Taoiseach to hold talks with party leaders on Seanad reform
Senators put forward various views in special debate
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the House’s fate had been decided. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to meet party leaders in the Oireachtas to discuss Seanad reform. Mr Kenny said while it was important and good to discuss the issue in the aftermath of the recent referendum, it might be more appropriate to come back to it after Senators had time to think in detail about where the future lay.
Opening a debate on Seanad reform, Mr Kenny said the House’s fate had been decided and a clear decision had brought certainty to the institution’s future.
“I accepted that verdict and said so publicly. I now want to move on through this process to hear the ideas and propositions of members on how this House can be made to work as effectively as possible within the process of change in politics we are trying to bring to the country.”
The Taoiseach said he had already stated clearly his intention to give effect to the 1979 decision of the people to extend the Seanad electorate to all graduates. It was also necessary to examine the functions assigned to the House.
“The constitutional responsibility to hold the executive to account was vested in Dáil Éireann under the Constitution, but clearly the people’s decision on the Seanad means that we have to devise a situation where this House can contribute more fully and effectively to the work of politics in general.”
Darragh O’Brien (FF) said he was pleased that the House could examine EU directives and statutory instruments, adding that he would also ask the Taoiseach to allow additional time for Private Members Bills from individual Senators. The relaxation of the whip system could also be examined.
Mr O’Brien said that by whom and how Senators were elected was a major issue to be examined and the Taoiseach would find partners among his Fianna Fáil colleagues to move forward with real reforms.
House leader Maurice Cummins (FG) suggested a taskforce on Seanad reform should be led by the Taoiseach’s office, with a mixture of current members, academics and experts with an established interest in the subject.
“The focus of such a taskforce should be in three areas: to examine the reform proposals already before us in various reports, in addition to recent Bills in the House, to receive and consider public submissions and to examine best practice in other bicameral jurisdictions,” added Mr Cummins.
Ivana Bacik (Lab) suggested looking at the timing of Seanad elections, adding there was no reason why they could not be held much closer to Dáil elections to break that somewhat inevitable link between the two.
Ms Bacik said there would be merit in adopting a trimmed- down version of the Seanad, “with 60 Senators elected in a more democratic way, paid much less and with greatly reduced sitting times, whose key function would be the scrutiny of legislation”.
Vote for every citizen
Feargal Quinn (Ind) said that for a long time he had been convinced there was a need to open up the Seanad and to give every Irish citizen a vote.
“I think it would be a wonderful thing and it would make our politics more democratic and more representative, if we had a Seanad where every Irish person had a stake.”
Hildegarde Naughton (FG) said the Seanad could lead the way in drafting a new constitution that represented a modern Republic to serve the people for the next 75 years. “For example, its references to the role of women and the definition of a family are no longer relevant.”