Seanad Reform: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Seanad Éireann Debate

First Page Previous Page Page of 40 Next Page Last Page

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe] There are two sub-panels of candidates for each panel. Candidates are nominated to these panels by nominating bodies and Oireachtas Members. The Clerk of the Seanad, as Seanad returning officer, maintains the register of bodies entitled to nominate. To be eligible for registration as a nominating body, an organisation must be concerned mainly with, and be representative of, the interests and services of one or other of the panels. A body cannot be registered in respect of more than one panel, and organisations which are mainly profit-making concerns are not eligible for registration.

  Those entitled to vote at an election of the 43 panel Members are the Members of the incoming Dáil, the Members of the outgoing Seanad and members of the county and city councils. Each elector has only one vote in respect of each panel, even if he or she is qualified in more than one respect. Therefore, for example, an outgoing Senator elected to the Dáil at the general election could not vote both as an outgoing Member of the Seanad and an incoming Member of the Dáil. The electorate for the 43 panel Members numbered about 1,109 for the 24th Seanad. It will number 1,167 for the 25th Seanad - that is 158 new Deputies; 60 outgoing Senators and 949 local authority members.

  The motion tabled by Senator Katherine Zappone and other Senators calls for legislative reform of the Seanad within the existing terms of the Constitution but reflecting what the motion describes as two core principles, namely, that each citizen should have a vote in the general elections of the Seanad and that there should be one person, one vote in such elections. The motion mentions that some citizens have up to seven votes in a Seanad general election, while other citizens have no vote at all. It is important to clarify that the current entitlement to vote at Seanad panel elections arises not from citizenship but from holding elected office. If it was the intention, in framing the Constitution, that there would be a universal franchise for Seanad Éireann, the Constitution would have so provided and the provisions on the election of the Members of Seanad Éireann would have mirrored those for the election of Members of Dail Éireann. The Constitution also stipulates that Members of the Seanad are elected by secret postal ballot. Arising from this provision, ballot papers are issued to voters by registered post. It is important to point out that the cost of running Seanad elections on a universal franchise, without a referendum to amend the secret postal ballot provision in the Constitution, would be quite significant. Based on the Seanad 2011 election, it costs €5.25 to send each ballot paper and that gives an indication of what it would cost to send a postal ballot paper by registered post to over 3 million electors. That would not include the cost of staff to administer the election and count the votes.

  Today's amendment proposes that a task force, representative of the different parties and groupings within the Oireachtas, should in the first instance look at the question of electoral reform of the Seanad. The various parties or groupings in both Houses can present their proposals for such reform to the task force. Once the task force has examined the submissions and scoped out the nature and extent of the legislation proposed, including an examination of any possible constitutional implications, it will be in a better position to propose a possible timeline for the enactment of any such legislation. This process will be greatly assisted when the heads of the Bill to extend the university franchise are published over the coming weeks and are examined in detail. Scrutiny of this legislation, which arose from the referendum thirty five years ago, will provide a useful guideline for further reform of the Seanad election system. I note that Senator Katherine Zappone's motion proposes such a task force, as does the Government's amendment, we are agreed on the main point. It should be possible to have such a task force established soon.

  As I said, the third option for reform would involve reverting to the people by way of referendum. There was broad consensus at the meeting of party and group leaders before Christmas that the question of constitutional reform could be considered at a later date. Let us first see what can be achieved through the procedural and legislative routes. We can then take stock of the situation. There is an imperative for all of us here today, on all sides of the House, to get on with the process of reforming the Seanad. Our aim should be, unlike the various reports and recommendations on Seanad reform since 1937 that remained on the shelf, to ensure this time there is action and reform is actually implemented. The success of this reform process will largely depend on the Members of the Seanad working closely together to develop reforms and working with the Government towards implementing these reforms. I welcome the Leader's proposals for consensus on this issue and look forward to having further engagement with the House as the process of reform develops.

  Senator Maurice Cummins and others spoke about the duplication of work across the Seanad, the Dáil and the Oireachtas committees. When I was appointed to the position of Chief Whip, I was not in favour of the concept of a committee week, but as time has passed and I have seen how well the committee system is working. Under the previous Government there were 23 or 24 committees, chairmanship of which were essentially "jobs for the boys". We have reduced the number of committees and they are now working very effectively.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh The Minister of State has brought "jobs for the boys" to a fine art.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Please allow the Minister of State to speak, without interruption.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh We cannot be listening to that kind of-----

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe If the Senator does not want to listen, there are three doors to this Chamber and the Senator can leave by any one of them. I have no problem with that and will not be upset if he leaves.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I must ask the Minister of State to conclude.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh On a point of order, my understanding is that the Order of Business stated that this discussion would conclude at 5 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke We did not start-----

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh The order is that we conclude at 5 p.m.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe The Senator was not here for most of the debate.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke There are two hours for Private Members' business.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe This is unbelievable. Senator Jim Walsh is the same Senator who gave out earlier because the debate was not going to go beyond 5 p.m.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh I was going to ask the Leader to extend the time in order that others could contribute, too.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I will conclude within three minutes. A number of Senators raised the issue of Dáil reform. I have examined the Dáil reform that has taken place in the last two and a half years in comparison with what was done in the previous 15 years under various Fianna Fáil-led Governments.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh We will not get into that issue. There is reform-----

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe There have been far more reforms. Some Senators have asserted that the Government does not have respect for Seanad Éireann, but the Government has actually secured the future of this House. Since I became involved in politics I have been asked continuously why we need Seanad Éireann. The people have had their say on that issue in the referendum. It is up to the Government and the Members of the Seanad to make sure we reform the House and make it work as well as the Dáil works.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh How does the Dáil work? It does not work. The debacle of Irish Water proves it. Look at the mess that was created.

(Interruptions).

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh The Minister of State is primarily responsible for that mess.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I must ask the Minister of State to conclude.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I thank Senators for their contributions. It is unfortunate that we have some unruly Senators in the House, but I cannot help that. I thank Senators once again.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Quite a number of Senators have indicated that they want to speak, but it will not be possible to allow them to do so, as I must ask Senator Katherine Zappone to conclude the debate.

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank the Minister of State for his remarks. I also thank my colleagues, to whom I have listened very carefully. We have had a very fine debate on the motion and the amendment. I regret that the Minister of State was not able to offer more reflection on what we have said owing to time constraints, although I will accept that he attempted to do so. I would have liked to hear more of his views on some of the very creative ideas that the Leader had put forward regarding procedural reform which I will absolutely support. I look forward to their moving forward. The ideas on engagement that the Deputy Leader has put forward will be brought to her own political party later and I wish her all the best with them and hope she is successful with her arguments, some of which fit in with the motion.

  Rather than make the summing up points I had prepared, I wish to address the script from the Minister of State which is essentially a speech on behalf of the Government. It is welcome that the general scheme of the Bill to extend the university franchise will be brought to the Government in the coming weeks, which sounds like it will happen fairly soon.


Last Updated: 02/06/2015 12:15:58 First Page Previous Page Page of 40 Next Page Last Page