, deserves thanks for chairing the group and the work he did. The extent of just how tortured the debate on Seanad reform has been is starkly illustrated by the list of 13 previous reports on the issue on page 5 of the report. It appears that forests have been felled to produce reports on this topic. Let us hope we are getting to the end of that and towards a day of action. The 2016 programme for Government stated that the Government would progress Seanad reform and the Manning report as a priority, yet it took 18 months for the Government to establish the group. It has taken nine months for the report to be subject to debate in this House. Perhaps there are reasons for those delays of which I am not aware.

The report contains a number of what might be described as minority reports dissenting from certain conclusions of the report. Mine is not among them as I did not make a submission so I approach what I will say here with a degree of humility. I have always been of the view that the changes we need require constitutional change, therefore what I would like to happen would go beyond the remit of the Manning report and the implementation group's report. I noted with interest the dissent of the Fine Gael Senators, who strongly attacked the report's conclusions. They talk about meaningful and tangible reform and say it can only be achieved through constitutional change through a referendum. I do not know if that statement will cause surprise in their party, but the 2016 Fine Gael manifesto said nothing about a new referendum, nor did the programme for Government. Indeed, the Taoiseach, wrongly in my view, explicitly ruled out a new referendum when he addressed this House in February 2018. It appears the Fine Gael Senators took it upon themselves to abandon that position. Fine Gael Deputies did not do so. The Senators say they agree with the Taoiseach's position on extending the Seanad franchise.

I am not sure how I would feel about that, but I would have some reservations in so far as what might be proposed would go beyond giving the franchise to the citizens of this State.

The decision to propose a referendum to abolish the Seanad in 2013 was a disastrous, politically immature decision that was based on the premise that the Seanad was not functioning in the way that it should, and it jumped from there to a mere simplistic proposal to abolish it. The public, by a very slim majority, saw through, dare I say, the lack of sincerity around political reform that lay behind that proposal. It was a grab for political popularity cloaked in the guise of an attempt at political reform, when what was really needed was reform both in how the Members of the Seanad are elected and how it functions. Of course, that was not on offer on that occasion.

It was said at least once in the time afterwards that the referendum had happened and there could be no further in-depth reform of the Seanad or there could be no recourse to a referendum. It seemed to me that showed a real lack of engagement with the need to reform how Members are elected to the Seanad and how the Seanad functions.

The public, having given their decision that there must continue to be a Seanad, in much the same way that the public in Britain have given their decision in favour of Brexit, just as the question should now be what type of Brexit, extreme or minor, by the same logic the question is what type of Seanad do citizens want in light of the fact that they have voted to keep it. I do not think it is correct to curtail the public's options by saying that whatever way it is going to be reformed, it must be reformed within the existing constitutional framework. While some might accuse Senator Paddy Burke of advancing the type of arguments against the type of reform favoured by Senator McDowell as somehow wanting to perpetuate a system that involves a relationship with councillors of a particular type and so on, the issues that Senator Burke is bringing to the surface do arise once it is decided that reform of the composition of the Seanad and the election of Members can be done only within the existing constitutional framework.

In other areas the Government has said that it wants to change the law and change things significantly, has sought the permission of the public in a referendum, and at the time has modelled what it proposes to do. It does not seem to be unreasonable that the Government, however one defines it in the current reality, would get together its preferred choice of Seanad reform and would make the necessary constitutional and legislative proposals that would bring that about. That would address the complications of having to put all of our citizens in as voters for one vocational panel or another or for having to implement a postal vote or all of the issues that have been touched on today.

I regret that neither the Manning report nor the report of the Seanad Reform Implementation Group, which was constrained in what it could do, gave more consideration to a more fundamental reform of how we elect the 43 Members to the panel seats. I would go further and say even the 49 seats, if the university seats are counted, and perhaps even the full 60 seats, if the Taoiseach's nominees are counted. I told the Minister previously during a debate on the proposed electoral commission that we need to look into the possibility of a list system in Ireland or, more specifically, what is called an open list system. Reform of the Seanad would give us an opportunity to introduce such a system in a limited way. I have always been of the view that while one of the great strengths of our system of electing Deputies is that it allows great engagement between candidates and the local voter, that is also its great weakness, because in our system, people do not always vote for ideas because they vote for people. We have spoken a lot about the clientelism that has bedevilled Irish politics. Were we to show some kind of curiosity about how we can improve our electoral system, it seems obvious that we would look to see whether a list system could be used to elect most Senators, if not all the Seanad, so that we could begin to have some kind of a balance between the exigencies of getting elected locally, which involves one skill set, and the possibility of electing people on the basis of ideas, where the primary focus would be the panel on which they run.

One has only to look at the types of politicians who get elected in other jurisdictions where they have a list system to see that there are very different patterns and, I would say, to a large extent, a greater diversity. Having said that I was in an airport recently when I heard a German MEP tearing strips off a hapless Aer Lingus official about the fact that she was not willing to accept his diplomatic passport. He said that it was a disgrace, that he had had the diplomatic passport for 30 years, that he had the telephone number of the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, and that he wondered whether he should call him. I realised that it was not just because of their virtue that Irish politicians would not do such a thing but because they are not elected on a list system and they would be conscious that there would surely be somebody from Ahascragh or Celbridge listening to them, even if they were boarding a flight in Hong Kong, and they could do themselves some electoral damage. The list system does allow certain problems to come into it, such as a certain sense of entitlement and disconnection, but I believe the open list system would allow voters to vote for particular candidates within a party list while voting for their preferred list. This would preserve the right of voters to vote for their preferred candidates while also ensuring a purer form of proportional representation, with all parties, particularly smaller parties, represented proportionately.

Senator Higgins and others might be interested to note that the international academic evidence shows that list systems lead to 7% more women on average being elected. Open list PR is in operation in various forms in Austria, Belgium, Croatia and the Czech Republic. Most importantly, the open list system limits the ability of political parties to rig their candidate list in favour of favoured insiders, and it strongly protects the representation of smaller parties and minority viewpoints. The open list system achieves greater diversity among groups that get representation and provides the possibility of changing the position in the list so that it is not an elite group proposed by party head office. I believe this would ensure a much greater openness in how the Members of the Seanad are elected, and that is our ultimate aim, which I think is shared by most people. I see no reason that such a system could not be implemented within the current panel system and constitutional framework.

I wish to comment briefly on the representation of the university panels. Of course, I support the broadening of the franchise to all graduates. This could have been done by an Act of the Oireachtas any time in the past 40 years. I do not agree that there should be a number of small constituencies. I would certainly prefer a six-seat national constituency, but if I am honest, over the years that I have been canvassing votes, I have found myself having to apologise for the fact that university graduates get to elect Senators and non-university graduates, such as my own parents, do not. I do not think we can stand over that anymore. We know the origin of the university seats, and Senator McDowell's grandfather distinguished himself in political life as an NUI Deputy, if I am not mistaken, and latterly as a Senator, if my memory serves me well.

Senator Mullen is correct.

A man from my own neck of the woods, Michael Tierney, was a very eminent Senator. It, of course, made sense in terms of inclusion of the Protestant minority and their voice in the new State to represent Trinity College adequately and fairly, but we need to be honest and say that this is an anachronism. I would rather see a generous election of Senators by citizens with no reference to specific vocational groups anymore, either at the university level or in terms of the other vocational representation.

I am uncomfortable with the proposal to expand the electorate abroad, or even to Northern Ireland, unless one does it by way of Taoiseach's nominee or a small subgroup to represent the diaspora, to speak. It is estimated that there are approximately 1 million Irish-born people living abroad with more than 800,000 Irish passports in circulation abroad. Realistically, the vast majority of these have settled abroad and do not intend to return to Ireland. There is very big leap between the proposal to grant a vote to these citizens in presidential elections - it is a largely ceremonial office - and granting them a vote in a direct election to a law-making Chamber. Citizens abroad who do not pay tax and have any day-to-day input into Irish society should not be given such large influence.

I accept that if we were to move away from the university franchise, there should be some means of allowing Irish people abroad to continue to have a voice but this should probably be achieved other than through the direct election of Senators in the way that the rest of the population at home engage in same. I am conscious I have gone over time and I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for not closing my contribution to this debate down sooner.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. I welcome the Minister of State. The more I hear people say they are all in favour of Seanad reform, the more it reminds me of something Pierrepoint, our hangman, is supposed to have said to one of the subjects, which was: "Son, I am here to help". I do not believe people when they say that 13 or 14 reports later. We could do things in this House tomorrow morning that would show we are reformative.

I refer to the issue of cost and whether we believe the House has a valued role. That is looking not only at its cost but at its value. What is the opportunity cost of having the House? We saw posters saying the House cost €20 million, trying to frighten people into not supporting the retention of the Seanad. If cost is the only issue, let us agree to disagree on areas of reform and put forward a menu that we will all accept and then sit down with the smart people, maybe in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who seem to know an awful lot about cutting cloth to measure, and work out a cost. Why would one let a technical issue stop one from discussing the principal issue? That bothers me.

In 2003, the organisation I am also employed by, namely, the Disability Federation of Ireland, put pen to paper and made a submission to one of those reviews. We were invited in and I sat in one of those seats with our chairman. I might as well have been elsewhere.

We have to stop. We cannot keep saying we are in favour of reform-----

That was 16 years ago.

-----when little or nothing is happening. As a nominating body, we had a process in 2007 and 2011. We had a different process in 2016. When candidates telephoned us, we said we had a process and criteria. We had a committee and we nominated someone in 2007 and 2011. We had a different process the last time which was based on the nominating bodies working collectively, and not individually, and pooling their resources. There are ways to deal with these things. There are groups and organisations which have a real interest in what the Seanad is about.

We have 60 Members of the Seanad coming through three different groups. There are the vocational panels, which I will not name. We have the 11 Taoiseach's nominees and six from the universities. Is it not strange that two of them are named by where they come from and not what they are about? I refer to the point, which I believe Senator McDowell made earlier, or which was in the report, that there is room for debates and statements around the activities of the nominating bodies. Some 43 Senators, or two thirds of the Seanad, are elected through vocational panels. We now accept that since 1938 there has not been one discussion here based around the objectives of a vocational panel. Does that not say something about how this entity has been almost warped since the day it began?

Supposing Mr. Trump said he wanted to abolish one of the Houses in the US. We would all be agog.

Would we be agog at this stage?

Can I continue without interruption?

I think he would like to-----

They are all interrupting now.

Senator McDowell, allow Senator Dolan to speak without interruption, please.

Do not give him ideas.

Senator McDowell mentioned a former Senator who is deceased, Feargal Quinn, and I wish to add Noel Whelan's name to his. The late Feargal Quinn was the chair of Democracy Matters and he telephoned me one day and asked me if I would be part of it.

I was happy to be involved but I did not play a significant part in it because of other things that were going on at the time. I could see the mastery of himself, Mr. Whelan and others. On the last occasion I met Mr. Whelan, I had invited him in here - I mentioned this on the Order of Business the morning he passed away - to speak to the nominating bodies to the public administration panel. He was entertaining. He said he would cut it down and be very crisp. He used the analogy that, in 1989, if someone had suggested that we get rid of the other House of the Oireachtas, An tUachtaránacht, the President, it might have got legs or have taken off. He asked if anyone would dare even suggest it now. Why not? Has the Constitution been changed? Not a dot of it has.

The behaviour of the Members of that office has altered, in their vision and in their way of operating. There will be right and left, and this and that, but they have had a better or a different way of seeing their role - the two Marys and the present incumbent, President Michael D.Higgins. How I and each of us behave makes a difference. We could do a number of things in that regard.

I return to the issue of cost. If we flip the coin, what is the value? There are multiples of extra value to be got out of this House. We are just chugging along. We have not had a service in decades. That is where the question has to go.

Parties have a real problem with this House. It is like a cash cow. Every Senator who signs a party pledge is an asset, an income and a resource to that party. This is a fact. That is valuable and if I had that in my back pocket, I would not want to hand it over. Without embarrassment, the key parties in this regard need to sit down and find a way to unlock that.

There is another issue, which may be closer to the bone. Some 20 to 21 of the 43 vocational seats come through nominating bodies.

The outside panels.

These are called outside panels. The majority of those seats are won by people who have signed and committed to a party pledge. How does one discharge one's responsibility to that and to the vocational panel one has become a member of due to one's knowledge and experience?

That is an issue. The knowledge and experience of those who represent the vocational sphere is important. If the House was divided down the middle and there were people with previous experience in the Oireachtas and Taoiseach's nominees on one side and individuals with knowledge of and experience of those five areas on the other - never mind reforming them for a moment - it would be possible to have fantastic debates about what needs to be done. This is because there are people in the House who have knowledge of and connections relating to civil society, labour, industry, agriculture, etc. We could fix many issues and provide involve large numbers on committees. The value added would be fascinating.

We put a great deal of stock in democratic elections - a matter about which Senator Mullen spoke so well - and electing those who are absolutely attuned to the real issues people face. Seanad elections are, under the Constitution, absolutely and umbilically connected to Dáil elections. If one asks people if they know how individuals are elected to the Seanad, one will find they do not have a clue. A person is the loneliest man or woman in the country when trying to get elected to this House. People just do not know what we do to get here. I ask people to reflect on the fact that the election relating to this House is similar to what one might expect to happen when seeking admission to a secret society.

There is much more to be said. I have enjoyed and learned from the contributions I have heard. We can be reformative in the way we behave in the House. I have made some suggestions in that regard and on how the next Taoiseach would deal with the question of his or her nominees. A number of practical things can be done.

I will withdraw my comment. I got a bit lost in the heat of the moment. A quote was read out by Senator McDowell. I felt that there was a certain motive being attributed which I did not believe was accurate, hence my comment. I should not have said it.

I thank those who have contributed. As usual in most debates, whether in this House or the other House, there are plenty of contradictions. Several Senators have spoken about the delay in acting on the Manning report. I had only been a Minister of State for a few weeks when I met Senator McDowell and other Senators to discuss the establishment of the group. Previous occupants of the role will have to answer for why action was or was not taken. From the date of my appointment, the Taoiseach made it clear that reform of the Seanad was something he wished to act upon and it was hoped that there would be some clarity brought to that by the group headed by Senator McDowell. As was evidenced in the report we are discussing and in other reports produced over the years, there are all sorts of different views as to the shape of reform.

Like others, I am struck by the similarities between what we are discussing and the referendum held in Britain on membership of the European Union. Everybody has an interpretation of what the result in 2013 meant. I voted against the abolition of the Seanad at that time. I thought it would have been grossly hypocritical for somebody who had been a Senator for years to vote to abolish it. I favour reform and different aspects of what various Senators have said during this debate.

I want to deal with a few issues specifically. Senator Murnane O'Connor championed a lot of slogans such as "We need reform. We need it now." I expected a small protest with placards around St. Stephen's Green. She provided no proposal in any shape or form for what that reform might be and there was no agreement with the group, other than to say that they were great people. She did not state what function or reformed role the Seanad might have. She also launched a bizarre attack on de Valera when she referenced the Free State Seanad, more or less condemning him for its dissolution and the establishment of the reformed Seanad in 1937.

Senator McDowell gave, as usual, a very interesting contribution riven with contradictions. He quite correctly mentioned many Senators who have served in this House. He spoke at length about how Mr. de Valera's intention was to design a Seanad which was independent of Government. In his main contribution, which referred to former Senator Mary Robinson's contraception Bill, he said that that Seanad was so controlled by the Government that the Bill did not even pass First Stage. He spoke about procrastination and delay, which I have addressed.

From what I have heard here and elsewhere, nobody has disagreed with the role of the Seanad in giving a voice to those who would not come through our electoral system for the Dáil. Senator McDowell provided different examples of that. He managed to explain the unique position that the Seanad occupies. It was established, he said, to be completely independent of Government, yet over the years it has not been as independent as it could be. Senator Paddy Burke is correct. This Seanad and that which sat in the period 1995 to 1997 were probably the most independent of Government because the Governments concerned did not have a majority in the Dáil or in Seanad.

I reassure Senator McDowell that I wrote to the Clerks of the Seanad and the Dáil regarding a debate on Seanad reform. The Government does not control the business of the Lower House. The response from the Seanad came fairly quickly. I will continue to seek that a debate be held in the Dáil. The Senator is right to ask that the Dáil give its view quickly. The Government does not disagree with the suggestion that the Dáil needs to be central to whatever reform takes place in the Seanad. Insofar as I can, I will push to ensure that the Dáil engages in a debate on the report as soon as possible and, subsequently, any legislation that may follow on from it.

Senator Warfield spoke about how the matter should be put to the Dáil. I reiterate that all groups in the Dáil have Members who sit on the Business Committee. The Government does not have a majority. As usual, people in here often express views which are very different from what their political party said in the Dáil, which is certainly the case for Senator Warfield. I am not aware that Sinn Féin Deputies on the Business Committee have ever expressed a view in the Dáil that a debate on Seanad reform should be held there.

The Senator stated that he felt he had been mugged when he heard that it cost a lot to produce the report. I am not sure it cost a lot. I do not know what the costs were. He said the names of the panels do not matter. Nobody suggested that they did. If one is electing to anything, whether it is the county council in Kilkenny or one of the Houses of the Oireachtas, the most important criterion is the electorate. There have been reform Bills and rotten boroughs. Some of the Seanad panels in 2019 may be referred to by some, but not me, as variation of a rotten borough . How one defines who is entitled to vote is central. It is a significant shortcoming in the report that we are left with no clear path.

I do not want to misquote what is in the report, which I read earlier.

Point 6.10, which I think an extraordinary statement, is as follows: “It is anticipated that the number of Irish resident voters which will both apply to be registered and vote at a Seanad general election will be far lower than the number of persons who tend to participate in Dáil elections”. I know evidence was heard and some of the people are named in the report as having given evidence. To my mind, having observed elections for years, when one reads that statement, a lot is being taken at face value without thorough investigation. We cannot, surely, design an electoral system where we are saying, on the one hand, it will reform the way Seanad Éireann is elected but, on the other, behind the backs of our hands, we are saying, "Sure, they will not vote anyway." That is not the way a local authority, a national parliament or the European Parliament would run its electoral system, that is, on the basis that people will not bother to apply.

Senator Higgins raised the 5.3 million figure. Based on the options paper published in the context of extending the franchise in the presidential election, there are 3.2 million people eligible on the Dáil register at present, 1.2 million people who would be eligible in Northern Ireland and just under approximately 900,000 Irish passport holders abroad, which is where the 5.3 million figure comes from. I believe in the idea of giving our diaspora a say in elections in this country. Equally, however, I understand the concerns. Ten of my father's aunts and uncles emigrated to Illinois and I have many second cousins who have never set foot in Ireland but who have Irish passports.

Senator Mullen raised the issue and it is a legitimate concern. That is why Senator Higgins pointed to what is contained in the Bill, namely, the Minister can curtail or sign off on regulations to limit this. However, there is the issue of getting a fail-safe way of clarifying how long a person is living overseas, and perhaps people can self-declare, sign an affidavit or produce some documentation as to place of address.

We do that currently.

However, there has not been much discussion on this in the House tonight and it leaves this wide open to abuse. My biggest concern about a register is to make it safe. We will be embarking on this at the end of this year and we have just had a public consultation on changing the registration process and moving towards a system of using PPS numbers because our existing electoral registers are not exactly as they should be. That is because local authorities do not have rate collectors and the level of knowledge on the ground is not as detailed as it previously was. I see in that loose language a recipe for the potential to abuse the franchise. In that format, it is not something I would be happy to stand over.

Senator Paddy Burke expressed his concerns about the security of the ballot and the costings. How we put a value on democracy is a fair question, as others also said, in particular Senator Dolan. The absence of definitive figures is a drawback of the report. That is not to say it should be the end of things, and I do not believe that further analysis of those figures could not give an approximation of what would actually be yielded if the report and the attached Bill were implemented.

Senator Norris asked about Standing Orders in the House. I have no issue with the reform of Standing Order 41 and the points he made in that regard are valid. On what the Leader said earlier on the questioning of Ministers, it always struck me as strange that, in some respects, the Seanad is ahead of the other House in that, on the Order of Business in this House, there is the freedom to raise what is topical. The only problem is that it is being raised with the Leader, who is not necessarily in a position to give a detailed answer. I know Commencement matters are chosen every day but, certainly, the possibility of having a Seanad where Ministers are questioned more often and in depth by Senators is something I would greatly support.

Senator Mullen made a big thing of the 18 months for the Government. A new Government was formed when Deputy Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach and, within weeks of that, this group was established. The Senator spoke about the Seanad referendum being a grab for political opportunity. I have already stated I did not support it at the ballot box or in other places before that. Interestingly, the Senator also spoke about his opposition to vocational panels and university panels. My view is that we have to try to strike a balance. I am conscious of why the original Seanad was established, namely, to give representation to those alternative voices that Senator McDowell spoke about. The alternative voices now are very different, although they might still be people of minority religious beliefs. Actually, Senator Mullen is now an alternative voice, and whether one agrees with him or not, he is saying something that is not always on the side of the political commentariat that exists.

He is an alternative voice.

Yes. I fully support the notion of ensuring that the Seanad would continue to be a place where people who have very different opinions can get elected and can contribute to public life. However, there are genuine concerns about certain aspects of what is in Senator McDowell's report.

I will endeavour, as I said, to ensure that the Dáil has this exchange of views as soon as possible. I ask every Senator who has contact with Members in the other House to ensure it is raised at whatever time is suitable. In general, reports are discussed on Thursdays and I am free any Thursday to deal with it because it is crucial. Whatever talk we have in here about reform of the Seanad, the real driver for reform will come from the other House. I am certainly very open to that.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 September 2019.