There have been glaring faults and, if we are to survive, these must be faced with honesty and courage. Our credibility as an institution has been challenged and we all, as individuals and parties alike, must take our share of the blame. The entire Oireachtas needs reform, not just Seanad Éireann alone. No one can deny that the venal actions of some politicians have brought the whole profession of politics into disrepute. People all over the country are questioning our relevance and our apparent insulation against financial and personal difficulties they themselves have to face day by day by day. It is our responsibility, by reason of our privileged position, not to encourage the notion that we are a special class. Politicians are merely ordinary people who have taken on an extra burden of responsibility on behalf of the wider community. We should not see ourselves or behave as if we were an elite.
History, we know, has a tendency to repeat itself. In 1936, Éamon de Valera abolished the Seanad because he thought it was unfairly obstructing the work of the Government. Nevertheless, within a year, under the new Constitution of 1937, he reinstalled the Seanad in a renewed form.
We now have a challenge to demonstrate to Government and people alike that a reformed Seanad will be a valuable part of the legislative arm of the State. This, so to speak, is a rather awkward half time for the Seanad. We were all thrilled recently by the superb sportsmanship shown in the Leinster v. Northampton match. At half time it was 22 to 6 and all seemed lost. However he did it, Jonathan Sexton used the half time to inspire his team to a magnificent victory. That match will be long remembered not just for the winning but for the manner of that winning, and was there not another occasion when at a different match supporters were actually seen on our television screens leaving the stadium disappointed just before the most extraordinary turnaround victory settled matters?
We believe that our new leaders in the Seanad to be elected today can, if they choose to, inspire us in just the same way. I wish them every success in so doing. The newspapers tell us, and it must be true for it was in the newspapers, on the radio and on television, that we are shortly to have a new Cathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke, a new Leader of the House, Senator Maurice Cummins, and a new leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien. If this is confirmed by democratic vote later, we will indeed have a team that will have the energy and the moral authority to restore the tarnished image of Seanad Éireann and I look forward to congratulating them later.
The eagles of the legions of the Roman Republic set forth to battle emblazoned with the letters SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanorum — the Senate and the Roman People. They triumphed because those two elements, the Senate and the people, were united, but we have allowed this great institution to become separated and remote from the people we are paid to serve.
A few simple reforms would help to remedy this. We could review and revise all the nominating bodies to ensure that, as far as possible, all citizens and all interest groups were represented on them but, most important, to grant, for the first time, to the ordinary members of these bodies, be they nurses, farmers, trade unionists or business people, the right to vote to choose their representatives. At the end of the day, Seanad Éireann, like all the great institutions of our republic, belongs not to the parties but to the people of Ireland.
The media can also play their role. This House needs adequate coverage, which it clearly does not receive, but we must also provide debate and argument, motions and resolutions that deserve to be covered and we have shown that we can do it. In the previous session, Bills originated in this House provoked superb debate on issues as diverse as climate change, civil partnership and building contracts. It is the clear responsibility of Government to provide the Seanad with an adequate flow of legislation and a proper timetable of debate. Like the ancient Hebrews, even we, in Seanad Éireann, cannot make bricks without straw.
Ireland is embattled. Our country needs every ounce of its moral resource and intellectual strength to prevail. It would be a serious step at this stage arbitrarily to amputate one of the two legislative arms of the State. No army in history has prevailed by mutilating itself in advance of battle. Like an army, the Seanad should be reorganised, drilled and disciplined, with us keeping ourselves honed in mind and body for the coming conflict. This is a task to which we, as Senators, must pledge ourselves today. We are on probation in the eyes of the people. I say to all Members and to myself that the future of this venerable institution, despite its troubled history, depends on our collective decision to show respect and responsibility in every single action we perform as Senators. I wish success and a positive future to each and every Member, to Seanad Éireann and to this wonderful country and people, which it is our honour to serve.
I will now accept a proposer and seconder for any motion relating to the election of the Cathaoirleach.