Seanad abolition among proposed political reforms

 

The main political parties have today outlined a series of political reforms that include the abolition of Seanad Éireann and changes to the system of appointments to State boards.

Fianna Fáil in government after the next election would introduce a system whereby government ministers would cease to be TDs for their term in Cabinet, and their places in the Dáil would be taken by substitutes named on a list published before the election.

Ministers would continue to attend the Dáil, answer questions and participate in debates, but they would not have votes in Dáil divisions. Ministers would continue to require Dáil approval for their appointment.

This is one of the proposals for electoral and parliamentary reform in the party’s manifesto, "Real Plan, Better Future", unveiled by party leader Micheál Martin in Dublin today.

On proposals from other parties to abolish the Seanad, Mr Martin said: “We will support its abolition if - and only if - the more important political reforms we propose are implemented.”

“We propose a role for a Citizens’ Assembly in the development of these reform proposals before any referendums.

“We also propose targeted constitutional reform, public sector reform and a significant series of changes to the operation of State boards,” he told a news conference at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery on Dublin’s Parnell Square.

Another proposed change is that the Taoiseach would nominate people who are not members of the Oireachtas to be ministers. A confirmation process would be put in place that would include “a presentation of priorities” before a committee.

Fianna Fáil said it would back the introduction of measures to favour gender balance. Representatives would be elected from the list “to balance under-representation which would emerge in the constituencies”.

Fine Gael also announced proposals for political reform today in advance of its full manifesto launch later in the week.

The abolition of the Seanad, a reduction of 20 in the number of TDs and a revamp of the way the Dáil does its business form the centrepiece.

A big reduction in the number of Oireachtas committees with greater involvement in the process of legislation for all TDs forms a key part of the plan.

It also pledged to end severance payments for all ministers leaving office and cut the taoiseach's’s salary to €200,000.

“Government ministers were paid too much and given huge sums of goodbye money as they left politics, even though they brought the country to its financial knees," party leader Enda Kenny said in Kilkenny today.

Under the party’s five-point plan for political reform, published today, the party also promises to reduce Ministerial salaries and ensure all TDs’ expenses are vouched.

It will also ban donations to political parties by corporate organisations and lower the maximum threshold for personal donations. The party pledges to ensure that no politician or any other individual, private or public will receive taxpayer subsidies for an annual pension in excess of €60,000.

The Labour Party said it would seek the resignation of all persons appointed to State boards since last November when the Green Party said they would pull out of Government.

The party said it would introduce widespread reforms of the system of making appointments to State boards and would end what it described as "political cronyism" in this area.

Announcing a plan for reforming politics and the public service, Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin said that under its proposals, positions on State boards would be open to all qualified candidates.

They said appointments would be subject to scrutiny by Dáil committees and all candidates who would have to undergo an interview.

The party is also to set a ceiling of €190,000 for public sector salaries. However, Mr Rabbitte indicated that it could not "act by diktat" in relation to staff who have existing contracts for higher remuneration.

Labour has also proposed the level of donations allowed to political parties and candidates should be reduced to €2,500 and €1,000 respectively.

It said political lobbying should be regulated, which would include restrictions on how soon former ministers and senior civil servants could act as private lobbyists after leaving office.