Seanad Bill 2016: Second Stage

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

This Bill was drafted by the working group on Seanad reform, chaired by the former Senator Maurice Manning, to embody the reforms proposed in the working group’s report. The Bill gives this House an historic opportunity to make history, to keep faith with the people and to restore their faith in our democracy and to take the brave strides necessary to ensure this House lives up to its intended constitutional potential in the future. My colleagues and I who introduced this Bill, to whom I am grateful for their support and co-operation, warmly welcome the strong support we have received from the Taoiseach and the Government, in whose programme the implementation of the Manning report is included, as well as the Fianna Fáil Party and the other parties and groupings in the Oireachtas for the Bill’s enactment.

This Stage of the Bill’s consideration is concerned with the broad principles of the Bill. When the debate is concluded, we can get down to a detailed consideration of the Bill’s provisions. I am sure very careful consideration will be given to the proposals for reform, to their phased implementation, perhaps, and to amendments to improve the Bill. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom, but that is no excuse for inaction.

I think it is only fair to point out that while doubtless there are Senators who will not agree with every element of the Bill, it is equally true that this Seanad would certainly no longer exist if the people had been confronted at the time of the referendum with a simple choice to either abolish the Seanad or leave it totally unreformed. There is a strong will among the people for reform of this House in order that it can play an enhancing role in our democracy. This House can become a forum for voices that have traditionally been marginalised and excluded from the democratic process because of the dynamic of multi-seat proportional representation in our representative politics. There are national movements, national perspectives and community and voluntary interests that can never realistically aspire to winning Dáil seats, but that can and should be part of the parliamentary process. This Bill opens up the parliamentary system to their presence in Leinster House. The current method of electing 43 Members of the Seanad by an electorate of approximately 1,000 Deputies, Senators and councillors finds no specific basis in the Constitution. The Oireachtas is given a constitutional blank canvas as to how Senators are to be elected. The reform Bills tabled by former Senators Feargal Quinn, Katherine Zappone, now Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and John Crown for the first time showed that it was possible to have the 43 vocational panel senators elected by ordinary citizens without amending the Constitution.

The Manning report is a compromise, based on consultation across the parties, between the principle of popular election and the current system. Of the 43 panel seats, it proposes that 30 should be elected by citizens on a one-person-one-vote basis, while the remaining 13 seats should be elected by Deputies, Senators and councillors. Under the Bill’s proposals, any citizen will be eligible to register to vote in any vocational panel in the same way as certain university graduates can register to vote for the existing university seats. In this way, people with, for example, a special interest in agriculture, fisheries and the natural environment could register as voters on the Agriculture Panel, people with an interest in voluntary social activity could register to vote on the Administrative Panel, and similarly in regard to education. These electors could choose to elect national figures or campaigners active in their respective fields.

If there are Members of this House who consider that the changes proposed in this Bill are too sudden, they can, of course, table amendments to phase in the changes. However, I do not believe that there is any significant support in the Seanad or the Dáil or among the public for retaining the status quo. By initiating this Bill in the Seanad, we can bring our collective experience and judgment to bear on its provisions, and then send it to the Dáil for its consideration. The alternative of having such a Bill sent to us by the Dáil is, I think, less desirable.

I would like to add two further points. The Bill is not intended to create an extra or rival Dáil. The Constitution never envisaged that this House could obstruct the democratic process or rival the Dáil. The proof of that is to be found in the Dáil’s constitutional power to override the Seanad after 90 days. That provision simply would not be there if the Seanad was always envisaged to be a place where the Government of the day had to have a majority as a matter of electoral fact or by convention. On the contrary, the power to override this House strongly suggests that the Seanad’s composition was expected to be independent. That is why, as part of the new politics, we should not fear a loosening of the tight grip of political parties over this House. The compromise of the Manning report is designed to ensure the composition of the Seanad reflects some party political presence and some degree of independence.

Senator David Norris has voiced opposition to having a single university constituency, inter alia, because he thinks such a constituency would become dominated by political parties. The NUI electorate is very large, but it has never succumbed to party dominance. I do not believe that, 30 years after provision was made to widen the higher education franchise to other institutions such as the University of Limerick and Dublin City University, we can simply turn our backs on them on a cry of “No surrender.” The constitutional amendment made by the people did not prescribe a single higher education constituency, and indeed it envisages dividing the seats among groups of those institutions and even giving individual seats to individual institutions. Yet again, there is room for consideration on Committee Stage of alternatives other than a simple choice between leaving things as they are and having a single constituency for the university seats.

In the brief time available to me, I will not have enough time to canvass the entirety of the content of the Bill. I point out to Members of the House that the Bill is accompanied by a very satisfactory explanatory memorandum which deals with the various issues contained in the Bill. The Bill for the first time seems to have cross-party support, the support of the Government and the personal endorsement of the Taoiseach, and seems to be the first opportunity the House has had to advance the question of reform in the eyes of the people in a constructive way.

It is true that the Second Stage debate is largely one confined to the question of principle and not detail. The principles laid down in the Manning report are, in my respectful view, ones which should commend themselves and attract support almost universally. The idea that ordinary citizens interested in agriculture should be entitled to register for an agriculture panel vote, just as much as UCD graduates are entitled to register for the NUI panel and vote on it, is not a strange or frightening one. Likewise, for those who believe the current system, which to some extent connects the county council and local government structures with the Oireachtas, has merits, this is preserved in the balance struck by the Manning report. In essence, he has acknowledged the idea that there should be a majority of popularly elected Senators based on the existing system of panels provided for in the Constitution, while at the same time preserving some aspects of the current system of indirect election via county councillors.

In that context, one thing occurred to me when I prepared my remarks for the debate. A number of Ministers have come to the House in recent times and said they are minded to enhance the role and support given to local authority members. That is good. However, in the context of the Bill, we might consider whether the absolute ban on members of local authorities from being Members of the House is something that deserves to be reviewed. I fully accept the proposition that Dáil Éireann chose, under the former Minister Noel Dempsey, to enact legislation to end what was called the dual mandate. However, if there are to be indirectly elected members of the House under the terms and conditions mentioned in the Manning report, it seems a little strange that somebody can be an elector while at the same time being disqualified from membership of the House.

As part of an overall package to recognise the role of local government and the link between local government and the Oireachtas generally which has existed through the Seanad electoral system, we should be open minded about looking at those issues. We should ensure nobody who is involved in local government which is very important should feel this Bill is designed to exclude, marginalise or reduce their influence in the affairs of the State. With those words, I commend the Bill to the House.

I second the motion.

The Senator can speak to the Bill now.

I will defer to the leader of our group, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell.

The Senator is seconding the motion, but our second speaker is Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh who is sharing his time.

I am sharing my time with the Senator.

I dtosach báire ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don Seanadóir McDowell ó thaobh an Bhille seo a thabhairt os comhair an Tí seo. I recognise and acknowledge the work that has been done in preparing the Bill. There has been a huge amount of work done in the past few years in preparing it. I feel very passionately that we need to change and be fit for purpose. The Irish people voted by a small majority to support the Seanad and have said we need to have a Seanad, but I believe we need to reinvent ourselves. This is a very strong first step in that direction. There are a couple of really key points from my perspective. There should be an opening up of the franchise to graduates of all third level institutions. Just because I came from a particular university, it does not mean I should have any special privileges. There is nothing special about one third level qualification compared to any other. This levels the playing field and it becomes a lot more democratic. A lot more people can influence who sits in these Seanad seats. That is really important in a modern Ireland. It also starts a move in another direction towards supporting accountability and transparency and will show real value for money to the Irish people who supported them about a year and a half ago.

This is just a beginning; there are two parts to it. One is reform of the Seanad. Who are the eligible candidates? Who are the eligible voters? What is the voting process and how are vacancies filled? Who is in charge of all that? It is proposed that a Seanad electoral commission would be the glue in organising and structuring this. The second part of that is the process - how we do business and how we can be a lot more effective? We are moving in that direction. If we want to leave a legacy, there is one thing I see. I am just learning - everybody here is very committed and is putting a lot of work in. If we want to leave a legacy, let us make the Seanad really fit for purpose. It is critically important in Irish politics. It is really important for the Irish people, who have said that already. They are supporting us in that. Let us give them the changes they deserve.

I welcome the opportunity to have this debate and commend Senator Michael McDowell for bringing the Bill to the House. I thank Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for sharing time with me.

In a summary of Seanad reform, from 1937 to 2003 we had the O'Rourke report of 2004, the Committee on the Constitution in 1967, the O'Keeffe report in 1997, the Lenihan report in 2002, the Gormley report in 2009, the Crown Bill in 2013, the Zappone-Quinn Bill in 2013, the Fianna Fáil policy document in 2013, the Green Party policy document in 2015, the Constitutional Review Group in 1996, the report of the Labour Party, the Green Party and John Gormley in 2009 and the report of the Independent Senators and John Gormley in 2009. I am exhausted already reading them out. These proposals had 112 suggestions on the following areas: elections, automatic re-election of the Cathaoirleach, term and timing of elections, vacancies, nominations, gender balance, vocational panels, university seats, Taoiseach's nominees, the legislative process, Northern Ireland, the European Union and the international role, secondary legislation, public appointments, policy review, petitions, ordering of business, right of address, membership of the Cabinet by Senators, accountability of the Government to the Seanad, nominations of the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, salaries of Senators and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I am exhausted reading them out. There have been about ten or 11 reports on the Seanad between 1937 and 2004, ending with the Manning-O'Toole report, which we have just heard, and Senator Michael McDowell's Bill now being debated on the floor.

The question we must ask ourselves because this is a general discussion is what distinguishes and identifies us in the eyes of the people. I can tell Members that it is the composition of the Seanad, not our work. That is what distinguishes us. Our composition is our most visible feature. We are not distinguished enough in our function. The composition of the Seanad seems to be, in the eyes of a lot of people, the actual function of the Seanad. The Seanad is ill understood and neither its best nor its worst features are understood or communicated to the public. I lived in Ballymun for 23 years and did not know, even though I was supposedly educated, what went on in the Seanad. It did not affect me; it did not communicate to me and neither did I communicate with it. The public are aware of the vested interest of the Government and parties and they also understand our constitutional rigidity. They watch our low prestige every day. They know why the media do not concentrate on us and why sometimes when they do concentrate on us it is to ignite negative feelings. We have a low profile and we are not understood. We demand less media attention and receive less public attention. We are not directly elected and we have no power to really challenge the Government. The party leaders live in the Lower House and our reports gather dust. There are continual calls for reform. I will say again that there are still many vested institutions and vested interests. We have constitutional rigidity, low prestige, negative feelings and unnecessary duplication. If we want real legitimacy, we must look to reform, not only of how we get in here - our composition and the many and varying routes to the great blue seats - but of what we do when we get in here. I welcome the Bill. It is flawed, but so am I. It is a start.

I will leave Members with some thoughts. In my last five years in the Seanad, not one Bill was sent back. Giving votes to people in Northern Ireland and the diaspora all over the world will not reform the Seanad. We need to reform the Seanad from the inside out, not the outside in, and we need to reform not its composition but its function.

I will make some comments and give observations from the Department. In response to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's comments, I think the Seanad is great and has a lot to offer. I totally agree with her about coming through education. I barely knew what local government was about when I was in school, never mind what the Seanad or the Dáil were about. All of us are in the process when we become politicians, whether in local government or as Senators, Deputies or Ministers. We become absorbed in the process and what it is all about, and we know every little bit about it, or we think we do, but the members of Joe Public carry on with their lives and are busy doing all they have to do with work, families and sports, so they do not focus in on the detail of what we do. Our responsibility is to get the detail right, make ourselves more relevant and change the process. A lot of good work goes on here. I have had a lot of opportunity to address this House and work with it on various proposals in the past couple of years in my other brief, both on science and on the skills strategy. I value the input of this House. It greatly improved all those policies. We need to see how we can increase that offering and increase the work that Senators do here and the added value they bring to legislation and policy. I am conscious that the Bill is mainly about the process and composition of the Seanad, how to get here and who has a say on who gets here. It is not really about the powers and functions, which Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh mentioned. That is another discussion we have to have. Today's debate will focus on the overall principles of this House, but the Bill is about the process of electoral franchise, composition and who can vote.

I am conscious of that, too. There are many issues that need to be discussed, not just in terms of the functions. I do agree, however, that that discussion has to happen quite soon.

The Government believes in such reform. As Senator Michael McDowell said, the Taoiseach has endorsed the Manning report and is pursuing its implementation. It does not mean that everything in the report is perfect. Nor is everything perfect in this Bill. We are, however, endorsing the process to move this forward and deliver that action. In his opening comments Senator Michael McDowell spoke about inaction and I totally agree with him. We have had many discussions over the years, even before my time, about what reforms will or should happen here. It is time to get down to basics now and start implementing some of that change, as well as bringing forward some reforms.

I have come here to listen to the debate but also with a view to taking action to move this matter on. I will use some of my time not just to deal with the principles but also to highlight areas on which need to decide. We may need to change some aspects on Committee Stage. Senators might bear in mind that these issues will need to be teased out in the coming weeks and months. This work will not be done in a spirit of finding fault with the legislation but to highlight some issues that need to be teased out further and addressed. I have come here in a spirit of action and Members will understand that my drive in life is to bring in changes where necessary. I hope we can work on that together and tease through some of the many issues that need to be discussed and addressed.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Seanad Bill 2016. I compliment the work undertaken on the Manning report. I am conscious that some of the people proposing this Bill made a major contribution to the Manning report. I recognise that fact, which is why the Government is prepared to work with this Bill and will certainly not oppose it. I recognise that some changes might be required, but we will engage in the process and bring it on to the next stage.

The stated purpose of the Bill is to implement the reforms proposed in the report of the working group on Seanad reform, otherwise known as the Manning report. The initiation of this Bill provides a welcome opportunity to deepen our consideration of the electoral reforms proposed. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators on this. To clarify, the Bill does not deal with the process or functions of the Seanad, just reform of the electoral process. We need to bear that in mind as we get down to the basics.

The Seanad Bill 2016 is significant legislation not least because, by introducing direct elections for a majority of Seanad seats, it proposes a radical departure from the arrangements that have been in place for the election of Members of this House. The effect of the proposals for repealing the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937 and substantially overhauling parts of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 will be to provide Ireland with a second directly elected Chamber of Parliament with a substantially wider electorate than that in place for Dáil Éireann.

The Minister of State to continue, without interruption, please.

I am talking about it here. In the past few years much has been said and documented about Seanad reform. We have had a number of reports, from the O’Rourke committee report in 2004 to the Manning report in 2015, all proposing change. While we have consensus on the need for change, we still do not have broad consensus on the detail of that change. This is something the Government wants to pursue, working with Senators and our colleagues in the Dáil. It was raised by Deputy Micheál Martin who suggested to the Taoiseach that the implementation body would involve both Houses of the Oireachtas to try to drive that change forward. If we get agreement, it can happen quite soon, I hope, in order to move it on.

The proposers of the Bill have set out their stall on the electoral reforms they wish to see implemented. I am conscious that speakers so far have all recognised that the legislation is not perfect, but it is open to change and discussion in order to enhance this process. I am not saying the Bill is set in stone and everyone recognises that we need to work on the issue in the months ahead.

I recognise and acknowledge the great work that has gone into the preparation of the Bill. It is a substantial Bill and is deserving of detailed consideration. This debate gives us an opportunity to take a broad view of the proposals in the Bill. We will have a general principled discussion but we must also get down to some detail. On a first examination of the Bill, my Department has identified a number of significant issues that will need to be addressed in terms of how they would work in practice and having regard to the costs involved, which are as yet unknown. Democracy is important and comes with a cost, which is fair enough. We must bear in mind, as anyone in business would do, that there will be increased costs associated with this. That does not mean we cannot do it, but we have to allow for it and plan accordingly. There are some drafting inconsistencies in the Bill which will need to be addressed in due course. That happens with all draft legislation.

I will now turn to some of the differences between the Bill and the Manning report. The first is that the Manning report proposes extending the franchise to citizens in the State, while the Bill before us proposes to extend the franchise to all local government electors, including non-Irish citizens. Second, the Manning report proposes that the franchise for Seanad elections would encompass holders of Irish passports living overseas. The Bill proposes, however, to limit that franchise to Irish passport holders born in Ireland who reside outside the State. There is a fair difference there and we will need to tease that out. I am pointing out these differences for the purpose of seeking clarity and to analyse them. Members should make clear what they are trying to achieve in this regard. I am not coming from any particular viewpoint, but we have to tease out the matter and decide what we actually want. When we come to examine the finer detail of the Bill on Committee Stage, we need to be clear in our thinking on this matter. There is a big difference between an Irish passport holder living overseas and an Irish passport holder born in Ireland who resides outside the State. We therefore need to tease that matter out. Do we want the franchise in the State for Seanad elections to be wider than it is for Dáil elections? Do we want to limit the overseas franchise to those Irish citizens born in the State? These issues need to be clarified as we go along.

I will now deal with some of the other issues in the Bill that, in our view, would need further work and refinement. I know that it is neither necessary nor the practice in a Second Stage debate to analyse a Bill section by section. However, I do think it is important to identify and highlight some of the implementation challenges presented by the provisions in the Bill. As I said, this is about deepening our consideration of the reforms proposed in the Manning report and bringing them forward.

I have mentioned the proposal in the Bill to extend the franchise for Seanad elections. The proposal is to extend the franchise to all local government electors living in Ireland, to persons resident in Northern Ireland who qualify for Irish citizenship, and to Irish passport holders born in Ireland and living outside the State. Under these arrangements, a conservative estimate of the number of persons who would be entitled to register and vote in Seanad elections is about 5.3 million. Approximately 3.3 million people currently have that voting entitlement and there are a further 1.2 million that could seek it in Northern Ireland. There are about 700,000 passport holders that we are aware of overseas. There is probably some duplication in that, but the possibility is that we could be looking at 5.3 million people under these proposals. There is no doubt about the operational challenges that would be required to deal with numbers of that order, especially given that nearly a third of the votes could be cast outside the State. Dealing with large numbers of postal ballots will present logistical challenges. Careful planning and adequate resources will be needed, not least because no change to the method of counting of votes is proposed. We need to consider whether to change the method of voting. Senators have been through the system and know that it would be a very slow process if we are going to extend it further. I think we will probably need to change the voting system, but I do not know. That is a personal observation, but I have not taken part in a Seanad campaign. The vote counting method for greatly expanded constituencies would benefit from further expert analysis. We need some additional detail and I am sure Members have views on it. Nonetheless, we should examine the matter further.

The Bill provides that the Seanad Electoral Commission should establish and maintain a register of Seanad electors. We estimate that nearly two thirds of those who would be entitled to be on that register are already on the register of electors maintained by local authorities. The cost and other issues arising in having parallel registers, one for Seanad elections and one for all other elections, should be carefully considered in the further development of the Bill.

The new arrangements in the Bill for the election of Senators are based on the important principle of one person, one vote. The Bill proposes that when applying for inclusion on the register of electors a voter will choose the constituency in which he or she will vote at Seanad elections. Senator Michael McDowell analysed that quite well, including the importance of allowing people to choose and identify their preference in that respect. However, because the electorate for each constituency is self-selecting, there would be no way of knowing in advance how many people would opt to vote in each constituency. That will cause logistical problems, but they can be solved while bearing other issues in mind also. It is conceivable that some constituencies would have significantly more voters relative to others and relative to their respective numbers of seats. There could be an imbalance in that regard. The Bill provides for this to be addressed through a new Seanad register of electors. This is done by setting a limit to the number of electors that would vote for candidates on each Oireachtas sub-panel of each of the five vocational constituencies. The Bill provides for the Seanad Electoral Commission to reassign voters when the number of applications is outside that 18% to 22% limit. The process might become complicated, as well as being unjust and unfair. As it is important to get that right, we should tease it out to see how we will fully implement it.

We see no comparable provision in the Bill for the nominating bodies, sub-panels of the five vocational constituencies, or for the institutions of higher education constituency.

Most would agree that the principle of one person, one vote is important from a democratic perspective and particularly in the situation of a direct franchise. It is about how we are going to implement that and how the solutions to balanced constituencies provided in the Bill, as drafted, seem to be incomplete. Even if the 18% to 22% limit was to be extended, it is not clear how it would work in practice, or how it could be made fair, transparent and easily understood by voters. Again, it goes back to the point made by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell earlier on about wanting to make this House relevant. A key part of that is to make it easily understood and followed. I still cannot follow how the whole process works and I am involved in politics. We must try to make it very clear. Above all, it has to be fair. That is the bottom line on the issue I have just raised.

The Bill proposes changes in the nomination provisions of the 1947 Act. Some 24 Members of this Twenty-fifth Seanad, elected from the vocational panels, were nominated by nominating bodies. I expect that most of the Senators present are in regular contact with those bodies. I am interested to hear the Senators' views and the views of the nominating bodies on the additional governance requirements the Bill would place on organisations seeking to be nominating bodies. This is just part of the process. We know that bringing in change is going to cause difficulty for people and more time and effort will be expended. We need to hear the view of the Senators' and the nominating bodies. The Senators are best placed to represent those views and to feed them back into this debate in the House. There is a question I would ask. Would the changes help to realise the ambitions of the working group by increasing the number and range of nominating bodies?

Another interesting aspect of the Bill is the first-time statutory definition of the knowledge and experience requirement for candidates on the vocational panels. These include a formal qualification or several years of work experience in addition to verifiable practical experience relevant to the constituency in which the nominee is to stand. The requirement may be met by establishing eligibility to the satisfaction of a judicial referee or assessor. As we read it, this adds another step to the nomination process before the so-called "completion of the panels" provided for in section 36 of the 1947 Act. Again, I am interested to hear the Senators' views on these proposed new arrangements, but I am all in favour of what is behind them. I agree fully with the principle of them without a doubt. The question is around the process of it and how we see that working out.

The Bill provides for a revision of the numbers to be elected from each of the vocational panels. These changes would see an increase in the number of Members from the cultural, educational and administrative panels, thereby increasing the knowledge and experience of these sectors in the House. That is all very worthwhile. The agricultural and labour panels would see a reduction in Members, which could result in a corresponding dilution of the knowledge and experience of those sectors in the House. The rationale for these changes is not given in the explanatory memorandum for the Bill. I am sure that each section will argue out the importance of that. I presume it is to have balance, fairness and equality.

The Bill provides that application for entry to the register of electors may be made in electronic form and that ballot papers would be issued to each registered voter in electronic form as well. However, the Bill does not set out how these arrangements would be implemented in a secure way nor, I accept, does the Manning report. It puts it out there and says that this is something we should look at and do but nobody has really teased out how exactly we are going to achieve it. The working group on Seanad reform engaged with the National Cyber Security Centre to explore the potential of the Internet and technology for improving and facilitating voter registration. The National Cyber Security Centre report concluded that while online registration is a real possibility from a technical perspective, combining this system with some form of online ballot paper download gives rise to a number of security concerns that would have to be addressed prior to implementation. It can be done but it will take a little time and thought and would have to be worked through.

I think Senators will agree that we must be very careful to ensure that the integrity of Seanad elections is not compromised in any way by use of the Internet or other technology. Using technology is not a simple or quick resolution. I accept that is not what is being proposed. I am just raising the point that we have to tease it out. Given my previous role as a Minister for State with responsibility for driving Innovation 2020, the science strategy and the role of technology, I am all for it. I welcome it. We need to drive on and use technology wherever we can to reform our system. However, we need to bear in mind that there is a security issue there. I, for one, would have assumed that many other countries are doing this, that it is easy and working very well but that does not seem to be the case. We need to analyse that a bit further and take on board the advice we have received from the National Cyber Security Centre. These issues are all addressable and fixable but we need to bear in mind that there would be a bit of time and awkwardness involved and that we would need to tease it through. We must learn from other countries also. I am conscious that the United Kingdom is using online registration. The capacity of that system was called into doubt in the recent election but it was a start in the right direction. Other countries are quoted in debates and when one drills down into, and analyses, the issue, there are questions there also. If we are going to do it, we have to get it right in order that people feel safe using it and that the system has full integrity. I am one of those who was elected in 2002 with the electronic voting system. I am all for technology because it got me in here in the first place. We have to make sure it is right and that everyone has faith and trust in it also.

It did not get the Minister of State in.

It was a major part of it. There were some concerns raised in that report. It is in the area of the postal ballot box. I am not just saying this for effect. It is a reality borne out by the experts in this area. We have to be sure about the security of the system also.

I have a final few comments to make. New systems do not come without a price, as I said, especially at the development and introduction stage. We do not have costings. In fairness, there was neither the time nor the capacity for anybody proposing this Bill to do all of that. However, we have to do it and must analyse the cost behind it. I am all for greater democracy, greater purpose for this House and greater enhancement of Senators' reputations. The people who are here and with whom I have dealt over the years deserve it. We have to bear in mind that there will be costs involved. There will be time delays, although I wish there were not. If we are going to increase the potential franchise to 5.3 million voters as opposed to 162,000, there will be issues to tease out. I am not saying it is the job of the proposer of the Bill to have all of the costs. It is not. We are all here to raise the issues and try to work them out.

I have outlined some of the issues in the Bill that have come to the attention of my team in the Department in preparation for this debate. I set have them out in the spirit of consensus. This is something we are going to work through. We are certainly not opposing the Bill. I know that there are a few hours set aside for debate today. We might need more time. I am here to engage and hear all of the Senators' thoughts. There are some practical issues that we have to tease through. Everyone will agree with the consensus that we want to try to bring about this change. It is about how quickly we can achieve that. I appreciate the time I have had to contribute and look forward to the debate.

I welcome the Minister of State. I note that he has never had to fight a Seanad election. I hope he never has to.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill. We were the only party to fight for the retention of Seanad Éireann. We did so on the basis that it would be reformed. That is why we welcome the Bill. We will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage. We have a number of issues with the Bill. My colleagues in the party will outline their concerns about the reduction in the number of seats that will be allocated for Members of this House, the Dáil and the local authorities to vote on. We will tease out that issue on Committee Stage.

The issue that we welcome most in the Bill is the proposal that people who have Irish passports and who are living overseas and who were born in Ireland or in the North would have the right to vote in a reformed Seanad, as well as those who are currently on the electoral register. I note that the Minister of State pointed out the differences between the Manning report and the Bill as proposed. Again, if we are talking about people who have no right to vote in a Dáil election and have a right to vote in a local authority election, this would afford them the opportunity to have a voice within a Chamber of the Oireachtas. That is something at which we will look.

The core of the Bill on which I wish to speak is the issue of giving a voice in this Chamber to those who are living overseas and in the North of Ireland. The Minister of State has outlined some of the numbers. Depending on who is doing the counting, there are 1.2 million Irish passport holders living overseas. I have also seen figures of 700,000 and 800,000. Of course, there are also those who are living in the North with Irish passports. There might be an issue of whether they would have those passports in their possession. Since Mr. Ian Paisley Jnr. has called on people to get as many Irish passports as they can, I am sure we will see the number who would be eligible to vote in the Seanad election from that jurisdiction increase.

The Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, was talking about extending the franchise in presidential elections to those overseas. There will be a parallel and twin-track process on the register if we manage to get these two huge reforms passed. The principle of the issue is that the most fundamental right of any citizen in any nation is the right to vote. Those who have Irish passports are counted as citizens under Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. They are Irish citizens, yet we deny them the vote. If we add up the number of people who in the North and the number living overseas who have Irish passports and who were born in Ireland, it is the equivalent population of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick cities combined. Imagine that. We do not allow that number of people to vote, yet they are citizens under the Constitution.

When Daniel O'Connell fought for Catholic emancipation more than 180 years ago, the idea of Catholics having a vote was outrageous to the establishment.

When the suffragettes fought for women to have the vote, the establishment and the commentariat thought it was outrageous. The end of civilisation was near at hand when Catholics were given the vote and then women were given the vote. In Derry the people marched for one man, one vote.

They always had one man, one vote.

They did not.

Order, please. Senator Mark Daly to continue, without interruption, please.

They did not because if one were paying rates on eight houses in Derry, one had eight votes.

It was the same in Dublin.

That did not make it democratic. It does not matter whether they were doing it in Dublin or Derry, it was undemocratic. That has changed, but people marched for the right to vote and the establishment and the commentariat in the North thought that was outrageous. The commentariat believe now that the idea of citizens living outside the State or those in the North having a right to vote will bring about the end of civilisation as we know it. It will not. It will give a stronger voice to people whom we consider citizens of this state.

There are 196 countries in the world and 195 of them managed to give their citizens living overseas the right to vote. We are a very small club in the Council of Europe. Of the 33 countries in the Council of Europe, only four do not give their citizens overseas the right to vote. We join Cyprus, Malta and Greece in denying those people who are citizens the right to vote in a parliamentary election of one form or another.

If we combine the proposal of the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, to extend voting rights to people in the next presidential election, that is, assuming there will be a presidential election, with this Bill and in terms of the one proposed on foot of the many reports, which was supported by all sides, we have a process where we are changing fundamentally the representation for those people that we seem to value only on St. Patrick's Day and then do not give them the most basic right of a citizen in any republic, namely, the right to vote. The establishment has resisted that for far too long, which is the reason we welcome the Bill. We will table amendments on Committee Stage, but the fundamental principle of reforming this House is important. Doing that without another constitutional referendum is important also because we have had that debate. People want to see this House reformed and, as the Minister of State pointed out, it is not about the way we do our business here but about how we elect people to this House and, importantly, that it represents the Irish nation in its fullest sense.

As the first Senator in the country to be elected in a by-election as an Independent and given that the Seanad has been established for so long, it is a scandal that it took until 2014 for that to happen. I am very grateful to the Fine Gael Party for that seat.


The truth of the matter is that the Seanad has become further removed from the citizens of this country. We come into this House on a daily basis and listen to Senator after Senator on the Order of Business speak about the constituencies in which they live and issues that are more pertinent to a county council or to the Dáil. This is the Upper House of Parliament. This House of Parliament is here to keep a check on Government, not to resolve issues that can be resolved by county councils or Dáil Deputies. Commencement matters should be reserved for national issues, not those of a local nature.

Leaving that aside, the reason I ran in the by-election was I wanted to participate in the reform of this House. As my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell stated, Senator Michael McDowell's Bill is flawed - we are all flawed in some way or other - and will require substantial amendment on Committee Stage. The Bill sets out a process for the election of a reformed Seanad but it does not set out a function for that entity. The function of the Seanad is an issue we will have to address in tandem with the process. We will have to determine what this House should be doing and examine how that should be done.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to the fact that those in the media took no interest in this House. Why would they? For the most part, and let us be honest with one another, the Seanad is seen as either a crèche for those hoping to get into the Dáil or a nursing home for those who have given up on ever getting back there and are biding their time here. That is not what it should be. People laugh at me when I tell them I am a Member of the Seanad. It is appalling that people would look upon the Upper House of Parliament as something to be the butt of a joke. I understand there was a time when journalists came into this House, sat down and took note of what is being said here. They do not bother any more.

A point was made about legislation that was dealt with in the Seanad during my first 18 months here. One could literally get a Bill passed in this House to bring back hanging because we had the ludicrous situation relating to the Government and the Opposition. The Seanad was not set up to be a Government and an Opposition. It was set up to be a parental-type entity that would offer advice to a Government. We were never meant to have Whips, and whipped votes. We were meant to be a group of people with vocational interests who would offer expertise based on their vocational backgrounds.

My view of a Seanad that would work is that if there were an agricultural question or Bill on the floor of the House, Members from the Agricultural Panel would advise us and we would vote according to the advice offered. That is not the way the Seanad works. We talk about the vocational panels' qualifications. Let us be honest about it. People have been voted into this Seanad on the Agricultural Panel and the closest they ever came to an animal was having a cocker spaniel at home. That is not a qualification. There are people who have been voted here on the Labour Panel who have never engaged in any way with labour or organised labour organisations. That is not right. How did that happen? I am sorry to say to the Members present that the political parties hijacked this House for their own purposes. That is why we never had Independent Senators here.

I will come back to the six illustrious people on the university panels. I refer specifically to the vocational panels. We need to get back to the vocational qualifications that were required and to legitimise those qualifications when somebody goes forward for election.

To return to the university panels, I have great sympathy for my colleague, Senator David Norris. I would want to see the representation of that unique group of people in Ireland who represent the Protestant community, the Trinity College Dublin panel, retained in some way but there is room within the Bill to ring-fence a number of seats for specific interests if we need to do this. That is something that could be teased out on Committee Stage.

Ideally, we would go the whole hog and have a referendum, remove the 11 Taoiseach's nominees and bring those into the electoral process, but we must walk before we can run. The first thing is to get the process changed and move on from there to reform the House properly and make it the people's Seanad.

The Minister of State's contribution did not fill me with hope. He said we could get over all of the problems but the more of them he outlined, the more difficult and higher the hill got.

There is no point coming in here and not informing the Deputy. That is why I am here.

I appreciate that he has to-----

I could make a speech and go home, but I wanted to inform the House of an issue that needs to be addressed.

I fully understand where the Minister of State is coming from, but if we are to go about processing the Bill through the House, we need to look for solutions, not problems.

That is why I flagged them.

I appreciate that and what the Minister of State was trying to do in that regard.

Those are some of the points I wanted make. I support Senator Michael McDowell. I will take the axe to some of the sections in the Bill to try to amend them to reflect where I believe we should be going, but this is the first step. It is important that we all get behind the legislation to try to drive it forward as a unified group.

Senator Michael McDowell is correct that this is the place to start. One of the great regrets I had about the reform document by group of former Senators Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole was that there was no sitting Member of the Seanad on it. I sincerely hope, if a group is put together to see this Bill implemented, that there are more Senators than Deputies on it and that the interests of the Seanad are up front and not the interests of political parties. That has got to be the overall driving criteria behind it. I thank the Minister for his time and for coming to the House.

I welcome this debate and commend the proposers and seconders of the Bill. It is a timely debate and, as somebody who has had the honour to serve in this House, the Lower House and on the local authority, I believe that however a person arrives in this House every person under the Constitution, every Senator who sits in this chamber, has a constitutional right to be a voice in this Chamber, despite what Senator Gerard P. Craughwell has just said. I say that as a former elected Senator, as a former Dáil Deputy and as a former Minister of State. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell should respect that because, by his words, he has denigrated the Chamber itself-----

I will speak about Senator David Norris in a minute.

What about rotten boroughs? The Senator cannot justify rotten boroughs-----

I remind the Senator that universities that give no votes to graduates can quite aptly be described as rotten boroughs also, I can quite happily say. Can I speak without interruption, a Leas Chathaoirligh?

Senator Paudie Coffey has the floor.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and for outlining the Government's position which is amenable to the Bill. He has also outlined some practical issues with the implementation of the Bill if it was enacted.

If the Bill was enacted in the morning as it is currently written - I appreciate that nobody is suggesting this and that much more detail and further consideration has to be worked through - it would bring enormous burdens on resources, not only for the State but right across the globe in ensuring those entitled to a vote under the Bill would be appropriately accommodated and facilitated.

The Seanad Chamber is a legislative component of our constitutional architecture and it is fundamentally important that we get this Bill right. That is not to say we should be afraid of change or reform because if anybody has listened in the past few years years - Senators and colleagues have outlined previous working groups, reports too numerous to mention - the retention of a bicameral system as part of our democracy is something the people want. However, it is also clear that people want to see reform of this Chamber.

If we are to be honest about the Chamber becoming relevant to the public and media interest, etc., duplicating the Dáil is not the answer. It is also my opinion that changing how people are elected into the Seanad is not fundamentally the answer. The critical issue is around the functions and powers of the Seanad and is the area that will make the House most relevant. I feel strongly that changing faces and places will only change the make-up of the Seanad and may change the composition a little.

This time 30 years ago I sat my leaving certificate examinations and I had three options: I could go to college; I could take up an apprenticeship if I was lucky enough to be offered one; or I could emigrate. I took up an apprenticeship. Did I ever think on that day that I would get to serve in Parliament? I did not. Did I ever think on that day that I would be a member of Government or a Minister of State serving in high office? I believe the system we currently have does need tweaking and reform but every citizen in the State has a right to be nominated for election, however they get to that point. I mean no disrespect but I have a genuine fear that we cannot allow Parliament, including this House, to become the preserve of celebrities, academics or people who feel that the ordinary person cannot apply. As an apprentice electrician and union member I consider myself to be an ordinary person. Each and every person can bring life experience into the House and it should not be underestimated. Current Senators and their contributions to debates should not be denigrated, whatever sector or experience they offer. Let us be careful and not be backslapping ourselves too much. Let us not feel we are too important.

There is a balance to be achieved in whatever reform happens in the House. Powers and functions of the House are the critical areas and can perhaps be addressed through this Bill. The Bill mainly speaks about the process by which Senators are elected and arrive in the House but if the House wants to become more relevant there are far bigger issues in the powers and functions which should be considered in more detail.

The Minister of State has outlined that the Government is not opposing the Bill on Second Stage. While we do agree with it in principle, and it is outlined in the programme for Government, there are a number of practical issues. I will not go through all of them but they cover how it would work electorally to ensure the integrity of the process in order that Senators' mandates are secure and proper, as it currently is in the constitution of the Seanad.

Senator Mark Daly quite correctly outlined the importance of voices for the diaspora. I would include voices for minority groups in the State. However, there is no fast track to Parliament. I am sure all Senators would agree that it is hard work and graft whether one is a member of a party or an Independent. Regarding my earlier point about being an apprentice, I would not be standing here unless I took an active civic interest in my community through civic engagement and activism, through local authority membership and by working my way up to be recognised in my own party. That door is open to any individual in the State and there is a diverse range of parties and independent options that could accommodate those people. This is not about providing a fast track to Parliament for somebody who might want to be a commentator or for celebrities and who think they can turn a key because they are well known. I do not believe democracy is about that. It is about bringing our life experiences, changing legislation and policy for the betterment of citizens.

We need to be very careful. I shall now be critical once again of Senator Gerard P. Craughwell who has described the House as a nursery or crèche. He is playing to the bland descriptions of the Seanad by media commentators. I think far more of this place, as I have always done. I certainly do not believe the House is a nursery or a crèche. Yes, it is great to be elected. It is a privilege and an honour and one takes that experience to wherever one goes in the next step in life. I was honoured to be a Deputy between 2007 and 2011 to which role I brought previous Seanad experience. That is why I respected Senators' views more when I was a Minister of State. That time was not wasted in a "nursery" as a party member. It was a learning experience and something that I will forever bring with me, and I know that other Senators feel that way also.

We must be careful of the language used in how Senators describe themselves. I believe the Seanad has a great future and that it has great membership. Colleagues can offer diverse perspectives and views on all debates. It is important that those views are heard but there is a fundamental problem. As a former Minister of State, I know that it is the Executive of the day which holds the power. The Government of the day, when there is a majority - it need not be this Government, the previous or any other Government - decides whether Seanad amendments are accepted. In the current regime of new politics, and one can describe it however one wishes, it is not a majority. It is a minority Government and there is more engagement with the Opposition, which is a good thing. That is democracy at work. However, when there is a majority, we must also respect that as democracy. Whether we like it, whether one is an Independent or in a smaller party, when the citizens of the State elect a majority the decision should be respected. Senators are a minority voice and that is what they were elected to reflect. Senators are not a minority to change legislation. In a democracy the majority of the day dictates how Government works and dictates the legislation.

We must be careful but this is a very welcome debate. It behoves all Senators to be honest in the debate and not be knocking the process for popular reasons. Media commentators who have knocked the Chamber for years would give their right arm to be in here and their left arm to have the privilege of standing up in this Chamber. We should all be very proud to be here.

As a prelude to my thoughts on the Bill, I want to address a couple of points made earlier about the relevance of the Seanad and especially the attempts to denigrate the Seanad. I am a new Senator and in the House only a couple of weeks. There are two very important things to me and to the people I serve in the west of Ireland that we were able to do through this House. One was the situation around homes affected by pyrite. It was not a local issue as it affected hundreds of homes across the State. My colleague, Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, and I were able to speak to the Minister on the importance of the matter and the need for the Minister to address it.

I thank him for the work he has done since and for the work he plans to do around that issue. For me, that was very relevant.

The other opportunity we had was around the bin charges and the instrument that was available to us there regarding the annulment of the ministerial order. If each individual within this Chamber chooses not to use that instrument, it is down to him or her and he or she must reflect on not using that opportunity. It should not be used as an excuse to denigrate the House. I am not here for the good of my health. I leave my children three or four days a week to come up here and make a difference, to represent people and to put rural Ireland front and centre in the Oireachtas and in this Chamber. That is what I intend to spend the rest of my time here doing. I cannot stand over the denigration that has happened in previous conversations and I always respect everyone's opinion and the experience they are bringing to this Chamber. We can learn from each other. However, Senators are not speaking in my name when they say the Seanad is a useless place or somewhere that is referred to as a crèche or a nursing home. I am in neither a crèche nor a nursing home, thanks be to God.

On the panels, reference was made to the Agricultural Panel and the fact that people come from different panels and have no experience of it. I was elected on the Agricultural Panel because I am passionate about the contribution agriculture can make to our economy and to society and the experiences of agriculture I bring into this House. Getting back to the Seanad Bill, we in Sinn Féin will support any measure to make Seanad Éireann more inclusive. We will not, therefore, oppose the Bill's passage to Committee Stage. I thank the working group the recommendations of which and its draft Bill form much of the Bill before us. Like many others, I have been frustrated at the lack of progress since the referendum results in 2013. It was clear to all that although the people wanted to retain the Seanad, it could not be business as usual. It was only in July last year, months before the general election, that my own party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, and other party leaders were invited to a meeting with the Taoiseach on Seanad reform. This turned out to be nothing more than a box-ticking exercise at the tail-end of a term that had promised root and branch reform from the outset.

There are many progressive aspects to the Bill, yet alongside them are retained elements which allow for elitism and abuse of the Seanad by major political parties. We specifically welcome section 8, which inserts a new section into the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 as a measure that increases the franchise. I am somebody who has lived outside the country and who was forced to emigrate for 13 years. I arrived in London with £5 in my pocket. I would have liked to have had an opportunity to have a say in what was happening back here in my home at that time. I will passionately defend the right of the Irish diaspora to vote and to have a say in their own country. The fact they are forced to emigrate does not mean we should cut them off and not recognise their Irish citizenship. We in Sinn Féin would not have limited this electorate to voting for 30 seats but would seek that the entire Seanad be directly elected. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction.

The Bill is just that - a Bill that can only repeal or amend previous legislation relating to Seanad Éireann. In our submission last year to the working group on Seanad reform and the very first motion we placed on the Order Paper of this session we argued for a committee on Seanad reform that could propose and lay out in detail far-reaching and fundamental change. Many of the criticisms my party and I have regarding the shortcomings of this Bill could form the basis of a plan of work for this proposed committee. Some of this change would involve constitutional change and, more crucially, input from all Members of the current Seanad, over 40 of whom are newly elected. The problem with this Bill is that, by its very nature, it cannot propose constitutional change. It cannot remove the provision for the appointment by the Taoiseach of 11 Members. Needless to say, we in Sinn Féin would advocate the removal of this provision from the Constitution. The most recent appointments made by the Taoiseach not only showed that they were open to abuse by the Taoiseach, but the fact that a deal was done weeks beforehand with Fine Gael's facilitators in government, Fianna Fáil, led to cynicism among the public.

This Bill provides for the repeal of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937 in its entirety. Sinn Féin views the replacement of this Act with the provision for another constituency limited to graduates of all institutions of higher education as a missed opportunity. While the Bill gives effect to the decision of the people in the 1979 referendum to give votes to graduates from all institutes of higher education, Sinn Féin would seek to remove this provision. It is entirely unjust that a person's ability to vote in the Seanad election is determined by their level of formal education. There is no explicit provision to increase representation of marginalised groups within Irish society. It has been proved time and again that merely tweaking electoral rules does not increase representation among the marginalised. The Seanad is the ideal mechanism for direct intervention and reaching out to those who traditionally are disengaged from politics or are under-represented.

There is a serious anomaly in the current set-up of the Oireachtas. If the Lower House represents the political, geographical interests of the State on a population basis, then their social, cultural and economic interests should be represented in the Upper House on a sectoral basis. I would like to see this distinction between Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann maintained and strengthened. When we talk of representing minorities and the marginalised, we must also focus on areas such as the west and the Gaeltacht, whose people have been marginalised by their very place of residence. While welcoming the positive aspects, such as the extension of the franchise to those who are resident in the North and those in the diaspora, we feel the spirit of democratisation should have been progressed much further. We want a Seanad that has the experience, expertise and time to consider legislation, to give ears to those outside the legislative process and engage with those who traditionally have been outside the entire political process. We use the term "engage" in its most direct sense - we want to see citizens talked about and talked to in the Seanad on the issues affecting them. We believe all this is best obtained through an open and direct election by the entire electorate. We look forward to the Committee Stage of this Bill, where we will have further discussion on the amendments.

On behalf of the Civil Engagement group, we are very proud to support the proposal of this Bill and support it through Second Stage. We have talked about this being timely. In fact, I think it has gone beyond being timely and is now urgent. We have the imperatives of the multiple reports over so many years, as outlined by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, but we also now operate under two further imperatives, including the highest level of imperative, that is, a referendum. In the referendum in 1979, the people gave us an imperative to reform the university panels and now, in the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad, people gave a strong, incontrovertible moral mandate for the reform of Seanad Éireann.

We have heard about people's lack of belief and lack of faith in politics and disaffection. We saw something quite different in the last referendum. What we saw in that was a commitment to hope. It was an act of faith. We had millions of people who did not themselves have the opportunity to vote in the Seanad and nonetheless voted for its retention because they saw its potential, because it was something they were interested in and they understood the value of national conversation and thematic conversation. They saw that the debates that happen in this space are important and they wanted to be part of them. This was a powerful message, sent by the whole of the population of Ireland. It cannot be ignored. It needs to be acted on.

When we talk about this Seanad and this moment being seized, it has to be that this Seanad, the first Seanad saved from abolition by the Irish population, which shows that it is listening to and respecting that population and that it wants them to be part of our decision-making process and shaping us. We talk about a national House. I campaigned actively for the retention of the Seanad because I wanted it to be a national House that reflected all of the nation. I wanted to see the thematic concerns reflected. I could see how important and interesting they were for people. I know that people value all these debates and what we have today is a sign that we take it seriously.

Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and other groups have spoken. There is a general recognition across all sides of the House this is the time when Seanad reform needs to come through. That is why we need to move forward on Second Stage. Technical considerations should be dealt with, but we should not look for any excuse to delay this.

Moving to some practical aspects of the proposals facing us, the Bill is extraordinarily reasonable. It has balanced out many of the considerations raised over many years in respect of the Seanad. The issue of cost was strongly rejected by the people when they chose democracy as a crucial message over any question of costs. They chose greater, not less, democracy in the referendum.

In respect of the diaspora, I echo the concern and support voiced and I am very happy to see it right across the House in respect of the importance of a voice for those who have had to leave Ireland. The question of how we manage the numbers is dealt with very considerately by looking to the issue. The Bill would extend the vote to those born in Ireland who hold a current passport. This addresses some of the scaremongering we sometimes see around the idea of an electorate of millions that will appear. It will be an electorate of those who are passionate, committed and engaged with Ireland and who have strong roots in this country.

In respect of the vocational panels, the Civil Engagement group is united in a shared concern around strengthening the voice of civil society in these Houses. We see the vocational panels as being the way whereby those thematic concerns relating to issues of crucial importance of people and which may not be geographically bound but which have constituencies of concern across the country can be reflected in order that they can see their voices reflected. In this sense, the reform of the vocational panels proposed in the Bill is extraordinary and important. It will bring meaning and strength back to the idea of a cultural and educational panel when it allows us to address the differing views on education we have across the country. In respect of the Labour Panel, we can see differing questions of workers' rights that emerge. We look to the concerns of industry and small businesses across Ireland having a genuine force of representation and being able to organise and ensure they are represented.

I would not be as cynical as some have been in respect of those who have been elected to those panels. Having spoken to many of my fellow Senators, I recognise that many of the Senators here from all parties have a strong interest in these areas of civil society. However, this will widen the conversation they are having. While many Senators who have been elected through vocational panels may be very passionate about the areas of agriculture and education, this will give them the opportunity to widen the conversation they have beyond the base of councillors to the other groups in society who care about these issues. It is a wider conversation. I believe many people who are passionate about these issues will persevere, prevail and come through with a stronger mandate by being able to have those conversations. I agree with Senator Paudie Coffey that each and every person has experience. I also agree that each and every person in this country has experience that could be brought to bear in voting for the vocational panels. Again, this is about recognising experience rather than denigrating it. It is about recognising the breadth of experience and interest in our society.

In respect of some of the concerns expressed by the Minister of State, I agree that there might be concerns about the balancing of constituencies on the vocational panels and the size of the panels. There may be scope for constructive amendment in these areas to ensure we manage that. They may be the solution to each other because we might be able to address those concerns by making the size of the panel responsive to the size of the constituency. This is something we can do constructively.

In respect of the university panels, there was a vote in 1979 where people signalled that they wanted to expand this franchise. During my campaign, I visited the technical colleges and the University of Limerick and talked to many of those excluded from the franchise who are passionate about and want to contribute to this national conversation. We must not avoid moving forward on extending the franchise for the university panels. However, I would give some ameliorating thought to those who have expressed concern about this panel becoming huge. I believe when we have vocational panels that allow for thematic consideration, there may be many who choose not to exercise their vote in the university panels but instead to vote on a vocational panel. That will be the case as a much larger swathe of the population is coming through college and university structures. Again, I think the solutions are there in the rebalancing in this very well thought through Bill. It would address the anomaly of the dual vote. Nobody can justify an anomaly whereby people have two votes in this country.

I urge people to enthusiastically embrace the Bill as an opportunity. I believe it is an opportunity for all of us in the House and that we can go down as a landmark Seanad that has put a mark on history. Yes, we need to look to changes in our powers, procedures and operations, but I am enthusiastic about engaging with those changes. I certainly came here excited and hopeful and know that many other Senators did also in our two thirds new Seanad. Those changes are important, but they are not sufficient if we slam the door on the public which has opened the door of the Seanad and allowed us to walk into a Seanad it had the power to bolt and close forever. If we slam the door and say we do not care about the public's participation and that we are doing some complicated technical things, it would be a shameful message to send. Let us treat the public with the respect with which it has treated us. Let us open the Seanad to it and solve all small problems constructively together on Committee Stage.

I very much support this Bill. I am not from an academic background. I travelled around the world in the 1980s and worked in Australia and the United States. My father spent most of his life in London. I am very proud, privileged and honoured to be a Member of the Seanad. Twenty years ago, I never thought that I would even be on Roscommon County Council or elected to the Dáil twice; I am very honoured, therefore, to be in the Seanad.

I was first elected to the Seanad in 2002 on the Administrative Panel. There were five panels. I want to take issue with one or two people. There are three panels that I would have been unable to contest. I could not contest the labour panel because I was not a member of a trade union. I could not contest the Cultural and Educational Panel because I never entered third level education. I could not contest the Agricultural Panel because, as they say in Boyle, I came from the yard of a counter and if I went to a mart, I would be found out. Those checks and balances were there and there were only two panels I could have got on to - the Administrative Panel and the Industrial and Commercial Panel. However, I bring life experience. I employed 30 people in businesses. I like to think I have something called "cop on". One needs to see two sides of a story.

I would love to have gone to college, but I did not have the time and had to take over the family business as the last of the family. If I had gone to college, perhaps things might have been different, but it is something I would love to have done. It is something I would encourage if I was starting out again. We sometimes find academic snobbery in this country whereby people are put in their place. Growing up in a town, one would see the doctor, dentist and solicitor. They could all be great drinkers who drank a little too much in the local pub but they were great. However, if a tradesman drank a bit too much, he was an alcoholic. Everyone brings a certain life experience to this Chamber, but I am concerned that the consultants think they know better than the man on the street.

In the 1970s, a fondue set was a big thing and allowed people to eat together while discussing how to run the country. Sometimes one needs to hear the views of the person from the farmyard, the shop and the trade union, as well as those of educationists and academics and to have a bit of backbone. That is what this Seanad is about and we have a good balance. However, the way Senators are elected is outdated and undemocratic. One must hand it to the Taoiseach for having the backbone to put the matter before the people, who voted to retain the Seanad. We can laugh all we want about the matter. In 2002, Seanad reform was to be brought in and it was said on radio that it would make a difference and that we would do this and that but, unfortunately, it never saw the light of day. This Bill is welcome.

Over the years, there have been great Senators such as Michael D. Higgins who went on to become President, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, Dr. Douglas Hyde, T. K. Whitaker, Mary Robinson, Bríd Rogers, Gordon Wilson from Enniskillen and Mary McAleese.

Dr. Noel Browne.

Yes and Senator David Norris. There were Senators from my area such as John Connor and many more. The one Senator I remember is Sam McAughtry. I recognised him from his radio programmes. I knew that he was a trade unionist who hailed from an area called Tiger's Bay in Belfast and that he was on the first peace train. He was a Senator in 1996 and I had read his articles which were published in The Irish Times. I was not involved in politics at the time but when I met him on Grafton Street, I said to him "How are you, Sam" and that was the first time I spoke to a real Senator. It is great to be here, but civil society must be represented in this forum in an advisory and revisionist capacity. We can only delay Bills rather than veto them. It is right that cultural minorities should be represented in this House and in the past five to ten years, things have changed.

People say the Taoiseach of the day should not have the option of nominating 11 Senators. However, the Taoiseach nominated me to the Seanad and he chose well.


From 2002 to 2007, I used the Seanad to get elected to the Dáil and did not give this House as much time as I should have done. I look forward to being an active Member of this Seanad and working with everybody to try to do what is best for society. We have been elected to advise on and revise Bills, but we must also represent the people of middle Ireland, which is where I come from. I do not come from a union or an academic background. I come from middle Ireland and will articulate that voice unchallenged.

I remember Joe O'Toole who was one of the best Senators and best politicians we ever had.

Sometimes it is the small things that trip one up. Joe O'Toole represented everything that was great about a Senator. He came from an academic background; he was secretary general of the INTO and brought a bit of cop-on here. Better still, young fellows like myself who did not have confidence were made to feel confident because he showed us he was prepared to listen. The same goes for Senator David Norris and many more. I look forward to debating the amendments on Committee Stage. We need to get a fair balance and one that brings in all the various aspects of this country, including the diaspora.

I will finish by referring to Irish soccer. In 1987, there were not too many members in the Republic of Ireland's supporters club - maybe 17,000 or 18,000 - and soccer was almost a minority sport. The majority of people - approximately 3,000 - who came back for an Ireland-Belgium match were from London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They formed the backbone of the Republic of Ireland's supporters club and were more Irish than we were. It is wonderful to see that we were able to extend that franchise to people in London, where I could have grown up, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Northern Ireland. I support this wonderful initiative.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment.

I commend Senator Michael McDowell for bringing forward this important legislation. I thank the Leader and the Government party for giving Government time to discuss this legislation. This is an indication of the new politics we saw in evidence in this House last week when we had Committee Stage of our Private Members' Bill on freelance workers' rights. We did so in Private Members' time but the Government promised to give us Government time for Report Stage of the Bill. It is an indication of how well the Seanad can work.

Colleagues will forgive me for a slight sense of déjà vu. Like Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said and like so many others here, I am familiar with the many debates that we have had over the years on Seanad reform. I count myself as very privileged and honoured to have been re-elected for a third term in the Seanad. I value every colleague in the Seanad equally, a view that should not need to be said. Every one of us brings our own unique life experiences and background to the Seanad.

I agree that we have had so many reports and debates on reform, yet this new Seanad has a new dynamism and energy due to the number of new Senators elected to the House. The Manning report has provided us with a blueprint for reform. When we debated the Manning report in May last year and the draft Bill that Dr. Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole prepared, from which Senator Michael McDowell's Bill borrows, we said that this should be the last report on Seanad reform and that we should be able to unite in principle behind the Bill. Therefore, I am glad that the legislation has received general support across the House. I am happy to indicate the Labour Party's support for the Bill, while, like many others, recognising some flaws in it or issues that we would like to see improved on. Certainly, we welcome the legislation.

The Labour Party has tabled an amendment to Sinn Féin's motion on Seanad reform simply calling for the establishment of an implementation group on Seanad reform because we believe a smaller implementation group might be more capable of working speedily. We also recommend that an implementation group has a timeframe of 12 months to implement the recommendations of the Manning report. It is in the same spirit as this Bill. We call on the implementation of a report rather than draft a new one or start from scratch.

The context in which we debate this Bill and in which Dr. Maurice Manning's group worked was the context in which we looked at reforms that could be implemented through legislation within the current constitutional framework. All of us might like to see particular changes to the Constitution. In the Labour Party Senator's group, we have said we would like to see changes made to the Taoiseach's power to nominate 11 Senators and the existing five vocational panels. However, the agreement and I think the pragmatic approach is to ask what can we do within the current constitutional framework and that is the aim of this Bill, that is, to seek the maximum change we can achieve within the constitutional framework.

The previous Labour Party Senator's group made a submission on Seanad reform to Dr. Maurice Manning's group in January 2015. We put forward a number of proposals. The key proposal, and one that has been reflected both in the report and in this Bill, is the proposal for universal suffrage - or one person, one vote. The need to achieve universal suffrage is a principle on which everyone in the House is united, although we may differ on how best to achieve it. I want to offer some constructive proposals but we all agree that we should move towards that model.

In the last Seanad, we made certain procedural changes that did not require legislation. These included, for example, the establishment of a public consultation committee. That committee has held hearings and produced reports on a number of key issues such as the human rights of older persons, lifestyle changes to prevent cancer and farm safety. These were new and dynamic ways in which the Seanad could be seen to work. We brought in different interest groups and held public hearings in this Chamber on different days. We had a series of debates with MEPs to improve and strengthen our links with the European Parliament. We also brought in a number of distinguished visitors to speak to us. We need to ensure all of those changes are continued. We need to continue to change the way we work in this House without the need for legislative change in order to be a more dynamic and more effective Chamber.

As I said, we are happy to support the Bill. In general, it will lead to a hugely improved and more democratic Seanad. In principle, the need to extend the suffrage for the Seanad and ensure an increased number of voters is a hugely important issue. In our submission the Labour Party proposed the extension of suffrage to those entitled to be on the local election register. This Bill there proposes to go beyond that to include the diaspora, which I believe all of us would support in principle. How this would be done is an issue. I believe the approach taken in the Bill to restrict this entitlement to current Irish passport holders is a practical limitation. As the Minister of State said, the logistics and costings in that regard need to be examined in detail. Some of us are already elected by diaspora voters. A huge proportion of voters on my own panel are Irish citizens who live abroad. We should be conscious that the Seanad, as constituted, represents members of the diaspora.

There is a particular issue in the Bill about which I would like to speak, which issue I raised when we debated the report of the working group on Seanad reform on 8 July 2015. The Minister of State has stated there may be a difficulty in the Bill with balancing constituencies. Under the provisions of this Bill and as proposed in the report of the working group on Seanad reform, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, the voter chooses the constituency in which he or she will vote in Seanad elections. As I pointed out previously this means that panels could be very skewed. For example, in regard to section 8, 100,000 people might opt to vote in the arts panel and, although nobody is quite sure about this, there could be 850,000 voters potentially on the universities panel. As such, we could have very skewed numbers on different panels.

I note that Senator Michael McDowell has proposed a complicated amendment to section 9 by way of a new section 45(1) such that limits would be applied to the number of elected representatives who would be registered in respect of a single constituency. The Labour Party group gave this some thought and we have come up with what I believe is a simpler and, perhaps, less cumbersome change, namely, that everybody entitled to vote on the Seanad electoral register would have a separate vote for candidates on each of the panels. In other words, a voter would not have to opt for one panel but would have five votes on the different panels. University graduates would opt for a vote on the universities panel instead of another particular panel. We suggested the national language, culture, literature, art and education panel. We also suggested that in accordance with Article 19 of the Constitution one of the panels would be reserved for election by city and county council members to preserve the existing link with local government which we believe is important. We believe that the public administration panel might be the most appropriate in that regard. I note there is a proposal in the Bill to preserve some voter rights for councillors. It is important that we preserve the link with local government in some way. The proposal put forward by Senator Michael McDowell that we might look at changing the current position in legislation whereby councillors are not entitled to be Members of the Seanad is interesting. The preservation of one panel for election by councillors would not require constitutional change. One could also amend the current eligibility rules to enable councillors stand for election to that panel.

Returning to the Labour Party proposals, to protect against unbalanced panels, each individual registered on the Seanad electoral register would have five votes on five panels and could vote 1, 2 and 3 on each of those panels. It would be akin to a multi-seat constituency. This would guard against the skewing of voter numbers on different panels. It would also guard against what I believe is a real danger in this area, individual candidates organising registration campaigns on a particular panel to ensure they were more likely to be elected to it. We need to look at the practical implications of the panel system.

We need to look again at the online facilities and so forth. The working group on Seanad reform consulted with the National Cyber Security Centre which provided some practical points on how to address security issues. The postal ballot requirement in the Constitution is a difficulty. In terms of the use of technology to try to reduce the cost of the postal ballot the Bill is very progressive. We should also introduce a system like to enable people to check if they are registered to vote.

The Labour Party group has also put forward in its proposals one very radical but simple change which I believe could make a huge difference to the make-up of the Seanad, which, again, would not require constitutional change, namely, that a Seanad election should take place on the same day as a Dáil election. Article 18.8 of the Constitution provides that a Seanad election must take place not later than 90 days after dissolution of the Dáil. The Labour Party group proposes that it be provided by way of legislation that a Seanad election take place on the same day as a Dáil election on a PR-STV basis by secret postal ballot. Legislation could prohibit a candidate from running in both elections, which would break the direct link between Dáil and Seanad elections often criticised by many.

I thank Senator Michael McDowell for introducing this Bill and the Minister of State for his support for it.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill in principle, but it will be putting forward amendments to it on Committee Stage. I welcome all of the contributions thus far on the Bill. Fianna Fáil was the only parliamentary party to oppose the abolition of the Seanad in 2013.

I believe reform has started in the context of the 42 new Senators elected in 2016. We need real action not more idle talk. The Seanad is an important venue for a diverse range of expert voices and is a crucial check on the business of Dáil Éireann. It also plays an important role in the passage of legislation.

For Fianna Fáil the two primary aims of the Seanad Reform Bill must be that the Seanad will act as a check on the Government and scrutinise national and EU legislation. It must also represent and provide a voice for groups that would not be heard in Dáil Éireann, including on issues such as the abolition of the town councils, which is an issue that I believe needs to be addressed urgently because of the impact it is having on the communities in which we live. Having been a councillor for 19 years I am acutely aware of the changes that have resulted from the abolition of the town councils.

It is important provision is made for meaningful parliamentary debates and that the public process for appointments to State boards is opened up. It is clear from the outcome of the 2013 referendum, in which 48% of the electorate voted to abolish the Seanad, that the people of Ireland are disillusioned with the Seanad and that there is a deep-seated desire for comprehensive reform. We all need to play our part in ensuring the Seanad Reform Bill 2016 makes a difference to the people of Ireland. The people have spoken: they want reform and we, as Senators, need to give them that reform in 2016.

I refer to the remarks made by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. I am honoured to be here to represent people. I can assure him that I will work extremely hard in that regard. There is no need for the comparison of this House with a nursing home or play school. As Senators, we will ensure there is reform in 2016.

I will not be rhetorical. I have spoken passionately on this issue in the past 40 years. With my university panel colleagues, I have consistently supported the 1979 referendum to extend that panel. I made the suggestion that the Dublin City University and DIT should be included with Trinity College Dublin and that Limerick University be included with the National University of Ireland, NUI. The problem is the enormous size of the panel. I will come back to that issue.

The Bill provides us with an opportunity to get rid of the rotten boroughs. I am not criticising any individual Senator: they all have their value but the rotten boroughs have to go. The Taoiseach's 11 nominees is one of those rotten boroughs. This Bill, admirable as it in many ways, looks only at what can be done by legislation. Why not now grasp the nettle and go for a referendum?

I understood Senator Michael McDowell to say there was always a question of reform. I am afraid there was not. The Taoiseach turned his face against it during the referendum process when he said the question was one of abolition or retention of the Seanad and that there was no question of reform.

As I said, the Bill looks at what can be done and it does a great deal in terms of reforms that can be brought about by legislation only. In regard to the sections dealing with the universities, in 1979 the universities got the power to extend the range of groups included, but they did not suggest it be one constituency.

We are talking about 850,000 to 1 million people. It is absolutely insane. Despite what anybody says, as somebody who has been in this House for 30 years, I can say this will lay it open to being infiltrated by the political parties. The independence will be gone. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell is an accident - a very good and valuable accident, but it only happened because the Taoiseach tried to put some fellow from County Donegal who ran a petrol station onto the board of the Irish Museum for Modern Art. I do not think he had ever seen a painting.

Under the section dealing with constituencies there is a list of higher education institutions, but they are not done alphabetically. If they were, Dublin City University would be first; if it was historical, the University of Dublin would be first. The Government should think carefully before abolishing a constituency that has served this country without a single break since the beginning of the 17th century. It is the oldest and most distinguished constituency in this country. I am looking at the number of people that will be brought into the constituency. I do not want to denigrate anyone, but this is bringing in tradespeople. It is bringing in house painters through the mention of "a linked provider of a designated awarding body as defined by the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012". As far as I can understand, this refers to the trades and guilds; perhaps I am wrong. Now, I have nothing against house painters and want to see them involved in the process.

Is the Senator sure?

I want to see them voting, but I want to see them voting under the appropriate category, not universities.

With regard to the electors, one third of the electorate will be people outside Ireland. I have always felt there should be some element of representation, but one third of the electorate is a hell of a lot of people - nearly 2 million people. What happened to the old idea of no representation without taxation? One third of the voters will be people who do not pay any tax in this country. That is something over which I would hesitate.

How will the register for people in the North of Ireland be put together? The Bill states that the register will contain various things, including e-mail addresses. What about the Data Protection Act? I think the Data Protection Act is a curse, actually. One comes across it all the time. I do not know how they will get over that. People can chop and change; some will choose to go into the constituencies where there are the fewest constituents; therefore, we could have a distortion. There is also mention of electronic forms. What happened to the peann luaidhe? I am rather a fan of the peann luaidhe.

In the section on application for entry in the register, there is a huge amount of bureaucracy, into which I will not go at this stage. There is the unutterable meanness of saying people cannot stand in the university seats if they have an honorary degree. Why the hell not? An honorary degree is normally a huge honour. Of course it should entitle recipients to be considered as graduates. Then I see that for the first election they will maintain the original register for the universities. Well, hello. I wish them joy in concocting the next one.

Nothing whatever is said about revising the nominating bodies. It is really important to bring the nominating bodies into the 21st century and to get them to nominate people. For example, the RDS was approached by several candidates but it refused to nominate anybody. That is a dereliction of duty. The nominating bodies really need to be looked at. Then we have the provision whereby if one is already a Member of the Seanad one does not have to qualify. Come on - that is a real stinker. That is a rotten exemption.

With regard to nominations for the university seats, candidates can nominate themselves. Nowadays, a candidate must have a nominator and a seconder - one cannot nominate oneself - and must have eight additional supporters, or assenters. This Bill brings the number of assenters to 40, which is far too many. In addition, candidates have to make a deposit of €900. I can afford that amount, but what about other people? We heard Senator Lynn Ruane talking about how she got into university as an undergraduate. I doubt that people like her could afford the €900. There are many other people who would be disenfranchised by this cost. I am against that. Nomination is free and should remain so.

The Bill provides for the issuing of ballots only in electronic form. I have never used a computer in my entire life and hope and expect to go to my grave a computer virgin. What will happen to me? Will I not be allowed a vote because I dislike computers? They will find there are plenty of old farmers around the joint who do not have computers and who do not use them; therefore, why should they be excluded? Then it states there should be one ballot paper for the constituency. My God almighty, that is a cracker. One ballot paper for this monstrous constituency? In the last election there were 30 candidates for NUI and 17 for Trinity College Dublin; that makes 47 candidates. With all the institutions, there will be about 150 candidates. I doubt if people will bother their backsides voting if they have to go through 150 candidates. It is also stated the qualifications for election may be noted.

The Bill provides that candidates must be listed in alphabetical order on the ballot paper. Why? That is a form of discrimination. That gives automatic advantage to people who are up at the top of the alphabet. Why not go the whole hog and make it a random selection at every election?

Just to make him aware, the Senator is over time.

I am very reluctant to interrupt the Senator.

I will end on this. If there are people with the same surname, their other names are to be printed in bold characters. That also gives them an advantage. They are the ones that stand out. The ballot paper should not be alphabetised and there should not be bigger print for particular people. It should be made as fair as possible; therefore, there should be a random allocation of positions on the ballot paper.

This is an exciting debate. The Bill is moving things forward, although not always entirely in the direction that I would like to see.

My final point is this. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said we should keep the Trinity College Dublin constituency. I agree, but not for the Protestants. That bloody day is over. There is an end to sectarianism. The overwhelming body of students in Trinity College Dublin are Roman Catholic or atheist and the faculty of divinity, an Anglican faculty, has been replaced by the Loyola Institute of Catholic theology. Anybody who thinks Trinity College Dublin is still as Protestant as Queen Elizabeth intended it to be has another thing coming.

I welcome the Seanad reform Bill and thank Senator Michael McDowell and the other Senators involved for bringing it before the House. I have listened to many of the valuable contributions made. As my Fianna Fáil colleagues have outlined, my party is committed to reforming the Seanad. We were the only parliamentary party to oppose the abolition of the Seanad in 2013. This Bill contains many of the proposals contained in a Bill that Fianna Fáil brought before the House in 2014; therefore, we welcome it. We believe passionately in the importance of the Upper House but recognise the expansive reform that is needed. This reform is in line with the recommendations contained in the Manning report. These proposals are needed to bring it up to date and have it more representative of the country as a whole.

The 2016 Fianna Fáil general election manifesto contained a commitment to reform the Seanad and in line with that we are very happy to support this Bill. Our party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, has already taken the reforming initiative in nominating three Independent Senators to the House in recent months.

The Seanad came into existence in 1922 as the founders of the Irish Free State believed a second House with the power to scrutinise and delay legislation was necessary. This function is as necessary today as it ever was. I welcome, in particular, the proposal to expand the six university seats to graduates of other universities and third level institutions. I am an NUI graduate and currently have a vote for the NUI panel. However, many of my family, friends, colleagues and neighbours attended other education institutions such as Waterford Institute of Technology and Dublin City University and do not have a vote.

This proliferation of third level institutes reflects a changing Irish society and development in the education sector. These graduates should have the right to elect six university Senators. If the right were extended to them, we would have a more accurate representation of graduates in the Seanad. This change would be in keeping with the spirit of the reasoning behind the original university seats.

At this point I reference Senator David Norris's contribution, although it is a pity he is not still in the House. He took issue with the change and stated it is extending the right to vote to house painters and tradespeople. He argued they were not university attendees and that is correct; nevertheless, tradespeople have a wealth of experience and engage in extensive training, education and examination. That should be embraced. On the same point, Senator David Norris took issue with the fact that people with honorary degrees were not considered degree holders in this Bill. I maintain that honorary degree holders might have less education, experience and training, having taken fewer examinations, than tradespeople. I do not see his reasoning behind that. We in Fianna Fáil certainly do not support that view.

My colleague, Senator Mark Daly, made a passionate contribution on extending the right to vote to Irish citizens living in the North and overseas. I commend him in that regard. The diaspora has made a very valuable contribution to this country and it is about time those people are valued and given a vote. The diaspora kept the country going in the lean years of the 1940s and 1950s by sending money home to support families. The newer members of the diaspora left our shores in recent years - equally lean - and some might wish to return in the near future. They have expressed such a desire to their families. It is time we gave them a voice and allowed them to shape the country to which they will return.

My party colleagues have mentioned that we may bring some amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage and I will briefly touch on one of them. We do not feel the number of Senators elected by local authority members and Members of both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Oireachtas should be reduced to 13. These electors - I am referring mainly to sitting county councillors - are embedded in every community in Ireland and they have their finger on the pulse. They are often the only point of contact for communities and the political infrastructure and it serves democracy well having them directly elect Members of this House. Local authority members have over the years seen their power eroded, their workload increase and their remuneration decrease. I cannot stand over reducing their capacity to elect members of this House to 13 Members. Fianna Fáil will be tabling an amendment in this regard.

I also make reference to Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell's comments that this Bill only reforms how the Seanad is elected. She made a very good point, but if we start at this point, perhaps a different hue to the Seanad would see how we do business in the House reformed. I thank the Senator for her contribution. Fianna Fáil wholeheartedly supports the Bill.

I have listened with great interest to the various parts of this debate, both inside and outside the Chamber. I suppose one wonders whether there is a yearning for reform here at all. I will share my thoughts nonetheless.

I am delighted and very proud to have been elected a Member of Seanad Éireann. It is something I never thought I could dream of. I have no academic qualifications and I was not in school from six to seven to eight years old, through no circumstances of my own making. I later studied horticulture, thanks to the then Department of Agriculture and its grant and subsidy. It allowed me to go to Teagasc and study horticulture through sweat and tears. I worked at age 11 in a bakery out in Dún Laoghaire to pay for my education. My greatest ambition was to buy a bicycle at 14 years of age in order that I could cycle to my school and, eventually, to college. The Seanad allows people to come here. The day I walked in the door, every hair on my neck stood up with pride, as I was coming here with people close to me and who supported me through those difficult times. I was coming to the very centre of political life in this country. It opens doors, which I acknowledge. Nobody wants to come here to speak about personal experiences but we all see the world from where we stand and our experiences within that world. We bring those experiences to the very core and being of what we try to do for the good of other people. We also work for our integrity and self-esteem, which is important.

I thank Senator Michael McDowell for introducing this important Bill. Many us remember that before we were ever in the Seanad we spoke about the opportunity to be here. A number of people said to me - I imagine to many people here - that they resented the fact that the Seanad is for the academics or the political dynasties. These are the people coming here as a stepping stone, and as a Senator has honestly said, with the goal of getting to Dáil Éireann. That is not right. We must allow every citizen of the country, within the criteria, to exercise a franchise and vote for the Seanad. This is not and should not be a private club. Every citizen of the country who is eligible to vote should be allowed to do so. The big difficulty is how we can bring this about.

I note that the Bill is being discussed in Government time. That is a profound indication of the Government's support for it. I note on page 149 of the programme for Government it states: "However, significant reform of the Seanad itself is now long overdue. We will pursue the implementation of the Manning report". That is the Government's commitment. I note Deputy Micheál Martin personally sponsored and pushed a Private Members' Bill relating to Seanad reform and it is very interesting to note what the party proposed. It will be interesting to see if it is consistent in its proposals as we go through this debate in the next few weeks. We have cross-party support. Senator Ivana Bacik outlined some of Labour Party's commitments for Seanad reform also. There is much talk about reform but now it is about action.

Deputy Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, indicated with respect to the Taoiseach's nominees that "he requires the Taoiseach to take into consideration the need to ensure the following groups or sectors in this jurisdiction and Northern Ireland are considered for nomination: the elderly; the young; the new Irish community; the Irish diaspora; people with disabilities; sports organisations; the arts, the Traveller community." To be fair to the Taoiseach, he has reflected those in his nomination and I can have no criticism of them. It reflects the broad spectrum and let us be fair.

I have some concerns, as part of ongoing Seanad reform, about the Taoiseach's power to nominate 11 nominees. That is clearly provided for in what I like to call "the people's book", the Constitution. I heard speakers today talking about the Constitution and the Manning report indicates we should operate within parameters without having to go to a constitutional referendum. We are democrats and politicians; therefore, let us never fear going to the people. We know what the people said. As I note the Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty, is not in the House, I will not quote extensively from what is attributed to her in the national press. The Taoiseach was personally disappointed with the result of the referendum and the defeat of the proposal to abolish the Seanad. He accepted the result and we must also accept his bona fides. He is a democrat and has lived by the commitment on that day at Dublin Castle; therefore, we must move on. There is no point looking back and scapegoating anybody else.

There was broad political consensus among the political parties and others that we needed reform.

The elephant in the room are the councillors who have traditionally elected 43 Members. That is the bigger issue. The Fianna Fáil Party has indicated its position clearly, to which I am sympathetic. I was elected, something for which I make no apologies. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas. This is a Chamber where we are discussing our business.

I want to make a stronger case. The elected county and city councils around the country have a democratic mandate. They enrich the lives of the citizens in their communities. I am very uncomfortable with any erosion of that number because they are elected and have a democratic mandate. They bring representations into the House, which is an important point.

On Committee Stage, I would like to see some consideration given to the possibility of there being only two terms for any Member of Seanad Éireann, including me. I am not sure if anybody should sit in the House for more than two full terms. We are discussing Seanad reform. If we cannot make an impression within two terms, what are we doing here? We have to be honest and have broader reform.

I welcome the contribution of Senator Michael McDowell. It is very important and I co-signed it because it is important that we have this debate. I have no difficulty with the Manning report and pay tribute to all who worked on it. Let us not fear a referendum, if we need to push the issue out further. There is no rush; let us get things right.

There may be an opportunity on Committee Stage to tease out the issues. There is no point in kicking the issue down the road. The sooner we confront and explore the issues and each part of the process in regard to the Bill, the better. There are five Stages to a Bill. Let us not have things go on and on because the people are watching and reading about the debates. The people have given the Government a clear instruction that they want their Seanad, which is enshrined in their Constitution, protected. They also want it respected and for us to respect the institution.

How we conduct ourselves here, operate, attend to our business and bring our individual expertise and life experience to the table is very important and reflects the real work of the Seanad. Let us never deny anyone an opportunity to seek election, to be able to vote and to be elected, to pull up a chair to the Seanad table and participate in what is a great House. I hope it continues to be great and do the great work done by many of our predecessors.

I support the Bill which is very important. Seanad reform has been spoken about for as long as I have been involved in politics and longer. I have been involved in politics for almost 15 years and we have talked about Seanad reform in many ways. This is the first time we will see real Seanad reform which has to be welcomed.

The biggest issue for the general public is how this can relate what they do during a normal day. That is a challenge for everybody who sits in the House. How can we make sure what we are doing here will affect the people? Will they take note of the fact that we have increased the electorate? I do not know whether they will. The real challenge for us as parliamentarians is trying to convey what we are doing here to the public. I do not think increasing the electorate will do that. We have to look at ourselves and reform of the House and how the House will reform. We need to address matters such as the number of sitting days, what we do, how we reform what we are involved in and what meaningful contribution we can make to the general public. That is the real challenge and debate that has to happen at some stage.

An Upper House has to take power and responsibility, which must then affect what is happening in the real lives of everybody. This debate involved academics and Members such as Senator Frank Feighan who has a background in small business. I am a farmer, a fact of which I am proud. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I milk cows for a living. That is my real job.

I have been in the Chamber for the past two or three months and have raised farming issues on a continual basis. I was elected on an agricultural platform, through the Agricultural Panel. I was nominated through the Munster Agricultural Society. In my view, that was why I was elected. The panels need to be protected because they give a voice to various sectors. The Parliament can give a voice to every sector. It is a unique situation to have 60 parliamentarians in the Chamber, all of whom bring their own knowledge, experience and values to the Chamber. We need to protect that because the intermingling of ideas and views can make a change. The big issue is making a change after discussions have been held. Once all of the views have been taken on board, Ministers and the Government can then make policies that suit the public. At some stage we will have to tackle that real change.

The views of councillors were mentioned. I was a member of Cork County Council for 13 years - I was elected at 26 years of age. Public representatives deal with issues, which they then bring to me and, in turn, I can bring them to the floor of the Chamber. Yesterday, I raised the lack of funding for major infrastructural projects, an issue which was debated in the chamber of Cork County Council on Monday. There has been movement regarding funding, a matter I raised because public representatives told me it was a major issue in Cork. I had the opportunity to ask the Minister what he was doing about it.

Today, 43 of us are elected through the councillor system. It has its faults, but we have to protect that line of communication. The number of Senators elected by councillors might be amended, but 13 is insufficient and will not work because we need to have a line of communication. In many ways, this is about connecting people in local areas to the big machine in Dublin. That is the real challenge the Chamber has to take on board in the years ahead.

I support the Bill. It is necessary. In my short term as a Senator, I have found that unless we change we will no longer be attached to the public. That is the real issue. I welcome the debate. We will have to tease out key issues and I look forward to that process. Things have to happen fast. The last thing we want is another report or review or to kick the can down the road. We need to make a decision, move forward and take the people with us.

My colleague, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, has outlined in great detail our overall party position. I want to bring a few more points to the attention of the Minister of State.

I commend the job done by the working group on Seanad reform. We recognise the hard work and commitment given by the group to this task. As a party, Sinn Féin welcomes a number of the recommendations the group made, in particular the proposed expansion of the electorate to those in the North and the diaspora. We also welcome the increased provision for 30 of the 60 seats to be elected by popular vote.

The Bill is a step in the right direction and we will support it. However, we have concerns that it does not go far enough to reform the Seanad in any radical way. I refer to a point made by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. Any significant reform of the Seanad needs to see a systematic change in how we do our business. I want to make two or three points in that regard.

Sinn Féin recommended to the working group a number of areas where we feel the Seanad can take real ownership and responsibility with regard to scrutinising legislation and providing checks and balances. One area in which this can be done is in equality proofing of budgets and legislation. Over 60 countries have already either implemented or are working towards equality proofing budgets and legislation and the Seanad could be a real forum for such intense evaluation. Other countries have adopted the process of equality proofing due to the wide-ranging and complex impact that legislation can have on different socio-economic groups. The process involves working with NGOs, as well as carrying out internal research to evaluate to some degree what impact legislation will have on areas such as poverty, deprivation and gender inequality. Often legislation can be rushed, things can be over looked and, when addressing legislation, groups can have a narrow deficit management focus rather than looking at the wider implications on marginalised and minority groups. This is where equality proofing is required. This type of process should be an essential area of focus and is something we could all be proud to say we prioritise in the Seanad.

We could provide significant oversight of statutory instruments. I have one here that was passed at the beginning of last month, which is 150 pages. It is key legislation on public procurement. Nobody in the Dáil or the Seanad has had a look at something as important as this and been able to give input into it. It is a massive gap in the legislative oversight that we could address. Our colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, expressed his frustration last night at the lack of oversight of statutory instruments during our statements on public procurement. Key EU directives on public procurement have been transposed into statutory instruments without any debate in the Dáil or the Seanad, even though the manner and content of how they have been transposed will have significant implications on many levels, not the least on missed opportunities to enhance badly needed protections for workers and their terms and conditions.

Ministerial appointments are made with no consultation from anyone outside of a very small circle of individuals. If someone is going to be appointed to a position of such significant responsibility, like housing or health, and be given an additional €70,000 top-up to their Deputy's wage, that individual should be vetted by this House and scrutinised to ensure that he or she is fit for such a role. Otherwise, an incompetent Minister could see a portfolio collapse under their watch and we would be left in a terrible state. Is this not an area where we, in the future, could provide a check and balance? Those are a few specific areas of scrutiny where we feel the Seanad could take some ownership and responsibility. We are disappointed the working group did not take these suggestions on board. However, we feel the Bill is a step in the right direction and we will be supporting it on Second Stage.

I will make two other points before I finish. Reflecting on Senator David Norris's comments on house painters and tradesmen, I suggest that if we had a few more working class voices in both Houses of the Oireachtas, perhaps the country might not be in the huge mess it has been in for many of its 90 years of independence. I was quite offended by that comment. It validates the Sinn Féin position on doing away with privilege based on the amount of education a person has.

My last point is a little negative, but I have to be honest with the Minister of State. I suspect that perhaps his Department is somewhat reluctant to embrace this reform in reality. I hope I am wrong. Everyone in this Chamber has contributed in a positive way today and I think everyone is very genuine. I have a concern which I will put out there that at some point, perhaps despite all of our best intentions, the Bill will be buried. It will be a tragedy if that were the case.

I want to clarify that is not the issue. I used my time as I always do to deal with the issues. Rather than making a flowery speech and coming back here in the weeks to come, I flagged the issues that needed to be sorted out. If that causes people upset, I am sorry, but it is the only way to move this on. We are talking about 30 or 40 years at this stage. It is a genuine attempt to put the issues out there that have to be addressed and sorted out. Some of them will take a little time, but I might as well flag it now and deal with it. It is the commitment of Government and the programme for Government to implement the Manning report. This Bill is part of that process. In case there is any doubt, we are fully supportive of the efforts being made here to move this on. We want to move it on, not to just keep talking about it.

I wish to share my time with Senator John Dolan.

Before I speak on Seanad reform, I will refer to a comment made by Senator Paudie Coffey about celebrities coming in here and being high profile. I do not know if I am being a little sensitive. I suppose I had a high profile before I came in here, but I want to say who I am and why I am here. I am from inner city Dublin and proud to say I am from the tenement houses only ten minutes from here. I come from a very working class background. In the past ten years I have dedicated my life tirelessly to families who have been impacted by addiction. I have set up an organisation to work with those families and I still work with them on a daily basis. Unfortunately, that organisation does not get any Government funding. I am entitled to be here. I did not come in here as a celebrity or to get a better job; I am here because I want to be the voice of the vulnerable and the people with whom I work.

I thank Senator Michael McDowell for introducing this Bill and the great work he has done on it, which is fantastic. I was honoured to be part of the wider group of Independents in the Seanad that launched the Bill. It is the first step in ensuring the citizens of Ireland get the reform of the Seanad they asked for when they voted to keep the Upper House. We have seen way too many reports with little follow-up action and it is when we do not act on expert advice that our fellow citizens are entitled to feel frustrated at our inaction. While many view the Bill as not perfect, it contains the core elements of the Manning report and should form the basis of reform in this House. Giving the public a greater say on who represents them in the Seanad is to be welcomed. It will give wider society a stake in this House and an opportunity to influence its make-up. I also welcome the recognition in the Manning report that our fellow citizens in the North be allowed to vote in Seanad elections, as well as to passport holders overseas. Every Irish person should be afforded a stake in their country. It is also welcome that provision has been made to allow city and county councillors a continued say in the make-up of the Seanad. Like Senator Victor Boyhan, I completely welcome the fact that county councillors have a say in this. During my election campaign, I met many hardworking, articulate and passionate councillors who worked tirelessly to better their communities. Their voices should he heard, their opinions listened to and their expertise of on-the-ground issues acted upon. Ensuring they have a continued voice in this House is paramount to its success.

The opportunity before us is not just one of how this House is elected, but one that can ensure we influence the role and powers of this House. The working group clearly recognises the role of this House as being one whose primary function is the scrutiny, amendment and initiation of legislation. We should, however, continue to expand its remit to include the other recommendations such as giving consideration to North-South Ministerial Council proposals; giving consideration to secondary legislation of the European Union; consulting with relevant bodies prior to and during Second Stage debate; investigating and reporting on matters of public policy interest; and considering reports from regulators and other statutory inspectors. These recommendations and the implementation of this Bill will ensure this House is elected more democratically and also have a more robust role in shaping the future of the country in a way that is more relevant to our fellow citizens. I have no doubt that there will be resistance to this reform, as there has been in the past, but we have nothing to fear from change and I welcome the commitment of all parties to the Bill. I am delighted that we are at last listening to the will of the people.

I thank Senator Frances Black for sharing her time. I thank Senator Michael McDowell and everybody for a very decent and helpful debate. As a result of the referendum and 100,000 reports in the past, this needs at least to go to Committee Stage and move on. We can start teasing out the tension between various ideas and worries that people have. There is a tension about the members of local authorities. Like Senator Frances Black, I had my eyes opened going around and talking to councillors, particularly in the area of disability. The effort they were putting in for neighbours and people in their communities to sort out a stair lift or to get kids back into school was above and beyond what was required. We have to find some mechanism to help councillors to be more effective and efficient because their hearts and interest is good and they are real people on the ground.

In my native Tipperary, people would ask, "John, how do I vote for you? Do I have a vote?". I would say, "No. There are 40 people on Tipperary County Council, six Members of the Oireachtas and a couple of Senators and that is it." There are 160,000 people in the county and a couple of dozen were eligible. There is something wrong with the idea, even in Tipperary, that in this day and age one could be running in an election that is almost a secret election. I sat in a café in Portlaoise one day while travelling from one county council to another and saw people coming and going with their children. I thought to myself that I was involved in what one could almost call a secret election. It was under the radar. We had just had a high profile election of Members to the other House but somehow that one did not rate. That is an issue.

Many people believe I first sat in this House on 8 June this year. That is true, but I sat in that other chair in June 2003 when the Disability Federation of Ireland presented its submission to the last review group on this issue. Disability organisations have been the backbone of the nominating bodies on the Administrative Panel. There is no reason for that; it is just a fact but where else could one have heard a concerted voice or voices around that issue that is directly from that movement or from other civil society movements?

I want to mention something that is somewhat ironic. There was frequently much criticism of past Governments that they did deals with the social partners outside the gates of Leinster House. I was involved in social partnership as a disability interest in the community and voluntary pillar. There were 17 organisations in it and we managed to keep it someway coherent; therefore, things are possible. At the time, before the environment pillar was brought in just before everything collapsed here, we had farmers, employers, trade unions and the social services sector. Is that not four of the five panels that we have here now? We had people here saying the Government was doing deals on the outside that nobody knew about and a House that was designed to have characters with some knowledge and experience sitting down in committees, working through issues and being able to say to directly elected politicians, "That is fine, Tim, but let me tell you how things sometimes work in practice." People could then tear through the process. If we do that, we will get better legislation and better follow-up and prosecution of what happens after legislation is passed.

Coming back to the members of local authorities, I am fairly sure there are issues regarding their role that might need to be sorted out independently but in parallel with what we want to do here. We should not try to stuff issues, so to speak. If it does not fit, do not try to make it fit. There is useful work to be done. We have now a massive civil society across all the domains which did not exist to any extent in 1937. It exists now. It is diverse, and we are idiots if we do not find ways to bring that directly into these Houses. That is the big value for money exercise we can do for the country.

Like my Fine Gael colleagues, I support the Bill, certainly in principle. As a newly elected Senator, I am trying to learn the ropes with regard to the functioning of the Seanad. Having been elected on the Administrative Panel, an area I was very interested in, and which was one of my drivers to get involved in politics, was health care reform, particularly in the area of rehabilitation. I did not intend to say this but I take issue with the comments made by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell about Senators being elected to a crèche or a nursing home. I am not one of those. I take my job very seriously. I was elected on the administrative panel and I intend to work very hard on a wide number of issues. It is important that we respect each other within this Chamber and work together on issues.

There is a focus at times on local issues. In the context of this debate, we have frequently mentioned the importance of our local representatives who are working on local issues and meeting local people every day. It is critical that we connect with those local representatives because it is only by knowing local issues that we will be able to effect change at national level. We must keep the link between the Seanad and local representatives. They need a voice at national level. We are that voice and we must continue to be that voice. I strongly believe that we need to keep the chain between the Seanad and councils. As Senator Tim Lombard mentioned, many issues raised in the council chamber must be addressed at national level and I fully support our strong relationship with local representatives who do a very good job within their respective areas.

I have been a Member for only a number of weeks, but the two major challenges I would see, as mentioned frequently today, is the functioning of the Seanad and how we get our message across in terms of what we are trying to work on and how the people can further engage with us. Much of the discussion has been on widening the electorate. I am not fully convinced that widening the electorate will have a major impact on how we function as a Seanad, how the general public engages with the Seanad and how we engage with the general public. That needs to be further considered on Committee Stage in terms of widening the electorate. The core principle of Seanad reform needs to be with regard to functioning, which has been raised by a number of Senators in the course of this debate.

I was privileged in the sense that I was a Trinity graduate, but nobody is better than anybody else. Everybody is equal to everybody else. That is how it should be and it is important that all graduates of third level institutions would have an ability to vote. The overall sense is that there is significant need for modernisation. We are now in the 21st century and we need to move away from elitism. We talk about equal opportunity. That needs to be reflected in this Seanad.

It is useful that the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, addressed the House and focused on actions because at this stage that is what we need to see in terms of earmarking potential difficulties that may arise with regard to cost and the operational working of widening an electorate.

As Senators, we must be aware of that in the context of the Bill's proceeding to Committee Stage. Certainly, we must be focused on actions at this stage. The key is that we must modernise ourselves and make ourselves more relevant as a Seanad.

I welcome the Minister of State and the opportunity for us to have such a debate. I compliment Senator Michael McDowell for his introduction of the Bill. I suppose we can beat our own drum as I can say we have Fianna Fáil to thank, among others, for our being here to have the debate. If it was not for that party and a few others, we might not be here at all; therefore, it is important to acknowledge that.

Fianna Fáil is totally committed to reform and it is our intention to bring forward a few amendments to the Bill. There are many good elements to it, including the opportunity for citizens from the North of Ireland to vote, as well as any Irish passport holder anywhere in the world. We welcome that any diaspora will be given that opportunity. Graduates from any university would also have the opportunity to vote and it is important we do not distinguish between institutions.

When we speak about reform, it is important to recognise the good work that goes on within the Chamber. Sometimes it is politically beneficial in some people's eyes to knock the system, but I acknowledge all the people elected to the Chamber through the years. Many of them have been here for some time. I acknowledge the work they have done during their time and it is important for all of us to recognise it. I have no doubt we could absolutely do things better in here, although I am new and have only been in the Chamber for the past month or so. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell noted that some people saw this as either a crèche or a nursing home, but I am between both. I do not know where I fit so I will leave that judgment to others. Like other Senators, I am delighted to be here and am proud and honoured to have the opportunity to address Members in a Chamber such as this.

I have major concerns about the proposal to reduce the number of Senators elected by county councillors from 43 to 13. It is quite severe. It could be argued that when we consider democracy at any level - the Upper House, the Lower House or locally - local government definitely needs a spotlight. There is nobody closer to the people than county councillors, as they live among the people seven days per week. They represent all sorts of people from every aspect of society. We will seek an amendment to the proposal in question.

Senator David Norris referred to house painters, etc. I am reminded of the song with the line, "All God's creatures have a place in the choir." Perhaps I should sing a few verses to him before the day is out.

The Senator might not say that once I get past the first few lines. On a more serious note, we can do things better. I concur with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's comments that perhaps we should shine a light on the work that goes on here while we are here. That is important and perhaps it is disappointing the Manning report did not focus on that particular aspect of our work. I emphasise that there has been some serious good work done here and I have no doubt about the bona fides of everybody elected to the Seanad. I have no doubt they will do a good job. There is no issue with how they will look in the mirror and see how things can be done differently. It is important that we and every organisation do that.

We should not rush the process. I do not want to be political, but the last time there was such a process it may have been politically beneficial in some people's eyes to do away with the Seanad. Sometimes, when seeking respect, one must respect oneself. We must respect ourselves in this House and all the history going with it. It is something we must keep in the back of our heads also. We can do things better and we will consider the issue but there is no need to rush this and it is important we get it right. Everybody here is focused on doing what we feel is right. I know that, collectively, if given time we will reform. We should take our time and ensure when it is done, it can be done correctly.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit as teacht isteach chun an Bhille seo a phlé. I extend my apologies for not being in the Chamber for all of the debate, but I followed a bit of it in the office between meetings. It is a sincere debate and we must be inward-looking in the first instance because we have the privilege of being elected to the Chamber and a responsibility as a result. Sinn Féin's position on the abolition of the Seanad has been well known, but the people expressed in a very democratic fashion that it was not their wish to see the Seanad abolished. We must adhere to the democratic wish as laid out with respect to this institution as the Upper House in the Oireachtas and what people expect from us. They expect a strong and robust Seanad in scrutinising legislation, representing people and giving voice to citizens right across the board, particularly those who find themselves on the margins or removed from the government process.

We have a broad remit and I am sure that, historically, it has been frustrating for Seanadóirí that the process has not been as forthright as they may have wanted. There are important roles laid out for the Seanad and the Bill could compliment those, strengthening the role of the Seanad and its Members as we move forward. It is good to hear the different views around that and how we can deal with the nuances of this legislation and the role of the Upper House.

I am very encouraged by the new section, touched on by the previous speaker, that would allow the extension of voting rights to Irish citizens in the North. It is a very positive move. Perhaps I am as guilty as anybody else in focusing on issues when we should consider modest and routine mechanisms. I am encouraged by this and anything that moves to enfranchise Irish citizens, regardless of where they are on the island, giving them a very direct input, influence and sense of ownership of this place, the institutions and the legislation and work flowing through it. That is a very positive step forward. Almost 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, it is about time that this happened. I say that respectfully.

Belfast City Council is probably the second biggest council on the island. It has 60 members and represents the second city. It has a very diverse and ever-changing make-up. The role of elected councillors and local government members is something that could be considered as the legislation moves forward, with amendments. We can see the positive work that occurs between local government authorities across the island, including in the Border counties, where the work is critical. We can also consider the eastern corridor and the connection between Belfast and Dublin. There is a memorandum of understanding between the councils there and along the corridor.

I believe there is massive potential to have the voice of those members in an institution like this to give oversight to the legislation that comes before us and to allow for greater initiation of legislation that would strengthen co-operation, economic growth, social inclusion and regeneration right across the island. Our position on this Bill has been laid out by the previous speakers. We have our amendments and our own view of how to improve the Bill. I hope the amendments will be taken in the sincere way that they are offered for other Senators' consideration. We have an ideal opportunity. We have a unique opportunity to finally do something with Seanad Éireann that makes us much more relevant, accessible, democratic and reflective of our society.

One of the previous speakers spoke about nobody being closer to the people than local councillors. That is a fair enough assessment, but I contest that there is nobody closer to the people than the people themselves. Anything that gives them greater democratic franchisement and involvement in the role of these institutions, the more power to our elbow. I wish the Bill every success. Is é sin an méid.

I welcome my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to the Chamber. I congratulate him on his reappointment as Minister of State and his appointment to this area. I know that he will bring great energy and natural ability to the role. I wish him well in it. This is one of his major challenges. It is an important challenge. I also congratulate Senator Michael McDowell on bringing forward the legislation. I congratulate my old friend and teacher of a few years ago, Dr. Maurice Manning, who in many respects is very responsible for the legislation also. As my colleagues have all said, we are supporting the legislation in principle and in its full spirit. Naturally, we will be proposing amendments and examining it. That is what this important process is there to do. I hope there will be much of that in the House.

When we talk about reform, change and all of that, it is important to acknowledge the past and what has been achieved. It might be no harm as a backdrop to acknowledge once again that the Seanad in this republic has been an enormous success. It has been a success historically in one very important sphere and regard. I am very conscious of this as a Border person. It gave expression, identity and provided a Chamber to which those who are broadly described as southern Unionists could relate. That is not a fair term. It is the Protestant community of the various Protestant churches of the Republic. In the formation and the earlier stages of the State, that community looked to this Chamber as its voice and medium. It was a very important factor in achieving political stability and political buy-in and to normalising the difficult birth of the nation. It was a difficult stage at the outset, but the Seanad provided an important Chamber in that regard. That voice was very important. That merits acknowledgement.

Senator Frank Feighan, among other Senators, has gone through the list in more depth. I will avoid naming names on this occasion, but the Seanad has had many distinguished former Members and many more ordinary people who served in it and did wonderful work. Even from my constituency, I can think of two particular former Members. It occurs to me as apt to acknowledge them given that Senator Diarmuid Wilson is in the chair. Two people from County Cavan who served in this Chamber with distinction before Senator Diarmuid Wilson and I were former Senators Séamus Dolan and Andy O'Brien. The former Senator Andy O'Brien's family are still involved in politics in the county with great distinction. He made an enormous contribution to this House. He brought a very particular humour to it and a great quality and incisiveness to examining legislation. The former Senator Séamas Dolan became Cathaoirleach and was a distinguished Cathaoirleach of this Chamber. He ultimately became a member of the Council of State. There was also former Senator Baxter from our county who made a real contribution. His daughter is still involved in civil society and public life.

I accept and understand the principle of a wider franchise. We have to accept the principle of a wider franchise and the concept of one person, one vote. That is a maxim and it has to be accepted. I am concerned that there is great potential that the whole proposal for dealing with that is quite woolly and all over the shop. It has the potential for abuse, whether it is through the online registration or abuse by political parties. If we are claiming that the current Seanad suffers from abuse by political parties - implicitly that is the proposition - I believe the new system significantly lends itself to that potential abuse. If we consider ourselves to be dealing with an ailment in the body politic, we would want to make sure the cure is better than the disease. Great caution is needed. The Minister of State has an insight and his initial remarks suggest that he has identified the difficulty. I say to him that we need to take great caution in the methodologies, the registration processes, in how people register and in all other areas of potential abuse. The mind boggles at the kind of ideas that could affect these processes, particularly online abuse. It needs major thought and work.

I understand the point made by Senator David Norris on the reform of the nominating bodies and accept that there is potential in that area. Again, we have to watch that it is carefully done. That is a very important point. Before I leave his remarks, I must acknowledge that Senator David Norris made a valid point. It might sound somewhat elitist and it is not from my own perspective, but I would not like us to totally extinguish the university input and the university constituency that attained expression in the Seanad after feeling that it was not always gaining expression in our popular Chamber. We must be careful. I have a certain sympathy with the points the Senator made.

The Minister of State has a background as a council member in County Meath and I know anecdotally that he has a great friendship with his councillors. It is very important that we do not make our councillors feel totally alienated and disenfranchised in this process. They enjoyed this participation and felt that this was their link to the Oireachtas. I think that limiting their numbers to 13 is a little extreme and should be looked at on Committee Stage. The election of the other 30 will present logistical difficulties and would need amendment on Committee Stage in terms of regional structures.

The whole issue is about how we do this. The concept, the principle and the motivation are good and the ambition is visionary. All of that is in order. However, I am not convinced - I am yet to see evidence otherwise - that we are not at risk of putting a new structure in place that will be open to greater abuse and be much more difficult to manage. The whole thing needs very careful thought. I would like to have time to develop how we look at the management of the House and how we structure our business but that is not today's business. We support the Bill in principle, but I think it will need very significant and careful scrutiny on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Bill and commend Senator Michael McDowell and the group which has brought it before us. I am not a cynical person. We have been here before several times and perhaps this might be the legislation that effects real reform of the Seanad.

We are very fortunate to have an opportunity to discuss Seanad reform because had the Taoiseach in the last Administration his way, we would not be here to discuss reform. It is to the credit of Senator Michael McDowell and former Senators like Joe O'Toole and Dr. Maurice Manning, and their interventions in the debate, that we were able to retain the Seanad in its present form. Those of us who were incumbents at the time and argued for the retention of the Seanad, to paraphrase the cliché, were like turkeys trying to get an injunction against Christmas. That was the amount of credibility that we had. Therefore, I am very thankful to Senator Michael McDowell and others for the cogent arguments they put forward.

It is very heartening to note that when the people of Ireland were given the opportunity in no uncertain terms less than one fifth of the population voted to abolish the Seanad. The result gave the Taoiseach food for thought. I hope it will be the last attempt by the Taoiseach and his party to launch an attack on democratic institutions.

I have great friends in Fine Gael but the party has some kind of a primordial atavistic impulse because every now and again it gets a rush of blood to the head and wants to change democracy around. If anything is associated in any shape or form with the name Eamon de Valera, Fine Gael has an awful loathing and hates it so much that it just cannot leave it alone. Of course, the Seanad was invented by Eamon de Valera. There is no doubt that he was an extraordinary genius whatever one thinks of him. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the deliberations took place that gave rise to this system. I suppose no notes were kept in those days. I do know that it took some work to come up with this particular system.

In the main the Seanad has served its purpose fairly well. It gave a platform to minority viewpoints at a time when it was very important, which was after the formation of the State. As has been stated, the Seanad gave a political platform to some of the most eminent people in public life. I shall not list the pantheon again. We have had some of the most accomplished politicians, orators and business people, and people from all walks of life have had an opportunity to have their voices heard in this Chamber where they may not have had that opportunity in any other way.

The one big issue of reform is the system of election. It is the real nub of this and all other reform attempts. It is about who elects whom. There are faults in the three subsections. Democracy is not served well when there is a Chamber in which 11 Members out of 60 are nominated by one person, no matter how eminent that person is. I have the highest respect for the position of Taoiseach but I do not think the option is right and proper. I do not propose an amendment to this Bill but my party will table amendments on Committee Stage. I commend my party and my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, for being the only one in the last debate who took the tough decision to support the Seanad. My party will table amendments, but I am not sure what form they will take at this point. I have reservations about the idea that the Taoiseach can appoint 11 Senators.

I am conscious of the mote in my eye, to which I shall come, but I shall now look at the university situation. Clearly, it is totally unfair, undemocratic and elitist. It debars a certain number of university graduates. Why should university graduates, above all other sectors of society, have a vote in the Seanad? What makes a university graduate, of which I am one, a better person to elect a Senator than a housewife, a garda, a person working for himself or herself or an employee? The provision is the most elitist and we must examine it closely.

I cannot be objective about having 43 seats because I have been fortunate enough to have been returned here three times by the county councillors of Ireland. If we are not going to have indirect election, we are talking about direct election, that means another Dáil Éireann. I do not think anybody wants Seanad Éireann to be another Dáil. For God's sake, one Dáil Éireann is enough. Instead we want an alternative. If it is not going to be an alternative, let us not have it at all.

If indirect election is going to be part of the system, nobody is better equipped to constitute the electorate, or a sizeable portion of it, than the county councillors of Ireland because they have a mandate from the people. Every county councillor must reach a quota or get elected at any rate. The average first preference vote of an elected councillor is in the order of 1,500. The quota when I stood for election to for Kerry County Council was 2,200. It is not an inconceivable achievement to get that number of votes in one's own county and local people are the best judge of who they want to put forward. It is a tiered structure but we are not talking about just any 1,000 people. We are talking about 1,000 people who have come through the system, earned the trust of their neighbours and people and also have a need and a requirement to have access to the Oireachtas in the same way county councillors have through us, as Senators. That aspect should be protected and I note that the Bill acknowledges same.

As Senator Joe O'Reilly said, the idea of reducing the number of seats elected in this manner from 43 to 13 is swingeing and uncalled for. If one must make changes then increase the number of seats in the Seanad. I do not see why it should be set in stone that there should be 60 seats.

That is all I have to say about the legislation. It is a good Bill which is well structured. With the new politics that we have, there is every chance the Bill might succeed and the best of luck to it.

Due to the fact that this debate is longer than the usual time set aside for statements, and there is more flexibility in terms of who speaks and for how long, I ended up in the Chamber for a lot longer this afternoon than intended. Usually, I would have been quite content to busy myself by working in my office, attend other meetings and pay attention to proceedings by watching the debate on the television screen, as we all do and there is no shame in doing so. However, I am glad that I have been here for a lot longer than I intended. Not only have I heard all of the debate and the varied contributions, but I have witnessed the reaction of Senators, members of public in the Visitors Gallery who come and go, the Minister of State and of course, even though they will not like me saying so, the civil servants seated behind him whose reactions can sometimes be a little revealing.

I have no problem in admitting - I am sure the following is a wholly unpopular statement - that I voted for the abolition of this Chamber. I have said it on many occasions. When I was confronted with the fact, which I never hid, by councillors, Senators and Deputies on the campaign trail I was very upfront in admitting that I voted for the abolition. I stood by my conviction.

I did not have a vote.

The Senator did not have a vote and I commend him. I fully respect the sovereign decision by the people to retain the Seanad. I have only been a Senator for six weeks, but I might be here a little longer. Who knows? It is not necessarily our decision to make and might be one for the other House. I feel I have an absolute duty to fulfil the responsibility of this House to the best of my ability and will always seek to represent everyone as best I can.

Very many people have passed through this House. A lot of Senators in the Chamber are a lot more experienced in politics, public life and other careers than I am. It has been humbling to see the names of the people who have passed through this House. I will not list them but I will mention one name. A couple of days after my election I received a telephone call from the principal of my former secondary school. Over the years we have remained close and I always ask him about issues in my local area. The school is located in the same area that I represented as a councillor and he had a good grasp of the many issues that faced the education sector. When he rang we had a general chat, but I was struck by his final question. He asked me did I know the name of the last Senator who went to his school. I replied that I did not have a clue who it was and he informed me that it was Gordon Wilson. Many people may not know Gordon Wilson, especially now. To me, he is a legend in terms of the peace process because of the way he handled himself in the wake of the horrible murder of his daughter and the way he represented a very small niche community on this island.

He called himself a Southern Unionist from County Leitrim. He attended the school I attended in Dublin and the fact that my name will go up on the board beside his is something I have not been able to get my head around. I respect and admire all those who have served in this Chamber, as well as all of the speakers in this debate. I fundamentally disagree, however, with the views of some Members on the Bill and many of the issues that have been raised. I hope I have not been too backward in making this known, but I hope I do not fall out with anybody and that things will be fine in the end.

This is a good Bill. I am yet to be wholly convinced that we need a second House of Parliament, but I am open to being convinced. I like the idea that we are looking at realistic reform, but the problem is that there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone's definition of reform is completely different. Whatever people like to say, the suggestion made by the previous Government, as blunt it was, that we move from a bicameral to an unicameral democracy was an effort at reform. I say fair play to it, as it went and did something about the matter. I would say that, however, as a member of a Government party.

The Upper House has been the subject of so many reports, motions and Bills that one can completely understand the general public's level of frustration, as well as that of elected public representatives, at the fact that nothing ever seems to change. We can always talk about political and Seanad reform, but, ultimately, one will never please everyone. In fact, one may fail to please the majority. However, if one is of the opinion that the House, in its current form, is no longer fit for purpose, one has to do something. When the House was established in the 1930s, as Senator David Norris and others said, it was meant to be a refuge for members of the Southern Unionist community. On the last count, subject to correction, three Members of the Houses were members of the Church of Ireland and happy to say so. Only one was elected from the Trinity College Dublin panel - the best of luck to him - but there is no need for this exception to be continued in the Constitution. We have moved so far in our role as an independent and sovereign state that catering for small minorities is not as necessary within a specific House of Parliament, but it is something to be considered in the future.

I commend Senator Michael McDowell for his efforts. He has been consistent on this issue. He was extremely vocal during the referendum campaign. It was also a role played by many in civic society. In this context, I would like to mention Mr. Derek Mooney of Democracy Matters who campaigned for retention of the Seanad and who has been in deep contact with me about many things. It was Democracy Matters that convinced the majority to retain the institution of the Seanad. In turn, it is its responsibility to indicate what its believes would be real reform of the House. I am happy to support it and see the Manning report being brought to fruition. I hope we will see meaningful reform and change but also democracy in this Chamber, one of the merits of which is the respect shown for dissenting views and the opportunity given to speak honestly and openly. I have absolutely no problem in saying that not only did I vote for abolition of the Seanad but that ideally I would rather be in the Dáil. In the way our democracy functions the Dáil has more power, plays a more direct role and has the ability to influence the lives of ordinary people. I do not see the Seanad as a crèche, a stepping stone, a retirement house or as a last refuge but as the second House of Parliament. Whether I serve for much longer or will be chosen as a candidate to run for the Dáil - that decision rests with the party - I will rate my time in this Chamber, however long it may be, very highly. I appreciate the opportunity and the honour to serve in it. I do not want to take away from the honour that it is to serve in it by the fact that in all honesty I would like to be somewhere else. I like to envisage that I will have a political career. Anyone who states he or she has a level of ambition has it knocked out. Let us be honest and not hide behind woolly language. If one believes in something, one should say it.

Like Senator Joe O'Reilly, I, too, wish to refer briefly to Dr. Maurice Manning. If it was not for him, I would not have such an interest in politics and would not have become involved in it. There is a fair chance I would not have voted for, let alone joined, the Fine Gael Party. I have no family ties with politics. As a first year arts student in UCD, Dr. Manning's lectures were the highlight of my academic week and attended by students not taking the course.

I commend the Bill and look forward to contributing to the debate on Committee and Remaining Stages. I thank Members for contributing and appreciate the respect shown to all Members. I look forward to working with Members across the House to further the aims of the Bill.

I welcome Mr. Keogh to the House.

As I said previously, I do not come from a political background. I am talking, therefore, from a position of complete innocence. To be absolutely honest, before Deputy Micheál Martin nominated me to be a Member, my view of the Seanad was exactly how some people had described it. I did not think it held political sway and that the voice of the people would be heard. That was partly due to my own ignorance and I should have looked further at the matter.

When Deputy Micheál Martin discussed the nomination with me, he said I would be the voice for those with mental health issues. All of a sudden, the process opened up for me. I actually thought it was wonderful. It means that people can speak about the real issues that affect them and the country. As Members know, the political parties spoke about mental health services in their manifestoes, but, unfortunately, that is where it starts and ends. I thought that being a Member of the Seanad would help in highlighting mental health issues.

The reason I am supporting the Bill is simply I believe in democracy. What concerns me about the 43 Members elected by councillors and the elected members of the different political parties is that they are the voices of their parties. The only reason I agreed to accept the nomination to be a Member of the Seanad was I knew that mine would be an independent voice. We need to represent the people. Unfortunately - this is an observation and not a criticism - for many Members who were not elected to the Dáil, this was their second choice. I am really sad about this, as we are being given an opportunity to do something really powerful. Allowing the people to vote for Senators is the only way to go. I am new and still finding my feet. Therefore, there are many things I still do not know, even the language used. As a result, I may on occasion talk through my ears.

I back Senator Michael McDowell's Bill 100% because I know that, in order to develop as a country and a society, we always need to look at change. This is the perfect time to do so.

I welcome the Minister of State who I am glad is present for the debate. I also welcome the Bill and compliment Senator Michael McDowell and his team on drafting it. While we might not agree on every aspect of it, there are some positives but also issues that need to be looked at and teased out.

To return to Senator Joan Freeman who spoke about democracy, I have been elected through four local authority elections. Certainly that is democracy at work. Having been elected in four local elections, I consider I have a mandate from the electorate. While I may have been elected by councillors and fellow councillors, Deputies and Senators, the reduction to 13 is very small given that we have 900 representatives between councillors, Deputies and Senators around the country. I have regular contact from colleagues in the council but also from my electorate. Recently I opened an office in Limerick and a number of people have come to me with issues that I am delighted to bring to this Chamber. That shows democracy as it works. That the number of seats for councillors may be reduced to 11 is much too small and needs to be looked at. I welcome the fact that the intention is to introduce voting rights to all third level institutions. I have served on the boards of the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology. We also have Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. I speak from a local interest point of view and currently none of those people has a vote.

The Seanad has played a positive role over many years and many people consider it the watchdog. Bills which come through the Dáil are considered in the Seanad. That we have contact from people outside this Chamber and that we represent their views is positive. We went out to the public and it had its say and the Seanad is still here. I agree that some parts of the workings of the House have to be made more relevant. Certainly many positive issues are debated here and should receive support. We have been sitting for the past three or four weeks. During that time we had a debate on tourism. We have had the Minister for Health and the Minister with responsibility for roads come before the House and Members have raised relevant topics. It is important that line of communication remains, otherwise, what other avenue is available to us to convey our views to Ministers?

While I welcome the Bill, there are areas that need to be looked at. I could not support every aspect of the Bill.

We are not quorate. We do not have enough Senators for a quorum. Perhpas we might not need a quorum for something like this, but I consider it to be very important. I point out that legislation was passed by the Seanad in respect of a franchise for graduates of third level institutions and universities to have a vote. Unless I am wrong that legislation was passed by the last Seanad. Unlike, as Senator Diarmuid Wilson said, it was not just for university students but for all third level students, from grade 8 up.

On a point of order, we are not quorate.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

I welcome the Minister of State whom I know well. He is a neighbour and both hard-working and diligent. I have no doubt that he will look at Seanad reform and all the nuts and bolts that go with it.

I pay tribute to Senator Michael McDowell. The ferocious fight he put up for the retention of the Seanad has to be appreciated. Many political parties wanted to win a fight and thought it was a penalty kick. I congratulate him and say, "Well done." I recall meeting a former Deputy from Mullingar who was a bit smug and told me I should go out and campaign for its abolition, that it was the thing to do and that there would be a certain result. He will remain nameless.

I like the honesty of my colleague, Senator Neale Richmond, who said he would prefer to be a Member of the other House. It reminds me of my mother when I was growing up. She always wanted me to play football for Kerry, but I was born in Westmeath and for whatever it was worth I had to play for Westmeath. We cannot change the cards we are dealt.

On a serious note, there is no doubt that this is substantial legislation. Nobody disputes that change is needed. We are all aware of that. Some very good measures have been proposed such as the diaspora having a voice and possibly an all-Ireland vote. As I have stated here, the people have already spoken in respect of the Seanad. They voted and elected to keep it. I am not sure if the way forward is to massively change its format.

I come from a councillor background having been a county councillor for seven years and a member of Mullingar Town Council for five years until the brain wave to get rid of town councils. That has been a serious backward step for local politics and towns up and down the country. Deputy Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil have talked about reintroducing town councils. That is one of their proposals under local government and the local government review. The policy programme Putting People First - Action Programme for Effective Local Government, was published in 2012 and abolished town councils. In some cases it gave councillors substantially larger areas to cover at greater expense involving a greater amount of time. The cost in terms of time was phenomenal. There were half the number of councillors as heretofore and the amount of work, as many members can testify having been in that circuit, doubled overnight when town councils were eliminated. Putting People First was going to give much power to councillors.

I have heard it referred to as being sold a pup, but to be sold a whole litter of them was really the trick. The cut of powers and the diminution of all that was good about county councils was incredible. When I started off, one had certain powers in planning which were taken away under Putting People First. In my county, refuse collection services were taken away. The "in thing" to do was to remove refuse collection services.

The number of housing bodies with which I know the Minister of State deals on a daily basis is incredible. I believe there are upwards of 1,000 housing bodies operating in Ireland, many of which are sitting on banks of money and currently twiddling their thumbs. In fairness, the Minister of State is making a great fist of trying to tackle this situation and move it along. I have recently seen the new approach regarding housing and how the Minister of State has worked hands-on in a couple of different projects in my county, for which I commend him. Consider, however, all the powers that have been taken away. From the time I was in County Westmeath, there have been many roads subsumed into the National Roads Authority. Putting a sign up to advertise a business on a road became incredibly difficult. I have a feeling we are going in the same direction. I will not even get into our friends in Irish Water, but I have a serious feeling we are heading in the same direction with this Bill.

I welcome the legislation because I believe we want to see change but many of the councillors' powers have been taken away and now we are about to take another one of their powers, which is their link to national politics. If a councillor has a national problem, he or she can lift the phone to their local Deputy. Nine out of ten times the Deputy will not want to hear from the councillor because he or she is looking out for their seat, or they may want to do something else or are looking at the bigger picture. In general, a Senator is not in that space. I can attest to this from my experience with great Senators from my area over the years, including former Senators Donie Cassidy and Mary O'Rourke, both former Leaders of the House, former Senator and Deputy, the late Nicky McFadden - God rest her - who was the sister of Senator Gabrielle McFadden, and former Senator Camillus Glynn. They were all super Senators and any councillor could lift the telephone to them at any hour of the day or night to discuss a problem, be it medical cards, passports, national roads or any concerns they had. The Senators could deal with them and get an answer at a national level. It was a great help to us as councillors.

I am curious about one particular part of the legislation with which I disagree. As I have outlined, the main element of this Bill that may need to be changed appears to be the nominations by councillors. The Taoiseach's 11 nominees remain and the six from Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland are also still there. If it is not possible for the national university nominations to be changed, could the Taoiseach's number be changed? They were originally intended to ensure power in the Upper House rested with the Government. However, even with those numbers, that is not currently the case and it probably will not happen with modern politics, as they stand. It makes for a redundant argument. With the university selected Members, those of us who came through the vocational panels know that every vote was worth 1,000. Perhaps there is some way the university panel Senators could be nominated and because every vote is worth 1,000, there could be some equalisation in an election, with the councillors' vote carrying a heavier weight. Perhaps this might be examined.

Do I have one minute remaining?

The Senator's time has concluded.

I propose that we adjourn the debate until an approximate time in the autumn when I hope we can finish it. I understand there are still 11 Senators who wish to speak.

There are now eight remaining.

I had indicated that I wanted to speak.

I know, but, unfortunately, the time has concluded.

The Acting Chairman said there were eight speakers remaining.

I will ensure the Senator is first to speak next time.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 4.15 p.m. and resumed at 4.40 p.m.