Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Abolition of Seanad Éireann
My Department's role in relation to the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad will be the usual one of a sponsoring Department, including preparing proposals for legislation for the referendum, liaising with the Attorney General's office in the preparation of the legislation and support for Government when the legislation is being debated in the Oireachtas.
The proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann was signalled by the Government parties prior to the general election. The Dáil and Seanad will have an opportunity to fully debate the necessary legislation when it is published.
Unfortunately, the Taoiseach made too many of them and the people now know that he could never fulfil them. He has lost a lot of trust and credibility as a result. Coming into government, there was no document, preparatory work or research.
Over the past 15 months, we have had various announcements about this matter and now the constitutional convention is being established. I asked earlier about marriage equality but the Taoiseach refused to answer any question on that. He has decided to refer that issue to the convention but, in his own wisdom, not the Seanad question. The Taoiseach has given the distinct impression that a great deal of work has been done but that proposals are far down the road. Perhaps he will outline for the House how much work has been done on the proposal to abolish the Seanad, how many Articles of the Constitution will require amendment-change in this regard, who is overseeing that work and the timeline in respect of the holding of a referendum on abolition of the Seanad.
The referendum on children's rights is promised for the autumn, which we are all agreed should be held on its own. The constitutional conventional agenda will also be dealt with this year. As such, we are looking at 2013 at the earliest in terms of a referendum on abolition of the Seanad, or are we? It is time the Taoiseach produced some evidence of work on this issue. Is it his intention to publish a position paper on the abolition of the Seanad and has a great deal of technical work been done that could, for example, facilitate debate on this issue by the Oireachtas? I would have thought the convention a good forum for discussion of this issue given people have differing views on whether there should be one or two Chambers in our Parliament. The original intent of the convention was to bring about radical reform in terms of how we govern ourselves. However, it will not now do this. It will not deal with this Parliament or with the relationship between it and the Executive or with whether we have a bicameral or unicameral system. It appears that all concerned could have done with that type of reflection. Nonetheless, the Taoiseach is ploughing ahead.
Perhaps the Taoiseach would respond to my questions on how much work has been done, how many Articles of the Constitution will require amendment, who is overseeing this work and when he expects the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad to be held.
Unfortunately for Deputy Martin the Government intends to fulfil its programme for Government, which commits to two issues, which will be outside of the constitutional convention, being decided by referenda. The two issues concerned are children's rights and abolition of the Seanad. The question in regard to the holding of the referendum on the fiscal stability treaty was not envisaged at that time.
I am coming to that matter. The presidential election and two referenda were held last year. We need now to reflect on whether it is good to hold more than one referendum on the same day, taking into account the simplicity or complexity of the issues involved.
I can assure Deputy Martin that a great deal of work has been done on the proposal in regard to the abolition of the Seanad. This will require the deletion of all references to the Seanad in the Constitution. In addition to deleting all Articles which establish the Seanad it will also be necessary to amend Articles which primarily deal with other matters but which vest specific constitutional functions in the Seanad or in its members. The types of functions which will have to be considered in this context include, for example, the Seanad's role in triggering the process for determining whether a Bill constitutes a money Bill, motions for early signature of Bills by the President and membership of the Cathaoirleach of the Presidential Commission. This work is being overseen by the Department of the Taoiseach. A great deal of that work has been done.
Deputy Martin asked when the referendum will be held. Perhaps he might offer a suggestion. The children's rights referendum will be held in the autumn. It is hoped that ongoing work in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will enable publication of the relevant legislation following the Dáil recess, at which time a date for the holding of that referendum will be fixed. It is a complex issue and should be dealt with by way of stand-alone referendum. Ireland holds the Presidency of the European Union from 1 January to end June 2013, during which time the Government and Ministers will be required to focused on dealing with issues affecting this country and on issues relating to the responsibilities of our Presidency. Deputy Martin will be aware that in terms of Presidency of the European Union Ireland follows Cyprus and precedes Lithuania and Greece.
No, I am not filibustering. Does Deputy Martin suggest the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad should be held in February, March, April, May or June, during which time we may well have to deal with the conclusion of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, namely, the budget for the European Union? Were I to agree to such proposition from Deputy Martin he would be the first to say we cannot do it then because we will be tied up with the Presidency of the European Union and all that involves and means for the Irish economy in terms of dealing with the range of issues that have been around for a long time.
I assure the Deputy that a great deal of work has been done on the question of the abolition of the Seanad. As I stated, this will require the deletion of reference to the Seanad from every relevant Article, with no loss on the corresponding side in respect of the rights of citizens in so far as the Dáil is concerned. I will not make a pronouncement as to when that referendum will be held. However, I can assure the Deputy that it will be held. The people will be asked the question of whether they want the Seanad to be abolished. I believe it should be abolished. I understood from Deputy Martin's comments prior to the election that Fianna Fáil was of the same mind. However, the Deputy appears to be rowing back on this now. This is not the first time someone in his party has done so. However, that is a matter for his party.
I again assure Deputy Martin that the programme for Government is clear on this issue and that the commitment therein on this issue will be carried through. It is only a matter of deciding the appropriate time to do so.
The Taoiseach is assuring me of nothing. The setting of a date for this referendum is continually being pushed out. I recall the Taoiseach being equally as adamant a year ago that it would be held this year. The Taoiseach definitively said then that it would be held in 2012. He now says it will not happen during Ireland's Presidency of the European Union because he does not want anything to spoil that party and has suggested that it will be held in the latter half of 2013.
I am asking the Taoiseach if he will share the work that has been done on the abolition of the Seanad with the Oireachtas. Why will the Taoiseach not do so? Will it publish that work so that the Oireachtas can discuss it?
We made that very clear at the time. Reducing the number of Dáil Members by eight and abolishing the Seanad while doing absolutely nothing to change how we behave is not radical reform. It is optic politics and playing to the gallery.
That is all the Taoiseach is doing. As far as I can see what the Taoiseach is doing in terms of abolition of the Seanad is playing this out until such time as he considers it most politically opportune to throw it into the frame, from an electoral point of view.
The other fact is that, as the Deputy knows, a reduction of the Dáil numbers by eight is the limit without holding another referendum. The constitutional convention is to look at the electoral system - whether we have multi-seat constituencies-----
-----single-seat constituencies, the French system or whatever. It will be very interesting to see what the constitutional convention will come up with in that regard. That will be part of a broader electoral reform package, which I know the Deputy wants. What he wants to do is to try to restructure this in such a way that his party might have some fleeting chance of getting back into office again. That is also a matter for the people.
All this information will be out there at the appropriate time - we have a lot of stuff to do now. In respect of the question of the Seanad being abolished, I will give all the information to everybody when it is appropriate on the lead-in to the question being asked of the people.
The point about the Seanad is as follows. What is the objection to sharing all the background work on what it takes to abolish the Seanad with everybody in the Oireachtas? Why not do that now?
Yes, I will share it with him at the appropriate time - of course I will. That, together with the constitutional convention review of the electoral system, will, I think, provide great fodder for those who are in politics and those who aspire to be in politics. All in its good time. The Deputy can take it that the programme for Government in this matter-----
Shakespeare also said: "There is a tide in the affairs of men." One thing I have learned from being here is that when the Taoiseach decides not to answer a question, he does not answer it. I was going to ask him when we could expect legislation on the future of the Seanad and when a referendum would be likely to be held. There is a seanfhocal in the North that states "Whatever you say, say nothing." It must have come from Mayo because the Taoiseach is right on the button.
Let me try another couple of questions. Sinn Féin's view is that the issue of the future of the Seanad should be part of the constitutional convention. If we are carrying out a thorough review of the Constitution, covering the electoral system, the political system, presidential terms and so on, it seems appropriate to put the Seanad into that also. Some of these other issues are also matters for the programme for Government but he has no problem putting those into the constitutional convention.
A reformed Seanad could find space for people such as the Traveller community, for people who are disenfranchised, for people from the diaspora and citizens living in the North. Will the electorate be presented with options on the future of the Seanad or will it simply be a choice between the status quo and abolition?
The answer to that question is "No". The legislation and all the information surrounding it will be debated in full by everybody and the question on the ballot paper will require a "Yes" or "No".
To the abolition of the Seanad. The question will be: "Do you wish to abolish Seanad Éireann?", requiring a "Yes" or "No" answer. It will be very straightforward and the people will give their answer. On the run-in to that legislation being published, all the information Deputy Martin and others require will be made available to the fullest extent possible and that debate will take place. This is part of the programme for Government and both parties agreed it. That is outside the convention as is the child protection referendum - those two are very clear. We will hold those when it is appropriate to do so. In respect of electoral reform, the constitutional convention will reflect on that. If we did not have an agreement beforehand-----
-----clearly the Seanad option could be one for the convention to consider. However, we have already put it into the programme for Government that if the constitutional convention and the persons who serve on it decide that there is another issue or other issues that are of such importance that they should also be considered by the constitutional convention, as I told the Deputy at the briefings he attended, it will be possible for the constitutional convention to do that. The Seanad and the child protection referendum are outside the convention and are part of the programme for Government. The question will be put to the people in due course.
It may certainly reflect on it, but the Government has already decided that the question of the abolition of the Seanad will be put to the people. In the ordinary course of events when the constitutional convention makes a finding to the Government, for instance, in respect of the reduction of the voting age to 17 or the reduction of the presidential term of office from seven years to five years, it will outline its reflection, finding and recommendation. In each of those cases the Government has committed to responding "Yes" or "No" within four months. For instance, if the constitutional convention recommends that the voting age should be reduced, the Government will respond positively within four months to them all. However, in the case of the Seanad and child protection, the Government has already decided that we will have a referendum on each of these two things. They are both complex - it is just a question of timing. If we had not had the fiscal stability referendum, we might have had one before summer and one after summer. It was most important that it stand on its own and that the child protection one would stand on its own. I am hopeful that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will be able to bring a consensus wording to Government shortly and we will be able to publish the legislation for that very early in the new session.