Here’s what I said about Seanad reform when I chaired the opening of the 22nd Seanad back in September 2002:
There are real problems associated with this House which have to do with all Members. We should tackle them as a united body. They are difficult problems to resolve because they involve self-criticism and self-sacrifice. The main criticisms are that this House is an outlet for party political patronage and that it is divided mostly between the larger parties with no voice for minorities.
Indicative of this is the fact that two of the most significant parties elected in the recent Dáil election were not elected to this House – the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party. That tells us something about this House. The uncomfortable truth is that we are a self-perpetuating body which is elected by politicians for politicians and for no other reason. We should address this issue and face it squarely over the next three or four years.
The vocational element conceived by Éamon de Valera is gone from this House. It is a highly political body and likely to be even more so in the coming five years. Is that what we want? Do we want the Seanad to be like that, or do we want it to be a body which gives a voice to the vocational bodies it was conceived to represent? Is that just fantasy or was it just camouflage put up to disguise the fact that this is a political body? We have an Agricultural Panel and whereas we should be providing that platform and voice, we are not doing so. Others have taken that role upon themselves and have made us a totally political body which does not represent those interests. That is something we should tackle in the next five years.
I suggest that the House examine three specific proposals. I propose that the elections for Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann be held on the same day. I am not suggesting that members of political parties be debarred but rather that candidates would be forced to make a decision to be committed Members of one or the other House. In such a scenario, membership of this House would not be a person’s second choice.
I advocate a widening of the franchise and the removal of the political votes from the Dáil, Seanad and local authorities. A wider franchise would ensure that those elected would represent the interests they purport to represent, rather than political interests. Finally, I suggest the abolition of the custom of Taoiseach’s nominees to this House.