Before I speak on the Bill, I would like to say, “Labas rytas” to our visitors.
I congratulate Fianna Fáil on bringing the Seanad Reform Bill 2014 forward. It is a sign that spring has sprung. Last year’s stupid blank proposition to abolish the Seanad was made even more stupid by the imposition of the Whip on both Government parties in the debates on it in both Houses. The evidence was clear that Government Members did not believe that it was right to present such a proposition to the people, yet they voted to support the abolition of the Seanad, a sign that something is very sick in our democracy. Well done to Fianna Fáil for bringing forward a Bill that invites all Members to participate in bringing forward reform proposals. That is intelligent and I commend the party for it.
The political reform that has taken place so far has been cynical and just tinkering but not fundamental. It has been disguised and camouflaged in language that is irrelevant to life today. We are a country that has spent five years in the chains of austerity, trying to deal with the damage and wreckage from the financial collapse which has not been properly measured or articulated by the Government or its advisers. It still remains poorly articulated, leaving our families and smaller indigenous businesses hurting unnecessarily.
Up to €15 million was expended on putting forward that stupid proposition to abolish the Seanad. What a shame. It is also a shame that Sinn Féin has not joined in this opportunity to bring forward this collegial, co-operative and frame-worked proposition from Fianna Fáil. There is some sort of inadequate thinking pattern pervasive here whereby, unless something has the credentials for being a final product, it must be rejected. That is again stupid.
In the debacle with the Minister for Justice and Equality that has been going since early February, I was pleased the other day that Deputy Mick Wallace took only three minutes - 180 seconds - to enumerate succinctly and in ordinary English eight features of what had happened. It was refreshing to hear it compared to a ministerial statement prepared in the bureaucratic style of the old parliamentary choreography and language which was meaningless and one had to fight through. Again, the ministerial statement was a waste of time. No wonder people do not listen. We have an opportunity to power-hose the barnacled hull of the ship that is the Oireachtas and clean it down.
As a newcomer to Oireachtas representation, I have been disappointed as I feel like Gulliver in Lilliput, weighed down by so much rope. One cannot think or converse because of the proprietorial and proud connection people have with what is being discussed, instead of being open-minded, generous-hearted and constructive in attitude. Sometimes, the guard and mask slips, which is refreshing. When people become cement-set in their attitudes and bound by the orders and instructions of the Whip, it is more than depressing - it is demoralising, destructive and wrong.
Last July, with the abortion Bill, to give it its shorter name, and the abolition of the Seanad Bill, there were moments in a millennium watching the imposition of a Whip, unnecessarily, on parties. It was deeply depressing. There was something almost weird in the behaviour of parliamentarians when a Government with the largest majority ever in the history of the State was behaving like it was having its last gasps and could only survive by imposing Whips to steamroll and kill off any sparks of originality, thinking or conscience. Wake up is all I can say.
There is a Private Members’ Bill in the lottery drum waiting for providence to draw it out.
I hope every one of the 166 Members of this House will subscribe to this Bill, because one of the greatest countries of modern 20th century Europe, Germany, was reduced to rubble and ashes because of an over-concentration of power. After the Second World War and out of the wreckage of that war and the 85 million dead in all theatres, between Asia, Europe and Africa, Article 38.1 of Germany's Bundestag basic law - its basic constitution - states, "The members of the Bundestag shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience."
The Bill in the drum for the draw for Second Stage reading here is identical in wording to that. It proposes that the Members of each House of the Oireachtas shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience. There is nothing to be afraid of in this. Everybody in this House, all 166 Members, should embrace this because it is fundamentally wholesome and the lynchpin protector of the democratic principle. I invite all Members to prepare their minds and hearts to embrace this concept, which has served Germany well. Germany unified two countries separated by and after war with that constitutional insertion. It has had coalition governments with small majorities and with different principles and policies, bringing forward a people that had been separated by a horrible war to where it is today. We should think about this type of fundamental structural change.
In a spirit of generosity, I say well done to Fianna Fáil. I hope Sinn Féin can change its course in mid flight. Aeroplanes do it; parties and individuals can do it. However, we must create the fertile conditions for a strong democracy that represents the whole people, where parliamentarians are not bound by orders or instructions and can carry the ideals of a better and more equal society forward into the 21st century.