Seanad Éireann - Volume 149 - 30 January, 1997
Constitutional Review of the Seanad: Statements.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I welcome Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, Chairman of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe Mr. J. O'Keeffe
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I am very grateful and honoured to have the opportunity to address you. I have often addressed the Seanad as a Minister of State and I understand that you are breaking new ground in issuing an invitation to me to address you.
As Chairman of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, I and my colleagues, two of whom, Senator Gallagher and Senator O'Kennedy, are Members of this House, are engaged in a complete review of the Constitution. We set out with the great advantage of having available to us the report of the Constitution Review Group, which was chaired by a most distinguished former Member of this House, Dr. T. K. Whitaker.
Our committee was established seven months ago in July 1996. The committee elected me as chairman and Senator O'Kennedy as vice-chairman. Senator O'Kennedy has devoted a great deal of time to the task of constitutional review. He was a member of the 1967 committee on the Constitution, chairman of the 1972 inter-party committee on the implications of Irish unity, which considered constitutional matters in relation to Northern Ireland, and he was also a member of the 1973 all-party committee on Irish relations which succeeded it after the dissolution of the Dáil in 1973.
 One of the first things our committee did was to seek, through public notices, the views of the people on the report of the Constitution review group. We received almost 150 submissions from private and public bodies and from individuals. Some organisations expressed a wish to make a supplementary oral presentation, and in view of the importance of involving the public in the process from an early stage, the committee acceded to these requests. These oral presentations began in November and will be completed, I hope, next week.
As a result of the reviews carried out since 1966, culminating in the Constitution review group's massive report last year and the flow of responses from the public, the committee has available to it a huge volume of advice, admittedly some of it conflicting, on a wide range of issues. It is likely, therefore, that a large number of amendments, substantive and technical, will be needed to contour the Constitution to the current needs of the people and those of the coming generation. Many of the changes will relate to the fundamental rights aspects of the Constitution and others will relate to the institutions of State, including Seanad Éireann.
The Constitution review group's report includes some discussion on Seanad Éireann, but the review group felt that the time available to it did not allow it to carry out a sufficient analysis. It recommended that “a separate, comprehensive, independent examination of all issues relating to Seanad Éireann should be conducted”. We decided to get this process under way quickly. We commissioned two eminent political scientists, Mr. John Coakley of University College Dublin and Professor Michael Laver of Trinity College Dublin, to produce a study, “Options for the Future of Seanad Éireann”. This was submitted to the committee on 5 December 1996. It is a sophisticated analysis based on the Inter-Parliamentary Union's extensive database and is probably the first systematic use of that invaluable source of information in any country. We also sought the views of the current Members of the Seanad and those of a number of distinguished former Senators.
We have received responses from individual Senators while Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Wright submitted some preliminary views from the Fianna Fáil group of Senators. In a very supportive move, the Leader of the House, Senator Manning, arranged for this debate on the role of and the electoral system for Seanad Éireann. Our committee greatly appreciates this.
It must be acknowledged that the Seanad in its current form has come in for criticisms from different quarters sometimes accompanied by demands for its abolition. Particular criticism has been directed at the Seanad's arcane nomination and electoral procedures and its almost total domination by the Dáil and the Government.
In 1967 the first all-party committee on the Constitution was able to say that, in having a  second Chamber, Ireland resembled “most modern democracies”. The current position is that only one-third of national parliaments — 58 out of 178 — have second chambers. The trend is towards having unicameral legislatures. In federal states the Upper House can be provided with a representative basis and substantive functions different from those of the Lower House. However, in unitary states an Upper House, having a democratic mandate as strong as that of the Lower House, could institute the likelihood of deadlock in the legislative process because both Houses would have an equal right to veto legislation. If one sought to obviate such deadlock by dividing the legislative areas in two and giving control over an area to each of the Houses one would immediately be presented with the question, why have two Houses? The representative basis of the Upper House in a unitary state is, therefore, structured on less democratic lines than the Lower House and is given functions and powers inferior to those of the Lower House. Thus, it may be able to function as a temporary check on the will of the Lower House. It cannot frustrate it. For that reason the Upper Houses in unitary states have a reduced status in the public mind.
Our committee, in a preliminary discussion of whether the Seanad should continue to exist, tends towards the view that the Seanad, with its calm deliberative atmosphere, provides an exceptional service in revising Bills, thus enhancing the quality of the legislation coming from the Oireachtas. The former distinguished Senator and Minister, Professor James Dooge, in his essay “The Role of the Seanad” brings this out eloquently and forcefully. Moreover, another distinguished former Senator and Minister, Dr. Conor Cruise-O'Brien, in a submission to our committee stated:
I was impressed by the utility of Senate debates in relation to complex questions. Such debates in the Dáil are, almost always, narrowly adversarial and only too often pettily confrontational. I found, however, that in the Senate there was a higher proportion of serious discussion of issues and on the whole a less polemical approach. In particular I remember weighty contributions by the late Senator Alexis Fitzgerald in which he drew attention in a non-polemical way to possible pitfalls in proposed legislation which seemed to have escaped the attention of the Lower House.
However, this revising function, being largely technical, is not readily appreciated by the public and provides little safeguard against public criticism of Seanad Éireann. The committee feels that the status of the Seanad can and should be enhanced by expanding the functions it carries out.
Two functions which it has been suggested could be given to Seanad Éireann would be the holding of tribunals of inquiry and the approval of senior public appointments. My own view is  that if the Seanad were to carry out those functions it could find itself involved in direct and sharp confrontation with the Executive. In any event, systems for carrying out those functions already exist and attention should concentrate on how to improve them. It seems better to seek out important functions that the political system is failing to carry out and give those to the Seanad.
We are all aware that the bridge between Ireland and Europe established by the Treaties of the European Union is carrying a huge volume of EU legislation and that this traffic, with increasing European integration, will become ever heavier. The Dáil, even with its extended committee system, is not capable of carrying out the necessary analysis of draft directives and the overview of regulations implemented by statutory instruments. This whole legislative process is effectively left to be determined by the Executive and officials and so there is a huge democratic deficit. The Seanad should be given the task of monitoring this immensely important legislative traffic, by carrying out an analysis of its intent and an investigation of its effects. MEPs could have a right to attend its debates and European Commissioners might be invited to participate. The Seanad has already set a precedent in that regard with the recent participation of the European Commissioner, Mr. Kinnock, in a debate on transport. Such a process would help to provide a strong focus on the operations of the European Union in Ireland. This is an important service that needs to be provided even now. In the future, its relevance to the quality of our democracy could be critical.
There is an architectural principle that “form follows function”. If one were to add to the Seanad's functions a function such as the one I have suggested, certain ideas of who should carry out the function begin to form. Since European legislation covers a wide range of activities in the economic and social spheres it would seem sensible to have available in the Seanad representatives of the major national interest groups. Since many of the issues covered by the legislation would be scientific and technical, one could envisage the rationality of securing representation from the third level institutions and the professions.
The way the membership of the Seanad is selected at present makes it remote from the people. Eleven Members are nominated by the Taoiseach, six are elected by university graduates and 43 are elected by a small group of national and local public representatives numbering about 1,000. One could undoubtedly adapt the present membership structure to meet the demands that enlarged functions for the Seanad would require. Thus, the Taoiseach's 11 nominees in theory, provide an opportunity to bring people with specialised experience and skills into the House who might have had no previous experience of partisan politics and to give representation to groups that may not otherwise have it. However, Taoisigh  normally use their power of appointment to ensure the dominance of the Government party or parties in the House. Should the facility for such nomination provide for representatives from certain specified groups, such as, in addition to representatives from Northern Ireland, emigrants and the disabled?
The university constituencies give representation in the Seanad to only two of all the third level institutions that now exist and, moreover, enfranchise large numbers of people who are no longer domiciled in Ireland. The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution in 1979 provided for the expansion of the university franchise to other institutions of higher education. Is it not time to introduce legislation to give this amendment effect and provide a far wider pool from which to draw candidates?
Vocational representation was an innovative feature of Bunreacht na hÉireann. However, owing to the nomination procedure and the political nature of the electorate, it reproduces a House with the political complexion of the Dáil. Should procedures be changed so as to give the vocational groups the direct representation which would enhance the capacity of the House to carry out the suggested enlarged provisions?
However, it would be possible to take a radical approach to the composition of Seanad Éireann, ranging from a House whose membership was totally nominated to one in which the people were the electorate. Two ways of involving the people in the election process have been mooted. First, conduct popular elections on a regional basis—for instance, on the basis of the provinces or the European Parliament constituencies. Second, conduct popular elections for candidates representing economic, social or cultural interest groupings.
A directly elected Seanad would certainly have more popular legitimacy and authority than the Seanad as constituted at present. Depending on the precise system of representation selected it would also give the opportunity to offer a legitimate voice in the political system to social groups and regional interests which are not currently represented in any explicit way by the system of narrow geographic constituencies used for the Dáil.
The issues surrounding the representative basis of the Seanad are highly political issues upon which Senators, with their particular experience, could give our committee exceptionally valuable advice.
Our committee will receive, with great attention, the views of the House. The aim of the analysis must surely be to ensure that the Seanad will be, and be seen to be, relevant, effective and representative. In that way one will provide an eloquent answer to those who ask the question “What does the Seanad do?”
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: I welcome the Chairman of the all-party Oireachtas committee to the House. His presence is an indication, if such were  needed, of the flexibility of the procedures of Seanad Éireann. The Chairman follows in a line of distinguished non-Members of Seanad Éireann who have addressed the House. I am certain that this demonstrates to him, and the members of his committee, that Senators are ready to look at our role and function, and to make recommendations to make this House more effective, accessible and sensitive to the broad range of the Irish experience. I assure the Chairman that most Members of this House will play a vigorous role in trying to achieve meaningful reform.
One could be forgiven for saying that if this were a matter of considerable importance for the Oireachtas, the public and Members of this House, there would be a more visible attendance today. The same can be said of the press. It is clear that the media do not regard this subject as one of the most crucial issues facing the Irish electoral system. If they did we might have a more significant presence. However, they may be listening and reporting from elsewhere.
The lifeblood of any political chamber is that it can do its work and be seen and reported doing so. By the same token, it must be criticised when it fails to fulfil its role. For that reason, I would suggest to the media that there is a strong case for a more constant, investigative, critical and supportive role in relation to the procedures of the Seanad.
I would also suggest to fellow Senators that the same applies to them. Each of us sent here with an endorsement from the electorate, restricted as that electorate may be, have a duty to discharge the obligation imposed on us by making recommendations and contributions. Some very distinguished Members have done so in the past and that tradition continues to the present day.
Membership of either House is not a right, a privilege or a perk to be enjoyed without discharging the duties and obligations involved. It is vitally important that every Member of Seanad Éireann plays an active role in the proceedings of this House but that is not always the case. We must look at why this is so and how we can improve the composition and electoral system of the Seanad to ensure that we play a more meaningful and consistently positive role.
The Seanad does not exist in isolation; it is a House of the Oireachtas. I am not suggesting that the Chairman or the committee see it that way, but we all recognise the need to use the opportunity to make both Houses more meaningful. We need to look at the electoral systems of both Houses to see if they can be made more significant.
I am sure that most Members of this House are prepared to acknowledge that the electoral system of the Seanad needs to be looked at. However, I would be ignoring reality if I did not also stress, with even greater emphasis, that the electoral system to the Lower House is even more fundamentally in need of radical reform. This is required to prevent us ending up with a system  which is so totally undemocratic that a small party, which enjoys 1 or 2 per cent support, is able to influence and control Government because of a distorted representation. This would not happen in any other country. I am referring to Democratic Left.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: Hear, hear.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: How can that be representative? It is a nonsense. I was a member of the 1967 constitutional committee which recommended the single seat transferable vote aligned to a list system. My party was in Government at the time but, unfortunately, chose to misrepresent the committee's views and opted for a single seat system on the straight vote. That did no service to democracy or the committee. It was clear that our preference was for the single seat transferable vote. The result is a waste of electoral time and an abuse of the peoples' rights in terms of candidates from the same parties competing with each other in the same constituencies.
That frustration means that many Members of the Lower House are signalling they want no part of this nonsense. That could and should have been avoided. Our committee will come to that in turn. I want to emphasise that matter. As I have said for the past three to five years, and our spokesperson on the environment has said this since, it is time that the electoral system to Dáil Éireann was changed. If that is not done soon, we will lose respect.
The electoral system to Seanad Éireann needs to be looked at, but for a different reason. I am in the unusual position of having been a Member of both Houses for over 30 years, so perhaps my experience of observing the change since then will enable me to make some suggestions which might be of consequence. There have been enormous changes in society since Seanad Éireann was established under the 1937 Constitution. Some of those changes reflect the switch from the rural to the urban situation. There have been changes, particularly in the educational sector. When I was last in this House there was no access to third level education. Donagh O'Malley was about to introduce changes. The enthusiasm and dynamism which comes from universal access to third level education was missing. It was also missing in 1937.
I say with the greatest respect — my university colleagues will recognise this — that the representation from universities, which was properly written into the 1937 Constitution, needs to be looked at. The third level education system is a feature of the vigour and dynamism of this country but some of our young graduates are excluded. The regional technical colleagues and the institutes of education did not exist in those days. I was privileged to be a junior Minister in the Government which introduced most of those radical changes which need to be reflected in this. It is common cause that we need that dynamic in the Oireachtas.
 Having said that, I acknowledge that in the first Seanad in which I sat from 1965-69 and in this Seanad, the role of the university Senators has been particularly informed and significant. They do not need my endorsement to make that clear. I should also say that I believe they would acknowledge that it is not as representative as it should be of the range of qualifications, particularly if we look at the technical and technological and others areas which are excluded. I hope that, with consensus, Seanad Éireann can look at that because we need that dynamic and that of young graduates to be represented here.
The Chairman obviously wants to stimulate debate in this House and I thank him for the manner of his presentation. He put up signposts and has left the rest to us. Another issue which he signposted — and how right he was — is the role of the Seanad in relation to European legislation. We were not members of the European Union at that time, although the expectation was there. That great farseeing thinker, Seán Lemass, who eventually became a member of the committee, had in mind in 1965 that Ireland would vindicate itself in a new partnership in Europe, and how right he was. He rightly tried to steer us in that direction through education and qualifying our young people in the areas to which I referred. He also wanted the Oireachtas to have a vigorous role when we became members of the European Union. Clearly, that role has not developed to the extent we would want.
There is expertise available in this House and I agree with the suggestion from the Chairman, which will be reflected here, as regards the review of European directives, legislation and the macro economic policies in Europe about which there are sharply differing views in this House; Senator Ross has a strong view and I have some reservations on where this will leave us in terms of our own economic independence and what protections and restrictions should be introduced. What better place than the Seanad to look at that in a structured and informed way and to recruit, as we have from time to time, people to come to the House to suggest and advise?
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs is not on top of that job because there is a plethora of committees at present. I serve on four committees and enjoy each one, but other matters demand my attention. I have a type of observer status on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and its members do not have the time, resources or capacity to discharge that fundamental job. As has been suggested, the Upper House could fulfil a major role in that regard. How best that can be done is a matter on which the committee could recommend. Both Houses can then endorse that recommendation.
There are not the same confrontational political positions in this House as in the other. The set pieces are not as immediate and obvious as they are in Dáil Éireann, for perhaps obvious and understandable reasons. I find, therefore, that the nature of debate in the Seanad is, by and large,  more objective, less confrontational and nearly always tends to find consensus whereas in the Lower House — this is not a criticism of that House — the search is not for consensus but for difference. I suppose that is a feature of directly elected lower chambers.
It is important that there is a role for a Seanad or an Upper House. There are many examples — the considerable legislation initiated here — which are not for me to illustrate, as I am sure other Members will do so. I am satisfied from my experience in both Houses over a considerable number of years that there is an important and meaningful role for the Seanad which only an Upper House can effectively discharge. I would like it to have the opportunity to look at specialised areas such as European legislation, relations with other countries and foreign affairs, with which we have dealt. I would like this to become part of a structured role for the Seanad.
As I mentioned, our composition lacks reflection of the level of specialist technical knowledge young people now have. I give way to no one in my inability and incapacity in all matters related to the new computerised information age. I plead, like Socrates, that the beginning of knowledge is to recognise the extent of one's ignorance. My ignorance of this area is abysmal. That said, the Oireachtas badly needs that level of input and, if it can be introduced through Seanad Éireann, it would be a great contribution. How qualified are we to comment on the area of information technology and new services, such as financial institutions where money can now be transferred by pressing buttons? This has changed the nature of international society. While some colleagues are better equipped, we need a more direct and expert input and that is why I would like to see the Education Panel changed.
Eleven Members represent agricultural interests and another 11 represent labour interests, that is 22 Members which is more than one third of the Seanad membership. At the time it was conceived, that seemed reasonable but we must acknowledge that the nature of Irish society has changed utterly since then and that change has not been reflected in the composition of the electoral panels. The population of rural Ireland, rural Europe and rural America is declining. There is a grossly distorted representation in the Seanad in terms of 11 Members representing agriculture which is not as significant now as when the electoral panels were composed. Similarly, the nature of trade unionism has changed and there is a case for examining the composition of the Labour Panel. I mention these as examples of why the composition of all electoral panels should be reviewed.
The electoral body is both Houses of the Oireachtas and members of local authorities. I hope what I say will not be construed as offensive but it is evident that, with such a confined panel of electors, a relationship develops between Senators and their electors. We want to see our local authority members with real democratic  functions. This is something which has exercised the minds of the committee, and the Chairman in particular. We want to encourage effective representation at local democracy level. It may well be, however, that, because local authority members do not have that and that one of the few perks they have is to elect members to the Seanad, this has given rise to a distortion of the relationship between electors and elected. The best guarantee of being elected to this House if one is on a panel is to keep in contact with individual local authority members and supply them with tickets to All-Ireland, soccer or rugby matches, etc. I know that was not contemplated by anyone who suggested a review chamber of Seanad Éireann. I also know that, if those who conceived the Upper House of Seanad Éireann thought it would be reduced to this, they would have immediately dropped it as being not only contrary but offensive to what they had in mind. That shows that the strange relationship between Senators and county councillors should be examined with a very critical eye.
I am in a certain difficulty here, but perhaps I feel an obligation to say this as this is my second time in the Seanad. Maybe I am released from that difficulty in that I have already signalled as a candidate for the Dáil that I will not be standing for the Seanad again, whatever the outcome. It is a privilege to be here and one I greatly appreciate but it also imposes an obligation and I cannot ignore the fact that some who make the most significant and consistent contributions are probably most vulnerable in terms of their likelihood of being re-elected and some who make no contributions are probably most secure in their likelihood of being re-elected. That is not how democracy should be exercised or discharged in either the Upper or Lower House. One of the reasons those in the Dáil who make the most vigorous contributions as legislators are often punished by their electors is that they have concentrated on doing what they should rather than what they should not do. That is something we should and, I hope, can examine.
There is a case for changing that one to one relationship between Senators and councillors. One way it can be done is universal suffrage mentioned by the Chairman but it is for Members of the House to make suggestions as well. The other extreme is the old way before 1965 where two members were nominated by each county council to cast votes on behalf of all councillors. One never knew who they would be. The relationship between Senators and county councillors has changed utterly since the 1965 Seanad which I knew and the “service” —which I do not regard as a service — which some Senators give county councillors has also changed. This is not something which can be ignored.
It is understandable that, in a bicameral system in what is not a federal state, the Government cannot risk the second Chamber frustrating the decisions of the first. By and large, the relationship  between the Seanad and the Dáil has been positive and healthy. Much of what has been initiated here has been adopted in the Lower House and much of what has been adopted there has been changed here. There has been an opportunity in a less politically confrontational way to review legislation through the Dáil. It is important to accept that this House's changing the will of the Government or of the Lower House cannot be risked.
I accept the reasons for reducing or limiting the power of the Seanad. The Taoiseach of the day was given power to nominate 11 Members to guarantee a Government majority in this House. It is understandable that the Taoiseach should know they will vote with the Government. However, there should be a definition of the qualifications needed by Members nominated in that way; it is not enough to ensure a Government majority. Some of the Taoiseach's nominees over the years saw this House as a place for a gentle retirement. I am not sure that was the intention or that it best served the national interest. There have been some distinguished contributors from the Taoiseach's 11 nominees. However, it is important that it is not seen as a perk for services rendered but rather as an opportunity for service.
As regards casual vacancies — I say this with due deference to the young Senator who has joined us and who will undoubtedly make a vigorous contribution — the electoral system to the Seanad is already confined, so why should the electoral system for filling casual vacancies be even more confined? It is not an election as we know it because the result is predetermined. At least a by-election to the Dáil means the involvement of a universal suffrage. Here, as soon as someone in the Government of the day decides who will be their candidate, the result is predetermined. We should examine if that is a reasonable and proper exercise of democracy. Although many distinguished Members have come here through that system, it was not what those who looked at Seanad Éireann initially had in mind as its role and function.
As the chairman's presence today and the presence of Commissioner Kinnock and the former distinguished Senator, Professor James Dooge, with whom I was privileged to serve here, indicates, this House has the capacity to be flexible in terms of being accessible to people who would not otherwise have access to the Lower House or to a Department. There should be a special place for the dynamic element in Irish society — those organisations which do so much to enhance people's lives and to protect those who need protection and which devote their time to vindicating those people — either through the elected procedure or by allowing the leaders of those organisations to make a contribution to this House. We could listen to their points of view and acknowledge the dynamic and vital role they play in our society. We would then be able to have a direct input into any changes made.
 I thank the chairman and the Leader of the House who introduced this flexibility which is an important part of what the Seanad can do. I hope the debate will throw up suggestions which will be of vital importance to the committee and to the service of democracy.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: I thank Deputy Jim O'Keeffe for his provocative opening statement which set the tone for a debate which will undoubtedly be constructive and to which Senator O'Kennedy added a Socratic element. I hope it will lead to reform of this House, although I doubt it.
It is appropriate that we are discussing the role of the Seanad today when major decisions, in which this House had no act or part to play, are being made outside it. We are playing the part of political eunuchs while the men with the testosterone are in Liberty Hall deciding the fate of the nation's finances. That is why we are sitting here navel gazing in this extraordinarily useful academic debate while the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is deciding whether the things that really matter in this country, the so-called social partnership, should be accepted. If the ICTU decides against the social partnership, the budget and the Government's financial strategy will go up in smoke. As it happens, the ICTU will miraculously decide in favour of this agreement. Yesterday it was ratified, whatever that means, by IBEC, the business leaders who are the compliant friends of every Government in power.
It is a terrible reflection on our role in society and on the Government that the control of the finances have been surrendered to well paid union bosses and so-called heads of industry. The so-called social partnership agreement, which is of such fundamental importance to this nation, has not been passed in this or the other House. That agreement is sent to people who are not elected, who are self-appointed and who have far more power than this House or the Dáil because they have been handed it by successive Governments. Not only should we be debating the role of the Seanad but also the role of the Dáil. Does the Dáil have any real role or power when major decisions are being made across the Liffey? The answer is no. Both Houses are rubber stamps for Government policy which is decided elsewhere. The need for Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's committee is at least a recognition that there is something wrong. I am delighted no one has yet suggested that we invite representatives of the social partners because we do not need them and they have other, unelected platforms in which to express their views and other places in which to exercise their political testosterone.
We in this House must ask ourselves whether we are serious wanting to influence events, or are we happy to continue the cosy arrangement which exists for most Senators? Deputy O'Keeffe has presented us with a challenge and unless we recognise our total impotence we will not get anywhere. It is also true that most of us have a vested  interest in the system continuing as it is. We are all elected under the present system so we are more comfortable with it and instinctively we would like it to remain. We must initiate change and take a few personal risks.
The composition of the House, specifically the university representation, was raised by Senator O'Kennedy. The problem with this House is that, other than at present, it invariably reflects the numbers in the Dáil. Before it is introduced every Bill or motion is guaranteed a safe passage. The Government is currently in a minority in the Seanad, but that is unlikely to happen again. It only arose because of special circumstances in which a Government came into power without a general election. Normally, the Government will have an in-built majority and the Seanad will be a rubber stamp.
We must ask ourselves whether we want the Seanad to pass all legislation or to amend and criticise it. This is a difficult question because it would be indefensible for an unelected Chamber to defeat and amend legislation and continually to thwart the wishes of a Government — that is not its role. However, such a Chamber could have the expertise referred to by Senator O'Kennedy and could put serious thought and input into legislation.
I do not know exactly how this would be done but I have some suggestions. Why does the Seanad not receive all Bills before the Dáil does? In that way, rather than being a revision Chamber, it would preview legislation and make suggestions and amendments which would be acceptable to the Minister in a non-confrontational, non-controversial manner. The legislation then need not come back here, so that when it goes to the Dáil it has the imprimatur of the Government and the Minister. Currently, nearly all legislation goes to the Dáil first and the Government's attitude is to put it through the Seanad as quickly as possible and to ensure there are no delays; that is slightly difficult in present circumstances but the Government has been highly successful in that regard. No Government welcomes so-called “improvements” made in this House because it regards them as obstructive. All Governments regard the Seanad as a thorough nuisance which must be tolerated because at present it is nothing more than a home for political patronage.
One reason why there will be no change and why it will be extremely difficult for Deputy O'Keeffe to have any of his suggestions implemented is that it is not in the interests of any political party in this House to change the system. If there are no nominees, the Taoiseach of the day will have lost the power to give 11 jobs to people whom he wants to get into the Dáil, who have served him well, or have lost Dáil seats and will be back. It also means his general power of patronage will have been removed and no Taoiseach is happy to give that up. If the Seanad was made non-political, many of the 43 Members elected through the panels would almost certainly  lose their seats, because they are voted in by a highly political electorate. If the university seats were changed, abolished or reformed in the way Senator O'Kennedy suggested——
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: ——or if there were more of them.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: ——or if the numbers were increased, some of us on the university panels would lose our seats. A different electorate would elect different people.
It is difficult to see how this House will agree to any reform because there is a conspiracy between all the political parties. We disagree on many issues but we agree that the system should remain the same because it looks after everyone who is here. That is what happens and it will continue. It would require a superhuman effort by a person of great vision — or perhaps extraordinary political folly — to take on his own party Members in this House and abolish their seats. No Taoiseach will do that because nearly all of them depend on Members of this House for support in the parliamentary party. This is an academic debate because no such man or woman exists in our political parties so it will not happen, although it is a lovely idea. The proof of this is in Deputy O'Keeffe's reference to the 1966 all-party Commission on the Constitution. That report was issued over 30 years ago but nothing has happened about its recommendations because no politician will commit political suicide in the name of reform. Even if a Taoiseach going out of office wanted to do this, he would not get it through his parliamentary party because the Members would then be voting for political suicide.
Perhaps we can tinker around at the edges. It may be that university representation, as identified by Senator O'Kennedy, could be changed. I believe that will happen sooner or later because there are only six university Senators, they tend to be independent, so the other political parties could get together to teach them a lesson. They might change the universities panels but there is no way they will tamper with their own vested interests. The legislation will be passed by 54 votes to six and the other Senators will be happy to have dealt with the elitist university representatives. That will not happen in present circumstances because the university representatives hold the balance of power, but it will probably happen sooner or later. There will also be a move to make those seats available to the political parties, which will be presented as Seanad reform. Neither Senator O'Kennedy's seats nor those on this side will be reformed.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: I was not suggesting that reform.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: The Senator will not be here, he will be in the Dáil. The seats of the university  Senators will be changed and that will be described as reform of the Seanad. That will be presented in a Government manifesto as the abolition of an elitist system. It may not come in the way the Senator suggested, but it probably will. It could involve an enlargement of the constituencies to make the Government of the day more popular with the loudest and largest regional technical colleges and universities demanding the franchise at the time. That is how it will come about; there is nothing more certain. The Seanad will then be reformed and we will forget about it for another 25 years. When Deputy O'Keeffe and I are long dead and buried, a future Member of this House will say how the O'Keeffe report said in 1997 that the Seanad should be reformed. Deputy O'Keeffe will get immortality for this, but no achievement. Never mind—it is a good effort.
I do not agree with what Senator O'Kennedy said about university seats. He is proposing to widen the franchise so that the particular expertise not included in the franchise at the moment would somehow be expressed by the election of new people. In other words, there are technical colleges with certain skills and expertise which could elect Members with those skills. That is a poor reflection on the universities which elect Members to this House at the moment. It is my understanding that all those skills are reflected in nearly all those universities. I have no hang-up about how many seats Dublin University should have.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: As long as there is one for Senator Ross and me.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: There always will be. Provided there is one for me, there will be one for Senator Norris; just the two of us.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: What would we do without the Senators?
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: Provided there are two, I have no hang-up about the number of seats. However, the constant bellyaching about university seats is a diversion and a red herring to take the heat off other Members of this House. It is good to reflect on the contribution made by previous university Senators. Their electorate is much larger than that of any other Member. Those who point so accusingly at us should recognise that our electorate is over 30,000. Senator O'Toole's electorate is over 100,000. Senator O'Kennedy's electorate is about 900 and he has to get about 25 votes to be elected.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: Twenty six.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: Who is elitist now? Senator O'Kennedy is elected by a few county councillors. I was delighted to hear him say that the way to get votes is to give them GAA tickets. If I distributed GAA tickets to my constituents most of them would not know what they were.
 If reform is to take place it must occur everywhere. It must be radical and must start at the bottom. We must say: “To hell with political parties in this House and the system as it was; let us give it a new role”. Deputy O'Keeffe mentioned the role of the Seanad in regard to Europe. I am not sure about that. He also mentioned the interesting idea of ratifying appointments, but then rejected it. I marginally disagree with him on both counts.
Ratifying appointments is quite a good idea. Deputy O'Keeffe rejected it on the grounds that it would bring the Seanad into confrontation with the Executive. I would like to see the Seanad in confrontation with the Executive and probing the Government on issues such as appointments. I would like to see it in constant confrontation with the Executive, being critical but constructive.
I would hate to see the Seanad providing what he called a “bridge” for Europe. I can see his idea — he wants the Seanad to enlighten the Irish people about Europe and to provide a window for an issue which has not really been debated in this country. However, I do not see the Seanad as a facilitator for Government policy of all sorts. Perhaps the Seanad could have a role as a forum for critics of Europe and those who do not like economic and monetary union, which has not been debated. However, it should not be an instrument or a facilitator of present Government policy. That is done by the wretched social partners and the Dáil. I do not see it as our role in any sense to facilitate the Government. I see our role as quite the opposite: to be critical.
One of the problems in Irish politics at the moment is that everybody agrees about absolutely everything. Sorry, that is an exaggeration, to which I am prone — there is very little difference between most political parties on the major issues. The so-called social partnership appears to be approved of by all political parties. That is extraordinary when so many trade Unionists are against it. If the Seanad became part of that consensus, even in a non-political way, we would lose something very vital. One of the great assets of this House over the years has been the fierce criticism made of the Government by those on the Independent and Government benches. A great amount was sometimes achieved as a result of that.
If we became a facilitator of Government policy we could pack up and the Progressive Democrats idea of abolishing the Seanad would be correct. We must provide something different, at which laudable efforts were made in the past. Reference was made to the nomination by various Taoisigh of people from Northern Ireland. These have probably now served their purpose, if they ever did serve a purpose. However, those who made such nominations had honourable intentions, particularly Dr. FitzGerald and Mr. Haughey, who sometimes nominated people from Northern Ireland who did not take the Whip in situations where the numbers were a little difficult for them.
 However, the problem was that it was seen as tokenism and they never managed to persuade an elected member of the Unionist Party to take a seat here, which would have been very interesting. It is no reflection on those appointed from the Protestant community in Northern Ireland that they could never claim to represent mainstream Unionism. I doubt if such a representative will ever come to this House because of the political problems which that would present for them at home. That experiment worked in the case of Nationalists but the Nationalist opinion is already voiced here. It was voiced here today in regard to the events in Derry 25 years ago. We have no real need for that opinion to be voiced in this House at the moment.
There were other enlightened nominations, such as that of Éamon De Buitléar and Ken Whitaker, but they were on the whole the exception rather than the rule. A Seanad comprised of people of that calibre and with that input, rather than representatives of political parties, would be the ideal. However, that would be very difficult to achieve, as has been pointed out, because nobody could propose that and expect to survive politically.
I was delighted that the proposal to give three seats in this House to emigrants was dropped. That was a major insult to Members of this House. The Government, when cobbling together the Programme for Government with its socialist friends, decided to make a concession to the emigrant groups and promised them three seats in the Seanad. That was foolish. It was also insulting to the Seanad because it was a way of saying “we will give them three Taoiseach's nominees and to hell with the Senate, we will keep them quiet with that.” It was rejected decisively in this House and was then dropped by the Government and emigrant groups. I have no problem giving votes to emigrants in certain circumstances, usually on a reciprocal basis, but I have with the idea that three seats in this House should be given to people from Australia, America and the UK. This was to keep a pressure group happy and was the last suggestion we received about the reform of this House. These people did not even have to have set foot in this country in their lifetime. It was an extraordinary suggestion which has been dropped.
However, we have to listen carefully to Deputy O'Keeffe and the committee so that they do not pick up on every Tom, Dick and Harry type of suggestion on giving out seats. We have had that today with talk of politically correct groups having seats in this House.
The Seanad needs to be reformed and made into a non-political House. The way to make the Seanad constructive is to forbid anybody in this House from having a party whip and have open discussion. Members of political parties and local councils should be banned from coming into this House.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: That only leaves me.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
 Mr. Ross: That only leaves Senator Norris who would talk to himself all day and amuse the people of Ireland quite happily and interrupt himself as well without any difficulty. We would then have a non-political House discussing legislation before it got to the Dáil. It would be presented in a non-political manner by people who would not have to look over their shoulders every five minutes to see what the electorate thought. As Senator O'Kennedy mentioned, very few people who contribute conscientiously to this House get any advantage from it when it comes to getting elected. The people most likely to be re-elected to the Dáil and Seanad are those who do the least work because they are in their offices churning out letters to their constituents and are not in the Chambers.
Senator O'Toole was interviewed by a newspaper at the weekend. He said he was delighted that the trade unions and IBEC were now having a real input to the budget. However, we do not. Senator O'Toole, to whose absence I am not allowed refer, and will not refer, is not here because he is in Liberty Hall pushing Government policy through the trade union movement. He is not here navel gazing with the rest of us because he knows where the action is; it does not lie in the Seanad or the Dáil, it lies with farmers, trade unions, IBEC and non-political, non-elected people. They are deciding the budget strategy of this country but we cannot even defeat Finance Bills. They are deciding worker conditions, what the budget deficit will be and everything else, while we, as political eunuchs, examine our role today.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I am grateful to Senator Norris for allowing me to speak ahead of him. I promise I will be brief in spite of the complexities of this issue. I am delighted Deputy O'Keeffe is here. It is a mould-breaking experience in more ways than one. Perhaps, it is a pointer to the future for the functions and activities of this House.
Inevitably, this issue is about continuance or abolition. Naturally, turkeys do not vote for Christmas and I am not in favour of abolition. However, in reading the detailed report submitted to the all party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution, it is interesting to note there is one element of the report which impacts on the public perception of the Seanad's existence that it is an unnecessary financial burden on the State. If we do nothing else but dismiss that myth, we would be doing a good day's work. The report states:
The budget of the Seanad is relatively small as is its permanent staff. During 1995, for instance, it amounted to 9.5 per cent of the total budget of the Houses of the Oireachtas or in real money terms, £2.8 million. Much of the work that Senators do at present would simply be transferred to other shoulders producing a reallocation but not a saving of resources. What is more, much of the work that Senators currently do on a largely voluntary basis would be sacrificed. Among the more obvious of the  pressures that would develop were the Seanad to be abolished would be the servicing of joint Oireachtas committees whose role has been increasing in recent years but which, as we have already pointed out, would have much greater difficulty in functioning were they unable to draw on the membership of a second chamber. In addition, an important forum of the formal representation of the interests of particular groups would be lost.
That encapsulates what is Seanad is about. It is how I define my role as a Member of this House. I have been honoured and privileged to have been representing not only the Library Association of Ireland who nominated me but the wider constituency in which I have become involved. In recent years I have also been honoured to have been chosen to serve on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. I also sit on two subcommittees of that committee, one dealing with United Nations affairs and the other with Northern Ireland.
If the committee system did not operate, if the Seanad did not exist and if I were not a Member, then the chances or opportunities open to me would be so limited it is likely that the nearest I would get to any of those committees would be as a member of the public sitting in a gallery. If the Seanad is abolished, 166 Deputies remain. There is growing pressure from the public on whether this number of TDs is necessary for a country our size. Urgent and drastic changes are needed to the system of multi-seat constituencies to give Deputies better opportunities to represent those who elect them.
A much wider debate on our electoral system than the one focused on the Seanad is taking place. Given the somewhat cynical attitude adopted by some people, it is possible that in a referendum the public would vote for the abolition of both Houses of Parliament. Such is the perception that what we do is not of great interest. However, I question the wisdom of appealing to emotional, knee-jerk responses which call for the abolition of institutions of State on the basis that the Government can run the country with the aid of civil servants, or the “permanent Government”, as John Healy, God rest his memory, referred to them.
If public opinion—how does one define public opinion? —does not admire these institutions, I doubt if abolition is the easy option. Those who tout that kind of nonsense do not understand what democracy is about and how it works. Democracy is a flawed concept. It is not perfect, but I would prefer to live in this democracy, flawed as it is, than in some other countries which give the impression that they may be economically stronger or better or that their systems are better.
Since the welcome introduction of joint committees over the last few years, the burden on Deputies to function effectively within them is now open to question, primarily because of the horrendous workload, including constituency  work, that is placed on them. Deputies are members of two or three of the 22 committees which operate at present. They spend two to three days a week in Dublin, primarily to process legislation emanating from Government or in some cases initiated by themselves. Given the expansion of the committee system, much of the minutiae of legislation is now discussed in committee. The amount of physical effort required to prepare, attend and contribute effectively to improving legislative proposals from the Executive takes up a huge proportion of time. In view of this, how can Deputies spread themselves effectively? The system is creaking under the weight of so much demand on their time.
By contrast, Senators do not, theoretically at least, have the same constituency or legislative demands. The business of both Houses is ordered by the Government. At times there is a flood of legislation, while there is less at others. Our Standing Orders give us the capacity to fill our time effectively by debating reports and topical issues of the day in a much more detailed manner than allowed for by the procedures of Dáil Éireann. For example, Senator Norris has a special interest in East Timor and has raised the issue on many occasions, bringing it to the forefront of public debate.
Similarly, many other issues which would never be raised in the public consciousness have been raised and debated in this House. Effective measures have been taken and Government has been made to listen. National policy has been formed following initiatives taken on various subjects. Many of them have never been debated in Dáil Éireann, although the Order Paper of the Dáil will often note reports, such as those made on semi-State bodies or various European institutions. Rarely is there the same expansive debate, the attention to detail or the expertise of the kind in this House available to the Dáil because it is concerned with other business. In this respect alone, the Seanad fulfils a very important role.
The flow of EU directives is extraordinary. They appear almost daily, which does not give us the time to debate them in detail. This is not good in a functioning democracy. Like an increasing number of people in this country, I am pro European and am interested in European affairs. A system is required to debate EU matters in more detail. EU directives are effectively legislative measures when they appear before both Houses. When they are subsequently enshrined in law the opportunity for debate arises, but the directives themselves need to be considered. Approximately six months ago it was reported in the British newspapers that EU directives decided upon by the EU Council of Ministers were in some instances not translated into English until several weeks after decisions had been taken, thus precluding the opportunity by the British Parliament's select committee on European Affairs to debate them.
 All institutions must change and evolve if they are to survive. We have a role to play in the context of European legislation. The committee should consider the many ways in which it can be enhanced. For example, commissioners or junior Ministers could attend the House to discuss matters and to ensure that we know what will happen once directives are decided on.
Senator Ross referred to the decision by the Government not to proceed with the proposal to introduce emigrant Senators to the House. The proposal was badly conceived. Senator Ross described it as an insult to Members. It was equally an insult to those who have been lobbying for several years for emigrant voting rights. It was never on their agenda and they saw it as the short end of the stick.
I am passionately committed to the concept of granting emigrant votes. As a former emigrant, I believe that there should be a mechanism to allow those who had to leave this country involuntarily for economic reasons to continue to have an involvement in the body politic and access to political activities, if they so wish. Not all emigrants wish to do so. There is a perception, even in the Houses of the Oireachtas, that if the franchise was granted to emigrants, multi-seat constituencies would be awash with votes from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, America and elsewhere. We are familiar with the comments of a number of Deputies, including the Tánaiste, who said he would hate to have to wait for the last box from Boston for the fourth seat in north Kerry. It is a fair point; but the registration process in Europe, where practically every country grants the franchise to its emigrants, indicates that not everybody wishes or registers to vote. Ultimately, not everybody who is registered casts their vote.
Although there are peculiarities in the proportional representation system, instead of cursing the dark when the light goes, we should do something about our political system rather than saying no to emigrant votes. If our system is so fragile and open to manipulation that a handful of votes from Boston will decide the fifth seat in a constituency, it should be changed. We should not say “Do not give votes”; we should change the system and ensure it does not have that effect on domestic politics.
There are various ways in which emigrants could access the political system. As in parliaments in other countries, three or four seats could be created in Dáil Éireann which are exclusively emigrant seats. Seanad Éireann was not the way forward. The suggestion was a Dáil solution to a Dáil problem. It threw the matter over to the Seanad because it thought Senators would not mind. However, we did mind and it is no longer in the mainstream of political thinking. The issue will not go away. It will exist as long as there are emigrants and people wish to retain an active interest in the affairs of this country.
In the context of representation, I said earlier that I represent the Library Association of Ireland. There are two tracks on which one is  elected to the House. One is through political parties and the other is through representative bodies. The system as it currently operates in terms of representative bodies is good. There is a political element, but this is ultimately a political House. We deal with Realpolitik although admittedly in a truncated form. I am not sure we should open the electoral process to representatives of trade and professional organisations. They would have a narrow view because they would consider that they had a mandate to speak exclusively about their issues. Senators have a much broader view.
For example, I am a politician and a representative of a professional organisation with which I have great empathy and an understanding of its problems and priorities. I can make an effective contribution to representing its particular interest but I, and other Senators, have much wider interests which are adequately dealt with in the committee system. This has been a lifeline for Senators since its establishment, and the records of attendance and contributions show that in the main Senators always attend and make real contributions, primarily because the burden on our time and our priorities are different from Deputies. This is good. The system needs fine tuning, but the proposed radical overhaul will not result in a better House. It is accepted by all sides that abolition is not on the agenda and that it will involve reform within the system.
Regarding the regional versus national character of the electoral process, I am opposed to regionalising the election procedure. Senators are national politicians in a national Parliament representing national and some international issues. If the procedure was regionalised it would diminish and erode to some extent the ability of the House to function properly. However, ultimately and despite our comments, if there is a continuing public perception that the House does not matter and that view is conveyed by the media, people will continue to think it is irrelevant. The media has a heavy burden of responsibility to give the House more recognition and respect than heretofore.
Every Senator has a story about how they worked hard on legislation, researched and thoroughly prepared for a debate, but received the ultimate insult of not even being mentioned in the national media. It is as if the debate never happened. If one is a spokesperson there is a greater responsibility to prepare and research the issue thoroughly to ensure the legislation is as perfect as one can make it when it leaves the House; it is particularly galling to find the media will not even acknowledge that it is ongoing. Consequently, the public does not know it is happening.
Senators who deal with county councils are aware that, although one may have spent the previous four or five years making a worthy contribution and the Official Report may show volumes of contributions, when we are on the hustings,  what one says in the House usually has little relevance to whether an elector will ultimately vote for one. The Acting Chairman knows that is the case because he is a long standing Member of the House. It is sad and wrong, but the county councillors or the electors are not to blame. If they do not know what is happening in the House, how can they evaluate and assess Members' worth? They use other means and priorities. There is a heavy responsibility on the media and I cannot understand why it continues to ignore the Seanad. The honourable exception is The Irish Times, which has a permanent record of what happens in the House. It does the best job it can within the limited space available. However, that leads to the frustrations I mentioned for those who do not even get a line in the newspaper. It is not that Senators want to say that they were mentioned in The Irish Times. It is so the readership will know what Senators said and what we do in the Seanad. The last question asked is what Members do in the Seanad. If the media reported what happens here that question would be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Ms Gallagher Ms Gallagher
Ms Gallagher: I am privileged to be one of the two Senators who are members of the all-party constitutional review group and I appreciate being part of it. I welcome the group's distinguished chairman, Deputy O'Keeffe, and the officials who are present. It is saddens me that there are no media representatives in the Press Gallery for this debate, which is critical in terms of democracy, the history of the State and the general complaints about politicians. As other Senators said, it is a true reflection of how seriously they take the Seanad that when the House is navel gazing and examining its role, not one media representative has bothered to remain for the debate. It reflects a continuing lack of understanding of the role of the Seanad and Senators. Not a day goes by without my being asked what I do as a Senator. People fail to realise what is involved or what the difference is between a Senator and a Deputy because in my constituency I tend to do the work of a Deputy, which would not necessarily be the case with all Senators. People fail to see any distinguishing factors between the Dáil and Seanad.
While we are examining the role of the Seanad, the issue is much broader and rightly deserves attention. The fundamental democracy of our State is now in question. We have a system of politics which means, because of the proportional representation system, we are constantly looking over our shoulders at the constituency. Politicians seeking election here or in the other House must spend time in their constituency; therefore, their role as legislators inevitably becomes secondary. That is not healthy for democracy. One should not be judged by the number of funerals one has attended or babies one has kissed for eligibility for the Legislature. Until that question is satisfactorily resolved, the problems we face in the  Seanad will be similar to and dependent on those faced in the Dáil.
To add to that, there is total ignorance as to what politicians do, which is reflected in the general public who fail to register or vote. They think all politicians are the same, that it makes no difference who is elected and they wonder what we do anyway. That needs to be addressed with education and in the media. It is unhelpful that currently in politics it is extremely difficult for people to remain in the system. If we want good people involved in running the country we must create a system that enables them to do so. Therefore, politicians must be paid adequately for their work and their routine must be survivable because so many of them are dropping out. One cannot make oneself available in Dublin and one's constituency 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to a public who generally do not understand what one is doing. Until those fundamental issues are resolved, this debate is academic.
We are looking today at the role of the Seanad in terms of the constitutional provision and what needs to be done. Because the Seanad has a number of defects in its function, makeup and selection it is true that we do not have the clout we should. Perhaps we should not have that clout but because we can be so easily ignored, it is very difficult to see the future of the Seanad and whether it should have more powers on legislation, proportional representation or the system of election.
This debate is the result of the Seanad now being a house for has-beens and wannabes; those who are past their sell-by date in politics and those aspiring politicians whose real ambition is to be in the Lower House. While that continues to be the case, there will be inherent defects in the nature of business in this Chamber. Despite the original intention for the Seanad to be a vocational representative body, in reality we all represent political parties. By whatever cloak and dagger means we get elected do not seem to matter so long as we are elected. This has been used very successfully by political parties to pay off dedicated former Deputies and promote aspiring Deputies. That has been the perception of the Seanad because while we are forever looking our shoulder at the Dáil and blatantly accepting we are politicians with the Whip system, it denigrates the role of the Seanad as a second Chamber.
I firmly believe in the role of a second Chamber. It is very important for legislation given the hurly-burly of the Lower House and the pressure Deputies are under, that there is extra time given to it through whatever forum there may be, particularly in the form of a second Chamber. Senator Ross suggested that all legislation should be primarily reviewed by the Seanad before it goes to the Lower House. That may be undemocratic because those who are elected directly should have a prior say to what becomes the business of both Houses. I agree that the option of introducing more legislation in the  Seanad should be and has been used, but it could be used to greater extent.
Senator Ross referred to many representative bodies running the country. For some reason he failed to refer to the media who have a great say in who is running the country.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: I wonder why?
Ms Gallagher Ms Gallagher
Ms Gallagher: It is not something to labour but while we are debating our role in the Seanad the media should accept their responsibility in reflecting what we do here on a day-to-day basis.
Without being technical, we have a very unusual method of selection for the Seanad. We are the only true vocational representatives in a second Chamber, we have six university Senators and the Taoiseach nominates 11 Senators. Why 11 I do not know. Generally, I favour the role of the Taoiseach's being transferred to the head of State. That probably would make little difference as the head of State would operate on what is recommended by the Government of the day but it would be a sensible move.
In relation to the university Senators, I may not make myself very popular with them but when the Seanad was set up, third level education was not freely available, an elite set of people went to university and a smaller number of people had the suffrage as a result. Giving three votes to Trinity College, of which I am a graduate, was to give Seanad representation to the Protestant minority in the Republic. While the debate has ranged as to whether other universities should have the same right to seek seats in the Seanad, why should people with degrees have a vote in the Seanad when other citizens have not? Why do we need six university Senators who are often no more independent than the rest of us? It should be admitted that everybody has some political baggage; some do not represent their universities at all in the House. In my view it is an insult that, in 1997, those representing universities are given precedence in terms of who and what they represent and the argument is not valid any longer. I favour scrapping the university seats and highlighting the role of vocational groups and in that way provide for the educational and great academic contribution which has been made by previous university Senators to the House.
Seanad Éireann 149 Constitutional Review of the Seanad: Statements.