Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Micheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
My question related to the progress made in regard to the proposed referendum to abolish the Seanad, and I did not get much beyond a statement that work is proceeding, which has been the line for the past 12 months. There seems to have been very little work put into this in advance of the election and one could be of the view that this proposal was tabled with a view to electoral popularity as opposed to being well thought out.
Our view is that the broader issue of fundamental reform of how Parliament does its business is required in regard to the proposed constitutional convention. We should consider whether we need a bicameral or unicameral Parliament. For example, if there was only one Chamber with the current Oireachtas, there would be a very unhealthy scenario with the Government having a significant Dáil majority, ramming legislation through and imposing guillotines, with no opportunity for debate in a second Chamber.
Will the Taoiseach produce an interim paper as internal work must be ongoing on options? How many articles will need to be amended, for example, and what is the impact of the proposal on the wider Constitution? What kind of ideas are being formulated? If an interim paper could be published on a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the Seanad, it would be helpful to the debate. Many people have different views on the issue and the failure of this Oireachtas, for example, to deal adequately with European Union affairs on an ongoing basis or properly embrace the all-island economy and the North-South relationship, in conjunction with evaluating legislation.
There is also a need to radically reform how this House works. The collapse of the financial and banking world was global and not restricted to this country, and even now Spain, France and other countries are beginning to own up to their banking issues. Nevertheless, banking was only discussed once in this House in 12 years before the crisis. What does that teach us and what are we learning from that? It is not an example of a House working properly, irrespective of who occupies certain seats.
A constitutional convention relating to the abolition of the Seanad should not be done in isolation of more fundamental reform of this House. There should be real separation of Parliament from the Executive, and the Parliament should not be controlled by the Executive, as it has been almost from the foundation of the State. Perhaps members of the Government should no longer be Members of Parliament when they take up office. Those are the kinds of radical ideas we would like considered. We could examine the possibility of direct franchise to a second Chamber.
With regard to the fiscal treaty, I would like the Taoiseach’s comment on the breaking news that French Prime Minister François Fillon has apparently stated that a referendum will be necessary for France to adopt a fiscal rule to balance its budget. Last July, the National Assembly and the Senate independently approved writing a fiscal rule into that country’s constitution, although it was never taken to the congress of both houses, a necessary step to change the French Constitution. It is interesting that Mr. Fillon believes it necessary to hold a referendum on writing a golden rule for the budget into that constitution. In other words, there are varying political views on the issue and I would appreciate the Taoiseach’s commentary on that development regarding the fiscal treaty.