Seanad Reform: Statements

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Seanad Éireann Debate

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Seanad Reform: Statements

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Taoiseach to the House and the large gathering in the Press Gallery.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I come in peace, not war.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Bearing gifts, I hope.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny When I addressed the House on the last occasion during the summer, I made the point that the fate of Seanad Éireann rested in the hands of the people. Its fate was decided in the referendum conducted recently. The decision of the people was very clear and brought certainty to the future of the institution. I accepted that verdict and said so publicly. I now want to move on through this process to hear the ideas and propositions of Members on how this House can be made to work as effectively as possible within the process of change in politics we are trying to bring to the country. We will keep it open, transparent and accountable.

  I informed the Leader that it was my intention to come to the House to speak with Members and, more important, to listen to them and get their ideas, propositions and plans on how they saw the House operating more effectively in the future, as they were the incumbents. I intend to meet the leaders of the Seanad and the Dáil in the near future to continue this process to make decisions on what is the best thing to do. That is why I felt that before I had that meeting it would be only appropriate that I should come to the Seanad to hear Members' views. I am also aware that in the recent period the House has taken statements on what Members think is appropriate and what might be done. The point was made on that occasion that while it was important and good to have an opportunity to discuss reform in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, it might be more appropriate to come back to it after some time when Senators had had an opportunity to consider the outcome of the referendum and to think a little more clearly and in detail about where the future lay. That is why I am glad to be back.

  The two areas to which most references have been made in regard to Seanad reform are the electoral system and the functions that might be assigned to the Upper House. With regard to the electoral system, through a series of reports and, more recently, a number of Bills, various propositions have been put forward on how Senators or candidates for the House might be nominated or selected, who should elect them and how they should be elected. These are now matters of considerable importance in view of the clarity of the decision of the people. As an Oireachtas in the process of political change, both the Dáil and the Seanad need to transform these suggestions and propositions into workable, legally and constitutionally sound proposals. It is not as easy as it might seem, as I am sure Members will discover as they begin to delve deeper into the consequences of some of the proposals made, but I am happy to hear their views on this issue.

  I have stated clearly my intention and belief the legislation to give effect to the 1979 decision of the people to extend the Seanad electorate to all graduates should be proceeded with and I would like the input of Members and their advice and views on how this can be achieved. The people have spoken on the matter. They gave their verdict clearly in a referendum and there is no impediment to it being followed through. One can argue the point about whether they spoke in the most recent referendum about the mechanics of how the Seanad in its broader context might work, the electoral system and so on and that is a matter for discussion with the Oireachtas. The decision made by the people guarantees the continuation of Seanad Éireann as an entity under the Constitution. The question for us outside the 1979 decision of the people is how best that might operate.

  We also need to examine the functions assigned to the House. In doing so, we have to reflect on the parameters set out in the Constitution within which this House has to operate. How can Seanad Éireann add real value to the work being undertaken by the Dáil and the various committees? The constitutional responsibility to hold the Executive to account is vested in Dáil Éireann under the Constitution, but clearly the people's decision on the Seanad means that we have to devise a situation where this House can contribute more fully and effectively to the work of politics in general. It is timely that the House should look at how we conduct our business and to ask ourselves whether the current processes and procedures are fit for purpose in 2013 and, if not, whether they can be adjusted within the constitutional parameters that apply.

  I am aware of the criticism and comment that always follow in respect of the way Dáil Éireann does its business or attempts to do its business. I also intend to continue my discussions with the party leaders in the Dáil on that issue shortly, but that is for a different day. This is an opportunity, therefore, for Members to speak their minds and reflect on what they think is most appropriate for the workings of the House in the future. I do not have any interest in some of the bombastic triumphalism I might have heard in various quarters in the past.

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