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Seanad Referendum (Continued)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 2

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] However, it is an entity that makes recommendations to Government for consideration by Government either to be accepted or rejected. In this case the parties making up the Government, that is, my party and the Labour Party, and the Tánaiste and myself have already agreed that there would be a Government decision to hold a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is only some of the Labour Party, not all of the Labour Party.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore This is not a good week for Deputy Martin to get into that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The position was that the assessment carried out by the Department and by the officials was on the basis of what needed to be done in order to put a question to the people to abolish the Seanad. In other words, it was necessary to prepare the heads of the referendum Bill and that meant examining the Constitution and focusing on every article that either directly or indirectly had a relationship with the Seanad and in the preparation of the Bill provide for the removal of those articles from the Constitution. That has gone through the House and is currently-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Will the Taoiseach make that available to us?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Yes. There is nothing secretive about that. I can give Deputy Martin that information. It is the assessment of the articles in the Constitution that need to be dealt with, removed, amended or altered, as the case may be.

  Deputy Martin said the Constitutional Convention was examining the electoral system and that it would make recommendations on that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I did not speak about the convention.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I hear the former Deputy and Minister, Mary O'Rourke, talking these days. She came up with proposals for Seanad reform in 2003.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I did not talk about Mary O'Rourke.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Sorry, please.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am talking about her.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett You have asked a question, Deputy Martin, and you must allow the Taoiseach to reply.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin He is not answering.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny When Deputy Martin says-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin He wanders and meanders around this House and abuses this process.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I will let you come back in later.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny He never listens.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I asked about Question No. 9. Will the Taoiseach answer Question No. 9?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny One of the hallmarks of those in an arrogant Government is that they never listen.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I asked about Question No. 9. Am I entitled to an answer or not?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett You are entitled to ask, through the Chair, please.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Through the Chair, this is very frustrating. The Taoiseach is abusing this process.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Cool down. We will get to your answers shortly.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It has happened time and time again.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Taoiseach to reply. Other Deputies have questions.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I hear this week after week. The Taoiseach is filibustering and going all over the place and he will not answer the specific questions he is asked.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy, would you please behave yourself and show some respect to the House?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am behaving myself. The Taoiseach should behave himself.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett You are not.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin With respect, we are entitled to answers.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett You are not entitled to jump in and shout across the Chamber when you feel like it.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I simply want an answer. There is argy-bargy from time to time in the House. I would not get too excited about it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I will come back to you again. Other people have questions as well. The Taoiseach to continue with his reply. Thank you.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The position in so far as the Dáil being accountable is one that we are obviously interested in. Deputy Martin has done a good deal of shouting. The former Deputy, Mary O'Rourke, brought in her proposals for Seanad reform in 2003. All of that could have been implemented by Fianna Fáil and the former Progressive Democrats Party with the former Minister for Justice, but there was no appetite for change then. Instead, the then Government went the other way and set up a plethora of Dáil committees, rewarding chairmen, vice-chairmen, conveners and everyone else. Measures included the appointment of 20 Ministers of State to keep people quiet. In 2007, the Constituency Commission was not tasked with any reduction in the number of Members of the Dáil. In fact, the Fianna Fáil election manifesto sought 180 politicians in the House, no less. I understand that the working group from the party brought forward its recommendations and these included a 15 minute Order of Business and two hours' advanced notice of Leaders' Questions. The first meeting Fianna Fáil held in the new year, on 3 January 2011, was to discuss Seanad abolition. At that point, the party that Deputy Martin leads was not opposed to its abolition. In fact, talks had taken place between the then Ministers, Mr. Kileen, Mr. Gormley and Deputy Martin. Then, clearly, the party changed its tune. Of course other Members from other parties had a similar experience.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach knows our position.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Deputy Martin referred to €20 million. The total running costs of the Seanad have been estimated by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to be in the region of €20 million per annum. This is based on the 2012 outturn and includes all direct and apportioned or indirect costs. Direct costs related to Seanad Members' salaries, expenses and staff costs amount to €8.8 million. Indirect pay and non-pay costs of the supporting sections, that is, information and communications technology, the office of the Superintendent and procedural and support sections amount to €9.3 million. There is also an annual cost of approximately €2 million in pensions. The pensions of former Members are paid by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission under subhead 2.1, grant-in-aid in respect of ciste pinsean Thithe an Oireachais. The commission has indicated that it is not possible to estimate the amount of net actual savings that would arise if the Seanad were abolished. While there would be savings related to salary and expense costs, parliamentary printing, information and communications technology and other support services, etc., there would be substantial increases in the pension costs and possible other payments to outgoing Senators.

The Government has not decided on the date of the referendum but it is expected to be in October. The Government will make its decision on that in due course. Did Deputy Martin raise anything else with me?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Question No. 9.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny As I said, this was a clear commitment of both parties, and, therefore, the Government, to hold a referendum with regard to abolishing the Seanad. From that point of view there were no meetings about minutes and memoranda on an ongoing basis. This was a clear Government decision that was communicated to the Departments. The work they have done relates to what is necessary in order to be able to put a question to the people on whether they want to abolish Seanad Éireann. The work included the preparation of the heads of the Bill. This meant that we examined the entire Constitution insofar as any of its articles are related to the Seanad. That is the work that has been done and I can supply Deputy Martin with that material.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The next question was in the name of Deputy Joe Higgins, but my office has received a message from him. Unfortunately, Deputy Higgins is in Kerry with his elderly mother, who is seriously ill.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am sorry to hear that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy Higgins has passed on his apologies for not being here to take his question. The following question is from Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I wish to pass on my best wishes to Deputy Higgins and his mother.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett We all do.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Fianna Fáil's abysmal failure to institute political reform and its double standards when it jumps up and down now about political reform are apparent to people. However, the issue is about this Government and whether it is serious in its commitment to political reform. I am happy to give credit where credit is due. The Government said that it would abolish the Seanad and has moved to do so. I support the abolition of the Seanad because it is an unrepresentative and elitist entity that does not enhance democracy. However, if the Taoiseach was listening to people in the country he would know that since this issue has come up the public sentiment on the matter is perfectly clear. They want the choice of more democracy not less democracy. They want to see the abolition of the existing Seanad, but they want abolition to take place in the context of an enhanced democracy and a greater level of political accountability, whereby, for example, politicians who make promises and break them can be held to account and whereby people do not have to wait five years to do so. There is clearly a concern among the public about the idea that if we simply abolish the Seanad then we are left with Cabinet dictatorship. This Government has not especially inspired confidence in this regard given its repeated use of guillotines and repeated short-circuiting of debates on vital issues.

Will the Taoiseach listen to the public in the context of the forthcoming referendum and link the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad to a serious debate on democratic reform and how we enhance democracy in order that the whole thing is seen as a package whereby we get more democracy, not less? I put it to the Taoiseach that if he does not do that, he runs a serious risk of losing the referendum. That is where the public sentiment is going such is the level of mistrust of politicians in general. This must be addressed. That is my question to the Taoiseach. Is he going to listen to what the public is saying on this issue?


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