Thursday, 7 November 2019
Report of the Seanad Reform Implementation Group: Statements
John Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
I thank the Deputies who have contributed. I again thank those who participated in the group and Senator McDowell, who chaired it. I also acknowledge the former Senator, the late Feargal Quinn, who was very involved in the referendum campaign and who was also an outstanding Member of the Upper House for many years.
This is the first discussion on Seanad reform to take place in the Dáil during my time in the office I hold. Senators - at least one of them is seated at the back of the Dáil Chamber now - were adamant that the report should be discussed by the Dáil at the earliest opportunity. I acknowledge what Deputy Cassells said about it being a year since the report was published. For six months, I have been asking the Business Committee to have the debate and I am glad we have had the opportunity to engage in it this evening. Even having this discussion highlights the lack of unanimity that exists, contrary, in particular, to what Deputy Jan O'Sullivan said. Any proposals we introduce which change our electoral system and the nature of our democracy are by their very nature ones that should not be taken lightly. We have seen more evidence today that there is a complete lack of unanimity at least as to how we should proceed.
I want to address specific issues that Deputies raised. Deputy Cassells spoke in support of reform, strengthening the link between the Seanad and the public. The latter is a proposal with which I agree. The Deputy also supports the vocational panel system. I served two terms in the Seanad having been elected via the Agricultural Panel. My issue with the vocational panel system is that it bears no resemblance to the actual activity as things stand of the Seanad. Many party spokespersons in the Seanad were not elected via that particular vocational panel at all. It was just a mechanism that qualified people could use to be elected but was not reflected in how the Seanad necessarily acted.
Deputies Cassells and Jan O'Sullivan suggested that the Seanad be elected on the same day as the Dáil. The report states that it would be neither practical nor desirable to hold the Seanad election on the same day as that for the Dáil.