Political Reform

[Speaking during Order of Business in the Seanad]

It is timely that we would ask the relevant Minister, who, in truth, would probably be the Taoiseach, to come to the House at some stage for a broad-ranging debate on political reform. At the time of the Seanad referendum last year substantial and welcome attention was paid not only to the need to reform this House, but a broader debate on political reform. We have been promised by the Leader we will see relevant, but limited reform legislation come before the House some time in the next year.

I was very impressed with the article written by Deputy Eoghan Murphy in which he pointed out the difficulty which the current Whip system, Cabinet power and the de-fanging of backbench Deputies is having on the conduct of public governance in this country. Those are issues which were very important to us last year because one of the key arguments which many of us on both sides of the House advanced last year in defence of the contention that the Seanad required reform and not abolition was the fact that until the Dáil was reformed, getting rid of this Chamber would not fix any of the substantive problems which were largely culpable for many of the difficulties we have found ourselves in recent years.

The Seanad is supposed to be a deliberative Chamber, one where less inflamed passions can sometimes inspire intellectual discourse on important issues. We did that a lot last year on the question of political reform at the time of the referendum and we should do it again. There is much to be said for blocking off a decent amount of time, in the cold light of day, perhaps some time in the new year for a debate on issues such as the Whip, the power of Cabinet, the role of economic councils, how we can encourage backbenchers from both Houses to take the opportunity to speak independently and how they can contribute their sometimes very considerable talent to the ideas which we need to generate. I formally make that request to the Leader.

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