Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Seanad Bill 2020: Second Stage
I have not prepared many notes but I have a lot of paper in front of me, which is all from the then Taoiseach's Seanad reform implementation group. I might reference some of that material.
It dawned on me as the debate was proceeding that this is one of the most important days of this Seanad term. That has been reflected on. We will not be presented with another such comprehensive Private Members’ Bill in our time here. I say that because I am losing hope in our ability to deliver Seanad reform. I want to use my time to appeal to all Senators as we have so little time here, even those of us who are lucky enough to be re-elected. Much of the debate has focused on references to "I" and that "I got here this way or that way". Ultimately, we have very little time here. We would all do well to use our limited time to prioritise this issue so that we can leave here and say that we are proud of the role we played, that we started Seanad reform in this House and that the legislation went to the Dáil and was enacted. In the end, it is about setting aside self-interest and the comfort of the status quoand saying "I am willing to jeopardise a seat or my position to change the system".
It is not that the Seanad is undemocratic - Senator Ward touched on this - because it would be unconstitutional if that were the case. The issue I have is that it is just about democratic. The majority of Senators are elected by approximately 1,200 people. A candidate in a Seanad by-election is elected by even fewer than that number, namely, by Deputies and Senators.
I made most of the points in favour of this Bill in the debate which took place last week. I thank Senator McDowell for bringing the Bill forward. It was the main the focus of my contribution last week.I will not repeat the points I made but I will say why I am so proud of this Bill and the work I put in alongside others in bringing it to this stage of development. It was a collective process. The annexe has been used at times to belittle the work of the committee by saying the annexe was a dissenting view. I would never have submitted a statement on behalf of Sinn Féin in that annexe if I had known the annexe would be portrayed as a dissenting view. It is far from it. We worked hard to produce this legislation.
For my part, I am proud of the amendments. I tried to get the vote at the age of 16 in there. That was rejected but I still supported the report. I tried to achieve a greater number of Senators to be elected by the public. That was rejected, a compromise was made and we supported that. Another amendment was adopted to the effect that, where a nominating body had more than two nominations, it would be required to have an equal balance of male and female and, where a balance was not achievable, the majority nominated by the nominating body would be women. On the factors to be considered by the Taoiseach, I was passionate that the Taoiseach would give regard to and have consideration for minority groups, that is, to people and communities who do not have representation here in the Seanad. Other amendments concerned undertaking initiatives to encourage voter registration. Others were about reforming the way we do by-elections by looking at a replacement list, as the European Parliament does, so a by-election would not be just elected by the Dáil and Seanad.
In conclusion, I will not support the Government amendment. This place is not the real world. I do not think we would get away with the type of stalling we have seen on Seanad reform in any other workplace. It is disappointing that we see it here again in the proposal from Senator Doherty to delay the Bill until next year. It has been done to kill Bills of mine in the past and I have no doubt it is designed to kill this Bill. That is a huge regret on one of the most important days in this Seanad and for Seanad reform.