Reforming the Seanad

 

Sir, – I would like to put on record that not just I, but all university Senators from both universities over many years have urged the Government to use the power granted by the people by referendum in 1979 to extend the university franchise. However, this will present technical problems. There is the question of how flexible the definition of a university/third level institution will be.

I have always favoured the retention of the distinctive character of the two existing constituencies with the current Dublin university panel taking in all the Dublin-centred institutions such as DCU, DIT, etc, and UL, WIT,etc, going in with the National University panel, but this may prove itself problematical by exacerbating the existing disproportionality of numbers. Critically the matter of the preparation of an accurate register for what will be gigantic constituencies, the current combined register already containing approximately 200,000 details, will have to be faced.

Second, and most importantly, I believe the almost universally agreed notion that the Seanad should become the primary processor of EU legislation would need to be approached with great caution. Many people, including some Senators, may have no conception of the enormous volume of legal instruments gushing out of the Brussels bureaucracy almost hourly.

In order to deal with this adequately, the Senate would require the back-up of a skilled secretariat with at least one official from each department of Government to sift through the bulk of material for only appropriate matters for consideration by Seanad Éireann. To take on such an important task and fail through lack of resources would be disaster. Moreover, an undue load would distort the Senate’s constitutional remit of examining, refining and amending domestically generated legislation and introducing measures of social reform at which despite its imperfections it has proved remarkable successful in the past.

Two reform bills are already before the house and will provide a useful basis for discussion, but both were almost entirely the work of anonymous legal experts and researchers although they did take into account ideas from previous Senate debates. It is now the responsibility of Senators themselves to participate significantly in the debate.

Suggestions have been made that Senators’ pay should be cut in half or that they should work for nothing. I understand the appeal of such suggestions during a period of economic hardship, but I believe such an approach is dangerous. First, only those who could afford to do so would be able to stand for election so that far from democratising the process a new elite based on wealth would be created. There have also been rumblings in the media about expenses which have been justified by the behaviour of a very small number of members in both houses and which I understand, however I believe these matters of remuneration should be referred to an independent authority for adjudication. I personally would favour the abolition of all expenses, vouched and unvouched, and their replacement by a wage calculated to take into account what actual and realistic expenses are likely to be incurred. This would be clearly open, taxable and accountable to the public, everyone would get the same wage and the waste of time energy and paper on bean-counting pettifoggery would be avoided. – Yours, etc,

Senator DAVID NORRIS,

St Vincent’s Hospital,

Merrion Road, Dublin 4.