Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Seanad Bill 2020: Second Stage
Paddy Burke (Fine Gael)
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him. I have not had the opportunity before this to wish him well with his portfolio.
I agree with Senator Norris that the Bill is a bit like the curate's egg: good in parts and not so good in other parts. I thank Senator McDowell for bringing it forward. It has been a good debate but, at the end of the day, I hope in the 12-month timeframe up to the end of next year that the Minister of State uses the time to consider how we go forward with reform of the Seanad, whether it is by constitutional change, referendum or by leading on and amending the Bill before us.
I sat on the committee that Senator McDowell chaired in a very exemplary fashion, and we had some excellent meetings. We learned at lot and it was a good basis for the Bill that has been produced, but there are shortcomings. The Senator McDowell will agree that we had to work within the constraints of a previous referendum and the Constitution, and that is why I feel that we need a referendum to change Seanad Éireann. If we are going to have a second Chamber, and the people have decided that we will, I believe that the only way that we can have that meaningful change that the public will appreciate is by way of referendum.
There is talk about extending the franchise to the other universities. I assume that was brought in for minorities, but 80% of the people in this country now go through third level education, so why do we need a universities vocational panel for the House? Why do we need representation for that sector? The vast majority of Members have third level education anyway. We would only be moving the chairs on the deck, and that is one of the reasons we need a change. That type of change can only take place through a referendum.
How can the franchise be extended to 800,000, as Senator McDowell has mentioned, including Irish passport holders abroad and people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? There would have to be two electoral registers. We cannot maintain the current electoral register for Dáil and local elections, because there are many shortcomings in how it is compiled. How would having two registers work? I am very much in favour of the provision in the Bill to establish a commission for reform of the electoral register. If one looks at the practical outcome of reforming Seanad Éireann, the franchise could be extended to between 4 million and 5 million people. That is twice the number of people that vote in Dáil elections to elect 160 Members. There would be double that to elect 60 Members to a second Chamber. How feasible is that?
From a cost point of view-----