Seanad Reform Bill 2014: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill has at its core the objective of making the political system more democratic and accountable. Unfortunately, this week it has been shown yet again how badly we need real reform. The Garda Commissioner was pushed aside, following a series of deeply suspicious events. Each element of this story has emerged drip by drip and there is not a person anywhere who believes everything is now out in public. Even the Government’s most craven supporters concede that we are facing a profound crisis which touches on one of our most important institutions. In the face of this crisis we have for months seen a strategy of attacking opponents, false claims left on the record, a reluctance to investigate serious allegations and an absolute refusal to accept even the most basic principles of democratic accountability.

This week the Minister for Justice and Equality went into hiding. Instead of taking responsibility, he limited himself to a couple of carefully scripted appearances in this Chamber. For only the second time in our history, the head of the police force resigned and did so following an approach by a senior official at the request of the Taoiseach. By any definition, this is a major public issue, yet the Minister did not give a single interview. He hid from public sight entirely on Monday and Tuesday. Worst of all, we, as Members of the Oireachtas but not members of the Government, had no powers to force him to be address this fundamental issue. We have met for four days this week and the questions we were allowed to ask about the departure of the Garda Commissioner were limited to two sessions of Leaders' Questions, with the Taoiseach falling back on his now traditional approach of doing everything possible not to answer questions.

If ever there was proof that we had one of the weakest parliaments in the democratic world it was seen this week. The only reason much of what has happened emerged is the only committees not chaired by Government Members asserted their independence. This is very important. Committees such as the Committee of Public Accounts which is not controlled by the Government is one of the few which are asserting their independence of the Executive. The other committees are controlled by the Executive through their Chairmen.

Correct. That applies to the justice committee also.

In 2011 the people demanded real reform of their political system. They were promised real reform by every party now represented in Dáil Éireann. Once the election was over, the new Government announced it was determined to push ahead with what it termed a "democratic revolution". Last year’s referendum on the abolition of the Seanad was intended by the Government as its major political change. It deployed empty populist rhetoric to claim that the Seanad was an elitist, undemocratic, idle and wasteful irrelevance. At the time the referendum proposal was published it enjoyed the support of 80% of the public. Fine Gael conducted the most cynical poster campaign ever held for a referendum. It debased politics.

When Fianna Fáil took its stand against the Government and the opinion polls, our argument was that the Government was proposing to make our system worse, to hand even more power to a dominant Executive and to use the referendum as a way of claiming, rather than delivering, reform. This argument which was also advanced by the main non-party "No" campaign won the referendum. No party or individual who expressed an opinion during the referendum called for the status quo to be maintained. The choice was abolition or reform and reform won.

It has become standard practice during Dáil debates on political reform for Government members to talk at length about all of the wonderful reforms they have delivered. This has included the Chief Whip announcing in 2011 that the Government had begun handing back power to the Oireachtas. I implore the Minister not to waste our time today with this nonsense. The Oireachtas meets for longer and has renamed some of its activities, but it decides less and less. Ministers routinely treat the House with disdain. They accept fewer Opposition amendments and proposals than ever. The guillotining of debates on Bills has reached historic highs. Basic courtesies to the Opposition such as proper consultations before European referenda have been abandoned. On the odd occasion such as on this Tuesday when we receive a briefing on a matter of public importance, we learn more from the media than from the Government. When we come here on days like today, we are allowed to propose Bills, but they are not allowed to become law. As we saw with my party’s recent legislation to protect Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, mortgage holders, the Government sometimes pretends to support the legislation, but then lets it die quietly on the Order Paper. Nobody believes Government members when they say they have reformed the Dáil and the more they claim it, the more absurd they look.

On the evening when his personal initiative was defeated the Taoiseach said he was a democrat and acknowledged the people’s decision. He and his Government have since done exactly nothing to acknowledge the people’s decision. They propose to leave the Seanad intact, with the slight exception of changing the franchise for the university seats, a measure clearly intended as some form of petty revenge against the successful advocacy of the existing university Senators. The Government’s position is that it believes the Seanad is undemocratic, but it proposes to do nothing to reform it. If no action is taken in the next year, the earliest a more democratic Seanad could be elected is at the end of the next Dáil, possibly seven years from now. That is not acceptable. The right thing to do, which would show a commitment to genuine democratic reform, would be to hold consultations with the Opposition and agree a new referendum proposal to reform the election and powers of the Seanad and reform Dáil Éireann. There is no reason such discussions should take more than a month or two. The Government has rejected this and said Seanad reform is not a priority and that it will not allow a new referendum to be held. Given this, our only option is to try to find other ways of promoting the reform for which the people voted. While the text of Bunreacht na hÉireann places significant limits on what can be done, we still have great flexibility to enact reform legislation. Most fundamentally, we have the ability to introduce a universal democratic franchise in the election of most Senators. A proposal to do this is at the core of the Bill before the House.

The existing Seanad panels could be opened up to universal suffrage through primary legislation. The idea of a primarily directly elected second Chamber is common in the democratic world. It leads to extra opportunities for conflict and tension within parliament, which would be very good. What many see as the dysfunction of the United States Congress is more a reflection of its federal system and the complete separation of powers between parliament and the executive rather than an argument against second Chambers.

We do not need a second Chamber which duplicates all of the powers of Dáil Éireann. It is reasonable to have one Chamber possess the final word in most disputes. This is provided for in Bunreacht na hÉireann and will not change. We need a more diverse parliament which has a greater opportunity to challenge the Government, review legislation and oversee the wider public service. While debates in the past three years in this House have been full of people stating with absolute certainty that all errors in the past were the responsibility of the Government, the first time the national Parliament discussed the financial system was when it was in the process of imploding.

A more democratic, diverse and responsive Seanad could play a vital role in improving the obvious failures of the Oireachtas.

A significant point in this Bill is that it is proposed that the franchise would extend to all citizens, including those not resident in the State. My party will be supporting the proposal to extend the franchise for the election of the President when it comes before the House. Extending it for Seanad elections is possible without a referendum due to the broader wording of Bunreacht na hÉireann concerning the Seanad franchise. We believe this extension of the franchise outside the Twenty-Six Counties is reasonable given that the Dáil will retain the final word on all matters, as well as the only word on taxation and expenditure. There would be a serious issue requiring much deeper debate if it were proposed to give some people the power to dictate policies to which they would not be subject. This does not arise in the context of the Seanad and its existing powers.

The Bill proposes to extend the franchise on the higher education panel to graduates of all recognised universities and colleges. There was once a significant argument for these seats in ensuring diversity in a young State, but this argument no longer applies, and in the context of a constitutional reform of the Seanad, there would be no justification for retaining dedicated seats for higher education graduates. A further section of the Bill provides general principles concerning the manner in which the Taoiseach’s nominees would be identified. These obviously could not be binding, but they do make the point that in a reformed Seanad the objective of filling representational gaps should be a concern of the Taoiseach.

A regular occurrence during these Friday sessions is Ministers reading a list of technical issues which officials believe are to be found in the Bill. Often they are entirely right that there are technical flaws. I accept that there are items in this Bill which require detailed scrutiny and amendment before they could be enacted, and that is why we have Committee and Report Stages built into the legislative process. Second Stage is supposed to be about the core principle of the Bill, which in this case is that we should open up the franchise for electing the Seanad. There are many specific points within the Bill and I would very much welcome a detailed discussion of them during Committee Stage. There are different ways of approaching practical issues of constructing the electorate for the panels, administering a postal vote and requiring diversity of representation. This principle was supported by the Government at great length and expense last year, and both Fine Gael and Labour indicated that they view the current method of electing Senators to be completely unacceptable. The Bill we are introducing today addresses the most important element of reform that is possible immediately, which is to open up the Seanad to all citizens. By adopting this Bill we could immediately end the elitism which the Government and Sinn Féin were so concerned with during the referendum. We could make our entire Parliament representative of the direct will of the people.

We do not have available to us the level of support staff that the Government can use for legislation, but we have shown quite clearly that it is possible to significantly open the Seanad even if the Government continues to refuse to hold a referendum on real reform. Through a full debate at different stages there are obviously many issues to be addressed and refined in this Bill, but the core point stands; the people demanded reform last year, and we have both the duty and the ability to deliver it. To fail to act - to do the minimum possible and move to other issues - would be an act of political arrogance which would reinforce the growing public disillusionment with the failure to reform Irish politics.

We have seen this Parliament become ever more marginal to vital debates. There have been many small changes, but taken together they have reinforced the idea of a dominant Executive controlling everything of significance. The only way to address this and begin to rebuild a Parliament worthy of public support is to listen to the demand for substantive reform. Listening to the people's decision last year and reforming the Seanad is an essential first step. We need a new referendum on full reform but we cannot wait seven years before there is a reformed Seanad. We should pass this Bill and ensure that the next time we elect a Seanad it reflects the will of the Irish people.

I welcome this debate but I utterly refute the content and tone, as well as the hypocrisy shown by the leader of Fianna Fáil on the other side. I note his sorry ranks today and there is at least one fellow traveller with a red tie who, in times of serious political issues, voted with the party's former leader, Bertie Ahern, and kept him in power during the most appalling ruining of our economy.

The Deputy said the Oireachtas was not relevant, but he is absent from this Chamber more often than he is present. We frequently call attention to the absence of members of Fianna Fáil during debates in this House.

Say it again. It is nonsense.

I represent the Government this morning.

Perhaps we should call a quorum.

I did not interrupt anybody over there. The party is noted for its absence more than its presence. Deputy Martin's attack on Oireachtas committee chairmen is disgraceful and should be withdrawn. He correctly pointed out that some committees are properly chaired by members of different parties, but the Deputy is being partisan in his treatment of committee chairmen who do not have his sanction. Seeing them as less worthy, less hard-working and less focused or democratic in making Ministers accountable is absolute rubbish, and I refute that view absolutely. The Deputy can throw many low blows. Perhaps there is a history there that we do not know.

He is up for a scrap today.

That was really a low blow.

Is that why the Government wants the d'Hondt system?

It is my conviction that all the chairmen of the Oireachtas committees, regardless of party membership, are not partisan, but they are fair and objective and hold Ministers to account. The Joint Committee on Health and Children is an example. The Deputy cannot say the Chairman - a Cork colleague - is not absolutely fair and mature in reflecting on very serious issues. That has added to the credibility of democracy in this House. All of the other chairmen are excellent people and hold us to account.

They did not hold Irish Water to account.

I say this as somebody who has repeatedly praised committees such as the Committee of Public Accounts. I have no difficulty with impartial and fair chairing of committees, which is what this House is about. I utterly refute the Deputy's comments in that regard. Notwithstanding his party's new commitment to reform of the Oireachtas, Fianna Fáil has in the past used the support it enjoyed to ensure there was no reform of democracy whatever.

Abolition is Fine Gael's form of democracy.

It is lame duck politics. The Bill being debated here today is entitled "An Act to reform the method of election of members of Seanad Éireann-----

The Minister should get back to the script.

I did not shout down others, although I appreciate that the presence of some of those opposite is rare. They probably want to be recorded on the sound system.

Has the Minister of State received a blow to the head lately?

Back to the script.

That is what I want to do. The next time the Deputies speak they could at least be surrounded by other Members.

Look who is talking.

In repealing the Seanad electoral acts and replacing certain provisions in those Acts, the Bill, on the face of it, reforms the method of election of Members of the Seanad. However, in the view of the Government, many of the provisions in this Bill are either incomplete or would be unworkable in the form presented. The Government has already settled its approach to Seanad reform following discussions between the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the other parties and groupings in the Oireachtas, and it is advancing legislation to reform the university franchise for the Seanad. We will, therefore, be opposing this Bill.

Although not specifically identifying them, Deputy Martin acknowledged the weaknesses in the Bill when introducing it in this House on 4 February. He stated:

We do not have available to us the level of support staff the Government can use for legislation but we have shown quite clearly how it is possible to significantly open up the Seanad even if the Government continues to refuse to hold a referendum on real reform. Many issues are to be addressed and refined in the Bill through a full debate on various stages.

I agree there are many issues to be addressed and refined in this Bill and I will draw attention to some of these. I want to address part 5 of the Bill, which proposes a universal franchise for the election of 43 Senators. As stated by the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Paul Kehoe, in a Seanad debate on 29 January 2014, if it was the intention in framing the Constitution, that there would be a universal franchise for Seanad Éireann, then the Constitution would have so provided and the provisions on the election of the Members of Seanad Éireann would have mirrored those for the election of Members of Dáil Éireann.

I will turn to those issues in the Bill that are to be refined. I know it is not necessary and is not the practice in a Second Stage debate-----

Exactly. That is the point.

-----to analyse a Bill section by section but we want to be helpful to the Fianna Fáil Members who are here. It is important today to identify and highlight some of the incomplete and unworkable provisions in the Bill.

The Constitution stipulates that Members of the Seanad are elected by secret postal ballot. Arising from this provision, ballot papers are issued to voters by registered post. This Seanad Reform Bill does not address the implementation of the constitutional provision on the secret postal ballot. The cost of running Seanad elections on a universal franchise, without a referendum to amend the secret postal ballot provision in the Constitution, would be quite significant. In the 2011 Seanad election, it cost €5.25 to send each ballot paper. That indicates what it might cost to send a ballot paper by registered post to over 3 million voters in Division 1 of the new Seanad register proposed in this Bill, that is, to those persons entitled to vote in Dáil elections, and this does not include those voters proposed by Fianna Fáil to be in Division 2 and Division 3 of a new Seanad register, that is, persons living in Northern Ireland who qualify for Irish citizenship and persons who hold a current and valid Irish passport and who reside outside the State. This estimate does not include the cost of staff to administer the election and count the votes. These are important considerations in introducing, without constitutional amendment, a universal franchise for the election of 43 Senators.

The Bill, in section 18(c), sets down requirements for registration in Division 2 of a new Seanad electoral register. That is the part of the register for persons living in Northern Ireland who qualify for Irish citizenship. Applications for that register are to be accompanied by a document endorsed by the Northern Ireland Electoral Commission. Such a document is to confirm that the applicant is ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland and is registered to vote in Northern Ireland elections. It is not clear that this provision has been given any detailed consideration as regards, for example, the legality of imposing a duty on a State body in another jurisdiction or as regards the legal requirements for the Northern Ireland electoral register.

The Bill provides, in Section 13(3) that, when registering, each eligible person would indicate the constituency in respect of which he or she has opted to cast their vote. I am intrigued to know how this would work in practice. What will happen if all opt to vote in the cultural and educational constituency? On the other hand, what will happen if no one opts to vote in the administrative constituency?

It is not at all clear how the 'gender balance' provisions in section 44 would work in practice. This section requires that a minimum number of men and women candidates be elected in the university constituency; it requires that a minimum number of candidates be elected to represent each panel in the vocational constituency. Provision is not made for the situation where the required number of either gender is not elected by voters. How can the provision be implemented? How will it work?

The Bill, in section 9, requires the Taoiseach's nominees to be representative of the following groups in this jurisdiction and in Northern Ireland, the elderly, the young, the new Irish community, the Irish diaspora, people with disabilities, sporting organisations, the arts, the Traveller community. Section 44 requires the Taoiseach to "give consideration to ensuring" that the 11 nominated Senators would have sufficient gender balance. If it was intended that this nomination process be regulated by law one would have expected that such provision would have been made originally in drafting the Constitution. The provision in the Constitution, however, gives discretion to the Taoiseach of the day in making these nominations and has been used in this way since the foundation of the State.

Part 6, Nomination of Candidates, provides that a person may be nominated to be a candidate by one or more nominating bodies, by a local authority or by the popular nomination of 500 persons on the Seanad electoral register. There is no further detail. No provision is made for how these nomination processes would be organised or how nominations would be verified or validated. Will it be necessary for a candidate to be nominated by any 500 persons on the Seanad electoral register? Or will a candidate be required to be nominated by voters registered in the particular constituency or panel for which they are standing?

Section 24, headed Qualifications and Experience of Candidates, effectively repeats Article 18.2 of the Constitution in providing that no person who is for the time being disqualified from, or incapable of being elected as a member of Dáil Éireann, shall be a candidate at a Seanad general election. It does not say anything about what experience is required. There are no detailed provisions in the Bill for the counting of votes. There are no detailed provisions for managing a proportional representation-single transferable vote, PR-STV, count in embassies and consulates abroad as proposed in the Bill. Implementation of such a provision would need careful consideration, having regard to practical operational issues around the running of elections and the resource implications for embassies and consulates around the world.

The Bill repeats a number of the constitutional provisions on Seanad membership and elections. It is hardly necessary or appropriate to do this in primary legislation.

When he published this Bill in January, the Fianna Fáil leader Deputy Micheál Martin said the aim of the Bill is to "strengthen the powers of the Upper House to act as a check on Government and scrutinise national and EU legislation". I do not see a single provision in this Bill to address those aims. Seanad reform has been the subject of considerable debate. Following the October 2013 referendum, the challenge facing the various parties has been to produce proposals for practical, implementable reform of the Second House.

Last month, the Government asked the Leader of the Seanad to submit, on its behalf, a comprehensive set of proposals for operational reform, which can be implemented in the life of the current Seanad. These proposals focus on the Seanad's legislative and vocational roles, while acknowledging its role in EU scrutiny. The proposals also suggest ways in which the Seanad can engage with Government, within the parameters of the Constitution, as well as work jointly with the Dáil through the Oireachtas Committee system.

It is proposed that the Seanad should be involved in the legislative process at an early stage and should play a key role in improving legislative proposals before enactment. The Government will initiate more Bills in the Seanad, especially ones that deal with interests and topics on which the Seanad vocational panels are based, that is, education, language and culture, agriculture, labour, industry and commerce, and public administration. It is also proposed that the Seanad will have a role in the new pre-legislation stage for non-emergency Bills.

Oireachtas committees will provide copies of their recommendations to both the relevant Minister and the Seanad. The Seanad will be able to then ask the committee chairman to appear before it to discuss the committee's findings and can subsequently submit its own recommendations to the Minister. This process would include an appropriate deadline so as not to delay unnecessarily the introduction of the Bill. Committee Stage of non-emergency Bills would be restructured, to allow better consideration of Seanad amendments. Senators will initially be given time to set out the rationale for the amendments proposed, and to clarify any issues. Following an appropriate period, the Minister will give his or her response to the proposed amendments. This will in practice mean dividing Committee Stage into two distinct parts, with an appropriate short break between them. The Government is also proposing that more Seanad time be given for Private Members' Bills.

In relation to the Seanad's vocational role, recent innovations, such as the Public Consultation Committee, have enabled the Seanad to develop its work in this area. The Government supports the continued enhancement and development of the Seanad's vocational role within the existing constitutional framework. The Seanad should also review and debate reports of public bodies covering matters related to the vocational areas on which the Seanad electoral panels are based.

It is also proposed that the Second House play a more enhanced role in North-South relations, review the work of North-South ministerial councils and the British-Irish Council, and Ministers should make statements to the Seanad after attending such meetings. It is also proposed that the Seanad should review the work of the North-South implementation bodies and continue to engage with minority and other special interest groups. It should also continue to invite high-profile individuals, such as those involved in the Young Senators Initiative to address the House, to enhance its parliamentary and democratic role.

In terms of the Seanad's engagement with the Government, it must be recognised that the Government is responsible to the Dáil, under Article 28 of the Constitution. However, it is appropriate that the Seanad should engage with the Government of the day on policy matters. It is proposed, therefore, that the Government will outline its annual priorities to the Seanad in the same week that it outlines them to the Dáil.

It is also proposed that the Seanad consider the reports of Oireachtas committees and, if it wishes, make recommendations to the relevant Minister. Much of the work done by committees is not subsequently debated in either House. The Houses of the Oireachtas jointly scrutinise EU legislative proposals, on which much of the detailed work is done through joint committees which are best placed to undertake this task. However, the Seanad could provide a high profile forum for public debate on the work of the joint committees and EU matters generally.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Seanad Reform Bill 2014. However, before I address the details of the Bill, I nominate the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, for the brass neck award.

The Deputy would win it every time.

He came into the House to challenge the Opposition, even though not one member of the Government was in the Chamber while Opposition Members were discussing Seanad reform. It is amusing to hear him speak about democracy and reform in that context. Committees are packed with Government Members to give them an in-built majority and a power of veto, yet he spoke about democracy. For several days his silence was deafening in dealing with the whistleblowers issue and further scandals have emerged this morning. These are the issues that need to be addressed by the House.

I commend Deputy Micheál Martin on bringing the Bill before the House. In the last general election we all promised to reform the political system. We need to develop a modern and inclusive democracy that would put the needs and rights of citizens first, but we also need to break down the barriers in society. That is the purpose of the Bill. The people who answered their doors to us in 2011 asked us to fix the system. I support the Bill because it would play a part in that process.

The campaign to abolish the Seanad was disgraceful, but the people decided to keep it. I am proud that I was involved in that effort. The people also voted for us to reform the Seanad to include all of the people. Independent Deputies and Senators played a crucial role in that campaign and I commend them for their victory against the odds and the negative claims made by certain individuals inside and outside this House. It was a difficult campaign for those of us who wanted to save the Seanad because the negativity and hostility were appalling. The lack of respect shown in the debate for democracy and the rights of citizens and councillors was also a disgrace.

We now have an opportunity to develop a clear vision for the future of the country as a democratic and inclusive state. The Seanad needs to bring new and fresh talent to give a voice to all sections of society. Section 6 of the Bill provides that Seanad Éireann "shall be composed of 60 Members, 11 of whom shall be nominated and 49 elected". Section 7 provides: "The eleven nominated members of Seanad Éireann shall be nominated, with their prior consent, by the Taoiseach who is appointed next after the re-assembly of Dáil Éireann following the dissolution thereof which occasions the nomination of the said members". Section 9 provides:

The Taoiseach shall take into consideration the need to ensure representation for the following groups or sectors in this jurisdiction and in Northern Ireland—

(a) the elderly,

(b) the young,

(c) the new Irish community,

(d) the Irish diaspora,

(e) people with disabilities,

(f) sporting organisations,

(g) the arts,

(h) the traveller community.

Elderly people are the backbone of this society and have helped to build the country. As such, we should give them a voice in the Seanad.

People with disabilities are often ignored, despite the huge a pool of talent among them. Some of them would make magnificent Senators. A system should be put in place to develop and retain this pool of talent, as we need to involve disabled people in the structures of society. One only needs to consider the CRC and Rehab scandals to realise the need to hear their voices. The Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, is out of touch in this regard. He spoke about democracy and inclusion, but all he did was waffle.

We also have a fantastic pool of talent in the arts community. People are often low key about the arts, but they play an important role in Irish society. We need to draw on the quality exhibited by our actors, musicians and writers.

For many years we have debated ways of involving the Traveller community in society. The Traveller community is marginalised and experiences racism on a daily basis, but it also offers magnificent individuals who are coming through the education system and groups such as Pavee Point and the Irish Traveller Movement. Their leaders would make magnificent Senators who could speak against prejudice, racism and exclusion. The sad reality is that there has not been any real improvement in that regard. Racism, discrimination and sectarianism should not be tolerated in any democratic country, but, sadly, we have a long way to go.

Section 23 of the Bill provides for the nomination of candidates as follows:

At a Seanad general election, a person may be nominated to be a candidate in a Seanad general election by one of the following methods--

(a) by one or more nominating bodies,

(b) by a local authority,

(c) by the popular nomination of 500 persons whose names are included in the Seanad general election register.

Some might argue that the requirement to have 500 nominations is too high, but I consider it to be a reasonable figure. I challenge the Minister of State on his negative comments on this section. I was also disappointed by his comments on voters from the North of Ireland. It is important that Irish citizens living in the North are given a vote.

This Bill could make a positive contribution to inclusive politics on the island and contains a number of sensible ideas. I challenge the Government to consider it more carefully. The Minister of State spoke about reform and change; this is an opportunity to do something about it by supporting this legislation.

Political reform is on the agenda and there has been extensive discussion on the topic in the context of the programme for Government. It also received considerable attention at the Constitutional Convention and there was an appetite among its citizen members for reform. Political reform has to lead to greater democracy, accountability and transparency. However, these principles have been getting a knocking recently.

I acknowledge the work the Seanad has done to date in scrutinising legislation. The perspectives of Senators have added to the legislative process and debates and Senators have produced worthwhile amendments. I also acknowledge that the Seanad has a higher proportion of women than the Lower House. I pay a particular tribute to the work done by Senator David Norris in initiating the first debates on AIDS, introducing the civil partnership legislation, bringing about a change to the law on homosexuality and calling for a committee of inquiry into the use of Shannon Airport for rendition flights. The Seanad introduced resolutions against cluster munitions and its Members challenged the Celtic tiger and the bank guarantee. It was in the Seanad that the bondholders' names were first mentioned.

Governments involving every party have had opportunities to bring about Seanad reform, but nobody took on the task.

We must acknowledge how the Seanad has been used by political parties. Without being disparaging to any Member, it was used by political parties as a training ground for prospective Deputies and a retirement ground for those finishing political careers or who had failed to be elected. Much of the Seanad to date has been restrictive and undemocratic. This has been an abuse of the Seanad. I have never seen such a complicated, convoluted system of electing people and counting votes as the current Seanad election system. As a university graduate, I have a vote on the university panel but I cannot see why, in a democracy, some citizens should have an extra right to vote because they happen to have had a third level education. Equally, I cannot see why being a Deputy or a counsellor should bring an additional vote.

I refer to the work of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service on comparing recent Bills, including this and the Government Bill on the Seanad. There are also Bills from Senators Zappone, Quinn and Crown. One point they have in common is widening the electorate of the Seanad, whether to Dáil electors, Irish citizens in Northern Ireland or members of the diaspora, holders of Irish passports. At one of the sessions of the Constitutional Convention, we discussed the diaspora voting in presidential elections. Part of the convention involved a video conference with Irish people from various parts of the world. There was no doubting their Irishness, their commitment to Ireland and their desire to be part of what is going on in Ireland. I support that aspect of everyone having a vote in Seanad elections. Other countries, with greater populations than ours, use this system and it is done through embassies or postal votes. The Minister of State referred to certain complications and costs but, if other countries can do it, we can examine it.

An interesting statistic about the university panel is that there were originally 9,000 eligible voters from NUI and 3,400 from Trinity College, amounting to 12,400 voters. It has increased to 151,000 voters, which is a positive move in terms of people accessing education. By including institutes of education, which I support, the potential is for 800,000 voters. Extending the electorate makes it more comprehensively democratic.

I wonder about the rationale of having nominating bodies. A petition, with 500 signatures, is more progressive and democratic. If anyone of a certain age can stand in a Dáil election, why not for Seanad elections? I do not understand the rationale behind nominating bodies and people choosing a nominating body. Sometimes they have no experience of the area but it makes for an easier way to be elected. Making this change would eliminate some of the elements in the speech of the Minister of State. There is also the aspect of nominating for presidential elections, which militates against those who are Independent Members.

All of the Bills consider various panels, and some have panels in common, such as labour, workers or the mixed bag of industry, commerce, public administration, professional and civic, as well as university panels. The Bill allows 11 people to be nominated by the Taoiseach. I find the panels strange, especially when people appear on panels without experience in the area. Is there a need for panels? Why can we not have an open Seanad election in the same way that we have an open Dáil election? It does not have to be done through a postal vote.

The categories for Taoiseach's nominees are totally unrepresented in the Dáil and Seanad. If we are looking at panels, these are the ones to examine, with people who have a proven track record in each of those areas. We have plenty of nominees, people who have made real and genuine contributions to life in this country.

I voted against the abolition of the Seanad in the recent referendum but, like so many people, I am in favour of reform. I am not in favour of gender quotas so I do not agree with that aspect of the Bill. There is a vital need to reform the Seanad, with aspects of that in each of the Bills being proposed and the reports to date. Although not with this Bill, there could be a move forward to look at a real and significant reform so that the Seanad is more democratic and open to more people.

I welcome the debate. It is important to discuss the matter and there was no opportunity to do so after the referendum. Members talked about this Bill fixing the system but it is not radical enough. People talked about voters voting for reform in the last election but I do not know that they did. The media interpretation was of a consensus that people wanted to see change but people voted for various reasons. Perhaps people voted against it to send a blow to the Government. Across the House, there is agreement that the system is not working and needs to be fixed. There is a democratic deficit, which many speakers mentioned. There is a deficit in respect of the current system and it must change.

The Fianna Fáil proposal contained in the Bill replicates much of the old system with some amendment, with reference to decreasing the number of Seanad members nominated by the Taoiseach. I welcome the idea of broadening the franchise. There is reference to electing the current Seanad and including graduates from third level institutions. It is wrong that the current system operates with some colleges outside the system. Depending on the college one goes to, one may not be included. It is elitist in that sense.

I note a proposal to include representatives of the broader community groups, including people involved in sports, arts, representatives of the Irish diaspora and Travellers. The reality is that it will still be tokenism and this does not fundamentally address the undemocratic nature of the Seanad as it currently stands. The Government reaction to the rejection of the proposed abolition of the Seanad in the referendum proposes to give all third level graduates a vote in future elections. That was signalled after the result of the referendum. While welcome as an improvement on the current situation, I cannot accept it is a meaningful attempt to genuinely reform the Seanad, nor an attempt to address the commitment in the wake of the rejection of the referendum to radically democratise the Seanad. We have not seen that happen. Since it came back from the referendum, the Seanad has not been inundated with legislation or work. It is the fault of the Government because they are not putting legislation through the House. Plenty of people want to use the House to bring about reform and scrutinise legislation but it is not happening.

The Taoiseach is on record as having rejected the proposal to extend the franchise to all third level graduates as a farcical response to the demand for the Seanad to be transformed into a democratic institution. That was part of the discussion. His rejection of such piecemeal reform was one of the reasons he put forward for the abolition of the Seanad. Sinn Féin wants to see a truly democratic and republican second Chamber and there have been suggestions about the work it could do. There is consensus across the House about the lack of EU scrutiny. The committee system and the way it operates means we do not have the required scrutiny of European measures.

I can understand why elements of old Fianna Fáil, trying to rebrand themselves, would wish to retain the power of the Taoiseach to nominate Members and thus limit the ability of the Seanad to be a critical voice. I have a difficulty with that nomination process. People will say that through the Taoiseach's nominees, various important voices were added to the Seanad but the reality is that has also been part of the Government holding on to its majority in the Seanad. However, it does not reflect what is needed. Previous governments, Fianna Fáil governments in particular, have used the Seanad to nominate their own individuals and former taoisigh have appointed the party faithful - who have been the loyal supporters of the Seanad over the decades - and awarded them with perks, privileges and elite status at the taxpayers' expense. There are examples of that. At least 11 Fianna Fáil Members and supporters were appointed for periods of only one month in order to give them perks, including free city parking in Leinster House, lifelong access to the Dáil, the Members' bar, restaurant facilities, a full month's salary and the right to speak and vote on legislation, rubber-stamping Bills for the Fianna Fáil Government. We are talking about reform but let us reflect on what this has been all about. It was jobs for the boys. It was not about transforming the House and making it operate better, it was about looking after their own. That undermined the structure of the Seanad. Between 1997 and 2011, Fianna Fáil taoisigh filled 40 seats with political cronies, therefore, it is no wonder that they continue to support the idea of future Government nominees to a so-called reformed Seanad in this Bill.

It has been mentioned that party delegates to the Constitutional Convention have called on the Government and the Oireachtas to empower a second Constitutional Convention with a broader mandate to consider issues related to the strengthening of constitutional protection of human rights and outstanding political and institutional reform issues, including Seanad reform. We believe that rather than the Government, Fianna Fáil, ourselves or any other party coming up with proposals to tinker around with the Seanad, as currently constituted, this issue should be passed over to the Constitutional Convention to deliberate on and come up with genuinely democratic proposals and solutions.

I welcome that we are having this discussion and while there is nothing to prevent any political group from submitting its ideas here and having them debated, we believe that a broader discussion involving societal and community representatives is required. Does anyone have a difficulty with the debate on Seanad reform being broadened? Despite the Taoiseach's contention during the referendum campaign that the Seanad was elitist and now that it requires radical reform, he has blocked any suggestion that the Constitutional Convention would consider this issue. Where is the logic in that? We need to broaden the debate if we are all in common agreement that it is working. Let us get the discussion going.

The Constitutional Convention will publish its report on Monday and I understand one of its key proposals is that it will be reconvened to consider Seanad reform. Its record to date, as will be reflected in the report, has been thorough on all the matters put before it. Its debates have been well-informed and reasoned and the convention has managed to arrive at conclusions, despite many people having said that it would be a talking shop and that nothing would emerge from it. The Government should accept that has been the case and examine that proposal.

Why would the Taoiseach object to the convention considering Seanad reform? If his interim position is to extend the franchise to another relatively small section of the electorate, then while that would not be sufficient in my view, the Government should go ahead and do it as it is long overdue. It could be done and the franchise should be expanded. However, such limited extension of the franchise is certainly not enough and it is farcical to have a second Chamber that is not directly elected by universal franchise. I believe there would be broad public support for that.

I thought people would have voted in favour of abolishing the Seanad. Regardless of whatever the Government's short-term plans are, the Taoiseach should explain the reason he will not allow the Constitutional Convention to consider, debate and report on this issue and to bring forward a recommendation. It strikes me that if the concern of Members is about a democratic deficit in respect of the Seanad, a democratic remedy would be to allow the convention, in its full sitting, to consider these matters and to broaden the discussion rather than having it confined to the politicians.

I have major difficulties with the scope of the Bill. It is not radical enough. There is a need for radical reform and to remove the elitist elements of the Seanad, many of which still remain. Therefore, on that basis we will be voting against this proposal.

The next speaker is Deputy Fleming to be followed by Deputies Feighan, Ross and Catherine Murphy.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is important that we ask why are we here today. We are here because the Government tried to abolish the Seanad. It brought a referendum to the people and the people said "No" because they wanted reform, they did not want abolition.

I recall there was a referendum in 1979 on extending the franchise for the university seats in the Seanad and it was the first time I was old enough to vote in a referendum. On that occasion there were two referenda before the people, one on adoption, which was well passed, and the other to extend the franchise for the university seats. The Constitution currently provides for three from Trinity College and three from the NUI, while all the institutes of technology and other third level colleges have been excluded from the process, even though they also award full degrees. Many years on from that referendum that franchise has not been extended. I have had a particular interest in this issue. That was the first referendum I voted to be passed, and while everyone of us has been in government at different stages, the will of the people has never been implemented. I often wonder why that was the case.

Since the new Government came into office there has been a good deal of talk on its part about political reform but some of the reform has been to give more power to the Government. Essentially, that is the reason the people have said "No" to the Seanad referendum. As Deputy Crowe has made clear, Sinn Féin supported the abolition of the Seanad, the second Chamber, and he was surprised that the people refused to go along with the Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Labour approach to abolish the Seanad but if they had been listening to the people they would have known that this was an effort by the Government to close down a form of opposition and of a Chamber that could hold the Government to account. We have seen the Government do that in abolishing town councils, reducing the number of local authority seats and progressively taking more powers and functions from democratically elected members. For example, the Irish Water legislation has taken a central function from local government, which was for the provision of water and wastewater services, yet we are putting a super-quango in place because the Government wants to centralise all power under its control wherever possible.

The Seanad might have been a slight inconvenience for the Government on some occasions and in consequence, it came forward with the proposal to abolish the Seanad. That referendum cost approximately €15 million. As part of the Minister of State's reason for rejecting the proposal before the House he cites the cost of holding elections to the Seanad as one of the reasons he will oppose this Bill. He said the cost involved in conducting the election and the count is significant. He had no problem wasting €15 million of taxpayers' money to put a proposal to them which they rightly rejected. The reason it was rejected was because of the arrogance of the Government. The people saw through that referendum. The Government wants to close down any form of opposition.

The Government should have learned from the Oireachtas inquiries referendum it tried to have passed the previous year. Members are not elected here to be judges, juries or prosecutors but the Government wanted to change the Constitution to turn this Chamber into a forum for Oireachtas inquiries whereby Members of the Oireachtas, who are elected to legislate, would also be judges, juries and prosecutors, all in one process. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, had a key role and made a key intervention in that referendum. His performance as Minister during that referendum was one of the principal reasons it was defeated because the people decided that they did not trust this Government trying to take power onto itself.

It tried to take power from the Seanad and it failed. It tried to take power from independent inquiries by bringing them under Government control. The people have spoken on these issues and the Government should listen.

I must say to Sinn Féin, which states this legislation is not radical enough, if it were more radical it would be outside the Constitution. It is as radical as the Constitution allows, which is all we can do. Otherwise the legislation could not come before the House as it would be unconstitutional. We believe in working within the Constitution, as it was voted by the people, and the legislation complies with it. I do not accept Sinn Féin's argument for rejecting the Bill. I am surprised Sinn Féin, which wanted to abolish the Seanad, is here today to oppose the legislation because it is not radical enough. I do not know which way it is trying to play it. It was opposed to the decision of the people. It should have listened to the people's decision. They wanted reform not abolition. This is reform which can be delivered under the constitutional framework but Sinn Féin is opposing it.

They did not have the option to vote for reform. It was either one or the other.

The legislation would put a check on Government power through scrutinising national and EU legislation. It would broaden representation and provide a voice for groups which have not been heard in the Dáil or Seanad. I would like people to understand what the legislation is about. It would provide a vote to all the people of Ireland for the Seanad by breaking down the constituencies according to the panels specifically provided for in the Constitution. We are working within the Constitution to get the maximum amount of change.

Unless we have another referendum the Taoiseach's nominees must be kept. This week I posed a question which falls under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Shatter. The legislation allows for representation from minority groups. These include groups such as people who have come to Ireland from other countries, the Traveller community and the disability sector. Can one imagine the Minister standing over putting children of the Traveller community on PULSE if it had representatives in Seanad Éireann? One reason the Minister and the people under him have been doing this is because they know these people do not have a voice here. If they had a voice here, as they would under this legislation, a Minister would not allow children as young as 16 days of age to be put on the Garda PULSE system. This reflects on the Department of Justice and Equality also.

The legislation provides for a gender quota of 40%. Most people believe this is needed and everybody should subscribe to it. There must be a mechanism whereby people, as opposed to a financial contribution or a nomination by a party, would allow individuals to be nominated to run in the election.

I am disappointed with the Government's response, but it is no surprise. It could not bully the people into the abolition of the Seanad and now it will not accept any reform proposals. Its proposal was clearly contemptuous of the Oireachtas, and now it will not even allow a modicum of reasonable reform to take place.

The legislation has tremendous approaches in it and I support it. We should be able to work with the proposals of Senators Quinn, Zappone and Crown on these issues. They have come forward with very well thought out proposals, many of which could be incorporated into the Bill on Committee Stage.

Often on Second Stage Ministers state they will propose amendments on Committee Stage. This is what we have proposed, but the Government has rejected this approach. It states unless a Bill is perfect on the day it is published it should not be passed at all. This Bill has been rejected. There are matters which could be teased out on Committee Stage, and the Government knows they should be teased out, but it will refuse to allow the legislation go to Committee Stage because it does not want everybody in the Oireachtas to have an input into it in case they feel it was good legislation. When we published the Bill we did not state it was absolutely perfect, we stated it was a damn good shot at political reform and we wanted to work with everybody in the Chamber on Committee and Report Stages and everybody in the Seanad. We also wanted hearings with members of the public invited to come before committees.

The Government is cutting off the Bill at the pass. This is a new form of guillotine. The legislation establishing Irish Water was guillotined on Report Stage, but when the Opposition introduces a Bill to bring about real political reform it is guillotined on Second Stage and it is not allowed go to Committee or Report Stages or to the Seanad. This legislation should be debated through the full and proper mechanisms of the House but we have seen a new guillotine at this early stage. We will not even have a debate and it will not be guillotined later. I am disappointed not only with members of the Government, whom I expect to follow the line. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, took it on the chin and he should have responded and not ignored the people. He should have agreed to a level of political reform. I am also disappointed Sinn Féin opposes political reform allowed under the Constitution and which can be done. I would have welcomed a contribution from its members in which they stated they would discuss, tease out and try to improve the legislation on Committee and Report Stages, but they have sided with the Government because they are afraid of real political reform, just as the Government is.

I am delighted to speak on the Bill on Seanad reform. In 1999 I was elected to Roscommon County Council and I enjoyed working as a councillor. I did not realise as a member of the business community how - I will not say powerful - responsible a councillor and elected official is. I am delighted I was elected because I felt I was a pair of safe hands who would try to do the right thing instead of going on local radio. I took great pride in the fact I tried to do the right thing. I find that sometimes in politics it is not that someone does the right thing but that someone is on local radio, Twitter or Facebook making promises. Perhaps this is what people want but it is not the politician I want to be, and I believe it is not the politician most Members of the House want to be.

My father was on dialysis and we were very thankful for the work done for him by the Irish Kidney Association. It was then I found out the Irish Kidney Association was a nominating body for the administrative panel. It nominated me as a candidate and I was elected. I am very proud I raised issues with regard to the Irish Kidney Association. These issues are still being brought up in the Seanad by Senator Mark Daly, who was nominated by the association. I acted on its behalf and if issues arose I was very happy to articulate them and put them forward.

If I had €10 for every time people stated the Seanad was not fit for purpose, needed change, was an old boys' club, a place from where people got elected to the Dáil or a retirement home I would be a very rich man. We are speaking about the Seanad as though it were fit for purpose. At that time it was not fit for purpose. There have been great contributors, and Deputy Ross certainly livened up the Seanad with his insightful contributions.

Perhaps he will do it again.

When I was in opposition the Order of Business in the Seanad was a great forum to raise issues of the day. It can be very difficult here as a Government backbencher because the Government has such a majority and the Dáil is more structured. We are speaking about reform, and I can speak in the Dáil on a Bill such as this on a Friday because of reform. There has been reform and anybody who states the Government has done nothing about reform is being misleading.

More than four years ago the Taoiseach rightly stated he would abolish the Seanad. I thought it was very brave and an insightful measure. He put it to the people whether they wanted the Seanad. The people spoke and stated they do, but that they were not happy with how it operates. Sometimes the Leader of the Seanad called on the Seanad to remain open on a Friday because a parliamentary party meeting or golf outing would take place the next day. This was wrong and it represented all that was wrong with the Seanad.

If one speaks of political reform, I live in Boyle, which has a town council with four Fine Gael councillors, as well as two from Fianna Fáil, two Independents and one from Sinn Féin. That council, the only town council in my constituency, is being abolished. Moreover, the number of councillors on Roscommon County Council is being reduced from 26 to 18. Similarly, the number of councillors on Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan county councils is being reduced from 25, 22 and 25, respectively, to 18, 18 and 18, respectively. Effectively, the Government of the day is reducing the influence of those regional areas in which Fine Gael is quite strong. While this is a good thing, it will not be appreciated by Members of the Opposition because it is not favourable. I agree it should be fair, in that one should have councillors where the population is, but I wish to highlight this change.

Moreover, the Taoiseach rightly sought to reduce the number of Deputies in the Dáil from 166 to 158. The area in which I live in Roscommon-South Leitrim has been moved out to Galway but I accept that. A proposition was put to the people on the Seanad and they have voted to express their wish to retain that House. However, the Seanad must be reformed. In that context, I believe the most recent appointment of the Taoiseach's nominees to the Seanad was the first time of which I am aware that very few of the aforementioned 11 nominees were political nominees. Most of them came from different aspects of Irish life, ranging from business, the arts, media and sport. It was very welcome that such a balance was given to the Seanad. As to whether they voted for the Government, no, of course they did not. They were not appointed to so do and while I sometimes would have liked them to vote for the Government, they have had their own views. Anyone who suggests the Taoiseach appointed his own cronies to secure a Government majority in the Seanad is simply wrong, as this is not true.

I believe the Seanad has huge potential. I agree that more people from the island of Ireland should be included in the Seanad. Similarly, this certainly is the case in respect of the diaspora in London and New York, as well as locations with Irish associations such as Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. They certainly offer scope in this regard and could bring an international view to the Seanad. I also believe there is great potential for the Seanad with regard to the scrutiny of European Union legislation. I note there has been agreement between the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and many of the party leaders that procedural reforms should proceed immediately and this has taken place. Many proposals have been put forward, some of which can be worked on while more may not make sense. However, today is a good day in that once again, Members can introduce legislation to the Dail on a Friday, which certainly constitutes reform.

The Constitution provides for 43 elected Members of Seanad Éireann to be elected by Oireachtas Members and by members of city and county councils through the five panels. Once again, through the reform of the local authorities, the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, have made it much more democratic, in that areas with greater populations will have much greater representation in the Seanad. In addition, when there are far fewer councillors representing counties such as Sligo, Roscommon and other areas of lesser population, one then will have far fewer Senators from those areas. The Government has received no acknowledgement for doing this even though - while I would not state it is undermining its own electoral base - it is trying to make it fair, in order that people from other areas can have an input. They certainly can get elected to the local authorities, which provide a huge resource and which work extremely hard, but they also can vote for the Seanad.

I reiterate that I am delighted to speak on this Bill. I had five highly interesting years in the Seanad and enjoyed every minute of it. It sometimes was less combative, especially being in opposition than being in government. However, Government Members have a job to do. The people elected them to do a job and while the easiest thing to do is to run away and resign, as one will receive the same amount of money, one does not have the same influence. One must have a Government that both governs for the people and is stable because the turmoil Ireland has come through in the past three to five years has been unprecedented. I take great pride in being a member of a Government that is introducing reform and which will save this country from the economic mess into which it was placed.

First, I welcome this Bill as an honest and genuine attempt to respond to the referendum that was held last year. I do not agree with everything it contains because everyone has his or her own particular model and solution for Seanad Éireann. However, it is far preferable than the present position and I certainly cannot understand the Government's response to it, which was to dismiss it in such a way that exposes the Government itself to criticism on the grounds that its solution and its response to the referendum are totally and utterly inadequate. I was a Member of the Seanad for a very long time and over a long period I became aware both of what is wrong and what is right with it. One of my most enduring memories is that on my first day there, I tabled a motion for reform of the Seanad, its structures, its methods of election, in respect of the Taoiseach's nominees and various other procedures that were outdated at that time, which was in 1981. However, there was absolutely no reform of the Seanad during the intervening period. Moreover, it suited all political parties to keep it the way it was because it was a House that principally allowed patronage and certainly it was not the House of preferred choice for Members of the Oireachtas. The last place in which Members of this House want to be is Seanad Éireann. Members of this House use it as a consolation prize if they are defeated here and very few of them actually want to be there. One cannot blame them, but that is what the Seanad is.

The question then is what should the Government do about it. The Government may maintain the referendum was a vote of the people to retain the Seanad in its present form but it certainly was not that and no one could possibly interpret it in that way. It was a vote to retain a second Chamber but behind that, there obviously also was a will that it should be changed radically. This position has been rejected utterly by the Government. I attended what I think was the only meeting called by the Taoiseach for representatives of the parties to consider the referendum result and to proceed from that point. It was obvious, both to me and others present, that neither the Taoiseach nor the civil servants accompanying him had any intention of any sort of radical reform. It is absurd to put forward now the reform of the university seats as an adequate response to a referendum of this sort. Nothing is changing, nothing is proposed to be changed and certainly not before the next election. The only defence or shield the Minister of State put forward in his speech was to state that something would be done about those seats. The Government does not intend to change the number of those seats. The constituencies will become larger, which in principle should be welcomed. It is almost certain that a large number of the personnel probably will be the same, although I will not make a judgment on that.

The result will be that the next Seanad, in its shape, form and structures, will look remarkably similar to the last one.

The problem with the Seanad is fundamental. It was devised by de Valera very cleverly in order to ensure it reflected his views and that there would always be a Government majority in it. It was also guaranteed to elect almost exclusively party people - bar the six university Senators - who reflected almost identically the Dáil numbers and points of view. Everybody knows there are panels to which individuals are nominated. The panels sound worthy - cultural, educational, etc. - and all of the apparently civil society-driven nominating bodies nominate and have representatives elected to them, but it is the electorate that is the problem, not the panels. The electorate includes county councillors and Members of this and the other House. It is a self-perpetuating body which gives powers to us to put in place cronies, chums and others and ensure party people, whose first loyalty is to their party, not their nominating bodies, are elected. I do think any non-party person has ever been elected to any of the panels, although I could be corrected on this. However, several people who would be considered experts in their fields were summarily rejected by the electorate because they were not members of political parties. Dr. Ken Whitaker, a former Governor of the Central Bank, received a nomination from a nominating body for one of the panels, but he received a derisory vote. He was subsequently voted Ireland's greatest living Irishman but that was by popular vote. That is an indication of how difficult it is for anybody whose first loyalty is to a nominating body and a discipline, not a party, to be elected under the current system. I am not saying people who are in political parties should be rejected automatically - far from it - but it is mandatory to be a member of a political party to be elected to these panels, which is wrong. The nominating bodies realise they have no chance of getting anybody elected, unless it is someone who is a party hack and wants to get into the Dáil afterwards. The system, therefore, works in favour of maintaining the status quo. That is deeply regrettable, but it is something that was opened up in the debate last year and to give Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Opposition their due, they recognised that it should not be allowed to continue.

What is so depressing about this debate is not only the rejection by the Government of the Bill which is reformist, but also the fact that the Government has absolutely no proposals whatsoever to reform the Seanad. It will continue with it in its current format, bar the university seats. The rotten system will continue. It is no good the Minister of State reading a list of utterly minor reforms which are meaningless. They are procedural reforms or what it calls subtly operational reforms which mean a few changes to the rules internally but which are of no structural value and which do not represent radical change. What the Bill lacks is constitutional and radical change. When we went to the meeting with the Taoiseach a couple of months ago, the one taboo subject was constitutional reform. The Taoiseach did not want to hold another referendum and there was not going to be another one. That meant that certain no-go areas, in terms of reform, were put down. One cannot change the Taoiseach's nominees, although I accept Deputy Frank Feighan's point that the Taoiseach's nominees in the current Seanad have been outstanding in terms of their independence and contributions, have given the Government a shock and caused certain reversals, which is welcome. However, I think it is the first time that has happened on a meaningful scale. It is fortunate and to the credit of the individuals involved, but that will not continue as long as Taoiseach's nominees are nominated using the current format because the majority of Taoisigh, with one or two exceptions who have nominated people of independence, have nominated individuals because they are useful to the parties and ensure a majority for the Government in the House.

I would like to speak not about the contents of the Bill but about its purpose - Seanad reform. I do not agree with the Bill, but I am not here to rubbish it. It is positive that Members produce legislation and bring it to the Chamber during Friday sittings. I have had the opportunity to do this myself.

Deputy Sean Fleming asked why we were here. In the first instance, we must recognise that we are here because of Government reforms; we have Friday sittings in which we can bring legislation forward, although we are now debating committee reports, which is very important. We have had some very good debates on some reports and later today we will debate the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in promoting Ireland and enhancing and renewing economic links. These are important.

If we want to talk about this Parliament and its role, we must talk about having a responsible Parliament which must recognise the reforms that have taken place. Deputy Micheál Martin said that in reforming and improving Parliament, the Seanad should be the first step, but I disagree. I think it should be the last step, if it should even be a step at all. Despite the rejection of the referendum proposal last year by the people, I still believe a modern Ireland requires an efficient and modern parliament - in my view, a unicameral Oireachtas which is independent from the Government and has a strong committee system to hold the Government of the day to account. However, I accept that when the Government put the proposition to abolish the Seanad to the people, they rejected it. They said "No," but others have asked today whether we can take this as a positive declaration or a demand for a reformed Seanad. Strictly, we cannot because that was not the question put to the people - it was a simple question which required a "Yes" or "No" answer. If we step back and look at the totality of the debate, we can infer that people would prefer to have a better or reformed Seanad, but I do not see where the imperative is. When I step back and reflect on the debate we had on abolishing the Seanad, the louder message I received, as I think most people did, was on the real imperative of further and continuing reform of the Dáil.

To talk about reform in a meaningful way, we must first acknowledge what has happened to date under the Government. As I have said before in this Chamber, reform is a process which takes time. We have to constantly bring forward improvements, see how they work, evaluate them, see if we can change them further and what new things we could do. That process has taken place since the Government came to power. It has not happened as quickly as many would have liked, me included. There was a period during which reform of the Parliament seemed to stall, but it came back onto the agenda, rightly so. We are testing the second suite of reforms that were introduced in the last quarter of last year, which is positive. During Friday sittings committee reports, as well as legislation, are debated, which is a further improvement. However, we could go further.

In reflecting on the outcome of the referendum it would be a shame if we were to spend time and resources, including money, on focusing on reform of the Seanad to the detriment of further reform of the Dáil. There are reforms we could make which would then flow to the Seanad. For example, why not give the Dáil the independence it needs to order its business by removing the Whip on the Order of Business?

Is it such a dangerous idea that parliamentarians should be able to decide the ordering of business in the Chamber, when legislation is taken and for how long it is debated? This is not about votes of conscience when I refer to the Whip-----

The Deputy better be careful there.

-----but the independence of the Parliament and the power individual parliamentarians should have, working in tandem with the Government. I do not believe an independent parliament would be an irresponsible one. We have had legislative deadlines to meet in the past due to the programme for Government. A parliament with more powers would be more responsible, arguably, because it would be more conscious of those powers and the work it would need to do in tandem with the Government, so the country could be managed.

Another important reform to the committee system would allow Members to table their own amendments to legislation, as well as voting in support of them. This would loosen the Whip on Committee Stage for those putting down amendments to legislation. Many ideas by Government backbenchers on legislation are dealt with in the back room and brought in through Government amendments. However, if we want to reform people’s ideas of parliament and Deputies, as well as moving away from the clientelist system, Government backbenchers, in particular, should be allowed to do that work in the open. They should be allowed to propose amendments on Committee Stage, debate it, seek support for it and vote for it. It does not mean necessarily they would have to support that amendment on a later Stage because they have a responsibility as a Government Deputy to support the legislation. Such a reform on Committee Stage, however, would encourage parliamentarians to legislate and get into the nuts and bolts of Bills. I accept it happens in the background but more of it should happen in the open in committees and this Chamber. As Senators sit on committees too, it would be a reform that would extend to the Seanad as well.

These are two simple reforms, not about removing the Whip but loosening it. They would greatly improve the role and responsibilities of parliamentarians in this Chamber. As a result, those reforms would flow down to the Seanad as well. There are many more reforms we could introduce in such a manner which would impact on the Dáil in the first instance and also improve the Seanad. That is the work we should be doing at the moment. We should focus on how to improve this Chamber further in the context of last year’s referendum and knowing that reforms introduced to this Chamber would also impact on the second House of the Oireachtas.

I will not be supporting this Bill.

Debate adjourned.