Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Seanad Reform: Motion
Camillus Glynn (Fianna Fail)
It is very important that the whole concept of Seanad reform is being debated and I hope it will not be the last debate. With regard to the vocational panels and the 43 members elected under five different panels, all of which have two sub-panels, I note that five members, or 20%, were initially on the committee. While we are all aware Senator Ryan resigned for his own reasons, I note that 20% of the membership of the committee came from the vocational panels — that was Senator Brian Hayes. Yet, the people elected under that system constituted 71% of the membership of the Upper House, which is not a fair balance, although that is just an observation.
I have no difficulty whatsoever with including the other third level institutions and I believe they should be included. If one accepts that concept, which I do, it must be borne in mind that there are a number of local authority members who are disenfranchised from the system and do not have a vote for the Seanad. There are the members of the five borough councils of Drogheda, Clonmel, Kilkenny, Wexford and Sligo. There are the 49 former urban district councils, some of which have populations bigger than at least two counties in the Republic. There are also the 26 town councils, in one of which I happen to live. These are the former town commissions and, while there was a change to the name, that is all that changed. They have no vote.
We should be inclusive and this is an opportunity in that regard. This report has thrown in the ball and the game is on. It is like the league in that there should be "home and away" debates on this issue on many future occasions. I cannot understand why allegedly educated and intelligent people should advocate the abolition of the second House of the Oireachtas when one considers all that has happened throughout the world in respect of depression of democracy. Is it not true to say that a Member of this House, now sitting in this Chamber, discovered a glitch in legislation? That was Senator Shane Ross, to his eternal credit. Was it not this House that came to the fore in that regard? Do people suffer from convenient amnesia when we discuss the strong points of Seanad Éireann? Is this House not the watchdog of the Constitution, the House that fills the void left by faulty legislation put forward by several Governments and emanating from the other House?
Senator Bacik made a very relevant point when she said that when we speak on Committee Stage of a Bill the collective wisdom of Members of this House can contribute to that debate as they offer individual views relevant to their expertise. Is it not true to say of the Order of Business, condemned ad nauseam by speakers in this House, that Members can day after day make valuable points relevant to debates? They can call for debates on many issues that affect Senators or the public at large.
One of the most important points in this report concerns the automatic re-election of the Cathaoirleach. The holder of the office is a political prisoner and cannot leave because he or she is precluded from doing so, even though in a former life the Cathaoirleach might have been affiliated to a party. There are many meetings of a public and community nature that he or she cannot attend. What is happening here? The Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann is a prisoner of the job and yet, if he or she wishes to go forward for election he or she must traipse around the highways and byways and put up 12,000 or 13,000 miles, as I did. I say to Senator O'Toole that I was neither listed nor assisted. I would love to be one of those chosen people but any list I was on was the final list when I was declared elected to Seanad Éireann. Any phone calls made for me were made on my own behalf. It is a great privilege to be a Member of this House and I do not begrudge the people.
This is a rare opportunity to reform Seanad Éireann. We must have a further debate on the election of the 20 seats. That matter must enjoy a far more protracted debate than the few minutes we have today. I am aware the Acting Chairman is showing me the red card. Today we have begun the debate. We had one not long ago but we must come back to this item repeatedly and in the fullness of time we will get it right. I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to the House.