Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Seanad Bill 2020: Second Stage
-----was a wonderful gentleman and was missed during the general election as well to crunch the figures and predict individual constituencies. He is irreplaceable. We had so many others such as Katherine Zappone, John Crown, the brilliant Feargal Quinn, and let us not forget the role of the Attorneys General. With a week to go, I recall John Rogers being hauled out on the “Six One News”, and they played a pivotal part. I am also proud of the Green Party. Members are not privy to the parliamentary discussions of the Green Party and they may be fortunate in that regard, but I assure the House that I am unaware of any member of our parliamentary that is against reform of the Upper House. We were proudly there in 2006 and 2013, when we had no Senator in this Chamber but we still saw the benefit of the House.
Where are the obstacles? We stand indicted 41 years later. Incidentally, how could I forget the father of the House, Senator Norris, who is a fantastic ambassador for the Upper House and its retention, and I ask him to forgive me for not mentioning him the in the raft of names I mentioned earlier. This is, however, a non-exhaustive list, but Senator Norris’s incredible appetite and energy has been a tremendous plus for this House.
I ask again then where the obstacles are. It is not Senator Fitzpatrick who eloquently told us of her road to the Seanad, which was not an overnight success. Nothing was handed to her easily. I am privileged to be a Member of this House. Unfortunately, apart from its vital constitutional role, its true potential has to date remained largely unfulfilled. It will not be blocked by Senator Ward. I do not know what is causing the obstacles. Senator Craughwell in his exuberant over-enthusiasm to welcome the Bill was unfair on the many officeholders of the Seanad who went before us and who may not have come from the university panels. If they suffered from an Achilles' heel, it was not a self-inflicted problem, rather it was the nature of the House and how it operates.
I speak from the vantage point of having been an elected county councillor on two different local authorities, which happen to be in two different provinces. County councillors are not afraid of change but there is a bogeyman or woman and I do not know what the problem has been. There is a potential knight on a white horse who could translate words into action. His name, and Members have heard it first here today, is the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. I believe him. I have known him for a long time as a party colleague. He is a man of his word. I am very pleased that he is behind the steering wheel. I will judge this matter on the basis of actions not words, but I believe there is a real opportunity. I have spoken to the Minister of State privately on numerous occasions.
Well done to all the sponsors of this Bill. It is an incredible work of drafting art. Of course, changes will be made to it but that is the nature of our job as legislators. I am glad the Minister of State has reached out to Senator McDowell and others. I am glad Senator McDowell takes him at his word. I advise Senator Craughwell that I do not believe this House is as divided as it appears. He and Senator Fitzpatrick could reach out to each other. We have one common goal. We are all on the same side. The Minister of State is on our side.
Just like I named all those people who deserved credit for 2013 success, the biggest credit of all goes to the people of Ireland. Their voice was heard that day. They said "No" to the Executive power grab. We must remember that it is the people of Ireland who should be front and centre of all we do.
This is an encouraging day and I give the Bill a qualified welcome. I will do everything I can as a Senator to make this happen but the Minister of State can understand the years and years of frustration. I know a number of environmentalists. They were thrilled when Senator McDowell was elected to this House. They are not typical bedfellows. I can think of the rumble in Ranelagh but many environmentalists who care about this Seanad said, “Let McDowell at it. He will give this a bit of impetus that is so badly needed”. I know he is doing that but time is rolling on. Even with the likes of Senators McDowell, Norris, Bacik, and Craughwell, this job of work is still before us.
I hope in the lifetime of this Seanad, we can look back on this day. If there is one wish I have above any other - it is not a party-political aspiration - it is that we would reform this House once and for all, deliver on our promises to the people of Ireland and make the Seanad something that would be potentially very special. This House has such potential to allow the unionist voice of Ireland and of citizens from all over the world to be heard here. There is also potential to expand the franchise relating to the university seats. I say to Senator Norris that it is a shame in a way that last week we started with tackling the best part of the Seanad, the most democratic part, but that was an irresistible opportunity to support all change. Last week, the Senator branded that a form of gerrymandering. I think his tongue was in his cheek when he said that. An extension of the franchise has to be good. I predict that Senator Norris would top the poll no matter how many were added on to the number of graduates.