Seanad “No” Campaign to launch tomorrow

English: This is a photograph of the Seanad ch...
English: This is a photograph of the Seanad chamber, Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin Ireland. The Seanad is the upper house of the Irish parliament(Oireachtas). It is the chamber and seat of the Irish Government senators (Seanadóirí). The photograph was taken on 28th of June, 2008 at the inaugural opening of the Houses of the Oireachtas for a 'family fun day'. This we were told (by the guides) was the first time that photography was permitted inside the houses of the Oireachtas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomorrow morning in Dublin “Democracy Matters” will launch in Dublin. The campaign will be calling for the Seanad, instead of being abolished as suggested by the Government, that it be “radically” reformed based on the bill published recently by Senator’s Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn. The bill can be viewed here.

As well as the two senators, the others involved are former Senator Joe ‘Toole, former Attorney General and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and journalist Noel Whelan.

The campaign is launching well before any date has been set for a referendum on abolishing the Seanad, but it is expected to take place in the Autumn of this year.

Already the opinion pieces have started. On Thursday Fine Gael Dublin Central TD and former Senator Paschal Donohue wrote a piece in the Irish Times entitled “Only political insiders would mourn the passing of the Seanad“. His piece contained the usual reasons for abolishing, lack of reform, lack of powers, lack of legitimacy and of course the cost as well as comparing it to other parliaments.

While those who want Seanad Eireann abolished always give out that it hasnt been reformed, they seem to be throwing the baby out with bath water as they seem to have given up on any chance of reform by abolishing it.

With proposals for Dáil Reform from Eoghan Murphy TD being discussed, should we really embark on the biggest change of Bunreacht na hEireann? Many already complain of the power of the whips and the government controlling the agenda of the Dáil, and the Seanad is the one place where they do not have that power, is it wise to get rid of that place? I have yet to be convinced.

I shall be attending the launch of Democracy Matters tomorrow so do watch my Twitter feed for details coming from that.

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Statements in Seanad Éireann on the Treaty of Lisbon

Yesterday in the Seanad, Senators made statements on the Treaty of Lisbon. The statements were limited to Leaders or Party Spokespersons. Selected Extracts below.

Senator Eugene Regan (Fine Gael):

The Cohesion Fund is a good example of the many areas in which Ireland has influenced the shape of Europe. Most of the significant changes took place after Ireland’s entry to the EEC. The Single European Act, the first change, came about as a result of work carried out by Jim Dooge, a former Senator and Minister for Foreign Affairs. He was appointed to chair the Dooge Committee, which essentially laid the basis for the structure and wording of the Single European Act. Having participated in this process for 35 years and played our part in shaping the nature of the Union to which we belong, it is surely not credible that we now question elements of the basic structure of the European Union which have been decided on and from which we have benefited. That is what is happening, to some extent, in the debate which is taking place.

One feature of the Europe Union is very important when we examine the question of the adoption and ratification of this treaty. Taking one simple example, we are concerned about Ireland’s position within the Commission. We have had excellent Commissioners who have managed while in office to keep an to keep an eye on Europe, and Irish interests therein. When it was suggested that the number of Commissioners should be limited it was argued that the larger member states would never give up their two Commissioners, but they did. It was then said they would never agree to rotation on a pure equality basis, and they did. That is what is in this treaty, namely, that we are among equals when it comes to membership of the European Commission. It will rotate and Ireland will have its turn, the same as the larger member states. No objections, therefore, can be raised in that regard

There is no good reason for Ireland to vote against this treaty. We would generate a lot of good-will by voting “yes”. To jeopardise for no good reason the goodwill we have in Europe, which we have enjoyed for 35 years, would be very foolhardy.

Senator Terry Leyden (Fianna Fail):

The reform treaty will not affect domestic policy or matters such as abortion. Nothing that happens at the meeting of the Council of Europe next week regarding Ms Gisela Wurm’s proposal on abortion will have a bearing on Ireland or jurisdiction therein. Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament, clearly stated this in the House this morning in his excellent, passionate and well-informed speech. It was great to have him present. He made a very clear statement on many issues has been a great help. I hope his speech is published widely in Ireland.

Contrary to some assertions made by witnesses to the Joint Committee on European Affairs earlier today, hard copies of the text of the treaty are available free of charge to the public throughout the country in all public libraries and at other locations. The document would be practically impossible to send to every household because it is so long, large and comprehensive.

The role of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny will be expanded to ensure every one has a say in that regard. Today I attended a meeting of that committee where all the European legislation was brought forward and will be sent to different committees of these Houses for processing and consideration.

Senator Feargal Quinn (Independent):

Today’s debate at the Joint Committee on European Affairs was useful. Three different delegations came in and spoke. One of them, Mr. Roger Cole from the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, spoke about the concern for neutrality. I was reminded of my son in law. I have five children – two girls and three boys. We sent them all to France to school before they were 14 because somebody said that if one learns a language before one is 14, it is possible to speak it without accent. The two girls promptly fell in love with Frenchmen at the age of 14 and are now both married to Frenchmen. The family home of one of those Frenchmen, Nicolas de Son, where they now live, is in Soissons, about 80km north east of Paris. It was damaged severely in 1870 when the Germans decided to visit Paris. They stopped there, there was a battle there and the house was destroyed. It was rebuilt a few years later. In 1914, the Germans again decided to visit Paris and again the house was destroyed, and from the war reparations it was rebuilt. In 1940, the Germans made it their headquarters and the Americans bombed the house. This is to give the House some idea of what happened. We in Ireland are inclined to forget that in those years three wars took place and since 1945 there has not been anything like such a European war. On that entire area of neutrality and of the belief that we can keep peace, we must give credit to the European movement.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca (Green Party):

It is a very positive development that under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament will have the power to elect the President of the Commission. It will not just have the power of assent but will have the power to elect or refuse the nomination of the European Council in respect of the President of the Commission. This will mean that the largest grouping in the European Parliament will have a very important say in future legislation because, as we know, the Commission has the powers of legislative initiative at a European level. If the socialist group is the largest party in the European Parliament, we are likely to see a socialist-inclined President of the European Commission which could have a significant impact on the type of legislation we could expect to see proposed by the Commission. It is an important new power for the European Parliament and should concentrate the minds of the European electorate on the fact that the people they elect to the European Parliament in June 2009 will have an important say in the composition of the Commission and, therefore, the overall legislative output of the European Union

Parliamentry Reports, Seanad Debates, Vol. 189 No. 1 – Tuesday, 8 April 2008