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 Header Item Cabinet Committees (Continued)
 Header Item Seanad Reform

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] It is something I asked Sinn Féin MEPs to reflect on. There is no point in putting a motion to the European Parliament demanding special status for Northern Ireland only to have it voted down. That undermines our case in negotiations.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I thank the Taoiseach. I have to move on.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Finally, I wish to touch briefly on the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. I fully accept that the media may have misreported this.

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

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I accept absolutely that the media sometimes get these things wrong, but the reports are that Fianna Fáil called for an electronic border with Northern Ireland post-Brexit, similar to the toll system on the M50. The motion suggested an auto-logging system for goods and services traded. If that is Fianna Fáil's policy, I disagree with that policy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Now, we move to a bit of housekeeping. We ran over time because of the importance of the matter. I can be blamed. We have 20 minutes left. The next question is on Seanad reform and the following question is on political staff and advisers. I want Members to decide which question they want to take, or whether we should give ten minutes to each.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Let us take the first question and see how far we get.

Seanad Reform

 3. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the status of the reform of Seanad Éireann. [40544/17]

 15. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the status of the implementation group on Seanad reform. [42740/17]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 15 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, in A Programme for a Partnership Government, the Government stated its commitment to pursuing the implementation of the report of the working group on Seanad reform, also known as the Manning report. That report was published in 2015 and it is available on my Department's website. One of the recommendations of the report was the establishment of an implementation group to oversee implementation of the reforms contained in the report.

As my predecessor previously said in this House, he agreed with a suggestion made here some time ago by Deputy Martin that this group should be based in the Oireachtas and should comprise Members of the Dáil and Seanad from all parties and groups, with access to independent expert advice as required. He wrote to party leaders in September last year seeking their agreement to this approach and their intention to participate. I have reviewed matters in this regard and am keen to progress them. I will contact leaders shortly with a view to having the group up and running as soon as possible.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I think the Taoiseach has answered the questions that were on all our minds because the dates speak for themselves. Last September 12 months we had a commitment to set up this group on Seanad reform. The Taoiseach's own Department's statement of strategy says there is a commitment "to fully implement the Manning report on the Seanad". Given his comments on the Manning report I am surprised that statement is still on the statement of strategy. The Taoiseach might review that and consider deleting it because I am not so sure it is such a commitment now as it may have been.

The Taoiseach's statement that he intends to be in contact with us has a familiar ring to it. The previous Taoiseach said on numerous occasions over a three-year period that he would shortly be in contact with us in terms of setting up the group. I ask that the group would be set up as a matter of urgency and a chair appointed.

There is a further matter in regard to the referendum on the Seanad that was held many years ago, namely, the issue of amending legislation in terms of extending its franchise. Is that plan now completely on the back-burner?

On the question of referendums, the Taoiseach said on the previous occasion we asked that, given that the holding of referendums is a matter for the Oireachtas there would be consultations with party leaders on the range of referendums the Government felt might take place next year. Could he indicate when that consultation with other party leaders will take place?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The abolition of the Seanad is a well-trodden path which then turned into the reform of Seanad but none of the above has happened. I do not detect any great political appetite or urgency for dealing with the issue. My questions, much like the previous speaker, are around when all of this will be actioned and who will chair the implementation group. There have been 12 separate reports proposing Seanad reform and yet here we are pondering this issue again. If this is something that is going to happen - I believe it should - then we need to see evidence of action and we need to see it very soon.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin My first question is in regard to intent. I know the programme for Government and I have the reply to a question by me on 4 October, which I expect is exactly what the Taoiseach has just told the House now, namely, that the programme for Government is committed to implement the Manning report. I am looking at the executive summary and recommendations of the Manning report. Does the Taoiseach support them? In his view is this the blueprint or is it the basis for a further discussion on what the Second Chamber in this Oireachtas should look like? I am interested in hearing his own view. Will the report be implemented? I was not convinced, once the proposal to abolish the Seanad was defeated by the people, that there was really a firm political commitment to have a reformed Second Chamber and what that reformed Second Chamber would look like.

The Taoiseach has a reputation for speaking directly. Perhaps he would very directly say what in his view the Second Chamber should look like and if the Manning report is the blueprint he would like to follow.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I would like to echo that question because although it is difficult to interpret referendum votes, I felt that at the time, when campaigning against the referendum presented by the Government, there was a clear sense that people were not voting to keep the Seanad as is, but they were voting for reform. For us to ignore that, in particular at a time when we are looking at a range of other referendums that we are considering putting forward, would be a mistake. We should have this on our agenda and in the timeline for future referendums in the next two years. I am very keen to hear the Taoiseach very broadly outline what is his position; whether it is abolition, reform or the status quo? If it is reform then we can get down to the details of it but if it is one of the other two then at least we will know where we stand. I am keen to hear an answer to Deputy Howlin's question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will set up the implementation group in the next few weeks. It does need a chairperson who would have broad respect and be broadly accepted across the Oireachtas. I have not yet had an opportunity to approach anyone but I intend to do so once I get a moment if I can to do something that is not already top of the agenda in the next couple of days or in the next week or two.

The programme for Government commits to reforming the Seanad in line with the Manning report and I will honour that commitment. I am bound by the programme for Government, just as all my Ministers are and everyone who is on the Fine Gael and Independent Alliance benches and some Independents as well. That is why it is included in the strategy statement.

I will not lie to the Deputy. I will not lie to anyone in this House. Frankly, I do have reservations about the Manning report. The Manning report proposes that there would not be a referendum on the Seanad and that it would be reformed within the confines of the existing constitutional provisions. That requires retaining the panels, which date back to the 1930s, and which to me are archaic. I cannot remember all of them but they cover administrative, industrial and commercial areas.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Agriculture.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Perhaps they do not reflect the Ireland of 2017, never mind the Ireland of 2027. They are corporatist and date from the 1930s. They date from a particular model of Catholic democracy that to me is out of date. What it proposes is re-registering the entire country to vote again because everyone would have to nominate which of those five panels they want to be an elector on, or whether they would prefer to be an elector on one of the two university panels. The first thing we would have to do is re-register the entire country to vote and hold a major educational exercise explaining to people whether they should ask to be on the administrative panel, the education panel or the industrial and commercial panel. Frankly, I am not sure that is the best solution we can come up.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That is why I asked the Taoiseach about it. He just said he is committed to it.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Why has the Taoiseach committed to it?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Deputy Howlin asked me my personal view and I have only just started to give it. I have genuine reservations about the process. However, I fully accept the commitment in the programme for Government. I will honour that commitment and the implementation group will be set up.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin If the Taoiseach does not believe in it why does he not change it?

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