Thursday, 12 July 2012
Electoral (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2012: Committee and Remaining Stages
Given what the Minister has said I have a few questions. How will the expert advisory group be selected and constituted? I noted what the Minister has put on the record and that it will be non-instructive. It will be advisory by providing information for the members to deliberate on rather than steer them in a particular direction. That was a concern of mine. Will votes be recorded? Will all of the debates be in public session? Will votes at the convention be recorded? Groups can make submissions and the convention can accept submissions. Will groups be entitled to request oral hearings? I also ask the Minister to give us some information on the random selection of Oireachtas Members.
I am grateful to the Minister for referring to the Irish diaspora. He also mentioned that the embassies will be involved and that there will be a website. Can he elaborate and indicate whether the diaspora will be involved? Is it a general approach? Will the diaspora, like any group or individual, have the right of submission?
Obviously when the chair of the convention is elected he or she will have an input into how these matters are organised, based on previous experience in other jurisdictions. The advisory group will be drawn from whatever sectors are required such as political science, constitutional law and others. Obviously dealing with a Constitution means we will need legal advice. The group will be in a position to assess but there will be no such thing as steering people in a particular direction.
Yes. It will be in a position to decide. I envisage that it will be like past forum with oral presentations and public sessions and that all matters will be noted and recorded in the normal way in the event that a vote takes place. The logistical preparations have not been finalised by the Government because it wants to engage with the people that will steer the convention and its independently selected chair. I have not seen a precedent for a random selection of Oireachtas Members but this might be a year of precedence. However, I do not envisage it.
The Senator has suggested that the outcome of the convention will be largely determined by whom the political parties appoint from the Oireachtas. It will also consist of 66 members of the public and I respect them and their views. It will not be politically driven. The politicians present may have strong views but the members of the public will also be present and they are entitled to their say. They may dilute the excessive arguments that may arise on either sides when debating sensitive issues.
I hope for the widest possible participation from the diaspora. There will be arrangements made for their involvement via a website, through the embassies and the community groups who will be alerted about the constitutional convention. If Senator Mooney wishes to make representations on their behalf he can do so via the Tánaiste.
I agree with the Minister. As Senator van Turnhout has said, citizenship is a vital part of the Bill. The experts have been in the media. They have written books and newspaper articles and have access to Deputies and Senators. It is the citizens that we want to target. The experts can help but the citizens, the sovereign people, are the kings and queens of the process. An important role for the chairperson will be to ensure we hear what those people think. I hope the citizens dilute the experts.
I accept what the Minister has said. Obviously the 66 citizens will be in the majority but in practical terms some may have a good deal of experience at debating by being involved in other organisations but many may not. The random selection will include people who would not normally be involved in public debating, whereas Oireachtas members, whose job it is to articulate and argue and debate and have more experience, tend to have greater influence. Given the efforts by many of the political parties to go down the liberal route I am concerned that could distort the outcome of some of the deliberations. Therefore, there is a strong argument to be made for random selection of Oireachtas Members on a party proportional basis as Senator Paul Coghlan pointed out. I am not seeking to change the representational order of the House and if there is only one viewpoint from Members it may have a disproportionate effect on influencing the outcome. That is my concern. The exercise is good if we can maintain the integrity of the system. If we looked to NGOs and various organisations rather than a random selection, obviously the outcome would be a reflection of their viewpoint, whereas what we are seeking is a random sample which should reflect public opinion as a whole.
I can understand that too. We have a lot of history in that regard. He should not be afraid of any view from any quarter. The purpose of a people's convention is to have everybody involved and respecting each other's point of view with advice and guidance available, if required, in order that they can make an informed view before arriving at a decision or voting on it. I do not share the Senator's view. He should not be afraid of the notion of public participation in the process.
I respect the fact that people should be able to congregate and participate and have a vote and that everybody's point of view is heard and respected, irrespective of the subject matter in the Constitution. I agree with Senator Barrett that this is a people's convention. The Senator and I will have plenty opportunities to debate the outcome in the House and elsewhere as will experts. I agree that politicians can lead but I hope the political parties that put forward representatives for the convention will allow the public the lion's share of the time to articulate their concerns and aspirations for the constitutional change needed, if that is the outcome. Let us await its recommendations.
I agree with the sentiment. To carry that through, why not have 100 citizens and no Oireachtas members on the convention? There is no need for Members if the point which the Minister made, to which I fully subscribe, would lead to a citizenry produced recommendation on all these issues.