Senator Crown is in possession.
Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
We must wait for the Minister.
Bhí mé ag smaoineamh ar - - - - - .
Silence in the Chamber please.
Cá bhfuil an tAire?
We will wait until he comes.
Do I resume my seat?
Another Minister who also worked in the Seanad, bejaysus. They must be running out of Ministers.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ni raibh sé anseo ag tús an chómhrá agus b'fhéidir go dtosóidh mé arís as Gaeilge.
Ní gá. Bhí mé ag éisteacht leat.
Out of deference to the Minister of State's complex schedule, I will not rehash the points I had made earlier.
Irish is the first official language of the State.
Senator Crown without interruption.
The Ministers have been rapidly rotating during this debate. I have consulted my copy of Bunreacht na hÉireann to find out how many officeholders there are and how many more I can expect to see in the next several hours.
That has no relevance to the debate on section 1.
The arguments being advanced in section 1 for the abolition of the Seanad are in one case poorly justified and in two other cases wholly bogus. The argument that the Seanad should be abolished because it is undemocratic is a sustainable argument and one which I believe is best addressed through the process of reform. That is why I authored a reform Bill, from which I have already put the highlights on record.
We are not discussing a Bill to reform the Seanad. We are discussing section 1, which deals with the abolition day.
I am trying to construct an argument as to why section 1 should be rejected. We are making the case that the Bill commences with references to the abolition of one of the Houses of the national Parliament, before the matter has been put to a referendum. I think arguments in defence of that House are valid arguments to make. This is not part of my main speech, but I am on record as having said that the House, as currently constituted is an affront to democracy. It is very difficult for me to make a case rejecting the abolition without saying this is not some crazy turkey voting against Christmas but is part of a more plausible strategy for Oireachtas reform. We will not go there now.
Some of the implications or downstream effects, as we would say in biology, of a rapid unthoughtful insufficiently prepared abolition of the Seanad is that if the Seanad were to cease in a country which has traditionally poorly developed local government structures we would have a colossal lacunae in terms of public governance. If it was decided that we were having a fundamental reform of the structures of governance with stronger local government, one could make an argument that if the power was devolved to regionally-based local governance, we would not need a second scrutinising Chamber because in truth much of what would happen would be scrutinising the activities of the local authorities anyway. With great respect, there is no significant evidence of that kind of fundamental reform happening, reform that would delegate both authority and responsibility to the local governance. We have seen a number of cosmetic changes in terms of numbers and structures but in terms of actually changing what they do, we have not seen much.
Again, I hope I am not expressing disrespect for those who have expressed this opinion but I do not believe our Taoiseach is some kind of incipient autocrat, a despot in waiting who is trying to systematically dismantle many of the organs of democracy in the country in an attempt to stage some kind of an oligarchic power grab. I do not believe that at all. The effect of taking away organs of democracy before other ones are developed is that there will be a de-democratisation of many aspects of public governance in this country. It is bit like the old argument to ban cars from coming into the city, but why not build the public transport first. We are saying that we will get rid of one problem but we will not actually set up the structures that will deal with.
The other issue that desperately needs to be dealt with is our committee system. I sit on a committee and I am sure as I was as variable an attentive attender as the average parliamentarian but because of the way things are structured they are somewhat low impact. If we were to have a fundamentally reformed system of central government and Parliament we would have to have in place a really good scrutinising committee system, a system which is accountable and comprised of elected officials. Instead we are being told we will lose the quasi-democratic second Chamber. In truth it is fashionable to decry its lack of democracy, and I have been a principal decrier but the vast majority of Members in the Seanad are voted by people who are themselves voted on the basis of popular franchise, one person one vote and an open voting system. Our local authority representatives are I believe a valid, if surrogate, electorate to select the Members of one of the Chambers of our Parliaments but instead what we are going to have is a reformatting of the current parliamentarily weak committee system apparently with some kind of jury rigging add-on of unelected technocratic experts, who will be there to provide the technical scrutinising function which at present is conducted by Seanad Éireann. We will lose the veneer of the surrogate democracy we have in the Seanad and replace it with something that is wholly technocratic.
With no disrespect to the Taoiseach, whom I mentioned to one of the many previous Ministers who was present when I was speaking today, I believe is one of the better persons to have served as Taoiseach and the best Taoiseach we have had for some time. He has brought great honour to the office and I believe his instincts are democratic but in this case, I believe he is making a mistake. In addition, his proposed model of Taoiseach and Government-appointed technocrats as the substitutes for the Seanad scrutiny function is flawed. It is basically self-governance. It is the same type of model that was felt to have failed in terms of the old structures of the Medical Council, which many believe currently fails in the other professional organisations. This idea of self-policing and self-regulation is not a system that is in vogue right now. There is a move away from that system in all types of areas of public governance. For that reason I think the Taoiseach is making an error on this.
Has that scrutinising function been successful? Others who are more serious students of parliamentary history than I am can quote the numbers. I have heard of the hundreds of amendments that were proposed, many of which were accepted and which strengthened legislation that arrived in this House. In addition to that, we are not just scrutineers, we are initiators.
People looking at the process of Parliament from the outside will ask whether a lot of what goes on will affect them. Some of what has occurred in this House will affect people. The human rights advocacy for gay people and other monitories in our society, which has long been espoused by Senator David Norris, is critically important. This one-man dynamo of legislation, Senator Feargal Quinn, who is not here this evening, has brought his considerable professional and life experience to bear in very practical ways in a number of critically important pieces of legislation which, to be honest, people thinking of the big picture might forget - for example, having a label which tells one from where one's food actually came. If it states: "Made in Ireland", is it just packaged in an Irish sausage casing but has come from somewhere else? This is important.
If Senator Feargal Quinn's defibrillator legislation is passed, people will be alive at the next general election who would not be alive if that legislation had not been initiated in and enacted by this House, and I speak with some authority on this. I know many patients whose lives were saved by defibrillators and many people whose lives were saved by rapid extra hospital resuscitation. It is important to acknowledge that.
In a small way, the Bill which Senators Mark Daly, Jillian van Turnhout and I have advanced to ban smoking in cars with children has already had an impact, even though I regret to say, parenthetically, it is lost some place in the bureaucracy. If Seanad Éireann is abolished, as recommended in section 1 of the Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013 which we are debating, any impetus which we would have to see that Bill come to fruition would disappear because I think it is low down in terms of legislative priorities.
Parenthetically, I should also add that I am a great admirer of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, and I strongly support his efforts to fundamentally reform our health system. I am particularly happy that we have a man of his strength and courage who is now starting the flex the muscles against the tobacco industry, a battle to which, in truth, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Justice and Equality dealt a blow when they rather inappropriately met the tobacco industry a while ago.
In the current Dáil structure, despite having a good Minister like the Minister for Health, one piece of legislation has gone through in the smoking control area but that Bill makes it easier for the tobacco companies. The Minister advanced that Bill through gritted teeth and in the face of great personal opposition because he was forced and mandated to do so by diktats which came from the European Court of Justice and the EU competition authorities. The reality, as of July 2013, is that this Government which set itself out as a campaigning Government to tighten the noose on tobacco legislation following on the leadership Deputy Micheál Martin showed in a previous Government, has not succeeded in doing that. The one Bill which is going through and which would tighten the noose is our smoking in cars Bill which would be lost if the Seanad did not exist.
Has the mere fact the Seanad started a debate on that issue succeeded in putting it on the public interest agenda? I think it has. We outlined in this House and in various media the extraordinary level of harm which could accrue to children if incarcerated in a car with a smoking adult, something which people were not aware of. I think it has already caused a behavioural change. I always said the purpose of that Bill was not to fill prisons but primarily educational and I believe it probably has had that educational role.
Similarly, as an epiphenomenon related to Senator Feargal Quinn's wonderful defibrillator Bill, the debate about whether we should charge VAT on defibrillators has been reignited. I believe we had a role in accelerating the process of the legislation on the regulation of sunbeds. There were 400 cases of malignant melanoma in 2008 and 995 cases in 2010. Sadly, one pretty much assumes that the proportion of those which are fatal is approximately one quarter of cases. If that proportion stays constant, the absolute number of patients who will find themselves battling potentially fatal melanoma will have gone up. Again, taking the VAT off sunblock products and regulating the sunbed industry was suggested in this House, as was increasing the number of dermatologists. I do not mean to blow my own trumpet here but one message which I have got onto the public agenda because of my debates here and at the committee is the extraordinary shortage of specialists per head of population. It is just bizarre and bears no resemblance to any other country in the OECD, with the exception of the UK which is the second worst. If one has a spot on one's skin which might be melanoma - maybe one is one of the 950 people who get it - one could be waiting months for an appointment here. This issue was brought up in this House and has the effect of changing the public agenda.
Some other things could be lost if we go ahead and approve this Bill, including the contribution which has been made historically by other great Senators. The reasons for the success of peace in troubled Northern Ireland are complex. It is a success which, understandably, has many fathers but I have no doubt that some of the more directly responsible fathers were the bridge builders, some of whom sat in this House.
I am not demeaning the role of any of the others who were involved at the front line of the conflict and who adopted the path of peace, for which I salute them. However, there were others who were in this House and who were never particularly involved in the war in the first place but who, at a time when it was not particularly fashionable, were trying to preach the gospel of reconciliation and compromise. One incredibly wonderful man in this regard was the late Senator Gordon Wilson. My family knew his family in north Leitrim for many generations and I had the privilege of associating with some of his children when I was younger. What a phenomenal contribution he made and what a phenomenal message it was when he was appointed as the bereaved father of a Northern Ireland Protestant girl, a beautiful young nurse, who lost her life in a terrible episode in Northern Ireland. She had not even been put in her coffin when he pleaded for reconciliation and no revenge but he then incurred the wrath of his own community by accepting a seat in the Seanad. His record of reconciliation is one to which we can only aspire to. The list is endless.
The criticism is often made that Seanad Éireann is the incubator or retirement home for people at either ends of their careers, and I am sorry to use the cliche because everybody hears it and it upsets Members with Dáil ambitions. Incubators are sometimes a good thing. We have a lot of healthy babies which needed to be incubated. The reality is that many fine and very worthwhile political careers in the Dáil, in government and in the Taoiseach's office were launched by people who wet their feet and cut their teeth in this House. Maybe some part of it is a prep school, a finishing school or an educational process.
Retirement homes are great as well.
I will reserve my comments on the other sections until later and will stick to section 1 for the moment. There is a kind of warm fuzzy feel-good feeling about the folks who have done this and it would have been a great loss if they had not been Members of this House.
There is, however, something else which must be acknowledged. Imagine if things go badly wrong here and in Europe over the next few years and we have further economic upheavals, which many serious commentators state is a real possibility.
If, during the mid-term of a Government, we need to inject some expertise into Parliament, the Seanad at least provides a mechanism to do that via the Taoiseach's appointees. We will lose that completely if we lose the Seanad. I put it to the Minister of State that this is something which has scarcely been used. We are all familiar with the late James Dooge who, I believe, was a very fine Senator and accomplished Minister and contributed in a very important way to the work of government in the country. We would not have had the opportunity to appoint him.
It is quite plausible to conceive of a scenario over the next year or five years somebody like Garret FitzGerald who, while stating he knows James Dooge to be a fine, gifted and intelligent man who he would like to have in government, would be unable to do so. There may be a specific skill we need. Our current Taoiseach might decide that it would be nice to have somebody like Senator Barrett at the Cabinet table who understands economics in a very technical sense and the different and conflicting advice being offered. This is a mechanism which would be lost to us in the event that we abolish the Seanad.
Senator Crown could be Minister for Health.
That would be a good idea.
The only other job I would take is Taoiseach.
The Senator should run for the Dáil the next time.
There is a colossal presumptuousness about the section in the Bill which provides that Seanad Éireann is to be abolished and, as a consequence of the abolition, amends provisions of the Constitution that confer functions on Seanad Éireann or that are premised on the existence of that House. It strikes me that there is a cart and horse phenomenon, in terms of legislating for a referendum and predetermining, on the basis of the outcome of the referendum, what we will get.
We have precedence for this-----
There is no mention of the horse. We only get the cart.
That is true. There is precedence for this kind of very confusing technical referendum occurring. It occurred in 2002, which is one of the referendums whose consequences we are currently grappling with in terms of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
I looked in from the outside and put in writing that the Seanad should be abolished or reformed. I still believe that but I would prefer to reform it. As somebody who is in here and sees the dysfunctions of the two Houses, I see an extraordinary argument for launching a process of parliamentary reform which would involve, in effect, writing a new constitution. I do not think there is a shortcut around this. We do not have a good mechanism for doing that in Ireland because our current Constitution cleverly keeps unto the Taoiseach and the Government the sole right to introduce amending provisions for the Constitution.
There does not seem to be a shortcut other than democratically seizing power and advancing a new constitution in a very radical format. We can, within the existing Constitution, examine the two Houses we have. We have it within our gift to advance meaningful reform of the House which would give us, instead of the de-democratised, single chamber parliament we would have operating in a lacuna with no strong committee system, fewer checks and balances and without local government, one nationally focused house which would still, because of its constitutional mandate and limitations, be a reflective scrutinising chamber which could not thwart the wishes of the more powerful Dáil but which could act the nidus for more fundamental reform.
I do not want to make personal comments. Most Ministers, given the system we have, do a very good job. In truth, as I have said before, the reality is that we do not have a particularly good system for picking Ministers. We have a particular pool of available people which may contain people who are talented, skilled and have skill sets which can match various Departments, but it also contains those who may not.
I understand populism when people say things such as our first reform should be to abolish the Seanad and our second reform should be to shrink the Dáil. That would create a lacuna. If one shrinks the Dáil before one changes the way one appoints Ministers, I am not being pejorative when I say we will have an even shallower talent pool from which to pick Ministers. We will have a smaller number of people from which to pick critical and, in some cases, highly technical ministerial appointments. Poor Descartes must be turning in his grave.
We have a need for a shopping list of mandatory constitutional reforms. It as if a mother has taken a basket with a screaming child through a supermarket, has ignored milk, meat and potatoes and nappies and has instead gone straight for the sweets at the checkout, bought them first and worried about the rest later. It is a simple and populist option which gives the illusion of reforming zeal and momentum to the process of parliamentary reform without grappling with the core issues which need to be fixed.
In 2007 and 2008, when critical decisions could have been made, but were not, which might have ameliorated the worst aspects of the economic collapse, the fault was not with Seanad Éireann. To do an analogy to death, the Seanad was asleep at the tiller but was guilty of sins of omission rather than commission. It was the Dáil which ratified the Ministers who made the decisions.
Even though we have now had a change of Government, a similar process is in place as well as policies which are very similar to those of the post-meltdown policies advanced by Fianna Fáil. There was broad consensus between the two parties as to the mid-course corrective actions which needed to be taken. I am sure my Fianna Fáil colleagues will resonate with that, but there is not that much difference between what they said after the terrible mistakes they made in the post-meltdown process and what the incoming Government did.
Imagine if instead we had a Government which included some economists - I will not mention names because they are broadly divided - and people who really understood banking. People who knew about banking and looked at it from the outside have been documented as saying there was a real problem, even though they did not predict the last recession.
Kevin Cardiff, for instance.
None of these people works in influential positions or is sitting around the Cabinet table. As a result of the quirks of our Constitution and 43 local elections which determine who will make the major macroeconomic decisions for the country, we had a group of people who were, without being critical, heavily personally incentivised not to break bad news. They did not want to be the ones who would say there would be a problem. They did not want to tell people who suddenly felt rich because the three bedroom houses they had owned for years were suddenly worth multiples of hundreds of thousands of euro, who believed that because of some fundamental rewriting of the laws of economics, they had changed into wealthy people, even though they were still doing the same meaningful, skilled jobs and working as hard as they always were, that there was a problem. Salaries were no bigger and people still did what they did before, but they felt richer. It is very difficult for a politician focused on local electoral issues to say he or she is sorry to have to tell people that there is a shell game going on, people have been scammed and we need to change things. Maybe if we had a different system of selecting Deputies and Ministers we might have had a better way of dealing with such a situation.
I have a day job and I like to think I am perhaps what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.
They wanted to bring in people who on the one hand, understood that there were more politically sophisticated people who were full-time politicians and made the big decisions while they, on the other hand, could bring a different perspective on some of the decisions made and offer different skills. I like to think I have done that in my little area. I know for a fact that this man sitting on my right has done it in a colossal way in economics and I believe he has been an educational resource for Members of both Houses. One must then ask how Senator Barrett would have functioned with the current Whip system. There a few people in the dominant party of Government who, although they might not have been economists with PhDs, had strongly dissenting views on some issues, particularly those related to banking, and it would appear that they were whipped into submission. We had the strange situation of one Deputy who, at his own committee, spoke one way and voted another because his expertise and heart told him one thing and his Whip told him to do the other. One of my colleagues has just informed me that the home of Irish horse racing - horseracing.ie - has stated that there are numerical limits relating to the number of times the whip can be used in a race. It can be used seven times in a flat face and eight times in a jumps race. Whoever is in charge of Deputy Mathews would have been disqualified and a steward's inquiry would have been held within about three days of the initiation of the first meeting of the current Dáil.
Sadly, the Whip system works in here. I know this for a fact because I have become very friendly with many of my colleagues on both sides of the House. In many cases, they have sincere, well-thought out and well-informed positions which are at complete variance with those of their party and as a result, are whipped into submission. Again, I do not wish to personalise this. I have huge personal and professional regard for the extraordinary, methodical and forensic scrutiny of Bills, particularly health Bills, by Senator Colm Burke in this House. To see him advance a really important Bill addressing a technical niche that had been neglected in the programmes for Government of successive governments and be defeated by his own Government was instructive. It tells us something about where reforms really need to take place.
What was that great line during the week? One should always use the words "in conclusion" multiple times in a speech because it gives one's audience hope. In summary, I am a complete reformer. I believe the arguments advanced for defending this House as it is currently constituted as a critical bulwark of democracy are not very strong. The principal arguments are those relating to what it could be and the opportunity cost of losing something that we cannot easily get back in a reformed format. I mentioned it to the Minister of State's colleagues who were here before. To most of us who have looked at this, it is simply and deeply offensive that this was never considered for discussion at the Constitutional Convention. What could be a more fundamental constitutional question for a democracy than the structure of its national parliament? Most of us have had the privilege of visiting the convention on a number of occasions. I found it to be a very rewarding experience and a wonderful way of engaging with and hearing the opinions of our citizenry - not just some elected elite of our citizenry but real citizens, many of whom were no more involved or interested in or knowledgeable about politics than the average citizen. What a wonderful idea it would have been if they had been given the opportunity to discuss the actual structure of their national Parliament. I am sorry if I am being repetitive. Both the Cathaoirleach and Minister of State were not here when I said it earlier. The fact that the convention discussed whether the President, which is a largely ceremonial office although potentially constitutionally crucial given the right circumstances, would have a five-year rather than a seven-year term but it was not considered valid to discuss the entire structure of our Parliament is very regrettable.
Our considered opposition to section 1 of the Bill relates to the heart of the matter which is that, without invoking any dictatorial autocracy, it comes across as being arrogant. There was no constituency pushing for this. There was a certain constituency pushing for retention and a larger constituency for reform. The reform constituency prominently included our Taoiseach. He was one of those who at a summer school articulated very fine ideas about what the Seanad could do in a reformed structure. Apparently without any particular consultation and in a country with colossal economic problems caused by people, politicians and the political system we had, he did not decide as his first constitutional priority to ask what we could do to prevent those set of circumstances occurring again by possibly giving us a different level of expertise in Government. Instead, he decided that we will do it because it is a waste of money when the Minister most directly responsible for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Howlin, told us while sitting in the chair in which the Minister of State now sits that it will save no money and that the money will be redeployed to less democratic Dáil committees buttressed by technocratic appointees who will become the non-accountable scrutineers of legislation, supplanting the role of our surrogate democracy, which is the Seanad.
On that, I must freely admit that I am spent. I urge the Minister of State to take our message on board and consider that this rushed, unthoughtful, pointless, non-money-saving, misleading and misleadingly blameful initiative to abolish the Seanad without giving our people any chance to discuss its reform should be reconsidered in good faith.
Senator Crown's contribution made a number of very valid points. The detail he went into certainly augurs well for the discourse that will take place in the weeks leading up to the referendum. From the outset, I have said that the people should have their say on the future of the Seanad. The Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil election manifestos signed up to a referendum on the Seanad and certainly questioned its future.
Yes, it did.
Following reform of the Dáil.
Clearly it was also a populist decision in Fianna Fáil when it was trying to retrieve some sort of connection with the people. In fairness, the leader of Fianna Fáil has been forthright in his position on reform. I have also been forthright in saying that I will not be voting in favour of the abolition of the Seanad. It would be hypocritical of any Member of this House to say they will be voting in favour of the abolition of the Seanad and to continue taking a salary. I am certainly not going to be hypocritical. I do not intend campaigning either way. If I am asked for my personal view in any forum, public or private, I have no problem with and no hesitation in articulating it in as much detail as people are prepared to listen to.
I believe that this House is probably working at half mast in its current form. There is so much potential that could be achieved. Senator Crown has put forward a very articulate case on a number of different fronts that the Seanad and its personnel would be of huge benefit to the political system in certain circumstances. I am of the view that this Seanad is probably a better Seanad than the ones preceding it.
There are 42 new Senators with the Senators who were re-elected and are extremely capable. Senator Mark Daly and I have worked very closely on the whole issue of the undocumented Irish in the past year, the impetus for which has come from the Seanad. I salute Senator Daly who has led the charge in that field.
Senator John Crown is an expert in the whole area of health, while Senator Sean D. Barrett is an expert in the area of transport economics and economics in general. Much strategic thinking goes into the amendments proposed by Senator Barrett which, to a large extent, the Government takes on board. It may not accept the amendments and may need to tidy up technical amendments but the overall thrust of the amendments has influenced legislation significantly. It may not be overtly done but it is covertly done. Legislation that has passed through the Houses in the past couple of years has been enriched and enhanced as a result of the contributions of all Senators but particularly Senator Barrett in the whole area of economics. Had more of his amendments been accepted, it is possible that legislation would be even more enhanced and enriched, specifically the Taxi Regulation Bill which passed through recently. I was present for much of the deliberations on that legislation which was insightful and informed Members who may not be up to speed on that issue of a new way of doing business. I tabled a motion which was unanimously accepted by the House in the area of restorative justice. That is an issue that would be dealt with in the Dáil as time would not permit.
Given that one is dealing with 165 individuals trying to get speaking time, it would not have got the attention and deliberation in the other Chamber. The practitioners of restorative justice and those who advocate this new type of penal reform or pre-penal reform, before people go into the prison system, were very impressed with the manner in which this House dealt with the issue. It has now gone to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to put forward specific recommendations. A sub-committee is being formed to examine the issue and bring in the practitioners and those who are advocating for restorative justice.
May I say, without being discourteous to Senator Conway, whose contribution is extremely interesting, that I am delighted that we have managed to flush out one member of the Government after five and a half hours. In order to ensure his remarks are heard as widely as possible, can we ensure there is a quorum in the House?
I am delighted that Senator Norris decided to give me a breather so early in my contribution. As I was saying before the quorum bell, the restorative justice community was happy with the Seanad, in particular. Certainly it has raised the profile of the Seanad for the many people who are promoting and supporting restorative justice. Restorative justice has worked extremely well in Northern Ireland and there are other examples in New Zealand and parts of Germany, while in Canada there is a significant advancement in the whole area. I have always felt that Ireland has proved itself as a country in terms of, for example, the smoking ban, where we led the way in Europe and I think we can lead the way in Europe with a whole new way of dealing with the victims and the perpetrators of crime. Certainly, the Seanad opened up the debate in that area.
There are many issues in the area of disability that need to be dealt with, for example, Irish sign language. In the next term I intend to be prominent in pushing the issue whether through a Private Members' motion or Private Members' legislation to get recognition for Irish sign language. People who come from minority backgrounds, whether they are people with disabilities or from other communities, have a role to support in the Seanad to ensure minorities have a voice. In the past the Seanad has successfully provided a voice for many minorities. We have seen the work Senator Norris has done in legislating for the area of homosexuality along with many other very useful contributions.
When the people get their say and reflect on the decision they have to make they will, I think, vote to retain the Seanad. However, it will be with a moral caveat to a future Government that instead of election manifestos proposing a referendum for abolition - that process will have gone through - hopefully, the next set of election manifestoes will propose a suite of reforms through which the Seanad will have real power.
This Seanad will run its full term regardless and be dissolved on the day before the next Government is formed. Let us hope that the various parties' election manifestoes will include proposals on Seanad reform that will lead into meaningful reform under a programme for Government. This is what the people of Ireland will vote for.
We can debate right through the night, but the people of Ireland deserve their say. Our Constitution does not provide for a "preferendum" in which the choices would be to abolish, reform or retain. It is just a referendum. Energies would be better used campaigning among the people as opposed to creating a logjam of contributions in the House, as excellent and all as they are. I could sit and listen to many of my colleagues all night, but that would defeat the purpose.
The Senator will.
Democracy in the Chamber is as it is. We are trying to present the Seanad as a real alternative in a professional way. We are not playing games, as well intentioned and all as they may be.
The Taoiseach has been quick to argue that countries such as Denmark, Norway and Finland have similar populations to ours, yet manage with one-chamber parliaments. This is disingenuous, and the Taoiseach knows it.
The Senator has spoken already. The Minister has not arrived yet. I ask the Senator to stick to section 1.
The amendment is to oppose the section. I am giving the grounds for why it should be opposed.
There is no amendment to section 1.
I see that section 1 is opposed.
Section opposed is not an amendment. It is only an intention to delete the section.
We oppose it because it is not an acceptable amendment to the Constitution. I will elaborate further on this point. I listed the various Bills that I, while a Minister of State, debated in the Seanad to show that the Seanad was productive. On 28 April 1988, I was in this Chamber when the late Nuala Fennell, a wonderful Deputy and Senator, moved amendment No. 14 to the Adoption (No. 2) Bill 1987 on Committee Stage (Resumed). It read: "In page 6, line 31, to delete "illegitimate" and substitute "a child whose parents were not married to each other or an orphan."." She went on to state:
I hope the Minister will accept this amendment. In making this request I am conscious of the fact that this is not something to do with money. It has nothing to do with legal costs. It should be an extremely easy thing to do.
The amendment was supported by Mary Robinson, former Senator and former President, who stated:
I am in favour of the removal of a concept which we have determined should not form part of our law relating to children any more; to substitute a formulation, either exactly as in Senator Fennell's proposed amendment, or one which represents the sense she has put forward, that it is a child not of a marriage who would be eligible for adoption under the first part of the proposed amendment of section 10 of the 1952 Act.
This was a good point. As the then Minister of State for health, I replied: "I propose to accept this amendment. In fact I intend to go further, to delete section 6 altogether." That debate showed the House's influence at the time. I did not need to refer the matter to the Cabinet. Sometimes, we feel that the Ministers of State who enter the Chamber have had no powers delegated to them. I had those powers and I used them.
People might not have realised that I used to attend the Chamber as a Minister of State where I debated with Mary Robinson and Nuala Fennell and accepted their reasonable point.
Is the Senator on section 1?
Yes. I am opposed to the abolition of the House, given the contribution that it has made and that it can make in future, provided that Ministers of State know how much power they have. Very few current Ministers of State will accept amendments in the Seanad. I have provided an example of how I, as a relatively young Minister of State for health, could listen to the points being made and take on that responsibility. Was this not a contribution to Irish life? Those two fine, upstanding women politicians were Senators. Nuala Fennell went on to be a Minister of State afterwards, as far as I am aware. Mary Robinson went on-----
To be the President. Well done.
-----to be the President. I listened to them. I expressed some disquiet at the use of the term "illegitimate" and stated:
I, too, consider this an unacceptable terminology. I appreciate the Senators' concern. I share their desire to avoid the use of this term, particularly following the recent enactment of the Status of Children Act. However, there is a difficulty in relation to the Adoption Acts, as the term "illegitimate" is used in various places throughout those Acts. It is my intention to remove all of those references in the context of the comprehensive Adoption Bill which I plan to bring forward. Pending this, it would be very confusing to delete the reference to "illegitimate" from section 10 of the 1952 Act, while leaving similar references elsewhere in the Adoption Acts unchanged.
And so on. When Nuala Fennell was asked whether the amendment was withdrawn, she replied that it was and a new section was proposed by Mary Robinson.
The Seanad has been a useful vehicle. I am the only former Minister of State in the House. I had considerable respect for the House while I held that role. I was not a former Senator at the time, but I believe that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, is a former Senator, and I presume that he also has considerable respect for the House. Indeed, he should have.
Particularly for the Senator's good self.
Otherwise, he would not be where he is now. I went the other way. I was a Deputy first, joining the Dáil in 1977, but it took me three attempts to join the Seanad. People claim that it is easy to enter this House because one only needs a few votes.
The Senator has mastered it now.
One could get the equivalent of 51,000 votes at a count. I tried in 1992 and 1997 and succeeded in 2002. It took effort. My first time walking through the doors of Leinster House was in 1977. I want to be clear - entering the Seanad is a difficult task. It is difficult to get elected from the university panel, where the numbers are high and tremendous people have been elected. On our panels, we are nominated by nominating bodies and elected by councillors. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows, persuading those councillors is a major achievement for any Senator. Nominees are scrutinised carefully by them.
For this reason, it is regrettable that the link between local government and the Oireachtas will be broken. When the dual mandate was ended, Senators should have had the option to run for the Seanad and a local authority. I accept that it is better to have such a separation in the Dáil. In 1982, I was a councillor in Roscommon, the Minister of State with responsibility for posts, telegraphs and transport and a Deputy.
Is all of this relevant to section 1?
It is relevant. Section 1 relates to the question of how the House-----
This is "Terry's Life".
At least he is here.
-----is linked to our current situation. I am showing why I will vote against section 1. I will vote if I cannot get out of here soon.
The Senator told me that-----
I have a commitment as well. My dear aunt, Mary Maloney Leyden, died in Multyfarnham in Mullingar and I must attend the funeral tomorrow. She was a great friend of mine, but these things happen.
I was explaining to the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, about the wonderful work done in the report on Seanad reform. The select committee was chaired by a former Minister, Mary O'Rourke, and was contributed to by the then Senator Brian Hayes, one of the Lords Castlereagh of this Parliament, former Senator John Dardis, the then Deputy Leader, and the former Senator Joe O'Toole, an accomplished co-ordinator of the Independent group.
On 14 January that year, Senator Brendan Ryan decided to resign from the sub-committee because of his dissatisfaction with the manner of appointment of the three ordinary Members from Seanad Éireann to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Senator Ryan was a valued and committed member of the sub-committee who made a significant contribution to the review. The sub-committee regretted his decision to resign. He is now a Member of Dáil Éireann.
This is a vital document because it has the imprimatur of the man who is trying to get rid of the Seanad. The front man for the Government.
Which report is that?
It is the Report on Seanad Reform by the Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform of Seanad Éireann's Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
It is important that this document's foreword should be on the record of the House because it will show exactly what could have happened. It states:
In broad terms, our recommendations involve new ways to choose Senators that involve the public much more closely, combined with significant changes to the Seanad’s functions. We believe that these changes will give a much greater public legitimacy to the Seanad while ensuring that its composition differs from that of the Dáil. In addition, we feel that it will enhance the prospects of people with particular valued expertise being able to make a contribution to the work of Seanad Éireann. The significant changes to the functions of Seanad Éireann that we have recommended involve the definition of a new role for the House in the areas of legislative consultation, EU affairs, social partnership, North/South Implementation Bodies, and the scrutiny of public appointments. In making these recommendations, we have sought to define a new division of labour between the two Houses of the Oireachtas and to identify important jobs that currently fall between the cracks in our political parliamentary system. We acknowledge that this report will have considerable political implications. Difficult decisions will have to be taken involving sensitive political matters. But if progress is to be made, we believe that there is an urgent need to accept the political reality that Seanad Éireann really must be reformed if it is to make a viable and distinctive contribution to the economic, social and political affairs of our country. We feel strongly that the recommendations in this report provide the framework for doing this in a reasonable and balanced way. They offer a new start, and a new sense of purpose to Seanad Éireann. We are confident that, when implemented, they will empower the Seanad to make a major contribution to meeting the challenges facing twenty-first century Ireland.
It is signed by Senator Mary O’Rourke, Chairperson and Leader of the Seanad; Senator Brian Hayes, Leader of the Fine Gael group; Senator John Dardis, Deputy Leader of the Seanad and a member of the Progressive Democrats; and Senator Joe O’Toole, co-ordinator of the Independent Group.
That is an extremely good document which should be read and could provide a framework for reform. If this referendum is defeated, the Government should consider putting this document in the form of legislation. This excellent document should have been implemented but unfortunately at the time - that is, from 2004 to 2007, close enough to the general election - we did not get results from the Minister of the day. It then went to the next stage when Mary O'Rourke was elected to the Dáil and so was Deputy Brian Hayes. Joe O'Toole and John Dardis were both returned to the Seanad but were not in a position to push this forward.
The period from 2007 to 2011 saw the economic collapse. When the bailiffs were coming it was not the time to negotiate a new House in this case.
There was another regime in between.
There was. John Gormley was the Minister.
Senator Norris might be able to elaborate on that as he was aware of it.
Senator Leyden should address the Chair.
I am sorry.
I am concerned about protestations butting in.
It would be appropriate if Senator Leyden read out the report authored by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. I think he would be interested to hear his own words about how valuable the Seanad is and how it should be retained.
Senator Norris should resume his seat. Senator Leyden is on section 1 which deals with the abolition date. He promised he would be brief.
I made no such promise.
His demeanour indicated to me that he would be short and sweet.
Negative on both counts - neither short nor sweet.
I remind the Senator to try to stick to the section. I am trying to be fair.
I appreciate that. If I were in the Leas-Chathaoirleach's position I would be very fair as well. However, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes - the new Lord Castlereagh - authored a report on Seanad reform. There is a portrait of Viscount Castlereagh in the Linenhall Library in Belfast, and he looks like Deputy Brian Hayes. There is a marked resemblance between them, which is extraordinary.
When the Minister of State is replying to the debate he might be able to elaborate on the wonderful meetings he had in this House with the Leader.
Senator Leyden is distracting me and the Minister of State. He is inciting Senator Norris to do things he may not otherwise do.
There is a remarkable resemblance, but Viscount Castlereagh is in a fur coat and no knickers.
Senator Norris is well aware that he should not interrupt the speaker.
I would be pleased if the Minister of State could respond afterwards. Does he intend to respond to the debate?
If I am invited to speak, I will do so.
If the Minister of State so wishes, he can speak.
On Committee Stage, he can come in at any time. However, a lot of other speakers also wish to contribute.
I would prefer to hear all my colleagues first.
Senator Leyden may be trying to set a little trap for the Minister of State.
No. I would like to get his response.
He used to set traps in the Department of Health to catch all the rats and mice, did he not?
No. I used to eliminate them. That is different. I was delegated responsibility for that.
I ask the Senator and the Minister of State to respect the decorum of the House.
That was the only job for him - catching all the rats and mice.
Is the Senator concluding?
No, I am not. That is very kind of the Minister of State. He is currently in charge of buildings, including historic monuments.
Is this to do with section 1 of the Bill?
If the Minister of State had been in a bit earlier he would have found out that I introduced numerous pieces of legislation in this House, including the Adoption (No. 2) Bill 1987. I debated with the former Minister, Nuala Fennell, and the former President, Mary Robinson. I will not read out the details now, as I read them out earlier.
At the time, the departmental officials used to be very nervous when Senator Mary Robinson was here. In fact, Senators may recall that sittings were held in the ante-room as this Chamber was being refurbished. I feared nothing, including Mary Robinson, because she was a nice, decent and fair woman. I found out that she was a good debater and it was worthwhile discussing matters with her. I dealt with more issues than just those pertaining to the Department of Health.
The Senator is moving beyond section 1 again.
No. I am replying to the Minister of State's little comment.
I ask the Minister of State and the Senator to resume on the section.
By the way, I think he got his information from me in a jovial manner on one occasion.
I will allow Senator Leyden to conclude.
The Minister of State made an intervention to which I am responding. I am trying to explain that I had more responsibilities there.
With all due respect, neither the Minister of State's intervention nor the Senator's response have anything to do with section 1.
The Report on Seanad Reform was signed by the then Senator Brian Hayes. The Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform was established by Seanad Éireann's Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
The review set itself the following terms of reference:
1. In order to equip Seanad Éireann to make a full and effective contribution to Irish political life in the twenty-first century, the Seanad CPP Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform shall undertake a review of and make recommendations on the composition and functions of Seanad Éireann.
That is very worthy. It proceeds:
2. In undertaking the review, particular regard shall be had to the following matters:
i. The most appropriate basis of primary representation in Seanad Éireann;
ii. University representation either in its current or an amended form;
iii. The nomination of Members by An Taoiseach; and
iv. The most appropriate basis for providing representation for emigrants and persons from Northern Ireland.
That is a wonderful aspiration that has been achieved in Trinity College, UCD and beyond. It goes on:
i. The role of Seanad Éireann in the passage of legislation;
ii. The contribution Seanad Éireann could make-----
The report is a matter of record. I hope Senator Leyden does not intend to read the full report into the record.
I hope he does. It is very good.
If he does not then I will.
The Senator might not be allowed.
-----to enhanced parliamentary accountability and scrutiny;
iii. The extent to which Seanad Éireann could engage in the review of public policy; and
iv. The role of Seanad Éireann in European Union affairs.
3. In making its recommendations, the Sub-Committee may present the following for consideration:
i. Proposals that could be implemented by way of changes to the Seanad Éireann Standing Orders relative to Public Business;
ii. Proposals that could be implemented by way of changes to Statute Law; and
iii. Proposals that require changes to the Constitution.
4. The Sub-Committee shall have the following powers:
i. Power to invite and accept written and oral submissions from interested persons or bodies, including political parties;
ii. Power to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge;-----
This is such riveting stuff and I have never heard it before. It is so good for the Minister of State to hear it but unfortunately there are not enough of my colleagues to listen to it so I would appreciate if you could ask for a full House, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
I will not delay the House. I have elaborated on the situation. I assure the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, that it is a great report and it should have been acted upon. I fully accept there was a lack of action. If action had been taken there would be a reformed Seanad in place. We are all to blame in that regard.
I hope someone will read the submissions made by An Taoiseach at the time, Mr. Bertie Ahern; Deputy Tommy Broughan; former Deputy and Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton; former Deputy and Taoiseach and at the time Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen; Deputy – at the time Senator – Timmy Dooley; former Senator, Mr. John Hanafin; former Senator, Dr. Maurice Hayes; former Senator, Dr. Mary Henry; Councillor John Hussey from Fermoy Town Council; the then Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, Mr. Rory Kiely; Senator Terry Leyden; Mr. Michael McDowell, then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Deputy – then Senator - Joe McHugh; Senator Marc MacSharry; Senator Paschal Mooney; former Senator, Mr. Pat Moylan; Senator David Norris; former Deputy, Minister and Ceann Comhairle and at the time Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Mr. John O'Donoghue; former Deputy, Mr. Jim O’Keeffe; former Senator and Deputy, Ms Fiona O’Malley, former Senator, Ms Ann Ormonde, former Senator and Deputy, Mr. Liam Fitzgerald; Senator Feargal Quinn; former Senator – now Deputy - Shane Ross; former MEP, Ms Rosemary, Dana, Scallon; Deputy – then Senator - Liam Twomey; and Senator Mary White. All of those people made contributions and it could be worthwhile for Senators to read them during the course of the debate in the coming weeks.
I made a submission.
I am sorry, but I am reading from a list of submissions.
I am aware of that.
Senator Wilson is confirming that he made a contribution.
I would not like Senator Leyden to abuse my indulgence. I am being very patient.
I will check the situation. I am reading from a list.
It would be important to do so.
Senator Leyden should conclude without interruption.
The point made by Senator Wilson is that he made a contribution but I cannot see his name on the list.
I made a contribution.
Senator Wilson was not a member of the public then.
It would be appropriate for Senator Wilson to allow Senator Leyden to conclude.
I am sorry about that.
It is important that the record is accurate, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
I will not read through the list again but having looked quickly over it I cannot find his name.
I thank Senator Leyden.
It might have been overlooked.
I remind the Senator that we are on section 1.
I accept the bona fides of the then Senator and leader of Fine Gael in the House who diligently put together this comprehensive and worthwhile report. The inaction of the Government at the time and the following Government has given rise to the critical situation in this House. I very much regret that, not from a personal point of view but from my experience as a Member of this House who brought legislation through it, accepted amendments and respected this House. I still respect this House. It is a sad day for this country to see a House of such potential being removed on the whim of the leader of Fine Gael for party-political reasons when the current leader of the Labour Party was getting kudos and looked like he might lead the Government on that occasion. It was a very successful strategy. I know there is a strategy group within the Fine Gael Party. It was active then and it is active now. I know it has certain strategies on propaganda. One might notice the way propaganda developed around our esteemed colleague, Deputy John McGuinness.
We are on section 1.
The point I am making concerns the genesis of the reason the Taoiseach has decided to go ahead with this referendum. When one realises the structure of the advice group, the dirty tricks department, if I were to be blunt and honest about it-----
The black ops department.
Garret FitzGerald had a group and we could name the members of it, but there is a group inside-----
There were many who tried to do in Deputy John McGuinness and there were many who wanted his job.
I ask the Senator not to name people or I might have to reprimand him.
It would be fair to say that Deputy John McGuinness is a highly reputable-----
They wanted a rubber-stamp.
-----Member of the other House and Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts-----
-----and under no circumstances did this Government want him to lead up an inquiry into the banking crisis-----
-----because of his strength.
The Senator is ultra vires in terms of this section. He is moving beyond the remit of the section.
It is the same Taoiseach, Government, advisers and people who will try to attack Members of this House for allegedly delaying the legislation going through. We will find that they will issue little pieces to the newspapers here and there.
That is the Sunday Independent but-----
I know from where they come. I know their work. The way it was worked in the case of Deputy John McGuinness was unreal. We had drip-feed day by day.
That issue concerning Deputy John McGuinness is totally irrelevant to this section.
It was an interesting point to make in this regard.
I do not think it is interesting.
As a lawyer, I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach will agree that it goes to show mens rea so it is not ultra vires at all.
Mens rea is not relevant to section 1 which deals with the abolition day.
Senator Leyden should go back in history and address why his party did not reform this House during all the years it was in government and given all the reports that had been done.
If the Senator wants to go back in history-----
Go back in history and do not be-----
The Senator's Minister tried to abolish history the other day.
Yes, well, there you are.
Senator Leyden to continue, without interruption.
I talk facts, not fiction.
If the Senator wants me to go back in history, I will read the speech of the Honourable Henry Grattan in the Irish House of Commons against the union with Great Britain.
The Senator does not need to go that far back. He should just go back to when his party was in government.
Those who interrupt Senator Leyden only encourage him to continue and that gives him a chance to-----
I will not say anything more. I will be silent.
I have read Henry Grattan and Senator Leyden is no Henry Grattan.
The Minister of State did not know Henry Grattan. That is the point.
If the Minister of State knew of Castlereagh-----
With all due respect, I ask Senator Leyden to stick to the section.
That is the point. We are talking about the situation there. Some MPs were raised through peerage or promoted, for example, from a baronet to an earldom, and in a few of those cases direct money bribes were made. I do not think any money bribes were made here but a few people have been promoted quite lavishly by this Government and they have forgotten their roots very fast. They have become very reluctant to acknowledge the fact that they were the very people who would have argued against this. I do not know whether the Minister of State argued in the parliamentary party against this but I doubt if he did because if he did, he would not be in the job he is in today. Deputy Durkan argued against it. Deputy Joanna Tuffy, a fine Labour Party Deputy, argued against this. I do think there is one Fine Gael Senator who will canvass for one vote against the abolition of Seanad Éireann because they would be only going-----
-----against their own principles. They will not vote in favour of the abolition of Seanad Éireann because they have too much respect for themselves and their tradition.
I hope this section will be beaten by the people when they reject the proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann, and in that case they will have their ultimate power. I believe they will not abolish Seanad Éireann but they will want it reformed. That is why we are strongly making the case we want reform of the Seanad, not its abolition. That is what we arguing for and that is what I am hopeful we will achieve.
I am delighted Senator Leyden has produced a photograph of, I think, Lord Cavendish.
Cavendish came later. He was murdered in the Phoenix Park.
I would point out to any Member who would like to visit the Labour Parliamentary Party rooms that there is a photograph of Bill Norton there and he is a dead ringer for Senator Leyden.
We are on section 1. Many personalities are being brought into the discussion and that is clouding the issue.
I will invite Senator Leyden down there. Bill Norton is a dead ringer for the Senator. The issue of the abolition of the Seanad has been well documented. The Minister of State might tell us why the seventh amendment of the Constitution legislation in 1979 was never put into law.
No one has spoken about that. I blame all previous Governments during the past 34 years for not implementing that legislation. It was quite a simple amendment along with the sixth amendment of the Constitution legislation which related to adoption, but the latter was put into law. The seventh amendment was passed by a massive majority, even though there was only a turnout of 28% of the electorate on the day. I have never heard why that did not happen but the Minister of State may be able to tell me the reason for that.
A lack of political will.
Exactly. The political will was there to put the question to the people in a referendum but the people were short-changed at that time. The university graduates who assumed at the time that they would have a vote in future Seanad elections were disenfranchised. It baffles me why Governments after 1979 refused to implement that legislation. I think it was just accepted that it was not going to happen, which was a misuse of the referendum by the Government of the day, which might have been a coalition Government and Senator Barrett could possibly clarify that. I have no problem with the referendum taking place.
On a point of order, in fairness to the number of speakers on the Government side, the few who want to speak are entitled to a full quorum of members to be here to listen to them.
Senator Harte may resume now.
As I said, I have no objection to the referendum. It is, perhaps, to be welcomed in light of the many discussions down through the years in regard to abolition and reform of the Seanad. This issue has gathered so much momentum it was necessary that this Government or, perhaps, the next to address it. If, following the referendum, the Seanad is retained, it will then have-----
-----credibility because the people will have backed it. Those who have been calling for its abolition will then be silenced. The referendum is a type of stress test. If the people opt to retain the Seanad because they believe it serves a purpose, it will require more powers. When speaking recently at a conference with a Dutch MP who had read about the proposed referendum on abolition of the Seanad, he told me that the Senate in Holland has powers and that the Dutch Parliament is generally afraid of it in terms of getting legislation through. Even though it meets for only four or five days a month, it has a great deal more power than Seanad Éireann.
When the Seanad was reconstructed in 1937 by Éamon de Valera, it should have been given more teeth. Subsequent Governments retained it as is because it suited democracy at the time. The public, in voting for retention of the Seanad, may require that it be given more powers, which will give them more say than they currently have, and that it take cognisance of public opinion on particular issues such as those currently being discussed. Often, the Seanad serves only as a rubber stamp on legislation already discussed in the Lower House. The banks now have to be more careful when lending money because there will be consequences if people cannot repay. It is important that if the Lower House passes legislation, the public can, through this House, put pressure on Government to amend it. While many good Bills have gone through the Seanad and to which many amendments were tabled, regardless of what the Seanad does, it cannot prevent legislation being enacted.
The Senate in Australia has immense powers. It runs more or less two-track with the Parliament. It is a system on which I would like the Seanad to be modelled. The thinking in Government circles is that there is no point to having two Houses within one democracy. We need a second opinion on this issue. There have been many militant Labour Governments in the UK but none of them has abolished the Lords system which, when compared with the Seanad, is totally undemocratic. While the Lords system was pared down by the Labour Party, it remains an appointed body that is respected by the English public. I have not heard much talk in the UK about abolishing the House of Lords for any reason, financial or democratic. Where there is democracy, this must be questioned. The House of Lords is an important part of the English system. People generally look to it for the real opinion on matters of law. The former MP, John Prescott, is a member of the House of Lords. Many of the people who have been through that system use that experience when offering an opinion on legislation.
It is constantly said that the Seanad is a retirement home for some politicians and a waiting home for those wishing to get elected to the Dáil. Those who retire from the Lower House and are then elected to this House bring great experience with them. They are often not under the extreme pressure they were under when they were a Deputy, and they can pick a particular subject or area on which they can concentrate. The public will decide in October what type of Seanad or second Chamber is required in this country and will be of benefit not only to political parties but to the people. I do not fully support the current structure of the Seanad. I believe all Members would be happy if the Whip was loosened. While many Members on the Government side support some of the proposals put forward by the Opposition side, they are unable to support them because of the Whip system.
Turnout for the 1979 referendum was below 29%. I imagine turnout this time round will be about the same. This means only 25% to 35% of the population will engage on the issue. Most people in this country do not really care about the Seanad. Those who are talking about it are political parties and pressure groups. People in legal circles appear to want a more elite Seanad than currently exists. I resent the statement that Members of a reformed Seanad should be paid €10,000 per annum. This might suit retired professionals with money, but people from Sligo, Cavan, Cork and so on cannot afford to take on membership of the Seanad as a hobby. It might be a nice pastime for wealthy people. In my view, it would be a glorified Law Library. That is not what the public wants.
I ask that when the people make their decision, they do so based on their needs, including more influence over what is going on in the country at this time. While many U-turns are made for good reasons, this could in future be done by the Seanad in terms of taking the Government out of a hole. Ministers are often castigated for making U-turns. If the threat came from this House that issues would not be agreed, this would begin in the Lower House. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, will agree that not all legislation that goes through the Lower House is perfect. If the Seanad is abolished, there will be greater onus on the Lower House to scrutinise legislation. I do not believe a Minister or Minister of State has the time or foresight to do this because of the frequent urgency of getting legislation through.
The public will decide whether the Seanad is to be retained. All Governments are guilty of not reforming the Seanad. While the 1979 referendum was passed by the people, the then Government said the decision was irrelevant and gave the two fingers to the people. If this referendum is passed, the Government will be quick to implement its decision. The 1979 referendum was just as important as the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad, but both results will be treated differently. I ask that the Minister of State consider this and offer his view on the reason the 1979 referendum decision has never been implemented. Is it possible to implement it at this stage?
I call Senator MacSharry and remind him that we are on section 1, which deals with the abolition date.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House and thank him for the amount of time he has been present in the House for this debate. None is as qualified as he to interpret accurately the work and quality of the workings of this House down through the years or to have an appropriate insight into how reform could best be applied to the Houses of the Oireachtas, particularly the Seanad.
Which is about to be demonstrated.
I have only one vote.
What we will judge him on is how well he transmits that to the Cabinet between now and the relevant day.
We are dealing with section 1. I am of the few that this section must be considered in conjunction with Schedule 1, which states:
1 1° Seanad Éireann shall stand abolished on the day and at the time ("the abolition day") specified in the following subsections of this section.
2° The day referred to in subsection 1° hereof is the day immediately preceding the one on which Dáil Éireann first meets after the general election for members of Dáil Éireann that next takes place after the enactment of this Article.
3° The time on the day referred to in subsection 1° hereof is midnight.
2 Notwithstanding Article 18.8 hereof, no general election for Seanad Éireann shall take place after the dissolution of Dáil Éireann that next occurs after the enactment of this Article.
3 This Article shall be omitted from every official text of this Constitution published after the abolition day
In order, therefore, to accurately assess what will be the abolition day, one may arguably be required to accurately assess when the next general election might take place. In order to do this, one might also be required to assess the performance of the current Administration in the context of the projections and outcomes relating to the manifestos of the two parties in the coalition and to the programme for Government. At this point I do not have copies of those manifestos-----
Does the Senator have a copy of his own party's manifesto? What did Fianna Fáil say about abolishing the Seanad in that manifesto?
-----or a copy of the programme for Government. I am afraid, therefore, that I will not be able to quote either on this particular occasion. However, I can review matters before Committee Stage.
Perhaps the Senator might clarify Fianna Fáil's position on abolition.
Senator MacSharry, without interruption.
The Minister of State will be able to reply when everyone has made his or her contribution. That will not be for some time yet.
If he is not dead at that stage.
I will assist Senator MacSharry. This matter has nothing to do with the general election.
It is all a matter of interpretation.
No, it is not. It is a matter of law.
It is a matter of interpretation. What any Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas must do is make the best interpretation he or she can of the legislation put before him or her.
May I explain?
With respect, the Minister of State may not. I would like him to listen to my interpretation.
Is this the best Senator MacSharry has to offer?
Increasingly and arguably, the main reason for reforming the Houses of the Oireachtas relates to the fact that the Cabinet and the Ministers in it use them as mere tools to facilitate their work. It should be the case that the Cabinet is the mechanism by means of which the will of the people, as advocated by the Parliament, is implemented. The Minister of State's interpretation, definition and view are nowhere near as important as the collective views of the 49 Members of this House who advocate the words and wishes of the vocational interests they represent. The other 11 - the Taoiseach's nominees - bring their own expertise to the matter. Their expertise was garnered in a variety of fields and they were, quite rightly, selected for appointment by the Taoiseach. With respect, I am not here to listen to the Minister of State. He is here to listen to me-----
God help us all.
-----and to deliver my message, and those my colleagues wish to send, to the Government. I think my colleague opposite may have had a few drinks before he came to the Chamber.
Senator MacSharry should not start that.
I would like to have the opportunity to conclude my contribution.
On a point of order, Sinn Féin used the same tactic on the night when the promissory notes-----
That is not a point of order.
It is a point of order. I want to make a personal statement on this matter. I assure Senator MacSharry that I have no drink taken. I never drink in these Houses and it is disgraceful for the Senator to suggest that I do. It is also disgraceful for him to suggest that any Member would dishonour the House in the manner in which he is doing with the nonsense he is uttering.
That is not a point of order. I will deal with the matter.
It is a point of order.
The remark made by Senator MacSharry represents an unfair charge in respect of a colleague and he should withdraw it.
I have no difficulty withdrawing the remark. Of course, the Senator jumped to a conclusion. I did not, after all, state that it was an alcoholic drink. It might have been a drink with a high sugar content. All I can say is that there is clearly a level of giddiness on the other side of the House which is leading to my contribution being disrupted.
Senator MacSharry should confine his comments to section 1. The Minister of State will respond when all Senators have contributed. Members should not be goading each other.
I am not doing any of that.
Senator MacSharry should cop on.
I am speaking calmly and quietly.
I am probably the first Senator to actually speak to the section.
In fairness, at least the Senator made reference to the amendment.
I made reference to section 1, which is the relevant section.
I can help the Senator.
There are no amendment to this section.
With the best will in the world, I do not need the Minister of State's help. I thank the Minister of State for being present but the Taoiseach ought to be here because it is he who ruthlessly set about vandalising the Constitution without even consulting his colleagues. In the context of the horse-trading which occurs within Cabinet, it is obvious that the Labour Party was not able to get its proposal for a 3% tax increase for those earning over €100,000 and, equally, Fine Gael was not able to get its abortion proposals over the line. I can only surmise that this debate is in vain, particularly as the Taoiseach has shown absolute disdain for the House from the very outset. He was present for a token few minutes during the Second Stage debate.
I wish to call a quorum.
That is an excellent idea.
Senator MacSharry, you were in possession.
We were discussing the Taoiseach and the fact that he should be here to consider this. While we are grateful that the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, has kindly made himself available-----
A Leas-Chathaoirligh, with respect to the speaker in possession, he upset Members. There was a call for a quorum. I must confess I was not paying attention, but I believe it was caused by remarks, inadvertent or otherwise, by Senator MacSharry and he should withdraw them.
Senator, he apologised on the record and the matter is dealt with.
He has apologised. I am sorry. My apologies.
We are back on section 1.
We were discussing the abolition day and the need for the Taoiseach to have made himself available today and for the entire debate. I was pointing out the fact that he made his proposal unknown to any of his colleagues, with the exception of one or two advisers earning approximately €130,000 per year now that they are in government. At the time they were advisors to the leader of Fine Gael
What advisers are getting is irrelevant to the Bill. You should stick to section 1.
No. We are on section 1. I will bring back the relevance to section 1. I was saying that we are discussing the abolition day. The Minister of State interrupted and said that he would explain it. I said there was no need because I had my own view on it. I had hoped he would listen to my view because, as the Minister of State, he is here to listen to us rather than the other way around. I was saying that to accurately assess the abolition day-----
He has used the split infinitive. He should say "to assess accurately".
-----we may need to assess the performance of the Government heretofore because that might help us see the future, see when the next general election may take place and when the abolition date may actually fall. I went off on a slight tangent in the context of the Minister of State taking the view that he needed to explain to me precisely his view on the section, which I do not need.
I was trying to be helpful.
I was retorting with the view that the Taoiseach ought to be here to listen to it. That would have been unlike the set piece which we have had in Irish democracy for generations, whereby Parliament is a mere tool of the Cabinet of the day. That is not to absolve previous Cabinets nor is it an excessive criticism of the current Cabinet. However, it is a fact that Ministers take the view that they can simply give the legislation to the Chief Whip to get it over the line and they do not care about the views of parliamentarians. We all sit in the House whistling “Dixie” out the window giving our views on whatever the legislation is. By the admission of the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, he wanted to explain to us what the legislation means. I can speak English. Thankfully, I can read legislation. With a mere 11 years' experience in these Houses I have a view on the legislation before us without recourse to the help or assistance of whatever Minister is in the House. While I fully appreciate that we are on the all-important issue of the abolition day, if we are to accurately consider these issues, we must do it in a way by starting at the beginning.
I was doing a radio interview during the week with the Fine Gael director of elections who was promoting the abolition of the Seanad. It was on Highland Radio in Donegal. Unless people are from Donegal they would not have heard it. I gather it was broadcast midweek, but since Senator Harte was here on Thursday he probably did not hear it either. I asked the Minister whether he could tell me how many times the Government amended legislation in the Seanad last year. He said that it was far too easy for Senator MacSharry to be asking quiz show questions in such an interview. The interviewer put it to the Minister that he did not know. I told him, but I said another thing as well.
I put it to the Minister that I would make it easy for him and I asked him how many times he, as a Minister, amended legislation in the Seanad last year. A long pause followed. Then the presenter put it to the Minister that he did not know. To me, that speaks volume for the arrogance of anyone such as the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, a Minister or Minister of State or anyone representing the Government to advocate the abolition of the Seanad without bloody well briefing themselves on what they did in the Seanad in the previous 12 months.
Anyway, we know about the set piece. The Minister meets the officials in the anteroom and the script is handed to him. He reads it out. When a Bill is on Committee Stage he is given the answer to the amendment and then we are back to the set piece. What is the set piece? What is the real true axis of collusion, to use a phrase popular in recent weeks?
The axis of collusion is between senior civil servants, senior Ministers and the Chief Whip.
I remind the Senator that we accepted an Opposition Bill in the Seanad this evening so he is not correct.
That is irrelevant to the debate.
It is not irrelevant
What Senator MacSharry is saying is equally irrelevant.
If people interrupt the speaker, it prolongs the debate.
The agony of it.
We cannot let untruths go unchallenged.
I will take the names of everyone who wishes to comment and when everyone has made his or her contribution, the Minister of State will respond. I ask Senator MacSharry to continue on section 1.
I am still on section 1.
I hope he is.
I gave the background as to why I felt certain things needed to be said. It is interesting to note that in 1978, the number of Bills initiated in this House was as low as 6%. We then had the 1979 amendment to the Constitution which no Government has bothered to implement by law. By 1988, some 9% of all legislation was initiated here, and by 1998, it was 24%. It was 23% in 1999, the same in 2000, 19% in 2001, 33% in 2002, 45% in 2003, 41% in 2004, 34% in 2005, 31% in 2006, 33% in 2007, 31% in 2008, and it has been somewhat higher than that in the past two years. The figure for amendments last year was 1,500, a figure the Minister of State did not know. He has used this House to make improvements to his Department's legislation on one occasion. He did not know that, but why would he want to know that when he is trying to direct the abolition of one third of the Oireachtas? At a minimum he will get a better briefing before the next interview on wiping out one third of the Oireachtas. In 1999, 130 amendments were made in the House; in 2008 it was 1,199; in 2007 it was 764; in 2006 it was 946; in 2005 it was 1,547; and in 2004 it was 1,861.
We wonder how soon the abolition day might come. The Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and some others, who have been talking on the issue, have mentioned how we are going to have such an enhanced local government system that there will be no need for the kinds of checks and balances the Seanad would provide. They point to many northern European countries with no second House but good local government. That is an incomparable situation. The level of devolved powers in northern European countries is completely different from that in local authorities here. This is in a year when we are digging up the pitch further in terms of local democracy with the abolition of town councils and making county councils in certain areas exceptionally small. We are telling the people in the north west, for example, that a county such as Sligo, with a population of 65,000 and the ninth largest urban centre in the country with 22,000 people can make do with 18 councillors. However, a few miles down the road, County Leitrim with a population of 33,000 people will also have 18 councillors.
There is insufficient joined-up thinking. We are using enhanced local government as a defence for the abolition of the Seanad. As I have always said, someone wanting true power, who is not one of the very few who gets to be Taoiseach or a Minister having the benefit of using two tools in Parliament - the Dáil and Seanad - and who cannot make it to become Secretary General of a Department, should become a county manager. As anyone who has served on a local authority knows, the county managers are the people who are in complete command of local authorities. Having vandalised the local authorities, the Government is now proceeding to vandalise the Constitution and the Oireachtas by getting rid of one third of it.
No Member of this or any previous Seanad, even those who are Ministers and Government Deputies, although they might not like to say it in public, would not be avid enthusiasts for and promoters of not only Seanad reform but radical Seanad reform. Senator Leyden spoke about the many reports over the years - I believe there have been 12 - most notably the report by Mrs. Mary O'Rourke's group to which the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, contributed. Many of us made submissions to that group and the report had a broad welcome across the board. It was on the programme for Government in 2007 but it seemed to disappear and the wheels came off the economy subsequently.
Then there was the rush of blood to the head in October 2008 in Citywest preparing for the Fine Gael presidential dinner. As Senator Norris said earlier, we then saw the greatest example of a jaw drop from the then leader of the Fine Gael group in the Seanad, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, when to her shock the leader of Fine Gael and now Taoiseach proposed abolishing the Seanad. In this game I can fully understand anyone playing the ball and I can even understand people playing the man, but why we must go and dig up the pitch is beyond me.
A Member on the Government side mentioned earlier today it is not the fault of any Senator that reform has not taken place over the years. However, blame lies almost exclusively with the Taoiseach of the day. Whether that was Seán Lemass, Eamon de Valera, Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey, Garret FitzGerald, John Bruton or the present Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, it is fundamentally wrong. Sadly, it is at a time when there is public apathy towards politics because people see that, in reality, we are living in a functional dictatorship with three or four people are in absolute command. The Whips impose and people vote through legislation. Regardless of whether it is on abortion, banks, social welfare or capital expenditure, that is the way it is. I know how it operates - I sat in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party room shouting my head off for ten years only to get nowhere. Fine Gael Members are up in the same room now and they probably go in one after another asking Ministers and the Taoiseach to get certain things, but the reply is: "No, you won't. We're doing this and get in there and support it. If you don't like it, there's a queue outside the gate looking to take your place."
We are on section 1.
We are on section 1, which is a very important section.
However, the Senator is not on section 1. He has strayed away from it.
I am on section 1. I make no apologies for going into the maximum possible detail on legislation which is vandalising the Constitution.
As I said in another debate last week, I think of the people in Iran when they were trying to get rid of the Shah and get something better. I think of people in other countries who were striving for civil liberties and went for a particular choice but ended up with something so much worse. It is inappropriate simply to put the question and capitalise on the level of public apathy for politics that exists at the moment. I believe if the question of abolishing the Dáil were put to the people, there would be a risk that people would abolish the Dáil. If they were asked to abolish the Judiciary and replace it with something else, it is conceivable that people would consider such an issue.
However, the Taoiseach wants to abolish it. Everybody in these Houses knows that, including most of the journalistic crew, many of whom would be happy to see the end of the Seanad. As we can see from the overloaded Visitors Gallery, the level of interest in this House has been non-existent but they conveniently bury that by saying that if the Seanad did anything useful, they would cover it. I do not know any Senator who is on the editorial team in RTE, Independent Newspapers or any of the other news agencies around the country. In fairness, local radio stations and the local media are very good in that regard because they tend to cover the politicians from the various counties but the national media does not cover it, and that has been one of the problems.
In its relatively flawed state in terms of its election system, most of us might like to see universal franchise, the scrutiny of public appointments and proposed European Union directives, and the opportunities afforded us under Lisbon II but we will not be given that option. The question will be simply "Yes" or "No" to its abolition, and it is a risky one. We must be careful what we wish for. The election was bought on a manifesto of promises and the only one the Government is prepared to carry through on is the abolition of the Seanad - the vandalisation of the Constitution - without giving people an option or asking if they want it abolished or reformed. If it asked that question and the answer was that it should be reformed, by all means it should be given to a body such as the Constitutional Convention, which deals with Mickey Mouse issues compared to what it is capable of considering, to examine the most appropriate reform. I would suggest considering the Mary O'Rourke document, the debate on which all of us, including the Minister, participated in. I regret I do not have the submissions before me because I wanted to read the submission of the former Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, John Bruton, into the record of the House, which would be useful.
To take up from where Senator Leyden concluded, it is important that we would examine some of the suggestions in that document as a way forward, which are important if we are to consider any aspect of this legislation, and no better place to put it on the record than when dealing with section 1 because if we are to consider the abolition date, we must consider also all the options available for reform. In the report, and Senator Leyden kindly made reference to-----
That is not in the Government's proposal in this legislation.
That is the point I am making.
What is not in it?
The Constitution confines us.
The Constitution confines us to what?
To the proposals in the legislation.
Absolutely, and I agree on that. It is on section 1, which is opposed.
Reform is not an option in relation to this.
It should be.
Perhaps it could be amended.
It is not in the legislation, Senator.
It does not matter. We can amend the legislation.
We could amend the legislation.
The Constitution defines it. I will point it out to the Senator.
It is Article 46.4 of the Constitution.
Yes. Very good.
It is in the Constitution.
Yes, but they are firing the Constitution out on its ear. They do not give a tuppenny damn about the Constitution. To hell with them.
Senator MacSharry, on section 1.
Why should we bother with the Constitution when they are tearing it up? They would not allow us discuss it in the Constitutional Convention and the one thing they got 94% on they threw out on its ear. That is democracy for you.
Senator, you have spoken already. I call Senator MacSharry.
I know it is frustrating for Members to hear some of the facts but the reality is that while section 1 might not mention some of the matters I am mentioning, there is no reason it should not mention them.
It is specific in regard to abolition day.
It is too specific.
There are other sections, Senator.
I know that but, equally-----
We will get to them in the next few weeks.
I agree there are other sections, and there will be much more to say on those, but I have a problem with this legislation from beginning to end. In respect of section 1, we are starting off in the wrong place. I am using this opportunity to put certain comments on the record. Since the foundation of the State a legislative debate of this nature has not taken place in either House and while it may have been a political gimmick for some at the time, it is now serious. If this legislation is passed as a result of the Government majority, and the people running the whole show I spoke about earlier succeed, this question will be put to the people and if the people vote to abolish the Seanad, Irish society will spend 50 years trying to replace it, and it will not be able to get agreement on that.
The Minister of State can wince all he likes but I know that the day he saw the Schedule and was told he was taking this Bill in the Seanad, he said, "Oh my God, what did I ever do to the Taoiseach that he is sending me here for this debate?". I agree with him if that was what he thought because I would not be happy about it and I would insist that the Taoiseach get into the bed he made and deal with it. If he had any courage, that is where he would be.
I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's frustrations, and I know it is a late hour, particularly for the staff of the House, but coming up the stairs earlier a group was being given a tour and I heard the usher say, "You know, ladies and gentlemen, when the Fitzgeralds lived here, this was used for entertainment." If the Taoiseach gets his way, it might not be too long before it is used simply for entertainment but for now, these contributions are going on the record.
Regarding the way forward, step 8 on page 51 of the report outlines the importance, and I referred to former Taoiseach, John Bruton, earlier, of former Taoisigh and Tánaistí having access to the House. It states: "Former Taoisigh and Tánaistí-----
What does that have to do with section 1, which is about the abolition day?
They will not be able to come in if it is abolished.
The definition is specific.
It is of course.
It is a pity about them because I would like to put on the record of the House that in the other House they are doing the same snotty little things that they are doing to us in keeping us here until midnight. The Cathaoirleach should know that the Government colleagues in the Lower House are being kept there until 5 a.m. to bully them. It is unprecedented, and it is an utter tyranny. The Members opposite should be ashamed to be part of this scandal on democracy.
Senator, you are not-----
They will be there until 5 a.m. in the morning. It is not a national emergency. They have plenty of time to talk about the Bill and we have plenty of time here as well.
Senator Norris, you are not in possession.
None of us is in possession because they are trying to oust us. They are trying to evict us but they will have a damn hard job.
Senator, you are completely out of order.
I do not care.
We have no control over the other House. I call Senator MacSharry on section 1.
Senator Norris is bullying everyone.
I have just given the reason I am putting this on the record. It states:
Former Taoisigh and Tánaistí possess valuable knowledge and experience [which all of us know] having spent many years in public life and served at the highest levels of Government. The Sub-Committee believes that it is possible that some of them may wish to contribute from time to time to debates on particular issues, and some mechanism should be put in place to facilitate this.
The report recommended that former Taoisigh and Tánaistí should have the right to attend and speak, but not vote, in the Seanad. That is a very good idea, as is the vocational make-up of it.
On occasions there would be criticism from the Independent benches - present company excluded - of those of us who had come from the political nomination process. I am on the industrial and commercial panel and I am probably more qualified to speak about industry and business than 90% of Members of Dáil Éireann because I have worked in business, gone bust in business, exported beef to 47 countries around the world-----
Senator, that has nothing to do with section 1.
It has a context-----
I ask the Senator to speak to section 1.
The Cathaoirleach is being particularly strict with me. I listened to the debate on the monitor in my office. I began by speaking specifically on section 1. I then gave a context for the reason I am moving on to other issues.
You are not on section 1.
I have given a reason I believe I must talk about other issues in the context of section 1 yet I am the one who is being told I have gone way off the point.
You are talking about amending-----
Other Members read various matters into the record earlier.
The point I was making on the nominations is that while I was elected through a Fianna Fáil nomination process, my vocational responsibilities here are to industry and as I said, 90% of the Members of the Dáil would not be qualified to talk about industry in the way I can because in that House there is a disproportionate number, with no disrespect to the profession or the contributions of the people, of lawyers and teachers whereas in this House there is a diversity of participants from all walks of life whether it is academia, agriculture, industry and so on. That is vitally important.
Any reform should take cognisance of this, while at the same time tapping into the benefits, as suggested in the report, some of which could be realised by the likes of former Taoiseach John Bruton and even our great current Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, when he becomes a former Taoiseach, a day for which all no doubt yearn.
The election of the Cathaoirleach is mentioned, and I am sure the Cathaoirleach made a submission in 2002, as I did, that the functions of the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann should mirror those of the Ceann Comhairle instead of playing second fiddle. The Cathaoirleach is responsible for preserving order, and I would hate to fall foul of this when trying to explain my point on section 1. The Cathaoirleach also interprets Standing Orders and ensures the decisions of the Seanad are made in a proper manner. The Cathaoirleach is also an ex officio member of the Council of State. When the Seanad is abolished who will constitute the Council of State?
It is provided for in the Bill, in another section.
We have not got to that section.
This is why the Senator should stick to section 1. He is straying away completely from it.
When we get to that section I will not read this exact paragraph again, but it is important that we go through the various aspects of it. The size of the Seanad is mentioned and it is suggested, which is not necessarily something with which I agree, that a reformed Seanad would have 65 Members.
Earlier I mentioned the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, speaking about the cost. A cost of €24 million is bandied around recklessly by Ministers. The truth is completely different. I have a document which refers to the cost of the Houses of the Oireachtas, which I am sure has some bearing on the abolition day. I went back through this because I thought it was important to do so. The salary for a Senator is at present approximately €65,000. The figures in the document date back to 2009 when the average figure for a Senator's salaries, allowances and expenses was €119,000. The total for Senators' pay was €4.5 million. At the time salaries for senior Members or longer-serving Members was as high as €78,000. The total for Senators' staff was €2.4 million. In total, between salaries and allowances the cost in 2009, when such figures were much higher, was €6.9 million. That is all. We hear a figure of €24 million being bandied around. During the radio interview, when the Minister, Deputy Bruton could not remember what he had done in the Seanad himself although he is director of elections for its abolition, he got a little ratty with me and stated it is rigged and the Government is guaranteed to win all time. That is wrong. I suggested he might abolish the Whip for a month and see how it would operate.
Or abolish the Dáil where the Government has a bigger majority.
If there was to be reform I would like to see this done. I would like there to be no Whip and for the House to deal with EU scrutiny and ratifying public appointments. Not one Bill would need to be passed for this and it would cost nothing. However we cannot have this because senior civil servants would not like it and neither would Ministers.
I spoke about an axis of collusion earlier and I stated a number of them exist. There is one between the banks, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance and there is another between the Secretary General of each Department and their counterparts in the relevant section of the European Commission. They tell the Ministers what suits them and Ministers are compelled to act accordingly. Perhaps they do so willingly in some instances. The House always wins. From Government to Government from the 1970s through to today, whether they were Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in single party or coalition governments of various parties, what were the real policy differences? What was the fundamental game-changer from one Government to the next? The answer is nothing. The Government is following the banking policy of the previous Government. In fairness it has watered down the code of conduct on mortgage arrears and I must give it that. We are mere pawns and tools in the game whereby the senior outfits decide what happens, the Whips are sent down and the fear factor dictates what happens. With regard to costs we can see it is pure mythology to speak about €24 million or €25 million.
In the Seanad over the years various amendments have been made and Private Members' Bills have been introduced, some of which were accepted by the Government of the day but most were not because it was not the Government's idea and governments do not like to give kudos to opposition parties for anything. Occasionally the Independents get their Private Members' business through but in the main they do not. These issues are rarely covered by the media. In fairness, Senator Norris, and other high profile people in civil society who happened to be Senators such as Joe O'Toole and Shane Ross, receive media coverage arguably because of their stature outside the House. They have made exceptional contributions here also but they have received media coverage as a result of their outside contributions. The rest of us do not. We are swept aside, and if it were not for an intemperate outburst by either myself or Senator Leyden we would not make it into the media.
Sadly, this is what will inform the decision to be made by the public, assuming the legislation is passed. This is what will happen. People will judge the House on what colour writers such as Lise Hand and Miriam Lord write about intemperate outbursts, which are a tiny percentage of the actual work done on the scrutiny of legislation. Even in its flawed state, if the public was truly informed about what goes on in here I believe it would have much more confidence in the political system. That said, of course it needs reform but it does not need the political will of a single Senator to have it reformed although all Senators past and present have the will to engage in reform.
Ministers hate coming to the Seanad which is why so many Ministers of State, with respect-----
I come in here often.
-----are sent here. I acknowledge several Ministers, such as Deputies James Reilly and Alan Shatter, always come themselves to the greatest possible extent. Arguably they are among the busiest Ministers and it goes to show that if one wants something done one should give it to a busy person. I thank those Ministers for coming but they do not enjoy coming here because it holds up the legislative process. If we put ourselves in the position of a Secretary General we can imagine he or she would not want to go to the Seanad to listen to another six hours of debate and would rather have the legislation guillotined. This makes sense to them and they believe they are right.
I dread to think what will happen the country if there is no reformed Seanad. If any members of the media are covering this debate let the message go out loud and clear that none of us want an unreformed Seanad. As for the cost, €6.9 million is a lot of money but salaries for the Houses of the Oireachtas and expenses should be set by an independent external body which has nothing to do with any Members of the Houses, and probably should be benchmarked against international parliaments of countries of similar size and not businesses or entrepreneurial salaries.
The Seanad has had some big legislative successes over the years, such as with regard to equality legislation in the early 1990s, and there have been many examples since. The NAMA legislation was amended by the Seanad. The Seanad debated the legislation for 70 hours and could have spent another 70 hours trying to get it right. It is delinquent in the extreme as a political gimmick to effectively vandalise the Constitution. Real leadership is about having the courage to take on the vested interests and reform. No Taoiseach from any party has had the courage to do this and this one clearly does not either.
That is sad, although not for any of us. If it added credibility to a new Seanad, I would have no difficulty agreeing this second not to be a part of any future Seanad, not to run for it or whatever. However, as a tool for the people rather than one for the Cabinet of the day, the Seanad could be very useful if reformed. Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, we should attempt to implement some of the great reforms. There is the Mary O'Rourke document from the early 2000s and there are others. I would support a referendum if the choice was abolition or reform. If reform was chosen, which I believe it would be, the Constitutional Convention could consider whatever terms of reference it is given and could consult widely and we could press ahead with reform. However, without the political will of the Taoiseach of the day, that is an impossibility. It is not how it should be and it is fundamentally wrong that it is like that, but sadly that has been the practice over the years.
I know there are others who are very anxious to speak and that the Cathaoirleach is very anxious that I sit down. In the context of explaining my disappointment with section 1 and the abolition date, I had to put a number of other things on the record which clearly the Government feels are unrelated but nevertheless, given my experience, however flawed it may be, I have resolved to do so. I hope other Members will try to add to that and continue where I left off.
I cannot believe I am attempting to protect a third of our Oireachtas, a pillar of our democracy, which has been the base of our State for 91 years. We are moving to an alarming situation where our top Ministers will have a powerful, vice-like grip on power and the decisions made for all of our citizens.
"Reform" and "change" are words with which we are in agreement when it comes to our Oireachtas but for the Government to take a carving knife and sever one third of our Parliament off, as a sacrifice to the citizens as a pre-budget 2014 gift-----
That is how I feel. I have listened to others over the past few days but I am not here to stay. I am here for a fleeting visit for three to five years, depending on what happens, so I am speaking about the institutions. I am really concerned about future generations - my children and my children's children - and what we might be doing.
Get elected like the rest of us.
Senator O'Brien, without interruption please.
If the Minister of State wants to interrupt, he should do so clearly like me and should not mutter.
Senator O'Brien, without interruption.
In more unsettled times, our legislators were so sensitive to the voice of the people-----
Stop muttering. I mean the Minister of State and not the Senator.
I thought it was me.
Senator Norris, will you restrain yourself? Senator O'Brien, without interruption.
In much more unsettled times, our legislators were so sensitive to the voice of the people that they made special provision in the formation of the first Seanad to ensure former southern unionists, the Protestants and even the Jewish people had a vote in the public forum. In these particularly settled times, we apparently have the arrogance to think we can simply abolish or retain the Seanad as opposed to reform it, with emphasis on the electoral process. Our Seanad has the capacity to formally represent diverse constituencies - regional, class and ethnic as well as experts and experience. Our Seanad hinders the passage of flawed legislation, acts a check to the Dáil and offers a cooling period. The Minister of State will know that, as he was one of our good Senators. With two legislative bodies, our Oireachtas has enhanced oversight of the legislation, excluding EU legislation which is not scrutinised as it should be, although many Senators have alluded to the fact that they would like to do that in a reformed Seanad.
The level of reasoned and informed debate which takes places in the Seanad, as opposed to the Dáil, is well recognised. It seems to be a much better form of debate. The Government Senators often debate as if they have a free vote compared to what goes on in the Dáil where one feels the Government Deputies are trying to score political points for the media or the twitterati. I really look forward to the day, in the not too distant future, when the people vote to keep the Seanad and that this valuable artery of our Oireachtas can be reformed for the betterment of our country and democracy.
Tá an-áthas orm a bheith in ann cuidiú leis an díospóireacht anocht mar is díospóireacht iontach tábhachtach é. Táimid ag caint ar an lá scoir in alt 1 den mBille. Is mór an feall é go bhfuilimid ag caint ar a leithéid de rud. Ní dóigh liom go raibh duine ar bith amuigh ansin a bhí ag iarraidh a leithéid de rud a dhéanamh seachas an Taoiseach féin. Tá sé tar éis é seo a bhrú anuas ar gach uile dhuine ina pháirtí féin agus, toisc go bhfuil sé mar chéile leapan ag Páirtí an Lucht Oibre, tá sé á bhrú anuas in aghaidh a dtola ar Pháirti an Lucht Oibre chomh maith chéanna. Agus tá sé á bhrú anuas ar an bpobal. Is dóigh liomsa, agus le Sinn Féin, gurb é a bhí á iarraidh ag an bpobal ná an Teach seo a leasú, nó a fheabhsú, seachas é a scor. Is ar an mbunús sin atáimid ag seasamh anseo anocht.
Ba mhaith liom labhairt ar mo thaithí féin. Ní raibh mórán eolais agam ar an Seanad sula dtáinig mé féin isteach ins an gcóras. Ba oscailt súile dóm an córas seanchaite a bhí ann, ó thaobh daoine a thoghadh go dti an Teach seo. Níl sé ionadaíoch nó daonlathach. Bhéadh sé fíor-thábhachtach, seachas a bheith díreach ag caint ar an Teach seo a scor, go mbreathnófaí ar bhealaí eile leis an Teach a dhéanamh níos éifeachtaí ó thaobh oibre de. Ba chóir go mbeimís ag plé bealaí go bhféadfaí daoine a thoghadh ar bhealach éagsúil. Glacann gach duine leis go bhfuil an bealach a toghtar Seanadóirí mí-dhaonlathach. Níl deis ag gach uile saoránach atá ina chónaí in Éirinn nó, go deimhin, saoránaí na hÉireann atá thar lear nó atá ina gcónaí ins an Sé Chontae, vóta a chaitheamh do duine a sheasfadh anseo ar a shon. Bhéadh sé tábhachtach go ndéanfaí a leithéid sin, ach níl an rogha sin curtha os ár gcomhair. Tá an Rialtas díreacht ag caint ar "abolition day". Teideal é sin a bhéadh ag a leithéid de George Lucas i Hollywood. B'fhéidir gur b'shin é an scannán a déanfar faoi shaol Enda Kenna amach anseo agus gurb é an teideal a bhéas air ná "Abolition Day", starring Enda Kenna. Is mór an feall sin i dtír ina bhfuil an daonlathas fíor thábhachtach agus inra throid muid go láidir ar son ár ndaonlathais.
Bhí mé ag labhairt le fear ag an deireadh seachtaine a bhíonn ag déanamh cuid mhaith obair dheonach san Afraic. Tharraing seisean anuas ceist an tSeanaid liom mar gheall go mbíonn sé ag taisteal go dtí tíortha ar nós an Aetóip agus an tSúdáin nach bhfuil córais chomh forbartha nó chomh daonlathach acu agus atá againn fein, agus a mbéadh fíor shásta dá mbeadh rialtas daonlathach acu. Feiceann sé i dtír s'againne, atá in ainm is a bheith ar cheann des na tíortha is forbartha in iarthar an domhain, go bhfuilimid ag iarradh ciorriú a dhéanamh ar an daonlathas. Nuair a fhéachaimid ar sin, ins an bpictiúr leathan des na ciorraithe eile atá an Rialtas ag déanamh ó thaobh na comhairli baile agus ó thaobh bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta agus an deis toghchanaíochta a baineadh den phobal ins na ceantair Gaeltachta sa gcás sin, is céimh mhór ar gcúl é.
Smaoiním siar ar thoghchán an tSeanaid. Tá na painéil gairme againn, rud atá thar a bheith mí-fhéaráilte mar go gcaithfidh iarrthóir a bheith bainteach le páirtí pholaitiúil nó le ceann des na heagrais ainmniúcháin chun a ainm a chur chun cinn le seasamh ar an bpainéal, fiú. B'fhéidir gur fheil an seift do ré atá caite, ré de Valera san aimsir a caitheadh, ach tá Éire tagtha chun cinn go mór ó thaobh forbartha de.
Ar an Dara Chéim, luaigh mé go bhféadfaí breathnú timpeall ar an Teach seo agus gur léir nach bhuil il-ghnéitheacht ag baint le Comhaltaí an Tí. Is beag duine gorm a chonachthas ina shúi ins na cathaoireacha seo, má chonachthas aon duine.
Is beag duine a thagann ó náisiún eile is beag duine atá anseo go bhféadfá a rá go dtagann siad ó mionlach eitneach in san tír seo. Níl fhios agam an raibh aon duine anseo de chúlra an lucht siúil. Buíochas le Dia, tá daoine ann ó chúlra éagsúla gnéis agus mar sin de agus is maith an rud é sin. Ach ba chóir dá mbreathnódh tú ar na suíocháin atá sa teach seo is gur beagnach microcosm de phobal na hÉireann a bheadh i gceist agus go mbeadh chuile dhuine atá ag cónaí in san náisiún seo againne in ann iad féin a aithint trí na hionadaithe atá anseo in san teach seo, ach ní féidir é sin a dhéanamh. Ba chóir go mbeadh sibh tar éis oibriú ina threo sin, seachas a bheith ag dul i dtreo scoir, gan rogha a thabhairt don phobal.
Chomh maith leis sin, bhí muid ag cur an moladh chun cinn agus ní thuigim fós agus ní dóigh liom go bhfuaireamar freagra sásúil fós air. Cén fáth nach bhféadfaí an cheist seo a chur isteach go dtí an coinbhinsiún bunreachtúil? Is léir, cé go raibh cuid mhaith daoine b’fhéidir in amhras faoi cé chomh éifeachtach is a bheadh an coinbhinsiún bunreachtúil go bhfuil obair mhaith déanta agus faoi chathaoirleacht Tom Arnold go bhfuil roinnt ceisteanna an-suimiúil pléite maidir leis an aois vótála agus mar sin de agus cead pósta do dhaoine homaighnéasacha. Is léir go raibh an Rialtas sásta na ceisteanna sin a chur os comhair an choinbhinsiúin bunreachtúil ach nach raibh sibh ábalta an cheist seo a chur os a gcomhair. S’í an cheist a chuirfinn-se ortsa a Aire ná cén faitíos a bhí oraibh, cén faitíos atá ar Enda Kenny go bpléifí rud go daonlathach? Cén faitíos a bhí air nach raibh sé sásta ach dhá uair an chloig a chaitheamh anseo é féin nuair a bhí muid ag plé an dara stáid den Bhille seo, le na ceisteanna seo a chíoradh agus a phlé linn? Cén fáth nach bhfuil sé sásta dúshlán an Seanadóir Norris a ghlacadh agus díospóireacht poiblí a bheith aige na meáin faoi na ceisteanna a bhaineann leis an mbunreacht. Is maith an rud an faitíos a deir siad agus is léir, in ainneoin go mbíonn Enda ag iarraidh a bheith ag cur in iúl gur fear iontach láidir é agus go bhfuil sé in ann an bata a bhuaileadh anuas ar dhaoine ina pháirtí fhéin, go bhfuil sé ag ritheacht ón gceist seo agus ag ritheacht ón daonlathas nuair a thagann sé go dtí na ceisteanna fíor thábhachtach. Ní díreach ceist intleachtúil é seo mar atá léirithe ag Seanadóirí eile a chuaigh romham. Is ceist é seo a bhaineann le dearcadh éagsúil a fháil. Is ceist é a bhaineann le breathnú ar Bhillí ar reachtaíocht ar dhlite ar bhealach eile ar fad seachas díreach tríd súile na dTeachtaí Dála agus nílim ag fáil lucht ar Theachtaí Dála. Tá cuid mhaith acu atá iontach cumasach in san méid a dhéanann siad, tá taithí leathan ag cuid mhaith acu ach is léir go bhfuil dearcadh i bhfad níos leithne le fáil ón Seanad ón taithí atá agamsa anseo le dhá bhliain go leith.
Tá daoine a thagann ó chúlra eacnamaíochta daoine a thagann ó chúraim pobail daoine eile a d’oibrigh le ceardchumainn agus daoine eile ó chúlra gnó agus mar sin de. Tá an taithí sí fíor-thábhachtach, tá sé teoranta sa mhéid go bhfuil an seasca duine atá anseo tofa ó toghranna an-chúng. Is féidir leat breathnú mar shampla ar na Seanadóirí Ollscoile atá anseo in ainneoin go bhfuil an-mheas agam ar na Seanadóirí Ollscoile maidir leis an méid a deireann siad anseo sa Seanad agus tugann siad an t-uafás saineolas leo, is míbhuntáiste é agus is laincis é nach bhfuil vóta ag gach duine a fuair oideachas tríú leibhéal in san tír seo len iad a thoghadh. Dar ndóigh s’é an moladh a b’fhearr linne ná go mbeadh sé de chead ag chuile saoránach Éireannach vóta a chaitheamh le daoine a thoghadh go dtí na tithe seo. Ach ní fiú go raibh sibh sásta an cheist sin a chur, is leithscéal amach is amach é, an rud atá sibh a rá go raibh tuairiscí in dhiaidh tuairisce déanta ó thaobh an tSeanaid a athchóiriú. Tá sé sin fíor ach an rud a bhí gann in san aimsir a chaitheadh ó thaobh Rialtas in dhiaidh Rialtais ná an toil polaitiúil leis na hathruithe sin a chur i gcrích.
Is iomaí moladh maith a tháinig chun cinn maidir leasú a dhéanamh ar struchtúr an tSeanaid ach ní raibh aon Rialtas sách misniúil le sin a chur i gcrích agus tá sibhse díreach mar a chéile, easpa misnigh. Deirtear nár chiall fear an mhisnigh riamh é agus faraor nach bhfuil sé sin fíor faoin Taoiseach in san gcás seo. Cén fáth nach raibh sé sásta na moltaí ab fhearr a tháinig ó na tuairiscí éagsúla sin a phlé? Arís iad a chur os comhair an choinbhinsiúin polaitiúil nó ó fhóraim éigin eile, iad a phlé anseo sa Seanad agus na moltaí ab fhearr a bhí ann ó thaobh struchtúir de a chur i gcrích. Beidh sé mar oidhreacht aige nár thapaidh sé an deis sin agus ní dóigh liom go mbeidh daoine buíoch dó as sin i ndáiríre. Mar sé bun agus barr an scéal amuigh ansin sa bpobal ná go bhfuil amhras ar dhaoine cén fáth an Taoiseach ag tógáil an bóthar seo ní thuigeann daoine é. Tá sé ráite go príobháideach liom ag daoine atá i bpáirtí Fhine Gael agus cinnte i bpáirtí an Lucht Oibre nach dtuigeann siad féin cén fáth go bhfuil Enda Kenny ag brú an cheist seo chun cinn. Más ag caint ar dhaonlathas atá muid bheifeá den tuairim más páirtí daonlathach é Fine Gael agus tá fhios agam go bhfuil ceisteanna á chur sa Teach eile faoi sin anocht go mbeadh díospóireacht taobh istigh de pháirtí s’aghaibh-se faoi seo. Ach ón méid a thuigim ní raibh aon díospóireacht taobh istigh den pháirtí ar an polasaí áirithe seo a bheadh agaibh agus is rud é sin go mba chóir a bheith déanta sara dtiocfaí amach leis an moladh seo faoin reifreann. Seachas a bheith ag caint díreach ar an rud a scoir ba chóir go mbeadh sibhse tar éis é a phlé ag bhur bpáirtí. Ach is léir ón chaoi a bhreáthaigh Frances Fitzgerald nuair a d’fhógair an Taoiseach sula toghadh ina Thaoiseach é go raibh sé ag cur seo ar an Manifesto le haghaidh an olltoghcháin gur tháinig sé aniar aduaidh ar an bpáirtí parlaiminteach agus nach raibh sé aontaithe agus más comhartha é sin ar an chineáil daonlathas a bheas i bhfeidhm dá bhfaigheadh an Taoiseach a bhealach agus má scoirtear an Seanad agus má fhágtar an cumhacht i lámha an Rialtais agus líon na dTeachtaí Dála a bheith laghdaithe agus 15 duine a bheith ag bord an Rialtais ach i ndáiríre gur ceathrar fear geall atá ag tógáil gach cinneadh tábhachtach ag an mbord sin. Is léir gurb é atá ar bun anseo ná lárnú cumhachta easpa smachta gach glacadh le tuairimí daoine eile gan fiú plé a dhéanamh ar cheisteanna a bheith ag rá le daoine nach bhfuil fhios acusan tada agus go bhfuil fhios agaibh féin gach rud níos fearr. Is mór an chéim chun cúl é sin ó thaobh daonlathas na tíre seo. Agus caithfimid breathnú chomh maith ar céard atá go maith tá muid ar son leasú, níl muid ar son an Seanad a scoir mar atá sibh féin. B’fhearr linn go mbeadh an rogha ann ó thaobh an rud a leasú agus má tá muid leis sin a dhéanamh theastódh uait breathnú ar céard iad na rudaí atá go maith.
Níl aon dabht faoi ná go bhfuil Seanadóirí áirithe a oibríonn an-chrua, Seanadóirí eile b’fhéidir nach n-oibríonn chomh crua céanna agus tús na breithe ag Dia mar a deir siad agus níl mise ag déanamh breithiúnais ar duine ar bith. Ach ó mo thaobh fhéin de agus ó thaobh an dream a bhfuil mise ag freastail orthu táim ag teacht as Conamara as ceantar tuaithe táim ag teacht as Gaillimh ach bím ag labhairt ar ábhar a bhaineann le daoine faoi mhíbhuntáiste, daoine atá ag lorg tearmainn, daoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge, lucht na Gaeltachta. Bím ag troid ar son tuismitheoirí aonair, daoine a bhfuil deacrachtaí acu ó thaobh seirbhísí poiblí agus mar sin de.
Tá buntáiste an-mhór ag Seanadóir nach bhfuil ag Teachta Dála sé sin gur féidir leat labhairt ar ábhar ar bith a bhaineann le contae ar bith in áit ar bith sa tír. Níl aon laincis dáilcheantar orainn agus is buntáiste an-mhór é sin, is ní dóigh liom go bhfuil sé sin tógtha san áireamh in san díospóireacht go dtí seo. Is féidir linn labhairt thar cheann saoránaigh na hÉireann ó na 32 contae nó thar lear. Bhí mise----
Can I get a point of information please? Can somebody clarify if the translation services are working, I have been trying to get it for the last while. Are they active at this time in the night?
The Senator can say it again in English.
Cén fáth? Tá sé de cheart agam labhairt i mo theanga féin sa Seanad.
Tá tú ceart labhairt inár dteanga féin ach níl mo Ghaeilge ró-mhaith. Ní féidir liom tuiscint an comhrá agus bhí an cheist agam an bhfuil na fearais ag obair.
Labhróidh mé mar is dóigh liom nach n-oibríonn an córas go dtí go bhfuil duine éigin ag labhairt as Gaeilge. Leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh mar is pointe an-tábhachtach é sin, atá ardaithe ag an Seanadóir Crown agus is pointe é sin a tharraing muid aird air luath go maith in san Seanad seo go bhfuil sé de cheart ag saoránach ar bith labhairt i nGaeilge in sna tithe seo agus go bhfuil sé seirbhísí aistriúcháin den chéad scoth le fáil againn anseo agus caithfear ard-mholadh a thabhairt, caithfidh mé a rá do na seirbhísí aistriúcháin agus is iomaí tacaíocht atá tugtha acu dúinn. Caithfidh mé admháil cé go bhfuil mo chuid Béarla maith go leor airím i bhfad níos compordaí ag labhairt i nGaeilge in san teach seo agus is rud é sin atá ag neartú agus ag treisiú.
On a point of order my translation service is not working either so there must be something wrong.
Mine is working.
It is not working for me.
Perhaps there is something wrong with the headset.
Perhaps the Cathaoirleach will send me a new headset so.
Ceist mhór í ceist na Gaeilge agus is iomaí ceist Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta atá tarraingthe anuas againn anseo.
We are discussing section 1.
Yes. Agus muid ag plé na gceisteanna seo táimid ag plé na mbuntáistí a bhaineann leis an Seanad. Tá sé an-fheicealách go bhfuil an Ghaeilge á cur chun cinn sa tSeanad. Seachas an Seanad a scor ba chóir í a úsáid agus deis a thapú leis an teanga náisiúnta a chur chun cinn. Tá ard-mholadh ag dul do Sheanadóirí Brennan agus Mary White agus do Sheanadóirí eile a bhíonn ag úsáid a gcuid Gaeilge chomh maith agus is féidir leo.
Bímid i gcónaí ag rá nach mbíonn na meáin ag freastal ar an Seanad nó nach mbíonn siad le feiceáil sa Ghailearaí, ach ní féidir sin a rá faoi na meáin Gaeilge. Is iomaí díospóireacht ar an Athló a bhí agam leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta McGinley. Go deimhin, is minic nach raibh muid ag aontú faoi na hábhair a bhí muid ag plé, ach caithfear a rá go raibh clúdach thar na bearta ar na díospóireachtaí céanna ar Raidio na Gaeltachta agus ar TG4. Ní féidir liom locht a fháil ar na stáisiúin sin ins an gcás seo. Thairis na stáisiúin eile agus iriseoirí eile, tá siad ag cur seirbhís den chéad scoth ar fáil, ó thaobh chraolacháin de. Gné an-tábhachtach é sin.
We are discussing section 1 which has to do with the definition of abolition day.
Níl curtha os ár gcomhair ag an Rialtas ach an t-aon rogha amháin, is é sin scor agus abolition. Tá sé mí-fhéaralta nach bhfuair an pobal deis a bheith páirteach sa díospóireacht seo agus nach bhfuil siad ag fáil ach rogha amháin, scor nó coinneáil. Sin rud atá fíor thábhachtach.
Ba chóir go mbeadh an cheist seo ceangailte le leasú níos ginearaltá, le ról na Dála, le feidhmeannaí na Dála agus le mí-éifeacht na Dála ó thaobh seirbhísí de. Ba chóir go mbeadh feidhm na gcoistí curtha san áireamh. Táthar ag rá go mbeidh cumachtachtaí breise á thabhairt dos na coistí ach ní léir do aon duine go bhfuil na coistí ag feimhmiú chomh maith agus is cóir dóibh. Má leanann an Rialtas ar aghaidh leis an smaoineamh seo faoin Seanad a scor, agus leis an abolition day seo, beidh an Rialtas gan 60 duine chun feidhmiú ins na coistí. I gcead dos na Teachtaí Dála, sílim go n-abróidís féin go bhfuil ról an-ghníomhach ag Seanadóirí in obair na gcoistí. Is iomaí Seanadóir atá tar éis a bheith mar rapóirtéir speisialta agus an-obair a dhéanamh ó thaobh tuairiscí a ullmhú ar son na gcoistí. Ní bheadh sé sin ann murach cuid den saineolas atá bailithe ag na daoine atá anseo sa Seanad. Ní ag cur le daonlathas, le saineolas nó le reachtaíocht a bhéadh sé sin ach ag baint uaidh go fíachmhar.
Ní cóir go mbeadh an Rialtas ag cur ceiste os ár gcomhair maidir leis an Seanad a scor gan na costais a bhaineann leis, nó na sábáiltí atá ag baint leis, a lua. Ba chóir go mbéadh muid tar éis tuairisc iomlán airgeadais a fháil ón Rialtas ar na sábháiltí atá le déanamh agus faoin méid airgid atá i gceist a shábháil. Ina ionad sin, tá an Rialtas ag caitheamh amach soundbites faoi €20 milliún, €50 milliún agus mar sin de a bhéadh le sábháil ó thaobh fáil réidh leis an tSeanad, rud atá pobalach agus a thaitníonn le daoine a bhíonn ag léamh na bpáipéar nuachta, b'fhéidir. Níl fírinne ar bith ag baint leo agus ní féidir glacadh leo. Ba chóir go mbéadh an Rialtas sásta teacht isteach anseo agus díospóireacht iomlán a dhéanamh ar na costais a bhaineann leis an gcinneadh seo.
Ní cóir go mbeadh muid ag ceiliúreadh an scoir. Ní cóir go mbeadh baill an Rialtais ríméadach nó ag déanamh gaisce as an méid atá siad ag déanamh. Is teip ar an Rialtas í deireadh a chur leis an Seanad. Teip iomlán í nach bhfuiltear ag cur leasú níos leithne ar bun. Is teip í ar cheannaireacht an Rialtais. Tá sé deacair a fheiceáil cén fáth nach bhfuil reform day, in áit abolition day, a thabhairt isteach. Bhéadh fáilte i bhfad níos leithne roimh lá leasaithe ins in tSeanad, ins an bpobal go ginearálta agus imeasc daoine atá ag plé le cúrsaí daonlathais ar fud an domhain.
Tá súil agam go mbeidh freagraí cuimsitheacha le tabhairt ag an Aire Stáit ar chuid des na hábhair atá ardaithe agam. Is breá liom nach dteastaíonn an gléas aistriúcháin uaidh agus go dtuigeann sé gach a bhfuil mé a rá. I ndáiríre, is iomaí Aire a thagann isteach anseo agus nach dtéann i muinín na gcluasán mar go bhfuil náire orthu admháil nach bhfuil Gaeilge acu, ach is breá liom a fheiceáil go bhfuil neart Gaeilge ag an Aire Stáit agus go mbeidh freagraí cuimsitheacha ar na ceisteanna ar fad atá mé ag ardú. Tá mé ag súil go mór leis na freagraí sin a chloisteáil ar ball beag.
Tá mé ag cur i gcoinne an ailt seo. Tá mé ag iarraidh ar an Aire an t-alt seo a bhaint as an reachtaíocht, gan brú ar aghaidh le scor an tSeanaid ach an Seanad a leasú, an díospóireacht leathan sin a bheith againn agus an cheist a chur os comhair an Tionóil Bhunreachtúil. Bíodh an díospóireacht sin againn ar bhealach aibidh.
I welcome the Minister of State again. When I dealt with this on Second Stage I referred to the Act of Union and it has been brought home to me even more what it must have been like in the dying hours of the debate on the abolition of Grattan's Parliament, as Members fought and strove valiantly to try to change the minds of not only the Minister but the rotten boroughs. I do not for one moment suggest the deafening silence from the other side can be in any way equated with rotten boroughs, but at the same time the effect and impact are the same. Those who had been bought kept their mouths shut and trooped through the lobbies when the appropriate time came, and so it ended.
Prime Minister Pitt was determined, in the immediate aftermath of the 1798 rebellion that Ireland was full of sedition, and those in charge of England's economy were afraid the Irish were getting too stroppy. He was determined, and got into its head that he alone would pursue a policy of abolition of the Irish Parliament and enact the Act of Union. There is a parallel with the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny.
In discussions I have had with friends and colleagues on both sides of the House I have tried to understand and get inside the mind of the Taoiseach on that fateful evening when he made a decision in front of a shocked audience and went on a solo run. It was, is and will continue to be a solo run until referendum day. I have wondered what was the catalyst. Rather interestingly, and the Cathaoirleach will be interested to hear this if he has not heard it before, the House shut down for a week for perfectly legitimate reasons - I was not here at the time - at some stage during the previous 12 months and this is what got into the Taoiseach's head from what I have been told. He decided it was not an acceptable way of dealing with the Upper House and that enough was enough and it was time it went.
If this was the catalyst perhaps I am doing him an injustice because rather naïvely I had thought he had given it considerable reflection. If this anecdote is included in the evidence it seems it probably was a knee-jerk reaction. Some weeks prior to it, all of the focus in the Fine Gael Party and on its front bench was on reform and not abolition. Policy documents were being prepared in this regard. People are entitled to change their minds. Deputy Micheál Martin changed his mind; he may have been helped along by some of us but he did change his mind because in the previous election he campaigned on the basis that Fianna Fáil supported abolition rather than reform.
Current Fianna Fáil policy, which needs to be repeated, is that we are opposed to abolition and are in favour of reform.
Professor Marsh of Trinity College, in an article about 12 months ago on the general context of referendums held in this country since the 1937 Constitution, said, "On each and every occasion where there was a lack of political consensus the referendum had failed." In other words, when over 90% of the representatives in the Houses agreed on a constitutional amendment and put the question to the country the question was carried. This was not the case when there was a lack of political consensus. One of the most obvious examples of that was the attempt by the de Valera Government to change the political system. It attempted to introduce the single transferable vote, single seat constituencies and do away with multi-seat constituencies. There was no political consensus in the Dáil and Seanad at that time because the main Opposition parties, the Labour Party and Fine Gael, were opposed to it. So it came to pass that not once but twice the Fianna Fáil Administration failed.
The most recent case was the referendum on establishing committees of inquiry. Again, there was no political consensus at the beginning or when the question was put to the people. Civic society, represented by former Attorneys General, came out within a week or ten days of the vote to point out a number of flaws in the Government's case. So it came to pass that the referendum did not pass.
I would be reasonably confident that when one considers all the component parts of referendum campaigns in terms of people who vote in referendums, there is an absence of political consensus. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are not in favour of abolition; we are in favour of reform. The overwhelming majority on the Government benches, if they care to be truthful, in both Houses are not in favour of abolition, rather they are in favour of reform. I suggest if a straw poll was taken among the Cabinet the chances are it would be, at worst, lukewarm about abolition and at best opposed to it and more in favour of reform.
When one adds everything up, the portents look reasonably good. The hope is that the momentum which was started by some of our colleagues in this House, such as Senators Quinn and Zappone, to name but two, and those representing civic society will continue. Senator Zappone can correct me if I am wrong, but I understand some 500 or 600 people attended a meeting during which they pledged to be actively involved in overturning the Government's proposals.
A recent opinion poll followed familiar lines. When people are asked a question far out from a referendum date they tend not to be engaged and the figures tend not to be truly representative of their feelings. As a referendum date gets closer, the arguments start to mount and the momentum builds, things narrow. Last Sunday was an example. It is nothing new to people who have studied similar opinion polls which have taken place in the 12 or 18 months leading up to a referendum.
The electorate is volatile when it comes referendums. There is a totally different sense among the general public when they are electing a Government or voting for political parties. Referendums are separate, strange animals. Ultimately, what will happen, as happened in every other referendum, is that people will vote and answer a question they have not been asked. It happened most notably in the first Nice treaty referendum when a coalition of hard-left representatives managed to convince a sufficient number of the mothers of Ireland that their sons and daughters could end up in body bags fighting for a European army in far-flung fields, when in fact Nice was about housekeeping details internally within the EU and had nothing whatsoever to do with European armies.
I ask both sides of the House whether we have heard any mention of European armies since the first Nice treaty referendum. They have not been mentioned. It forced the Government of the day to introduce the triple lock as a response to assuage people's fears. I mainly put that down to the mothers of Ireland, many of whom I met around my table, who genuinely believed that if they voted "Yes" there would be a European army and conscription.
The context and background in regard to abolition day are that there is still an awful lot to play for in this regard. When the arguments are put forward to the Irish people, the most potent of which is that a Government which enjoys a unprecedented majority in the other House and an equally unprecedented majority in this House, can call on up to 40 extra Deputies to support any legislative measure it cares to bring before the Dáil. That invariably leads to things fraying at the edges. Even the best democrats get drunk on the intoxication of power.
The saying that all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely was not coined today or yesterday. I am not for one moment suggesting there is anything corrupt about the proposal. Rather, I am talking about the use and exercise of power. I saw it happen when my party was in government. It became tired, arrogant, unheeding and, in its latter days, as Mary O'Rourke famously said about another situation, it went around like a headless chicken. I know that, as do most of my Fianna Fáil colleagues. Ultimately, the people were right to throw it out.
In a very cogent contribution, Senator Crown talked about the main arguments presented by the Government for the abolition of the Seanad, namely, that it is costly, unnecessary for a unitary non-federal state with small population, has proved to be relatively ineffective since its establishment in 1937 and that the Government argued that Ireland has too many politicians. In another context I said most US states with, I understand, the exception of Nebraska - I am not sure why - have two houses, a senate and house of representatives. The purpose of the Declaration of Independence and the American constitution was that one house would look after the other and there would not be an excess of power.
George Washington summed up to some degree what I am trying to say when he said, "The purpose of a bicameral parliament is to act as a check on the power of the lower chamber." Second chambers were famously described by George Washington as, "Providing for a cooling period during which further deliberation on a piece of legislation can take place." Proponents of bicameralism argue that in allowing for additional deliberation by a different group of individuals, the quality of legislation is enhanced.
Philosopher Henry Sidgwick saw the main purpose of a senate as being that all legislative measures may receive a second consideration by a body different in quality from the primary representative assembly and, if possible, with superior or supplementary intellectual conversations. I would like to think that is possible every day in this House. Why would one want to get rid of the House which contributes that much to democratic norms?
We should forget about all the amendments which are passed or the other work done here. The main purpose of the House from its inception was to act as a check and balance on the other House. It was to bring forward legislation which would be dealt with in a reflective and expert manner. It was not set up as a challenge to the Government. In fact, de Valera, rather coincidentally, having been thwarted on more than one occasion by the first Senate, arrived in my town of Drumshanbo in County Leitrim during the general election of 1933.
It was captured on film. This was most unusual to see - a small country town in the west of Ireland with cameramen and there he was on the main street. We have a High Street in the town of Drumshanbo. It is a bit continental and rather unusual. He was on High Street looking down on this mass of people. I can still picture it. It was part of Seven Ages: The Story of the Irish State, which was shown on RTE several times and pops up in the archives from time to time. Before he said anything at all, the significant memory I have was of all the cloth caps that seemed to spread from the back where the camera was to de Valera on the platform. I am paraphrasing him here but he more or less said that if the Seanad did not pass the Bill, he would abolish it. That was the first time he came out in public and said it and of course, he did. For some rather interesting reason - I am sure Senator Barrett and others have more information than I have on the deliberations leading up to the drawing up of the Constitution and putting it before the people in 1937 - he changed his mind. He changed his mind in that he put in what in political terms was an emasculated Chamber. He was not going to agree to a second Chamber that would be like the first Seanad from 1922 to 1937 that could thwart or thumb its nose at the Government, which it did on a number of occasions. In a way, it was a pity that he was in power at the time and was able to carry that out because what a great Seanad it would be if it had been the continuation of that first Seanad. The names stand out. There have many iconic figures in the second Seanad but they were also in the first Seanad.
If this piece of legislation goes before the people and is defeated, somebody somewhere in the body politic might look at that first Seanad and say it is the way to go. Of course, it should be tweaked. It cannot be seen to be a challenge to the other House. However, if it needs to be elected by direct universal suffrage, as most reformers seem to suggest, it will put itself forward as a challenge to the other House to some degree because it will then be seen to have a democratic mandate, although I would question those who criticise this House for not having a democratic mandate.
They are the wonderful possibilities that arise out of the rejection of this proposal, of there not being an abolition day and of the Government being faced with a challenge the people will have given it. This challenge is how to construct, out of the ashes of a Government proposal that has gone wrong, a Seanad that will be relevant to the people, enhance democratic institutions and, at the same time, create the balance needed between the Dáil and the Seanad. The critical challenge is how one balances the two.
I will touch on another aspect that has not been mentioned. Much of the information I have comes from an excellent document prepared by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. It refers to the use of the guillotine by the Executive and relates to the Dáil. We hear much talk about the Seanad and its flaws but one of the great inherent flaws in the Dáil, because of our centralised form of government, is the use of the guillotine by the Executive. I was talking about the parties that favoured abolishing the Seanad. It seems that all the parties at one point agreed with the abolition of the Seanad, with the exception of the Green Party.
In his Damascus-like change, Deputy Martin described this particular proposal as a major power grab by the Government. It was a good soundbite but there was a certain element of truth in it. Looking at it from the outside, that is how it seems. When one allies a Government with a massive majority with its actions on the wider front of democratic accountability, one asks what has it been doing. What is its record? When one looks at the credit and debit sides of the balance sheet, what has it been doing so far that has encouraged the Irish electorate to think it is in favour of an all-embracing democratic norm? It is abolishing town councils completely. It is creating these new electoral areas around former boroughs where one individual will be nominally elected as a mayor. One can take any of the examples across the country one cares to mention. Most of the towns in question are expanding. I think Senator MacSharry referred to Sligo with 22,000 people as the seventh largest town in the country. The Mayor of Sligo will be competing with nine other councillors spread across a large geographical area way beyond the boundaries of Sligo town as it is currently constituted for borough council purposes in order to ensure they get a fair share of the allocation of money, services and resources from the county council. There is nothing terribly democratic or modern about that. Údarás na Gaeltachta is another example where elections have been abolished.
If one adds it all up and on top of that, the Taoiseach of the day says he is going to abolish the second House of Parliament for reasons that have since proved to be spurious, as we pointed out, particularly on the financial front, and puts it to the people as somehow being a saver, anybody who looks at the argument logically when he or she comes to vote on the day will probably think "Hold on a minute, something isn't quite right here. Why do they want to do this? Why don't they go for reform?" As the ad on the radio says, "Once it is gone, it is gone." That would be my greatest fear - that once it is gone, it is gone because what would be put in its place?
Here, I will adopt the position of a cynic of some years' standing in this House. Successive Governments have pledged reform, particularly reform of the Dáil. The ending of the dual mandate was wrong in my opinion because Deputies and Senators who sat on local authorities focused on the minds of the real power, namely, county managers who were much more careful than they have subsequently been in terms of watching their back. It is just an opinion but is one that many subscribe to. When former Minister Noel Dempsey proposed ending the dual mandate at a parliamentary party meeting, one Deputy responded by asking him what the brave new world for Deputies would be, what greater power he would have as a backbencher and what greater relevance he would have as a Government supporter. The Minister pointed out that there would be enhanced powers for committees and an enhanced role for the Dáil as a collective, none of which happened. The same mantra is being pronounced by this Government about reform. Of course, it can point to certain elements of reform. In every Government, the Whips have got together at some point and have agreed certain adjustments to procedures but there has been no fundamental reform.
When one looks at those countries referred to by the Taoiseach as being similar in size to us and which have ended the bicameral arrangement, it is salutary to learn that, taking Denmark as the best example, they developed a system of national, regional and local government that is interlocked and where the very lowest level of a town council is responsible for far more than our county councillors are or will be in the brave new world presented by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. That is real democracy. The Government could present that sort of reform package to the Irish people and tell them the Executive was going to be more accountable within the Dáil and by that, I mean strengthening the committees. I sat on the Council of Europe because I have a particular interest in European and foreign affairs, more so than any other subject and sometimes to my detriment. I remember inquiring how the system worked in terms of European Union directives in Denmark and the relationship between the Executive and the committees.
I discovered that the European Union Minister - in our case the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Lucinda Creighton - could not and did not take any decisions on behalf of her Government in Brussels without first referring the matter to the European affairs committee in the Danish Parliament. Under its constitution, the Minister is precluded from so doing. Ministers cannot unilaterally make any decisions.
Let us contrast that with what goes on currently in Europe where, according to Senator Mark Daly who did the figures some time ago, 75% of the legislation coming through these Houses comes directly from Europe without scrutiny or debate. Decisions that are taken around the Council of Ministers and proposals emanating from the Commission, passing through the Council of Ministers, are voted on at the Council of Ministers and are then, essentially, transcribed into Irish law with only the minimum of scrutiny. Many of us sit on committees where a form of scrutiny is in operation. While it is adequate, it is not comprehensive enough and it certainly does not get through to most Irish people that we are even engaged in that process.
That is one example of real democracy in action, where the Government and the Executive are held accountable by the elected members within it. Not only do they do that in Denmark, they also created a form of regional government which was given real power, influence and resources. It subsequently took a third tier at the level of town councils in the smallest towns and villages, with real power. I am not sure of the number of these but it is in the hundreds.
There is nothing comparable to that here, nor is it on the agenda of this Government in terms of the reform package it is proposing. To suggest that Ireland is comparable to those states that have given up the bicameral system and that there will be a brave new world of democratic accountability is, I am sorry, cynic and all as I am, not believable.
In 1997, the all-party committee on the Constitution concluded that any savings from the abolition of the Seanad could be illusory because some of the functions it carries out would need to be reallocated to other parts of the political system. I am not going to dwell too much on this because it has been covered by many other people. The figure involved, according to Mr. Kieran Coughlan at the Committee of Public Accounts when he was pursued on this issue by former Senator, now Deputy, Shane Ross, was about €9 million. I think the Government's budget - the Minister of State will be more familiar with the figure than me - is currently around €55 billion of spend nationally. I think we are borrowing in the region of €1 billion per month.
The figure of €9 million is being put out to the people-----
It is more than €9 million.
According to Mr. Kieran Coughlan, the Clerk of the Dáil, the figure is €9 million. The rest of the figure, with respect, that brings it up to €22 million is an accumulation of a figure that will be transferred to existing resources. Will the two men sitting over there lose their jobs as a result of the abolition of the Seanad? Will the Minister of State stop paying them because they are no longer able to sit on either side of the Seanad?
There is €9 million that the Senator has not accounted for.
That is the figure regardless of whether the Minister of State likes it. The direct saving is €9 million. Even if I was to go half way with the Minister of State and say it was €12 million or €15 million, as against €55 billion and €1 billion of borrowings per month, it pales into insignificance.
I know the argument. I will put the facts out.
It is not an argument to put before the people. It is not an argument to say to the people that we are going to save these few measly millions. The Secretary General informed the Committee of Public Accounts in January 2012 that he estimated that there would be €13.3 million in indirect savings which relate "to the apportionment of the support costs for the Seanad" from the joint secretariat. This led to a total saving of €22.5 million. In response to a question from Deputy Shane Ross at the Committee of Public Accounts, he said that the direct cost of €9.2 million would be the saving to the State. I repeat, the direct cost of €9.2 million would be the saving to the State. If the Minister of State wants to question the Clerk of the Dáil, he can do so and is fully entitled to do so, but that is on the record.
I will reply. No worries.
Again, going back to the Danish model and the wider context of the democratic deficit in Ireland, the document prepared by the Library and Research Service states that, "It should be noted that local government is stronger in the Scandinavian countries with greater powers and autonomy than is the case in Ireland and that in all four parliaments [which is the four Scandinavian countries] the committee systems are strong". Rather interestingly, there are bicameral legislatures in 40% of the countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union, in 56% of OECD countries and in 13 of the 27 member states. In European Union states with unicameral parliaments, lower houses have alternative checks and balances, such as powerful committee systems, which make it difficult for governments to rush through legislation. No proposal along those lines is contained in any of the "reform" proposals that have emanated from Government so far. There has been some tinkering around the edges but I have not seen any element of the Executive power being relinquished by one iota.
The argument about the Seanad not performing a role envisaged for it in the Constitution and that its partisan nature means that it offers little additional opportunity for improved legislative security needs to be looked at. I referred earlier to George Washington's famous speech about a cooling period. That is the essence of this House and what it should be about. The other argument that is used in its favour is from a former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr. Michael McDowell, who said that the Seanad considered legislation is a far more bipartisan spirit or, perhaps more correctly, a non-partisan spirit than the Dáil. He argued that introducing major reform legislation in the Upper House had the effect of defusing the adversarial atmosphere in the Dáil as the more contentious issues had been explained and resolved in an amicable way in the Seanad. While our political differences show on occasions in the House, because we are a political Chamber, I have never been able to understand people who have been appointed to the Seanad and said it was not a political chamber. Of course it is a political Chamber. Despite that, there is an understanding across all sides when a Minister presents legislation that it is the spirit of the House that comes out the strongest. The spirit and the desire of the House is that when the legislation leaves this Chamber, it is enhanced and people find they do not have to score political points most of the time when it comes to the legislative model presented here. Of course, there will be negativity about the Government proposing and the Opposing opposing. However, I am talking about the level and content of debate in general.
The Ministers who come to the House with Seanad Bills, as distinct from Dáil Bills, usually do so in the knowledge that when they leave this House, they will be considerably enhanced. The most recent example was the Animal Health and Welfare Bill which was introduced by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, who is a regular visitor. Other Ministers have also been mentioned. That was one example of a Bill, when it eventually got back to the Dáil, which had been subject to amendment by this House and which the Minister took on board, and more than 75% of the amendments emanated from this House. It was debated for some time with the support of the Leader who ensured sufficient time was provided because he realised its importance and that it was not a hugely contentious Bill to the point where there would be a row between the Government and the Opposition. He understood it from his own experience and I am sure he gave that advice, as I am sure he has done on other occasions. I was aware of that because with Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, I was a central contributor to the Bill. That was the most recent example of complex and very comprehensive legislation.
There are constitutional safeguards that need to be examined.
The significant role given to the Seanad by the Constitution to safeguard democracy is sometimes under-rated. In the removal of the Comptroller and Auditor General and judges and the impeachment of the President, the thresholds required to support resolutions of the Dáil have been increased in the Bill to reflect the loss of the Seanad's check on the Lower House's power. I am unsure as to whether the Judiciary is happy about this. That the Judiciary stated its opposition to this measure was unprecedented.
Another constitutional check, the power of the majority of the Seanad and a third of the Dáil to ask the President to put legislation before the people, is proposed to be removed. There are anticipated implications for Dáil reform stemming from the abolition of the Seanad, but this is as far the document before us, which is comprehensive and runs to some 43 pages, goes. It is the only line on parliamentary reform that is relevant.
That says it all.
It also makes another reference to the effect that there are calls for enhanced scrutiny of secondary and EU legislation.
Another set of commentators, who have together formed an independent group called Democracy Matters, proposed that Executive dominance should be addressed by reform of the Seanad. The Seanad's abolition would, the group argues, lead to "a political elite in the Dáil running the country without any scrutiny". This sums up everything.
I need to say it again - "a political elite in the Dáil running the country without any scrutiny". This is the question that will be put to the people. It will not be a simple matter of answering "Yes" or "No", but of whether they are prepared to engage in a new political environment in which a political elite in the Dáil will run the country without any scrutiny.
The former Tánaiste and Minister, Michael McDowell, argued that the abolition of the Seanad would leave the Dáil, which he described as "a deeply dysfunctional chamber totally dominated by members of the Executive and savagely ruled by the party whip system," as the only parliamentary body concerned with legislation. Based on these arguments at this relatively early stage in the campaign, I do not doubt that the people of Ireland will do what they have always done, that being, scrutinise and reflect on whether the change is in their best interests and the best interests of the country. They will decide on whether to give people in Dáil Éireann more power than they need. When they go to the ballot boxes, I have no doubt that there will be only one outcome - "No", "No" and "No" again.
Measaim go bhfuil sé ró-dhéanach anois don Pharlaimint a bheith ina suí. Is í an chúis atá leis seo ná an Rialtas. Tá sé an intinn ag an Dáil suí go dtí a cúig ar maidin. Is dóigh linn go bhfuil sé i gceist go suífidh an Teach seo go dtí mean oíche. Feicim an Ceannaire ag caint leis an Aire Stáit, áfach, agus ní bheadh aon ionadh orm dá n-iarrfaí orainn suí ar feadh na hoíche. Má tá moladh den chineál sin á phlé idir an Aire Stáit agus an Ceannaire faoi láthair, is náireach an rud é. Tá na hábhair seo ró-thábhachtach le déileáil leo i rith na hoíche. Ní cás práinne é seo ar chor ar bith. D'fhógair an Taoiseach thart ar cheithre bliana ó shin go raibh sé i gceist aige deireadh a chur le Seanad Éireann. Tá sé náireach go bhfuil orainn déileáil leis anois, agus muid ag druidim le meán oíche nuair atá Baill an Tí agus foireann oibre an Tí traochta tuirseach. Bhí ceithre bliana ag an Taoiseach chun an moladh seo a chur chun cinn istigh anseo. Sa chomhthéacs sin, níl sé ceart nó cothrom go bhfuilimid ag plé leis i rith na hoíche. Níl sé féaráilte ar mhuintir na tíre seo go bhfuil an iomarca rudaí ag tarlú i rith na hoíche. Tá sé scríofa i gclár an Rialtais 2011, a cuireadh os comhair an phobail nuair a tháinig an Rialtas seo i gcumhacht, nach raibh sé i gceist aon bhriseadh a thógaint le linn Oíche Shamhna nó ag tús mí an Mheithimh. Nuair a tháinig siad isteach, áfach, thóg siad na bristeacha sin. Nuair a bhí an Rialtas deiridh i gcumhacht, cuireadh deireadh leis na bristeacha sin - briseadh Oíche Shamhna agus briseadh mí an Mheithimh - ach tá siad curtha ar ais ag an Rialtas seo. I láthair na huaire, táimid anseo i mí Iúil agus ag suí i rith na hoíche. Nil sé ceart. Tá cearta ag muintir na tíre maidir leis an bParlaimint seo. Ba cheart go mbeadh díospóireacht cheart againn nuair atáimíd soiléir inár gcloigne. Ba cheart dúinn gach rud a phlé go mall agus go réidh. Táimid ag caint faoi reachtaíocht thábhachtach a chuir an Taoiseach os comhair an Oireachtais ag an tráth seo cé nach bhfuilimid úr. Ba mhaith liom díriú ar alt a haon, atá os comhair an Tí.
Alt a haon - tá sé sin ceart.
Baineann alt a haon leis an sainmhíniú ar "an lá a chuirfear deireadh le Seanad Éireann". Níl a fhios agam an bhfuil an téarma ceart in usáid san alt seo. Tá a lán roghanna againn sa chomhthéacs seo, os rud é go ndéanfar go leor athruithe eile ar an mBunreacht má éiríonn le togra an Taoisigh. B'fhéidir gur cheart don alt seo, nó an sainmhíniú seo, tagairt a dhéanamh do na hathruithe bunreachtúla atá le déanamh ar Airteagal 12, nó Airteagal 13, nó Airteagal 14, nó Airteagal 15, nó Airteagal 18, nó Airteagal 19, nó Airteagal 20, nó Airteagal 21, nó Airteagal 22, nó Airteagal 23, nó Airteagal 24, nó Airteagal 25, nó Airteagal 26, nó Airteagal 27, nó Airteagal 28. Tiocfaidh mé ar ais go dtí Airteagal 27 os rud é go bhfuil scrios á dhéanamh air. Tá na hathraithe sin go léir á dhéanamh sa Bhunreacht. Ní hamháin go bhfuil an Rialtas chun deireadh a chur leis an Seanad ach tá sé chun na hathraithe sin go léir a dhéanamh don mBunreacht. Má tá an Rialtas ag rá, sa sainmhíniú atá anseo maidir leis an lá a cuirfear deireadh le Seanad Éireann, níl sé ag tabhairt an phictiúir iomláin do mhuintir na tíre. Níl an Rialtas macánta le muintir na tíre mar tá i bhfad níos mó ag tarlú don mBunreacht seachas deireadh a chur le Seanad Éireann.
Baineann alt 1 leis an Sceideal, mar a deirtear:
San Acht seo, tá le "an lá a chuirfear deireadh le Seanad Éireann" an bhrí chéanna atá leis sa leasú a dhéantar le halt 2.
Sa Bhéarla deirtear:
In this Act, "the abolition day" has the same meaning as it has in the amendment made by section 2.
Nuair a théitear go dtí Sceideal 1, Cuid 1 agus Cuid 2, feictear difríochtaí idir an téacs Gaeilge agus an téacs Béarla. Baineann Cuid 1 leis an nGaeilge agus Cuid 2 leis an mBéarla. Mar shampla, maidir le hAirteagal 19A, úsáidtear an aimsir fháistineach sa téacs Gaeilge. Deirtear:
Is é an lá dá dtagraítear i bhfo-alt 1° den alt seo an lá díreach roimh an lá a thiocfaidh Dáil Éireann le chéile den chéad uair tar éis an olltoghcháin do chomhaltaí de Dháil Éireann is túisce a bheidh ann tar éis an tAirteagal seo a achtú.
Sa leagan Béarla úsáidtear an aimsir láithreach:
The day referred to in subsection 1° hereof is the day immediately preceding the one on which Dáil Éireann first meets after the general election for members of Dáil Éireann that next takes place after the enactment of this Article.
Measaim go bhfuil difríocht bheag ansin agus déantar é arís sa sceideal níos faide síos. "D’ainneoin Airteagal 18.8 den Bhunreacht seo, ní bheidh aon olltoghchán do Sheanad Éireann ann tar éis an lánscoir ar Dháil Éireann is túisce a tharlóidh tar éis an tAirteagal seo a achtú." Sa Bhéarla deireann sé: "Notwithstanding Article 18.8 hereof, no general election for Seanad Éireann shall take place after the dissolution of Dáil Éireann that next occurs [present tense instead of future tense as in the Irish version] after the enactment of this Article. Tá an-mhuinín agamsa as na daoine anois i Rannóg an Aistriúcháin agus is daoine an-mhaith iad, ach tá mé ag cur an ceiste sin don Aire. An bhfuil difríochtaí bheaga ansin idir an nGaeilge agus an Béarla agus an ceart ceartú a dhéanamh orthu sin. Thug mé iad faoi deara inniu agus má tá freagra ag an Aire maidir leis sin beidh mé lán tsásta agus má sé ceart tá sé ceart. Ní saineolaí mise sa Ghaeilge déanaim iarracht an Ghaeilge a úsáid anseo sa tSeanad, agus i ndáiríre an t-aon uair a chonaic mise díospóireacht anseo trí Ghaeilge nach raibh bainteach aici leis an nGaeilge nó an nGaeltacht bhí sé anseo sa Seanad maidir leis the Water Services Bill agus bhí an díospóireacht go léir as Gaeilge bhí mé fhéin agus an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill agus an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh agus a tAire Ó Duadha ó Dhroichead Átha agus roinnt Seanadóirí eile agus bhí an díospóireacht anseo bhí cuid den díospóireacht as Gaeilge agus ba mhaith an rud sin go raibh muid ag caint as Gaeilge sa teach seo nuair nach rabhamar ag plé na Gaeilge nó ag plé na Gaeltachta. So I suppose, is rud tábhachtach é sin don tír seo agus do mhuintir na Gaeilge go mbeidh daoine anseo san Oireachtas ag plé rudaí trí Ghaeilge tríd an phríomh theanga sa bhunreacht agus ar ndóigh is féidir linn an tionchar sin a fheiceáil sa Bhille seo mar tá gá go mbeadh an Bhille seo curtha tríd an Oireachtas trí Ghaeilge agus trí Bhéarla agus tá cúis bunreachtúla leis sin.
So, tá rudaí ag tarlú agus tá sé deacair iad a fheiceáil an t-am ar fad agus caithfimid a bheith ana-chúramach cad a dhéanfaimid leis an mbunreacht nílimid go díreach ag cur deireadh leis an Seanad tá muid i ndáiríre ag pleidhcíocht leis an mbunreacht i mo thuairim-se. Ní raibh aon díospóireacht ar chor ar bith is dóigh liomsa maidir le Airteagal 27. Níl fhios ag a lán daoine cad is brí i ndáiríre le Airteagal 27. Ach tá slí san airteagal sin le reifreann a bheith againn sa tír seo i gcásanna áirithe agus níl aon díospóireacht maidir leis an airteagal sin sa díospóireacht seo, timpeall deireadh a chur leis an Seanad agus is trua sin.
Ach tá mise dóchasach go mbeidh a lán díospóireachta maidir leis an airteagal sin sa bhfeachtas atá romhainn. Mar is airteagal an-thábhachtach atá ansin agus is airteagal a thugann cumhacht dos na daoine agus measaim féin nach mbeidh na daoine ag iarraidh é sin thabhairt suas go héasca nó go furasta. Beidh siad ag iarraidh fháil amach cad é, cad atá ann, an mbeidh gá leis an airteagal sin sa todhchaí. Mar measaim-se féin go mb’fhéidir go mbeidh gá ag an airteagal sin nó airteagal ar nós é sin mar tá tromlach ollmhór ag an Rialtas ansin sa Dáil agus feictear cad atá ar siúl anocht sa Dáil agus ar maidin sa Dáil agus sa Seanad agus mar a dúirt mé cheana tá sé náireach go mbeadh an Rialtas ag déanamh é sin. Ach tá tromlach ana-mhór ag an Dáil agus ba cheart go mbeadh rud éigin ansin chun stop bheag a chur leis an tromlach sin. Nílimid ag iarraidh stop iomlán a chur leis an tromlach sin. Tá an tromlach sin ansin sa Dáil tar éis olltoghchán. So, dúirt na daoine agus chuir siad na vótaí ansin, tá muid ag iarraidh na daoine sin a bheith sa Dáil ach ag an am chéanna ceapaim-se féin go gcaithfidh smaoineamh eile a bheith ag Billí anseo sa Seanad. Sa Seanad bhí rudaí maidir leis an Bille Luachála measaim Evaluation Bill a bhí anseo maidir leis na rátaí gnóthúil agus cuireadh stop leis an mBille sin sa Seanad anseo mar bhí fadhbanna leis an Bille sin agus bhí an iomarca cumhachta ag dul isteach go dtí cuid, I suppose an bord achomhairc nó an appeals board ansin. Bhí an iomarca cumhachta ag dul ansin agus bhí ceisteanna bunreachtúla ag baint leis sin go mbeidh na daoine sin agus daoine an-mhaith a oibríonn ansin ach go mbeidh siadsan in ann cinneadh iomlán a dhéanamh maidir le rataí gnóthúil agus níor cheart é sin agus ní dheachaigh an Bille sin aon áit. Níor tháinig sé go dtí stáid an Choiste anseo sa Seanad mar go raibh sé stoptha agus measaim go bhfuil an Roinn an Aire ag féachaint ar an mBille sin arís. Ach ag an am chéanna coicís ó shin sa Dáil bhí an Taoiseach ag gearán maidir leis an Bille sin. D’fhreagair sé ceist maidir leis an mBille agus dúirt sé go raibh an Bille sa Seanad agus bhí sé ag rá is dócha go raibh an Seanad ag obair go mall agus bhí sé ag tabhairt é sin amach don phobal agus ní raibh sé sin ceart ar chor ar bith. Rinne an Seanad an rud ba cheart don Seanad a dhéanamh a bheith ag rá agus dúramar go bhfuil an Bille sin lofa agus go raibh fadhbanna ag an mBille agus go mba cheart stopadh agus go mba cheart athruithe a dhéanamh don Bhille. Níl mise chun leanacht ar aghaidh ach tá mé ag rá leis an gceannaire nach cheart níos mó ama a thabhairt don díospóireacht seo anocht ba cheart dúinn tosú arís ar maidin. Ba cheart do dhaoine dul abhaile agus téigh a choladh agus a bheith níos úire ar maidin. Níl sé ceart. I ndáiríre tá daoine ag titim a choladh agus níl aon mhilleán orthu tá siad tuirseach tá siad ag obair go dian ar fud an lae anseo. Tá mise ag titim a choladh mé féin.
We speak to the Bill tomorrow, is that it?
Bhuel, tá mise tar éis rudaí a chur in iúl don Seanad maidir le fadhbanna atá sa Bhille seo agus tá mise ag caint anseo mar tá ceart daonlathúil agam a bheith ag caint faoin mBille seo agus a bheith ag caint faoi rudaí tábhachtacha a tharlaíonn agus ag rá leis an bpobal nach bhfuil an téarma sin ceart in Alt 1 agus sin an rud a bhí mise ag caint faoi sa díospóireacht seo go bhfuilimid ag caint anseo faoin lá a chuirfear deireadh le Seanad Éireann ach tá a lán rudaí eile a bheas á dhéanamh anseo. Beidh a lán rudaí eile. Beimid ag cur deireadh leis an reifreann sin beimid ag athrú an Oireachtais, beimid ag athrú an tslí gur féidir linn deireadh a chur le breithimh agus le breithimh áirithe gur féidir linn iad a thógáil ón mbinse agus tá a lán athraithe á dhéanamh agus ní cheart díriú ar an Seanad cé go bhfuil an Seanad an-thábhachtach ach ab cheart díriú ar gach rud atá ag tarlú sa Bhille seo. Sin atá mise ag rá anseo. Is dócha go mbeidh daoine eile le caint ach tá mé ag rá leis an gceannaire gan leanacht ar aghaidh leis seo anocht beidh sé an-mhícheart é sin a dhéanamh. Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, agus tá lúcháir orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an Bille seo. Is Bille conspóideach é seo agus is Bille é chun deireadh a chur le remit daonlathas sa tír seo a sheas linn ó 1922 nuair a bhain an tír seo amach neamhspleáchas mar phoblacht agus tar éis don neamhspleáchas sin a bhaint amach rinne an Rialtas cinneadh ag an am faoi stiúir an Aire Airgeadais ag an am a bhí ceann de na daoine is tábhachtaí sé sin Michael Collins, Micheál Ó Coileáin a bhí ról lárnach aige agus a bhí ag tabhairt tacaíochta iontach don teach seo ag an am agus níl fhios agam anois cén fáth má tá muintir Fhine Gael ag breathnú suas agus ag tabhairt ómóis do Mhicheál Ó Coileáin i gceann cúpla seachtaine cé fáth nach bhfuil siad ag aontú leis an bun prionsabal a leag sé amach agus sé sin go mbeadh dhá theach anseo san Oireachtas, An Seanad agus An Dáil.
Is cosúil go bhfuil an ceannaire ar Fhine Gael atá againn anois - an Taoiseach - breá sásta cumhacht a chur in áit an daonlathais. Baineann contúirt agus dainséar mór leis sin. Ba cheart dúinn smaoineamh ar na daoine clúiteacha a bhí sa Teach seo. Níl a fhios agam an bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag éisteacht.
As it is now 12 o'clock midnight, in keeping with the order of the House today-----
It appears that nobody was listening anyway.
It was not worth listening to.
-----can I ask the Senator to report progress?
When is it proposed to sit again?
Leathuair tar éis a deich maidin amárach.