Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

Seanad Referendum (Continued)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 92 Next Page Last Page

(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] Many of the ways they do business are well worth seeing in the interests of that openness, transparency and accountability about which they talk.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I will be brief because I realise the Taoiseach needs a break from the interrogation he just received from Deputy Dara Murphy, in particular, and Deputies Harris and McEntee.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny They are all good Deputies.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It was very forensic.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The interrogation from the Taoiseach's backbenchers was forensic. I stand back in admiration of their qualities and the very searching questions they helpfully asked, which were obviously prepared by the back room people.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett No. We do not want to go down that road.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I jest.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I want to make it quite clear that every Member of this House is entitled to put a question to the Taoiseach.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am not questioning that at all.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett There is this idea that has built up that only the leaders of parties put questions to the Taoiseach of the day. I disagree totally with that. Every Member is entitled to table questions.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I articulated no disagreement with that at all. I merely commented on the quality of the-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett There is no need to pass comment.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am entitled to pass a comment, or I hope I am. I know we are just about to discuss a proposal to abolish the Seanad. I hope we will not abolish free speech in the Dáil-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett No.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----or the right to comment on issues in whatever form we may and in accordance with Standing Orders.

I asked the Taoiseach Question No. 9, to which I would like a specific and straight answer. It should not be difficult because I think he half answered it. I asked the Taoiseach to circulate his Department's memorandums and minutes of meetings held in regard to the forthcoming Seanad referendum and if he would make a statement on the matter. I would appreciate a categoric "Yes" or "No" answer to that question. The Taoiseach seemed to indicate first of all that there were no memorandums or minutes. I am not worried about the content or the purpose of them but I simply believe they should be circulated to help in the overall public debate on the proposal to abolish the Seanad.

My position prior to the general election was clear that we would favour the abolition of the Seanad only in the context of deep and meaningful reform to the electoral system, to the Dáil itself and to the method of appointing persons to the Executive. It would be a very radical programme of reform because I think the crisis we have experienced demands that.

The Taoiseach has dramatically changed his position. In the famous speech in the Glenties, he detailed considerable reform which he believed in then. Then there was the famous dinner at which he abruptly turned, which he was entitled to do, and came forward with the proposal to abolish the Seanad.

We should also record the fact there have been many very good contributions in the Seanad. People did not only make colourful contributions which I think was a bit of a put down to some very good, sustained and significant contributions people from all political backgrounds made in the context of analysing legislation and making important statements on issues of public importance. That must be acknowledged.

The problem is we are abolishing urban councils in their entirety. That is one tier of democracy at a local level which is being abolished. I passionately believe in town councils. In towns throughout the country, I have seen the work of small town councils, which fundamentally represent people coming together in their communities to make a difference. We are getting rid of that but are dressing it up by saying we are reducing the number of councillors. We are increasing the number of councillors in Dublin by, I think, 60, which is an extraordinary number. The reasons are electoral, that is, to keep the Labour Party seats on those councils.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore It is population.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin We will now have an incredible number of ten-seaters, nine-seaters and so on. It is one of the great gerrymanders we have witnessed in local government. The Government can have that but the abolition of town councils is a retrograde step. Its connection to the Seanad is that it represents another removal of a tier of scrutiny and of public participation in politics and in community activities.

The elections to Údarás na Gaeltachta were done away with. The Government said to people living in the Gaeltacht area that they did not really need to have a say on who sits on Údarás na Gaeltachta. People are beginning to wonder about an authoritarian streak within the Government. If the Government succeeds in having the Seanad abolished, we will be left with an Executive which has dramatically increased the number of guillotines on very important legislation. It has absolute control over everything that happens in this House, including timetables and length of time issues are discussed, through our historic system of the Executive controlling the agenda of the House, and I acknowledge it did not start with this Government. That is the big issue down the line. How far do we go in abolishing democracy and the various tenets of democracy? Direct franchise to the Seanad is an option the Taoiseach could proceed with but he needs to be careful how he proceeds.

Will the Taoiseach circulate the memorandums and minutes?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I call Deputy Adams.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am next on the list.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy Adams had three questions, Deputy Martin had four questions and you had one question, so be patient and I will come to you.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams My question is very straightforward and brief. Why does the Taoiseach not give the citizens the option of a preferendum of abolition, retention or, more important from our point of view, root and branch reform of the second Chamber?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am in favour of the abolition of the Seanad because it is unrepresentative. However, does the Taoiseach not think the enhanced committee system, about which he talks, could replicate the problems we have with the Seanad? I would welcome greater involvement of different sectors of civic society in the committees but there is nothing to stop the same sort of favouritism of the Government appointing its favourite people, its cronies and so on to an enhanced committee system and, essentially, replicating the same elitism and unrepresentative character at committees.

We need representatives of civic society who are genuinely representative of all sectors of society, unlike Members of the current Seanad, who are directly elected from those different sectors, probably starting at a local level as they would come from voluntary and community organisations and genuinely representative organisations and not just professionals, officials, full-timers and so on. We should build a sort of citizens' direct democracy from the base up, which would have some influence and some teeth in regard to oversight of the way this House operates and the way democracy generally operates.

From what the Taoiseach is saying, there is a real danger that the Government of the day will end up putting its favourites onto the committees, but that does not resolve the problem we are trying to resolve by doing away with an institution which we have already accepted is not representative and has not really functioned in the way it should. What does the Taoiseach say to some sort of citizens' assembly structure, directly elected at a local level, and then maybe building up from there?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny ##A citizens' assembly is what one calls the local elections. While the town councils are being abolished-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Sectorally based.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----current members can stand for the municipal areas or the county councils. The Government has already published the independent report in respect of the boundaries for those local elections and the constituencies are much larger than applied previously which will give a fairer distribution of support from the people.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In some areas but not-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny They are in the vast majority of areas. That was an independent operation. I will give Deputy Martin whatever material I have in regard to the assessment of what needs to be done to draw up the Bill for the abolition of the Seanad and the reasons all the articles of the Constitution have to be dealt with by abolition, by amendment or otherwise.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That was not the question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Government made a very clear decision to ask the people whether to abolish the Seanad. I agree with Deputy Martin that some very fine speeches have been made in the Seanad over the years. Why would there not have been when Members included people from ordinary sectors of life to the very elite?


Last Updated: 08/05/2020 10:42:11 First Page Previous Page Page of 92 Next Page Last Page