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Sinn Féin demands real Seanad reform - Doherty

28 November, 2007

Speaking during a debate on Seanad reform Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty noted the undemocratic and elitist construct of the institution and argued that the proposed the Green Party reforms fell far short of what was needed to create a democratic, transparent, accountable and relevant second house of parliament.

Senator Doherty said:

"Sinn Féin advocates the creation of a reformed, democratic, transparent, accountable and relevant second house of parliament. The Seanad should afford a role for civic society and provide for fuller representation for all sectors of society in the legislative process.

"A second house could be constituted so as to represent those not adequately represented in the Dáil. Sinn Féin believes that it is beneficial for the democratic nature of government to have an upper and a lower house of parliament in that it provides a system of check and balances on government legislation and policy.

"Sinn Féin asserts that the Seanad should be elected by universal suffrage of citizens of the 32 counties of Ireland and those residents therein for more than 5 years who are over the age of 16 years.

"I am extremely disappointed that this provision has not been included as part of Minister Gormley's proposed reforms. Under Sinn Féin proposals, pending the reunification of Ireland citizens resident in the 6 counties would cast their ballot by postal vote. Northern Representation has been a commitment in the past and I wish to see this implemented, in addition with voting rights being allowed to the Irish diaspora.

"We believe that emigrants registered with their appropriate Irish Embassy or consulate should be entitled to vote. The election should not take place on the same day as the Dáil election.

"There should be no provision for nomination by An Taoiseach, which is highly undemocratic.

"Under Minister Gormley's watch he is proposing that the Taoiseach would nominate 12 Senators, one more than currently allowedThis is purely a mechanism whereby the Taoiseach can appoint his friends to high places.

"Election should be by proportional representation single transferable vote on each panel. The main function of the Seanad would be scrutiny of national and EU legislation. We propose six panels, including Community and Voluntary panel, Cultural and Educational, Local and Regional, Labour, Industrial and Commercial and Agricultural and Fisheries. In order to address the under-representation of women, quotas of at least 30 per cent would operate across each panel.

"Sinn Féin envisages that the main role of the Seanad should be scrutiny. It should scrutinise draft domestic legislation and furnish reports to the Dáil, including specific recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment and fast-track progress.

"Sinn Féin proposes significant changes to the current legislative stages. Prior to consideration by the Dáil, all proposed legislation would first pass scrutiny by the Seanad, to be known as the 'Seanad Stage'. This new stage would include a community consultation process.

"The Seanad would have a responsibility to equality-proof and human rights-proof proposed legislation. The Seanad should also have the right to question Ministers, instead of the current undemocratic scenario whereby Senators cannot submit Parliamentary Questions to Government Ministers.

"Sinn Féin's proposed wholesale Seanad reform is progressive and in the interest of the Irish people throughout the 32 counties. Minister Gormley, on the other hand is seeking to merely window-dress rather than reform the Seanad." CRÍOCH

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