Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Seanad Reform: Motion
Shane Ross (Independent)
I am in agreement with other Senators that this House must be reformed so that it can capture the public imagination and obtain public support. It certainly does not enjoy these advantages currently and this is presumably reflected in the negligible public response to today's debate. Other Members have referred to their own experience. The first action I took upon first being elected to this House in 1981 was to table a motion on Seanad reform. Unfortunately, very little has been done in this regard since then.
I fully support the motion. In his speech, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, sets out various deadlines for future action. We must be careful to ensure there is no hidden agenda in this. I would like to see the Minister's vision long before I see his legislation. I suspect his vision and legislation will be so far apart they will bear little relation to each other. I suspect his vision of Seanad reform involves all types of extremely high-minded ideas that he will be unable to implement. I assume he envisages something like what was contained in the report which came to the Seanad some years ago which offered a vision of the type of mix that would exist in an ideal second House. This would include Members elected democratically by the people, with others elected by councillors, universities, various panels and so on, together with a number of Taoiseach's nominees. We can all select the aspects of which we approve and disapprove in this proposed mix.
My fear, which may or may not be justified, is that having established what he wants to achieve, the Minister will find it cannot be done because of the power wielded by the political parties in this House. For reasons everybody can understand but not approve, they will not want to see the reform of the seats that elected them. That is perfectly natural. Therefore, I anticipate a start will be made, which will undoubtedly be a positive development in itself, but the start will also be the finish. The only specific reform the Minister mentioned was the extension of the university franchise, of which I thoroughly approve. It is a reform that must be implemented. However, he must not stop there. That is only a minor aspect of the required reform. We must look at the big picture. As such, the committee charged with considering these issues should agree that all reforms must come at the same time. If they do not come at the same time, they will not all be implemented. The political reality is that we will most likely be presented merely with the lowest common denominator, which is all-party agreement that there be reform of the university seats. That change will be followed by another 60 or 70 years in which nothing happens.
As I said, I agree that the university seats must be reformed by extension of the franchise. We would welcome that. However, the Minister must also take this opportunity to reform the electoral process in respect of every seat in this Chamber. That would be a tremendous achievement. Reforming only one aspect of the electoral process would not be an end in itself and would not be worth doing. I suspect, too, that it would be the end of the reform process. Instead, the entire system must be reformed.