Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Seanad Bill 2020: Second Stage
I deeply regret that Senator Craughwell in making a case for the legislation that is before us, chose to besmirch the credentials of people on this side of the House. If he wants to check my academic and professional qualifications over a 25-year period then he need only check with the Clerk of the Seanad.
As is so often the case, we are doing things backwards because I believe that we have already had Second Stage. I know because I stood over there on 7 November last year when we had a two-hour debate on this report with the Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy John Paul Phelan. It took him a full year to make his way into the Chamber from the presentation of the report in December 2018. I remember it well because I sat with Senator McDowell as we waited for the report to come across from the printers that particular Christmas week. I recall the dismissive nature of the then Minister of State's retort on that day in the Chamber was hugely regrettable.
We have already had Second Stage and it took place from June 2018 until Christmas 2018, which I believe is the longest Committee Stage ever. We met weekly with only one objective which was to deal with the legislation because the then Taoiseach had asked for the text of a Bill to be produced in conjunction with the report. As has been pointed out, the State provided an expert draftsman to produce that text. What other Members of Parliament are going to have that resource at their disposal, to bring a Bill in here before any Minister, when the Taoiseach himself commissioned members of the Bills Office of the Oireachtas to help with the compilation of the legislation. One will not find a more well crafted piece of legislation during the term of office of the Minister of State when he debates in this House. Today, we should be on Report Stage yet, perversely, we find ourselves back at the start.
I was a proud member of the Seanad reform commission. I pay tribute to Senator McDowell on the manner in which he chaired the commission because it was inclusive, comprised of members of all parties and none. The witnesses, if people took the time to read the report, were drawn from all areas of life. When I and my party campaigned for the retention of the Seanad in the referendum we did so on the basis of reform. This is unlike the current Tánaiste whose idea of reform is to use the scalpel. That is par for the course considering that idea of reform of the former Minister, Phil Hogan, was to abolish a whole load of councils across the country.
One of the big issues that people may dwell on is extending the franchise. Dr. Theresa Reidy conducted an extensive consultation on this in countries where it already exists in other parts of world. There is a large participation in the initial period but that tails off. It is those who are actually committed to the electoral franchise. We consistently have over 1.2 million people, who are citizens of this State, who never bother to vote on polling day and the number increases on local election day. When people are afraid of extending the franchise either into Northern Ireland or abroad we must remember that over 1.2 million people never bother to turn out on election day and use their franchise that people fought to give them.
I commend the work not just of the signatories of this Bill but the entire membership of the commission who sought to get legislation that could be accepted by all Members of the House. We have done things backwards as we have already had Committee Stage. One will not find a more detailed Committee Stage than what was undertaken, so we should really be on Report Stage today.