Seanad debates

Friday, 15 July 2016

Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016: Second and Subsequent Stages

 

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:00 am

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The purpose of the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016 which I am commending to the House today is to enable the register of electors to be used for selecting members of the citizens’ assembly. The provisions in the Bill are along the lines of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2012 passed by the Oireachtas when arrangements were being made for the membership of the then proposed Convention on the Constitution.

When consideration was being given to the establishment of the citizens’ assembly, the Government decided that it should have a membership of 100 citizens, including the chairperson. As set out in the resolution approving the calling of the assembly that has just been passed in the House, the Government will appoint a chairperson. The balance of the membership will consist of “99 citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society”.

As the citizens’ assembly is not established by statute, it is necessary to provide in the Electoral Act 1992 for the use of the register of electors in the selection of the members of the Assembly. Section 13A of the Electoral Act 1992 provides that it is an offence to use information in the register other than for electoral or other statutory purposes. Such a statutory purpose is provided, for example, in the Juries Act for the selection of members of juries. As I have said, provision was made in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2012 for use of the register in the selection of members of the Convention on the Constitution.

There is in place an edited register of electors which could have been used in the selection of citizens to serve on the citizens’ assembly. That register includes some 320,000 voters who have opted to have their names included on it. However, that is a relatively small percentage of the total electorate of some 3.2 million from which citizens may be selected on the enactment of this Bill.

As to the selection process itself, a polling company will be commissioned for this purpose. Its brief will be the selection of a representative sample of the electorate in terms of gender, age and regional spread. The selection process will be overseen by the independent chairperson of the assembly.

I will now outline the detail of the Bill for the House. Section 1 amends section 13A of the Electoral Act 1992 by inserting a new subsection into it. This will provide that information in the electoral register may be used for the purpose of selecting citizens of Ireland to participate in the Assembly. Section 2 contains standard provisions dealing with the Title, citation and construction of the Bill.

In summary, the sole purpose of this Bill is to provide in statute for the use of the electoral register in the selection of members of the citizens’ assembly. The Bill is required to facilitate the establishment of the assembly, the calling of which has been approved now by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge the Minister of State's presence. This Bill supersedes the previous motion is closely linked to the debate on the establishment of a citizens' assembly. Like other speakers, I was very disappointed that additional speaking time was not allocated because there are Members who wished to participate in the debate on the motion to which I refer but who were afforded the opportunity to do so. I appreciate that it was agreed on the Order of Business but if we are debating an issue such as a citizens' assembly, we should give the motion the respect it deserves by allowing all speakers to participate if they so wish and not dilute or constrain it, as happened in this instance.

The Bill before us relates to the use of the electoral register and the selection of the participants in the citizens' assembly but unfortunately it does not clarify the selection procedure to be used and the research methodology to be adopted. I am not sure whether that has been decided upon but will the Minister clarify the position because there are various methods that could be used by any research company to select participants to participate in a citizens' referendum?

I very much agree with Senator McDowell's comments earlier today on the citizens' assembly. I agree that a citizens' assembly will do little to progress clear thinking on any issue because, ultimately, it is being established with very clear objectives, which, of their nature, are very rigid in the context of the work programme. If one looks at academic investigations into the establishment of citizens' assemblies in Australia and in British Columbia in Canada, there are varying views as to the usefulness of such assemblies in progressing issues, particularly where the work programme is established by the government or the executive and where it is refined in nature, as is the case in this instance. We are establishing a citizens' assembly but we have already made the conclusions ourselves. I was joking with someone in the cafeteria yesterday about the citizens' assembly and I called it the "kicking to touch" assembly because, in theory, that is what this involves. We are kicking issues down the road that should be debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas by the people who are elected to represent the citizens. This is duplicating the role. I disagreed with the previous citizens' assembly at the time as well. Why should Members who are elected by the people to this House be sitting on a citizens' assembly as well as other people? It is not clear how these people will be selected. I am not going to cast aspersions on whatever company will be appointed following the tendering process, but questions are being raised in the academic sphere on the usefulness of such assemblies. Those questions have not been answered by anything I heard earlier or while listening to the Minister during debate in the Dáil yesterday.

I would like clarification on the method of selection. All politicians, including me, are quick to validate a referendum as the best means of deriving a result with regard to what the people really think. Let us examine the results of the recent referendum across the water. I know there was no independent referendum commission, it was both sides, for and against, which I think was a mistake. Notwithstanding that, only 71% of the registered electorate in the UK turned out to vote. One is not dealing with 50% of the British electorate, but a percentage of the turnout who voted to leave. There are arguments one can make on both sides. Why do people not vote? Was there a lack of engagement?

There are issues around referenda that should be debated and discussed in this House before we rush down a path of trying to find solutions to very delicate issues which are facing our society. There is a very strong lobby around particular issues of a sensitive social nature. Such issues deserve to be the subject of thorough and measured debates. There is a rush to repeal the eighth amendment and that will be one part of the work of the citizens' assembly. There are many pressing issues facing the Irish people. I refer, for example, to those who are seeking the right to a job or a home and individuals who are being evicted from their homes by banks. We saw the case in County Monaghan of a farmer whose animals were shot by the Army. There are other issues that could be deliberated upon. If, as the Government wishes, we are establishing a citizen's assembly, are we not undermining it by prescribing a dedicated and very narrow work programme for it? If we had confidence in the assembly, would we not allow its members to determine the work programme?

I do not agree with the methodology being used. I have reservations about a third party - a private company - being given access to the electoral register in order that it might decide the membership of the assembly. I have reservations about the latter. They may be valid or otherwise, but my reservations relate to the methodologies being used. Both Houses of the Oireachtas deserve to know what are the methodologies.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. To some extent, it follows on from the decision made by the House that if there is to be a citizens' assembly, it must be composed in some particular way. We are dealing with a Bill, not simply a resolution. We have not at any stage been afforded the courtesy normally extended to Members of these Houses, namely, the provision of a financial estimate of the cost involved in establishing a citizens' assembly. Resolutions do not have to be the subject of such a provision. However, when I was a Member of the Dáil - I presume this is a general rule - it was regarded as a courtesy to Members that should a proposal involve necessary expenditure on the part of the taxpayer, some estimate of the cost should be given to those voting on the issue before they make their decision.

The proposed citizens' assembly will be obliged to deal with hugely disparate topics. The only reason I mention that - I do not want to be out of order on this - is because, by any standard, if it does its work at all competently and carefully, the assembly will be in operation for a number of years. If it is to operate on the same basis as the previous convention did in Malahide, it will cost a great deal of taxpayers' money.The money that will be spent on this citizens' assembly could be spent in the health service on providing home help for people who are currently having that service curtailed. It could be spent on housing the homeless and on other issues. The question we must ask ourselves, in this and the other House when a proposal is put before us, is whether it represents value for money. Are we going to assemble 99 randomly chosen citizens who, as I said, are not randomly chosen because the great majority of people will not be in a position to commit to the time involved when they are approached to participate in this process? It will be a self-selecting group to some extent. Are we in a position to work out if what they will do over a two-year extended period on disparate topics such as, at the one end, global warming to, on the other, fixed term parliaments and the other utterly vapid proposal as to how we deal with referenda in this society represents value for money?

It seems the Government in proposing this morning's resolutions and this afternoon's legislation has not told us what this will cost us. It has not told us how many people will be deprived of home care as a result of the establishment of this institution. Those are basic things we should know about when we make decisions. I do not know whether the Minister of State has been given those figures; I do not know whether he has an estimate of the cost. We should be able to extrapolate it from the Constitutional Convention but we have to move outwards from that and ask how long this process will take. How long will the assembly spend considering climate change? If it is going to consider it over a few months, the people involved might as well stay in their homes and not bother checking into the Malahide hotel or wherever they will be sent. If they are going to consider the way in which referenda are conducted, whatever that means, or whatever it is the code for, they will have to spend some time on it. Expert advice will have to be arranged for them. Who will pay for all of that? With the greatest of respect, the Minister of State coming in here to amend the electoral law in order to allow the register to be used in this process is a bit rich when we do not know what is the cost of it.

To return to a point that was made in this morning's proceedings, the process of engaging with people to determine whether they are willing to participate in this assembly will involve selection criteria. Will a questionnaire be sent out to these people? Will they be asked about their availability? Will they be asked about their interest in any of these topics or will they be convened, regardless of whether they are completely bored by the idea of spending two years, or whatever period, talking about this disparate group of topics? Will we be told about the number of people who were approached and refused? Will we be told about the exact criteria that were used to send those people out a request to participate in the first place? What geographical spread will be put in place? It is deeply unsatisfactory that we should be kept in the dark about all of those matters. However, above all, the cost of the process is something that should be known to us now. I know it cannot be estimated to the exact euro or cent in advance, but I would like to have a view as to how much has been provided for this process and over how long. Clearly, we will have a view about how long it is intended that this assembly will sit if we know how much money is being provided for it. If we do not know how much money is being provided for it, then we are being kept in the dark about the timeframe that lies at the back of the decision. I assume there was a memorandum for Government to approve these two resolutions and I assume that memorandum stated how much the assembly was projected to cost and how long it was projected to remain in existence. I believe we are entitled to know those things before we agree to them in this House.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I agree with Senator McDowell that there is a need for transparency on the selection process. I do not subscribe to the theory that it will come down to self-selection or that the selection process is open to manipulations being put forward by others. I refer to my experience of the Constitutional Convention. I found it hard to listen to the contribution of Senator Ó Domhnaill, whom I like, because Fianna Fáil did not participate in the debate. That party wanted to have a judge-led commission which would involve a much longer period than the assembly being put forward. This is not about the eighth amendment, and that is the point. The establishment of the citizens' assembly was part of the programme for Government discussions, which the Senator's party facilitated in the formation of a Government. We need a representative, fair and balanced citizen selection process. Senator Mullen and I may have disagreed on certain aspects of the Constitutional Convention but the one matter on which we should agree is the genuineness of the participants at that convention and the-----

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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What does that mean?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----level of research and preparation they undertook in their participatory role in the convention. The academic panels put with those were, to be fair, balanced and unbiased, and they brought forward clear papers for everybody.

Senator McDowell referred to the cost of the assembly, but we can argue that we should not have any Ministers of State-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----or that we should abolish the Seanad or-----

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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The Senator's party argued for that and it failed on that one.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Order, please. That question was settled.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----dare we try, that we should reduce legal fees and that would save the taxpayers' money

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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That is a good idea and I did something about that.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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We can argue about the exigencies of costs until the cows come home-----

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Allowances for Seanad officeholders.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I have no problem with that either, or Independent Senators not taking the leaders' allowance. We can argue the point.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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We are the only ones giving a bit of leadership around here.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I was sceptical at the beginning of the Constitutional Convention but it was breathtaking. Cynicism does not do any good. I accept Senator McDowell's fundamental point that it is us and the people who will decide and that will be the final part of the process. Nothing will change that, but if we want to have broader participation in how our country is run and governed, then this is a welcome initiative. The Constitutional Convention served us well and this assembly will too. Ultimately, the people will make the decision. The debate we had earlier in no way changes what is happening here. This is about a polling company being given access to the electoral record to pick people.

I ask Members to read the Irish Council for Civil Liberties blueprint for a citizens' assembly document. It is a good one. It calls for the assembly to be resourced, to have a structure and composition, access to information and expertise and to have a clear programme of work. One of the most important paragraphs in the ICCL's document which I read prior to today is that participants should also have access to experts, including practitioners from other countries, who can provide insight into models of international best practice and experience from other comparable jurisidictions of engaging with the issues being considered by the assembly. The last point it makes in that paragraph goes back to the mechanism of selection in terms of the experts - this holds equally for the citizen member - which should be transparent, open to scrutiny and verifiably independent. I have no argument with that. I know that some people are sceptical and had a viewpoint on the Constitutional Convention but I would go back to the citizen members who were beyond reproach. They researched, participated, changed their minds in some cases - not once or twice - and they engaged. People like David Farrell who have written on this should be listened to.

Senator McDowell referenced the cost factor but we could use that argument to do nothing about many matters in terms of costs.A commitment has been given to the effect that the assembly will be established. I am of the view that the assembly should be resourced. I passionately believe that the previous model worked. In hindsight, we should not have changed it but we have done so and that is the Government's decision. Let us not start the process by being cynical. Let us allow the assembly to be resourced adequately in order that it might carry out its work in a timely and efficient manner and let us put in place a timeline from Government to respond to its findings. Some people have missed the point that the Government, as is its prerogative, was not obliged to accept the recommendations made by the Constitutional Convention. That will also be the case with the assembly. Ultimately, it is the Houses of the Oireachtas and the people who will decide on any recommendations put to them.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Tá cuid mhaith cainte ar shaoránaigh i láthair na huaire agus, más féidir liom, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le saoránaithe na Gaillimhe atá tar éis scéal a fháil ar maidin go bhfuil Gaillimh roghnaithe mar Phríomchathair Eorpach an Chultúir 2020. Iarracht ollmhór a bhí i gceist agus táim cinnte gur oibrigh na réigiúin agus ceantair eile an-chrua. Tá a fhios agam go raibh iarracht ollmhór pobail ar bun leis an rud a fháil i nGaillimh. The citizens of Galway are elated today because their city has been awarded the European Capital of Culture 2020. A huge cross-community effort was put into the bid and I congratulate everybody involved. Winning is a wonderful achievement.

I commiserate with the other areas that competed because I know they put in a huge effort as well. Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach, le cúnamh dé.

Sinn Féin opposes the Bill. Our main point of opposition relates to the method that will be used for selecting the citizens, namely, the electoral register. In our opinion, the latter is the wrong data source to use and the company that will be appointed is the wrong organisation to oversee the selection process. The difficulty with using the electoral register is that 5% of the adult population of the State is not included on it. This means that approximately 200,000 people are automatically excluded. Generally, those no on the register are likely to be young people, individuals on low incomes, people with literacy difficulties, Travellers and those who do not have citizenship or residency rights. All of them have a right to be involved in any constituent or citizens' assembly, irrespective of whether individual parties agree or disagree with such an assembly or the issues it will consider. It is a mistake to use a data source that excludes those people from the outset.

Tá Bille curtha síos ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Fintan Warfield, chun an vóta a thabhairt do shaoránaigh a bhfuil 16 slánaithe acu. Ba cheart, mar sin, dar linne, go gcuirfí san áireamh iad sin agus muid ag dul ag roghnú daoine don tionól seo. We believe it would be important. My colleague, Senator Warfield, will table a Bill calling for voting rights to be extended to people over 16 years of age. The latter are the citizens of the future. Whatever decisions are made by the assembly will have a huge impact on their lives. We believe the register that will be used must take them into consideration.

We do not think that using a private polling company is right either. A major factor in the success of such an assembly will be that the public has confidence in it. Private companies were not explicitly referred to in the Bill but it does not prohibit their use. Public confidence could be tightened by using the CSO, for example. If the CSO used its census data - few people question its legitimacy - then public confidence in the process could be nailed down from the start.

At a time when the Government is coming around to Sinn Féin's position to provide voting rights for Irish citizens in the Six Counties and the diaspora, it is disappointing that this legislation ignores them completely. It would not have taken much extra work or imagination to include them in this plan.

There is also the issue of those who are in direct provision or the asylum process. I know from my work on this issue that some people have lived in direct provision for up to 15 years. It is outrageous that someone can spend so long in this country yet not be deemed worthy of expressing his or her opinion on an issue of such natural importance. Is mar gheall ar sin agus ar na cúinsí atá luaite agam anseo go mbeimid ag cur i gcoinne an Bhille seo tráthnóna.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I join Senator Ó Clochartaigh in congratulating Galway on being selected to be European Capital of Culture in 2020. Galway is my hometown and I am delighted with its success. I congratulate Limerick's bid and the Three Sisters bid of Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny for also putting forward visions of what a society embedded in and deeply engaged with culture could look like.

Time was constrained in the previous debate and perhaps the Minister of State did not have time to address some of the concerns that were raised. I hope he will address them when he responds to this debate. I specifically refer to the concerns of older people that this process will not serve to further delay the implementation of the national positive ageing strategy in any sense or form. Reassurance is needed for all of our citizens and, as has been emphasised previously, a repeal of the eighth amendment will be the first issue considered by the citizens' assembly. Can the Minister of State assure us that the Government will act on the recommendations that will emerge with regard to the repeal of the eighth amendment and that there will be no delay on the basis of waiting for recommendations to be put forward in respect of the other areas set out? Reassurance is also needed to the effect that when it makes its presentations to the UN in September and November, the Government will not put forward the citizens' assembly as being, in itself, an adequate response to the rulings made by the UN in the context of the inhumane treatment of women in Ireland.

I wish to discuss the construction of the citizens' assembly mentioned in the Bill. I echo some of the concerns expressed by Senator Ó Clochartaigh in terms of the people who, by their very nature, will not be present. I refer to migrants who are living in direct provision. We have heard some heartbreaking cases that illustrate the impact the eighth amendment has had on people's lives, including those of Miss Y and the late Ms Savita Halappanavar. These cases have shown us the brutal impact that the eighth amendment has had on all women in Ireland who undergo pregnancy. It is important that the voices and experiences of migrants and people who are not on the electoral register be represented when it comes to the constitution of the assembly. There is the wider question of expertise. Will expertise include the experience of migrants and people not on the electoral register? Will it contemplate international practice? We need to consider what happens in other countries. Sierra has recently changed its legislation in this area and reframed it from a human rights perspective. There are numerous examples of countries which have grappled with this issue and which have found solutions. I urge that international, human rights, medical and legal expertise should be contemplated within the membership of the assembly.

We have talked about people who might not be able to afford the time. People with serious concerns have been silenced in this debate. This debate will have to happen again after the eighth amendment has been repealed because there are women in Ireland who have been silenced. They cannot speak about their experiences because the threat of being criminalised hangs over them. There are medical professionals who cannot speak openly and honestly about the issue because the law, as it stands, does not allow them to do so. They cannot speak of their experiences and about what they know. I remind the House and the Government that we will have an ongoing conversation on this matter. I hope that when the shadow of the eighth amendment is removed, we will emerge with a society in which all people can participate in a compassionate and nuanced discussion on how to legislate in this area.

The Bill seeks permission for access to the electoral register to be granted. I urge the Government to use the electoral register for its true purpose, that is to allow people to vote and exercise their electoral mandate in order to repeal the eighth amendment and have a referendum. That is the true and ultimate purpose of an electoral register. In 1992, I first protested against the eighth amendment. At the time I was a teenager and I was shocked and worried by what happened to another teenager in the X case. Since then, thousands of women have travelled, many of whom were not even born in 1992. Many of them are on the electoral register. Many of them may not feel confident to join a citizens' assembly should they get that phone call but all of them should be afforded an opportunity to express their opinions and use ballot box.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. Clearly, this debate is linked with the earlier one on the motion that was passed. The Labour Party opposes this legislation for the same reasons that it opposed the motion to establish the citizens' assembly. We are concerned that the mechanism of the assembly will be used to delay the holding of a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, a referendum that my party has committed to holding.As I said earlier, we cannot see why the new model of the citizens' assembly is being put forward when we had a tried and tested model with the Constitutional Convention - Senator Buttimer has acknowledged that. All of us who were part of the convention had positive experiences of it.

I am conscious that the Electoral (Amendment) Bill under discussion now is similar to that passed in 2012 to facilitate the holding of the Constitutional Convention. However, as I said earlier, there are three key differences between this model of the citizens' assembly and the model of the Constitutional Convention some years ago. First, the citizens' assembly will be made up of 100 citizens, with 99 to be chosen from the electoral register as well as one chairperson whereas there were 66 citizens and 33 politicians in the earlier model. The earlier model had a tighter timeframe. In his response to me earlier, the Minister of State said the timeframe had not been adhered to in respect of the first two matters the Constitutional Convention dealt with. Senator Buttimer was right to say that the real problem with delay was the Government's responses to the recommendations of the convention. Again, there is a difference. The terms of reference for this model do not have the same tight timeframe provided for the Government response that we had for the Constitutional Convention. Even then, there was slippage - I acknowledge that - but the Constitutional Convention worked in a timely and efficient way. I wish to pay tribute to Tom Arnold, the chairperson, as well as Art O'Leary and the secretariat, who were so efficient in running the convention and in the respectful way they dealt with it.

Senator McDowell raised issues about the cost of the convention. Those in the secretariat were in the habit of telling us that it was being run on a shoestring of €5. Clearly, that was a joke but it was run in a cost-efficient manner. We might be pleasantly surprised to look back at how little it cost in the broader scheme of things. The hotel in Malahide has been mentioned. There was a tender process and hotels were invited to tender. The convention was run at a time that facilitated people's working lives and home commitments. There were a number of differences but now that the motion has been passed, I hope we will see the citizens' assembly operate in a similarly efficient and timely manner. Unfortunately, the amendment to prescribe a tighter timeframe was defeated but I hope the Government will take on board the concern expressed, as well as the fact that the focus was so narrow, with a view to ensuring that the first issue to be dealt with, that of the eighth amendment, is dealt with in a timely fashion and that we see a recommendation being brought forward swiftly.

This brings me to the third difference with the citizens' assembly. It deals specifically, among other issues, with the eighth amendment. That this issue is the first issue to be considered is of particular concern to most of us. This issue will be similar to the marriage equality issue dealt with by the Constitutional Convention. When the convention was being set up, the then Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, referred to marriage equality as the civil liberties issue of that generation. Clearly, the eighth amendment and its repeal is the civil liberties issue of this generation and of my daughter's generation, those who are now coming up and who may not yet be able to vote, just as I and others were unable to vote in 1983 and yet we have lived with it all our lives.

As I said earlier, this issue should need no further deliberation by an assembly, a judge-led convention or any other mechanism of that sort. It is time for us as legislators to debate the necessity of holding a referendum. This is something the Labour Party has led on. In particular, Labour Party women have led on this by bringing forward a draft of the legislation we would like to see replace any text in the Constitution on this matter.

At the time of the convention, there was some debate about which aspect of the electoral register would be used. Ultimately, it was decided that only those on the electoral register eligible to vote in referendums and presidential elections, that is, Irish citizens, would be included, rather than those on the broader register for local elections. I presume that model will be used in this case too.

We were provided with an interesting breakdown of the way citizens were chosen in terms of their reflection of the overall demographic make-up of the Irish population. Of the 66 citizen members of the convention, 33 were male and 33 were female. There were six men under 24 years of age from the eastern region and so on. There was geographical and class breakdown as well as gender and age breakdown.

We are opposing this Bill because we believe in the need for the holding of a referendum without further delay on the repeal of the eighth amendment. However, now that the creation of the assembly has been passed by motion, we are keen to see it working effectively and efficiently to deliver a recommendation for the repeal of the eighth amendment and we hope to see that referendum being brought forward without further delay.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Some people already need to be reminded that the citizens' assembly is not being called to consider the repeal of the eighth amendment but to consider the eighth amendment. I presume this will mean equal time will be given to the side that holds the view that we should see how the eighth amendment should be kept, what measures are needed to give proper effect to it - for example, should our pregnancy counselling be far more proactive in discouraging abortion - as a human rights issue to protect everyone's right to life in the country and so on. This is about looking at the issues from all sides.

The fact that some of us do not know whether we should be discussing the citizens' assembly or the abortion issue is indicative of precisely why we ought to be discussing this issue here. One way or the other, we will have to come back to a full discussion of all of the dimensions of this complex issue in these Houses.

I expressed certain concerns to the Minister of State earlier but he did not respond to any of the concerns I expressed. They included the conduct of selection of members of the Constitutional Convention last time around, what steps would be taken to ensure that it is not a self-selecting situation and the need to ensure transparency. It is important that the means by which each member of the assembly is to be sourced, invited and selected can be known in a transparent fashion.

Senator Buttimer had much to say about how genuine people were at the Constitutional Convention. I have no problem saying they were all nice people. I have no problem saying they were all out to consider the issues as best they could. Certainly, I would recommend the Grand Hotel in Malahide to anyone - one could not imagine a better facility. However, the fact is that this was a very expensive non-representative sample of people, an expensive opinion poll among a non-representative sample of people. That is what the assembly is going to be as well. The only mitigating factor was that a certain amount of consideration and debate about the issues took place with certain experts.

Senator Buttimer said, wrongly, that everyone was happy with the content of the academic panels. There were disputes about the alleged tendentious nature of some of the papers put before us. There was a major issue about how little time was given to discussion of some serious issues. I tried to get certain amendments put to the floor and the chairman simply ruled them out. Whether that was him acting in good faith or simply his whim, no one can ever know. The fact is it was not possible to discuss issues in any depth. We have not been told what kind of depth is going to be given to discussion of the issues of the citizens' assembly, how many times it is going to meet, how long it is going to meet for, how frequently those meetings will take place and whether there will be more meetings than the number of meetings of the Constitutional Convention. That is why Senator McDowell questions about the cost, as well as everything else, are so apposite. There were major problems with the Constitutional Convention.

Senator Buttimer referred rather selectively to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and its blueprint. The ICCL is certainly an organisation with skin in the game in that it seeks to advance abortion. It has a distorted concept of human rights. Senator Buttimer did not refer to the fact those involved in the council are seeking, as part of their agenda, for any recommendation from the citizens' assembly to be automatically put to the people. Obviously, they have no interest in any deliberation taking place.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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It was clear in my remarks that I was not referring to the subject matter. I was referring to the document about the conduct of the meeting. The Senator is being suggestive in his remarks.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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The bottom line is - I mention it only in passing - that we should not be in awe of blueprints from bodies which claim to articulate human rights concerns but have in fact a debilitated notion of human rights and would seek to exclude whole sections of the human community from the protection of the law.

No detail has been given today about how often people are going to meet and for how long. As nice as the people were and as diligent as they were in the Constitutional Convention, it was not a thorough searching of the issues. The food was good. The drink was good. The accommodation was nice.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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That is unfair.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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It was a wasteful process. We need to know, for example, how many secretarial assistants from Leinster House found themselves on the convention as participating members, how many former Labour Party councillors were there and how many people were couples. How the hell could we have 66 people chosen, supposedly representative of the country, and actually have one couple among them? That is a remarkably strange concatenation of events.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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That is unfair by Senator Mullen.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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On a point of order-----

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Senator Bacik's points of orders are never points of order, by the way. I just wanted to alert the Acting Chairman to that because he is relatively new.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Senator Mullen has not heard it yet. On a point of order-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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On a point of order, there is a rule in the House about not denigrating people who are not present. There is a denigration of the citizen members of the convention, who were-----

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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There certainly was not.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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-----highly engaged and involved.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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An individual was not named.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Were there enough people of Senator Mullen's own persuasion there?

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Senator Bacik-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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Resume your seat, Senator. You have finished.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Senator Bacik-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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Senator, please.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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In conclusion,-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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No. The Senator has gone way over time.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Okay. Will the Minister of State provide the answers to the questions I posed about transparency and frequency of meetings?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Senator had enough people of a similar mindset to his there as well.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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One can never have enough of them.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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They do not exist.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Where does one go after that? I must visit Malahide and see what is happening out there. I apologise if I missed the Senator's question. I did not mean to do that. I must have been living on a different planet, as I did not hear any complaint about how people were picked for the convention, but I will check for the Senator. I would have no problem with doing that and I will revert to him. If he has some concerns, he might tell me of them privately.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am glad to hear that a couple was picked. That proves that it worked.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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One could not have designed that to happen.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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How were they afterwards?

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I do not know. I hope that they were on the same side and agreed everything. To me, it proves that the selection process worked and was independent. A polling company, using polling data, will be commissioned to do this work. There will be a tender process. The independent chairperson who will be appointed will oversee that. Like all polling companies do, this company's decision will be based on gender, age and regional spread. People have concerns about using a private polling company, but I am not aware of a public polling company. Maybe there is one, but I do not know. If there is, the Senator might let me know.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Most people will accept that polling companies have expertise in selection criteria. I am sure that it will be checked. The Senator has doubts about the last process, so I will see if there is any evidence. In terms of what happened at the convention, I was not there and am sorry that I missed it, but the Senator's version of what happened and Senator Buttimer's version are completely different. I do not know whether there was more than one convention, but we will check it out to see what happened. Most people were satisfied that the process worked.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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A convention with no power.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I have no doubt that the assembly will work as well.

Senator McDowell raised valid questions about the cost, although they were probably more pertinent to the previous discussion and should have been mentioned then as well. Some €200,000 has been set aside from the Vote of the Department of the Taoiseach this year and a further €400,000 is being allowed for next year. That is approximately the cost. It is not a two-year process, but a 12-month one, as per the resolution. I do not foresee it becoming a two-year process, as we all just voted for the 12-month timeframe included in the resolution. The cost is quite low.

I understand that the cost of the Constitutional Convention was less than €1 million, which was good value. This work is costly, but democracy costs money, as the Senator appreciates. The more democratic we get, the more costly it will be. Given the composition of the Houses, we will probably have more democratic decisions, although they will be slower and cost more money in the long run. Some €600,000 is good value for an assembly.

I am sorry, but it is €1.37 million. I was slightly wrong in my figures. I said €1 million, so I welcome the correction. I believe that the convention got good value from the hotel and many experts gave of their time for free. If any Senator wishes to offer his or her services as an expert for free, I am sure they would be gratefully received. Other experts might have charged, but I do not know. The website was free and the staff costs accounted for less than half. There was good value, but it cost money. There is no denying that. It was a fair question to have asked.

Regarding the exclusion of non-citizens, who will be picked and what register will be used, no matter what the register or how we pick from among the public, people will have concerns and different opinions on the matter. The same criteria will be used as were used to pick the members of the Constitutional Convention. The same register will be used, although who is on it might have changed slightly. People have said that the register does not include non-Irish people, but 90,000 non-Irish people became citizens of this country in recent years. They are entitled to vote in a referendum and to be on the register, although I do not know whether they are on it. I understand that, at the ceremonies where people become citizens, they are handed leaflets and given an explanation as to how to join the register and get a vote. That is great.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Particular obstacles are faced by those who do not have that status.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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Allow the Minister of State to continue, please.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am not saying that it is perfect. I agree with the Senator in that regard. We must examine the register in general, not just in respect of today's discussion, to bring it up to date and include people automatically when they become citizens. No matter what model of selection one uses, we will not satisfy everyone's concerns, but this will be independent of the Government, the chairperson will oversee it and it should, on balance, give us a proper representation. I accept that Senator Mullen has doubts, but I would have to check what happened with the convention. I am generally confident in using a polling company to do this work.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Guarantees will suffice this time.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I cannot guarantee that. The process should provide an assembly with a proper composition.

I want to ensure that I am addressing all of the concerns that were raised. Have I missed anyone's questions? I believe that I have covered most of them.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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The Minister of State was going to give assurances as to the immediate action without waiting for recommendations on the other issues. He was also looking to give-----

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The Older and Bolder campaign. The assembly should not delay any decision. It might enhance the work. My understanding is that a very long-term view will be taken. Great work was done by the Older and Bolder campaign and its discussion but, and the Senator can correct me if I am wrong, that was generally an assembly of people of an older age. The assembly will comprise all ages. It is a decision to spend taxpayers' money.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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It was an intergenerational consultation of 1,000 individuals.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Okay. This should enhance it and it certainly should not delay any work or spending of money in the meantime. We are discussing a 12-month period, so I do not believe there will be a delay.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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The national positive ageing strategy is two years overdue, so action needs to be taken this year.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The assembly should not delay it. If the strategy is overdue, I cannot answer for that. I will try to get it moving as it should, but the assembly should not delay it. I cannot see how it would.

As to what will happen when the Ministers attend the UN, I will ask the Tánaiste to revert to the Senator. I do not know what she plans to say. She has been straightforward and frank in the discussions so far. She has never hidden behind anything, so I doubt that she will hide behind the assembly. She is not that type. I will ask her to correspond directly with the Senator on the matter, as I accept that there is a concern that the assembly could be used to delay, although I do not believe that that will happen.

We have covered most of the issues raised.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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The last question was-----

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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The 16 to 18 year olds.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Has the Minister of State an opinion on that issue?

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Will actions on-----

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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It was discussed by the convention.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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-----item No. 1 of the assembly's business-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State without interruption, please.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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-----given to it by the Government be able to proceed without waiting for recommendations on Nos. 2, 3 and 4?

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, but I have missed-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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The Senator should not interrupt while the Minister of State is speaking.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Will the Government be able to act on-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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With respect-----

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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-----the recommendations on No. 1 of the assembly without waiting on Nos. 2, 3 and 4?

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, Senator, but we cannot have the debate again. The Minister of State is concluding.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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He asked whether there were other issues.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I did. I missed that question and I do not want to leave anyone's question unanswered. To be clear, there is no reason that each report that is laid before the Houses and is not affected by the reports that remain due cannot be decided upon by them. It will not have to wait on another report. There is a concern that there may be a super-referendum day, but that should not cause a delay either. That decision is to be made. Generally, people believe that it is okay to have a number of referendums on a single day, but it should not delay anything. I sense that Senator McDowell has conspiracy theories. I cannot get into his head, but we can analyse them at some stage. I hope, and do not believe, that they are not behind his concerns, but I understand that people always have theories on these matters.

I hope that I have covered everything.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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The 16 to 18 year olds.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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They will not be addressed by this.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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It is a separate Bill.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The question of whether we will give them a vote is a project that will start in November. I am in favour of it. The convention discussed it and a recommendation was made. Some party leaders, including Fianna Fáil's leader, believe that the discussion was a waste of time. It was not, as I agree with Senator Ó Clochartaigh that it would encourage more people to vote. Some choose not to vote no matter their age, but 16 year olds nowadays are well informed and are living in their communities. When people become 17 or 18 years of age, they generally leave those communities to attend college or go to work or abroad. They might lose their voting patterns. The sooner people get into the habit of voting, the better for democracy. I am in favour of it, but we cannot deal with that matter as part of this discussion.

Question put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 13.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Maria Byrne and Gabrielle McFadden; Níl, Senators Michael McDowell and Rónán Mullen.

Question declared carried.

Question put: "That sections 1 and 2 and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; Fourth Stage is hereby completed; the Bill is hereby received for final consideration; and the Bill is hereby passed."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 9.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Maria Byrne and Gabrielle McFadden; Níl, Senators Rónán Mullen and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh..

Question declared carried.