Seanad debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Seanad Bill 2020: Second Stage


10:30 am

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

- "the Bill to be read a second time on 31st December, 2021, to allow for further consideration of the Bill".

I wish to share my time with Senator Cassells. I thank Senators McDowell and Higgins, and all of the Senators and Deputies, I guess, who worked on the commission and the report. I have to say ráiméis because what I have just had to listen to is exactly what gives this House a bad name. I do not know what or where Senator Craughwell thinks I come from but I consider myself very much part of civil society. I am somebody who has contested multiple elections. I have been elected in my own right to the largest local authority in the country having topped the poll on many occasions, so I have every right to be here. As somebody who lives closest to this House, and worked the hardest and longest to come to this House, it is a real privilege for me to participate in this debate. Nobody can accuse me of taking either the short or scenic route to Leinster House so I will not listen to him. What I will say is that this is a really important debate and important House so it is a huge privilege for any of us to take a seat here and participate in debates.

I encourage the Minister of State, and I have spoken to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, about this, but we cannot deal with the Seanad in isolation. I have read the draft legislation. It has many good parts and much of it I support but it has some issues. I note that when the committee had concluded its business there was not unanimous support. That is hardly surprising because when one puts a bunch of politicians together the multiplying effect of disagreement is compounded.

From where I stand in looking at this matter, the broadening of the electorate is very welcome but the perverse sub-panel arrangement must be addressed. I cannot describe it any other way but perverse. The constituencies need to be updated and take account of the modern world. The way that I expect the Minister of State to respond to this is that he will talk about the commitment from Government for broader electoral reform and the very clear commitment from three parties that have a majority to deliver an electoral commission. The programme for Government explicitly says it will, "Establish an Electoral Commission to provide independent oversight of elections and referendums, to inform the public" [the people who we are meant to serve] "about elections and referendums, to update and maintain the electoral register", which is something I would welcome in Dublin Central.It will, "Empower the Electoral Commission to regulate online political" activities, which is something that I know will scare some political organisations but is not a concern for me or my party. It will, "Mandate the new Electoral Commission to examine the use of postal voting". I know that Trump and others complained about it but we would welcome that as it is a really valuable service for a lot of our electors.

I appreciate that Senators McDowell and Higgins are disappointed that the Government has responded by saying it will deal with this again in a year but I suggest that they take heart. My journey here has taken me 16 years and I never gave up. I urge them not to give up but stick at this and not adopt an adversarial approach. This House does not have to be divided and can deliver reform, and broader electoral reform, but it takes two parties to work together.


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