Seanad Bill 2016: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill. It gives us a great opportunity to convey our views, as Senators, on the reform of Seanad Éireann, the way it will progress and how it will work for the next 20, 30, 40 and 50 years. It is also important that we take stock of where we are. Nowhere was the way the Seanad is viewed by the public and organisations expressed better than in the past couple of weeks.

Senator Michelle Mulherin will not thank me for raising one incident in particular which showed clearly how the Seanad is viewed by certain organisations. The Senator highlighted publicly, as an instance of discrimination against Members of this House, a letter she received from the GAA indicating that Deputies would be offered tickets for sale for the all-Ireland football final, but Senators would not. I got the same letter and I fully subscribe to the Senator's view on the matter. I understand any Member of this House from a participating county who sent in a letter and cheque received the same response. The GAA proceeded to roll out its former president and current MEP for the Ireland South region, Seán Kelly, who said the organisation had to draw a line somewhere. It certainly drew a clear line between Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in this case.

To make matters worse, RTE's Mary Wilson, in an interview with Senator Michelle Mulherin, observed that the latter was only a Taoiseach's nominee, as if to say Members nominated to the House in this way are different from other Members. In my time in the Seanad we have had several Members nominated by the Taoiseach who also worked in the media, including former Senators Eoghan Harris and Maurice Hayes, the latter going on to co-author the Manning report. None of those people was treated in any way differently by his or her colleagues. I can say with certainty that Taoiseach's nominees are not treated differently in this House.

This particular incident affords us an opportunity to take stock of how we are viewed by the GAA and the media. In advance of the biggest day in the Gaelic football calendar, the GAA drew a clear line between the Dáil and the Seanad. Moreover, the Cathaoirleach was likewise discriminated against because he is the only officeholder who is not invited to be seated in the ard chomhairle in Croke Park on all-Ireland final day, with all the Ministers, Ministers of State, Garda and Army officials. All the other arms of State are represented there on these occasions but not the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. The Bill and the recommendations in the Manning report will not change any of that. There will still be Taoiseach's nominees and this House will remain subordinate to the other House. The actions of the GAA squarely set out how we are viewed as a House of Parliament.

The people who drafted the 1937 Constitution could not have envisaged what would happen in this Seanad. They could not have foreseen a scenario in which everybody would be represented, including the diaspora. We have lawyers, doctors, farmers, shopkeepers, business people and members of the media. A range of political parties is represented, as well as Independents. Moreover, no party or group has outright control in the Chamber. The drafters of the Constitution could not have envisaged an Upper House better than we currently have. Notwithstanding the proposals in Senator Michael McDowell's Bill or in the Manning report, the reality is that we will not achieve a better representation than we currently have. We will not get more organisations or parties than we have today. This Bill will make way for hundreds more organisations to put forward nominees, but it remains a fact that there can only be 60 people appointed.

With no party having outright control, we are in the ideal position in this Seanad to make changes to how we do business. Instead, we seem to be putting the cart before the horse. We could go ahead and implement every provision in Senator Michael McDowell's Bill and every recommendation in the Manning report - many of them would not even require legislation - but there is little point in so doing if we do not have the necessary resources and funding. For example, there are only four members of staff for Seanad Éireann, two of them are almost always seated beside the Cathaoirleach. People can put forward whatever proposals they like, but unless there is backup funding, we cannot do what is proposed in the Manning report or any other report or Bill.

The current Seanad could not be any more diverse and is not controlled by any party. If the Government really is committed to reform, it should go about the business of giving more power to this House to scrutinise legislation and deal with the various matters as recommended in the Manning report. The working group recommended, for instance, that the Seanad give particular attention to North-South Ministerial Council proposals and secondary EU legislation, consult with relevant bodies prior to and during Second Stage debates, investigate and report on matters of public policy interest, and consider reports from regulators and other statutory inspectors. Senator TerryLeyden has repeatedly called for a role for this House in the scrutinising of EU legislation, a proposal I fully support. It cannot be done, however, because the Dáil will not allow it. Instead, the other House has decided the European committee will deal with European legislation and scrutiny, with other committees also having a role. The view, apparently, is that we cannot have the same work being done by a committee and the Seanad, thus making the proposal a non-starter.

Another proposal was that we might have a role in pre-legislative scrutiny, with Ministers presenting heads of Bills to the House for discussion before a potential redrafting of the legislation prior to Second Stage. However, as soon as it was decided to implement a pre-legislative process, that function went straight to a Dáil committee. The last Member of this House to chair a committee of both Houses was Pat Magner back in the mid-1990s. It seems there is no person in this House good enough to be Chairman of any of the 15 or 16 joint committees. As I said, most of the various proposals for Seanad reform could be implemented without ever changing the legislation. What is required, however, is a commitment by Government to provide the resources and staff necessary to do the work.

The Acting Chairman has indicated my time is up. This Bill will put an enormous cost on the Exchequer - certainly €30 million, which is a substantial sum, and perhaps as much as €50 million. It will see the franchise extended to nearly half the world in order to have the same groups, organisations and parties represented here. We cannot have real change without a commitment to give more funding to enable us to do the business that is proposed to be done. We could start doing that work in the morning if there was the necessary commitment.

When it comes to the issue of Seanad reform, there have been a number of reports, commissions and referenda. Much is said about the eighth amendment to the Constitution and the damage it has done to Irish women over the years, but the seventh amendment to the Constitution is another interesting one that rarely raises any comment. The interesting thing about the seventh amendment to the Constitution is that it was never legislated for. It was an attempt to widen the franchise for voters in Seanad elections. In the almost 40 years since there have been quite a number of commissions and reports.

There was a referendum a number of years ago to abolish this Chamber, which I supported at that point. I remember debating with Senator Michael McDowell at the time at an event where we took opposing views on it. Both our positions have changed over the years. It was my interaction with this Chamber as Minister of State that changed my view on its validity and what it has to offer.

There comes a stage where we have to put an end to the endless round of commissions and reports and actually do something. The issue with this Chamber is the perceived or otherwise disconnect between it and the electorate. This Bill tries to address that in many ways. There is potential in the Chamber to give a voice to people in society who do not often get a chance to have their voices heard. Much has been said about the diaspora and Irish citizens in the North of Ireland, but I am thinking also of groups such as Travellers and others who would benefit greatly from having representation in this Chamber on matters that concern them.

One issue that concerns me in the Bill is the ability of an Oireachtas Member to be also a member of a local authority. Often in this Chamber Members speak about their constituency. Technically we do not have a constituency because we come into the Chamber as national politicians. We do not have a geographical constituency. If we were to go back to the situation where local authority members could run for the Seanad and have a dual mandate, we would dilute the national focus of the Chamber. Inevitably county council and city council issues would be brought to the floor of the Seanad. That happens anyway but it would be compounded by a situation where there is not that separation.

One of the positive moves of the former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, former Deputy Noel Dempsey, was to propose the abolition of the dual mandate, which eventually became law in 2003. It provided that one could not be a Member of the national Parliament and a local authority member. It was very controversial at the time for people who were in that position and did not like it. It separated various areas of local administration and public representation. Council work was taken up by councillors and national work and national legislation were taken on by Oireachtas Members. I would have to be convinced that to go back to a situation where Senators could be local authority members is a positive move.

In terms of what we are trying to achieve in the House, we work quite well together when we speak with one voice. I am keenly aware that politics is under more international pressure now. There is more pressure now on the validity of public life, the ability to make a case, and the ability to believe in something and stand for something than there has been ever before. Looking at what is happening in the United States, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, it appears to me that politics is in a complete mess. The fault for that lies with politicians and the political system. If we lose faith in the institutions of our political system, we are in a very dangerous position. We can see what is happening in the United Kingdom, where a very nasty scenario has arisen. I mentioned the United States and Europe also. When we change the way we do business in the Oireachtas, we have to proceed with caution, although there has been so much caution around this Chamber that it has led to nothing happening. I suggest the Minister of State, the Acting Chairman and Senators take this Bill in good faith. We can work on its various elements as we proceed. If the Chamber is to have any validity in the future, its connectivity with the public has to be reinforced. I question the ability of a Senator in this House to have a dual function in a local authority because, if we are to be serious about national politics and talk about national issues, having a focus on the local authority area would not be a good move.

A total of 35 million people in the United States, 16 million in Great Britain, 4.5 million in Canada, 2 million in Australia and 500,000 in Argentina claim Irish heritage. Ireland is much greater than the jurisdiction of this Parliament and broader than the community of this island. Tens of millions of people around the world claim Irish heritage. I am the first representative of those interests to have been afforded a voice in the Houses of the Oireachtas. At a time when our neighbours across the sea are retrenching from European partnership, when the party of Abraham Lincoln in the United States is calling for borders to be closed and trade links severed, now is the time for Ireland to send a message and reach out to its community across the globe. I can think of no better way of demonstrating to the Irish diaspora that Ireland wants it to be part of the State and our community than expanding the franchise of this House and building a Seanad that can have a meaningful impact, not just on these shores but much further afield.

When the Irish people voted to preserve the Seanad in 2013, they did not do so out of any true affinity to how this House operated. The people gave the Houses of the Oireachtas the clearest mandate they have ever received to reform the Seanad. We must look forward and this Bill is a leap in that direction. Giving Irish citizens with current passports living abroad the chance to be eligible to register and vote on a panel of their choice for the Seanad would give a clear voice to the Irish emigrant community that I represent. It is estimated there are 3.1 million Irish passport holders living overseas. Affording them a vote in Seanad elections should be just the first step in redefining Ireland. A European Union without the United Kingdom, with which we have always shared common positions on trade, investment and taxation, will be one where Ireland needs to present itself as a nation of 70 million people and not as a small country on the periphery of Europe. The emigrant voice needs to be heard and we need to connect with that voice.

Studies have shown that, over time, a 10% increase in immigration in a particular country is associated with a 1% increase of exports to that country and a 3% increase in imports from it. Networking and strengthening connections with the diaspora has consistently been shown to increase economic activity in the home country. Whether it is Israel becoming the world’s second largest venture capital market or India becoming a global technology hub, it is the diaspora strategies of those states that has been at the root of their success. We need to harness the Irish diaspora now more than ever to ensure more investment in this country, more jobs, and greater economic stability in the face of the inevitable economic winds this country will face as a result of Brexit.

It is not just the economic benefits of providing the diaspora with representation in this House that should be considered but also the enormous cultural, political and social ties that have led to transformative changes in Irish society and that show why the diaspora deserve to vote for representatives of this House. Nowhere was this more evident than the same-sex marriage referendum where more than 70,000 returning emigrants were estimated to have flown home to vote and have their say in such a significant change to the country's social identity.

Speaking in the Dáil in 1963, President John F. Kennedy summed up the interwoven fabric of the diaspora to the State’s development best when he said:

If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course, if your own President had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me.

In describing the modern Ireland, he extolled the virtues of a truly global independent Ireland:

For self-determination can no longer mean isolation; and the achievement of national independence today means withdrawal from the old status only to return to the world scene with a new one.

His words have as much meaning today as they did in 1963. Ireland must stand on its two feet on the global stage and we need our diaspora to achieve that. I commend all those who have worked on this Bill and it is my sincere hope Dáil Éireann and this Seanad can see swift passage of the reforms in the Bill, empowering the diaspora with a vote and sending a clear message to Ireland's global community that we are listening and that we want their voices to be heard now more than ever.

I begin by thanking the Members of the Seanad reform working group and Senator Michael McDowell for drafting this Bill and also for the work which proceeded it. I thank them for their efforts in putting it into place.

No doubt it is an interesting Bill and there are some fine aspects to it, but I suggest there are also many snags. People voted in the 2013 referendum to keep the Seanad, which showed a belief in the effectiveness and importance of this legislative arm. To honour the faith of the populace, it is important to keep the integral features of the House, while ensuring it operates effectively. The Bill, however, focuses almost entirely on the electorate with little emphasis on the processes of this House.

The concept behind the vocational panels underpinning the Seanad electoral system has merit in bringing forward candidates who are genuinely from a particular business, professional or union background. I would have concerns, however, about additional eligibility requirements that the Bill imposes on nominating bodies, one of which is to have in place a set of corporate governance rules. This needs to be examined in the light of existing governance rules for nominating bodies. It is also fair comment that we are building a barrier to potential candidates by requiring seven years' experience in their chosen field, let alone adding another step to the nominating process.

In terms of providing votes for Irish citizens overseas which, in theory, is laudable, I am not entirely convinced. I am on the record of the House previously as being a firm believer in no representation without taxation.

It would be challenging to introduce and manage. Should someone who has not lived in this country for perhaps 40 years have a say in the make-up of the national Parliament? There are certainly practical issues that would arise in any significant extension of the voter franchise and these should be considered before we take steps to allow overseas voting.

When one examines who is eligible to vote under this Bill, the estimated Seanad electorate would increase to some 5.3 million people from an original 120,000. I can be corrected if I am wrong about that. This would naturally dilute the role that the local authority members play in deciding the membership of Seanad Éireann - they would be reduced to 13 seats. Presently, 43 seats in the Seanad are elected by members of local authorities throughout the country together with the incoming Deputies and outgoing Senators. This electorate represents a direct and significant link between local communities and the Oireachtas. This is an important connection between local democracy and the national Parliament.

The proposed Seanad electoral commission will replace the existing Seanad returning office, which, as my colleague pointed out, has very few staff. Will it be able to handle the projected 5.3 million voters? Where are the financial estimates on the proposed Seanad electoral commission and the burden it would place on the taxpayer?

As I see it, there are some other snags also. Candidates would have to apply for one of the five vocational panels and even at that it could be very lop sided. One might have a huge number on one panel and not many on another. Obviously, it will not be evenly spread because candidates will have to apply and opt for a particular panel, and that will be as a result of regulations with the consent of the Taoiseach. There is a pre-Seanad electoral commission and then there is the Seanad one. The Senator can correct me if I am wrong about that also when he is winding up. There will be a different returning officer for each vocational constituency and also one or more returning officers for the institutions of higher education. I understand it will be one constituency as a result of the referendum that took place in 1979, a decision which no Government has put into effect.

In applying for inclusion on the electoral register, under the Bill a person may express a preference for the constituency in respect of which he or she plans to cast his or her vote. As I say, one could have many people opting for one or two panels and maybe not so many for the others. I am not sure about the balance between them.

I understand the desire to extend the franchise to Irish citizenship, and there is also the question of allowing more people to apply for a valid Irish passport - there will be some fun with this. There will be a ballot paper in electronic form for printing and a unique identifier for each individual, and the ballot papers will have a unique QR code printed on them. One could have fraud and all sorts involved here because it will be communicated through the post which will not be registered, although that is probably not too important.

It imposes a huge responsibility on the Taoiseach of the day in deciding on this electoral commission. There will be an interim electoral commission and then there will be another one established, presumably when it is necessary. As Senator Paddy Burke said, there will be a significant financial imposition in that regard. We may have to suffer that, if it is the right thing to do when the time comes, but we will have some interesting times teasing this out on Committee Stage.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Seanad Bill. It is certainly a Bill that will encourage much debate in the House and reflection on the role of Seanad Éireann.

One aspect baffles me in that, since the recession, the only institute of democracy within the State to come under the microscope of reform has been Seanad Éireann. Other institutions of State, including Dáil Éireann, how the Executive or the Cabinet forms its powerful position and local authorities have not been given the same scrutiny in terms of reform, powers and democracy. It has been the easy option to kick Seanad Éireann and to look at reforming it.

The Taoiseach opted for abolition in the famous speech that he gave at a Fine Gael dinner in 2012 and there was a referendum. My party was the only parliamentary party that opposed the abolition of Seanad Éireann. We strongly opposed its abolition because of the principle of democratic accountability and oversight. Doing away with the Seanad would obviously lead to a democratic deficit, by removing the second Chamber and allowing the Executive to have more power. In other words, it would centralise power.

Subsequently, the 2014 local government reform legislation was brought forward by the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, the objective of which was to reform local government. However, that objective has not been met. A number of studies of it have been carried out. I carried out as part of a master's of finance degree I undertook a comprehensive analysis of the 2014 local government reforms, which included research and survey analyses in respect of local authority members across the political spectrum. It is very clear that said legislation has halted democracy. It has centralised power in the Executive and away from councillors in the local government setting. Local government is starved of financial resources. The reforms were within the realm of efficiency, and we know what that means. Efficiency without effectiveness of services means that costs are being cut. That is what has happened.

In the spirit of the reforms contained in the Bill before us, we support any reformation of Seanad Éireann that would make it more effective in its role. However, I have concerns, some of which have been expressed, about the manner in which the reforms are being brought forward, particularly those relating to the electoral process. I agree with Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin that the House has a major role to play at national, not local, level. The manner in which the Seanad is structured can instil a greater level of debate on and scrutiny of legislation than perhaps the Lower House because of the local and casework demands on Deputies.

There is a need to examine the way we do our business. If we are serious about reform, the first change we should examine is the manner in which we do our work on a week-to-week basis and consider some of the aspects that have been touched upon, including the scrutiny of European legislation and sitting four days a week. That could be a good start. A report I read recently indicated that over 95% of the laws made in Brussels that impact on citizens in Ireland go unchecked. They are filtered through the parliamentary committee system but those committees, owing to their workload, often do not have the time to scrutinise such legislative proposals and demands from Brussels. We could start with that aspect.

There is an all-Ireland agenda which has to be developed in a better way, particularly in the aftermath of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Those are matters in respect of which we could introduce reforms.

The electoral reform of the Seanad is another area. I would be slow to disenfranchise local government any further by reducing the democratic power of local authority members in electing Seanadóirí to the House.

There is another difficulty - political theorists, not just in Ireland but in other jurisdictions also, have reflected on this - where the same person has two votes to elect people to either Chamber. For example, the electorate would have a vote to elect a Member to Dáil Éireann and the same person would have a vote to elect a different person to Seanad Éireann. There are issues in that regard and it is a matter on which we need to reflect.

Regarding the Taoiseach's nominees - I welcome Senator Billy Lawless who is here representing the diaspora - the Taoiseach and my party leader made excellent choices this time around in selecting Seanadóirí, particularly those from sectoral interest groups. We can criticise that and say it is undemocratic for the Taoiseach to do so, but it was Éamon de Valera who changed the manner in which 11 Members were nominated by the Taoiseach. I have been critical of this in the past, but that is not to say that in the future party politics would be the dominant feature in terms of the way a Taoiseach would put forward his or her 11 nominees. That process has to be changed. If we are to elect people representing the diaspora abroad, there should be one Seanadóir elected. I know the structure is different in the Bill, but these are issues we can tease out on Committee Stage. We will not object to the completion of the Second Reading of the Bill today, but we reserve the right to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage.

I emphasise that local government in this country which is the point of democracy closest to the citizen is actually the weakest in Europe. We should not be proud of that. We will disenfranchise local government further if we remove the power of local authority members to elect 43 Senators. We have to examine the overall picture and not just engage in a knee-jerk reaction. I am all for political transformation and reformation, but it cannot be done on its own. It must be done in the round. There is a need to reform the way we do politics in this country and make decisions about spending public money, but we cannot do that in a knee-jerk fashion.

Yesterday's Budget Statement was an opportunity to reform more areas, but it did not occur. We had a massive opportunity to carry out major reforms in the aftermath of the financial crisis of the past five years when there was a strong Government in power. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Some good things were done, particularly in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but much more needs to be done, particularly around value for money. As politicians, we often say we should spend more. All political parties want more to be spent, including those that criticise the Government. However, what is the point in spending more if we are not getting value for money for what is currently being spent? There are issues in that regard. This goes back to the power of the Executive, the debate in the Dáil and the debate in the Seanad - they are all interlinked. Local government has been reduced, with 80 town councils brought out of the equation and democracy, at the point closest to those councils, removed. This has resulted in a further centralisation of power. What has happened at local government level is that the power has been centralised to the county manager and away from councillors who were democratically elected. We should not rush to reform Seanad Éireann because it is popular to do so. We have to look at the overall picture if we are serious about reform. We can be populist about reform, but we have to be serious about it.

I wish to share time equally with Senator Fintan Warfield.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am uncertain whether it is positive or wise to introduce the "ticketgate" GAA saga when we are trying to show that the Seanad is relevant. I am not sure that helps in terms of the optics.

Sinn Féin will be supporting the Bill on Seanad reform. We campaigned in the referendum in 2013 for it to be abolished, but the people made their decision and we respect that. Why, three years later, has there been no significant reform of this House despite all the talk at the time that the Seanad would work in a new way and be given more scrutinising powers?

I am proud to be a Seanadóir in this House, as, I am sure, are the other Seanadóirí. This is an important arm of the Oireachtas where I can give a voice to the ordinary people on a daily basis. We are all honoured and privileged to find a job that matches our passion and to perform it in our daily lives. However, there are still many flaws in the operation and formation of the Seanad. That is why I welcome the Bill as it has many elements which have the capacity to make reforming changes which were demanded by the electorate following the referendum on its abolition.

This Seanad is probably the most diverse in history in terms of the various opinions of Members. That is what makes it an interesting debating House.

The reason for this diversification is the sea change in the electoral landscape of previous years, which has allowed greater representation from all sectors of society. This is good for the country and our democracy. More can be done to make the Seanad an even truer reflection of society and the Bill will allow for it. Allowing 30 of the 60 Members to be elected by popular vote is a move that we welcome. The electorate proved it is interested in the Seanad and recognises its worth to our democratic system. Therefore, it is most welcome, as part of the Bill, that the public should be given a direct say in who is elected to it, that is, a choice to elect who they want to represent them.

Embracing our fellow citizens and holders of Irish passports from the North is also very welcome. We have campaigned for a long time for voting rights for our fellow citizens in all elections that take place in the Republic. We believe it is only a matter of time before it happens and we look forward to a time when we will have representatives from the Six Counties in a Thirty-two County Dáil Éireann. Brexit is a great opportunity to do it. On that note, I congratulate my colleague, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, who became the first Sinn Féin Senator to join us from the Six Counties, despite not even being able to vote in the election. We are very proud of him. Allowing the members of the diaspora to vote is also a very important step in keeping a link with our citizens who are forced to or otherwise leave the country and seek new opportunities elsewhere. We should never forget them and their links with the country. This proposed step would include them in our democratic process.

Allowing more of our graduates to have a say through the university panel would also be a progressive step. Exclusivity was part and parcel of the Seanad for far too long. The public rightly had a negative view of the House and its operation as a closed shop inhabited by fuddy-duddies. The position in that regard has changed dramatically in recent years, which has been positive for our democracy. Our House - the people's House - has a positive role to play into the future. Many good people and positive contributors have come through the Seanad and many more will come through in the future. The Seanad could take on many extra responsibilities that would make a positive contribution to Irish society. I liken the House to a family in which the maturing children are demanding from their parents more responsibility and the opportunity to move on, embrace ideas and have their say. I support the Bill, but reiterate that three years is a long time to wait for reform.

My first memory of the Seanad was as a child. Long after the fanfare of general elections and posters, my best friend's house across the road would be flooded with election literature for the Seanad. I often wondered, and asked, why it was absent from our letter box. Obviously, my father went to work at Guinness at the age of 15 years and did not go to college. Neither did my mother. Young people and children listen and I, as a Senator, remain conscious of that inequality. This insight as a child forever informs my understanding of the House.

In October 2013 the people rejected the referendum proposal to abolish the Seanad. However, all participants and parties involved in the referendum were clear in saying the Seanad, in its current form, is elitist, undemocratic and unacceptable. In the discourse that has developed, the result is not viewed as a vote to retain the Seanad in its current form. The House must become fully inclusive, representative, relevant and accountable. After the referendum, the Taoiseach and the Government committed to reform the political system and to ensure the Seanad was a modern and effective second Chamber, yet, as we have heard from across the House, progress and change have yet to be achieved.

The Seanad was created under the 1937 Constitution and, in the decades since, with few honourable exceptions, it has become synonymous with cronyism and corruption, particularly on the part of the Fianna Fáil Party. It used the system of political nominees to reward close political allies. The Seanad is also used as a safety net for those who fail to get elected to the Dáil. At no point has the Seanad provided a genuine check on the actions of the Government. Surely we can facilitate the direct election by way of universal franchise of all citizens on the same day as a Dáil vote. Surely Northern Ireland and diaspora representation could be the norm. Surely 50% of the representation in the House could be women. Surely groups in Irish society that are traditionally marginalised could be guaranteed representation. Given the many positive aspects of the Bill, Sinn Féin will support it.

I welcome the debate on the Bill and the Minister. I have listened, here and via the monitor in my office, to what many of the speakers have said. There is a real appetite for reform and an acknowledgement that there are deficiencies in the Seanad as it stands, particularly in terms of what the report describes as elitist and one which disenfranchises so many citizens. This must be addressed. The previous speaker highlighted his experience of it. The fact that so many third level institutions are excluded from the university panel electorate is not healthy. The absence of clear and defining guidelines or public understanding of the Seanad's distinctive role must be addressed. While I agree with a large number of the good points in the report, many need to be further explored and examined.

I believe in the comment that a reformed Seanad must be seen by Irish citizens as having a legitimate voice and a role in the political process and that it should have adequate powers and functions. However, I will return to it regarding what it might mean depending on the level of access a diaspora would and should have. I agree with the concept. The Seanad is enriched by the presence of Senator Billy Lawless and our Sinn Féin representative from Northern Ireland. However, there is a major issue to be explored. Other speakers have discussed the logistics of achieving it. I refer, for example, to how all Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland and elsewhere around the world would be informed and how arrangements would be made to enable them to vote. The diaspora is not very different, in terms of being information technology, IT, savvy, from many of our own people. Many of them are older individuals who may not be IT savvy. The report alludes to county libraries making IT available. How would this be done with people abroad? I particularly think of many of our countrymen and countrywomen residing in the United Kingdom who went abroad and sent money home but find themselves in situations of hardship that make it difficult for them to access such facilities or have a full understanding of them.

As other speakers said, there is so much more the Seanad could do. Scrutinising EU legislation is one example. The report alludes to committee work and bringing people before the Seanad. How would it impact on our existing committees? As somebody who was involved in the successful pre-legislative scrutiny of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which was held here in this Chamber, I wonder how we would manage the process without duplication and conflict with the committee system, which has worked well. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a very important process and I am very pleased that it has become standard.

I think the principle of one person, one vote is certainly something to which most of us subscribe. I have heard what speakers have said about the power of local government and the concern about its further undermining. I believe there is a problem there in terms of the powers local authority representatives have and their ability to exercise those powers and a shift away from them to the more permanent office or board of management. That certainly is something that requires examination and needs to be addressed. This is not a criticism of the management, which I believe does great work on our behalf.

I do not want to spend too long going through the report. It says Seanad Éireann lacks a distinctive identity, too closely reflects that of Dáil Éireann and fails to realise the constitutional ambition to create a largely vocational Chamber. It speaks about achieving more balance of vocational representation and educating people. A bit that really disturbs me says that the level of knowledge and practical experience required of candidates in the Constitution should be defined in legislation. I would be very worried about that. It smacks of more elitism.

The Seanad is elitist.

I am sorry, but many people see it as elitist.

It should be. That is what it is supposed to be.

I disagree. Again, the Senator chooses to interrupt other Members but greatly objects to those who interrupt him.

Order, please. The Senators can have this discussion outside.

He is still at it. All I have to do is keep encouraging him and he will keep doing it.

The ninth recommendation of the working group talks about giving consideration to North-South Ministerial Council proposals; giving consideration to secondary legislation of the European Union, which has been touched on; consulting relevant bodies prior to and during Second Stage debate, which I believe will cause problems; and investigating and reporting on matters of public policy interest, which I believe we already do. Much of the stuff that has been mentioned can be done without necessarily passing a Bill, as Senator Paddy Burke noted.

I believe we are going to have a serious issue around how we can have representation without residency or taxation. A total of 5.5 million people who do not reside in or pay taxes here could influence policy that would impact on the day-to-day lives of the citizens who live here without any consequences for them. That is not in any way to demean the value of the diaspora, which is very important to us not just from the point of view of creating more jobs and more industry but from a cultural point of view and all it has done for us. It is more a case of how we get that balance right between those we want to involve and the powers of this Seanad in respect of how it impacts on national policy. I believe there needs to be an input, but we have an awful lot of work to do to investigate how to get that balance right in order that the citizens who live and pay their taxes here and suffer the consequences of policy do not feel disenfranchised by a larger number of the diaspora which would have an input into that process. This is something that requires far more examination.

When I was a Minister, one feature of this House I found hugely useful and helpful related to commencing legislation. Many of the things to which Senator Paddy Burke referred and the issue of starting more Bills in this House can be done without necessarily waiting for this Bill to complete its passage and for the reform of the Seanad to take place. Many of the things we could do that would improve the working of the House and create far more relevance for the people can be done without necessarily waiting for this. I welcome the Bill in terms of the debate it has generated.

I welcome the Minister of State. I compliment Senator Michael McDowell on pushing the Bill forward. When I became a Senator, he was one of the first people to whom I spoke about the Bill and he was very insistent on getting support for it. I also second the points made by Senator Billy Lawless about the Irish diaspora, of which I was a member for 20 years. I think I was more Irish abroad than I am in my own country. I support most of what the Senator said. Ireland is almost unique in not allowing even a bare level of voting access for the recently emigrated and it is my hope the Bill will go some way towards remedying that problem.

My approach to this Bill is one of frustration that the reform of this archaic Chamber has taken so long and that this issue has not advanced more since we introduced it in July. I respect the points made by Senator James Reilly but, nevertheless, diversity is strength and movement. We need to move on with things. We cannot just think and debate forever. We need to put things into effect. The Manning report was the 12th such review of the powers and make-up of the Seanad. We have been debating its powers and electoral process for most of the history of the Republic. We passed a referendum to expand its democratic mandate through the enlargement of the university panel franchise by an overwhelming 92% as far back as 1979. It still has not been acted on. Having been a student of Waterford Institute of Technology, I have no vote in the process. Previous processes have been far too slow and even less effective. Reforming the Seanad was voted one of the most pressing concerns by the Constitutional Convention, second only to greater environmental protection. The Irish people voted to keep and reform the Seanad three years ago this month and we have still to make that a reality.

This Bill is not perfect. The Green Party position would be to more radically change the nature of the Seanad to make it the primary body that scrutinises EU legislation with even greater freedom from Government dominance than that provided for in this Bill. We would like to see the Seanad have more power than it currently has to imbue it with greater importance not just by changing the way it is elected but by increasing public focus on its work by making it more crucial to the legislative process. We want to change the way business is handled and to expand its functions to include the development and facilitation of participative democratic functions. Some of this would necessitate a change to the constitutional nature of the Seanad but much can be achieved once the newly restructured Seanad outlined in this Bill is made a reality.

It is my belief that the Seanad can be a greater Chamber. There are plenty of examples of Senates around the world that play a crucial role in their democracies. The Australian Senate has long provided a crucial control in respect of the see-saw politics of the two-party system of the lower chamber there, while also allowing for the representation of alternative views. In much of Europe and elsewhere, Upper Houses have facilitated federalism and positive decentralisation. Although the US Senate has been undergoing some tough reputational times, it has often lived up to its reputation as the "greatest deliberative body in the world". Well structured upper chambers can play a key role in modern democracies holding governments and lower chambers to account and introducing new thought and new ways of doing business into the legislative process. In order to do this, some key characteristics are essential. They should be elected or composed in a different fashion from that of their respective lower chambers. They should make some effort to temper the partisan divisions that can dominate Lower Houses. They should be largely or completely popularly elected. They can also offer dedicated representation to groups in society that are otherwise under-represented. This Bill, in particular, does much on that front.

The Seanad reform Bill that I have sponsored, with all of my colleagues in the Civil Engagement Group, addresses many of these key concerns and lays out a vision of a more democratic and legitimate Seanad in line with its original intentions when it was conceived in the 1937 Constitution.

The Bill will finally make a reality of the 1979 referendum result and democratise the university panels by merging them and admitting all Irish graduates into the franchise. The university panels have provided us with some of our more impressive political figures over the years, including Mary Robinson and Senators David Norris, Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane. The University of Dublin panel in particular played a role in providing representation to minority communities during the early Republic. A reformed Seanad can play a similar role in finally granting those Irish forced to move abroad by the economic collapse some form of representation in their native political system through their inclusion in the Seanad voting panels, and with provision at long last of some form of national postal voting. That will bring us one step closer to ensuring we cherish all the children of the Republic equally. The Bill also finally restores the vocationality of the panels by requiring that candidates actually have some knowledge and experience of the topics they are elected to represent. It restores the balance towards the nominating bodies and away from the political parties in the Dáil. The Bill will create a renewed, more democratic and more informed Upper House and I urge all Senators and Deputies to give it their full support, as I intend to do.

I thank Senator Michael McDowell for bringing the Bill before us and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, my neighbour from the poorer side of County Meath. I look forward to his comments.

I did not realise there was a poor side of County Meath.

I was only elected last April and feel somewhat inadequate in even speaking to the Bill. I feel like a learner driver doing a driving test who might be struggling to get over the line and who wants to change the rules of the road as a result. I do not feel qualified to speak on Seanad reform as I am somebody who has just come in and still learning the process and procedures. When I see somebody like Senator David Norris in front of me, I feel even less adequate in speaking about it. Nevertheless, I see the need for reform.

The last time I was asked a question about reform of the Seanad I had a ballot paper in my hand. To be accurate, the question was not about reform but abolition. It was a great pity that the question asked was "yea or nay, in or out, go or stay".

Reform was not on the ballot paper.

Likewise, with town councils, no option was given other than go or stay. As a former councillor, I know the Seanad performs a great role and I would hate the vocational panels and input of councillors to be totally diminished to 13 seats. As a councillor, my greatest link with national politics and policy was through my interaction with Senators. Now, as a Senator, I see that role in reverse. The councillors of Ireland are at the coalface and they deal with the public. There is a very close relationship between the councillor and the Senator, more than with the Deputy, which in essence forms a link between these Houses and the people on the street and changing that would be detrimental.

I must comment on my colleagues to my right. Once again, even in a debate of this nature, as a Fianna Fáil Member I had to take a snipe. I will not lower myself to snipe back and, in fact, will give a compliment. As Senator Máire Devine reminded us, Sinn Féin canvassed for the abolition of the Seanad, for which I thank them. If that party had canvassed for its retention, none of us would be here today. We owe the party a debt of gratitude.

I really appreciate the contribution from Senator Billy Lawless and I am delighted that he is here. Nevertheless, I have a major issue with the Bill and the proposed inclusion of the overall diaspora and Irish passport holders. We have all shouted for boys in green in the Lansdowne Road stadium or what is now the Aviva who, when they arrived in Dublin Airport, may have had to get directions to the stadium. They had an Irish passport, but how Irish were they? There is a diaspora that is interconnected and not long gone, as well as some we would like to bring home. Giving them a vote for its own sake will not bring them home or give them any more of a connection with Ireland and how Irish governance is carried out. Today, we are discussing the giving of a vote in a Seanad election to up to 5 million people. We will still have vocational panels, where people will have a choice as to which panel they will work from. The logistics will not be possible. We could have a dry run for a presidential election, if possible, that would involve one ballot paper, and we could see how that works. I see the merits in the philosophy of including an entire diaspora - I agree with it to an extent - but the logistics in this scenario will not be possible. The way the proposal has been designed with the vocational panels, whereby people decide on which panel they wish to vote, is not possible. We could have a dry run with a presidential election involving one ballot paper to see how it goes.

As I stated, I am only learning how this House works and should declare so far so good. I have been able to raise issues that I was not able to raise in the council chamber. I am thankful that in some, although not all, cases I have obtained positive outcomes. We have a major role to play in the analysis and scrutiny of European and national law, as has been mentioned. Where does that go? Perhaps our day could be more condensed and we could be more fruitful in what we do. The scheduling should be examined as much as how and why we got here. A Senator mentioned a knee-jerk reaction to reform in a contribution, but this is definitely the slowest knee-jerk reaction that could possibly happen. There is a need for reform and it is not a knee-jerk reaction.

The Bill is to be welcomed and, although I will support it, I will keep my options open on Committee Stage, as my colleague noted. There will be a need for much scrutiny in much of the make-up of the Bill and there must be some amendments. In theory the Bill must be welcomed as there is a need for reform, although that should not just be for its own sake. It does not need to be the dramatic type of reform that seems to be the populist opinion. As was highlighted in the referendum about this Chamber, the populist opinion might not be the right one. In 2013, when politicians were to be kicked around the streets, who would have predicted the people of Ireland would vote to keep the Seanad? Nobody in their right mind could even imagine how anybody would vote for politicians at that time.

The people have spoken and they want a Seanad. It is up to us, na Seanadóirí, to figure out how we do our business. I do not want to get carried away in how we decide to elect Senators and complicate matters. The last count I attended was so complicated, it was unreal. It is so complicated I did not even know I had been elected when it happened. From what I hear today, we are going to make this even more complicated. Perhaps I am reacting in a knee-jerk fashion, as I am still recovering from a campaign that hit the four corners of the country. I have a vision in my mind, with what is being spoken about here, of having to do a global campaign.

We must think very strongly about how to include the diaspora. I have no problem with the idea in theory as it is a great idea. As some Senators have mentioned, I lived outside the country for some time. I was more Irish then and travelled for two or three hours in taxis to see Irish bands playing. If I had been at home and they were on the radio, I would have turned it off. The Irish diaspora can be more Irish than we are but we should not include them for the sake of it and complicate the process. One would not know what kind of Seanad we would end up with if 5 million people were voting. Some would wear green jerseys like the Irish soccer team players who did not know how to get to Lansdowne Road when they arrived in Dublin. What kind of Seanad would they elect?

I thank the Seanad Independent group for using their Private Members' time for this crucial Bill. It is the first Bill to which, with many others in the House, I have put my name as a Senator. I reiterate my strong support for its proposed reforms.

Seanad Éireann has no mandate to continue in its current form. Every Senator sitting in the House following its retention by the Irish people in 2013 has a national mandate to campaign for significant change.

The Bill is the final product of decades of reports, consultations and debate on what a reformed Seanad should look like. I am content as many of the criticisms levelled at the Seanad that it is possible to change within the current constitutional framework are addressed in it. This is a good and comprehensive Bill and I am proud to support it. I am sure we will all agree that a significant number of people believe they are not well represented in Irish politics. People see the infighting that has resulted from partisan and Government versus Opposition politics. They believe that the issues they care about and that affect them are lost in the fray and are the collateral damage of electoral competition. That is why ensuring the creation of a reformed and independently-minded Seanad is so important. The Seanad could be a forum for consensus, for cross-party policy-making and for the type of politics that focuses on citizens, not political point-scoring.

Since the adoption of the Constitution in 1937, the people have been locked out of the Upper House of their Parliament. They have been kept at a distance, unable to participate and only able to observe. The Bill will open up the Seanad to the people and provide for another check and balance in policy-making and governance in this country. I am a strong believer in the idea of a fully participatory democracy. I believe in a democracy where every level of government constantly and consistently seeks new mandates from its citizens in the form of elections. That is why I have co-sponsored a Bill on the Order Paper to lower the voting age to 16 years in order to include young people in political decision-making. That is why, as president of Trinity College Dublin's students' union, I led voter registration drives that signed up tens of thousands of students to vote and thus ensure the greatest level of participation by as many people as possible in Irish democracy. I support the Bill because it will allow for a new forum where citizens can directly mandate their representatives to work on their behalf and express their vision for the future of the State. As politicians, we must support all efforts to build a stronger and more symbiotic relationship between politics and citizens. That is why I call on everyone in the House to support the Bill.

My colleague, Senator David Norris, will have an opposing view on the following matter. I am a representative of the Trinity College Dublin constituency. I also campaigned to open up the university vote and was elected because people wanted to open up the Seanad to other universities.

Nobody is against that.

I welcome the Minister of State. He had been a regular visitor to the House in his previous ministry.

I have no doubt that he will be a regular visitor to the House in the four or five-year lifespan of the Government.

I welcome the Bill. As a young fellow in County Clare, I always admired Senator Michael McDowell from a distance for his legal and political brain. I am not surprised that he champions Seanad reform.

We have had other good champions in the Seanad, including Dr. Maurice Manning who lectured me when I studied politics at UCD for three years. UCD is where many people my age learned about politics, its intricacies and the value of the Seanad. As a UCD student, I came here as a guest of Dr. Maurice Manning. I sat in the Visitors Gallery and saw the workings of the Seanad at first hand.

Like everyone else, I want Seanad reform but first we must check what works. We are quick to criticise ourselves and institutions, but we should consider what we have achieved in this Chamber. Some of the most influential people in Irish society have passed through this Chamber. We all know what Senator David Norris has achieved since the 1980s. His success is in no small part due to his membership of this House. If anybody suggested a reformed Seanad would not have somebody like him in it, I do not believe the people would want such a situation. We must be careful about how we pitch reform and what type of reform we embrace. The reform of local government was discussed for a long time and eventually it was reformed before the 2014 local elections. If one asks a current councillor, particularly one in a rural area, whether reform is good, he or she will reply in the negative and state that the municipal areas are too big and that the municipal district structure is broken, even though it was never right in the first instance. Also, the elimination of town councils came about on foot of a unilateral decision but many people would say swathes of urban Ireland are not represented at local authority level. I caution that we need reform but we must ensure that it is the right type of reform.

I have only direct experience of Seanad Éireann since 2011. From what I have been told, the Seanad prior to 2011 was one of the best in recent history because former Senator Maurice Cummins was Leader of the House. Ge was prepared to push boundaries and do things differently. He brought in speakers, set up committees and considered ways to reform how the House conducted its business - all without a referendum.

Then he was shafted.

Yes, which leaves one to wonder.

Do the people who push for reform get thanked for doing so? That is a debate for another day.

The Cathaoirleach has the pleasure of chairing the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, of which I am delighted to be a member. Its establishment was an initiative mooted by the previous Leader, former Senator Maurice Cummins. It was set up to examine and report on issues that affect Irish society and that are deeply held within the mindset of Irish people. One example is the groundbreaking farm safety report. It received national and international coverage in terms of pulling all the relevant stakeholders together. We advertised for submissions and received many. We opened the Seanad Chamber to between ten and 12 groups and they gave oral submissions. We based a report on all of the submissions and made significant recommendations. As one person involved in farm safety said, every time a line is written in the media about farm safety awareness is raised and, potentially, lives are saved. That is one initiative that was done in the absence of reform. I have no doubt that an awful lot more can be done in this Chamber without reform.

Of course, we all want to see a lot more people partake in the electoral process. At the same time, I do not want the important and unique role played by councillors in electing Senators denigrated to a major extent either. I agree that the vocational panels are not as reflective as they could be.

I was nominated by the National Council for the Blind of Ireland. I was elected to the Administrative Panel, which is supposed to reflect disabilities and voluntary community groups. I strongly represent the organisation that nominated me because I am legally blind, with just 16% eyesight.

The Senator does it very well.

I thank the Senator. I was nominated by the National Council for the Blind of Ireland and elected to the disability panel. I am an example of somebody who reflects the panel to which I have been elected. I would like political parties to make a greater effort - they should be obliged to do so - to nominate people who reflect each type of panel. For example, the Agricultural Panel should deal with agricultural issues, but that is a broad church which includes environmental issues, food safety and marketing products made in Ireland. This country exports billions of euros worth of product as a result of agriculture and that makes the panel important.

The Leas-Cathaoirleach was elected to the Industrial and Commercial Panel which he represents very well because of his background.

I thank the Senator.

It is easy to be critical. As politicians, we must always be critical of ourselves and want and strive to do better and make institutions better. Many more improvements can be made without reform.

In 2014 the people voted to retain the Seanad.

Many eminent people got involved in that campaign and pointed out what could and should be done and the people said they wanted a second Chamber. They wanted the Seanad to continue because there were people like former Senator Sean Barrett who put forward hundreds of amendments in the last Seanad. Many of them were accepted by Ministers. The then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, accepted one after another because former Senator Sean Barrett was recognised as being probably one of Europe’s greatest transport economists and knew what he was talking about. The Minister had the good grace to realise that his legislation would be vastly improved by accepting the amendments from people like former Senator Sean Barrett.

The poor man then lost his seat.

One of the best performers in this House lost his seat. We were all shocked to see that happen. Elections are funny.

This Bill is important. I would like to see it pass Second Stage and proceed to Committee Stage where we can debate and discuss it in the intricate detail it deserves. People have put time and effort into this Bill which deserves to proceed to Committee Stage where it might be dissected and improved and we may get unanimous agreement.

When we speak of reform of the Seanad, we are in essence talking about how it can work best within the framework of our parliamentary democracy. We have to respect that it is a different animal from the Dáil with a different but nonetheless important function. There are two aspects, first, electoral reform and how we elect Senators; and, second, how it operates and functions. We need to address both to achieve reform.

The view of the public is that it does not get to vote on the Seanad and it wonders what the Seanad does, although when we had a referendum people wanted to keep it. There is a good case to extend the franchise on the basis that we need to have as much participation from people as possible. The proposal here is to extend the franchise to people with Irish passports, people in Northern Ireland and others living outside the State. The nation extends beyond the country’s boundaries; there are many who feel an intangible link that makes them feel Irish, no more so than when they are abroad and their identity is more challenged by contrast with other cultures. We stand very proudly over our culture. As a democracy, we should draw circles of inclusiveness. It is a healthy development in recent years that there has been more reaching out to the diaspora, not just for economic reasons. Those people have the same genetic history as us in general, although I know there are new Irish now. We can learn from the the diaspora and they from us. We celebrate when they succeed, in politics and business, as, for example, the Kennedys did, and we like to claim Barack Obama, rightly so. We are very proud.

I do not agree, however, with extending the franchise to people other than Irish citizens resident in the State. It would be important to have the diaspora represented here, but that could be achieved by Taoiseach’s nominees. There is a simple mechanism already. I am delighted that Senator Billy Lawless is here and that he contributes. He can give us the emigrant’s perspective. I know that he actively helps the young diaspora. An exception could be made for people who left in the past five or ten years. I agree with much of what Senator Paul Daly said. There is a real connection. For the most part I subscribe to the view that unless one is paying taxes in this country, one should not have the franchise for national or local elections.

I am concerned about the detail of how this would operate. The Leas-Chathaoirleach mentioned that over 5 million people who have Irish passports could have the franchise. The proposal for conducting elections through an e-mail to be printed, completed and sent back seems very casual compared with our approach to national elections and with the Seanad election as it operates now, local elections and referenda. There would be a lot of scope for personation. It is a fair and proper concern in the conduct of elections, to know that the outcome is a legitimate representation of the votes of people who were entitled to vote. This proposal cannot be stood over. What is the rationale for moving people from one panel to another when one is oversubscribed? A person may not have an interest in another panel or may not want to register. I could run on the education panel but if I cannot get onto it, I would have to get onto another. There could be an imbalance. The system is good. When I was a councillor, I received five papers and voted on all the panels. That is the best way to go. Does voting for the Seanad need to be scrutinised less than for other elections? The answer has to be "No".

The people spoke when they were asked if they wanted the Seanad to continue. I was not in favour of abolishing the Seanad. The people wanted a watchdog and that was the gist of their message. It does not need any great legislation or debate in here. Senator James Reilly, the former Minister for Health and for Children and Youth Affairs, spoke about this Bill. He was one of the few Ministers who allowed legislation commence in the Seanad. Why is that not happening? The Government has only five hours in the Dáil to put through legislation. That begs the question as to why more legislation is not commenced in the Seanad. Can somebody answer that question? This is not rocket science. Why does the Seanad not scrutinise EU legislation?

This Bill is not reform. It is reform for more of the same. It will be unwieldy and the process will be confusing for those who wish to participate. Dividing the country into regions with one candidate from each will not be very balanced. All candidates may be from Dublin. I understand the tenor and intent behind this, but I can see trouble coming down the line. I see other problems in the legislation that I do not have time to deal with now, but I will do so on the next Stage.

There is a lot of hoo-ha being made about reform. I agree with the Sinn Féin Senator, Senator Máire Devine. Why has it not happened? It can happen right now and that would be meaningful in terms of the operation. I agree with Senator Paddy Burke who stated we were putting the cart before the horse. Is this for real?

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and thank him for his presence and contribution to the debate. I compliment Senator Michael McDowell on putting the Bill before us and thank former Senators Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole, for their immense work in preparing the report of the working group on Seanad reform.

While it is important to recognise that there was a referendum and that the people voted 52% to 48% to retain the Seanad, the fundamental question we should ask is a little like the one a person would hear when watching "Grand Designs" or Mr. Dermot Bannon on "Room to Improve". From where would we start from? The fundamental question I would pose, while not opposing reform, which is needed, is why we are starting with this Bill at this stage when the Taoiseach, after his visit to this House in September, has asked for an implementation group to be put together and on which he has written to the party leaders. I am not sure whether the Taoiseach has written to Senator Michael McDowell. At one level, we are ahead of ourselves.

The reason we need reform has been well articulated previously and in this debate. It also emanates from the fact that many believe the Seanad is not representative of them because of its elitist electorate, which is a fair observation to make for those in the communities we all live in and who recognise that. At the same time, however, they fail to make a distinction between our role as Seanadóirí and that of Teachtaí Dála. Therein lies part of our difficulty in how we see ourselves and how we are defined under the Constitution.

At the risk of causing a note of discord, perhaps the framers of the Constitution did not necessarily get the role of the Seanad correct at its inception and in how we see ourselves now and how we operate today. Undoubtedly, the powers and functions of Members of this House can and should be reformed and they have been in some way over the years, but the fundamental difficulty for many Members in the House rests in the franchise, in terms of the changing of the franchise, who can vote and how they vote. That will pose a difficulty. As Senator Martin Conway said, that will pose a challenge on Committee Stage. To be fair to Senator Billy Lawless who represents the diaspora as well as being here as an authentic, able parliamentarian in his own right, how does one extend that franchise and who does one allow to vote? As Senator Paddy Burke asked, how does one put that structure in place?

What is important is that we will not be opposing Second Stage and we all want reform, or at least I want reform, about which I will be honest. The Taoiseach, in this House and since the referendum, has been clear on his support for and belief in reform. He has endorsed the Manning report and its implementation. That is Government policy and it is in the programme for Government.

It would be remiss of us all, either as part of the implementation group, whoever its members may be, or as Members of this House, not to recognise that there are grave concerns about the Bill. Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill posed a good question. When we talk about the political system, we have not seen significant reform of the Dáil. As a Member of the previous Dáil, I was privileged to be Chairman of a committee which parsed, investigated and analysed much legislation, conducted pre-legislative scrutiny and held committee hearings on the protection of life during pregnancy legislation. We have seen copious volumes of reports on reform of local government, some of which have worked, but what we have seen in local government has been an erosion of the powers given to local authority members, which is not good. Like Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, I share the view that local government is the closest form of government to the people, and we need to give more powers back to councillors.

What will reform of this House look like in its final state? That question is why I would like to move to Committee Stage where we can have a constructive debate on the parts of the Bill which is fundamentally a good idea but is perhaps flawed at one level and I do not mean to be critical when I say that. To be fair to Senator Michael McDowell, we needed someone to take the ball and run with it. If we had not had that, we would be back to talking about implementation, going back to the 12 other reports on Seanad reform, and we would certainly not have the roadmap from the Manning report and this Bill today. Mr. John Downing, in a fine piece in the Irish Independent, wrote correctly that the shelves are groaning with voluminous reports. That is why it is important the Bill proceed to Committee Stage and that we have the implementation group put together by the Taoiseach. If we are to discuss widening the franchise, what will that mean in real terms? Who will be here and how will people vote to get representation in the Upper House?

The one part we have not focused on and which I look forward to discussing on Committee Stage or in whatever guise we come back to this issue is the logistics of what reform means in terms of costs, staffing and how we can beef up the House. Fundamentally, we all demand that we scrutinise legislation and that, as I stated when the Taoiseach was here, we bring this House beyond the gates of this complex to the people. That means we should be open to doing different things. I note we have a Seanad consultative committee, chaired by the Leas-Chathaoirleach, which I hope will take up different projects or different aspects of civic life and make positive contributions to them. Senator James Reilly stated his belief that we will have a serious issue around how we can have representation without residency or taxation, something referred to as well by the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

We are in favour of reform. Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill spoke about sitting for four days. I wish him luck with that because I do not think he will get Members to come in for four days when they are already involved in constituency work and are doing other work around legislation. Senator Kevin Humphreys's point about climate change is one we should pursue.

The value of local authority members is something we should continue to cherish. They have been treated badly and I do not say that as a representative of councillors. We have seen electoral areas increased, their pay reduced and their workload increased. The abolition of the dual mandate has not done what it was meant to do. It has not worked for the betterment of the people.

The Bill is one we should support in moving to the next Stage. It is important that from there on we put together that roadmap and go back to the plan, the grand design, and see how we can build up the House. I thank Senator Michael McDowell for his work and commitment. Only for him, we would not be having this debate.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill. I thank Senator Michael McDowell for putting it forward as it provides us with an opportunity to debate Seanad reform which is absolutely necessary. The Seanad is the Upper House of the Oireachtas, but one would not think it is. Reform should include getting more media coverage for the Seanad. It should also include making the Seanad more valid.

Much of the debate is about how Senators are elected. Senators are treated like second-class citizens in the House. I do not want to go back over the GAA ticket matter which was raised earlier by Senator Paddy Burke, but it is an issue. For example, Tuesday was budget day and all Deputies were given tickets for the Visitors Gallery for visitors to hear the Budget Statement. Senators, however, were not afforded the same luxury. That is ridiculous in the Houses of the Oireachtas as all Members are equal. One House is as important as the other. The budget is for everyone, not just for Deputies. The allocation of visitor tickets was unfair and not right. No Senator was on the Committee on the Future of Healthcare. We had to fight to get on it which, again, was not right. Those are three small examples of how the Seanad is treated with which I do not agree.

Much of today's and previous debates has centred on how the Seanad is elected. This should be dealt with on a broader basis. I do not agree with taking the vote away from councillors, as has been suggested. While there is talk about Seanad and local authority reform, there is never any talk about Dáil reform. Local authority reform reduced the number of councillors and abolished town councils. Deputies made that decision and councillors had no say in the matter. That is not right as councillors work on the ground and deal with constituents every day. Without them, we would not function as a state. One cannot just reform the local authorities and the Seanad without doing anything about the Dáil.

I believe in extending the Seanad franchise to the diaspora and giving it a say. When I was an emigrant in London for four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I always came home to vote. Apart from the fact my father would have killed me if I did not, I felt passionately about politics back then in my late teens and early 20s. As every emigrant cannot do that, there must be a way of extending the vote to the diaspora. However, it has to be carefully examined. If one looks at the electoral register, it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. If we cannot get the register right for general or local elections, how can we get it right if we extend the vote to the diaspora across the world? I also do not agree with online voting as this would open the doors to allow people to fiddle with the register. It was argued that only people who pay tax should get the vote. That is not necessarily right either but that would be important for the committee to examine.

For the purposes of Seanad elections, the country should be divided into regions. I enjoyed and had a great time on the recent Seanad campaign, which one is not supposed to admit. I saw places I had never seen before from the Inishowen Peninsula all the way down to Cork. However, as a politician, I might not necessarily be relevant to someone on the Inishowen Peninsula. The Seanad electoral base should be divided into regions to allow Senators to represent one region, canvass it and get to know its issues. I agree with most of what Senators Paul Daly and Michelle Mulherin said. I support the Bill's sentiment and acknowledge the work Senator Michael McDowell has put into it. I support its passage to Committee Stage because some amendments need to be made to it.

I thank the Minister of State for attending this debate and his thoughtful input. I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate and to the Taoiseach who came to the House to speak on this, among other subjects.

This Bill is not drafted by me but by the Manning committee. I did not spend many hours toiling through the interstices of Seanad legislation.

However, the Senator has the expertise.

The Manning committee commissioned a former parliamentary draftsman, Dr. Brian Hunt, to do that. That is the Bill I am presenting. While it is nice to hear Members compliment me for all the hard work I put into it, and although I did assist the Manning committee on the broader issues, I cannot claim credit for the actual drafting of the Bill itself. I pay tribute to those who were part of that process and who put much work into it.

I am a little perplexed by the Leader's approach to this and the suggestion made earlier that we are putting the cart before the horse. I do not see that at all. There are many procedures in this House which can be changed. This House is the total master of its own procedures. It is not the total master of the resources necessary to give effect to the changes we make, however. Under the Constitution, each House of the Oireachtas is totally free to decide and change its own procedures. There is no significant constraint on us, apart from the question of resources to implement whatever we actually do.

It must be remembered that there are inside and outside electoral panels for the Seanad. The Oireachtas Members panel, the inside one, has a designated guaranteed minimum under the present system. The Bill aims to get rid of that. Deputies and Senators would not have, and need not have, a guaranteed input into who gets into the Seanad. Accordingly, if we do change it to bring in a popular franchise of, say, 30 versus 13 in respect of the 43 panels, as suggested by the Manning committee, we can strengthen the rights of councillors by eliminating the right of the Dáil and the Seanad to grab a specified portion of the seats on each panel for themselves. This would decomplicate the local authority-Oireachtas Members elections in that way.

Article 9.3 of the Constitution, an often forgotten article, states, "Fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens". If one holds an Irish passport, it is an indication of citizenship and one owes a duty of loyalty to the State. The fact one might belong to a greater diaspora in the numbers mentioned by Senator Billy Lawless and be one of 40 million people does not mean one is a citizen or owes the State a duty of loyalty. If one does owe the State a duty of loyalty, the very least the State can do is recognise and reciprocate that duty. Accordingly, wherever one is in the world, if one owes that duty of loyalty to the State, there is no reason the State should not care about what one thinks when we compose the Legislature.

The issue of taxation and representation is very well made as an argument. Under the Constitution, apart from making recommendations on finance legislation and money Bills, this House has virtually no competence in taxation matters.

That is part of the democratic process and part of what the people voted for in 1937. We have different functions, but that is not one of ours. There is elaborate machinery in the Constitution to ensure the views of the Dáil on matters financial are absolutely paramount and that, at best, we are given the right to make a passing comment as it does what it does.

We were much better during the crisis than the Dáil was.

I advert to the contribution of Senator David Norris. The amendment in 1979 was passed by 92% of people. They did not stipulate that there must be a single constituency, as provided for in the Bill and as proposed by the Government. They said we could divide up the seats differently. Senator David Norris might be interested to know that it is perfectly legitimate under the Constitution to hold that Trinity College Dublin would have a seat no matter what, or that NUI would have a seat, etc. That is something which can be dealt with. The issues raised by Senator David Norris can be discussed on Committee Stage. This is not a black and white or binary matter whereby everyone is in one constituency and no existing elements of the third level sector can be somehow protected.

I do not know why, but the Senator was only allocated five minutes according to the order.

It is a little strange.

Can we change it?

It is in Standing Orders. I have given him a minute and a half of injury time.

That is fair enough.

I have no objection.

Give me a little more time. We could have been here until 3 p.m.

I am advised I can give a little discretion, if the House is agreeable. Carry on; we will give the Senator another minute.

We are very agreeable.

I will say one thing about the franchise. It is not suggested there be online voting. It is suggested that part of the process be changed. As Senator David Norris will appreciate, the process is rather cumbersome at the moment for the universities. Registered letters go out and get left in post offices. Then people have to go chasing the registered letters. That procedure could be gotten rid of by allowing people to download their voting paper. However, these would have to be validated by a unique personal number to avail of that system.

Let us remember this: Senator David Norris and I have one thing in common.

We have more than one. The Senator represented me in a very important case.

That is not relevant.

It is relevant to me.

The Senator can continue discussing that issue outside.

We have this in common: both of us achieved a first preference vote in the recent election that was more than a number of Deputies in Dáil Éireann got and they are Members of Dáil Éireann.

A very good point.

I will try to make that point somewhat differently. The NUI register has 113,000 people on it. The figure is extraordinary. Of that total, between 35,000 and 40,000 actually vote. The rest are lost somewhere in the diaspora. The point is that it is entirely possible to afford people a postal vote and to have a postal system without extensive electoral fraud. I do not believe there was ever extensive electoral fraud in a university election. Therefore, I do not believe there is any practical problem in providing a postal vote along the lines suggested by the Manning committee.

I mention it because some Members of the House are afraid of what would happen if people in Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens and who owe a duty of loyalty to the State assert their Irish citizenship. If we give them the vote, it does not mean the barbarian hordes are going to be at the gates or will change the entire system in the country or in this House, for that matter. The basis of the Bill is the notion that candidates have to go and look for the votes to start with.

They are probably more conservative also.

Who knows what their views on many issues will be? God only knows what they would be on the eighth amendment and so on. I am simply making the point. A number of Members of the House have it in the back of their minds that Sinn Féin will somehow undertake a vast vote-rigging operation in places on this planet where no one can see what is happening. That is not going to happen. It does not happen in the universities or anywhere else. Therefore, I do not see that there is a real problem.

The Taoiseach came before the House and said he was in favour of an implementation group. The Leader asked what happened to it. The Leader may be asking me what happened to it but I do not know. He is the Taoiseach's spokesman in this House. I would like to see that implementation group set up.

If the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage let us be clear about one thing: it is going to go through that process. It is not going to go into some kind of backwater to be left there unconsidered while we think of some other reason nothing should be done.

I made this point the other day when the Taoiseach was here. It may well be that the establishment of all the registers and the enrolment of all the potential voters will take a period of time, inevitably. If we pass legislation in the life of this Seanad and Dáil, it may well be that we will have to provide, by amendment to the Bill, that the next election be conducted under the old system because there will not have been enough time to find out what Irish passport holders in Australia are all about. Those who fear for their lives here should consider the possibility that this will take time to implement. That does not make me any the less enthusiastic about it, but it does not mean that those who have been elected under the present system are necessarily going to see a radically new system next time an election takes place, especially given the reasonably pessimistic views about the longevity of this Dáil and Seanad.

I thank the House for its indulgence. I call on the House to pass the Bill to allow it to proceed to Committee Stage, where all of the issues, including the issues raised by Senator David Norris, the issues about the diaspora, postal voting and whether there should be more or fewer council dominated seats in the Seanad can be considered. Those issues can be discussed at that Stage honestly and decently among people. We should no longer hide ourselves behind the complexity of the issue and use that as the reason for doing nothing. It is complex, but that is all the more reason it should be addressed as quickly as possible.

Question put.

Will the Senators claiming a division, please, rise?

Senators David Norris and Marie-Louise O'Donnell rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday or Wednesday, with the agreement of the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 18 October 2016.
Sitting suspended at 2.55 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.