Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Seanad Reform: Motion
John Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
There is not quite full consensus because certain Senators have said they want to see a whole package and not a piecemeal approach. I do not believe it is piecemeal. We can have a number of smaller reforms. It is vital to have some reform because if there is no reform, people we say we are stuck in a situation where nothing is happening at all. Once we get the ball rolling we can then see what further reforms are possible.
Senator O'Toole raised the issue of the House sitting outside Dublin. This is a matter for the House to decide. Article 15.1.3° of the Constitution provides that the Houses of the Oireachtas may sit outside Dublin. Advice may need to be sought whether one House of the Oireachtas on its own can decide to sit outside Dublin.
The Government amendment reflects the concern that there be timely progress on the matter of Seanad reform. It recognises the need for reform, notes the Government's commitment to determining the extent of agreement and the establishment of an all-party group. Furthermore, the motion requests that the all-party group conclude its deliberations as quickly as possible. I will then report to Government on its conclusions. In that regard, I will circulate a paper to the members of the group, as requested, within the next few days and we should then be in a position to call the final meeting over the coming weeks.
I will address some of the remarks I had the opportunity to listen to, although some Senators have left the Chamber. Senator Coffey referred to a question put to me by Mr. Sean O'Rourke. It seems to be the case that the Seanad has become the whipping boy for many people and is seen as a quick solution. I am on the record as saying that I do not believe the Seanad should be abolished. When I was asked this question directly, I stated that Seanad reform was necessary. In the interview, I mentioned that we needed to widen the franchise, which was a particular reference to university panels and that is a commitment that I have given today.
Interesting proposals have been made, including those of Senator Glynn. All the matters will be considered and must form part of any package, but whether progress can be made as quickly as the Senator would like is another matter. I must be frank with the Senator in that respect.
Senator Ormonde mentioned having a full day's debate on Seanad reform. However, I found ensuring people's attendance at even our short sessions to be difficult. People stated that they did not receive the notification or whatever, but we ensure that the notifications go out. Rather than have an open-ended debate, let us stick to a few core issues on which there is consensus and move on them. That would be the beginning of the process. I hope that we can move this issue on because it is a source of frustration for me that little has occurred in terms of Seanad reform despite all the discussion. I am committed to ensuring some of these reforms are made while I am Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.