Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Mar 2013

Vol. 221 No. 11

Seanad Electoral Reform Bill 2013: Second Stage

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

I am not advancing this Bill because I wish to preserve the Seanad in the face of extinction by way of referendum; rather, I advance it because I wish to offer something better and something we have never had, namely, a truly democratic Chamber that would draw the citizens of the Republic closer to the heart of the parliamentary process. Others have argued that the Upper House should be retained and reformed because it performs a critical role in our democracy and is a counterweight to the otherwise unrestrained excesses of Government power. I must respectfully disagree. The Seanad, as constituted, does nothing of the sort. This Seanad, despite the sincerity and diligence of most of its Members, has, sadly, been largely ineffectual. The lack of impact is a near inevitable consequence of the way its Members are elected. Senators and others have asked why I am doing this at this time and the answer is simple. I ran for public office on the promise that I would campaign for the reform or abolition of this House which I described at the time as an affront to democracy.

The Taoiseach has entirely correctly, in line with his pre-election promise and with my support, indicated his intention to put the issue of the future of the Seanad to the people in a referendum. However, the choice that will be offered to the citizenry is too limited, namely, the status quo. That involves keeping this undemocratic and dysfunctional Upper Chamber or abolishing it completely. Most citizens to whom I speak would like a third choice - reform. If Members allow this Bill to pass Second Stage, there will be a viable alternative which can be amended on Committee Stage to be presented at the time of the referendum. We will be giving the people a choice.

While the democratic deficit at the heart of the Seanad was my principal motive in campaigning for change, other compelling reasons for reform have been become clearer to me in the two years since I was honoured with election. In short, not only is the Seanad, as constituted, undemocratic, it is also ineffective. What are the problems? In the first instance, it is clear that Parliament collectively consistently fails in its duty to hold the Executive branch of government to account. The recent economic meltdown provides the best example of the consequences of this political failure. It has long been my position that the principal responsibility for the collapse does not lie on the shoulders of the bankers or real estate developers whose actions, while generally irresponsible and sometimes unethical, were, however, rational exercises of financial self-interest.

Elected parliamentarians and Ministers and the professional regulators who were appointed by and answered to them failed to exercise their responsibility to rein in the excesses of these sectors. This was sometimes due to unhealthily close connections between politicians and those in the banking and building sectors. More often, however, it was less sinister in nature and was due to either a lack of economic expertise or, in the case of some of the more financially literate Members of Parliament, the silencing effect of the party Whip.

This failure is not some theoretical abstraction, it has real and tragic consequences. Some 100,000 of our children emigrate each year as a result of bad governance and poor and inadequate Oireachtas oversight of the activities of Government. Others are languishing on hospital trolleys or waiting lists or have had their social supports withdrawn. How could parliamentary reform have prevented these problems? How could the expertise of parliamentarians been used to overcome bureaucratic inertia and stasis? If good, innovative and well thought-out legislation such as the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2012, which was put forward by Senator Colm Burke and which was designed to address an important but, in scope, limited problem, cannot even traverse the Whip system because civil servants did not approve of it, how can parliamentary oversight of the actions of Ministers and officials in the macroeconomic sphere ever succeed?

The Seanad Electoral Reform Bill 2013 is primarily a pragmatic attempt to democratise the Seanad within the constraints of Bunreacht na hÉireann. While I firmly believe the Constitution requires far-reaching change - particularly in so far as it pertains to both Houses and to the way in which Ministers are appointed to the Government - I accept that we in this House are not able to effect such change. To believe otherwise is fantasy. We must work within the Constitution and this means that certain things are constitutionally non-negotiable. In the first instance, the Taoiseach retains his right to nominate 11 Members of this House. We cannot touch this right without amending the Constitution. It is a little undemocratic but it is not entirely unprecedented internationally. In Italy, bonus seats are given to the most successful party in elections. This can combat gridlock and - as has abundantly been the case in the current Seanad - allows for other, non-political expertise to be introduced into the corridors of Parliament. In the second instance, the panels, including the university panels, cannot be abolished. Finally, the vote must be postal.

The Bill addresses the democratic deficit definitively. We propose that all electors - in Seanad elections these people will be defined as all citizens of the Republic and also those who are legally resident within the jurisdiction of the Republic and already allowed to vote in local elections - will have the opportunity to vote in respect of one panel. When they present themselves at polling stations on the day of a general election, these individuals will be given a Dáil ballot paper and also one Seanad electoral panel ballot paper of their choice.

The old university panels posed something of a challenge to us in framing this legislation. The elitist limitation of voting rights to graduates generally but even more so to the graduates of only two universities, namely, Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland, NUI, has been a frequent and appropriate source of criticism of the current Seanad. I am the first member of my family who would have had a vote in Seanad elections. I include in that my grand-uncles, who served time in Frongoch and Pentonville, as guests of his then Majesty, for their role in our struggle for independence. The seventh amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann allowed for the extension of this right to other graduates. However, that amendment was never legislated for nor acted upon. The Bill before the House provides the long overdue legislative correction to extend voting rights to three smaller, two-seat legislative constituencies. Those outside who are looking at this debate and who may think the Bill an exercise in self-preservation should note that in this dispensation I would not have been elected to the Seanad because I came third in the three-seat constituency and Senators Rónán Mullen and Feargal Quinn would, therefore, have been the sole NUI representatives.

Under the Bill, the nomination process would be thoroughly democratised. Any citizen of the Republic would be eligible to stand for any panel, although nominations to the third level panels would be constitutionally limited to graduates of the relevant institutions. Nomination would require the signed agreement of 1,000 citizens. Thus, the filtering effect of the parties and of the rather bizarre nominating bodies system would be ended. The people would nominate and the people would elect. No one else would be involved. It is simple.

Two other provisions of the Bill have been flagged by some as being controversial. These are the extension of the franchise to Irish citizens abroad and the enfranchisement of non-citizens who are legally resident in the Republic. With respect to voting rights for Irish citizens abroad, it should be noted that this is not some radical, internationally unprecedented departure. A total of 115 countries recognise such rights for their citizens. The countries to which I refer include the United States and many of our EU neighbours. In the case of countries such as the United States, citizens living abroad have absolutely full voting rights. In the case of other countries such as Italy, limitations apply and citizens living abroad are only able to cast their votes in respect of a number of seats. It must be remembered that if the Bill were accepted, we would be joining the ranks of the limited. The proposal is, therefore, not that radical. We are only extending voting rights to Seanad elections, not to Dáil or Presidential elections. Disquiet to the effect that this is representation without taxation has been expressed. The actions of successive Oireachtais have ensured that not only have many citizens here lost the right to pay taxes because they lost their jobs but also that hundreds of thousands of others who would love to work and pay taxes right here in the Republic have had that opportunity dashed from their hands as a result of forced emigration. Denying them the right to vote would be absurd.

There is also concern that our domestic politics might somehow be malfeasantly subverted by the highly organised and orchestrated registration of large numbers of tenuously Irish, passport-eligible Americans or others. This is not really plausible. Not only would possession of a passport be necessary, formal registration on the register of electors at any embassy or consular office would also be required. In addition, the arithmetic does not stack up. In large national panels, the effects of such manipulation would, in truth, be minimal. Similarly, the Bill extends the right to legally resident non-Irish citizens who live in the Republic. This is not as controversial as has been portrayed because these residents - and contributors to our society - are already registered and recognised as electors in local elections. As such, they already contribute indirectly to the election of 43 Senators who are elected to this House by the local representatives for whom these residents can vote.

Why should colleagues vote for the Bill? The principal reason is that there has been widespread and long-held near unanimity that the Seanad status quo is not acceptable. The latter is mainly due to the democratic deficit which lies at the core of an institution that was deliberately crafted by its creators to minimise the input of ordinary citizens. Thus, it is not only functionally undemocratic but it is also, at its core, philosophically undemocratic. Nothing could illustrate this dysfunction better than the discordance between the overwhelming support I have received on a personal level from most Senators in recent days in respect of the Bill and the real possibility that they may be constrained from voting for something they actually believe would benefit our country.

Many people have asked me about the brains behind the drafting of this legislation. In that context, Shane Conneely deserves the bulk of the credit because he has worked tirelessly on the Bill in recent weeks and months. He was assisted in his work by a young law student, Aoife Casey, who is present in the Visitors Gallery. We also received research support from Aoife O'Toole and Eibhlin Mullarney. Those to whom I refer form the coalition of mostly unpaid interns who work as my assistants. I thank them for their work. I also wish to thank the Minister for his attention and I look forward to his acceptance of this democracy-enhancing Bill.

I commend my colleague, Senator Crown, for this very professionally drafted Bill. When I read it, I suspected that fine legal minds were behind its production. I am glad the Senator referred to the work done by those to whom he referred because when he used the word "We" in framing the Bill, I was afraid people might have thought I was involved in its drafting. Although I would have taken great pride from such involvement, the legislation which emerged might have been slightly different.

It is important that we should take the Bill as a first step and that we should use it to move on. Last week I indicated to the Minister that it is quite possible to have a Seanad Bill which can then be amended. The Government acted like a dog in the manger, however, removed the relevant legislation and stated that it had something better to offer. After all, the differences involved were distinctly marginal. The differences are not marginal with the Government or the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, whose views on the matter are fairly widely well known. There is a huge amount of prejudice in respect of this matter. The Government has prejudged it and in an act of quite extraordinary political cynicism - for no other reason - the Taoiseach has decided to offer up this second Chamber of the Oireachtas as a blood sacrifice in respect of the follies and mistakes of the Lower House.

I remind the Minister that we had nothing to do with the parlous situation into which this country was dragged by Dáil Éireann, despite the warnings from myself and many others in this Chamber that the country was going down the road to ruin. It is cynical and hypocritical. It is an indication of the standard of morals which the Minister's Government has that he would purport this to be a reform to abolish Seanad Éireann. He knows perfectly well because he has been around this place a long time, that there has been report after report. I have spent 25 years since I was elected trying to get this House reformed because good though it is, it could be better. It was corrupted, deliberately and specifically by the Minister's party, by the Labour Party and by Fianna Fáil, in their own small-minded interests. As I well remember the days when the Minister's party and the rest of them used to stand over the Senators and tell them what names to mark, do not talk to me about the corruption or the removal from reality of Seanad Éireann because the finger prints of every Government are all over it.

Time after time, I have sat on committees to reform the Seanad. All-party groups have signed up to them and time and again, including this very session of Seanad Éireann, I have tabled, as the first item under my name, the passage of those very proposals for reform that all the Government parties agreed. How much hypocrisy are the people expected to take? I want an assurance that there will be fairness and truth in the referendum and the Referendum Commission because the Government has a bad record on that one. I do not want to hear any lies or any false statements. Perhaps leading members of the Government are almost as innumerate as I am but that does not excuse the untruths they told about the cost of this House.

I commend Senator John Crown because he has proposed a root and branch reform. I think it splendid that we involve people outside this country, our own emigrants, who were left out by the political circumstances. That is something that needs to be done and it is commendable. People should be able to vote from abroad. I accept that rationalisation of the university seats is long overdue but they must be kept. I will defend them to the death because I am fed up and tired of what people say about them. Another bleary-eyed academic in today's newspaper says that it impugns the democracy, that we are the least democratic seats. We are the most democratic. I have an electorate of 65,000 and think Senator John Crown has 120,000. It is a bit better than the 227 who voted in the last by-election on the panel system. I am not impugning any of the Members. In fact, I think the Taoiseach owes an apology to the marvellous people, the wonderful and most stellar group of Taoiseach's nominees who have ever graced this House. To deride this House as corrupt and rubbish in that way is an insult to those Members, all of whom have performed brilliantly. They are the best I have ever come across in this entire House. What an insult was paid to them.

We need an efficient Seanad and no hypocrisy. We should not be ashamed of the remuneration we receive. Instead of €24,000, the person writing in The Irish Times suggested €10,000, less than half the minimum wage. He suggested we should get rid of our personal assistants, the people who behave so marvellously for us. We would be utterly neutered and the House would be a laughing stock. What nonsense comes out of academe.

There have been Bills and rumours of Bills all over this House. There have been solo runs predicted here, there and yon, with people included and excluded. I say to fellow Senators to get their act together if they want to save this House. Let us get behind a Bill. If this is the Bill it has to be, then so be it. Let us vote for it. Do not extinguish a voice. I would not have been allowed a voice. The Minister's party would not have allowed me a voice in the Oireachtas of this great republic. I would have been excluded. People like me never would have had a chance. However, I got my own way in.

Yeats got in and said that we were no petty people. This is no petty Chamber to be dismembered by the likes of the Minister or the Taoiseach. We must stand together in the name of democracy because the Government has everything else, from the President down. It has won all the elections. What more does it want? It has the banks, the councils, the Dáil; it will not get Seanad Éireann if I have anything to do with it.

Those are very robust views from Senator David Norris which I would expect.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Seanad as it gives me a chance to clarify the Government's position on the Seanad and to outline more generally the reform measures that have been taken by the Government in the past two years. Despite numerous reports over the years, we have not succeeded in achieving all-party agreement on substantive reform of the Seanad. There have been eight reports on Seanad reform since 1943, the most recent in 2004. None led to programmes of radical reform. It is fair to say, therefore, that the political system to date has not embraced wholesale change of the House. In fairness to Senator John Crown and the efforts of others before him, it is difficult to achieve consensus where there can be a variety of views on complex and multifaceted issues.

The programme for Government included a commitment to holding a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad. This is a difficult and major reform proposal by the Government and, of course, there will be different views as to whether it is the correct approach. The referendum on the Seanad is a continuation of that reforming agenda. Ultimately, it is an issue that should and will be decided by the people. The Taoiseach has repeatedly indicated his intention to proceed with this referendum. Earlier today he confirmed the Government's commitment to the referendum being held in this coming autumn. In the programme for Government: annual report 2013, launched by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste this morning, it is confirmed that preparations for the referendum are under way and that Government has approved the drafting of a referendum Bill, which will be published in the next session. In that context it would be difficult to accept this Bill when the Government has decided to put a different proposal to the people. Against that background, I do not propose to conduct a forensic analysis of Senator John Crown's Bill, but I commend him for putting forward some very interesting proposals on reforming this House and extending its franchise.

The Government has committed to a radical overhaul of the way Irish politics and Government work. The programme for Government outlined an ambitious programme for political reform. The record of the progress that has been made to date is there for everyone to see in the programme report published today by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. The Government has already introduced and implemented new political funding legislation which includes an effective ban on corporate political donations. We have provided for a reduction in the number of Members of the Dáil. At the next general election, political parties will be required to select at least 30% women and 30% men candidates or face losing half their State funding. Seven years from the general election where this provision first applies, this will rise to 40%. We have set a time limit of six months on the holding of by-elections. We have brought into effect reduced spending limits at Presidential elections.

More hypocrisy.

Four referendums have already been held in the lifetime of the Government. The referendum on Seanad abolition will take place this autumn. In addition, the Government has approved in principle proposals to amend the Constitution to permit the establishment of a civil court of appeal and a new separate family court structure. Work has commenced on the further development of these proposals. It is also hoped to have the necessary referendum in the autumn of 2013.

In the meantime, the work of the Constitutional Convention will proceed in the coming year, examining a range of issues, including the Dáil electoral system and giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies or otherwise. The Taoiseach indicated at the inaugural meeting of the convention that the Government would respond in a timely and considered manner to the recommendations of the convention. The Government has, in fact, made a formal commitment to giving a public response, through the Houses of the Oireachtas, to each recommendation from the convention within four months of receiving it. If the Government accepts a recommendation that the Constitution should be amended, the Government response will include a timeframe for the holding of the necessary referendum. On that basis, we can envisage possibly one, two or more referendums in the autumn. It is clear, therefore, that the Government is committed to change and to real reform. The results to date are clear to see, as is the ambition for further reform over the lifetime of the Government.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I also enthusiastically endorse the efforts of my friend and colleague, Senator John Crown, in putting forward a very meaningful proposal on Seanad reform and on Seanad electoral reform. One of the downsides of this initiative is that on the face of it, it is a very complex Bill. I would have preferred it to be more simple in its execution. I have no difficulty whatsoever with its approach. The attempt is to widen the franchise to include the citizens of Ireland and to increase the university representation. I have never understood why successive Governments have failed to act on the 1979 referendum, which would have extended the university franchise to all those who are third level graduates as a result of the development of our education system in the past 30 years.

The response from the Minister was predictable. The Government has set sail on a course, led by the Taoiseach, to abolish this House. It is interesting that a meeting was held last week between the Labour Party Senators and the Labour Party leader, the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore. Although I was not a fly on the wall, inevitably in politics - particularly in this House, which is a like hothouse - things emerged. When we were in government, they emerged from Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings on a regular basis. I notice the same tradition continues with the parliamentary party meetings of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. My understanding is, although I could stand corrected, that the Tánaiste's opening remarks were: "Your jobs are gone, boys and girls." So much for putting it to the people to give them a choice in this. The Government is quite determined that it wants to get rid of this House.

It is all very well for the Minister to talk about reform. When one looks at what he is trumpeting in terms of reform, what will it do to enact a more effective Legislature? What, for example, is the relevance of a reduction in State funding to a more effective form of government? I heard nothing whatsoever in the part in which he referred to the Government being committed to a radical overhaul of the way Irish politics and government work. I have heard nothing whatsoever about any attempt to dilute what is effectively the most centralised form of government in Europe outside of Stalinism. That is what we have in this country and it has been emphasised as a result of the last general election. This Government enjoys an unprecedented majority. The Executive can bring forward proposals to the Dáil to rubber-stamp Government policy, and it does so on a regular basis. The Minister can talk about having all the debates in the world. I am not a bit surprised some Deputies do not bother turning up for debates when Government proposals are introduced, because there is no chance they will be changed.

Is there any suggestion in these reform proposals of improving, enhancing or strengthening the role of the committee system, which is the norm in many European democracies? If a decision has to be made in Brussels, an Irish Minister can make the decision because he or she knows it will be rubber-stamped by the Dáil. However, a Danish Minister cannot do so and must go back to the relevant house committee to put the proposal before the representatives of the people. Why can this House not be used for that purpose?

Most people are anti-politics and anti-politicians and the sentiment may now be towards abolition. The Referendum Commission will be legally and constitutionally obliged to put forward the two sides of the argument and the information will be sent to every house in this country. No other party, of which I am aware, outside of the Government parties is committed to the abolition of this House. Parties may have differing views on how the House should proceed but Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the vast majority of the Independents would not support abolition. Indeed, even within the Labour Party and the Fine Gael parliamentary parties, there are people who are opposed to abolition.

I had better not give his name in case I get it wrong, but last year an academic who has a track record of analysing and assessing politics in this country, including elections and referendums, stated in, I think, The Irish Times that no referendum has ever been passed in this country in the absence of political consensus. It has only been when the political establishment has coalesced in the interests of the country as it saw them that referendums have been passed.

The Taoiseach and the Government may think they will have an easy ride with regard to how this House will proceed in the future and that it is only a matter of putting out a referendum Bill, which, according to Senator John Crown, will cost the country €19 million. It is time another canard was nailed. The cost of this House is between €8 million and €9 million. I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said the abolition of the Seanad, if it happens, will not be a cost-saving exercise because the money will be deployed into an as yet unstated reform agenda. This was an opportunity for that Minister to talk about reform in the electoral context but there was no reference at all to the plan B in the event of the Seanad being abolished.

I welcome the opportunity to refer to a number of items. I compliment Senator John Crown on the Bill, which in normal circumstances would have a fair wind behind it, but I am afraid sentiment on the other side of the House is totally opposed to his thinking in this regard. However, that should not in any way diminish the efforts he has made, which I fully support.

I welcome the debate on Seanad reform - in fact, we should have a debate on it every week because some members of the public do not know what the Seanad does. I would like to abolish the Order of Business, which is really "It Says In The Papers" rather than the work of the Seanad, which should be reformed. We will have a referendum and it will be up to the people whether we have a Seanad but it is up to us to inform the people in order that they make an informed decision.

I commend Senator John Crown for the work he has put into the Bill. The Minister said there were eight reports on the Seanad but I thought there were 12 reports, all of which are worthy documents in their own right. Senators Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn published a comprehensive document last summer which proposed a range of measures to transform the Seanad without the need for a constitutional change.

We will have a referendum, but I would like to see a "preferendum" with the options of "Yes", "No" or "Change". A recent and extensive Oireachtas report on the subject published by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in 2003 remains a practical framework from which significant reform could be implemented. As is noted in this consultation paper, all 11 reports advocated reform and concluded the same thing. The fundamental problem with the Seanad in its present guise is the electoral system. We all recognise that and we want it broadened out. Senator John Crown's Bill does that - I will go through the system outlined in it later - but I do not think it is the way to do it. It is over-politicised at the moment and we all agree it should be changed, but how we do so is the issue.

In regard to the panels or constituencies, the system outlined in the Bill is a bit cumbersome. It would be easy enough for anyone to get 1,000 signatures if he or she stood outside a church after Mass. The terminology used in the descriptions of the panels is very broad. In addition, if signatures were not verified before the vote, one could end up with the disqualification of Senators and half the Seanad disqualified. There is nothing in this Bill to provide for returning officers to verify one in four signatures.

If there are 40,000 signatures on each panel and there are five panels that will be equal to 200,000 signatures and 14 days must elapse from the last signature until the date closes. That places a huge onus on the returning officer.

The panels are too broad and there is a strange type of language used. The term "literature" was used. Does that refer to anybody who can read a book? Does it refer to teaching? Nearly all of the adult population has done some type of work during their lives and could claim to have "laboured". The panels, as described, are so broad one wonders why have them at all. Why not leave it open like the EU elections? Why not have X number of constituencies rather than panels? A panel system can be good but it lacks definition in the legislation.

There could be verification problems with certificates of attestation and achievement. How will it be done? Who will verify certificates of achievement? We all know how easy it is to duplicate and photocopy certificates. All achievements must be certified, authenticated and verified but the means of doing so has not been verified in the Bill. There is a great onus on the returning officer to do this work. He or she could do it but the scheme is unworkable.

Section 28 states that polls for the Seanad must be held on the same day as the Dáil in order to save money. I would prefer if it was held on the same day as EU elections. No reference has been made to posters. Will a Dáil and Seanad election be conducted on the same day with the poles plastered with posters? The legislation does not refer to the regulation of posters or whatever. It should be stated but it is not.

Senator John Crown has made a provision that if candidates can provide the presiding officer with a certificate of achievement from a relevant university or institute of technology, then he or she may choose to stand for election to a Seanad constituency. That is fine but there is a question about authentication measures.

It works perfectly and it is done.

I could agree with the provision to allow Senators to pay for the election. A Bill brought to the Seanad must be financially neutral but it would be unconstitutional if one does not have the same scenario for the Oireachtas Dáil elections. We should let them pay for that alsol. One cannot apply one rule to a Dáil election and a different rule to a Seanad election as the provision would be challenged in the courts.

Section 47 states: "The Act of 1997 is amended to include, after Section 32". I agree with the Minister that election expenses should be laid down but they should not be returned to a candidate if he or she does not reach a certain quota of votes just like a Dáil election. There is no provision for a quota. The Bill should provide that a quota of votes must be met before a person is entitled to a return of his or her expenses.

There is a list of recognised professions in Appendix 1. This is a small issue but I would have liked to see househusband or housewife listed in the appendix, with the present list of occupations. Such a stipulation would give recognition to the job of househusband and housewife.

With regard to Schedule 2, I want to ask Senator John Crown about institutions of education. I know that he has said that as well as the listed institution it includes "any institution for HETAC level 7". May I have another minute?

The Seanad is not performing its role and, therefore, must be changed. The system does not work. We should ask ourselves two questions and inform the people of the answers. Why abolish the Seanad? Why keep it? An independent Seanad system that works in conjunction with a reformed Dáil would make things better. The Minister introduced quotas for women wishing to participate in Dáil elections but it has not been mentioned the same provision for the Seanad. Perhaps it would be unworkable but we should examine it. Why omit it from the legislation?

I ask the Senator to conclude, please.

I commend Senator John Crown for drafting the Bill, but it has too many technical problems. It is for that reason that I cannot support it but I support the rationale behind it.

I call Senator Katherine Zappone who has six minutes.

I thought that we had eight minutes.

I welcome the Minister to the House. We need a re-imagined Seanad. We need a Seanad that is not hopelessly compromised by political patronage and a massive democratic deficit. Does simply abolishing the Seanad necessarily increase democracy? In my view, it does not. If political failure lies at the heart of Ireland's economic collapse, and if we are in a climate of a changing Ireland and a socio-political moment when reform seem possible, a re-imagined Seanad to enhance democracy and expert law-making opens exciting possibilities.

Reform of the Seanad must be coupled with a radical reform of the Dáil and its procedures which though promised we have yet to see realised. I passionately believe that we need a re-imagined Seanad that incorporates the principles of democracy, inclusive representativeness and expertise. I, too, with Senator Feargal Quinn and others, have worked on the issue for a long time with extraordinary detail, robust political science research and expert legal advice. Our proposals can be grouped according to four prime building blocks.

First, we can reform the Seanad radically through legislation. We do not require a referendum to do so. Our carefully crafted Bill is almost completed. Second, we can increase substantially Ireland's democratic governance by providing a one person, one vote system for 43 of the 60 Seanad seats. Third, a reform of the candidate selection and electoral system for Seanad seats can increase non-mainstream and marginalised voices being represented in Irish democracy. It can also increase professional and sectoral expertise being brought to the scrutiny of Irish law-making. Fourth, the Seanad's remit and its ways of conducting business can be changed in order that it becomes more effective and fills current gaps in the legislative process.

I have some questions to ask my Seanad colleagues. What is the proper way to govern? Are those who believe that we should lob off one of the arms of Irish governance with the prime rationale of saving money right?

What is the proper way to govern?

It is about saving money.

The proper way, and the right way, to put a vision before the people, is to outline the rationale for and the path toward that vision, to analyse the risks and name the goals and the outcomes. Is that now correct?

The correct way to do so is to put this extensive, detailed work before the people and to invite them to engage with it, to consult, to deliberate about it and only then move forward with proposals for reform. Is that not what the Government has done with the recent referendum on children's rights? Is that not what the Government is doing with regard to a number of prime policy areas?

When it comes to one of the most critical issues of all, the overall governance of the State, I am left with the following question. Would my colleagues, especially the Fine Gael and Labour Party Senators, please ask the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste why this undue haste? There has been no consultation with the people, including the current Members of the Seanad. The Government has flatly refused, with absolutely no rationale, to put the issue into the Constitutional Convention. As we are all aware, not one of the many reports published on the role of the Seanad have called for its abolition. The reports have all called for its reform.

The Government wants to hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad without plans for a genuine and radical reform of the Dáil. The Dáil is a fusion of the Executive and the Legislature with the practices of the Whip system and the guillotine. The Government says that we will have a radically reformed committee system that will ensure that proper checks and balances happen without a Seanad. Can the people expect that enhanced committees can do the job? Committees are constituted by elected representatives from local constituencies. Can the people expect that, in this context, Deputies will be capable of shedding their political views, party affiliations and electoral concerns for the purpose of making the right law for all of the people?

Senator John Crown's Bill puts the issue of Seanad reform to the House and that is good. It incorporates the democratic principle of one person, one vote for the seats that can be chosen within the limitations of the Constitution which is also a good thing. There is no adequate rationale for the current party-political control of Seanad candidacy and electoral process for the 43 panel seats.

The Bill also simplifies the process of becoming a candidate for a panel on foot of a petition signed by 1,000 people who attest to the person's suitability to run for a particular panel. Senator John Crown has stated that his rationale for the simplification of the process is to open up candidacy to anyone. It is critical to open up candidacy but it should not be done at the expense of expertise or the potential for greater inclusiveness in representation.

In the Bill the bar for the determination of the candidate's requisite knowledge of relevance to the particular panel is set very low, too low. It considerably reduces the potential for the Seanad to be peopled by experts within the sectors or constituencies of the panels. The measure would reduce the potential for a distinctive legislative scrutiny provided by Senators. There is no stated rationale contained in the Bill, or in any research that underpinned the Bill, to abolish the role of nominating bodies. We should change how candidates are nominated to stand for the panels by initiating a dramatic expansion of the nominating bodies. If a Bill were to modernise the criteria whereby an organisation could become a nominating body it would open up Seanad Éireann to civil society. A couple of weeks ago I hosted, along with some of my Independent colleagues, a public meeting for civil society and arts organisations which might be interested in becoming nominating bodies. Representatives of more than 60 organisations showed up and they demonstrated significant enthusiasm for the possibility that this provided them to influence the political process. The potential involvement of these organisations could allow non-mainstream, minority and marginalised voices to become part of Seanad Éireann.

I must raise another question about the risk in Senator John Crown's scheme that non-resident Irish passport holders could swamp the voters list in all constituencies. While it might be an appropriate policy objective to entitle non-resident Irish citizens to a vote, is the Senator casting the net too wide?

I raise two more issues to raise. First, has Senator John Crown missed an opportunity, already signalled by Senator Cáit Keane, to include gender quotas in legislation to reform the Seanad? We are exploring how this could be done, thereby incorporating a mechanism that would promote inclusive representation.

Second, Senator John Crown's effort to legislate for the 1979 constitutional amendment to extend the electorate for the university seats does not appear to be fair, nor would it reduce the charge of elitism. Why not have one six seat constituency in which all graduates of third level colleges could vote?

Because it would be completely unmanageable.

It is my considered opinion that the Upper House, the Seanad, should be reformed in the interests of the governance of the State. We do not need a referendum to do this, nor do we need to incur all of the costs such a referendum would entail. The matter needs careful and in-depth discussion and consideration because, as we have learned in recent years, the choices in respect of State governance that imply major change need time for consideration. That is the least the people deserve.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan. As others have done, I also commend Senator John Crown for the immense amount of work he has put into drafting this detailed Bill. I am aware that it can be difficult to draft a Private Members' Bill, particularly one dealing with a technical matter, and he has done a tremendous job.

It is both welcome and useful to debate the issue of Seanad reform. It is no secret that my personal view is that it would be preferable to reform the Seanad rather than to abolish it. I have spoken on the issue many times in the House and elsewhere.

However, the Bill is being introduced at a time when the Government has committed to putting the continued existence of the Seanad to the people in a referendum to the people. That commitment is made in the programme for Government. Those of us on the Government side of the House knew this when we signed up to that programme and we are committed to supporting the referendum Bill. It is worth remembering that in the general election of 2011 most, if not all, of the political parties identified abolition of the Seanad as a part of their political reform agendas. The Fianna Fáil election manifesto of 2011 stated:

It is important to note that second chambers are not an essential part of parliamentary democracy.

If our proposals for the reform of the electoral system and of government are enacted we will support the abolition of the Seanad. The savings ... will be used to resource the different elements ... to improve the workings of democracy and oversight of Government.

The Sinn Féin manifesto also proposed the abolition of the Seanad in its current form.


Why did they not support Robert Mugabe also? The first thing that he did when he seized power in Zimbabwe was-----

Senator Ivana Bacik to continue, without interruption.

It is important that we have a measured debate on this issue. There is no great advantage to be gained in quoting Robert Mugabe.

There is a parallel.

It is interesting that this was included in the manifestos of the political parties and that this commitment has been made, but the proposed referendum has focused the minds like never before of people both in the House and elsewhere on the issue of reform. Having listened to Senator Katherine Zappone and read the excellent consultation paper that her group produced in September on radical Seanad reform through legislative change and knowing that there is-----

There was also interest in the press.

While I appreciate that it may be difficult for the Senator to listen to what he is hearing, I ask him to allow Senator Ivana Bacik to continue, without interruption.

I will ignore the Acting Chairman's implied comment.

There is no implied comment by the Chair. The Chair is neutral.

It was very much tongue in cheek. He is a great referee.

I am merely interpreting how Senator David Norris may feel. That is the job of the Chair.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his clarification.

I am conscious that the debate on abolition has concentrated minds on the issue of reform and that we have had more lively and thoughtful reflections on it than ever before. The article by Mr. Eoin O'Malley of DCU in today's edition of The Irish Times in which he proposes radical reform of the Seanad has a great deal of merit to it. It reminds me of a debate in which Mr. Michael McDowell and I spoke some months ago when we were both on the same side in favour of reform. Mr. McDowell summed it up by saying we should cut it down, pay them less but keep the Seanad in a very different format. That is the debate we will have more of, which I welcome coming up to the referendum.

Senator Katherine Zappone identified various flaws in Senator John Crown's Bill. I do not want to dwell on them, but section 4 provides that no person should be a candidate in a Dáil election and also a Seanad election. I wonder about the constitutionality of restricting candidacy in that way and would be concerned about that particular element of the Bill.

There are issues that can be raised, but in general it is welcome that we have the opportunity to debate this question of reform through legislation because it is one that will come back into focus if the referendum is not passed. There must be a reflection on that issue too on the Government side.

On the 90th anniversary of the Seanad in December I referred Members of the House to a wonderful paper which presented extensive research on the Seanad. It was produced by the senior counsel and Fianna Fáil councillor, Mr. Jim O'Callaghan, who wrote about the history of the Seanad. The key message is that throughout the 90 years of the Seanad there have been endless calls for abolition and debates on retention. As we are aware, Fianna Fáil abolished the Seanad in 1936 after the Seanad had voted down a Government Bill to restrict the wearing of uniforms. However, following the abolition of the Seanad, there was an extensive debate on the merits of a bicameral, as opposed to a unicameral, system. As a result of that debate, public opinion appeared to change to the extent that a second House was provided for in the 1937 Constitution, with a somewhat different format. Since the reconstitution of the Seanad, there have been numerous calls for abolition.

The Seanad has a strong history in a number of respects, particularly in terms of Committee Stage debates on Bills. Strong and thoughtful debates have taken place in the House, the great merit being that Senators on both sides can contribute. They do not have to be specialists or spokespersons on a particular area, but they can contribute their expertise on particular provisions of a Bill. We can all recall very good examples of such debates.

The Seanad has a strong history of introducing Private Members' Bills. This Private Members' debate is being held in that context. We have seen Senator Feargal Quinn's Bill on construction contracts being brought before the House, while I have introduced two Bills, one on female genital mutilation and the other on humanist weddings, which were subsequently supported by different Governments.

The Seanad has a strong history of introducing and debating issues not considered to any great extent in the Dáil. If the referendum is defeated, the call for reform will become unarguable. I hope we will see radical reform, both in the method of election and the working structures of the Seanad, reforms that could be introduced through legislation and without further constitutional change.

Dr. Elaine Byrne suggested some years ago that a physical sign of the Seanad, the Seanad casket and signatures, should be put on permanent public display, perhaps in Leinster House. I believe they are still in the Royal Irish Academy. I have raised that issue previously in the House and the Minister might take it on board, if nothing else as a memory of the Seanad.

While the Minister is welcome, I must admit this is a Bill I support. We should support it and I urge everybody in the House to give it serious consideration.

I have been a Member of the House for 20 years and viewed the very good work done in this Seanad. When we consider the number of times it has corrected and amended legislation, it would be a shame to abolish it.

I do not agree with those who say there have been many calls for abolition. I have not heard any such call. They come out of the blue and they are not right. If anything, this is a power grab by the Dáil to have more authority. We need a second opinion which is essential in respect of any item of legislation. Owing to the current party system, we find ourselves in a situation where the parties elected to the Dáil agree a programme for Government behind the scenes to the extent that individual Members do not have an opportunity to do anything.

I support Senator John Crown in introducing the Bill, a number of aspects of which would bring many benefits to the political system. In response to Senator Cáit Keane and others, if changes take place, we should make sure they are made on Committee Stage. There may be some aspects that could be improved, but if we accept the Bill, it will benefit the political system and our democracy.

What is so good about the legislation is that it will offer citizens a choice which is not a simple "Yes" or "No" to the Seanad but a third choice, one of reform. Senator John Crown has written about the matter this week and what he wrote was very interesting. He wrote, "Senators who vote for the Bill are not necessarily opposing Seanad abolition, rather, they are enhancing the choice facing the citizenry in the referendum." We must remember that fact. As public representatives, Senators are facilitating the ability to make different choices. Surely, that is the very minimum a public representative can do. Many of the proposals in the Bill are the sorts of things people have been calling for. Similar proposals have been made in the recently published document we talked about tonight; open it, do not close it. As Senator John Crown says, the process of candidate selection should be democratised and any citizen should be allowed to contest Seanad elections through a process of popular nomination. Candidates will require the signatures of 1,000 citizens on their nomination papers. There has been some criticism of that and, if it is not the correct approach, it can be changed easily on Committee Stage. Candidates would not need the backing of a party and the right to elect candidates to the university panels would be extended to graduates of the University of Limerick, Dublin City University and the institutes of technology.

These are straightforward, sensible proposals within the limits of the Constitution. Voting rights would be extended to allow a wider variety of voices to be heard. Real world opinions and expertise from different voices are exactly what we need, in particular those from the business and voluntary sectors. I have a fear that there are too many voices here that come from limited sectors of society. We need politicians who can see the country from a national point of view. We talk about innovation and the smart economy but elected officials with concrete ideas to improve our society are either stifled by the need to look after local constituents or by the current party-political system. Senator John Crown has often referred to the fact that many Senators refer to "their constituencies" meaning the Dáil constituency in which they live notwithstanding that their Seanad constituency is the panel that elected them. We need representation of communities that are not regionally based. A reformed Seanad could provide for this to an even greater extent in the future. The reforms contained in the Bill would enable the Seanad to fulfil the role envisaged by the designers of the Constitution. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has arrived and is very welcome. It is the second day in a row she has attended. She is getting very fond of us. I wish her party was as fond of us.

The concept of creating panels as conceived on the drafting of the Constitution originally was sound. The mistake that was made was to give the right to elect Members solely to party politicians. It has weakened the system. If Senator John Crown's Bill is passed, it will allow the voices of all citizens to be heard through new voting rights. We must hear the voices of groups, including minorities and the diaspora. The Seanad could be a more gender-balanced Chamber than the Dáil. A reformed Seanad would truly represent our society and be composed of a diverse range of professionals and experts. It would have the ability to more deeply scrutinise and improve legislation. It would be able to reject poor legislation or legislation which improperly encroached on citizens' rights. The public will own the House if it has a vote. A system whereby they would acquire such a vote would work very well. What we set out to achieve in 1937 was not to challenge the Dáil, create a second Dáil or seek further powers. We do not need further powers. The original concept was that the bicameral system was more useful than a unicameral one. It provides a second opinion and view of all legislation as it comes through. It is still the case.

The Seanad provides oversight on every Bill. During my years as a Member, thousands of amendments have been made to numerous Bills in the Seanad. A large number of Bills have been initiated in the House. To abolish the Seanad removes the ability to do that. Many enactments have been improved no end in the Seanad and it would be a great shame to do away with its oversight. We should learn from the mistakes of the Celtic tiger and realise we need more oversight of our systems, not less. It would be a great mistake to do that. The Seanad has been made an easy scapegoat for political parties ahead of a general election. We need a more mature attitude. The Seanad has often been marginalised as successive Governments have wanted to curtail its ability to place a check on the Government. To pander to populism and abolish the Seanad will simply weaken the ability of the Oireachtas to hold the Government to account. We need a reformed alternative. One must not forget that the Seanad has the power to initiate legislation. Senator Ivana Bacik referred to my Construction Contracts Bill which we hope will become law next month. It aims to improve conditions for business and subcontractors in general. I think of other Bills as introduced by Senator Ivana Bacik and others. They have become law or are becoming law. Whether they are enacted as initiated or changed, we must not forget that Members of the Oireachtas sit as legislators and are not here just to grandstand or gain newspaper column inches. I welcome the provision in the Bill that the Seanad be dissolved at the same time as the Dáil, which makes a great deal of sense.

The Seanad is far from perfect. It should be reformed and modernised, but the current talk of shutting it down is a mere political smokescreen and a distraction from the very real financial and economic difficulties faced by ordinary citizens. The debate on political reform should not be focused entirely on the Seanad but on how the Oireachtas as a whole can be improved and whether Government can be made more accountable and transparent. In general, citizens do not have a right to vote for the Seanad and do not, therefore, feel any ownership of the House. The public will own the Seanad if it has that vote and that voice. I do not seek a stronger Seanad, which I do not consider that we need. I seek a Seanad that will perform better. To do so, the public will have to own it. Senator John Crown has shown us one system of ownership for citizens.

Our goal as legislators is to improve the lives of citizens. Removing a layer of protection from citizens by abolishing the Seanad is not the way forward. We need desperately to have greater oversight, not less. We must move away from the spin that currently permeates all levels of our political system. Anyone can see that a lack of oversight over Government decisions is a recipe for disaster. Government cannot be free to introduce whatever legislation it likes and expect it to be passed. Having debates on such legislation in the House is well worthwhile. We need a reformed Seanad that can increase the effectiveness of the Oireachtas as a whole. Cross-party support for the Bill would be a great step in the reform process. Merely by passing the Bill, Senators would show that they want to enable the public to have greater choices as to the future of the Seanad. That is particularly pro-democratic. I am glad that a fellow Senator is demonstrating by introducing this Bill that the Seanad is taking the future into its own hands. It is worthy of support. I urge Members to support it. If there are changes to take place, they can be made on Committee Stage. I congratulate Senator John Crown on introducing the Bill. Members should ensure that they provide him with the support that he deserves.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House. I am sorry that the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, has left but I presume we will have the chance to discuss the matter with him again at an early date. I thank Senator John Crown for the work he has undertaken in producing the Bill. It certainly adds to the political debate on the future. I look forward with keen interest to the publication of further legislation on Seanad reform by Senators Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone and others.

I was in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin, in September 2009 when the Taoiseach who was then the leader of Fine Gael in opposition announced to a hushed audience his proposal to abolish the Seanad. I was at the Glenties summer school two or three months earlier when he announced his view of what the Seanad could be and how its role could be expanded and enhanced. I was at the meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party - this is why I am sorry the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, has left - in June 2009 when, as part of our document on what we termed "new politics", we provided a strong, dynamic blueprint for a new, improved, enhanced and democratised Seanad.

I want to reflect on that policy because it provided a roadmap to this and any future Seanad. We favoured the election of approximately half of the Members of Seanad Éireann directly by the public, an election to take place on the same day as the election for the European Parliament, an extension of voting rights to all university and third level college graduates, and as far as I recall, an enhancement of the panel system. It was a very well worked-out document. That is why I was so surprised when three or four months later we did not just do a U-turn but an absolute about turn and decided that our policy was now in favour of abolishing Seanad Éireann.

I will not comment.

I look forward to participating in this crucial debate in the next few months. I do not know of any country or society which has found that less democracy was better than more. I do not know of any House of Parliament which has found that reducing the number of participants, of those asking questions, resulted in better politics. As we said yesterday in discussing another Bill, the public seeks better politics.

The shallow debate about the cost of politics and politicians is quickly forgotten when people reflect on what politics is. It involves representing the people, decision-making, investigating, bringing forward ideas and suggestions. This House has played a huge and historically proud role in that tradition and can do so again. If real political reform was as simple as scrapping Seanad Éireann it could and would have been done a long time ago.

We do need better politics and we need to start in the House occupied by 166 elected Members, namely, Dáil Éireann. We spoke about the promises made in the recent general election and how we have to fulfil those commitments. To the best of my knowledge many parties promised that the Dáil would be reduced by 20 or 30 people, not eight. We have quickly forgotten that. We promised in the programme for Government - we get very excited about it regarding it as a latter day Bible - that Dáil Éireann would sit four days a week. One Friday per month is what I call fraudulent Friday, when no votes can be taken, no questions can be asked, a simple quorum is required and people go merrily home at midday. God help us if that is Dáil or political reform.

With this Bill and that of Senator Katherine Zappone and others on the agenda, I look forward in the next few months to a real debate about political reform because it is truly important that we examine how this country is run. It is particularly important that we examine the role of elected persons in this or the other House. We are arriving at a dangerous situation where elected Members of the Dáil, who are not members of the Government, are entirely irrelevant. They have no say. This situation has become even more serious because the role of Minister who is not a member of the all-powerful economic management council within the Cabinet is also very reduced. That needs to be examined from a constitutional perspective. Deep and lengthy questions are needed on politics and reform.

This afternoon Senator John Crown made his pitch and presentation. I have not examined the Bill in the detail that I perhaps should have done because I received a copy of it only yesterday. I have ideological difficulties with the idea of voting rights for emigrants. Maybe I am an old-fashioned traditionalist, but I still find it difficult to grapple with the old phrase of "no representation without taxation". All of this can be debated and teased out and I look forward to that debate.

The Constitutional Convention was mentioned. That is the other part of the new Bible of political correctness. It is absolutely politically insulting that a constitutional convention can be tasked with discussing the silly question of whether 16 year olds should be allowed to vote but it is not allowed to reflect on whether there should be a second Chamber of Parliament.

What a pathetic political joke that is.

I thank Senator John Crown for his work. I am not attempting to be patronising but for several reasons I do not expect that should he push the matter to a vote this afternoon it will succeed. I therefore ask him not to let the Government off the hook by having that vote. I ask that he adjourn the matter this afternoon in order that it remains on the agenda, alongside the other Bill and allow us to come back in a few weeks and decide whether we are political mice or political men. I had better say political mice or political women also.

If we in this House do not believe in the necessity for a second Chamber why should the people? This is a truly important test of what we believe as politicians and what value we place not on ourselves but on the work of all the generations who have worked here, from Yeats, to Hyde, to Robinson, FitzGerald, Dooge and Wilson. Do we value those people's traditions and work? I certainly do. I believe new generations of those people can emerge in the unique political place which is Seanad Éireann.

I regret to say that this call to scrap the Seanad is nothing but simplistic politics. I hope that we are mature enough this evening not to divide in the normal silly political fashion that is more in line with the politics of the other House. I ask Senator John Crown to park adjudication on his proposal. The other Bill will come before us soon. Let us consider the two Bills, debate them and then decide how best to use this House and our votes to protect Irish democracy because we need more political questioning, more people involved in the political process and more debates not fewer. I thank Senator John Crown for bringing us to this point but I hope that he will not cause us to divide politically on this matter.

We need reform of the Dáil and the Seanad. This country suffers from a national democratic deficit unparalleled in the western world. Consider this, only 2% of the laws passed in Ireland every year are debated and scrutinised by the Dáil and the Seanad. The other 98% are made by way of EU regulations, directives and statutory instruments brought into effect by Ministers and Ministers of State and the European Union without any consideration by this House. If one were to think of a country in which only 2% of its laws were scrutinised by the parliament one would say the United Nations should be brought in. Any country with that level of democratic deficit would be worthy of EU intervention.

Deputy Emmet Stagg said that the scrutiny of statutory instruments does not happen. Last August for the first time Ireland brought in organ transplant legislation. How was that done? Does anyone remember it coming before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children? Does anyone remember it coming before the Dáil or in here? No one remembers that because it did not happen. The Minister for Health came back from his holidays last August and signed an EU directive into law bringing into effect 64 pages of legislation on organ transplantation.

All the organ donation organisations and those involved in that sector have serious concerns about the way that was done yet it was not debated here. Does that reflect a country that suffers from a democratic deficit? It most certainly does. The power rests, as we all know, in the hands of a few. It is time that democracy was restored to the people who were elected by the citizens of the country.

Some 184 years ago Daniel O'Connell, the Great Emancipator, ensured that Catholics got the right to vote. Some 95 years ago the franchise was extended to women and 45 years ago Nationalists marched in Derry for one person, one vote. There are 1.8 million people living in the North and 800,000 Irish passport holders living overseas, which represents 36% of those entitled to be Irish citizens under Articles 2o and 3o of the Constitution, yet we do not give them a vote. Of the 33 countries that are members of the Council of Europe only four do not give votes to their citizens overseas. We are in great company with Cyprus, Malta and Greece. Of the 196 countries in the world 115 give votes to their citizens overseas, but we do not do that. We have a diaspora of 70 million. We have passport holders living overseas, who number the combined populations of the cities of Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick, to whom we do not give a vote. Why do we not give a vote to the 46,500 citizens who emigrated last year who are concerned about what is happening at home in terms of them deciding to come back home?

In Portugal 20% of the voters live outside the state yet they are all entitled to vote in their elections. Only four seats are ring-fenced for them, yet they have an entitlement to vote. I do not consider that to be practical here. I do not think the political establishment would allow one seat in the Dáil Chamber to be voted on by one person who is an Irish citizen living overseas or living in the North. In France 12 Senate seats are given to those representing citizens overseas but we will not do that here.

I commend Senator John Crown and his legal team, including Shane Conneely and the others, for bringing forward this Bill. The fact that the Minister did not even address the Bill shows the contempt of the Government and why we need reform of the political system, of the Dáil and the Seanad. He as good as said: "we are getting rid of you and I am not even going to look at this Bill." As the Members of the Government parties opposite and the Government Deputies in the other House would know, the contempt shown by Cabinet Ministers towards the Dáil, towards the democratic system, is there for all to see because it is a rubber stamp exercise. The Cabinet holds the power. It brings forward the legislation. The Deputy's job is to get elected in order that he or she can rubber stamp legislation. We need reform of the entire democratic system. We have a national democratic deficit that is unparalleled. Only 2% of the laws made every year are debated in the Chambers of these Houses. How is it that by abolishing any House the democratic deficit would improve? It would only get bigger. The power will remain concentrated in the hands of the establishment. By that I mean the political elite, that being those Ministers who were appointed and their officials. That is all that is going to happen. Is there any chance that we can repair the democratic deficit when it comes to our citizens overseas? Will we ever extend the vote in a meaningful way to those citizens? We talk about it in terms of the Constitution, yet we do not do anything about it. We are in dubious company in that the countries that do not give votes to their citizens overseas are dictatorships and those that do not have free and fair elections. We are in that club when it comes to our citizens overseas.

Absolutely not.

Please allow Senator Mark Daly to proceed, without interruption.

There is only one Chamber that can offer a real chance that to extend the franchise to those people we have disenfranchised up to now and that is this Chamber but aside from that the entire system needs reform. The Dáil and the Seanad need reform but the political process also needs reform. We have an economic deficit and a national democratic deficit, and the entire system needs reform.

This evening presents the Seanad with a great opportunity to discuss its future in a meaningful and real fashion. Too often in recent months there have been discussions in this House about the Chamber's future which have portrayed the Seanad and its Members in a very negative light. At times it has resembled animals trying to avoid the slaughter. However, tonight's debate brought about by Senator John Crown's Seanad Electoral Reform Bill provides us as legislators with a tangible Bill for discussion. First, it is important to place on record my congratulations and appreciation for Senator John Crown's rather solo run to bring us this Bill before the Chamber this evening. During his campaign and contributions since arriving here he has always stated his belief that the Seanad needed reform and that he was intending to attempt to instigate that reform. He has followed up on his words by actions, for which I thank him. However, one point I would like to make to the Senator is that Rome was not built by a lone centurion and that many of my fellow Senators and I would have welcomed an approach by him to consult him. Perhaps Senators Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn had consulted Senator John Crown deeply because they have worked very hard and long hours on their own reform document. I welcome Senator Mark Daly's words and Senator Paul Bradford's earlier contribution.

In terms of the content of the Bill, for the most part I would support it in its entirety as it goes a long way to addressing many of the problems we have in the current Seanad. I am not a politician at heart nor am I a political scientist. I would like to think my comments in the House this evening and in general reflect the public's feelings on a given issue.

It is my contention that the Seanad struggles to be a meaningful Upper House due to the stranglehold the political parties have on it due to the electoral system. The current process ensures that the Government of the day will have a cosy and safe majority and the remainder of the other seats will be awarded to other political parties. To borrow the President, Michael D. Higgins's words "independence of mind" tends to be a rarity in this Chamber, usually the preserve of the university Senators and it has been extended during this Seanad to the Taoiseach's nominees. Under Senator John Crown's Bill every citizen entitled to vote in local elections will be entitled to a Seanad vote. This undoubtedly would break the hold to some extent that the political establishment has on the Seanad's membership. Also worth noting is a clause that ensures that Seanad elections will occur on the same day as the Dáil polling day. I welcome this. By extension, it will also stop people running for both Houses of the Oireachtas. This would lessen the unsavoury and widespread practice by political parties of treating the Upper House as either a Montessori or kindergarten for future Dáil candidates or as a nice retirement home for failed Dáil candidates or party loyalists.

The proposal in the Bill to extend the electoral franchise to Irish citizens living abroad for Seanad elections is one I strongly support and welcome. I am sure that would be welcomed by anybody who has a friend, a niece or a child who has had the bad luck to have to emigrate in the past five years. I remind Members that during the height of the recession 110 people per day were leaving our shores seeking employment abroad. I do not have the exact numbers. We have a diaspora of 70 million, but if we think of the past seven years and the many people who did not want to leave Ireland and had to leave, surely, for starters, they deserve a vote. I would also remind Members that it is not easy for a person who is abroad to vote. One has to leave the job I hope one has in Boston, Chicago or Abu Dhabi and find the consulate or embassy and register to vote.

Then on polling day, one must reregister and place one's vote. It is not just a question of going online and clicking "pick". It is not an easy thing to do, but I welcome the fact that it is stretched across the world to the Diaspora. It is funny that we dream up things like The Gathering and expect those abroad to support it. Why not, therefore, give them a vote?

The new system envisaged in the Bill to nominate candidates is to be welcomed and should ensure that it is easier for people to contest a Seanad election if they wish. Thankfully, it would bring an end to the undemocratic situation whereby fewer than 2,000 people decide the outcome of the panel elections, which amount to 43 seats in this Chamber. The ending of the practice of nominating bodies for these panels is no bad thing to my mind.

I have heard Senator John Crown explain in media interviews earlier this week that to remove the Taoiseach's nominees or the university Senators from the make-up of the Seanad would require a constitutional referendum. I can accept this point despite my reservations about both panels, as I know there is little public appetite for referendums due largely to the huge cost associated with running them.

Given that the electoral system is freer and less under the control of the political parties, it might not necessarily be bad and may help to avoid legislative stalemates. I suggest it might make this reform pill easier to swallow for the political parties. Where I differ strongly from Senator JohnCrown is in his proposals for the structure of university seats. This Bill, if passed, would see the creation of three university panels - a Trinity College Dublin panel, a National University of Ireland panel and a panel for other higher institutions - each consisting of two seats. I would like to encourage Senator John Crown, when he speaks later, to explain his rationale at to why Trinity College Dublin is afforded two seats. As Trinity College Dublin is one institution, I need to hear why it deserves two seats, while the other universities and institutes of technology are lumped into two panels.

Simply a matter of quality.

This Bill is meant to be about reform and making this Chamber more reflective of Irish society. We have to move away from historical hang-ups. For me, the days of treating Trinity College Dublin differently have come and gone. For instance, would it not be possible to have one six-seat panel for all graduates? Could we move Dublin City University and University of Limerick graduates into Senator John Crown's proposed Trinity College Dublin panel? These are only meant to be alternative ideas.

As I said, I strongly welcome and support the Bill. As I have discussed, I have only one or two amendments that I would like to see introduced. Most things in life these days come back to money. I would like to welcome the plan within this Bill to recoup the money spent on running a Seanad election from the existing expenses pool paid to Members of this House. I also suggest we apply the same system and process to the Dáil. However, if we are truly to reform this House, we also need to examine many of the archaic Standing Orders which crazily govern this Chamber, but that is for another day.

With regard to Standing Orders, the Senator's time is up.

As long as you do not guillotine the debate on the Bill.

I am sorry to interrupt the Senator, but her time is up and we have quite a number of speakers.

In closing, I would like to go back to Senator Paul Bradford's very good speech and his advice to Senator John Crown not to call a vote this evening. We are on a journey here and it will be a long one. Senator Paul Bradford set a good example for all other Government Senators that maybe it is an evening to begin discussion and debate, and bring our opinions while not being swayed by politics. We are but a pimple in the Oireachtas and major reform needs to happen. This is just a part of that reform.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend Senator John Crown for tabling this Bill which my party will support, despite the fact that we have difficulties with some of its aspects. I understand the constitutional constraints under which the Senator was working in terms of what provisions and changes could be allowed for in the context of tabling such legislation. If I had a blank canvas with which to reform the Seanad I would do so constitutionally. I would have used the opportunity of the Constitutional Convention, which is the best place. It includes citizens who have been appointed and independently selected by the State to examine a range of constitutional reform issues. It is a source of deep regret that the Seanad was not one of those issues.

The previous contributor spoke about a journey, but I am not quite sure what journey we are on. The problem is that the Taoiseach and both parties in power have decided that they want to abolish the Seanad. It looks like they will press ahead with a referendum sometime this year. The simple proposition to the people will be "Yes" or "No" to keep this House as it is.

I do not think there are many in the State who would want to keep this House as it is. Everyone I have spoken to says they are in favour of reforming the Seanad. They want a second Chamber that is more democratic, has more powers, can act to provide greater checks and balances against the Dáil, and can scrutinise EU legislation and any amount of ideas that are out there. However, I have not heard a single person say that they would like this House to be kept as it is. Everybody accepts that there are defects and that it does need to be reformed.

There is a lot of talk about more ideas, reports and publications but we have had any amount of reports on Seanad reform. There have been good reports, good analyses and good discussions. Senator Norris spoke about some contributions he has made and I am sure that over the years many pieces of legislation and reports were brought before this House. The simple reality is, however, that they were all ignored by the political establishment at the time. No party in government has ever dealt with the thorny issue of Seanad reform. They have all abdicated their responsibilities.

The same people who failed to properly reform the Seanad are now saying that we should abolish it. The people who failed in their duties to put forward proper, meaningful and democratic reforms are now saying that the solution is abolition. Abolition is not reform, however. If we abolish this House we will lose 60 Senators in the context of all the other measures the Government is putting in place when it talks about political reform.

We had a discussion recently with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, on political reform, which means fewer councillors, councils and Deputies, together with the abolition of the Seanad. It is all subtraction and there is no real attempt to deal with the profound changes that are necessary in this country.

Even before we looked at the issue of abolishing the Seanad or reducing the number of Deputies, the simple reality is that in this state far too much power lies with the Executive. What is the real role of a backbench Deputy? People may say that Senators do not do a hell of a lot of work and they ask what is the point in having Senators to scrutinise legislation, while others often value the contributions of Senators. We do not do anything differently from Deputies when we scrutinise legislation on all Stages. We do not have powers on financial measures that come before us, but we can scrutinise legislation as well as Deputies do.

The real changes that need to be made, however, are not being made. We need to deal with a democratic deficit in this country. We have had an economic catastrophe with profound social and economic change. We have also had a lack of oversight, scrutiny and regulation in other sectors, including banking. However, the Government does not deal with any of that. There has not been a single piece of legislation brought through the Dáil or the Seanad that deals with banking regulation or changing what happened there. It is zero, zilch, yet we will have legislation to abolish this House. The price that is now being put on democracy is to reduce numbers and save money. They say we will save a few bob by abolishing the Seanad and getting rid of councils, councillors and a number of Deputies, and then everything will be all right. Of course, everything will not be all right because the fundamental changes which need to be made are not being made.

Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell seems to be very much opposed to the idea of the Irish Diaspora voting in elections, given her response to some of the previous contributions. She is entitled to be.

On a point of order, I do not remember articulating that. The Senator is confusing grimaces or something.

If I have taken the Senator up wrong, I apologise, but I believe it is a good idea for some elections.

I have no idea why the Senator is referencing me. I have never made a statement to that effect.

Senator Cullinane, in fairness Senator Marie Louise Donnell never commented on that issue.

I apologise to the Senator. I will finish on this point. It is important to reach out to the Irish Diaspora in some elections. They are decidedly important in terms of job creation here and now. This also applies to citizens in the North, who should be given the opportunity to vote in any future Seanad election, if there is to be another Seanad, or Presidential election. I commend Senator John Crown for bringing forward this Bill, but I condemn the Government for its piecemeal approach to political reform.

I thank Senator John Crown for proposing the Bill and Senator David Norris for seconding it. I acknowledge the work of Senator John Crown in bringing the Bill before the House. It is exciting that a Senator would take the time out to do so. I congratulate the people who worked with him on bringing the Bill before the House. We have had some excellent Bills before the House in the history of the Seanad but, unfortunately, I am unable to support Senator John Crown this evening.

Let us consider the definition of a Senate. I mean no disrespect to any Member. A Senate is an assembly or council of citizens having the highest deliberative functions in government, especially a legislative assembly of a state or nation. Many countries have an assembly called a Senate composed of Senators who may be elected, appointed or have inherited a title or gained membership by other methods, depending on the country. Modern Senates typically serve as a chamber of sober second thought and consider legislation passed by a Lower House. The word "Senate" is derived from the Latin word "senatus" which comes from "senex", which means an old man. I mean no disrespect to the Members of this House. The important phrase is "sober second thought". We have had some excellent debate in the House on Bills we have passed. We have spent a good deal more time legislating than the Lower House and we have put through some excellent amendments for the Minister of State, who is listening. This Bill is here. We will have a referendum to abolish the Seanad. If there was a referendum to get rid of any part of the body politic, whether the local councils or the Dáil, it would be gone because politics does not have a good name in the country. That is the fault of politicians over the years and because of the way politics was used.

It is not the fault of the Seanad.

I am coming to that.

I agree with Senator John Crown and do not believe the Seanad should be blamed for what happened or used as a fall guy to try to make politics look fair again. However, I cannot support the Bill. I call on Senator John Crown to consider sections of it. Section 5 deals with universities and the election of six Senators. Others have referred to this also. Instead of two bodies electing three Senators he proposes three bodies electing two Senators. The Central Statistics Office has stated that there are 739,992 people with a third level degree or higher in the country. In other words, approximately 740,000 people would elect six people to the House. In other words, part of the Bill proposes that if one votes in the university panel one cannot vote in another panel. Is that true?

On a point of information, a graduate would have the option either to vote on the relevant university panel or another vocational panel but not to vote on the two.

That is a flaw. If approximately 740,000 people vote in the university panel then they cannot vote on other panels. Senator John Crown would be creating elitism in this way. The six Senators would be elected by university graduates and the rest of the House would be elected by the ordinary people. Senator John Crown would be creating elitism.

There are technical university graduates.

People will say it is creating elitism.

The Senator to continue, without interruption, please.

Section 6 refers to nominations. Senator John Crown is criticising the party system and the party Whip. One cannot always criticise the party Whip. The party Whip is in politics to ensure legislation is passed. One may hold that some legislation is flawed or that debate is guillotined, but we should consider what would happen if the House had 60 Independents.

We might have a bit of sense.

There has to be a Whip.

Under the proposed reformed Seanad if I wanted to run, I would have to get 1,000 people to send a letter to my local returning officer. I could walk around the streets of Kilkenny or the Town Hall in Kilkenny and ask people to do that, but would the people of Donegal who may have a vote on the agricultural panel know who Pat O'Neill was? I ran on the agricultural panel and local authority councillors knew who I was because I had met them over the years. In other words, it would become a local election again. A person from Kilkenny would support a candidate from Kilkenny and another person would support the person from Donegal. That part of the legislation is flawed. It means one must register to vote. Senator Crown said that people nominate and people elect. I cannot agree with a situation whereby one must register to vote on a panel. If I arrived at a polling booth, what would happen? I would get my general election ballot for the Dáil. Then I would have to tell the returning officer that I have decided to vote on the agricultural panel on the given day. That does not work. How would that work? If a person from Offaly was running on the agricultural panel, all the people from Offaly would vote for the person because he was from Offaly. It would not be a true election.

I agree with the sentiments on reform of the House. We have held a debate on it. However, like Senator Paul Bradford, I call on Senator John Crown not to push this to a vote. Instead, I call on him to reflect on the words I used, to have sober second thoughts and not to put this to a vote. With regard to reform or abolition of the Seanad, we could benefit by having more debates on the subject, but if it is pushed to a vote it may limit our opportunity to do so in future.

Have I finished?

In the one year and nine months I have been here I have met no one whom I would wish to exclude from the Oireachtas. Therefore, I cannot understand the mentality of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste who wish to get rid of all 60 people in the room. They really do not know what is going on. Let us consider the Order Paper. Some two thirds of the items were put down by Members and only one third by the Government. We need more scrutiny and checks and balances, especially given what happened to the country between 2008 and 2010. It was not the fault of Senators or Dáil backbenchers - yesterday, we discussed getting rid of or abolishing eight Dáil backbench seats - it was the permanent government and the Civil Service. I have never seen a Government so under-the-thumb of the Civil Service as this one. It has not called the bankers or bank regulators to account. It is blaming the Seanad for the €64 billion that walked out of Government Buildings. There was not one Senator within miles of it when that transaction took place and it is time the Government came to explain what occurred and took measures to deal with it.

Over the weekend the Chief Justice drew attention to the added problem of a four-year waiting list to have legislation scrutinised by the Supreme Court. We have tabled more than 300 amendments on personal insolvency for the Minister to consider. We have reached amendment No. 65 on the Taxi Regulation Bill. This is what we do every day. We are doing the economy and Irish society a considerable benefit by painstakingly going through Bills and spotting the errors. No one has a monopoly of wisdom, least of all a Government with a 40 seat Dáil majority heavily dominated by the Executive and controlled by the permanent government. We need checks and balances. We need to bring in the expertise of this House. I learn something every day from the people here. I cannot imagine how the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste believe that anyone here is expendable or should be removed. It is appalling that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste should go to the people seeking to abolish an arm of government whose job it is to assess how the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are performing. We are here to scrutinise them and to provide checks and balances. It portrays an arrogance by both gentlemen to wish to abolish the assembly which is there to ensure that they perform efficiently. I am unsure what has happened in the period that has been described. Senator Paul Bradford informed us that until quite recently the Taoiseach had a different view of this House.

He appointed 11 brilliant people who are among the leaders in the House. Why has he gone sour on this House? Why will he not come here and tell us what is on the charge sheet? What did we do that has moved him to want to abolish this House? I do not know. It is very difficult to respond to somebody who decided without debate or consultation that this House should no longer exist.

Let us remind the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste of precedent. The result of the abolition of Grattan's Parliament was misery for decades afterwards. This House is not perfect - neither was Grattan's Parliament - but abolishing Houses of Parliament does not do much good for democracy because power goes elsewhere to people who are unaccountable. The abolition of Stormont meant we had to make significant efforts, through former President Clinton and former Prime Minister Blair, to secure the restoration of that Parliament. I am proud of how well it is working. The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, played a role in that regard also. Countries which abolish democratic assemblies, remove scrutiny and show no respect for parliament are going nowhere.

I am surprised and disappointed by the attitude of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste towards this House which is an asset as we try to rebuild a country that is bankrupt because of faults in the senior Civil Service, bank regulation and dreadful bankers. We have decided to blame eight Deputies and 60 Senators instead, which makes no sense. We need to tackle the issue of the democratic deficit in this country. I will travel everywhere I can to oppose the Taoiseach in this referendum. It is a retrograde step and I am very disappointed that a Government which was elected on a reform platform has embarked on a demolition course.

Well said. Bravo.

I wish to share my time with Senator Colm Burke.

I compliment Senator John Crown on initiating this Bill. I understand we will have another comprehensive piece of legislation before the House on this issue fairly soon. It is a pity that the sponsors of these Bills could not have got together and produced a joint Bill that would bring everybody in the House behind them. However, that is not what we have.

The Government's stance is very clear - we will have a referendum. I understand the legislation will be brought before us next month and that we will have a referendum in the autumn - in October or November. The Government's stance is that it will canvass for the abolition of the Seanad and that if the people decide they want to retain it, there will be plenty of time at that stage to deal with the issue of reform. Personally, I do not agree with that principle. We should put before the people what we believe in and what a new Seanad should contain.

The major part of the contents of the reports on Seanad reform deals with how the Seanad is elected. If the people decide to retain the Seanad, we must deal, first, with how the Seanad is elected. The Bill proposes that the people should have a say. I agree totally with the principle that the people should elect the Members of Seanad Éireann. The Seanad has been classified as an elitist Chamber, mainly because of how Members are elected. I believe strongly in the institutions of the State. Since I entered politics many moons ago, it has always been my opinion that Members should protect and support them and that remains my opinion.

I appeal to Senator John Crown not to divide on this matter tonight. The Government has introduced 92 Bills in the past two years, 35 of which were initiated in this House. This excludes all of the laudable Private Members Bills introduced here. While it is not Government policy, the House does and should have a future. I appeal to the Senator not to call a division on the issue. Perhaps we might come together to see how we can deal properly with it.

A coming together of all Senators.

Certainly. Although I cannot guarantee support from this side of the House, I assure Members that we will examine any proposal brought before us.

I have already set out clearly in the past two years my view on reform. Having come here from Brussels where I worked, there is a better way of doing business. Part of what I learned there in the brief time I was there is that while one does not get 100% of what one seeks, one gets 80% or 90% through the system in place there, where everyone sits around the table to work out the way forward. This was clearly demonstrated in these Houses in the first and second weeks of January when the Joint Committee on Health and Children listened to different interest groups putting forward their views for or against the need for legislation to deal with the judgment in the X case. We had three days of open debate, without political partisanship. This was a good demonstration of what could be done in an open democracy.

The Minister spoke about the proposals for reform made during the years. I am trying to bring about reform. I introduced two Private Members' Bills and understood a Department was on side on one of them, but because it had not come from it, it had to be rejected.

We are prepared to implement reforms and are working to implement them. I also set out clearly that this House was ideally placed to look at EU legislation, directives and regulations, as they were brought forward. This could be done not when they are approved by the 27 member states but at the initial stages. The European Commission sets out in November its programme for the following 12 months. What do we do about it? The answer is that we leave it all go unchecked and without comment. Then when it is put in place four or five years later, we say we never heard of it previously. We could use this House to deal with the changes that have occurred in the structure of government in the past 30 or 40 years, since we became a member of the European Union. We are not using the House as we should and it is time we started using it to provide for checks and balances in respect of legislation at European level. Let us implement the reforms needed in the next two years.

I wish to share my time with Senators Labhrás Ó Murchú and Jim Walsh.

I congratulate Senator John Crown, Mr. Shane Conneely and Ms Aoife Casey on the work they have done. Sadly, we might as well be kicking a football out on the lawn. This is the 21st time I have participated in a debate on the issue of Seanad reform. It is 11 years since I first made a submission on the issue and I am sure Senators David Norris and Feargal Quinn could go even further back.

The problem with the Seanad has never been Senators. I have never known a Senator who was not an avid enthusiast not just of reform but of radical reform. We sometimes become frustrated and believe people are not listening to us. The truth of this can be seen in looking at the press gallery. I guarantee that nobody is listening to anything we are saying on this issue today, despite the best efforts of Mr. Conneely, Ms Casey, Senator John Crown and others.

The problem with the reform of the Seanad has always been the hierarchy of Fianna Fáil, the hierarchy of Fine Gael and the hierarchy of the Labour Party. They have abused the House as a vehicle for also-rans or as a breaking ground for new talent. As a political Member of the House, I have always taken my responsibilities seriously. As a former CEO of a chamber of commerce and having established businesses during the years, I am probably more qualified than most to be on the Industrial and Commercial Panel. I am qualified in terms of being able to do this.

The problem here is not what Senator Maurice Cummins thinks, what I think or, frankly, what the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, thinks. The leadership of the day determines the usefulness or uselessness of this House. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, will admit some day that they decided not only to play the political man rather than the political ball which we can fully understand in politics, but also to dig up the pitch purely in the interests of getting votes. I will never understand it. If the people are asked to vote "Yes" or "No", they will bury the Seanad because of the actions of the Taoiseach and the Minister rather than as a result of any of actions of the Members of this House which are never covered by the media. Shame on them for allowing us to tear up democracy and the institutions of the State.

We should not start this debate by saying we think it is futile. If Senators put the country before their parties, this will not be futile. I ask them to reflect on the manner in which the proposal to abolish the Seanad was introduced. It was dropped like a bombshell in the middle of a general election campaign without forewarning or notice. No White Paper or Green Paper was drawn up. It was decided to get rid of a House of Parliament because it suited the political ambitions of the time. That was the starting point of this proposal. I strongly believe we have an opportunity to stop this from happening. It is clear from listening to our colleagues on the other side of the House that nobody is happy with this proposal. The more I speak to the general public, the more it seems that people are questioning the motive behind the proposal to abolish the House. Perhaps the referendum will have a surprising outcome. It is clear from the results of recent referendums that these measures never happen precisely as the Government expects. I may be an eternal optimist, but I am not convinced that a referendum to abolish the Seanad would be successful. The people will distrust the motives behind it.

They will be right.

They will realise that it is a negation of democracy. It will become clear that if the referendum is passed, we will be dealing with an over-centralised concept of government which has never served the country well and never will. I hope somebody in the halls of power will look at the transcript of this debate and realises this might not be as straightforward as they think. We will have an opportunity to retain the Seanad, even if a black and white "Yes" or "No" question is put to the people, not because we want to save our own positions but for the good of the country. If Members from all parties consider the manner in which this has been presented, there is a good possibility that the Seanad can be saved. Even in the midst of the challenges of the recession, we should not lose this opportunity to do what is right for the country, as opposed to what is right for a party, power or personal ambition. We owe Senator John Crown a debt of gratitude for giving us a chance to do what is needed in the interests of ordinary people. He has made a major contribution to the House since he came here. He does not have to be here, but he has seen the potential of the House. For heaven's sake, we must not lose this opportunity to be independent-minded and do what is correct.

I welcome the Bill. It is a good initiative. The detail of the Bill is not important at this stage, as it can be debated and amended. The principle is absolutely first class, as is the motivation behind it. When the recession loomed in 2008, many Members of this House said democracy would be the first casualty of the economic recession. We are now seeing this happen, unfortunately. It has been said many times in this House that the Lower House is crying out for reform. The Government made a commitment in that regard, but its decision to reduce by eight the number of Deputies does not constitute reform. In the same way, its local government proposals do not constitute reform. When I say Ministers prefer not to be held to account, I do not confine my accusations to the Government because the same applied when we were in office. Ministers feel uncomfortable when they are put on the spot for the policies they are pursuing. In many instances, they are not able to deal with such queries. The less accountable they are, the happier they are and the happier the bureaucracy is also. It makes it easier for the permanent government to influence those who are serving in the transient Government. The control exerted in the Lower House through the rigid application of the Whip and on the Order of Business means that the number of Members of that House could be reduced substantially. If the Dáil were left to the members of the Government and a handful of others, the same results and outputs would be achieved. If one speaks to Senators, Deputies and Ministers of State about the Government, they will readily admit they have no power and very little influence in particular areas. Members of the Cabinet are now saying the same because power has become concentrated in a small elite group - three teachers and a former trade union official - known as the Economic Management Council which is taking decisions that the Constitution provides should be taken by the Government.

That is ridiculous.

What does that have to do with the reform of the Seanad?

I do not say this lightly, but I am genuinely concerned about the tendency towards totalitarianism in this state.

The Senator is absolutely right for once.

I really think this drift needs to be arrested and many are speaking about it. We have seen the guillotine used in this and the Lower House. There was a major row in the Dáil yesterday because the debate on legislation was being guillotined, thereby preventing democratically elected Deputies from having an opportunity to have their voices heard. When we get into the real debate on the proposal to hold a referendum on this issue, I hope people will be persuaded that the security of the State should be a pivotal consideration in the decisions they will have to make.

I thank my colleagues who have been so generous in their praise for the Bill. I thank them for sharing the credit for this legislation with Mr. Shane Conneely, Ms Aoife Casey and the rest of the team. When the Taoiseach came here some months ago for the first time and the issue of the future of the Seanad arose, I remember thinking he had the demeanour of a vegetarian butcher coming up to Christmas. He was basically saying, "I will not eat you, but I have to look after the others and if they want to eat you, I will have to serve you up." When I look at my colleagues in this House, I sometimes think we look like a bunch of turkeys who are not exactly voting for Christmas but perhaps hoping Christmas will be hijacked by Buddhists and become a vegetarian feast. The arguments made earlier in the debate by the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, with great respect to him, were the most irrelevant and dismissive I have ever heard.

Not one of our arguments was addressed.

It was hypocritical rubbish.

The Minister went as far as to say, "I do not propose to conduct a forensic analysis." He would have been unable to do so. There was no analysis of the contents of the legislation. Not one of the charges I made was countered.

It was an insult.

I am not here because I am trying to save the Seanad. I am here because I want to reform the entire process of Parliament - this is one wedge in that process - and because I want the people to have a choice when they vote in the referendum. I am pro-choice on this issue. I was very surprised to hear that many were not pro-choice on this issue. It is hard for me to escape the conclusion that the enthusiasm with which the Taoiseach who has had quite a week, having been compared to Robert Mugabe and Herod, even though he is a good man-----

On a point of order, I think the Senator should stick to his Bill.

It very hard for me to escape the conclusion that in opposing this legislation so single-mindedly, with such tunnel vision and without allowing any discussion of alternatives, the Taoiseach is thinking of this as a pre-election promise he can actually keep.

I have been asked to wait until some other Bill comes through and gently rapped on the knuckles for not collaborating with certain Senators on the other Bill. I have spoken widely to Members of this House about this Bill in recent days. The consensus seems to be that they want to support it, but they are not being allowed to do so. The word has come down from on high that they cannot support it.

One party has been told to be quiet and not support it, while it is very obvious that the other is not supporting it. Therefore, I do not believe the portents are particularly good that another Bill will come through that will receive more support than mine or that a hybrid, Frankenstein-like synthesis of the two Bills would receive support. I had a slight objection when I heard about the other initiative because it was very much a "save the Seanad" initiative. That is not what I am trying to do. I am trying to reform Parliament and ensure that within the constraints of the Constitution, with the limited powers we have in this House, we would have one Chamber elected by all citizens which would be focused not on local issues but national ones.

I am conflicted as to what to do in the next two minutes because a part of me thinks that, unlike others, when I ran for this House and faced an electorate, the first thing I said I would do was put a reform or abolition proposal to the people. I am told that if I do that, it will die. However, we cannot move it any further today. There are those who would like to support the Bill and who, if given the opportunity to work the room and make the backroom deals, would be able to change it. I will grudgingly not push it to a vote tonight. I would like the Bill to remain on the Order Paper, but I am not consigning it to an endless stay in limbo. I will keep my eye on it and at some stage in the near future Members will get used to nearly daily calls for an amendment.

Then the Senator will have to sit down and leave time for it on the Order Paper.

Senator John Crown has one minute remaining.

I thank Senator John Crown for allowing the debate to continue.

Debate adjourned.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.