Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Seanad Bill 2020: Second Stage
The point I am making is that the number of Senators allocated to each of those panels under the present constitutional framework is variable. One could slash the agricultural panel to five Senators and increase the allocation to those involved in voluntary social services on the administrative panel to ten Senators. There is nothing sacrosanct about the present distribution of seats.
Senator Burke and others have spoken about cost. Cost is dealt with in this report and we reckoned it would cost roughly €1 per vote to send out a ballot paper to people. The Minister of State will acknowledge that there will be increased postal voting in Ireland in any event. It is very cheap and the agency which gets that money is An Post, which is on its uppers, so I do not see that this is an issue. Members forget what it costs to run a general election between the jigs and the reels. It costs more than just the stub of a pencil in a polling booth.
The momentum to change the way in which this House is elected is not of my making. Former Senator Feargal Quinn saved this House from abolition more than anybody else but the momentum was widespread. In his first three months of membership of Dáil Éireann after the 2007 election, the Tánaiste and former Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, said in an interview that he intended that the time of that Dáil would be the last occasion on which the Seanad would be elected in the way it was at the time. I am critical of him because I am critical of the fact that he set in train a procedure which he effectively discarded at the end. However, I am convinced by what the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, has said to me privately and has told me I can tell this House publicly, that he is committed to this. I want to put it on the record of the House that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, said the same to me today.I am willing to take their assurance that they are committed to this. It does not really matter whether this Bill goes to Committee Stage today. I accept that, because providing Committee Stage time for a Private Members' Bill is problematic, but if we are being told the truth, this Seanad will be the one which set in train electoral reform.
The last thing I want to say is this: people said we need constitutional reform. That is fine: so be it, but they should look at the Constitution. This House cannot initiate legislation for the amendment of the Constitution. If we cannot initiate that amending legislation, the most we could do, and the least that we should do, is to reform ourselves within the ambit of the present Constitution. So, on that basis, I stand by my motion that the Bill should now be read a Second Time.