Wednesday, 17 July 2013
An Bille um an Dara Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Deireadh a Chur le Seanad Éireann) 2013: An Tuarascáil - Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013: Report Stage
Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 27, inclusive, are ruled out of order.
Tairgim leasú a 28:
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 8, to delete lines 8 to 11 and substitute the following:“2° Is é an lá dá dtagraítear i bhfo-alt 1° den alt seo an 91ú lá a thiocfaidh Dáil Éireann le chéile den chéad uair tar éis an olltoghcháin do chomhaltaí de Dháil Éireann is túisce a bheidh ann tar eis an tAirteagal seo a achtú.”.and
In page 8, to delete lines 26 to 29 and substitute the following: “2° The day referred to in subsection 1° hereof is the 91st day on which Dáil Éireann first meets after the general election for members of Dáil Éireann that next takes place after the enactment of this Article.”.
I leathanach 9, línte 8 go 11 a scriosadh agus an méid seo a leanas a chur ina n-ionad: “2° Is é an lá dá dtagraítear i bhfo-alt 1° den alt seo an 91ú lá a thiocfaidh Dáil Éireann le chéile den chéad uair tar éis an olltoghcháin do chomhaltaí de Dháil Éireann is túisce a bheidh ann tar eis an tAirteagal seo a achtú.”.agusI leathanach 9, línte 26 go 29 a scriosadh agus an méid seo a leanas a chur ina n-ionad:Gabhaim buíochas leis an Cathaoirleach on this extremely sad evening in light of the vote we have just had. I do not believe in the abolition of Seanad Éireann. I hope that all those opposite do not dare to ever come into this House again when we win the referendum. They have shamed themselves by their vote. This was a splendid Parliament.
“2° The day referred to in subsection 1° hereof is the 91st day on which Dáil Éireann first meets after the general election for members of Dáil Éireann that next takes place after the enactment of this Article.”.
I am always keen to update the Minister on what we do. Yesterday, a motion was accepted by the Leader to have a discussion on Northern Ireland and possibly invite the Orange Order to the House. The debate on prisons was informed by the great T. K. Whitaker, a former Member, and the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, accepted our concerns about tenants in accommodation where a landlord goes broke. We are still doing all the work that the Taoiseach ignores by turning up here once a year just for a one-hour period, and that is why the Seanad should not be abolished.
We have not consulted the electorate in Northern Ireland. My estimate is that there are approximately 8,000 of them between the two university constituencies. No attempt was made to vindicate their rights under the Belfast Agreement of 1998 or the rights given to them under the Constitution, and the Government has never used the machinery under the Anglo-Irish Agreement in its treatment of the voting rights of those persons. That partitionist thinking is a shame. We were saying yesterday, in reference to the Orange Order's previous visit, that part of its mythology, which informs the rioting in Belfast at present, is that its population in the Border counties has shrunk to an extremely low level while the Nationalist minority in Northern Ireland has increased.
I asked the question, which jurisdiction treated its minorities better. The way they have casually cast aside agreements that we made with them, which were ratified by the United Nations in 1988, means that we will vote for more arms and protective clothing for the members of the PSNI who must handle the situation. It is extremely insensitive not to recognise that we need all of the contacts in both parts of the island. The matter has been treated casually.
We have heard no reply from the Minister, the Government or the Taoiseach which is a major mistake regarding the abolition of Seanad Éireann Part II. Instead, we have a completely daft, and not just misleading, but absurd collection of costings-----
-----published by the Government as part of its case to abolish the House, the €20 million. A Senator's salary is €65,000 and multiplied by 60 equals €3.9 million but the Government gets half that sum back in taxes. The salaries of Members of the Dáil, who face a very small cut of under 5%, are 34% higher. The Government wants to transfer the work that we do for 34% less to a more expensive body that lacks the expertise that one gets here. The Taoiseach's Departmental budget for the abolition is €2.1 million which is 84% of what he spent on the EU Presidency. He is very proud of the EU Presidency, and so are we. However, a large amount of money has been spent trying to do away with the House. If the pay of Deputies was reduced to that of Senators one could save about €3.7 billion.
Amazing numbers have been produced. For example, we use €36,000 per year each on computers, €46,000 each on parliamentary draftsmanship, €26,000 each for ushers and stewards. Those numbers have managed to inflate the €3.9 million wage bill paid to Senators to €20.1 million. We should have been given a Green Paper and a White Paper and, as Senator Quinn asked, an interval for a discussion. On the contrary, we have gone for a totalitarian approach. We will lose an extremely valuable part of the Legislature, this House.
When I think of Northern Ireland I think of Gordon Wilson, Ken Whitaker, John D. A. Robb Bríd Rodgers, Maurice Hayes and Seamus Mallon who were splendid people. They will never be elected to the Dáil but I am sure that will satisfy the Minister of State and his supporters.
I propose that we do not proceed with the abolition of the Seanad. We have not consulted the universities who send six people here. I speak as a member of the board of a university and can vouch that the matter has not been discussed. It was dropped on us. We have not consulted the other nominating bodies either.
With regard to the amendment which states that no general election for Seanad Éireann shall take place until after the dissolution of Dáil Éireann that next occurs after the enactment of this article, it should be delayed. We may have a new Government and perhaps a new leader of the Fine Gael Party who might have a more positive attitude to the excellent work of this House.
He or she might even turn up here for more than an odd hour a year. The Taoiseach is an employee of the people and nobody will accept a person's judgment which is based on one hour's visit per year. It would be unacceptable for the closure of a hospital, school or business. That is what the Government is asking us to do. It is shamelessly neglecting the good work done by the House, the work on all of the Bills and amendments and the views of the people who are not represented in the Dáil.
Please remember that this House exists because of a meeting between Arthur Griffith and the provost of Trinity College, Andrew Jameson, and Lord Middleton during the Treaty negotiations, a topic covered in Donal O'Sullivan's book The Irish Free State and Its Senate. We are trying to continue that tradition which has served this country well. I gave the quotes to the Minister of State when he attended here on another day. It has served the country well to represent those viewpoints. In particular, one ought to think about what is happening in Northern Ireland because the Good Friday Agreement is not being observed by people who feel that the Seanad has become a cold house for minority viewpoints and minority people whom Arthur Griffith sought to protect, and that this House has always protected. We should join up the dots to discover what is happening.
It has been stated - but the argument has been turned around - that the abolition of the House is necessary because we want to reform the Dáil. That is absolute nonsense. No proposal to reform the Dáil has ever come before this House. In fact, we probably would approve same. I commend the proposal made by the former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, that the Ceann Comhairle should be selected by a secret ballot in the other House. There are no proposals here so the Government cannot say that it cannot reform the Dáil because the Seanad has not been abolished.
May I give a picture that reflects the reality in this country? Stephen Collins, in his newspaper article published in The Irish Times last Saturday, stated:
During the lull in debate during the week one Minister - with long experience in office - mused about the unwillingness of successive governments to reform the operation of the Dáil to give TDs a meaningful say in the construction of legislation.The following is important. The article continues:
His thesis was that the problem stems from the higher echelons of the civil service who control the legislative process. "Legislation may be instigated by Ministers but the detail only emerges after consideration by civil servants, the Attorney General's office and parliamentary draftsmen. Once that process is complete and the Government signs off on a Bill nobody wants TDs messing around with its provisions," he said. That effectively makes TDs redundant.We have fought against that in this House by bringing forward Bills and tabling hundreds of amendments, as Senator Quinn has shown. I fear, when I see Ministers come in here, that they are controlled by their advisers sitting behind them. As journalist Stephen Collins has said, that reflects the reality.
We must remember that we have universities of the highest rank and with 65 departments. I have brought the knowledge of those departments to this parliamentary Chamber. I shall tell them that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, in obedience to Taoiseach Kenny does not want any university representation, does not want a second Chamber and does not want anybody from Northern Ireland. That is a power grab which everybody in the House should resist. All this has been done on completely spurious grounds in terms of Parliament and utterly spurious figures.
Deputy Finian McGrath asked Deputy Michael Noonan questions about the referendum figures that stated it will cost between €17 million and €21 million, plus the €2.1 million that has already been spent. That money is needed in a country with 14.7% unemployment and where 300,000 people have left. The Government has reformed nothing in the country. The Seanad has been made a scapegoat but we were not responsible for the collapse of the Celtic tiger or the Government's failure to reform the Dáil. I have tabled stronger measures, as the Minister of State well knows, on the regulation of banks. I thought the Minister for Finance would accept them but the Minister of State turned them down. Therefore, we are not responsible for the failure to reform the banking system either. Every day that we are in here we creatively help the Leader and the Government to get this country back from its condition in 2008. Our reward has been a Taoiseach who wants to abolish a vital part of the Legislature.
Today is my worst day since I joined this House. We really did try. Some 42 new people joined but we have been judged by people who do not want to hear us or are judging us on a Seanad that no longer exists. We wanted to play our part. All of the council of people, nominated by the Government, will not be nearly as effective. I have served on many of those councils and boards for various Governments. The Seanad is the best place for policy-making I have ever come across.
That is my experience and I think it would also be the Taoiseach's if he turned up a bit more frequently. He promised us, now that we no longer hold the EU Presidency, that he would come to the House more frequently, but I see he is sending the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, instead. That probably explains why he is badly informed about the work this House does.
I am very happy to support this amendment. This is a tragedy for the Parliament and the people of this country. It is a power grab and it saves no money. It will reduce the ability of the Legislature to address the serious questions that face this country.
We need people from Northern Ireland here. We need to comply with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998 and to honour what is in the Constitution and what was given by Éamon de Valera in 1937 to residents of the North. We may even need to try to emulate the Irish Rugby Football Union, which is able to have unionists and nationalists playing on the one side.
When I visit my constituency, I draw bigger attendances in Enniskillen, Belfast and Dungannon. I will have to go to those people and say that because of this Taoiseach, supported by people who did not bother to work through the consequences, they will no longer be able to vote for Members of the Oireachtas as it is being redefined to exclude people like them. They will be excluded from this House by a referendum in which they will have no vote. I think that is a scandalous situation in breach of an agreement which we registered with the United Nations. When there is rioting and we wonder why many people on the extreme unionist side do not want anything to do with this State, the hand of friendship we tried to offer is being pulled back by this Government. I am happy to propose the amendment that we do not proceed with the abolition of Seanad Éireann.
I am happy and honoured to second this amendment. This is the most disgraceful night. The behaviour of many people, including officeholders, is completely reprehensible. I have been in this House longer than the Cathaoirleach and any other person in it. I have been here for 26 years and sometimes I have behaved vociferously. I have no apology whatever to make because when I came into this place it was a pretty dull joint. In the 26 years since I have been here, I cannot recall this number of amendments being cavalierly ruled out of order on specious grounds. It is a disgrace. Seventy-eight amendments have been tabled but only one has been allowed. What kind of democracy is that? Whose strings are being pulled and by whom? That is what I would like to ask. I would also like to ask the people over there what is being offered. Last time it was Grattan's Parliament in Gandon's great building-----
Let us be clear what this is. This is a triple stunt. Reference was made to excellent articles by my colleague, Senator Barrett. Even if the rest of us were dross, what he has brought to this House has been superb. I say that even though he is a constituency rival and at the next election we will be competing for the same vote. However, I refer to an excellent article by Vincent Browne in The Irish Times on 17 July 2013 in which he quotes the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who spoke at the MacGill summer school in July 2009 about a new role for the Seanad, before stating on 17 October 2009:
Stunt number one. Was it a stunt?
I believe the Seanad should be abolished and the next Fine Gael Government will put this to the people. I have come to the conclusion that a second House of the Oireachtas can no longer be justified.
I hope we have the money to pay for television advertisements showing that glorious moment when Enda dropped it on Frances Fitzgerald, who was the leader of Fine Gael in this House but had never heard a word about it. Talk about a rabbit caught in the headlights. This was a pygmy shrew caught in the glare of a full regiment of panzer tanks. Nothing like it was ever seen in the history of politics.
I am sticking to it. Then there was the idea that he had taken a leader's initiative. This is what Vincent Browne - who, I can assure Members, has been surveying political life in Ireland longer than I and who is a very wise old bird - said. Vincent Browne stated:
Enda Kenny had never taken a “leader's initiative” on anything in his life until October 17th, 2009. He had been in the Dáil for 34 years-----
Vincent Browne stated:
He had been in the Dáil for 34 years by then and nobody I have spoken to can remember a single initiative he ever took on anything or any indication that he had reflected at all on any political reform or anything else of consequence-----
-----in that third of a century. Certainly not a word about Seanad reform or abolition."
He went on to state: "That a major change to our political institutions should have been prompted by a stunt, and almost certainly nothing else, to ease political pressure at a time of peril to career of a political dilettante, is beyond depressing."
Do those opposite realise they are voting for their extinction? I refer to Richard Bruton. God help the poor man. The poor devil. Was it not bad enough that he flopped in his leadership bid? Enda rightly screwed him to the wall.
I am sticking to my argument. In any court of law, one is allowed to lay the bases and then one ties them together. I am tying them together. We have a specific date for the extinction of this Parliament. How is that not tying it together?
I am relevant at the moment and I was retrospectively relevant if you had only given me the latitude that you usually do. I suppose I cannot say you have got your orders. I will leave that thought completely unspoken.
Can I point out that the travel allowance for Dáil Éireann would cover the wages of this House for a year? Why does the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, not go down there and let them get bicycles for themselves? How about that? It would be environmentally friendly. I hope the people of Ireland hear this. The travel allowance for Dáil Éireann would cover the wages of this House.
Let us look at the rest of the lies, and damn lies they are too, that we will save money on this thing. My friend Senator Barrett was brilliant on this. What will the Government do? It will fire the cleaners and all the secretarial staff. It says the Bills Office and the Journal Office will be affected, so it will fire a few more there. That is wonderful economics. Why did the Minister of State not take into account the fact that the Government will have to pay social welfare to these people? The Government is putting people on the dole. That is its wonderful jobs programme. It will actually throw people out of work in the centre of Parliament. I hope the people of Ireland take note of this and see that the policy of this Government is the policy of unemployment, except of its fat self. The money its gets down there-----
I am not going to be stopped. If the Cathaoirleach wishes to throw me out, that is his prerogative. I invite him to do so. People will see what way things are going in the House if, after 77 amendments, I am thrown out of the House for telling the truth. I am making a comparison and defy the Chair to show me that this is not relevant to amendment No. 28. The Seanad is going to be extinguished on the specified date with the consent of the House because of the nincompoops. The most we cost is €8 million. Of €108 million, we cost €8 million and the Dáil, €41 million. They intend to save money, but it will actually cost money. As Senator Sean D. Barrett said, the cost of the referendum must be taken into account, including the cost of legal advice, and already one is up to €20 million to €25 million, whatever way they fudge it. However, they will not tell the people that, as they look for every digression. They all jumped on a few hasty words of mine. They want to avoid the truth, which they cannot bear. I have challenged the Taoiseach, since the beginning of June, to meet me on television to debate the matter and have yet to receive a reply.
I will go and find him in the restaurant where he has plenty of time to launch a book. They intend to get rid of the lighting and maintenance in the Chamber. Are they going to sell it? Are they going to scrap it? If not, maintenance will continue to be required. That must be taken out of the equation. That lie should be stopped. I am glad that the Minister of State admired the ceiling. You were so ignorant that none of you knew it was done by Michael Stapleton.
Thank you very much. The Cathaoirleach has had a long and distinguished career in the House. Can he remember any other time when every amendment but one of approximately 100 amendments was ruled out of order? If not, why not? Why is there so much fudging? Why is the Government stifling debate? The reason the specified dates have been chosen is simple. The Government shoved this in while all of the attention was on the abortion debate to ensure we would never be covered. We are moving into the silly season, during which we will not be covered at all. The next thing will be the vote, which was why it was important for us to delay the Bill.
I appeal to Members on the other side. If they have any integrity, they will come out and vote to remit the Bill with at least one amendment. This is the only amendment we have, which is why they must vote on it. If they do not, they will have sold out the people whom they will not have allowed to discuss the matter properly. We will just have the fudge, the lies and taxpayers' money spent to spread this odious rubbish.
I was grossly offended by what the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton said. How dare he say what he did about people in the House who oppose the referendum? He has said we claim the Seanad should be retained and reformed when the reality is that attempts to reform the Seanad in the past have failed. Of course, they failed. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the rest of them all opposed reform. Fine Gael and the Taoiseach played a leading role in this. The smoking gun is in the statement they made and I hope someone will pick it up. Hello, out there. If anyone is listening, there is a smoking gun here. One of the people who signed the statement said she was offered a candidacy for the Seanad in 2007. In 2007 the then Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Enda Kenny, now Taoiseach, was assisting in the business of corrupting the Seanad in a way he now decries. There is the smoking gun. What happened to him that he suddenly saw the light? He was deeply involved in the corruption of Seanad Éireann and in impeding reform, yet he suddenly comes along to say he wants to reform the Seanad by abolishing it. He will not even give the people the credit of being intelligent enough to decide between reform and abolition.
The lying, trickery and knavery goes on. Of course, they are not confronting the people with the reality of what they are doing on their coy and evasive ballot paper which one might easily sign in the flicker of an eye. I wonder if it is legal. They should rehearse. This was the point of one of the amendments the Cathaoirleach ruled out of order. I have no idea why he did so, as he gave no explanation.
I am not talking about the Cathaoirleach, but he challenged me and I will give it back. I remember a day when I put down something on an emergency basis. Fianna Fáil was in government and the item was ruled out of order on the basis that it was not an emergency. At that very moment Charlie Haughey was declaring a national emergency in the other House. How can I respect rulings of that kind? I am not saying the Cathaoirleach ever did that, but it happened in the House and can be looked up. Why should we respect the rulings when they are all nonsense? The earlier ruling was that I could not speak because there was no provision for me to do so. There was nothing to stop me, except the ruling, in which case why was it given?
That is not true. Let us go on a little more. I suppose we will have to go into voting. The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, said ten reports had been published, yet we still had the same undemocratic, ineffective Upper House. Members opposite are undemocratic and ineffective according to their Government. Is that what they want to be? I challenge the people over there. The one opportunity they had to save the House was related to carer's allowance. One brave man acted, while the rest sang dumb. Now, some are using it as an excuse not to change. They say the people will say they are only seeking to save their own skins as they failed to vote on the issue of carer's allowance. Why did they fail to vote on it? Shame on them.
They are going to leave the House on the 21st day after the referendum is passed, if it is passed. I think the people have more sense. The Senators should not take their pay, even if they insist on turning up here. It is what they would do if they had any decency. They have said they are worthless and that we are a waste of money. The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton said one could spend €400,000 on disability services. It was a disgraceful abuse of people with disabilities.
He says it is €2.4 million per year. If the Senators opposite feel so strongly that the money is needed, they should leave or stay and shame themselves but without taking their pay. They have voted to say they are not worth it. Why are they staying? Why do they not buzz off?
I am glad to say I have had an apology from the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. However, the real insult he delivered was in saying those who called for reform now wanted the 75 year search for a purpose for this ineffective institution to continue. He said those who had refused to change the Seanad over so many years and were now calling for reform rather than abolition really meant more of the same. He said he was not persuaded by the new-found appetite for reform and believed the public would see the belated calls for what they were. It was a dirty, calculated little smear. I was surprised to see this from the Minister who is a decent individual. Probably, some minion wrote it for him. He should retract his statement and I call on him to retract it in its entirety. It is a disgrace and a lie from beginning to end. Any decent person would be ashamed of it.
I am very happy to support Senator Barrett. I very much regret that we will be stifled, guillotined and muzzled in the House. Let the Irish people take note that this is what is in store when the dictatorship in the Lower House takes over. There will be no mercy. Those people are ruthless. Let us look at the way the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, eliminated Deputy Richard Bruton. He may not be that intelligent but by God he is ruthless.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. My heart goes out to him, my prayers are with him and I feel deeply sorry for him and the embarrassing position he has been put in by what was once his Government. I hope he has severed all contact like decent people would.
This is a depressing evening. I have no selfish vested interest in the House. I served in the Lower House and I am proud to serve here. Like most of my colleagues, I do my best to serve the State and to do the job we are elected or appointed to do. I make no distinction between one Senator and another, we are all here to do a job.
I do not use the word likely but what has happened here tonight is shameful. Government Senators should be ashamed of themselves for their own dignity to come in here. Why should I listen to any argument they make on any item of legislation? What does it matter? They do not respect the House enough to stand up and fight for it. What is the point? Why should I even facilitate another Government amendment? Over 540 Government amendments were made this year in this House. They were either omissions or errors from Dáil Eireann when the prospective law comes into this House. Why should I or my colleagues facilitate the passage of any of these amendments? Why should I or my colleagues attempt to produce Bills or ideas for Government or to try to assist?
The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, and I have had many good debates in the House. Only yesterday, another disgusting and disgraceful item of legislation, the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, was discussed in the House. The Minister for Justice and Equality essentially accepted Senator Barrett's amendment. Are we useless to the Government? Perhaps the Leader of the House or the Cathaoirleach can inform us about the Taoiseach's commitment on Second Stage, given on only the second time he was in the House in two and a half years, that he would be back here on Committee Stage and on Report Stage. Cá bhfuil an Taoiseach? Where is the guy? He is launching a book. He did not even come in here to listen to me. He may have no regard for me as a Fianna Fáil Member of Parliament but I would have thought he would have greater regard for fellow party members in Fine Gael and coalition partners in the Labour Party. At the very least, he could listen to us.
He has produced a Bill that is very simply about the abolition of the Seanad. There is no date for a referendum or anything about a referendum. Let us abolish it. What is in its place? Nothing. He may reform committees or put a few extra people in the committees but they cannot be run as they are. Let us watch the committees and, with the exception of the Committee of Public Accounts, we can ask people what is done there. What is done in the Joint Committee on European Union affairs? Nothing. It is a rubber stamp. Thousands of items of EU legislation come in, with over 75% of our laws passed in Europe, without any scrutiny. There is one yellow card under the Lisbon treaty and the State has made one observation on prospective EU law since the passing of the Lisbon treaty. It is a joke. For two years after we asked, the Leader of the House endeavoured to get us the facilities so that we can scrutinise EU legislation but he was refused.
It was not lost on me who I saw sitting in the Public Gallery while the vote was taking place. It was the boot boy, the Chief Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, making sure that all Senators did what they were told to do. He is a boot boy and he acted in a thuggish way the last time he was in the House.
In my opinion, he acted in a most inappropriate way on the only occasion he came into the House. He sat here and watched the few Government Senators who are present vote and made sure they did. I would love to know what discussion took place in advance of some of the apparently Independent Members to ensure they would not allow the recommital.
They will have to answer for that. I am annoyed about this but, as I said to the Taoiseach, I will live if this House is abolished. What people want is more, rather than less, effective scrutiny and oversight. If anything was proven over the crisis that occurred in this country, it is that less scrutiny and regulation did the country more damage. We are living with that. Is it right that a Government with the largest majority in the history of the State, at 58 seats and declining, vested power it four Ministers so that even the Cabinet is irrelevant and that budgets are decided by four people? A trade union official and three teachers decide what happens in this country.
Four of those people have served in this House, nearly 30 years each and they are good parliamentarians but every Government needs to be challenged. Removing the Seanad removes the checks and balances. The Taoiseach proposed a mini Seanad of his own appointees. Once that suggestion was out there and he saw the reaction, it was pulled back in.
I asked the Taoiseach what would replace Seanad Éireann if the public votes for its abolition. He was vague in the extreme because he does not know. His big reform in the Dáil was Friday sittings and topical issues. It is farcical and it is a joke. There is never a vote on a topical debate on a Friday, it is always taken on a Tuesday so that Members travelling all over the country are not discommoded. One can go in and talk about the school bus in Malahide or a beach in Garretstown or propose a Bill in Dáil Eireann and the vote is held off until Tuesday. There is a window dressing of reform. The Minister is proposing a reduction of eight Deputies in Dáil Eireann, which is a massive reform. I really commend the Government for its reform agenda, which is second to none. It will go from 166 Deputies to 158. That is absolutely magnificent reform. They did not go for 20, as promised, because it would require a referendum.
The referendum to reduce the number of Deputies by 20 should be on the same day, apparently 5 October. The Government will not do this because what is occurring is not about Oireachtas reform. The Government is a grubby, small-minded government. I do not say that lightly. Members should have no doubt that the referendum will be a smokescreen for the Government's budget, which will be announced two weeks later. I warn the Minister of State that he should never underestimate the intelligence of the electorate. Our individual efforts from here on in will be to inform the people about the importance of this Chamber and what could happen here. This Chamber has a role and could have a much greater one if it were permitted to have it and if the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, actually permitted EU scrutiny. It is not permitted and the Taoiseach does not want to know. The Taoiseach promised he would be here today. I am used to hearing broken promises from him. He is not here although he said he would be.
I may have been a little over the top in making some of my comments and I do not wish to offend anyone, but I am particularly annoyed over this. I heard Members on the other side of the House railing against the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, when he lied about the cost of this House. I will not withdraw the word "lied" because the Minister did so. I have the correspondence and the figure is €8.8 million.
I respect the Cathaoirleach, but the Minister lied knowingly and misinformed the people. Worse, the most disgusting thing he could possibly have done was to say that the money accruing from Seanad abolition would be invested in the areas of disability and health. Since the Government took over two and half years ago, the one opportunity we lost here was to kick the Social Welfare Bill that cut the respite care grant by over 20% far back down the hall.
I want to know from my colleague from County Clare, whom I respect, whether the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, gave him the clarification he sought in advance of 7 p.m. this evening on the apparent saving of €20 million that would accrue if this House were abolished. What he said was a lie.
I have no fear of a referendum whatsoever but simply ask for an honest debate. I am not sure how I can take seriously anything ever said again by a Government Senator in this House after what has happened this evening. There is no point in listening to them because they have rolled over and allowed themselves to be walked upon by the most centralised Government we have ever had in this State. For the Government, reform is abolition. The Members opposite should never introduce a Private Members' motion again in this House, nor should they come in and cry about mortgage arrears; there is no point.
I am not. After this legislation is passed, even though this House will sit, it will be irrelevant. This is because the Members opposite, by their vote this evening, have actually expressed no confidence in this House. It is not a question of allowing a referendum. Members should show me one line in the text that refers to a referendum or a date therefor. There is none. The Members voted to express no confidence in this institution and, therefore, should not bother introducing anything in this House again because there is no point.
This House shall sit again on 16 September. The Taoiseach will move straight away and have a referendum within three weeks. We will hear all the nonsense and lies that started with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, on costs and on this, that and the other. The Taoiseach will try to ram this through. I will do my level best to fight it, not as a Senator but as an Irish citizen, because I really believe that what the Taoiseach is doing is vandalising the Constitution. I said this to him. He is ripping the Oireachtas asunder. Admittedly, it is not perfect, but I would rather imperfect oversight in all its various guises than no oversight at all. I am absolutely disgusted with what has happened today. The Members opposite should take a really good look at themselves and acknowledge what they have done this evening.
To be helpful to the Cathaoirleach in his ruling that Senator O'Brien and I moved away from the amendment, it is impossible to move away from a black hole or a brown dwarf, which is what this Bill is. They lack any kind of spatial dimension.
I have made two contributions on this Bill thus far, a Second Stage speech and a semi-Second Stage speech on Committee Stage. Owing to the way in which Committee Stage was taken, that is just the way it turned out. There was a series of Second Stage speeches. This may be the last chance I have to speak on this Bill. I do not intend to give a third Second Stage speech but I want to make a number of points.
It seems the Government, with the assistance of the Government Senators, is intent on passing this Bill. We are all realistic and believe that is what will happen. The day of its passage will be a sad day, but not because I believe this House should be saved in its current incarnation. I said in my Second Stage and semi-Second Stage speeches that I genuinely believe this House is undemocratic, elitist and not fit for purpose. I stated that if it is to have any future, it must be reformed radically. The people would not accept anything more or less than radical reform. It may not make me popular in this House to say this was not a good week for the Seanad. We face a campaign and increasingly there will be a focus on this House. We must examine our performances in the House in the coming weeks and months as the campaign progresses.
What I am genuinely concerned about is not whether this House is retained but the political institutions of this State that we will be left with if the Seanad is abolished. That is my chief concern. Will we have an overly centralised system of governance? I believe we will. Will there be considerable power in the hands of a very small number of people, the members of the Cabinet, or an even smaller number, given the number of Ministers who actually run the State? I believe there will. Has this State a very weak system of local government? It does. Do we have enough checks and balances in our political system? Are our political institutions fit for purpose in the 21st century, and are they serving the people well? Do we have proper accountability? Do we have proper scrutiny? The answer is "No".
My argument with the Government is not that it is going too far by abolishing the Seanad but that is not going far enough because it is not reforming local government or the Dáil, nor is it making the political institutions any more democratic, accountable or representative. Inclusiveness and all the principles that underpin political reform are being cast to one side. If we and the Government were truthful and honest about this, we would admit that, in reality, the Seanad is being offered up as a sacrificial lamb in the absence of genuine and meaningful political reform.
Subsequent to Deputy Enda Kenny’s first contribution as Taoiseach in the Lower House after his election, there was much excitement among people who voted for the Government parties. The Government won a massive majority in the Dáil, having received a huge number of votes for its two constituent parties' members in the general election. Many people genuinely believed there would be change. The Taoiseach said there was a political revolution and promised profound social, economic and political change. All people have seen is more of the same; in fact, circumstances have got worse. We have seen very bad social and economic policy and absolutely pathetic policy on political reform. The reforms have all been about reducing numbers and saving money.
There is something shameful about what is occurring, despite the views people might have on the Seanad. There is a range of views among various parties. There are different opinions in my party on whether we should have a unicameral or a bicameral system.
I am sure there are also different views within the Minister of State's party, the Labour Party, the Fianna Fáil Party and among Independent Members. What people want, first and foremost, is an informed and genuine debate. After that, they want real reform, not a tinkering at the edges. It is not all about reducing numbers.
What is most reprehensible about the Government's conduct in all of this is the decision to hold the referendum a few weeks in advance of the budget while claiming it is all about saving money. My own view is that the Seanad, as constituted, is undemocratic, elitist and not fit for purpose. I also believe the Dáil is not fit for purpose, although it is at least democratically elected. The claim by the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, that the money saved by the abolition of the Seanad could be used to provide services for people with disabilities was a particular low. Even the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, must accept that it was inappropriate and not the right way to make a genuine argument for political reform. That is not the way to conduct the campaign. It is absolutely inappropriate and, more importantly, unfair to all those suffering under austerity policies and cutbacks to claim that if the Upper House is done away with, everything will be okay. Fortunately, because people have been fooled so often in the past and have seen so many bad decisions by the Government, I am confident they will not buy that argument.
The greatest tragedy in all of this is that the people are not being given the option of reforming the Seanad. That is the point I have emphasised in all my contributions and it is the focus of all the amendments we have tabled. I have spoken to many people about this issue in recent weeks. Members will know that people like to come up to talk to elected representatives about all sorts of matters. Everybody to whom I have spoken, with one exception, has said he or she is in favour of reform rather than abolition. If that option were put to the people, I am confident they would choose it. Unfortunately, they are not being given that option and are instead being presented with the simple proposition that this House will either be kept as it is or it will be abolished. It might very well transpire that people who have grave concerns at the continuation of an undemocratic and elitist institution will opt, in the absence of a choice for reform, to abolish it. That is the most regrettable aspect of all of this.
The Government will succeed in getting the Bill through the Seanad and holding a referendum on the abolition of the Upper House. Whatever about making the case for retention of the Seanad, I hope the coming campaign will allow for a genuine debate on political reform and how we can ensure our political institutions are fit for purpose, inclusive, representative and relevant to the 21st century. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that the institutions of the State have failed the people for far too long.
The date of the referendum might not in itself be all that important. However, as several Senators observed, democracy is a very tender flower. We see many countries where democracy has been distorted and abused by people in power. This is not the first country to experience that type of attack on democracy. Others have been through the same, sometimes with disastrous consequences for their populations.
I agree with the point made by the leader of my party in this House on the scrutiny of European Union proposals. It is an absolute shame that the 226 Members of the Oireachtas give almost no attention to such proposals which have far and away the greatest input into the laws of this country. When it came to power, the Government decided to be populist by combining Oireachtas committees in order to reduce their number, thereby making them unworkable. I acknowledge that the previous arrangement in regard to committees was far from perfect. However, the Government has aborted any attempt at proper scrutiny of EU legislation. We had a special committee of the Houses which dealt with this work, but the Government abolished it. Again, this is symptomatic of people going on solo runs for the sake of it in order that they can given the impression of being engaged in meaningful reform.
I agree with the points made by Senator Sean D. Barrett who represents the Trinity College Dublin constituency on Northern Ireland representation in the Seanad. This House has enjoyed a long and distinguished record of input by people from the North during difficult times on this island. I have in mind people like John Robb, Maurice Hayes, Gordon Wilson, Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers. Their participation worked as a bridgehead with politics and politicians in Northern Ireland. As somebody who has aspired all my life to achieving a united Ireland, I regret the Taoiseach's decision not to appoint any Northern representatives to the Seanad.
It is a retrograde step. In previous debates in this House I have proposed that reform of the Seanad include a greater role for representatives from Northern Ireland. From talking to Unionist politicians with whom I am friendly, there would be a willingness on their part to accept a seat in this House, with the proviso that there were sufficient numbers across all of the Unionist parties to ensure nobody would be put in the position where he or she would be isolated. That could and should have been done. There is a great deal we could do with this House.
I am appalled that we are seeing an abortion spree on a range of issues, the proposal to abolish the Seanad being just one. Last week we had the expulsion of Deputies from the Fine Gael Party, some of whom had given tremendous service, because they would not abrogate their conscience to meet the demands of somebody whose conscience was far less sensitive and less finely tuned than theirs. This week the people concerned are being aborted from their offices. We have had discussion in the House this week about people being evicted from their homes because they cannot meet their mortgage payments. Yesterday Senator Sean D. Barrett pointed out that the banks were being given the power to evict people in rented accommodation, even where they had met all the tenets of their lease and were paying their rent on time. We have seen powers being given to the Revenue Commissioners to take money from people's accounts if they do not pay the property tax. This is slowly but surely becoming a totalitarian state. The worst aspects of the Fine Gael Party, particularly the Blueshirt element, as well as the strong socialist and Marxist tendencies within elements of the Labour Party, are being allowed to come to the surface.
That is regrettable and as a nation we will come to regret it. We see people being bullied, in Fine Gael in particular.
There are those who will feel the Taoiseach is intoxicated by power and a sense of self-importance. Some have said to me that the man may well be suffering from megalomania. I do not know whether that has been diagnosed, but perhaps he should be referred to Dr. Reilly for examination. However, I do know that he is certainly starting to display all the symptoms of it. If we dismantle this House, town councils and all of that, we will create a political elite that will grind the people into the ground. The man to whom I refer is now almost qualified to start growing the 'tache.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, that this is a sad evening, particularly in the light of the vote earlier. It did not make sense that we should not be given time to recommit the Bill. As Senator Feargal Quinn said, we were not able to debate and discuss many articles of the Constitution and, as matters stand, the people will now have to vote in the referendum without having had the opportunity to hear these deliberations.
We are dealing with amendment No. 28, as the amendments put forward by me and Senator Darragh O'Brien were overruled. An esteemed Member asked previously:
What added value does the Seanad give? We should be prepared to face the awful prospect of asking what it would be like if there was no Seanad. Would matters be any worse? I happen to believe they would, but it is a case to be made. The case is that we are a revising Chamber, that we can have more thematic and reasoned debates than the other House, that the atmosphere is not as adversarial and that business can be done. However, I often wonder if that is enough for the general public. We must show that we are in some way different from the other House and not just a pale replica thereof.Those are the words of the now Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, around the time of publication of the O'Rourke report. We are aware that he has changed some of his views and have heard some of the reasons for this. However, his question of what added value the Seanad gives is a good one.
What difference has this Seanad made? I wish to say something about this and will base my comments on three questions. Has it been an effective check and balance? Has it been a substantive forum for democratic deliberation that improves our policies and legislative choices? Has it been a House that generates new ideas for law?
On the first question, many of my colleagues, as well as the Minister of State, have referred to the fact that in the past couple of years some 529 amendments have been made by this Seanad to Bills that have been passed. All of these amendments came about in the context of deliberations in this House. I noted that the Minister of State indicated on the first occasion we gathered to debate the Bill that many of these amendments had been Government amendments. I went back and reviewed the Bills amended here and the amendments we had made in terms of checking and balancing the work of the Oireachtas. I looked at the list and noted, for example, that with regard to the local property tax, a Government amendment had originally been recommended by Senator Jillian van Turnhout, namely, the exemption for children and youth organisations. This amendment was accepted by the Government and became a Government amendment.
In the case of the personal insolvency legislation, many proposals made here regarding that legislation became Government amendments. The Minister of State was gracious enough to meet me in regard to that legislation. I have e-mails from some organisations with which I work and these organisations have noted to me in my work with them that this was the first time they were able to raise the issue that the State provide decent, minimum income guidelines for people who were insolvent. This became part of the personal insolvency legislation, but they were not my amendments. However, they came about because of my work with these organisations and the robust exchanges with the Minister of State who was gracious enough to meet them in his office and listen to them.
The Education and Training Bill provides another example of our effectiveness. A critical amendment brought forward by the Government had to do with putting a learner on the boards. This came about because my experience and that of others here encouraged the Government to do this. It may be the case that a number of the amendments made in this House were Government amendments, but they were made because of the exchange here with people with expertise.
When I looked at the list of 529 amendments made here to 14 Bills, I noticed some Acts had been omitted. For example, three finance Acts which had been influenced by exchanges I had had were not included. The Minister of State is aware of this and was gracious enough to hear me when I raised the fact that there was no equivalence of treatment to an adequate level between spouses and civil partners in tax matters. Three finance Acts were changed because of this. However, the amendments made were not my amendments but Government amendments.
The Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was also influenced by exchanges here and issues raised by me. This is not about me, but these are just some examples that I have noted which were not even listed on the list of 529 amendments. In the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, because of exchanges here, the Government brought forward amendments to ensure equivalence of treatment between civil partners and spouses in seeking citizenship. Many of the amendments made to the Health and Animal Welfare Bill were as a result of exchanges here. These are just a few examples from one Senator on the question of whether the Seanad was an effective check and balance in the past few years. Even as it stands, we could answer "Yes".
My second question was whether this had been a substantive forum for democratic deliberation. I will give some examples from my experience, but I know colleagues can identify others. The Independents group to which I belong put forward two motions on the issue of the future of prostitution legislation, as a result of which the issue was brought to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. A huge public consultation took place and a report has issued, with radical recommendations for changes in legislation, and is being laid before both Houses. Yes, this is an effective forum for deliberation.
Another example is the motion tabled by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien on charities and the need for a charity regulator. The Minister for Justice and Equality announced last week that we were now going to establish such a regulator. I know this is the result of the work of Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and others on a motion that was debated here. Therefore, on the question of whether this House is a forum for democratic deliberation on improvements in policy and legislative choices, the answer is "Yes". I have given some examples from my experience.
My third question was whether this was a House that generated new ideas for law? I congratulate my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, whose Construction Contracts Bill has moved to the Dáil. Other Bills have also been brought forward here, for example, Senator Ivana Bacik's Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill which will allow humanists to officiate at marriages.
Senator Kelly's wind energy Bill went to Committee Stage but is sitting there. Just a couple weeks ago, with a couple of my colleagues, I published the Legal Recognition of Gender Bill and, today, the Government unexpectedly published the heads of Bill on gender recognition, so I wonder if that had any impact. Senator Averil Power addressed section 37 of the Equal Status (Amendment) Act. Two Ministers came in to debate that and it was agreed that this issue would go to the new Irish human rights and equality commission, if it is established relatively soon.
New ideas have been generated even in the past couple of years, and these are just a couple of examples. However, this is before we have reformed the House. Senators Crown, Quinn and I prepared two big Bills with many recommendations for reform that would make this House distinct from the Dáil and enable it to have perhaps even more expertise than it does now and greater diversity. There has been a lot of discussion, debate and reflection on the two big Bills on Seanad reform that are here but sitting waiting.
Let us contrast that with the ideas in regard to Dáil reform. This is where I am quite surprised, and perhaps this is my political naivete, given I have only been a politician a couple of years. I think that is part of my identity-----
I am shocked by all of this. I know the Government had this big agenda for substantive Dáil reform to ensure a check and a balance when the Seanad goes, but the first set of ideas came out in a press release with the abolition Bill.
I saw that press release. The second time I saw ideas being developed was on the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton's website. When the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, came to the House on the abolition Bill, he expanded a little on those reform ideas. I have already spoken of what I think about those ideas, which is that I do not believe they are substantive enough, by any means, to ensure a check and a balance to ensure the generation of good ideas and a different type of democratic deliberation.
As for the costs, I received in my pigeonhole this week a message from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission regarding the estimate of the amount of moneys required in respect of ongoing expenditure for the period January 2014 to December 2014, and it also contains the costs for 2013. It states in black and white that the cost of Seanad Éireann is under €10 million. We had this deliberation when the Minister of State was in the House recently about where the €20 million comes from and why that figure is still being put out.
The €10 million figure is there in black and white.
The Seanad has been effective. We have put forward ideas for reform. As other colleagues have said, on every single amendment to try to include the possibility for reform to be put before the people, the answer is "No", "ruled out of order", "in conflict with the Bill" or "no way to get it in the Bill". The abolition Bill was not brought to a committee ahead of time, even though the Government claims this would be done with everything else once the Seanad is gone. The Government has provided no rationale for this.
I just do not understand this move from the perspective of the use of the taxpayers' money. What was the rush in putting before the people a referendum to abolish the Seanad? Why did the Government have to do it now? Why could it not have waited a couple more years, when it would have time to introduce some Dáil reforms, which we do not have now? Moreover, as Senator O'Brien has indicated, suppose the people vote to abolish the Seanad because they do not have the possibility of reform in front of them, yet we still have two more years.
I do not have a lot to say as it is a bit after the event and anything I would say is probably obair in aisce. However, I would not let the occasion go without saying some few words. This is probably the saddest day in my lifetime in politics. I came into politics at a very young age. I was born into a political family and was the secretary of my local Fianna Fáil cumann at the age of 15. I served 22 years in local authorities before I was elevated to this Chamber. I understood the political world fairly well, I think, and I always have the greatest respect for people in this business. I have never in my life been judgmental about people who vote in a different way from me.
I speak in support of Senator Barrett's excellent amendment and I want to commend him on his sterling performance here, not only in this amendment but right through this term of the Seanad, along with his other university comrades. I never thought I would see a day like this. I always had tremendous faith in our political system. Even as a young man and right through my life, I always looked up to Dáil Éireann, no matter who was in government. I always looked up to the Seanad and to the Presidency of Ireland with great pride. Right up to an hour ago, I never thought I would actually witness a House of the Oireachtas effectively voting for its own destruction, because, really and truly, I believe that is what the people on other side have done.
I do not at all blame those in the Fine Gael Party or the Labour Party. I am a political warhorse myself and I understand the constraints we all operate under. However, I have something to say about the Taoiseach's 11. When they were appointed, they were heralded here as the team of stars - all singing and dancing, all the talents. We were to admire them, and we did, and we appreciated their delivery and contribution here. In contrast, we were just supposed to be ordinary foot soldiers. In any case, that was the perception the media created and, in fairness, some of the Taoiseach's 11 actually believed that themselves. Tonight was their night, however, and they came up very short tonight, with the exception of two gracious colleagues who stood with democracy, in my view.
The point I am trying to make is this. What the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, is proposing is that, instead of this Chamber, there would be a star chamber, as I describe it, of people he will select himself. What chance have those people of showing any bit of independence when the 11 here tonight failed us? They did not have to toe the line. I do not believe that, when the Taoiseach picked up the telephone and rang Senator Katherine Zappone, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien or anybody else, he said "I want you to come into the Seanad and do everything I tell you to do", because I do not believe people of their integrity would have accepted that condition. However, they went missing tonight, which is very disappointing for me.
People can point the finger in future at political parties and the way we operate, and many of the 11 were quite critical of our Whip system and all of that down through the years. Maybe we will have a look back at them and ask, when push came to shove, were they able for the job?
It is a sad day, as I said. I am probably a defeatist but tomorrow, more than likely, when I have had a night's sleep, I will gird my loins for the battle that is coming and perhaps I will be more optimistic about our chances of winning this referendum. Quite possibly, we can do it, but not if the Government continues as it has started; not if it continues with this lying campaign, telling people the Seanad costs €50 million, then €20 million, then €10 million - maybe tomorrow it will be €25 million; not if it continues putting people on our screens like the Fine Gael deputy director of elections, who is two and a half years up here and knows nothing about the Seanad, according to her own admission, but who will still dump down on 75 years of tradition, achievement and contribution; and not if the Taoiseach continues to steamroll his party and the nation, as he has done.
He is proving quite a dangerous man to democracy. However, I believe people can pull together. I am optimistic. It is all about the people, and they will see through this.
I am a student of history and have quoted from it at times. The last Parliament to be suppressed in this country was Grattan's, in 1800. At the time, the Gaelic poets and scholars famously said that the parliament was defeated by mealadh, breabadh agus bagairt - persuasion, bribery and threats. I have no doubt that bribery is not a factor in the decision of any person here, and would not suggest so for a second. Persuasion and threats, yes. We have seen a very threatening Government which causes real concern for me and for the body politic. Let us move on and try to win this issue.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this amendment and on the motion. I assure Senator Darragh O'Brien that the Government Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, is not a boot boy and was not present tonight to perform as a boot boy. He was here to perform as a postman. He came to deliver a letter to me and to my colleague, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, informing us that because of our decision to vote in a certain way yesterday on the abortion Bill we would be expelled from the parliamentary party. It is politics.
In a sense, it is most interesting that the letter, the diktat, was delivered personally to us in this House when at the same time we were discussing the future of democracy and the future of this House.
If we need any proof as to the need for a second House and the idea of independence of thought in politics, or any proof of the need for a second Chamber, a second voice and a place and space for people to speak their minds, the letters delivered by the Government Chief Whip to me and Senator Healy Eames during the course of this debate make the case more strongly for us than we could make ourselves. I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, has his political job to do, as we have ours.
We must accept that a referendum will be held. I accept this was a commitment made by my party, one of those we are managing to keep. We must also accept that if most colleagues here believe in the House in which we serve we will have to take a message to the people asking them to reject the referendum, not to save our jobs but to save an institution which, since the foundation of the State, has played an exceptionally valuable role in parliamentary democracy and scrutiny. It can do so again.
Senator Zappone outlined some of the measures advocated and taken here during the course of the current Seanad. The list is endless. When I think of the people with whom I have served, including the former Senators Mary Robinson, Joe O'Toole, John A. Murphy, Brendan Ryan and Gordon Wilson, I find it deeply depressing and exceptionally worrying that a member of my party could say she had never heard of the Seanad. That really frightens me.
Rather than being depressed, we must now go forward and begin to explain to the people of this island why we believe the Seanad should be maintained. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I would be the first to accept that we need considerable reform, not only of this House but of Irish politics. We need reform of the Dáil and of local government. When my Government colleagues and friends remark that Scandinavian countries and many others make do with a single parliamentary system they very comfortably gloss over the fact that all of those countries have very strong and democratic local government, which we do not. They have parliamentary safeguards, checks and balances.
I look forward to that part of the debate and I look forward to debating the question of costs. The €15 million has become €20 million. However, if we are really serious about saving money in the building that is Leinster House we can ask ourselves whether the cost of a Deputy, who costs two and a half, three or four times as much as a Senator by way of his or her additional staff, office and other allowances, is not something that could be examined. We can look at the whole area of Government advisors and pose the question, as I have done, of whether unelected advisors, who are in every Department of Government, are worth two or three times the salary of perhaps imperfectly elected Senators. We look at the quangos and the list of those that were to be abolished and see they are still standing strong. All of these matters must become part of the genuine debate, as I know the Minister of State, with his own tradition of parliamentary democracy and political reform, will wish them to be. Those questions need to be asked.
What I would say to my colleagues is that although we are losing tonight's battle, there is a message that must be given to the people. They must be told about what we have seen here in recent times in regard to the centralising of power. One of the parties in Government is very much influenced by the concept of democratic centralism, in which a small number of people decide what the policy of that party is, hand out the scripts and literally give people their thoughts. This is not speculation or supposition but historical fact. I do not want that cancer of politics to spread throughout the body politic and Leinster House.
I have been asked for an explanation and wish to provide it. I was in this House when a party named the Workers' Party had seven Members in Dáil Éireann. As they will readily concede, they practised a system of politics called democratic centralism, whereby one or two people within the party, generally unelected members, decided the policies of the party and used the party to transmit and transpose those policies. Most members of that party joined another party, which is now very much the dominant element of the old Irish Labour Party.
Major questions of democracy, representation and checks and balances face us in the referendum and I look forward to engaging in that debate. Our Seanad is not perfect - neither are our politics - but this proposal before us for a rushed referendum, when the questions have not been deliberated in full, is not the best way of conducting our parliamentary or political business.
Sometimes we have to remove ourselves from the realms of reality if we want to ignore fact.
In my party we all know the genesis of this proposal, the policy of spring 2009 and that of summer and early autumn 2009. We all know why there was such an about-turn. If people want to hear the dates of meetings, who was present and when, and the opinion polls that would happen the following Monday and Tuesday, it could bring an interesting texture to the forthcoming debate. I presume we will have a referendum in October and we must put our best foot forward not just for ourselves but on behalf of this House, which has served our nation well. We are not just talking about getting rid of 60 Senators, as that is irrelevant, but we are talking about demolishing one third of the Oireachtas. We are talking about changing the manner in which a President of Ireland can be dismissed, how a judge can be run from office and how politics is done and democracy practised. These are major steps which require deep reflection, and I look forward to it in as much as I can during the course of the referendum debate.
Fáilte a Aire. It is nice to see the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, again, as we spent some pleasant time here the other day. I stated that somebody should really get video camera footage of the ministerial chair during the various Stages of the Seanad abolition Bill debate. We could make a really interesting pictorial calendar for 2014 of stills featuring the various faces that appeared.
I am not given to procedural wrangling. I come from a discipline, a day job, which prides itself in being of a rather practical bent, so from time to time I have been somewhat impatient with people using the procedures of the House apparently to delay matters or introduce issues not immediately germane or relevant to the item under discussion. There is a certain sense of getting our own back on this with regard to procedure.
I would be grateful for the attention of the Minister of State and the Leader of the House.
The manner in which this has been conducted by those who are proponents not really of putting the question to the people but rather of abolition of the House has been procedurally suspect. The arguments are well travelled and versed but they are nonetheless valid and bear some brief repetition-----
Let us just hit the reset button. I am sorry but I would like to treat the Minister of State, this House, the Dáil and the process of Government with respect. I do not consider myself a politician but somebody with a real day job. I am somebody who because of the spirit of our original Constitution has found himself with the opportunity to take a position of advocacy, which I have done outside the House for many years, into the halls of our Oireachtas, as intended in the 1937 Constitution. I am sorry if I am not perhaps wise to the ways of politics and I beg the Minister of State's indulgence in that respect.
I believe that the way this problem has been tackled from the pro-abolitionist side has been unsatisfactory and it looks unsatisfactory. In the first instance, there were a number of amendments on Committee Stage that were never heard. I will gladly yield to the Minister of State if he wishes to make a point.
I hope that day does not arrive, although the public will make up its mind in that regard. As a Government Senator I have no problem with the programme for Government and putting the referendum to the people. Perhaps the Seanad needs the people's endorsement, as the idea of reforming the Seanad has been kicked around for a generation. It has never happened and it is up to the people as to whether it should be reformed or scrapped. I presume if the vote is against abolition we will end up with a different Seanad.
I will not interrupt if that is okay, although I have lost my train of thought. We are not voting to get rid of ourselves and if we had that power, I am sure it would not happen. People should freely admit that we are giving the public the opportunity to decide our future. It is part of democracy that people ultimately have the power. Democracy comes from the Greek for "power" and "people".
I take offence from Members and former Members - although I do not include the Minister of State - who have said this is a totally undemocratic body elected by 1% of the people. The most important position in the country is the Taoiseach and he is chosen by Members of the Dáil. I would never say the Taoiseach was undemocratically elected. Most of us are democratically elected by councillors who stood for election in 2009. I give the people who voted for such councillors more credit than others might. I was a county councillor in 2009 and the people knew at the time that a councillor would have the power to vote in a Seanad election, so the people conferred their rights to their councillors.
Let the councillor make up his or her mind on who to vote for if the Seanad election took place. We are as democratically elected as the Taoiseach and we are as democratically elected as a TD. Someone said recently that democracy is the name we give to the people when we need them. Some people say that the Seanad is not democratic whereas Members of the Dáil are elected democratically. We are elected democratically. I am a citizen of this country and the Constitution states that the Seanad is elected in a certain way by councillors, by university graduates and by the Taoiseach's nominees, but that is democracy. For anyone who says that we are an unelected Chamber, we can say the same about the Minister of State, any Minister or the Taoiseach. The people may not want the Taoiseach we get, but that is our democracy and that is how we decide it. We cannot go back to the people every six months and ask them who they want as Minister for Education and Skills.
We are given a power and, ultimately, any Minister can become a Minister without facing an election of any kind. He can be nominated to this House by the Taoiseach and be made a Minister, as occurred with the late James Dooge, who was made Minister for Foreign Affairs in the early 1980s, which was one of the most important Ministries at the time because of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach of the day, Garrett FitzGerald, and the Government found it in their wisdom to appoint him as our Minister for Foreign Affairs and he represented the country abroad. He did not secure one vote from any person in this country. The late James Dooge was an undemocratic member of the Government, if I am to use this language that has been thrown out by people every day, who ask what we are doing taking a salary when they did not elect us. People who say that must reflect and realise that the people of the country elected us indirectly.
I have no problem with the referendum. The people will speak on it. This is about the people of the country and not about us in here. Outside those gates and across the country, people do not care tonight about what happens to the Seanad because they are dealing with severe mortgage debt and are suffering from unemployment. We are talking in a bubble here. Perhaps the Minister of State is partially correct to say that we are talking to ourselves, but we are talking to ourselves within a bubble and we should realise that there is something more important out there than the referendum on the Seanad. The public will decide that and this is where the power of the public comes in. If there is only a 30% turnout some might say that most have not voted, but the people who will not vote are making the same statement that they do not really care. We meet people every day whose biggest concern is how to get to the end of the month, to the end of the week, or even how they get through the day. We have to let the people decide.
Perhaps the people will come out and say that they want to retain the Senate, and then a meaningful reform will take place. It is ultimately their call. We are not voting to get rid of ourselves. We are voting to let the people decide that and we will abide by the decision of the people. That is where democracy comes in.
I must congratulate the Taoiseach on his leadership on difficult issues such as the legislation on the protection of life during pregnancy. It is very easy to run away from it, and other people ran away from it when they were more concerned with telling people to hang themselves because they were giving out about what was happening in the country. Those are megalomaniacs. Those are the guys who put the country in hock to Europe and to the rest of the world. To insult the Taoiseach of the country for any reason is unfair. It does not reflect on us. The Taoiseach can be removed tomorrow if 84 TDs decide to have another leader. That is democracy but we do not have that say, nor does the public. The public will reflect on the value of the Seanad and by bringing the issue into focus, we will see the benefits of it. I do not include the Minister of State among those who are kicking us around the place, because it is an easy thing to do. The very same people are criticising the public out there for kicking the Government, when they are kicking their own colleagues. It is unfair to this institution, which has served the country.
I was a member of a town council for 17 years. They are being done away with. In my experience in Letterkenny, the town councils have provided a fantastic contribution. However, just because they are being abolished, we are not kicking them around saying that town councils are useless. The town council has had a very-----
I will conclude. The town councils had a very important role, but things have moved on. If the people decide to move us on, then they will make that decision. The people who are calling for the abolition of the Seanad should start remembering where they came from.
Like Senator Bradford, I was very disappointed to receive this letter from the Government Chief Whip in this House. This is party business and in my view, it should not have been conducted in a House of the Oireachtas. I am not angry, but I am disappointed. I am really philosophical this evening, because I fundamentally believe we have missed an opportunity for reform. One of the biggest problems we have in this House is a very unhealthy party system. It is fear of the Whip.
We badly need reform in this country because Irish people elect us to think. They do not elect us to say "Leave your brain outside the door and let someone else do the thinking for you." While we have such a repressive Whip system, that is what is going on. Please God this House will be retained by the voters, and that retention will be a mandate for reform at the next general election. That mandate should be that we do not need a party system in this House. We need people to be able to think on their feet. We need a policy formulation House, and the other House badly needs people to formulate policy. Policy can be decided by democracy in here, by a voting system.
There is much wrong with this Bill. One of the key problems has been pointed out by Senator Barrett. It is wrong that university voters from NUI panels and TCD panels outside this jurisdiction do not have a vote on whether this House should be abolished or not. There is something fundamentally exclusionary and undemocratic about that.
I lived in America. I lived there for a three and a half years as a very young teacher, from 23 to 26 or 27 years of age, and I had a vote in the Senate during that time while I lived outside this country. I continue to have a say in my country, while a member of the diaspora. I wonder how constitutional it is to rip that away from people without them having a say in it. It is something that should be explored.
It is unbelievable that articles are being deleted from our Constitution that were not debated in this House. That is one reason I supported the motion tabled by Senator Quinn this evening. Our Taoiseach goes around with the Constitution and states that he must live by this book.
That is what we heard with the abortion Bill too. All Members live by the Constitution but we did not give enough time for a debate on the constitutional articles that will be deleted. Politics is fundamentally about debate and that debate is about what affects people’s lives. Before we get rid of this House, we should allow enough time for that.
I accept there may have been delays earlier in the debate on this Bill. The central point is this. No matter what is said, not enough time was given to debate every amendment and every article that will be deleted from the Constitution.
I have said what I want to say on amendment No. 28. There is something fundamentally unhealthy at the core of the way business is being done here and how this House is being abolished without offering the people an opportunity to reform it. This is not good for democracy. Consider how hard people fight-----
Somebody described this as the most disappointing day in the Seanad. People will understand that for me yesterday was the most disappointing day but maybe for reasons that are in some way connected.
What disappoints me and others on this issue are the serial failures of leadership through this whole sorry mess, starting with the Taoiseach’s ill-conceived proposal which was about reaching into the cookie jar of popular political ideas within weeks of him sketching out an alternative vision and how the role of the Seanad could be reformed.
The reactions of his henchmen and henchwomen were disappointing too. They rushed to support what is a very flawed vision for our political institutions. Former Senator, Deputy Richard Bruton, made an utterly groundless case for the abolition of the Seanad, blaming the House itself for the failure to reform itself and its role over 75 years. He knows fine and rightly that the only way reform can happen in this place is when the Government proposes it and it has the backing of a majority of its Deputies and Senators.
There was a shallowness in that analysis which indicts the Government.
Senator Norris has already described the surprised reaction of the then Leader of the Opposition in the Seanad, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the announcement to abolish the Seanad. She was Leader of the Opposition here at the time but the Taoiseach did not even inform her of a proposal of such fundamental importance. Again, this illustrates how shoddy the whole proposal was.
The sad point is that instead of accepting this is not the way one reforms our democratic institutions, which are ultimately fragile, we blithely talk about having a unicameral system as though it would not make a difference. Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb. It is not now when we do not have a crisis that we might regret tampering with our democratic institutions in an ill thought-out way. It is at some future point.
People can already see the unhealthy developments that can flow when there is too strong a majority in the Lower House. I do not want to be partisan about this but we have seen it in recent days on a very important life-and-death Bill. It would perhaps have been much different if the numbers had been closer. In the future, if parties not committed to democratic ideals, root and branch, gain politically in a populist moment or as a reaction to national difficulties, then that will be the time we will benefit from having checks and balances and the capacity to slow down the legislative process, holding it up to scrutiny. That will be important even if we can only delay legislation under current arrangements.
It saddens me to see Ministers, party officials and Members on the Government side acting like ventriloquists’ dummies. It may be becoming the fashion to sit on each other’s laps in the other House but it should not happen on an issue like this.
It is vital that people show independence of mind. That is the one thing that could give the Seanad its relevance in people’s eyes.
There might be a case for a Whip on some issues at certain times to maintain an overall coherence when it comes to the formulation of policy and legislation. However, just as important, it must be capable of being balanced by allowing people to speak their minds. If that does not happen in the Seanad, it certainly will not happen in the Dáil.
There are three main aspects to the role of a Deputy.
The third aspect of a Deputy’s role is dealing with local issues. Only this evening when I asked a Government Senator, a Member for whom I have high esteem, the reason they were supporting a proposal that they manifestly disagree with, I was informed they had to liaise with Ministers from their party to get things done in their constituency.
It certainly does. That Senator thought he was a Deputy. He may have ambitions to be one but that should not be the role of a Seanadóir. The primary role of a Senator is to legislate and review legislation. We do not have the constitutional mandate to scrutinise the actions of the Government, at least not as directly as the Dáil. As regards local issues, Senators who are aspiring Deputies work hard on local issues.
I will stick to it. I thought I was sticking to it.
My point is this. We need more leadership from within the Seanad itself. It can only come - there is still time for it to come - from the Government Senators.
I am disappointed that three of the Taoiseach’s nominees did not vote with the amendment of Senators Quinn and Norris this evening. Senator van Turnhout’s claim she voted with her conscience is not credible.