I support this Bill, which is welcome, but with mixed feelings. My mother was elected to the Seanad for a short period in 1981. She spent six or seven months in that House. Over several elections I watched her traverse the country looking for votes to get elected back to the Seanad and I thought it was a perverse way of trying to get oneself elected to represent one’s people in this Oireachtas. Since then I have always felt that because the Seanad was set up in the way it was it needed to be reformed. Ten reports have been issued on reforming the Seanad and not one of them have been acted on. The sad part about that is if they had been acted on and Seanad reform had taken place, we would not be here debating this Bill.
I hold in my hand the Constitution, which is the book of the people. The Seanad is mentioned frequently throughout the Constitution. It is almost as if I was a councillor again. One can see the powers one has as a Senator and the powers betrothed upon one by the people in this book. How many times have the powers that have been betrothed on them been used? The Seanad can hold up a money Bill for 21 days. At any stage during the period of the economic boom, the Celtic tiger years, were any of the money Bills that were brought before the Seanad held up? The Senators could have highlighted the faults and the problems that might be associated with them but not once were those Bills held up. If they had done that the media and the public would have come to recognise that what was going on in this country was wrong. The Senators, in their own way, have been part and parcel of the downfall of this country. They had the power to hold up money Bills for 21 days. They can hold up other Bills for 90 days but they have the power within this blue book, the book of the people, to hold up money Bills coming from the Dáil. If they did not do that when they should have done it, we should get rid of them because they had no function as far as I am concerned. The money Bill reference in the Constitution is Article 21.2.1o.
During the debate on this Bill I hope we will have a serious debate on reform of the Dáil. I hope also that when the debate widens into public discussions we do not simply focus on what the Seanad did or could do if it was reformed but deal with the question of Dáil reform also.
The people have a lack of trust in politicians. They have already proven that by their failure to accept the referendum question on Oireachtas inquiries which would have given us, as Dáil Members, more power to inquire into various topical and serious issues that arise. However, because they did not accept that question I am fearful that the question in this case, when it is put to the people, will be passed.
The sad thing is that Deputy Griffin and I are new Deputies. We had no hand, act or part in the past or in what happened. We are in here to reform and change our country for the better. We must earn the trust of the people but the sad thing about the people out there is that they remember only the bad things from the poor, weak politicians who were lap dogs walking through the “Tá” lobby to create the bubble.
I want to see real Dáil reform. I agree with Deputy Griffin, the the Topical Issues debate is an excellent idea but the Minister responsible for each issue must come before the Dáil. I do not want to see a Minister of State from another Department coming in here without a clue as to what we are talking about and then reading a script. I also want to see the Taoiseach being accountable to Members of the Dáil and not just to leaders of the Opposition. I want more Bills to be introduced on Fridays. I took part in an excellent debate last Friday but why were two or three Bills not debated and why were they not voted on later in the day?
While I support this Bill and want to see the abolition of the Seanad, I fear the people will not give us as Dáil Members the trust that is needed to have a really functioning Dáil Éireann. I will support the Bill and during the discussion on the Seanad would like to see a real debate on reform of Dáil Éireann.