Thursday, 7 July 2022
Electoral Reform Bill 2022: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 16, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following: "(2) Having regard to the publication on 22 June 2022 by the Central Statistics Office of the preliminary result of a census of population of the State, the establishment day, for the purposes of enabling the Commission to perform its functions under Chapter 7 of Part 2 with due expediency, shall be appointed as a day no later than 4 weeks from the passing of this Act.".
The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, confirmed to us on Committee Stage that it will be the electoral commission that establishes the Constituency Commission. For ease and to speed up the process to ensure people have certainty as to how the constituencies will look in advance of a general election, we are proposing that the Minister, under his or her current powers, should be the person to establish the Constituency Commission. This amendment gives effect to that.
I thank Senators Moynihan, Hoey, Sherlock and Wall for this amendment, which proposes that the establishment date of the electoral commission be appointed as a day not later than four weeks from the passage into law of the Electoral Reform Bill. I do not propose to accept this amendment for a number of reasons.
First, the Bill is subject to commencement provisions as set out in section 1(5). These are not time-bound. The placement of such a time-bound provision in the Bill would not be advisable from a technical perspective. Under section 6, there will be a single establishment day for the commission. There is no provision for establishing the commission to carry out certain functions and not others. I do not believe this would be a sensible approach. Notwithstanding that, it is my firm intention that the commission shall be established as soon as possible. To this end, a transition team has been put in place within the Department to progress the administrative elements of its establishment. Support is being received from a range of public bodies in this regard and the commission will be established as a matter of priority.
The Bill provides for the review of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies to be undertaken by the new electoral commission following its establishment. It also provides for the repeal of Part II of the Electoral Act 1997, including section 5, which currently provides for the establishment of a Constituency Commission following the publication of a census of population report setting out the preliminary results of a census. Under the provisions of the Bill, the report of the electoral commission on the review of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies will be published within three months of the publication of final census results. This mirrors current arrangements whereby a Constituency Commission must complete its work within three months of the publication of final census results. While the publication of final census results is a matter for the Central Statistics Office, final results of this year's census are anticipated for publication in spring 2023. This would indicate that a final report from the electoral commission on Dáil and European Parliament constituencies can be expected this time next year. It will be a matter for the Oireachtas to legislate for revised constituency boundaries following its consideration of the final report of the commission.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 18, line 31, to delete ", in so far as practicable,".
This amendment seeks to delete the term "in so far as practicable" in respect of efforts to be made by the Public Appointments Service, PAS, to ensure an equitable balance between women and men on the electoral commission. We tabled an amendment aiming to achieve a similar end on Committee Stage, which sought a minimum level of representation of women on the commission.
I acknowledge that the Bill, as drafted, contains a provision that seeks to ensure equitable representation between genders on the commission, but the provision contains the qualifier "in so far as practicable". The relevant subsection states "the Service shall, in so far as practicable, endeavour to ensure that among the ordinary members of the Commission there is an equitable balance between men and women". In my view, it is unnecessary to include the term "in so far as practicable". The word "endeavour" means to try or attempt to achieve something. We should endeavour without qualification to ensure a more equitable gender balance. We should always try to do so, not just when it is practicable to try. The amendment seeks to delete the qualifier within the relevant subsection as it relates to an equitable gender balance on the commission. If accepted, it will ultimately make the provision in the subsection stronger.
Amendment No. 3 would insert a new subsection in section 9 requiring that when recommending to the Government persons for appointment as ordinary members of the commission, the PAS "shall have due regard to obligations under section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". We have complementary amendments that refer to the PAS having due regard to the Equal Status Acts when making appointments. The core of what we are trying to achieve is that when the PAS is making appointments, it needs to think about equality and its public sector duty and obligations in this regard. The electoral commission must be diverse and must properly reflect Irish society. If we do not make this provision, we will continue to have an inequitable political system. I urge the Minister of State to accept this relatively straightforward amendment.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to ensure greater diversity in the make-up of the proposed commission. We tabled a similar amendment on Committee Stage, which was defeated in a vote. This amendment aims to achieve the same outcome through a different means. The Bill currently provides that the PAS "shall have regard to the desirability of the members of the Commission possessing knowledge of, and experience in" electoral matters, electoral systems, public administration and governance, financial matters and advertising. It makes no reference to the desirability of members having experience in, or knowledge of, human rights and equality matters. As I stressed on Committee Stage, it is very important the electoral commission should be both reflective of, and have an understanding of, the diversity of Irish life and society.
First and foremost, we should endeavour to improve the representation of minorities and minority groups in the commission membership. We also must ensure, at a minimum, that the commission members have knowledge and understanding of the issues of inclusion and diversity. We need to engage more people from different walks of life in the electoral process and in politics more generally. If we are serious about challenging the imbalance that currently exists, having knowledge and understanding of diversity and inclusion at the level of the electoral commission must be a baseline. As I have noted previously, the commission will have a wide range of functions, including explaining referendums and electoral processes to the public and encouraging public participation in the electoral and democratic processes of the State. Persons with knowledge and understanding of disenfranchisement are best placed to provide advice in trying to address it. This amendment would seek to achieve that.
Amendment No. 9 provides that where the Minister is agreeing with the PAS the requirements relating to knowledge, ability and suitability for appointment as chief executive of the commission for the purposes of a selection competition under this section, he or she would have due regard "both to the desirability of the appointee possessing knowledge of, and experience in, electoral matters, and obligations as set out under section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities".
I thank Senators Higgins, Ruane, Flynn and Black for these amendments, which relate to the membership of an coimisiún. I welcome the sentiments behind them, which relate to participation in, and wider engagement with, our electoral process, as Senator Ruane outlined. That is what this Bill, in its overarching thrust, sets out to achieve.
Amendment No. 2 relates to the gender balance among ordinary members of the commission. Section 18(5) states that when recommending to the Government persons for appointment as ordinary members of an coimisiún, the PAS "shall, in so far as practicable, endeavour to ensure that among the ordinary members of the Commission there is an equitable balance between men and women". The amendment proposes to remove the term "in so far as practicable" from this subsection. Having regard to the fact an coimisiún requires a wide range of skills and experience to carry out a broad array of specialised functions, I do not intend to make this provision more restrictive, as to do so could militate against its ability to get the requisite skills and experience on board. I note that section 18(5) accords with the provisions set out in section 16 of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's guidelines on appointments to State boards, which specifies a target of at least 40% representation of each gender on State boards.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 require that the PAS, in the selection of candidates for ordinary membership of the commission, has due regard to section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the desirability of the membership being broadly reflective of the diversity of Irish society and the need to ensure representation among the ordinary membership of persons to whom the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018 apply. The PAS is a key participant in the Government's comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities.This is an all-of-government approach to supporting persons with disabilities in addressing barriers and challenges that can impact on such persons entering employment and participating in selection processes. The Commission for Public Service Appointments', CPSA, Code of Practice: Appointment of Persons with Disabilities to Positions in the Civil Service and Certain Public Bodies sets out the principles and standards to be applied in the recruitment of persons with disabilities, which are applied by PAS and are subject to audit by the CPSA. I am of the view that the obligations of PAS under section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, as it stands, are well covered in legislation and are integrated into its plans and processes. As such, I do not intend to accept this amendment.
Amendment No. 9 requires that PAS, in selecting the candidate for recommendation as chief executive of the commission, has regard to the desirability of the candidate possessing knowledge of, and experience in, electoral matters and the obligations set out under section Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act. These obligations include the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and treatment of its staff and the persons to whom it provides services and protect the human rights of persons in the course of running the requisite selection competitions. In other legislative precedents, the recruitment processes and skill sets of the chief executives or equivalents of other public bodies are not set out in legislation.
Section 20 sets out the process for selection, appointment and reappointment of the chief executive. My intention in setting out this process was to ensure that while the Government makes the appointment, it has no say in who the independent selection process puts forward for appointment. I see this as a particularly important element of the commission’s independence from Government. At present, this section solely relates to the independent framework for the selection and appointment of the chief executive. I do not, therefore, propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 18, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following: “(6) Where recommending to the Government persons for appointment as ordinary members of the Commission, the Service shall have due regard to obligations under section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 18, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following: “(6) Where recommending to the Government persons for appointment as ordinary members of the Commission, the Service shall give due regard to the desirability of the membership being broadly reflective of the diversity of Irish society, while also endeavouring to ensure representation in the ordinary membership of persons to whom the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018 apply.”.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 22, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following: “(3) Where the Commission enters into contracts or appoints persons as consultants or advisers, a record of such contracts and consultations shall be kept and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on a bi-annual basis.”.
The amendment inserts a new subsection in, section 15 which requires that where the commission would enter into contracts or appoint persons as consultants or advisers, a record of such contracts and consultations would be kept and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on a biannual basis.
The amendment is about transparency. When the body responsible for elections and referendums in a country enters into contracts or appoints advisers, it is important that a proper record of this be kept and deposited with the Oireachtas and remains available in that way. We are very luck to live in a country where people have a relatively high degree of faith in the electoral process. Part of ensuring we keep that degree of faith, however, is ensuring there is complete transparency and accountability at every level in our democratic process.
The Minister of State will be aware that I have sought similar transparency measures in other legislation. We know that the level to which consultants and advisers are relied on and used has increased in public bodies and, to a large degree, statutory bodies. It is very important that transparency measures would apply to the use of such consultants and advisers, which is why I am seeking to place it here. The Minister of State will also be aware that is consistent with similar principles I have enunciated with regard to other legislation.
I thank the Senators for the proposed amendment, which will require that the commission lays a record of all contracts for consultants or advisers before both House of the Oireachtas an a biannual basis. Appendix B5 to the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies: Business and Financial Reporting Requirements requires that expenditure by public bodies on external consultancy and advisory services be set out as part of their annual report. Given that the commission is required to lay its annual report before both Houses of the Oireachtas under section 26, I am of the view that the Bill, as it stands, has regard to the aims of the proposed amendment. As such, I do not propose to take the amendment on board.
While there are measures relating to spending on consultants and advisers, the concerns do not solely relate to financial transparency; the concerns relate to who the consultants and advisers are, who is giving advice and what factors are in play. It should be borne in mind that such consultants and advisers, while not being public employees in the full sense, may well be providing consultancy and advice to other actors. That is again why the transparency is around who the consultants and advisers are, not the fact that there are consultants and advisers. It is not an expenditure transparency; it is part of a wider web of requirement that we are transparent about which consultants and advisers are influencing or informing the decisions of public bodies or statutory bodies. I accept that the Minister of State cannot accept the amendment. Whether it is here or elsewhere, however, it is very important that an expectation be conveyed that anyone can access information as to which consultants and advisers have been hired. It is not simply a matter of the expenditure as mentioned in the report.
The amendment seeks to limit the term of a chief executive to be renewable only once. Currently, the Bill provides that the chief executive can have a five-year term and may be reappointed, but not for more than ten years sequentially at a time. This amendment would seek to only allow two terms to the chief executive and no more than that.
I spoke earlier about accountability and transparency. In other positions of great public importance, such as Chief Justice, there is a fixed term and a recognition that an individual should not hold onto such a large amount of power, for example, in a number of election cycles, for a long or indefinite period. I have suggested here that it might be only renewable once. It could be renewable twice but I am concerned that, as the Bill provides, it could be for a large number of renewable periods, including a period of ten years, and we could be looking at decades.
We have seen in other countries, for example, the difference five years or ten years can make in electoral processes. I do not like to name other places or jurisdictions but look at, for example, some of the potential diminution in voting rights in the United States in a short period. It is important that a position is not held for a prolonged period. A ten-year appointment is too long; two to three renewals should be sufficient.
Amendment No. 8 deletes the provisions around the length of time. I will withdraw that amendment because amendment No. 7 is my preference. In fact, I will not move amendment No. 8. It was a kind of alternative. I will concentrate on my preferred amendment, which is amendment No. 7.
Amendment No. 10 seeks to add to the provision that where it is proposed that a chief executive should be removed from office, he or she can make representations on his or her own behalf to members of the commission. My amendment simply requires that a record of such consultations or representations would be kept. Again, it is important around the transparency and process of a removal. I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment. This is a significant role with significant powers with potential regard to democracy in our country. Transparency in respect of all decisions is crucial.
I thank Senators Higgins, Ruane, Flynn and Black for these amendments, which propose that the chief executive of an coimisiún may only be reappointed once. Section 20(6), as passed by the Dáil, limits the chief executive of an coimisiún to serving no more than ten years in total where a term of office is a maximum of five years.
Amendment No. 7 and amendment No. 8, the withdrawal of which I accept, propose to remove section 20(6) and instead insert that the chief executive can be reappointed "only once".Both of these approaches seek to achieve the same goal. The option that has been proposed by the Senators was, in fact, considered in the course of the drafting. However, my officials and I were guided by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, on the best form of wording and consequently, intend to proceed with the text of the Bill.
Amendment No. 10 relates to section 22 of the Bill, which provides for the removal of the chief executive of an coimisiún and sets out the process for his or her removal by the membership of an coimisiún. Having regard to the principles of natural justice, section 22(4)(b) allows for the chief executive, having received notice of his or her proposed removal, to make representations to members of an coimisiún in response to members’ written notification of their proposal to remove him or her from office.
This amendment proposes that any representations that are made by the chief executive under this subsection be recorded. I do not propose to accept this amendment, as the proposed amendment does not set out for how long such a record should be retained. The data retention policy of an coimisiún, which is prepared in consideration of its statutory data protection obligations, will set out how the records should be kept and for how long. I am of the view that the decisions on such document retention would be made with the benefit of specialised human resources and data protection advice, having regard to the need to balance the obligation of an coimisiún as an employer, versus the appropriate level of detail, which should be come a matter of public record.
I move amendment No. 9:
"In page 25, line 10, after “section” to insert the following: “, having due regard both to the desirability of the appointee possessing knowledge of, and experience in, electoral matters, and obligations as set out under section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”."
I move amendment No. 11:
"In page 29, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following: “(d) progress regarding the wholesale review of the Electoral Act 1997, including the review of its provisions relating to political funding, until such a time as that review is complete.”."
Amendment No. 11 relates to amendments Nos. 14, 49 and 50, in that it is aimed at reviewing the Electoral Act 1997 as it relates to political funding. Amendment No. 14 specifically provides that the electoral commission has responsibility for undertaking a thorough review of the Electoral Act on its establishment.
Amendment No. 11 separately provides that progress of the review of the Electoral Acts would be reported in the commission's annual report until such a time that the review is complete. Therefore, amendments Nos. 11 and 14 are closely related and should be considered together. As I noted on Committee Stage proceedings, the Bill provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to amend our electoral laws.
It also provides a rare and important opportunity to address and to clarify the existing definition of “political purposes”, which is contained in the Electoral Act 1997. The definition has created an anomaly between the regulation of the campaigns of politicians and normal, everyday advocacy and community-led campaigns that take place throughout the country. The Minister of State advised during the course of the Dáil debates on this Bill, as well as in the Committee Stage debate last week, that he would not accept amendments seeking to address this anomaly, given that the wholesale review of the Electoral Acts is proposed to be undertaken by the yet-to-be-established electoral commission, including the Act’s provisions regarding political funding and donations.
As I stressed in last week's debate, delaying this matter further by referring to the prospective electoral commission means further uncertainty for community groups, campaigns and civil society organisations. It could also mean that efforts to grow the philanthropic sector in Ireland would be hindered by the uncertainty regarding their legal position. If the Minister of State is not in a position to accept amendments Nos. 49 or 50, and he refers the issues relating to the definition of political purposes to the electoral commission, I ask him to consider specifying in the legislation that the commission shall be charged with undertaking this review, as well as to build in regular progress reviews to the annual reporting mechanisms of the commission until such a time that a review is complete.
Amendment No. 14, as I have noted, relates closely to amendment No. 11. I will not rehash the purpose of these amendments in any great detail, other than to stress how urgently the wider review of the Electoral Act is needed. This amendment aims to enshrine in the legislation that the proposed electoral commission will be charged with responsibility for the wholesale review of the Electoral Acts upon its establishment. While I acknowledge that the Minister of State is committed to this review being undertaken, I am concerned about this review being completed in the lifetime of this Government. Civil society has waited long enough for this change to be made. I am concerned that with the promise of the wider review, the critical issue will be put on the back burner again.
I thank Senators Ruane, Higgins, Black and Flynn for tabling these amendments, which relate to requiring that an coimisiún undertake a review of the Electoral Act 1997. As the Senators will be aware, Chapter 9 of Part 2 of the Bill provides for an coimisiún to take on a new policy, research and advisory function. As part of its work, an coimisiún will prepare research programmes, conduct research on electoral policy and procedure and provide advice as required to the Minister and the Government on electoral issues. It can make recommendations to the Government in relation to proposals and changes to electoral legislation.
I am mindful of the independence of an coimisiún and do not intend to legislate to require it to carry out particular elements of research. However, guided by the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, it is intended that an coimisiún will be requested to carry out several items of research. These include a review of the Electoral Act 1997 as it relates to political funding. This would be with the view to an coimisiún making recommendations on how to address, among other matters, the concerns raised by civil society organisations concerning the definition of "political purposes" and its impact on fundraising activities of certain civil society organisations. It is my belief that the proposed review could be completed within a relatively short timeframe, following the establishment of an coimisiún toghcháin. Furthermore, given the complex issues provided for in the Electoral Act 1997, it is considered that the carrying out of such a comprehensive review of the Act would deliver an independent, objective, clear and efficient outcome for all affected parties, with regard to the entirety of the interrelated provisions of the Act.
I reiterate that I have given a firm commitment to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, and to the coalition of civil society organisations that the commission would carry out this piece of work soon after its formation. Again, I give that commitment to the Senators this afternoon.
Without undermining the commitment and notwithstanding the commitment, I have concerns with the timeframe it will take to be set up. It also will have so many other important priorities that we could reach a time whereby the Minister of State is not himself in the position to be able to see that commitment through. It is on that basis I would like to press the amendment.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Martin Conway, Emer Currie, Regina Doherty, Pippa Hackett, Seán Kyne, Vincent P Martin, John McGahon, Erin McGreehan, Rónán Mullen, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney.
Amendment No. 12, in the names of Senators Higgins, Ruane, Black and Flynn, arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 12, 15 to 17, inclusive, and 33 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This amendment, the principle of which I am sure Senator Gavan strongly supports, requires for copies of the annual reports of the commission to be laid in an accessible manner on a website maintained by the commission. A number of these amendments return to the same measures. As the Minister is aware, these are measures echoed across lots of legislation. The reason they need to be echoed across lots of legislation is that Ireland has in recent years ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have also become very aware of the lack of digital literacy in Ireland. There has been very strong research in respect of access and literacy issues. We also have a mandate in respect of plain English and accessible language. There are a number of imperatives that it is important we start to reflect in our legislation and in how we communicate information.
Amendment No. 12 requires an annual report to be published in an accessible manner on a website maintained by the commission. Amendment No. 15 places a requirement on the commission to publish information pertinent to referendums in an accessible format. I know it was highlighted during the debate yesterday that it often does so but as I will come to in one of my later amendments, the fact that the commission does so is not the same as a guarantee that it will do so. These should not be discretionary matters but should be clearly provided for.
Amendment No. 16 seeks to require that information relating to referendums will also be published in print media so that those persons who may lack digital literacy are able to fully engage with referendum notices and materials. Ireland has one of the highest rates of digital illiteracy in the EU, according to the EU digital society and economic skills index. More than 40% of the population lack basic digital skills. I emphasise this fact repeatedly. The fact that many tech giant companies are located in Ireland may give a false illusion that Ireland has a high level of digital literacy but we have a low level thereof.
Amendment No. 17 deletes the phrase "as far as is practicable" from the provisions that require the commission to publish in the English and Irish languages and distribute such statements related to the referendum in such a matter and by such a means, including the use of television, radio or other electronic means, as the commission considers most likely to bring them to the attention of the electorate. The phrase "as far as is practicable" should be removed in relation to the means employed enabling those with sight or hearing disability to read or hear the statements concerned. We had a lengthy debate on this issue on Committee Stage. It is not sufficient for us to simply hope the commission complies. This is a new body that has been established but the previous referendum commission had a practice of making things available for those who may have a sight or hearing disability. The fact is that Irish Sign Language is a recognised language in the State. We have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is a basic provision that there would be access to that information. We should not have legislation which suggests a limitation around that access by the inclusion of the words "as far as is practicable". It is a right and, therefore, should not be subject to a caveat or given a diminution by including that phrase. It is not a nice thing to add on but is a requirement and the legislation should reflect that, not simply the practice of the commission.
Amendment No. 33 compels the commission to publish its review in an accessible format both online and in a physical format.
I thank Senators Ruane, Higgins, Black and Flynn for these amendments, which seek to amend the existing provisions relating to the publication of information by the electoral commission. Amendment No. 12 specifies that in addition to an coimisiún's annual report being published that it be published in an accessible manner. Amendment No. 15 specifies that as part of an coimisiún's referendum functions, the statements which it prepares and publishes to explain the subject matter of referendums will be published in plain language. Amendment No. 16 requires that print media be explicitly mentioned in the forms of media to which an coimisiún has regard in the distribution of referendum statements. Amendment No. 17 requires that the term "as far as is practicable" is removed from the requirement that the means employed for the distribution of an coimisiún's statements which explain a referendum's subject enable those with a sight or hearing disability to read or hear the statements concerned.Amendment No. 33 specifies that the post-electoral event reviews which an coimisiún may produce be published in accessible formats. I do not propose to accept these amendments for the following reasons. The wording of amendment No. 12 which relates to the publication of an coimisiún's annual report is based on an established precedent set in section 28 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. Being mindful of an coimisiún's independence, I intend to leave the decision-making on this matter of the most appropriate means for the publication of an coimisiún's documents, including the annual report, to an coimisiún itself. In regard to both amendments Nos. 12 and 33, as they relate to the accessibility of the format of documents, the European Union (Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector Bodies) Regulations 2020 came into force on 23 September 2020 and will apply to the website of, and content produced by, an coimisiún. It should also be noted that under section 26 of the Bill, an coimisiún's annual report is required to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. A complete record of all documents laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas are also available on the Oireachtas website. I am satisfied the accessibility of such documents is already appropriately provided for. In respect of amendment No. 15, as I mentioned on Committee Stage, the matter of the presentation of an coimisiún's public information material explaining referendums is an issue of best practice and an administrative matter for an coimisiún, rather than a matter to be addressed in primary legislation. The Referendum Commission of Ireland, from whom this function is transferring, has set a strong precedent for ensuring the accessibility and ease of comprehension of material explaining the subject matter of referendums. For example, in respect of previous referendums, versions of the referendum guide were produced in braille, Irish Sign Language, video, audio, large-print format and easy-to-read format for people with intellectual disabilities. As already said, the accessibility of formats of documents produced by the commission will be covered by the European Union (Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector Bodies) Regulations 2020, which will apply to the website of, and content produced by, an coimisiún. I am, therefore, confident that material explaining referendums is currently being prepared in an accessible and easily-understood manner. As such these practices will be carried over and developed by An Coimisiún Toghcháin when it takes on this role.
In regard to amendments Nos. 16 and 17, section 30(1)(b) of the Bill relating to the publication and distribution of an coimisiún's statements, which explain the subject matter of referendums, is a direct transposition of the Referendum Act 1998. It is not proposed to accept this proposed amendment as the general approach has been taken of avoiding the amendment of transposed legislation, except where necessary to take account of a transferring function’s new organisational context. The section as it stands provides that an coimisiún may "publish ... and distribute such statements in relation to the referendum concerned in such manner and by such means including the use of television, radio and other electronic media" andas such it is not limiting an coimisiún to particular formats. It provides flexibility for an coimisiún to publish statements by any form of media which it considers appropriate, which would include print media.
The question is not just best practice and whether the commission will engage in best practice, as it may choose to draw on the precedent of the Referendum Commission of Ireland, or not. The question is best practice in legislation. To put a caveat and a dilution in respect of the question of accessibility is not best practice in legislation. The Minister of State referred to where there is a different organisational context, and the fact is that there is a different context. I made clear two of the contexts, one being the recognition of Irish Sign Language as a language in the State, the other being the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability. Those are two very clear changes in the context from previous legislation and they should have been reflected in the wording of this legislation. I do not believe it is sufficient to say we are following what we did before. The context and the responsibilities have changed. The rights of persons have changed and I do not think we should have legislation which creates an ambiguity around "as far as practicable", especially bearing in mind that there are other places in legislation where we talk about value for money. Value for money would not be a measure that should be counted in a practical assessment about the provision of access to information.
I appreciate that the reports will be maintained. In regard to amendment No. 12, given that it was mentioned that the Web Accessibility Directive is law and that this was an attempt to underscore that, I will not press it, but I will be pressing a number of the other amendments.
Amendment No. 13 mandates, as a function of the commission, that the commission would review and implement the proposals of the Seanad reform implementation group and the Manning report. Yesterday we enumerated the long process and the fact that in 1979 the public voted in favour of the expansion of the university franchise by an overwhelming majority. Again in 2015 in a campaign with the message “Open it don't close it” in relation to the Seanad, the public, including all those who do not currently have a vote in the Seanad - the vast majority of citizens do not have any say in who sits in this Second Chamber – very strongly chose to retain the second Chamber and chose to support a campaign clearly run on the message of reform rather than removal. I do not have to revisit what an extraordinarily cynical campaign it was, namely, the campaign to abolish the Seanad.
The Seanad has made an extraordinary contribution in terms of legislation. I need only look to the large number of Private Members’ Bills from the Seanad that have become law, the large number of amendments that are made in the Seanad, and the contribution that is made. Certainly in the time I have been here I have seen the contribution of the Seanad over the last two Oireachtas. The idea that saving a few quid would be the argument for why we should not have that part of the democratic process, the Oireachtas scrutiny of legislation, was very cynical. It was rejected by the public. The public appreciated the thematic perspective and the additional scrutiny the Seanad can provide. The public also expressed, by voting for the retention of the Seanad, that it wants a say in and has opinions on the Seanad. It sent a very strong message that it wants to be part of deciding what happens in the Seanad.
That promise of reform was made in the last Oireachtas. The very first day we brought forward proposals, we sat in the cross-party implementation group. Senator Gavan’s colleague, Senator Warfield, was there, as was Senator Cassells. Senator McDowell acted as chair for that implementation group and we produced legislation that was ready to go and delivered to Government. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, chose to park it. I need that to be made clear when people say Senators do not want to vote for or move this. Senators worked hard for eight months on that. The mandate of that implementation group was implementation of the Manning report which was itself developed with a cross-party group and independent chair. It put forward clear proposals for the reform of the Seanad, namely, reforms that can happen without need for a constitutional referendum.
We are a millions miles past time for action on this, and past the cynicism on it. The fact that nowhere in this electoral reform Bill is there even an arrow or a breadcrumb trail towards any intention to act on this is exceptionally cynical and disappointing.This single issue is raised again and again. It is around enhancing democracy. The proposals we put forward would mean that every person in Ireland over the age of 18 would get an opportunity to vote in a Seanad election. The public is not simply geographical in its thinking and concerns. People are not simply thinking in terms of Galway, Carlow or Mayo. Education is an area on which members of the public may be passionate about and may choose to act on. Agriculture is another area. Under the proposals we had, each person would be able to choose one of the thematic panels most relevant to him or her and be able to vote in that panel. That would be empowering. For example, those concerned with organic farming may be a minority in every single county but they may well constitute a sufficient constituency throughout the State to be able to elect a representative to speak about their concerns in this Chamber and to bring that perspective to legislation on agriculture. I could give multiple examples.
This is a missed opportunity to have the public more engaged, interested and excited by the decisions being made and to feel more empowered. This would enhance trust in democracy. These are good proposals. This legislation would have dealt with the issue whereby graduates have a privileged situation in terms of voting. It would have meant that graduates would still only have one vote, the same as any other person in the State, although without a constitutional referendum, we cannot remove the fact graduates have a different vote. They would simply have six places to choose between when deciding how to use their votes versus five. We would be back to a principle of one person, one vote.
The legislation represented a compromise. I would have liked it to be more for the public but in fact the legislation put forward still gave a voice to councillors and local representatives. It simply did not give the monopoly that now exists where 43 Members of this House are elected by just over 1,000 people. In a by-election that drops to just a few hundred. There would still be that space for the representation of councillors, probably more than I would have liked, but that was the kind of compromise that everybody in that implementation group made to come up with legislation that could be agreed and voted on in majority by everybody in that committee. We came up with proposals. We all made compromises. We moved other ideas that we had into appendices. We agreed to bracket them in favour of doing our core central task, which was to implement the Manning report.
The commission should be moving that forward. Amendments Nos. 13 and 21 look for the Seanad reform implementation group and the Manning proposals to be furthered and reviewed if necessary. It allows that they may be reviewed or changed and then implemented. Amendment No. 21 relates to the issue of Seanad reform included in the provisions for an electoral commission and that it would conduct constituency reviews in reviewing constituencies for election to Seanad Éireann. Amendment No. 24 relates to that core issue of reforming the Seanad. We see the notices of Seanad 100. It would have been something if in the centenary year of the Seanad we put down a marker for its future. That is an opportunity that has been missed.
Amendment No. 24 seeks to provide that when preparing a report under subsection (1)(a)(iii) that the commission would have regard to any alterations in the electoral franchise for a constituency of Seanad Éireann and any alterations to the criteria by which a Taoiseach may nominate a person as a Member of Seanad Éireann. This is around preparing the legislation for a time in which we have a reformed Seanad so that the electoral commission is empowered in advance to fulfil the functions it needs to in terms of an open Seanad election.
I refer to a situation where criteria might be applied – again not to dictate but to inform the Taoiseach’s decision in regard to the appointment of Members of Seanad Éireann. There has been a slight backward step where it was the practice that there would be an attempt to ensure diversity from society but we only have one Member appointed in that manner in this Seanad as against five Members in the previous Seanad and, indeed, in the one before that who were appointed as representatives of under-represented groups in society.
Amendment No. 35 mirrors section 48 of the Seanad Bill 2020 in that it seeks to establish an electoral register. In the case of this legislation, it would be mandated by the electoral commission. One of the fundamental proposals and reforms put forward by the Manning report was the recommendation to expand the franchise at Seanad elections to include Irish citizens in the State, Irish passport holders abroad, and true to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, persons from Northern Ireland, and also to expand the range of graduates who would be able to vote, giving effect to the 1979 referendum result. It is extraordinary that has not been acted upon. This would enable members of the public to participate in Seanad elections in a way that had not been permitted before now.
This amendment allows that if a Seanad electoral register is set up there is a tangible first step in the reform process and on the widening of the register, in that we will already have the building blocks in place to set up a process of voluntary enrolment for persons who wish to vote in Seanad elections. The committee heard significant testimony in that process of our implementation hearings. Much of the scaremongering about numbers have not proven to be the case. We have seen in the case of Mexico and elsewhere that voluntary enrolment reaches those who are engaged, feel committed and have a genuine connection to the political debates at hand.
Amendment No. 36 is one I hope the Minister of State will accept because it is the absolute minimum in terms of promises that have not been delivered. This amendment leaves aside all of those concrete provisions that I am proposing and simply asks that there would be a report within 12 months of the passing of this Bill outlining, if not this, then what will be done. If we are not dealing with it in the Electoral Reform Bill what is being done to reform the electoral franchise for the vocational panels of Seanad Éireann? What is being done to move forward on the electoral franchise for university constituencies? What are the criteria that may inform the decisions that might be made by a Taoiseach when nominating Members to Seanad Éireann under Article 18?
Some of the proposals we have made are only advisory but that there would be considerations to gender balance, diversity and the representation of minority groups. I have already spoken about the vocational panels. I fully support the implementation of the seventh amendment of the Constitution to give all graduates a vote. The group proposed to lower that to diploma level. However, it cannot be done in isolation. We need to look to the wholesale reform and that suite of measures.
Amendment No. 44 seeks to ensure the provision that a registration authority may enter the name of a person on the pending electoral list for the register of electors of a constituency in Seanad Éireann if the franchise was to be extended. This is incorporating a reform we hope for and laying the groundwork, giving appropriate mandates to the electoral commission in that regard. This seeks to mirror the provisions in respect of pre-registration for younger people in regard to Dáil elections, which is a positive move although I would like to see the vote at 16 being delivered. Pre-registration is a positive measure and the same measures should be afforded in regard to the Seanad. I say that as somebody for whom few people of that age would vote because due to the nature of my constituency, they need to be graduates. That is an unfortunate situation.
That is the last amendment in this suite of measures. The Minister of State has been here for three or four debates on Seanad reform. He knows the frustrations that exist.It is 100% sitting on Government in this regard. Government Senators have put forward proposals for reform, and the Minister of State has heard the cross-party proposals that we brought forward together as well. The ideas are there. This is not some impossible conundrum. Everybody knows what needs to be done. Not progressing this will be a disgraceful mark against the Government in the centenary of the Seanad. Let us try to have the next 100 years for the Seanad look something more like an inclusive, democratic and exciting expression of the public's thematic interests and concerns, and of the passion the public showed in how they voted in 1979 and 2013. Let it be very clear that we have heard the public in that regard. I urge the Minister of State to ensure that within this year, the centenary year, we see progress on Seanad reform.
I want to speak to amendment No. 13. It should be pointed out that the greatest inequity in the entire electoral system for the Seanad relates to the six seats voted for by university graduates. We are ready to go with that. It has to be pointed out that this is an insult to anyone who is not a graduate. People who are fortunate enough to get to third level and obtain a qualification are no more entitled or qualified to vote than people who, unfortunately, had to drop out at primary level, maybe halfway through secondary level or otherwise. As long as that stands, the whole composition of the Seanad is questionable. We already have provided that the electoral college for the university six can, without further ado, be increased to include graduates of all third level institutions, which would be some small step towards equity. If it is possible, either in the context of this Bill or in later legislation, I ask the Government to arrange that the next Seanad election be fought with a much wider franchise as far as the six university seats are concerned.
To me, it is the rotten borough of the Seanad. It is sticking out. To get elected to a county council, an individual, depending on his constituency, has to get anything from 1,000 No. 1 votes to 2,500. Each county councillor has a mandate from a large number of people and, in effect, indirectly, they represent the entire country. We cannot say that for the university seats. In speaking to the amendment and notwithstanding anything that has been said already, I would encourage the Minister of State to try to fix the rotten borough of the university six prior to the next Seanad election.
There is not a little irony in Senator O'Sullivan declaring that the university seats are a rotten borough. Let us just remind ourselves that this is an undemocratic Chamber. Let us remind ourselves that most people watching today - who knows, there could be dozens watching at home today - have no vote whatsoever in terms of how people are elected to this Chamber. That is the rotten borough. That is the rotten borough that successive Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have failed to tackle. I agree that there should be no excuse for not extending the franchise in terms of university votes, but at least people who are graduates can vote, as opposed to the regular population, who have no vote whatsoever. That is the elephant in the room, and it has been in the room for decades. If we are going to talk about Seanad reform, let us be serious about it.
What I would say to the Minister of State is that unless he is prepared to grasp this nettle, his name will go alongside all those of the other people who talk about Seanad reform and deliver nothing. We need this place to be democratised, not just for the universities but also for the whole population. That is the key issue.
I again thank Senators Higgins, Ruane, Flynn and Black for amendments Nos. 13, 21, 24, 35, 36 and 44, which all relate to the franchise for Seanad Éireann. Before I speak specifically to the amendments, I appreciate the level of debate, in particular the very passionate debate by Senator McDowell and others yesterday and by Senator Higgins today. I note that and I would say in response that we cannot be prescriptive about the piece of research the commission is going to carry out.
On the point by Senator Gavan about the lack of democracy here, that is not the case. Regardless of how Senators got here, they are representing the people. I see that in the level of debate that takes place here on a weekly basis. All of them do that very well. It should be noted that, regardless of the franchise, when Senators are here, they are representing all of the people of Ireland. That is something they all do very well and admirably, and it should be acknowledged.
I cannot speak specifically to the points that Senator O'Sullivan raised with regard to the six university seats. Again, that is another piece of research that could be carried out. However, it is not something I will address today.
Our primary objective here is to establish an electoral commission, which is a long-held objective. It is about the robustness and strength of our democracy that the commission is going to give great credence to. I note there was no agreement in the programme for government around Seanad reform, and the programme for government was negotiated by three political parties. That is not to say that Opposition and Government parties cannot continue to push for that during the lifetime of this Government.
Amendments Nos. 13, 21 and 24 propose to give an coimisiún new additional functions in reviewing and implementing the proposals of the Seanad reform implementation group and the Manning report, and reviewing the constituencies for Seanad Éireann, having regard to any alterations to the electoral franchise for a constituency of Seanad Éireann and the criteria by which the Taoiseach may nominate a person as a Member of Seanad Éireann. While I understand the motivation behind these amendments, I cannot accept them. As I outlined yesterday, the approach to the initial functions of an coimisiún toghcháin is balanced. It brings in established functions, which are relatively self-contained from the outset, as well as a significant suite of new functions – a new research, advisory and public education function, online political advertising and oversight of the electoral register. These initial functions will give an coimisiún toghcháin a solid foundation and allow it to build up its organisational and operational capacity gradually. In addition, we will benefit from having a commission set up and running while at the same time making the preparations for the new additional functions to be transferred.
An coimisiún will be taking on a significant number of new and existing electoral functions from the outset. I am mindful of the need for an coimisiún to get established and to build up organisational capacity, and I do not intend to add to these functions at present. Furthermore, an coimisiún toghcháin will prepare research programmes, conduct research on electoral policy and procedure and provide advice, as required. An coimisiún's research programmes will be prepared in consultation with the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage annually, so Senators do have the opportunity to provide their input into an coimisiún's research priorities.
Amendment No. 35 seeks to establish an electoral register for Seanad Éireann which would be maintained by an coimisiún and proposes to extend the franchise for the Seanad to Irish citizens who are resident in Ireland, to citizens residing outside the State who hold a current and valid passport, to those entitled to Irish citizenship in Northern Ireland and to citizens holding a requisite qualification and who are graduates of an institution of higher education in the State, as well as the current electorate of serving Members of the Dáil, Members of the outgoing Seanad and serving members of local authorities. As I have indicated previously, this would mean that the Seanad would have a significantly wider franchise than that in place for Dáil Éireann. At a Dáil election, only Irish and British citizens ordinarily resident in a constituency who are aged 18 or over can vote. This amendment would also create dual registers, one held by an coimisiún and the other held by local authorities. This is unnecessary duplication and would require careful consideration. As the Senators are aware, Part 3 of this Bill provides for significant modernisation of the electoral registration process. It would be prudent to allow this modernisation work to be completed. For the foregoing reasons, I am not accepting amendment No. 35. Amendment No. 36 requires the Minister to submit a report to the Houses of the Oireachtas within 12 months of the passing of this Act, outlining measures taken to reform the electoral franchise for the vocational panels and the university constituencies of the Seanad, as well as the criteria applied to the nomination of members of Seanad Éireann under Article 18 of the Constitution. The Bill does not provide that the Minister would have a role in reporting to the Oireachtas on electoral matters. With the establishment of an coimisiún toghcháin, we will have an independent statutory body which can make recommendations and provide advice on electoral matters. This is specifically provided for in chapter 9 of Part 2 of the Bill, which sets out in detail the research, advisory and voter education functions of an coimisiún. I do not propose to depart from the general principle set out in the Bill on research and advice on electoral matters and am therefore not in a position to accept the amendment.
Amendment No. 44 seeks to amend section 94 of the Bill to allow a registration authority to enter the name of a person on the pending elector list in the register of electors of a constituency of Seanad Éireann in the scenario where the franchise for such elections is extended. Section 94 of the Bill provides for the pre-registration of 16 and 17 year-olds on a pending electors list, and for the inclusion of these persons on the register from when they turn 18. Currently, registration authorities do not manage the electoral register for Seanad Éireann elections. I note that this proposed amendment is framed on a conditional basis to provide for a situation where the franchise for such elections has been extended. The extension of the franchise in elections for Seanad Éireann would in itself require legislation to have effect and that would be the appropriate time for this type of arrangement or similar to be considered. Therefore, I cannot accept this amendment.
I want to reply to the various points that have been made. I agree that graduates should not have a privilege over others to vote. The proposals we put forward from the implementation group sought, as far as possible without constitutional referendum, to ensure we would widen university franchise to all graduates, not just those with a degree but those with a diploma as well. That was widening it as far as is possible within the requirement on graduates in the Constitution. However, as was well put by Senator Gavan, there is a big elephant in the room when it comes to widening the franchise. I have a constituency of 100,000 and I have supported the proposal that there would be a single and large constituency of all graduates with any diploma. However, graduates of whatever level are entrusted with the opportunity and responsibility to choose between potential public representatives in this Chamber, whereas other members of this public who may not have a degree or diploma but who have great relevant experience, expertise, insight, opinion, view or perspective are not entrusted or given the opportunity to choose between potential public representatives in the Seanad. They are required to have a councillor or other person vote on their behalf, which is phenomenally patronising, disempowering and inequitable. We need to address the issues of the graduate constituency but it is no good widening that while still having a situation where a huge number of people in this State will never be able to choose between seven candidates who might be very different in what they offer. The 15 different voices that might put themselves forward on the educational panel may have radically different things and expertise to offer to the debate. That they would not have the opportunity to choose and participate in thematic discussion in the State is not acceptable. I am bearing in mind that the proposals, to a larger degree than I would wish, still preserve the fact that there is a particular perspective that comes through from councillors but it also ensured that every member of the public would be asked their views in respect of the constitution of Seanad Éireann.
To simply suggest that there is a busy agenda ahead of the commission and that this is something that might be on its research agenda is not good enough. Let us be clear; this is not an abstract topic or something that comes up now and again. This is half of the legislative process in the Oireachtas and five of the ten Stages of legislation between these two Houses. It matters who is here and who elects who is here. It should be centre stage in the electoral commission's agenda. To say it might be a research topic down the line as if it is an academic exercise is not enough; it needed to be signalled here.
I am particularly concerned with the Minister of State's response to amendment No. 36 because it did not talk about the commission but about the Minister coming back. The answer was that it is really the commission that will be doing things. On the one hand the Government has not put Seanad reform on the agenda of the commission and on the other hand we are hearing that the Minister will not do anything about it either because there is an electoral commission now. We cannot have a situation where we are not having cake and also not eating it whereby it is not on the electoral commission's agenda because the Government chose not to put it on the electoral commission's agenda and it will also no longer be on the Government’s agenda. I am not okay with the idea that I will be sitting here hearing Ministers say they will not say anything about Seanad reform forever because we have an electoral commission and it is its area when the Government has chosen to reject amendments that made it the electoral commission's business. If the electoral commission is not doing it, and if it is not required to do it, then it remains for the Minister of the day to come up with proposals for what will come forward. If we put that electoral commission as a box where we will park political responsibility for Seanad reform, that does not fly and it is a cop-out that is not acceptable. The Government has chosen to not use the electoral commission as the tool to progress this and it cannot abdicate responsibility to a future potential research agenda that the electoral commission might independently take. It is a political decision in moving forward on Seanad reform.
I recognise that there are three parties in government and I know and acknowledge that the Minister of State's party would like to see this reform progressed. Former Senator Grace O'Sullivan was also supportive of the implementation report but I will be clear that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, is the one who blocked it. It will be the Government’s responsibility and it will be clearly named as obstruction by political parties in government if we do not progress on Seanad reform. There will be no acceptance from anybody in this House of a suggestion that somehow there is a new long finger in the research agenda of the electoral commission.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 31, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following: “(i) to undertake the wholesale review of the Electoral Act 1997, including, inter alia, its provisions regarding political funding.”.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 42, lines 26 and 27, to delete all words from and including “(1) The” in line 26 down to and including line 27 and substitute the following: “(1) The Registrar shall maintain the Register of Political Parties and shall cause it to be published on the Commission’s website.”.
These proposals mirror amendments put forward by our group and the Labour Party on Committee Stage. The Minister of State will recall there was strong agreement across the House in respect of the principle of these amendments. Amendment No. 18 proposes that there would be a register of political parties, that it would be published on the commission’s website and published in an accessible format.
Amendment No. 19 also addresses an important aspect for which there was strong support in the House from Government and Opposition Senators. The Minister of State will recall the debate from yesterday. In the time since, I hope he has taken the time to inquire about this aspect to see if there is any reason for this amendment not to be made. The proposal is that the register of political parties would be caused to be published on the commission’s website, as well as the constitution, a memorandum of association and any other such documents or written rules provided to the register. The legislation provides that these documents would be supplied in the context of registering a political party. The point was made clearly that these documents should be available to the public.
These documents are important for a few reasons. One concerns the public being clear about the constitutions of the political parties they are deciding between when making their electoral decisions. Another reason is that the availability of these documents would be important to encourage political participation among members of the public, and, as I mentioned in yesterday’s debate, ensuring that students, including school students, those engaged in CSPE and other others, would be able to see the constitution, the mechanisms, the rules and the workings of political parties. That would allow people to see how decision-making processes, even within political parties, can be influenced, where they can have a role and where they can bring motions.
Therefore, there is a transparency issue in this regard, but there is also the aspect of encouraging political participation and an empowerment perspective in respect of voters and potential political participants. I hope the Minister of State will support this proposed amendment, as well as either amendment No. 18 or amendment No. 20. Senator Moynihan is here now and may wish to speak to the Labour Party’s amendments in this grouping.
I thank Senators Moynihan, Hoey, Sherlock and Wall for these proposed amendments, which relate to the publication of the register of political parties. These amendments were previously tabled by Deputy Nash in the Dáil on Committee Stage.
In respect of amendment No. 18, when bringing across the 1992 Act’s existing provisions in respect of the making available of the register, I removed the stipulation that the register be made available for inspection at the offices of the registrar, making the text in section 51 of this Bill more general so that it does not contain an implication that the register is a physical document that must be inspected at the registrar’s offices.
Regarding amendment No. 20, as I mentioned, the existing precedent is that the register of political parties is published online several times per year. This will continue with the transfer of the register to the commission. In respect of its publication on the commission’s website in an accessible format, as I mentioned earlier on, the European Union (Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector) Bodies Regulations 2020 will apply to the website and content produced by the commission.
Therefore, I am of the view that these amendments are not required and I do not propose to accept them.
In respect of amendment No. 19, which proposes the publication of additional material on the governance arrangements of political parties, I will set out the information included on the register at present and that is published online by the Clerk of the Dáil several times per year. This register includes: the name and emblem of the party; the address of the party’s headquarters; the names of the officers of the party authorised to sign off on the candidatures of candidates of the party at elections; the name and address of each accounting unit of the political party and the name and address of the responsible person or persons of the accounting unit; the types of election for which the party is registered as being organised to contest; the name of any European political group or European political party which the party may be a member on in accordance with section 47; and, where applicable, the part of the State where the party is registered to contest elections. The proposed amendment offers an additional measure of transparency but, as it only proposes the publication of the governance documents submitted with the party’s initial application for inclusion on the register, it does not encompass situations where changes are made to the governance documents in question over time, as would be likely. Therefore, I cannot accept the wording of this amendment.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 42, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following: “(2) The Registrar shall in addition cause to be published on the Commission’s website, in respect of each political party registered in the Register, a copy of the constitution, memorandum of association or other such document or other written rules that was provided to the Registrar by that party for the purposes of section 44(c).”.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 42, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following: “(2)The Registrar shall publish, on an annual basis, a copy of the Register of Political Parties in an accessible format on a website maintained by the Commission.”.
I will be very brief. These amendments are concerned with ensuring that all constituencies will have four or more seats.We know that in our PR-STV system smaller three-seat constituencies tend to benefit larger political parties. We need proper balance between the vote share each party gets and smaller parties being able to win seats. Three-seat constituencies generally benefit what have traditionally been the two big parties. We believe four-, five- and six-seat constituencies would be fairer than three-seat constituencies. Amendment No. 23 is concerned with the same issue. It proposes that constituencies should be larger where it is reasonably practical to do so.
We had a discussion on Second Stage on respecting county boundaries. Some Members on the Government side did not necessarily feel that respecting county boundaries is the way we should go about it as that would excessively limit a constituency commission. The amendment is primarily concerned with ensuring that constituencies are bigger to allow smaller parties, independent candidates and diverse voices to come through, rather than having three-seat constituencies, which tend to be dominated by the bigger parties with more money.
I can see the thrust of what Senator Moynihan is proposing. I am more minded towards respecting county boundaries apart from where a particular urban area is bordered by another county and people in that area look towards the urban area. This could be captured in a boundary. I am not as concerned about the removal of three-seat constituencies as I am about the addition of six-seat constituencies. By introducing six-seat constituencies the Senator would tear up every boundary we have had in the country with regard to population numbers and Dáil constituencies. For this reason, I will not support the amendment.
These amendments provide that an coimisiún toghcháin would recommend Dáil and European Parliament constituencies based on four, five and six seats, that it would recommend as few three-seat constituencies as possible and as many five-seat constituencies as possible when making recommendations regarding Dáil constituencies, and that it would have regard to all county boundaries, including within Dublin, when making recommendations on constituencies.
I thank the Senator for the amendments, which raise interesting points for discussion. It might be helpful for the Seanad if, at the outset, I outline the law and practice in the area of Dáil constituency size. Under Article 16.2.6° of the Constitution, no law may be enacted by the Oireachtas providing for fewer than three members for a Dáil constituency. The relevant parts of the Electoral Act 1997 are being retained in the Bill and provide that an coimisiún will make recommendations based on three-, four- or five-seat constituencies.
While in the early years of the State there were seven-, eight- and even nine-seat constituencies, constituency size in Ireland has been restricted to three, four and five seats since 1947. At present, the 39 Dáil constituencies are split with 13 five-seat constituencies, 17 four-seat constituencies and nine three-seat constituencies. It is worth noting that we have to go back to 1923 to find a time when we had fewer three-seat constituencies. That was a time when constituencies ranged in size form three seats to nine seats. In my view, there needs to be a reasonable choice of constituency sizes to produce constituencies that make sense to people on the ground by, for example, enclosing entire communities or adhering to obvious physical features. The three-, four- and five-seat arrangement has served us well and strikes a reasonable balance.
In relation to amendment No. 23, I would not be in favour of placing any further restriction on an coimisiún along the lines proposed. It is important that an coimisiún has a reasonable degree of flexibility when making recommendations on constituency formation. The amendment gives us no guidance on what circumstances would permit three-seat constituencies or indeed enable a larger number of five-seat constituencies. The nature of the task of constituency revision calls for a workable menu of different-sized constituencies and the arrangements proposed in the Bill achieve this.
Amendment No. 25 is also related to the terms of reference of the electoral commission when it is reviewing constituency boundaries. Section 56(2)(c) provides that when an coimisiún is reviewing Dáil and European Parliament constituency boundaries the breaching of county boundaries shall be avoided as far as practicable. However, section 56(4) provides that this requirement will not apply to a boundary of a city or any boundary between any two of the counties of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal and south Dublin. Again, this is in line with the current terms of reference for constituency commissions set out in the Electoral Act 1997.
The effect of the proposed amendment would require an coimisiún to avoid, as far as practicable, breaching county boundaries, including those boundaries in Dublin, when making recommendations formulating Dáil constituencies. The boundaries of the 32 counties of Ireland have been in existence for centuries. In the past 200 years, these counties have become a well-established focus for community activity and so the requirement to generally align constituency boundaries with county boundaries makes sense. However, the effect of this amendment would be to impose greater restrictions on an coimisiún and would remove the avoidance of doubt type provisions that exist relating to city boundaries. The existing provision will give an coimisiún some flexibility in dealing with our cities, including Dublin city and county which is the most densely populated part of Ireland.
The reality is that urban development around cities has long since spilled over into the adjoining counties. Many people living outside city boundaries feel a strong degree of affinity and loyalty to their city and would prefer to be included in city constituencies. For these reasons, we should not require the commission to avoid, where practicable, breaching city boundaries or indeed the administrative boundaries in Dublin. It would be inadvisable, at this point, to tie the commission's hands in this way and so I do not favour any alteration to an coimisiún's terms of reference in this regard. For these reasons, I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 22, 23 or 25.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 45, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following: "(3) When preparing a report in relation to the constituencies for the election of members to Dáil Éireann, the Commission shall seek to secure that its recommendations taken as a whole would result in as small a number of constituencies returning a smaller number of members, and in as large a number of constituencies returning a larger number of members, as is reasonably practicable.".
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 45, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"(4) When preparing a report under subsection (1)(a)(iii), the Commission shall have regard to the following: (a) any alterations to the electoral franchise for a constituency of Seanad Éireann;
(b) any alterations to the criteria by which the Taoiseach may nominate a person as a member of Seanad Éireann.".
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 48, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following: "(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), research commissioned or conducted under that subsection may include research on—(a) best practice standards in the taking of opinion polls, and voter education in relation to opinion polls,
(b) best practice standards in relation to a framework for broadcast election debates, including a possible regulatory framework, in order to secure both fairness and impartiality,
(c) mandatory voting,
(d) lowering the voting age,
(e) further extending the franchise in respect of non-citizens in the State, and
(f) further extending the franchise in respect of citizens outside the State.".
On Committee Stage, we had a very good debate on lowering the voting age to 16.The intent of this amendment could be broken down into two parts. One part of it is very similar to that debate and similar to the amendments tabled by Senators Higgins and Ruane in terms of extending the franchise to bring more people into voting. We are proposing that the commission should be able to conduct research and make recommendations with regard to mandatory voting, lowering the voting age, which ties in with the vote-16 amendments from Senator Ruane and Warfield, and also extending the franchise to non-citizens in the State, which is in later amendments in my name. Many people who have been living here for a number of years are not citizens of the State. Our citizenship is very expensive. People who are members of the European Union get all the social benefits associated with membership of the EU. However, we have one of the highest citizenship fees in Europe at €2,000 to €3,000 so many of them do not become citizens and do not have the same say in the democratic processes they would otherwise have. I know people from Spain, France and England who have never voted in a referendum campaign because they cannot justify the expense of becoming a citizen to be able to do that.
Then there is extending the franchise to Irish citizens who are resident outside the State. It comes later. What we have recommended is 15 years, which is what is in place in the UK. In European Commission reports the Commission has admonished Ireland for denying the franchise to citizens who are living abroad. It argues that it should be extended because of the right to free movement, and that even if somebody is living outside the State for more than 15 years, the person should have the right to vote where the person is ordinarily resident.
The first part of the amendment is concerned with opinion polls, voter education with regard to opinion polls and a framework for broadcast election debates, including a regulatory framework to secure fairness and impartiality. This comes out of the debate we had in 2020 when a big head of steam was built up about denying Sinn Féin a platform in the political party debates during the general election. This would remove it out of the casualness, as it were, that currently exists and the electoral commission would draw up a framework for who is and is not included. To do that would be a good step because we saw it become a political issue, and that issue actually moved the polls in the last general election. The amendment would give the commission the responsibility to have a look at that and to develop a framework for both opinion polls and election debates, because political parties, RTÉ or independent media outlets doing that can significantly impact the outcome of a general election. We want to put that to an impartial body.
I will first speak briefly to Senator Moynihan's amendments, which I support. I have participated in both Seanad and European Parliament elections. Sometimes the rules seem to be made up almost each time regarding how to approach the issues of broadcast time and so forth, so the concept of best standards in that is a very good idea.
The Minister of State will also be aware that we strongly support the proposals for the lowering of the voting age. My colleague and others, along with the legislation sponsored by Senator Warfield, have pressed in the past for the vote for 16-year-olds in European and local elections. I strongly believe that is the direction we need to take, so these are useful and important proposals.
Our amendments are similar. They set forward matters for the research agenda. These are not academic pieces of research but matters that need early consideration and scrutiny. Amendment No. 28 is a matter that has been identified previously by the women's caucus in the Oireachtas as an issue of concern across the board for members of all parties. It is gender quotas in local elections. This had been identified as one of the key issues that has to be addressed to ensure we have women engaging in politics. Indeed, these are gender quotas so in the future they apply to both genders, but at present they are specifically addressing the fact that we have inadequate representation and participation of women in local elections. The idea of gender quotas is something that has been called for by local authority representatives and councillors from all parties in the past. It was an issue that was identified as a concern and which Members of the Oireachtas have echoed and supported. It absolutely should be on the agenda early in the lifetime of the commission so that, ideally, we would be looking at these gender quotas being in place for the next local elections. We know that quotas have made and can make a difference. This should be an issue that would expedited as an early item for the commission to examine. That is why amendment No. 28 is important.
Amendment No. 29 looks at the wider question of participation by groups. It is not simply that one has the right to vote. It is for the general public good that we would have all persons participating fully in democracy. Decisions where more people are involved are better decisions. They lead to better outcomes, better social cohesion and to greater ownership of our political decision-making. That is why it refers to participation in elections by women, which I have spoken about, and people with a disability. We have highlighted those who are LGBTI, and there may be issues regarding names and registers in that regard. There are also persons who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, Travellers and other ethnic minorities, and some of those issues have been mentioned, as well as persons who are younger, really proactive members to encourage and support participation by those under the age of 25 years, and measures to actively support participation by persons who are serving custodial sentences, so they are aware of and able to access their rights in terms of electoral participation.
This is not an exclusionary list. It is putting the point that participation in elections should be a goal of the commission. It is not simply something we regulate as a process but a goal of participation, and these are just some of the areas we have suggested for particular regard. They certainly do not leave out other areas where participation may need to be encouraged.
I hope the Minister of State will consider taking amendments Nos. 28 and 29 on board. I believe there is strong support for amendment No. 28 in particular. It is an issue that has arisen repeatedly in respect of local elections and equitable representation and participation in those elections. Many Members in different parties have faced real obstacles in that regard and this is a chance for progress.
I will be brief. Amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, are self-explanatory so I will not go into great detail on them. I will mention two points. On the last occasion we discussed this Bill I spoke about lowering the age to 16 years, and the Minister of State told the House he was supportive. It is about engaging with people. I also pointed out how young people are so actively involved in activism and various campaigns on social issues, environmental issues and so forth. They want to have a voice. As I said on the last occasion, many of them influenced their parents to vote because they had that type of influence. I attributed some of that to the green wave, notwithstanding the Green Party's skills and abilities. It was palpable during the last election the number of young people who were asking their parents to vote for the Green Party. They could articulate it very well. Of course, when one has a green slogan it is self-explanatory and it is a great advantage because people know what green means and stands for. We should not lose the focus on that, and I know the Minister of State believes the new commission will look at it.
People talk about promoting women, people with disabilities, LGBTI people and persons with disadvantage, but they are only some categories. There is no exhaustive list. I want to talk in more general terms about participation of all citizens. I will single out two areas. Ageism is alive and well in our society. I spoke to a former very active member of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, INTO, indeed very well known to many Members of the House, who said to me a few weeks ago, "I have nothing to contribute".I said she was involved in the GAA, principal of a school, a senior union activist in the INTO, involved in parish life and Tidy Towns and that she did not know it but was political already and an activist. She felt there was no place for her in political life. She had more to contribute because she is now retired and has loads of time on her hands. We have to be careful. We do not want to stereotype or streamline a particular group. We want everybody who wishes to participate in the background or at the front in elections. We should be careful not to pigeonhole anybody. Everybody should be encouraged. Some groups need an extra hand and support to get started.
Amendment No. 29 references persons serving custodial sentences. I have sat on a number or prison boards, am familiar with prison reform and acknowledge the work Deputies Carroll MacNeill and Bacik have done in that area. They too are citizens. People have human rights and want to participate. The fact they are serving a custodial sentence does not mean they are not political or that they do not have a contribution to make. They may not be there for very long. It is important we facilitate all groups and I was pleased to see that amendment No. 29 singles out persons serving a custodial sentence. It is not something we hear much about in terms of this legislation. People tend to think when a person is serving a custodial sentence, he or she is at the end of the barrel and a bit of a waster, but these are humans, citizens and people who want to make good. I like the broad thrust of real engagement with the widest group of people. We are a diverse people and nation so let us encourage everyone.
I commend these three excellent amendments and will support them.
I support amendment No. 28, which concerns the commission making recommendations about gender quotas at local elections. This has arisen at the Committee on Gender Equality, of which Senator Higgins is also a member. We spoke to officials and there is concern about how we might implement that. Quotas are applied in the Dáil around political party funding, but there must be a way, if we use our collective experience, to come up with a solution to implement quotas for local elections. The European Parliament has historically been much better in this regard. The Dáil is probably only now where that parliament was in the 1990s. I support amendment No. 28 and quotas for local elections, all the time recognising the accompanying policy implementation that has to happen around encouraging gender balance in politics.
We have discussed this quite a lot and the overarching point I will make is that the potential the establishment of this commission will have to achieve all the objectives spoken about around participation of minorities, gender balance in our electoral process and making Dáil, Seanad and council chambers more representative of the people therein cannot be underestimated. It has immense potential. I do not want to be prescriptive or restrict the commission in trying to achieve that but at pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, the Oireachtas committee went beyond what we had tasked it with to bring in expert groups to give their opinion on it. That included the Irish Traveller Movement Pavee Point and many civil society organisations which had a strong role in shaping the Bill.
I am deeply politically committed to the commission having a strong role in ensuring we have an active, participatory democracy that is inclusive of everybody here. It currently is not. We know that, but it is still a good democracy and has potential. There is much more we can do. The advocacy function the commission will have has the power to transform over the coming years and beyond how we bring people into the political system and encourage them. In many cases, we are talking about the capacity of people to participate at a basic level of society. We have to address that at community level. For that reason, I think the commission will have an active role to play. Other actors will have a role to play in that regard as well. It is critical.
The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is doing quite an amount of work on gender quotas. The See Her Elected campaign has been very successful and the Minister of State has funded that. We want to see a transformation in the 2024 local and European elections of all political parties and the candidates they put forward regarding gender and variety of backgrounds. It is critical that all of us, particularly political parties, have a significant role in that. I think we all want to see that.
Amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, proposed by Senators Moynihan, Hoey, Sherlock, Wall, Higgins and Black, propose legislating to task An Coimisiún Toghcháin with carrying out a range of research projects. As I have mentioned previously, I am conscious of an coimisiún's independence and have avoided being prescriptive in the Bill in requiring it to conduct particular pieces of research. Notwithstanding this, the programme for Government proposes several items of research for an coimisiún and I intend to request that an coimisiún consider these from the outset. These include researching the potential for expansion of postal voting and the Scottish experience of lowering the voting age. Increasing voter turnout and participation in our democratic processes has been a priority for me in the preparation of this Bill. In this regard, an coimisiún's public education and public information functions empower it to work to increase public awareness of and participation in the State's electoral democratic processes. While I intend that an coimisiún will have autonomy in deciding how to fulfil its role, I envisage its work will have an emphasis on under-represented groups.
Under section 63, an coimisiún will set its research priorities via annual research programmes. These programmes will be subject to consultation with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The committee will have the opportunity to interact directly with an coimisiún on shaping research priorities via consultation on the development of research programmes and through six-monthly progress reports provided by an coimisiún to the committee.
In respect of the extension of the franchise, the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 was published on 16 September 2019. The proposal in the Bill seeks to extend the franchise for presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside of the State. While the Bill lapsed on the dissolution of the Thirty-second Dáil, the Government restored it to the Dáil Order Paper in support of the commitment in the programme for Government to holding a referendum on extending the franchise at presidential elections.
I thank the Minister of State. I am disappointed he is not accepting Opposition amendments. The Bill should be more of a collaborative effort rather than just what Government puts down with Opposition contributions not accepted. I accept the Minister of State's bona fides and that this is something the commission could look at.
I was glad to hear the Minister of State reference postal voting. I tabled an amendment on postal voting that was ruled out. We need to expand who can vote and how they can vote, and then try to attract people to vote and stand for election.
I hoped this Bill, which will have an impact on everybody, would be more of a collaborative effort than it is turning out to be.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 48, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following: “(2) The Commission shall include, as a programme undersubsection (1), the subject of gender quotas at local elections, with the objective of making recommendations to the Minister outlining how this can be achieved.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 48, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following: “(2) The Commission shall include, as a programme under subsection (1), the subject of participation in elections, with particular regard to participation by—(a) women,
(b) persons with a disability,
(c) persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex,
(d) persons from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds,
(e) Travellers and persons from other ethnic minority backgrounds,
(f) persons under the age of 25, and
(g) persons serving custodial sentences.”.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 49, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:“(3) The Commission may develop educational and information programmes for primary,secondary and third-level students for the purposes of the promotion and understanding of the State’s electoral systems and to encourage students to vote at electoral events throughout their life.”.
I will truncate my comments on the amendments and would appreciate if the Minister of State could be as brief as possible also because I want to make progress. I deeply regret and deplore the fact that a Bill on the electoral system is being guillotined. That matter is not something within my reach, but I do want to try to progress through as many of the policy points as possible.
Amendments Nos. 30 to 31 relate to information programmes and educational programmes, which were highlighted. Amendment No. 30 relates to the idea of the commission providing materials for primary, secondary and third level students for the purposes of the promotion and understanding of the State's electoral systems.
Another issue I have raised with the Minister for Education is the concern that civil, social and political education, CSPE, moved from being a mandatory subject at junior certificate level, whereby every child in the State would have a basic foundation in it, to being a voluntary subject. Again, that has made a difference. I have spoken to students who told me that it went from being something that got attention and resources within schools to something that did not. While the commission does not have a role in regard to that decision, it has a role in the provision of materials.
Amendment No. 31 states that due regard would be given to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act and that this would be considered in the development of education and information programmes.
Amendment No. 32 seeks to push the principle of participation as being one of the key drivers that would guide education and information, which relates to the active need to promote participation in the State systems.
I again thank Senators Higgins, Ruane, Flynn and Black for these amendments, which specify an coimisiún's approach to conducting its public education and information function under section 66 of the Bill.
I am strongly of the view that it would be desirable that an coimisiún would carry out its work on increasing awareness of and participation in the State's electoral and democratic processes, with a strong emphasis on groups that are under-represented. Being mindful of an coimisiún's independence, however, I intend to give an coimisiún autonomy to decide how it goes about carrying out this role, and I do not propose to amend the Bill so as to specify how it conducts this function. I have been consistent in saying this.
Having regard to amendment No. 30, I am of the view that the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds provides an excellent opportunity for an coimisiún to take an active role in encouraging participation in our democratic processes in schools and among students. I agree with the point Senator Higgins made about CSPE. From speaking to schools in recent years, there has been fantastic engagement by dedicated teachers and students in schools who are actively engaging in the political system like never before. That is very much to be welcomed.
In respect of amendment No. 31, section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 requires that public bodies, in the performance of their functions, have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and treatment of their staff and recipients of their services, and protect the human rights of their members, staff and recipients of their services. Therefore, the substance of this amendment is already legislated for. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that the amendments are not required. I do not propose to accept them.
Given that the Minister of State has indicated a willingness to engage on the question of participation, I am not going to move the amendment at this time but I indicate to him that it is an issue on which I intend to follow up directly.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 50, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:
“Electoral Register for Seanad Éireann
69.(1) A register of persons for the time being entitled to vote in every Seanad general election shall be established and maintained by the Commission. (2) In respect of the persons who are registered to vote in a Seanad general election, the electoral register shall record the details mentioned in subsection (3) and shall be divided into four divisions as follows—(a) Division 1 – Register of Irish citizens who are resident in Ireland,(3) The electoral register shall contain the name, geographical address and postcode of each of the persons constituting the electorate at a Seanad election and shall indicate the constituency or sub-panel in respect of which the voter is eligible to cast his or her vote.
(b) Division 2 – Register of persons entitled to claim Irish citizenship in Northern Ireland and who reside in Northern Ireland or in the State,
(c) Division 3 – Register of Irish citizens who hold a current and valid Irish passport and who reside outside the State,
(d) Division 4 – Register of Irish citizens holding a requisite qualification and who are graduates of an institution of higher education in the State, and
(e) Division 5 – Register of—(i)serving members of the Dáil,(ii) members of the outgoing Seanad, and
(iii) serving members of local authorities.
(4) A person shall not be eligible for inclusion in any Division of the electoral register unless they have attained the age of eighteen years.
(5) The Minister may prescribe the evidence which is required to establish eligibility for inclusion in any Division of the electoral register.
(6) An elector whose name is included in the electoral register for a Seanad election shall notify the Commission in the prescribed form of a change to the address at which he or she ordinarily resides.
(7) The Commission shall in advance of each Seanad general election prepare a supplemental electoral register.
(8) A person who uses information in the register prepared under this section, being information which is excluded from the edited register, for a purpose, other than an electoral or other statutory purpose, shall be guilty of an offence.
(9) A person who is convicted of an offence under subsection
(8) shall be liable on summary conviction thereof to a class A fine, or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding six months, or to both a fine and imprisonment.”.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 50, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following: “Report on reform of electoral franchise for Seanad Éireann
69.The Minister shall, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas outlining the measures that have been taken to reform—(a) the electoral franchise for the vocational panels of Seanad Éireann,
(b) the electoral franchise for the university constituencies of Seanad Éireann, and
(c) the criteria applied to the nomination of members of Seanad Éireann under Article 18 of the Constitution.”.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Martin Conway, John Cummins, Emer Currie, Paul Daly, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Pippa Hackett, Seán Kyne, John McGahon, Erin McGreehan, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney.
As the time for the debate has expired, I am now required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed; the Bill is hereby received for final consideration; and the Bill is hereby passed."
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Lynn Boylan, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Martin Conway, John Cummins, Emer Currie, Paul Daly, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Paul Gavan, Pippa Hackett, Annie Hoey, Gerry Horkan, Seán Kyne, John McGahon, Erin McGreehan, Rebecca Moynihan, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Mary Seery Kearney, Marie Sherlock, Fintan Warfield.