Seanad Éireann - Volume 142 - 02 March, 1995
Role of Seanad Éireann: Statements.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: The reason we are having this debate today and are entering this process arises out of a commitment I gave when I was appointed Leader of the House. In my first statement to the House as Leader I said that priorities would be the reform of Seanad procedures in the widest possible sense and a search to ensure that Seanad Éireann was as relevant as any second House can be as we move into the new century. I also said that I would consult widely with other parties in the House to try to achieve these ends, that I would do so within a fairly short period of time, that I would not unduly rush the debate, but nor would I allow it lie on the Order Paper for a long period of time. These were commitments which I gave and today we are beginning this process.
At the outset I wish to indicate the nature of the debate and the way in which it should proceed. I am very conscious of the long debate we had in the last Seanad and very conscious of the contribution of so many speakers from all parties to that debate. It lasted a number of months and covered virtually  every aspect of the historical role of the Seanad and its role as it should be in the years ahead. That debate generated a large number of interesting ideas which I intend to put on the record of the House today as the basis and guideline for discussion to ensure that people will not spend their time reinventing wheels or going down well trodden paths and that there will be at least a structure to the debate.
There are two reasons why we should spend some time on a general debate, starting today. The first of these is that almost one half of the Members of the House were not Members of the last Seanad. The turnover in both Houses of late has been, for those of us who have been here a while, uncomfortably high. All of us are very conscious of the fact that we are tenants of time in whatever House to which we have the privilege to be elected.
There are almost 30 new Members of the House and it is important that they be given an opportunity to contribute to this debate. There are many young Members and Members of great distinction, such as Senator Lee, Senator Quinn, Senator Henry and Senator Wilson. There are therefore many new Members who have now had two years in which to observe the way we do our business in the House. They have joined the House with fresh eyes and it will be interesting to hear their contributions as to how they believe the role of the Seanad should be defined.
During this time there has also been an unprecedented degree of change in the other House. The Dáil went along for decades almost without change and the procedures and practice were for many decades those which were established at the foundation of State. There was a burst of reforming activity in the 1980s when we saw the establishment of wide range of committees, but with the beginning of the last Fianna Fáil/Labour Government we saw the beginnings of the putting in place of a fairly wide range of reforms in the other House.
 To a great extent these reforms have bypassed this House and, specifically, we have found ourselves excluded from a majority of committees. I lobbied very hard with the Government to ensure that as far as possible any new committees would be joint committees, and I can say with some satisfaction that virtually every one of the new committees is a joint committee which will ensure that there will be representation for Members of the Seanad. In addition, as Senator Norris pointed out this morning, the membership of the Seanad on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has been doubled.
Progress has been made, therefore, but we should also be seeking ways in which the Seanad has its own distinctive part to play, because we are not a carbon copy of the other House and we were not intended to be such. We were intended to make a distinctive contribution.
The procedure I propose we follow is that today I will outline most of the main points — taken from a synopsis comprehensively prepared for me by the staff of the House — made in the previous debate to ensure that they are on the record and that the ideas and changes proposed are available, allowing people to examine them at their leisure without having to go through a further reiteration or lengthy debate on them. Following that I want the debate to stretch over not more than a couple of weeks and, if need be, we could invite submissions from outside groups, former Members, academics or members of the public who have views as to how the Seanad should operate and the role it should play.
People may wish to give us their views in written form, or we could invite them to attend to make submission. For example, people such as former Senator Jim Dooge, a man of great experience of the Seanad, and former Senator Eoin Ryan — and I only wish the late Willie Ryan was still with us — who loved this House can also take a critical look and tell us how we might change our procedures or undertake things differently.
 We should be very open if there are people from outside who wish to come and talk to us — and we can arrange for this procedurally — or who wish to make written submissions, because one of the things which has changed the nature of both Houses is our friend up in the corner, the television camera. Over the last two years we are, for the first time, going into the homes of people, because “Oireachtas Report” is watched to a considerable extent. Many of us now find that we are being recognised in the streets, perhaps in places where we do not wish to be recognised, by virtue of people seeing us on the screen. The House has therefore opened up, as have the procedures, and it should be a two way process. If people have views which they wish to put about how these Houses should operate let us hear them.
I then propose to establish a small all party committee. In the past questions of reform have been handled by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. From my experience, and with no disrespect to the committee, of which I am privileged to be a Member, it is not the right vehicle to push through reforms of this kind. It is too big and many of its Members are very busy in other respects. I wish therefore to establish a small all party group comprising of perhaps one person from each party. It is not a question of people being represented according to size; this is a committee whose purpose is to consider proposals and come back with ideas. This small all party group will go through the various proposals which have been established and I will ask the Government to provide some secretarial back up for the duration of the committee. It will examine what has been said by Members or by outside people and will report back to the House, hopefully within a reasonable time. I hope it will report back by the end of this session, which would not be a bad rate of progress. Perhaps over the summer we can define and refine the proposals.
In any discussion on reform of the Seanad, we have to be very conscious  of where we are starting from. We are starting from within the confines of a Constitution which is very specific in relation to the role and nature of the Seanad and imposes constitutional limitations on the Seanad. We are not the dominant House. The dominant House is the Dáil, to which the Government is accountable and which elects the Government. We were never meant to be in competition with the Dáil.
None of us was a Member of the first Seanad which in 1934, because of the different timing of elections, found itself in conflict with Mr. de Valera. There was a non-Fianna Fáil majority in the Upper House and a Fianna Fáil Government in the Lower House. The then Seanad, which could hold up legislation for 18 months, rejected a number of Bills which Mr. de Valera wanted to put through. He replied with the expedient of introducing a Bill in the Dáil to abolish the Seanad, which was passed by the Dáil but, unsurprisingly, not by the Seanad. Eighteen months later the Seanad was abolished.
As a historian, I have no doubt that Mr. de Valera was completely right in what he did. There is no contest if there is a conflict between a popularly elected Lower House and an indirectly elected Upper House. The voice of the people is reflected in the Lower House and there can only be one winner. It is very clear in the Constitution that we are not intended to be in competition with the Lower House or to obstruct its will.
That does not mean that there is not a variety of other extremely useful and important roles for this House, such as the obvious ones of the scrutiny and initiating of legislation. Senator Daly's Bill is a very good example of what I hope will be an increasing feature of this House over the coming two years. Whether Private Members' Bills are accepted or rejected is a matter for the House, but the very fact that a Bill is debated carefully in the House opens up public debate, puts on pressure and is part of the work which we should be doing. There is a whole range of ideas and topics which we should discuss. We  have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. However, it must all be within the confines of the Constitution, which is master of us all.
Another very distinctive fundamental aspect of the Seanad, from which we cannot shirk, is its vocational nature. The vocational concepts upon which this Seanad are based may have been very particular to the 1930s, especially the dominant Catholic social thinking of that time, and may not be relevant today. The vocational representation of our State today may be found in bodies such as the NESC, the employer labour talks and the various structures which have in some senses almost turned this into a corporate State, where business is done by the various sectors dealing directly with the Government.
After examining the vocational underpinning of this House we may decide that it has no great reality, which I do not think it has, and that it is not a particularly good idea anyway. Perhaps we could, within what is available to us, start looking at other categories which might be represented here or other roles for the Seanad. I look forward in particular to Senator Lee's contribution on this question. Everybody's views will be of interest and value but, as a historian, he may have a special insight into the way in which the Seanad should move on this question.
There are other questions which we need to look at. We are not alone in having a second House as at least nine of the current 15 EU member states have an Upper House. I can say with certainty that eight of the original 12 have an Upper House, although I have not checked on Austria. Finland and Sweden. Upper Houses are the norm in the majority of EU states and, with one or two exceptions, they all have a somewhat similar role to ours.
I find this interesting because occasionally criticism is made of the electorate of the majority of Members of this House, that is, that elected county councillors elect the majority of Senators. That, in fact, is the norm in  different forms in many EU member states. Most members of the French Senate, for example, are elected by the councillors and mayors of the small towns of France. In Spain, most members of the second House are elected from regional councils. There is nothing too different about the way in which the majority of the Members of this House are elected.
We are unique in that this is the only Parliament where Members are elected by university graduates; but, however indefensible this may be in democratic theory, the reality is that some of the finest Members of this Seanad came from the university constituencies. I do not think that anybody would seriously suggest that this should not be an ongoing part of the Seanad. I would say to Senator Farrell that some of them may occasionally say things which drive us all mad. However, that is very valuable in a House such as this which needs elements of difference.
The question arises as to what sort of model we should have for a second House. We should commission somebody — or I could do it myself — to look at second Houses in the other EU states to see if there is anything which we can usefully learn from them. However, we should not be circumscribed by what people do elsewhere. We have an opportunity now to put a distinctive shape on how we do our business and on the role of the Seanad. We could look at new ideas, but we should also try to adapt what we have. We forget too easily that we in this House are the inheritors of 70 years of tradition. We have had two very different Seanads but this House has been in existence, with a short break, since 1922. In all of that time we have learned to do some things right and we should try to build and adapt where we have had some degree of success.
Ultimately, the only real criteria when we come to evaluate what we want to do are whether we are effective and efficient, whether this House gives value to the taxpayer for the moneys which are expended upon it and whether this  House makes a real contribution to Irish public life. Whatever we do, we must seek to answer these questions. The only ultimate justification for a Seanad is that it is a good one. “Good” can be defined in a wide variety of ways such as making a real contribution to public debate.
I become very impatient with people who refer to Parliament as a mere talking shop and a place for hot air. Such people forget that the origin of the word “parliament” comes from the word “parley”, meaning “to talk”, where people came together to exchange views and resolve differences by talking rather than by resorting to knocking each other's heads off. A Parliament is often at its most effective when it is the forum and sounding board for ideas about the shaping of future society and different aspects of legislation, where people are conducting a national debate on issues that matter to the people of the country. If this House can be more effective as a forum and talking shop, we need make no apology. It is one of our most important and vital functions.
There are other areas which we have not begun to investigate. Parliaments are increasingly becoming the interface for different groups in the public arena and Members of Parliament. People are given an audience and the right to put their case. It is often broadcast on television and the changes they want are put on record. This has a very valuable function. People have a sense of not being alienated. They are listened to and given a chance to put across their views. They are given a respectful and careful hearing and it may be that those sitting in the ministerial chair will learn from what has been said.
I wish to open the debate by putting forward some of these ideas. I do not want this to be a long process, but I want the ideas to be discussed and examined in some detail. A small committee will be set up, which can, if necessary, take outside submissions. We will move on from there and we may be in a position to come forward with real proposals by the end of the session  which will have the backing of all sides of the House.
It is important to stress that it is not the job of the Government to reform any House of Parliament; it is the job of the House itself. The only worthwhile reforms will be those which have the support of all parties in the House. We must all go ahead together on this matter. The more effectively we do our business and the better value we give to the public, the more it redounds to all our credit, enriches public life and enhances the public's view of parliamentary institutions.
I intended putting on the record the synopsis of the recommendations from the last debate. However, it is a long statement, containing approximately 12 pages. I will just indicate the areas covered by it and then arrange to have it circulated to every Member of the House rather than reading it all into the record now. It deals with the Order of Business, which all Members agree needs to be changed, adjournment debates, the possibility of Question Time, topical issues and Standing Order 29. All these areas are covered.
Mr. Daly Mr. Daly
Mr. Daly: When was that done?
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: This was done in 1993, I think.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: 1992-93.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: It was done at the end of the last Seanad. It also covers the way in which we deal with legislation on Second and Committee Stages, research facilities, amendments, guillotine motions, allocation of non-Government time, Private Members' Business, the contribution of Ministers, Private Members' Bills and parliamentary committees. It also deals with another area which many Members would find very useful. This is a development of the European dimension. Even though there are proposals for a joint European Affairs Committee, only a small number of Senators will be on this committee. I am not pre-empting anything, but it  would be useful if we could have a full debate on European matters one day a month. What I would have in mind is inviting a Commissioner, a Member of the European Parliament, an academic engaged in research or a practitioner to raise issues and to hold a discussion — without votes, motions or statements — in the House on European matters.
The European dimension is sadly lacking in the House. We all realise how seldom we have debates on reports on developments in the EU. We did not have debates on the accession of new members or the enlargement of the Community and we have not discussed defence policy or neutrality. The range of issues arising from our membership of the EU is enormous. There are agricultural issues, for example, and we simply have not got around to addressing them. It may be that a special dedicated time, perhaps one day or two days set apart each month, could deal with this matter.
The recommendations also cover the whole question of the vocational nature of the Seanad, elections and the register of nominating bodies, qualification of candidates, university panels and Taoiseach's nominees. With some degree of prescience, there is also a section dealing with emigrant representatives. There are sections on research facilities, the status of the Leader of the House and the appointment of Senators as Ministers and Ministers of State. This document is the essence of the previous long debate in the House. We will arrange to have it circulated and it will hopefully form the basis of our discussions.
In opening this debate I am honouring a commitment I gave at the beginning of the session. I also wish to make it clear that I want this to produce results quickly, not on the basis of rushing something through but on the pooled wisdom of Members of the House. This will result in practical proposals, upon which there will be a wide measure of agreement to start  implementing them, perhaps in the autumn session.
Mr. Daly Mr. Daly
Mr. Daly: It is probably presumptuous of me to suggest Seanad reform, given that I am a relative newcomer to the House. Nevertheless, sometimes somebody new in an area can take a more objective view than others who have been there quite a while. I welcome the Leader of the House's statement and I assure him of Fianna Fáil cooperation in working to find meaningful ways to make changes which will be relevant and in the best interest of the House.
This debate is timely, given that reforms have been introduced in the other House. As Senator Manning said, the Seanad has not kept pace with those developments, although there has been a welcome indication from Government in recent times that legislation will be introduced in the House. Nevertheless, the Seanad affords an opportunity, even within the constraints at present, for the introduction of certain Private Members' legislation. In this context I emphasise the importance of the availability of research facilities to help Opposition parties in particular deal with complex legal matters, such as the drafting of legislation.
Somebody asked me yesterday “Who drafted that Bill for you?” — the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Bill — as if after 22 years in the Oireachtas I would not be in a position to draft a Bill, good, bad or indifferent. However, this is a reflection of an attitude abroad that the Seanad is somehow a House of secondary importance and that key decisions are not made here. The Seanad can make a very meaningful contribution towards changing the public perception of the House by adopting procedural reforms, new methods of dealing with issues that require attention and the initiation and introduction of legislation which would be of benefit to the community at large.
The debate is also timely, given yesterday's discussion of the Framework Document. In the next number of years  we all wish to see hopeful signs of development and co-operation between ourselves and political colleagues in the northern part of Ireland. There is now a widespread belief that we are facing a new era in Irish politics and a new dimension in Ireland between North and South. New cross Border institutions have been mentioned and new dialogue in under discussion.
In the debate on Seanad reform it would be timely to examine ways in which we could introduce reforms which would strengthen the bonds of communication between us and our colleagues in the new Assembly which will be established in Northern Ireland and perhaps also with our colleagues in the UK. I am not certain — perhaps the Leader of the House knows — whether the Seanad is represented on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: It is, yes.
Mr. Daly Mr. Daly
Mr. Daly: These are welcome signs that the Seanad is playing its part in the dialogue. I was a member of the last Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs — I hope a new one will soon be established. Senators have had in that committee the opportunity of expressing the views of this House on the important international issues of the day, whether that be difficulties in the former Yugoslavia, problems in Rwanda or in Africa generally or the South African elections. The Seanad was able to make a contribution to these important international areas and have it recorded through this committee. It would be my wish to see that expanded. I fully support the views expressed by Senator Manning. I welcome the establishment of an all-party committee and would wish to see it get down to business fairly quickly.
It would be unwise to extend the reform into too many areas that would take up a lot of time and run into some public controversies. We might find at the end of the day that after a period of discussion and dialogue we still have not come up with any real meaningful changes. My preference would be to see  the House target a few key areas and reform them in a speedy fashion so that by this time next year we could see the results of this new initiative.
We recently had a discussion on emigrant representation and how that might be addressed. As the Leader knows, the Government has indicated some discussion on Seanad representation — either by way of direct election or by some form of nomination, perhaps through the Taoiseach's nominees — for our emigrants. This was welcomed by all sides of the House. It should be urgently put on our agenda as a priority area to be examined. In debating that issue we suggested that an all-party Oireachtas committee might be established to look at it. We would certainly need to put that on the agenda as an area where positive action could be taken.
I have already suggested to the Leader that we should put in place in this House a forum where we would have an opportunity to hear the views of some of the vocational bodies, perhaps on a three or six monthly or an annual basis. The leaders of the IFA and the ICMSA could come here in the same way as a Minister, make a presentation and engage in dialogue on issues relative to the vocational item on the agenda. I am sure the representatives of many of the vocational bodies who have representation here would only be too glad to see the leaders of their organisations have an input to our debates. A formula could be established quickly to make that kind of arrangement. I would like the leader of the IFA to come to the House and talk to us on a regular basis about problems in the farming area. People in the other farming bodies could also join in this debate.
This type of arrangement already exists in the European Union institutions. Once or twice a year organisations like COPA, the European farmers' organisation, have an opportunity to meet with the Council of Ministers and the Commission in a tripartite dialogue which has been beneficial to the European Union, both at Council of  Ministers level and in the European Parliament. It would be possible to have a day set aside here, maybe once or twice a year, when two or three bodies, such as the teachers' organisations, farmers lobbies or organisations representing women's issues could attend.
Women are still under represented in this House and they are still being discriminated against nationally. The last time discussion took place on this issue here four to five years ago, many Members made the point that there was a necessity for more female vocational bodies to get representation so that they would be given nominating body status. I am aware that the list of nominating bodies is revised every year, but I am not so sure that the general public knows. Before I was elected to the Oireachtas I worked for a public body. I drew their attention to the fact that they could nominate people to the nominating bodies panels and that was done by that organisation at the time.
It would be desirable to have a forum in this House for members of the European Parliament to come here, as well as experts from the Commission. This could also be arranged in a similar way to what I have suggested for members of the vocational bodies. If we could have a debate a few times a year on developments in the European Union, which we are obliged to debate anyway, we could invite a representative number of parliamentarians from the European Parliament. From my dealings with them, both nationally and during my experience there, I know that they would be more than willing to come here, speak to us and keep us abreast of developments in the Union.
Everybody knows that the European Union is expanding, enlarging and developing. It is strengthening the bonds within existing member states. The Union is likely to expand in a significant way, further down to the Mediterranean countries and into the former Soviet Union. At a time of enormous change in the Union, I think it is essential that we would have both in this and  the other House the assistance and advice of the people who are at the coal-face — the members of the European Parliament. It is essential that we have the opportunity to hear from them about the current state of play on enlargement, the impact it will have on our economy and the political dimension involved. It is timely that we look at the possibility of putting some arrangement in place to have members of the European Parliament come here on a regular basis, speak to us and put forward their points of view so that we could have dialogue and a permanent communication link between them and this House.
This would also afford an opportunity to have communication with the Commission and the institutions of the European Parliament. I suggest that as the occasion arises here, when we have a debate on important matters like, for example, the Regional Development Fund — Fianna Fáil Members have a motion on the agenda to discuss the question of funding for regional development, especially with regard to Border areas — it would be important for us to have the ability to bring the Commissioner responsible for the Regional Development Fund to the House. In the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, at Dublin Castle, we have seen European Parliament members successfully address and put forward their points of view in a forthright way on North-South developments and between ourselves and Europe. It is important that we would keep that dialogue, not only with members of the European Parliament but also with the administration at the level of Commissioner. I have no doubt whatever in my mind — I am sure Senator Farrell would fully agree with me on this — that no one would be more welcome to address the House than Commissioner Flynn, who has a key role to play in the development of European policies on unemployment and such matters.
I do not want to talk about the constituencies. There will be differing views about the electorate and on how one  would deal with reform of that. I believe representation should be on a provincial basis whereby representatives would be elected in each province rather than from the 26 counties. That is something which could be considered by the committee. Somebody suggested that this could be done on the basis of the European Parliament constituencies. I have always argued about dividing them into single seats, so I am not sure if is the best way to do that. The possibility of elections on a regional basis should be considered. It would not change the electorate or the number of Members, but it would confine elections to provincial areas.
This is a timely opportunity to look at procedures. I support the call for a type of Question Time in the House. I was glad to hear that the Minister for the Marine offered to reply to questions in the House, which is a break with tradition. It would be advantageous, from the point of view of representing the interests which put us here, that we would have the opportunity to raise questions relevant to the vocational bodies we represent or speak for. I was elected on the Agricultural Panel and since then I have had many representations from people concerned about agricultural issues. I have endeavoured to raise them within the confines of the procedures of the House. A Question Time, along the lines as that in the other House, but perhaps a tighter arrangement. would be useful. If there was a regular Question Time once a week on a Thursday afternoon, we could deal with a number of Departments in an efficient way, with strict time limits and procedural arrangements so that it would not be an opportunity for political debate.
This is a welcome debate and I assure the Leader of the House he will have our full co-operation. I suggest the key areas to look at are representation. communication and dialogue with the European Parliament, North-South arrangements, the new political arrangements  there which will involve us more as parliamentarians in discussions with the new administrative or political structures in the Six Counties, and the opportunity for vocational bodies to come here on a regular basis to brief us on relevant issues which would make a contribution to the development of our political institutions and economy.
Mr. Belton Mr. Belton
Mr. Belton: I welcome the opportunity to voice my opinions on the recommendations on Seanad reform. I have been a member of a local authority, Dáil Éireann and now Seanad Éireann, which I have found to be a fulfilling experience. The level of debate, the wide-ranging interests and the matters discussed in the House have always given me great satisfaction. The Seanad is an important part of our democracy.
At times we get involved in the cut and thrust of party politics when legislation is going through the House, but other debates are more relaxed and responsible, and this has been highlighted on many occasions in regard to the debates on Northern Ireland. Members have made worthwhile contributions on that subject because the Seanad provides them with a great opportunity to express their views and to add another dimension to the various approaches. The Seanad has contributed much to the national question and to the restoration of peace on this island. I have always found it to be worthwhile in that regard.
The proposal to allocate three Seanad seats to emigrants is welcome. Plans for the implementation of this proposal have yet to come before us. As a former emigrant, who spent three or four years in London, I was involved in the Longford County Association there. The Irish living abroad have highlighted this country and have built up many contacts through business, sport and voluntary organisations. They have become unofficial ambassadors who represent everything  that is good about this country. From a tourism point of view, emigrants have done a lot to boost the image of Ireland, to sell it as a tourist destination and to encourage investment. This proposal would be worthwhile if implemented and would give the Seanad a new dimension in that regard. There has been much talk about this subject over the years; it is now time to follow it through and put the proposal to provide three seats for emigrants.
Over the years the Seanad, as the second House of Parliament, has not been given sufficient status, and back-up facilities, for example, are not what they should be. In other parts of the world democracy is not enjoyed by all and some have given their lives for it. For a long time tyrants and dictators have dominated people who longed for democracy. This part of the island has enjoyed democracy for 75 years and the Seanad is an important part of the workings of our democracy.
Members of the Seanad were not given their full status and full recognition of the important role they play in the working of democracy and passing legislation. All Members would agree that more secretarial facilities, office space, etc., should be available. It is not that they want to be selfish or to make themselves more important but it is a necessary back-up facility. In all walks of life one has to have back-up facilities, and we all agree that improvements in that area would be of enormous help.
Professor Lee Professor Lee
Professor Lee: I am pleased this issue is being debated. It is important that it should be although it will appear abstract to many people outside and, perhaps, even to some in the House. I agree with what has been said by the Leader, Senator Daly and Senator Belton, and if a fair proportion of what has been said can be acted on, it can make a significant difference to the way we conduct our proceedings and to the  value of those proceedings for a wider public.
I will begin by taking up what has been said about research resources. I am an admirer of the quality of debate in the Seanad. In my brief period here I have been impressed with the quality of contributions. I am even more an admirer in the light of the handicaps under which Senators labour in trying to contribute constructively to debate. The absence of research resources and facilities is scandalous if we are remotely serious about trying to ensure that public representatives can make their most effective possible contribution to discourse.
I am in the relatively fortunate position in that I come from an institution, a career and a background where many of the issues discussed here would be part of what I think about professionally. I would hate to be in the position of party spokespersons on particular topics, and more so Members who are not spokespersons, if I wanted to make a worthwhile contribution, often at very short notice.
An unfortunate feature of the way we conduct our business and the way we have to conduct a certain amount of it, is how little notice there is of when issues will be on the agenda. A way should be found in which that can be improved and more notice can be given from time to time of some topics — I appreciate that others have to be taken at short notice. I urge that the maximum possible notice be given of the agenda for the whole session rather than on a week to week basis where one may only find out a couple of days in advance what is to be debated, although it may have been possible to notify Members much further in advance.
If one does not have the back-up resources required — and virtually nobody in this Chamber does — when preparing a speech on a complex topic at very short notice it puts an enormous strain on Members to contribute effectively.  I am not sufficiently familiar with all the procedures by which items come on the agenda, but whatever can be done ought to be done as a matter of urgency — and I hope it will be done in the course of this session — to give Members more notice so they can prepare adequately, which they could do if the research and administrative resources were available.
It is scandalous — and I do not use the term loosely or rhetorically — to expect Members to be able to debate issues effectively without the required back-up. That leaves the public representatives at the mercy of the ministerial contribution which, in many cases, means at the mercy of the civil service contribution. I am not for a moment decrying the calibre of the Civil Service or of Ministers — perhaps I should not say “of most Ministers” — but there cannot be an optimum exchange between the official mind, as reflected at Civil Service and ministerial level, and the mind of Members of the Oireachtas if the information and research stakes are so unequal. We will not be able to maximise our contribution until something significant is done about that.
Senator Magner and the Leader of the House reported to the House about a year ago on improving research and information resources in the Oireachtas as a whole. I do not know what has happened about that. One of our problems is feedback as to what has happened about proposals which have been approved here. We do not know if anything is happening; if it is not happening, why not; if somebody is consciously blocking it, for whatever motive, or if there is some objective reason the principle is rejected or, if it is accepted, why it cannot be implemented for reasons beyond immediate control.
The lack of feedback is one of the more depressing aspects of service in this House — feedback on proposals  such as that mentioned and feedback in terms of what difference this House makes to legislation. I know that at the end of the year we may get a list from the Leader of Bills that have gone through the House but that is different from being able to identify what difference their going through the House makes. While one does not wish to conduct a post mortem in detail on the events of a session, it would be useful for our own self-education to find out what difference, if any, we have made over the year to the bulk of legislation.
There should be a way of monitoring the implications of our input or what notice has been taken — if the slightest blind bit of notice has been taken — of many of the contributions made here. It is not “accountability” in the way in which the term is normally used but an attempt to keep ourselves informed of the role we are playing, apart from going through the formalities of debate in the House. If an approach could be made to that it would be useful in focusing our minds on how we could contribute more effectively and in focusing the minds of others as to whether they are paying attention to what is discussed here in terms of the formulation of policy, whether in Bills initiated here or Bills coming to us from the Dáil.
I hope the Leader will have an opportunity to consider that, in terms of assessing feedback and impact and of trying to foster a sense that we make some difference. It is easy to get the impression — and many have the impression — that we make no difference whatsoever. We need to have an assessment of whether we do.
With regard to our back-up facilities, I was disturbed to hear that our secretaries do not have the opportunity for retraining or for in-career development, even to cope with new computer programmes; that is, or it ought to be, normal in the Civil Service. Apparently, they are privately hired and are not regarded as civil servants for the purpose  of being able to develop their skills and capacities. If that is the case, it should be considered unacceptable. The Oireachtas should not have a less trained staff at its disposal, and facilities available to civil servants ought to be available to Members of the Oireachtas in terms of providing back-up in their offices, even as they are at present, and much less in terms of the provision of research facilities.
The issue arose of particular topics that might be debated at greater length here and I agree with the proposals made. I would stress Northern Ireland and Europe in particular. In a sense we have perhaps had a phoney peace on Northern Ireland in this Chamber, as indeed in the Dáil, over the last couple of years. We have had statements on Northern Ireland from time to time as the new documents and declarations have come out and they have been very worthwhile. However, they have not been debates. They have been a mobilisation of support for the general thrust of policy on Northern Ireland. That is very desirable, I am not in the least complaining about that. Some very impressive contributions have been made, but in regard to Northern Ireland we are now, I hope, entering a period where we should be able to go beyond simple statements of mutual support and begin to look a little more closely at the specific issues that arise in the context of the negotiations, discussions and debates that will, we hope, inevitably follow from the Framework Document.
This Chamber might think of developing an expertise on North-South relations and the implications of proposed changes. North and South, but not in a party adversarial way because it would be extremely unfortunate if Northern Ireland became a major party political issue. We should not have to rely entirely on the work of civil servants, however valuable that work is, has been and will be. Contributions by  politicians should not be confined to statements of high moral purpose. I hope it may be possible to think of this Chamber as having a role to play on the debating of Northern Ireland and North-South issues.
Likewise in regard to Europe, with the potential enlargement of the East, Maastricht, the Troika — which means we will have an input into Presidency matters from the beginning of 1996 and not just in the second half of 1996 and continuing into 1997 — the Seanad ought to become a forum for regular discussions of European affairs. I fully support the proposals made in that direction. To some extent, I hope we can play an educational role in that respect, provided of course that we manage to achieve the type of publicity for discussion in this Chamber which is so conspicuously lacking at present, unless it happens to be of a sensationalist variety or of a highly adversarial variety.
None of us has worked out how to solve the publicity problem because there is a great discrepancy, as we are all aware, between the impression conveyed in public of the work of this Chamber — indeed of both Houses of the Oireachtas — and the unsung work that goes on here. Unless one deliberately sets out to court the media by performing in a way which can be guaranteed to command headlines, one will almost certainly be ignored. Perhaps that problem cannot be resolved but it ought to be confronted. If there are ways of improving the assessment of what happens here and of drawing greater attention to it, then we ought to take cognisance of them.
I mentioned Europe but there is a third area we should find a way to discuss more regularly. It arises to some extent from the emigrants' issue that has been discussed. I am speaking of the Third World affairs area, on which we have had discussions and about which we express our very genuine concern when a particular atrocity or tragedy arises, but these discussions tend to be a one off as each new problem arises.  We should be striving to balance our natural involvement in and concern with European affairs to preserve a certain sense of balance as to Ireland's historical role. We should also be striving to develop expertise and make regular contributions in the area of Third World affairs. It may be difficult to organise this in a coherent manner, but we should try to keep that in mind, whether in the context of a discussion on the United Nations or in any other way. In focusing more on European affairs, we should not forget that we have connections which the President has been very fruitfully developing. We also have connections which this Chamber might well want to try to discuss in a more systematic way from time to time.
In general I welcome the Leader's proposal that there should be a committee of appropriate people to look at this matter. Submissions should be taken from outside, whether from ex-Senators, from people who have experience of this Chamber or from people who would like to contribute, who have sufficient interest in what goes on here to be willing to take time to suggest how we might conduct our affairs more effectively and how we might contribute to the improvement of public discourse and public understanding of numerous very complex issues.
To conclude I will come back to the point about resources available to Senators to enable them to master their briefs and not to oblige them to be the prisoners of whatever the fashionable thinking of the moment may be or whatever the media may be presenting as consensus opinion at a particular time. If the resources are not available to enable Senators to focus their thinking on these issues, then however worthy the issues, our contributions will fall far below what contributions we could be making if the affairs of the Oireachtas were adequately organised to enable us achieve our potential.
Ms O'Sullivan Ms O'Sullivan
Ms O'Sullivan: I welcome this debate and I particularly welcome the proposal  by the Leader of the House that a small subcommittee should be set up to discuss the reform of the Seanad. As he rightly pointed out, this is something with which a small number of people can come to terms, taking on board all the various suggestions that are made in this debate, in the previous debate and by people from outside. It needs that kind of small committee to bring forward definite proposals. I welcome that.
As other Senators have said, there has been debate on the reform of the Seanad from time to time, probably almost since its foundation. Following a proposal for the abolition of the Seanad in 1957 a commission was set up; it reported in 1959 and made proposals. This is a debate we had over the years which it is very useful to have from time to time. Reforms following on from previous debates have improved the effectiveness of the Seanad and I sincerely hope this debate will also result in practical reforms that will improve our functioning as Members of the Oireachtas.
It is important to realise that we are bound by the Constitution and therefore there is a limit to the kind of reforms that can be brought in. I support the suggestion that we look at how we are elected but that is obviously bound by the Constitution so I do not know whether there is any scope for change in the area of vocational representation, an area that has been discussed outside this Chamber. A large number of Labour Party Senators, including myself, are new to the Seanad so my opinion does not draw on a great length of expertise. However, I welcome the fact that I may express my views.
Senator Lee made an important point in relation to having as much information as possible on forthcoming legislation and the business we are going to discuss here, but the practicalities are such that sometimes we do not know very far in advance exactly what legislation will be available to us at particular times. We have a general idea of what legislation is forthcoming and the House gets an indication from time to time, but being more precise is difficult.  Nevertheless we should be as precise as we can and give Members as much notice as possible of the business that will be discussed.
Senator Lee's point about having research facilities is very important. To some extent, for those of us who are in political parties, I assume it is the duty of the party to provide us with research facilities but there should also be general access to research facilities for all Members. We should invite contributions from bodies and individuals outside the House to give us their views on issues coming before the House, and the suggestion that such bodies should have a direct input into the subcommittee is a good one. I would particularly welcome an input from the Youth Council of Ireland in view of the survey which was published last week. This was done in Arklow and indicated that young people have a very scanty knowledge of politics and politicians. This House might be a vehicle for listening to what the representatives of young people have to say about why young people do not engage with politics and politicians in a way we would like. There may be something we can learn from that. This House may be an appropriate vehicle for channelling the complaints I presume young people have about politics and why they see it as not being very relevant to their lives.
Debates on Northern Ireland and the European Union are important. We have had a number of good debates on Northern Ireland and should continue with this. I would support more direct contacts with the EU. If it were possible to bring Members of the European Parliament or EU Commissioners to the House, it would be a very worthwhile development. People generally feel they do not have enough contact with their MEPs and MEPs probably feel they do not have the channels needed to make what happens in the EU more relevant and accessible to people. If we can perform a function in this area we should do so.
Other Senators referred to the possibility of having a Question Time in the  House and this is a good idea. Having debates with short speeches is a good idea. This happens in some Parliaments. Speeches would be for only three or four minutes but it would be possible to have a large number of speeches on issues and there could be the facility for people to reply to points made. For example, if Senator Cassidy made a point and I responded to it, he would have the opportunity to react to what I said about the points he made. This would facilitate debate rather than speech making. A debate should give people the right to react to what other people say, and this is one method we should investigate. I would find this much more effective than long speeches followed by other long speeches, some of which are prepared in advance of what other people say. This kind of interaction would provoke real debate between Members and would be very useful.
There is a function for the Seanad to air minority causes and issues which may not get to the floor of the other House very often. We should be able to fulfil this function and it has been done in the past. I am not too sure about the cause being advocated outside the gate at the moment. Some causes are overstated. I am thinking of issues on which a relatively small number of people would have expertise and be concerned about.
In the last few weeks I did research on the history of my party in the Seanad. I presume what I found would apply to other parties. The Seanad has been very useful in terms of Private Members' Bills, amendments to legislation and being able to air the detail of legislation and current issues in a way which is not as confrontational as it sometimes might be in the other House. This may be because Ministers and the Front Bench spokespersons of parties do not sit in this House. Members tend more to leave partisanship aside than the Members of the other House. Sometimes this means we can have more wide ranging debates and deal with details of proposed amendments and current  issues in a way which is less confrontational and, therefore, more constructive.
I welcome this debate. Discussing the issue in the House is one aspect of it. Inviting views from people outside the House would be another useful aspect. I hope we will be able to set up a subcommittee and return to the issue again.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: I welcome the debate and congratulate the Leader for bringing it forward. In the last debate on this issue he suggested that emigrants should be given representation in the House and this will be achieved. It is a tribute to him that he was the first to advocate this and that the Government now intends to implement it. This proves that this House can succeed in doing things. I also agree with him that we should obtain advice from outside bodies and people who have no vested interest but who might see how best we could operate.
I pay tribute to the Minister for the Defence and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, because he was the first Minister I know of to take questions and give answers to them. This was very good and if it happened more often it would create a better relationship between Members and Ministers and would give us a greater understanding of issues than we have when Ministers come here with prepared speeches. At the end of debates Ministers reply, but if a Member does not agree with a reply he or she does not have much chance of responding to it. This type of reaction would improve debates.
One must do one's own research. We may put too much emphasis on research because most of us who speak on Bills are familiar with the situation on the ground. We talk to people, have been involved for a number of years with local authorities and know exactly what we want to say from our hearts rather than reading from research scripts. I agree with Senator Lee that our staff should have the opportunity and be given time off to retrain and keep abreast of modern technology. Good secretaries  who are abreast of this — I know this from my secretary, who is excellent — can be very helpful, do research, obtain information from the Library rather than one having to waste one's time doing this oneself, and obtain a great deal of information on computers.
This is important, but I would not like to see too much research because if we all use the same researcher we would all have the same kind of speeches and become brainwashed too quickly by this type of attitude. The great thing about the Seanad is that people speak from their own perspective and what they know. This gives us a greater overall view of the subject being debated because we listen to others as well as expressing our own views and this leads to a higher quality of debate.
More Bills should be introduced in the Seanad. When a Bill comes from the Lower House the Government parties, whether they like it or not, have to support it. Some Bills were amended here for the better during the last term. If they came here first there would be a freer debate. As the former Senator, Mr. Harte, said when he spoke on this issue, being not entirely in agreement with the views of one's Government on a certain subject does not mean one will vote against it, but one could express one's views more easily if Bills were debated here first rather than having to rubber stamp them after they have gone through the other House. I recall the former Senator, Professor Conroy, saying that there are many Bills which are not party political in any sense and which any reasonable Government could forward. If non-contentious Bills — and even perhaps contentious Bills — were debated here first, we could all contribute to them. This would avoid the glut in the period before the summer or Christmas recess when there is a rush of Bills. Some Bills could be passed by this House earlier and then wait to be dealt with by the second House. This would eliminate much of the rush and the perception that we take business too quickly and do not debate it properly.
 We depend on the media and they depend on us. However, they are not always sincere and do not always highlight the important debates and speeches. It is the frivolous or outlandish statement made in jest across the floor that will make the headlines. We are careful about that now since the debates are televised. Television has done a great job for politicians because people can see their politician speaking and hear what he has to say. It is much better than reading it in the paper.
In light of the publication of the joint Framework Document we should take note of the establishment of new systems in the North. People from the North have been great contributors in this House and have educated us. There should be some reciprocal arrangement whereby members of both Government structures, when elected, could have joint meetings to debate issues of mutual benefit. I speak not of political issues but economic issues such as tourism, fisheries, agriculture and so on. It would be important to involve both them and Members from this House.
The new regional committees are getting off the ground. We should have more debate with them on a regional basis and link them into the political framework. I do not know exactly how we could do it. County councils are linked into the system through elected Members in the Seanad and also in the Dáil but the new regional councils seem to be out on a limb. We have not linked with them in any positive way.
New committees for the regions will be sitting in Brussels or Strasbourg. I do not know if they are fully operational, but the Leader, when replying, might be able to tell us what is happening and give some details about their role. We should in some way participate in that scheme. This would enable an exchange of views. The European Parliament is becoming the dominant Parliament, whether we like it or not, and we should have more contact there.
I agree with the Leader that we should send some people to examine  Upper Houses in other countries. I suggest it should be the Leader himself, the Leader of the Opposition and someone from the Independent benches or a representative from each party. They should go from this House. Our expertise is as good and maybe better than many other outside bodies.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: I agree with the Senator.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: Hear. Hear.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: We have brilliant men here. We represent all strata of society from ordinary humble “tech” boys like myself to university lecturers, graduates and professors. We have a great cross section representing all the people of Ireland. We are a representative body. Some groups shout about representing people but no one represents people as well as the local county councils. We represent them at national level. We have people from every group and we are elected not selected. We are not self-appointed.
I would not be too fond of changing the current electoral system. People find it difficult to travel around the country but our national Parliament——
Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely) Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely)
Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely): The Senator finds it successful.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: I find it successful, but we also have to represent all parts of the country.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: We learn from your good self, Sir.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: When one is in contact with every part of the country one can ring people to ascertain their views on problems which are to be debated in the Seanad. This would not be possible if we were regionalised. It is a national Parliament and I am happy with the current system of election.
Every day the Cathaoirleach reads out a number of motions but can take only two. He should be able to take  about four and we should allocate two hours to them. Somebody recently had a motion on the North Western Health Board and no one else could have a say. I was not entirely happy with what was being said but had no right to reply. A half hour debate would give someone else an opportunity to speak. No one should have a motion all to themselves where no one else can contribute. The motion should, therefore, last about half an hour and we should deal with four.
The motions could be debated at 6 p.m. each evening to make it possible for Ministers to attend. At present, if we finish at 2 p.m. we want to take the motions at 3 p.m. It is not fair to Ministers as they do not know what time we will finish. Those with motions are in Dublin anyway and will not be going home late on Thursday. There should be a set time of 6 p.m. every week. Every Minister will know that motions are at 6 p.m. in the Seanad and there should be no deviation from that time. That is another reform I would like to see.
I was very pleased that the Leader mentioned an all-party group because committees are becoming hackneyed and do not come up with any results.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: A small group.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: A small informal group of not more than five and not less than three, which gives an odd number to keep the balance if there is a vote, would be important, helpful and welcome. I would support the Leader in organising a group to discuss the situation as it would have a beneficial effect.
Much good work is done here and there are many good debates. There is however another message we must get across to the public. Someone looking in tonight will see just three of us here and say there was no one in the House. They do not realise that we are all sitting in our offices watching monitors and listening to every word. One often hears the debate better in one's own office. We make notes and study the contributions. If we are contributing  later ourselves we are interested to hear the views of others.
The myth that nobody is listening if nobody is here is one which we should dispel, but I do not know how we will do it. People believe it should be like a county council where one goes to the meeting and sits there until it is over, but that is not so. I would welcome a provision for shorter speeches with five minutes to reply if someone misunderstood what one was saying. Whether one was in the Chamber or listening in one's office, one could come back, highlight the misunderstanding and rectify the situation.
Those are my proposals. I have no doubt the Leader will listen to our views and eventually establish a group. I support his proposal to form a small group to examine other Houses.
The Leader of the House and the Chief Whip should be recognised for the amount of work they do. He or she not only works during the Order of Business; they must also talk to Ministers and try to organise the week's work. The Leader will be in his office tomorrow, on Monday and on Tuesday preparing work for Wednesday and Thursday. It is grossly unfair that the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, who also has a lot of work to do, are not given remuneration. An old neighbour once said: the more cost, the more honour. They are entitled to compensation because one should not work in Parliament out of the goodness of their heart and get the same salary as everyone else who attends and contributes for two days.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: This is an important debate and I concur with comments made by previous speakers. I have been a Member for almost 13 years and I have seen great improvements in backup facilities and in the way we conduct our business. It is a great honour to be elected to the Seanad by the people of the 26 counties. One or two people from the six counties were involved in the election of a Senator. When I was elected in April 1982 I was delighted at  the honour bestowed on my family and on my village of Castlepollard in County Westmeath. I am delighted to carry on the tradition of the party and of the late Mr. M.J. Kennedy who was a former Parliamentary Secretary — or Minister of State as they are now known — and who represented Castlepollard for 38 years.
On my arrival I was met by the former Clerk of the Seanad, Mr. Jack Tobin, who outlined the regulations. I was then told to go to a certain room where I would be allocated a secretary. I was astounded — I know this also happened to the Acting Chairman, Senator R. Kiely, because he is here longer than I am — that I had to share an office with four other Senators and two secretaries. I come from the private business sector where everyone has an office and a secretary to conduct their business and to meet various lobby groups and organisations involved in sport, cultural activities or business. It is an insult to expect people to conduct their business in a room with four other Members and two secretaries. Some 13 years ago there were five Members to one secretary, but as a result of efforts by a previous Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, party leaders and Ministers there are now two Members to one secretary.
If we are serious about reorganisation we should give Members the facilities to conduct their business properly. During the last Government, the Leader, the Chief Whip and the Deputy Whip were in one office with two typewriters. They were committed to making the Seanad more effective and they did their job with credit. Thinking time is a person's greatest asset. I can do more work from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. or from 7 p.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. when telephones are not ringing, typewriters are not clicking and when I do not have to watch the monitor to see what is happening in the Seanad Chamber. I respect the Leader as an excellent politician and person who is more than suitable to represent us. He, the Cathaoirleach, the Minister for Finance and the Committee on Procedure  and Privileges must try to get offices and secretaries so that we can conduct our business properly.
The public perceives the Seanad as a part-time position. While that may have been true in the past when the Seanad only sat for a certain number of hours per week or days per year, it is different today. Westmeath County Council's business is done on a Monday. On Tuesday I travel to Dublin to prepare for the Seanad on Wednesday and to make representations on behalf of constituents for most of the afternoon. The parliamentary party meeting takes place on Wednesday mornings and we are in the Seanad in the afternoon until late in the evening. We came in this morning at 9.30 a.m. to prepare for the Order of Business which is sometimes put to a vote if it is contentious. We then contribute to the afternoon's debates. On Friday we go back to our constituencies once representations have been made, because if one does not deal with the problems received last week one will have another 70 or 80 problems the following weekend when one goes home. It is a never-ending process of meeting the demand.
The better the public representative is, the more work he or she will get. There is an old saying that bad news travels fast, but good news travels as fast. If someone says during a conversation in the local pub or during a meal that a public representative was successful in his efforts for a certain family, one can be guaranteed that three people will make representations to that public representative during the following seven days. That is the nature of our work. This is a fact of life. To compound all that, a Senator brings 70 to 80 representations to Dublin and has to deal with them in an office where two typewriters are shared with three other Members. This cannot continue.
The public does not realise this and, if they did, they would not praise us for it. Senators do not have the same facilities they would have in their offices in their constituency. At home we do not share our offices with anyone else. This  problem must be addressed as a matter of urgency. This is a basic requirement and I am appalled the position has continued for so long.
I support the Leader's suggestion that a small committee undertake this work, adopt the points highlighted today, see how they can be progressed and present its findings. The first item on that report should be the provision of basic facilities to Members to carry out their duties efficiently and effectively.
Senator Lee mentioned secretary training which, it goes without saying, is a must. In the private sector secretaries must be familiarised with the operation of departments in their working area. When a Member comes here for the first time and is unfamiliar with Oireachtas procedures, he or she also needs a course, perhaps for four hours per day for four days.
New Members could be introduced to the Secretaries of the various Government Departments. I was here for almost eight months before a long serving Members told me that because my party was in the Opposition I would find it hard to get results. He said the only way I would succeed would be to find a friendly official in a Department who would process matters for me. If Members do not meet the Secretary of the Department, they should meet the person in the Department who deals with their representations. They then know with whom they will be dealing, and if they prefer they can also address points to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the various Ministers and Ministers of State.
I have known Members who were in this House for years and never met the Secretary of a Department. That is not good enough. Senator Farrell is a distinguished Member who has given a lifetime of commitment to representing local authorities in a voluntary capacity, as do all of our county councillors, although that goes unnoticed. The 60 Senators in this House should be introduced to the people they will be contacting in the various Departments and  should be given briefing on the various matters they will need to know.
When I had been in the Seanad for three weeks I was dealing with two major problems in my area, one of which related to a factory. The people from my area were relying on my representations to highlight the problem facing them. Were it not for the assistance of neighbouring TDs from Longford and Cavan and my counterpart from Westmeath, I would not have known where to go to solve that problem. However, if I had been introduced to the Secretary or the person in the front line in each Department, I would have known to whom I should make representations. I suggest that to the Leader.
The proceedings of the Seanad are not made known to the general public. If the Oireachtas was a PR company and paid for its performance based on what appeared in the media, the company would have gone bankrupt a long time ago. Excellent contributions are made by Senators from all parties and I have never seen the media show as little interest in anything as in the proceedings of Seanad Éireann.
It is all very well to criticise, but how can we improve the position? Telefís na Gaeilge will begin in the not too distant future and there will be a lot of free viewing time on this channel. It has been suggested at other levels that “Oireachtas Report” be placed in this available space. If Dáil Éireann's coverage on the programme is to be increased to 40 or 45 minutes, that means time is freely available and we should look at this. Given the contributions made in this House, Seanad Éireann should be allocated 30 minutes of edited footage on the channel. It is fairly widely known that the Oireachtas will be covered on it.
Senator Farrell made a proposal about the Order of Business. Every day we see you agonising, a Chathaoirligh, trying to get the Order of Business agreed. It drags out everyday and the Clerk of the Seanad and everyone else is assisting you in this.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
 An Cathaoirleach: That is the problem; everyone else is not assisting me.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is doing the same. Every day Members wish to raise items relating to their area which they feel are important. The flooding in the Galway area over the last number of weeks is an example. If a Member could put down a motion on which he and others could speak, Senators would feel they would have an opportunity to make their points. The motions could be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, with 30 minutes allocated to each motion and the Minister given the opportunity to reply. If that was in place, the Order of Business would be speeded up.
The items mentioned on the Order of Business should be discussed that day or the following day. However, as a result of legislative business and Government pressure on the Leader of the House, the Leader cannot accede to such requests. Urgent items could be discussed between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. and on Thursdays or between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Wednesdays. As Senator Farrell said, four motions could be dealt with during those times. How many times have we listened to An Cathaoirleach read out a list of 16 or 17 matters on the Adjournment although he can accept only one or two such matters? That is a proposal the Leader of the House and the subcommittee could examine. It would mean that rather than just one Member being involved, a number of Members with an interest in the topic could speak as well.
Members have said that Europe should be accorded more relevance in the Seanad. The subcommittee should examine that proposal. It has also been suggested that EU Commissioners could address the Chamber. I have an open mind about that suggestion and also the suggestion that MEPs should address the House about the committees on which they serve in Europe. The subcommittee should examine such suggestions. The Dáil is not in a position  to accommodate those proposals but the Seanad, particularly if it has television time available to it, could make itself more meaningfully implementing them.
During recent weeks I have proposed that former Taoisigh should become Members of the Seanad on retiring from the Dáil. Perhaps the subcommittee would consider my proposal. I have received good feedback in response to it. Former Taoisigh have important contacts and enormous experience of making difficult decisions at crucial times. Their expertise could be availed of through their membership of the Seanad. I would envisage that they would receive no salary for being members and that they could never become Leader of the House or Cathaoirleach. Instead they would make available to the nation the experience they gained from the time they served as Deputies and possibly Senators to when they were elected to the most powerful office in the land.
I had experience of visiting America with a previous Taoiseach and of meeting with him top executives such as the president of Chrysler and Wall Street bankers. All Taoisigh have such experience as a result of holding that office. It should be borne in mind that in America at present one third of the chief executives of the top 500 companies are first or second generation Irish. They represent a wealth of goodwill towards Ireland and they have built up a magnificent rapport with previous Taoisigh. I make my proposal so that we can use that expertise and goodwill. I have received a positive response from all parties. Former senior Members of the Oireachtas who never reached the office of Taoiseach also considered it a good idea. It is also very sad that when a Taoiseach ceases to be a Member he is never consulted and kept in the Oireachtas so that his expertise can be utilised. I hope the subcommittee will examine the proposal. I will say no more about it until the subcommittee offers its opinion.
I wish the Leader of the House and the subcommittee well in its work and I  hope that some of the proposals we have heard today will be implemented. The Leader of the House wishes to be perceived as somebody who will improve the operation of the Seanad. We are looking forward to him improving the facilities of the House so that we can implement his recommendations.
Mr. Mulcahy Mr. Mulcahy
Mr. Mulcahy: I do not regret the fact that the previous speaker made a long contribution because it was a good contribution. Senator Cassidy has more experience in this Chamber than I, so I was more interested in hearing his contribution than in contributing myself.
However, I would be failing in my duty as a new and younger Senator if I did not express my opinions on the role of this House. We should not see ourselves as a mirror of Dáil Éireann. It is not our function to introduce and debate legislation in the same way as the Dáil. Our function lies in the mature, calm, philosophical and reflective discussion of issues and legislation which is not possible because of time constraints in the Dáil. Debate in the Seanad is, and must be, more distant and less urgent because we are trying to ensure that legislation passed in the Lower House does not contain fundamental errors, mistakes or inaccuracies or provisions that will lead ultimately to bad results. Our function is different to that of the Dáil.
In re-examining our role we can look to the east and to the west. To the east there is the House of Lords. If we conducted a straw poll as to whether people would like the Seanad to imitate the House of Lords, they would reject such a suggestion. Most people seeing the proceedings of the House of Lords on television simply see many well-intentioned ladies and gentlemen dozing in big leather armchairs. Looking west, the US Senate is entirely different. It is composed of directly elected members for a six or seven year term and it has great powers. We must fit in somewhere between the two models. We should adjust our working methods to make  ourselves relevant as Ireland approaches the 21st century.
I am conscious that I should not exceed my time limit.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Statements will continue next week and the Senator will be the first speaker.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: The Senator is in possession.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Can the Leader of the House indicate when the debate will resume?
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: I hope next week; it certainly will continue in the coming weeks.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 March 1995.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I advise the House that this proposal is a change from the usual time. Is it agreed? Agreed.
Seanad Éireann 142 Role of Seanad Éireann: Statements.