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Monday, 9 September 2013

Seanad details 2

Continuing the debate about the Seanad Abolishment Referendum from my first post on Seanad Details

I finally got a list of amendments table or made by the Seanad, they are mostly made by the government, although Seanad defenders say it made many vital contributions to legislation whether through tabling amendments or the government adopting their suggestion for amendment of bills.

Katherine Zappone wrote an accompanying article about contributions made by the Seanad to legislation.

In contrast, members of the Seanad have tabled 529 amendments to 14 Bills that have been passed over the past two years. Being credited for their particular amendments is generally not a priority of senators -- their focus is on strengthening the reach of the particular legislation. As a result, data that maps Seanad inputs that have been subsumed in legislation is lacking.

I know, for example, that the exemption from local property tax that children and youth organisations enjoy came about because of Senator Jillian van Turnhout's recommendations. As a result of exchanges I had in the Seanad, three Finance Acts were amended (regarding equivalence in taxation law between spouses and civil partners). Likewise, as a direct result of the expert knowledge in the Seanad, the Education and Training Boards Bill 2012 ensures the inclusion of learner organisations' representatives on Education and Training Boards. I facilitated the access of civil society organisations to influence the Personal Insolvency Bill 2012 that resulted in the inclusion of minimum income guidelines for debtors in the legislation.

Seanad Amendments PQs, compared to Oireachtas Research list

The Personal Insolvency Bill is one of the examples given, the Insolvency journal explains.

Anti-abolishment Labour TD Joanna Tuffy gives more example of Seanad's effect.

Joanna Tuffy TD emailed more details of one example, The Bills page Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 200 showing progress through the houses, it started in the Seanad.

Here is an example that I did mention on twitter - it is the Electoral Bill 2000 and in particular a provision in the bill to ban opinion polls 7 days from polling.

Here is a link to the debate where Maurice Manning seeks to have the bill recommitted. This proposal was defeated. Then there are two other proposals to recommit and these two are defeated. What was being attempted here by the Senators is to delay a bill they think is flawed, both constitutionally and from a press freedom point of view. Worth reading the debates from them on the 10 July. Note the Fine Gael Senators and Labour Senators that are speaking against the bill and for it to be recommitted - in the Dail their party spokespersons supported the ban on opinion polls when originally proposed in the Dail.


the next day however, the Minister comes back into the house and see his speech (smith) paragraph 2. The offending section 59 is being dropped from the bill.


Obviously the Seanad played its part in this uturn. While it did not use its delaying powers, because the majority to do so was not reached, the debate on whether to do so would have helped make the Government's mind up for them. Without the Seanad's existence the Bill would have been passed by then because it had passed in the Dail as you will see from this article from the time in the Irish Independent:


Dail Reform
I'm mostly interested on where this will leave the Dail. The government released some Dail reform proposals in June. They also point reforms already made, I wish it was easier to check and quantify those reforms.

1. As a general rule, major non-emergency legislation will first be submitted to the relevant Dáil committee in Heads of Bill format.

2. To allow for extra consideration and scrutiny, each Bill will be referred back to the committee which considered it at Pre-Legislative and Committee Stages for a final examination after Report Stage and before the Bill is passed by the House. This new stage will be known as Pre-Enactment Stage. It will be provided for in Dáil Standing Orders.

3. It is proposed that a Minister will revert to the relevant select committee within 12 months of the enactment of a Bill, to discuss and review the functioning of the law and to allow for a debate from members and stakeholders as to whether the legislation is fulfilling its intended purpose.

4. As part of a strengthened committee system, there will be 14 Dáil committees: four strategic committees on issues of major strategic and political importance (including PAC, Finance and EU scrutiny); seven sectoral committees to shadow Government Departments; and three thematic committees which will focus on specific issue (petitions, Good Friday Agreement, members’ interests). It is envisaged that each committee will have twelve members and will invite external experts to provide specialist input to its work.

5. When enacted, the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill will enable Oireachtas committees to once again undertake parliamentary inquires into certain matters of major public importance. Since such inquires can involve unique and complex legal and policy issues a separate administrative system will ensure that they function smoothly. Once an inquiry is established, it will be undertaken by a sub-committee of the relevant select committee in order to ensure that the work of the select committee can continue uninterrupted.

6. A proposed new Dáil schedule will increase time spent on deliberating legislation.

7. The d’Hondt system will be introduced to distribute chairs of key committees on a proportional and equitable basis. This proposal, if agreed by the House, will go hand in hand with a revised Dáil schedule to allow committees to do as much work as possible when the House is not sitting.

8. A new ‘10 Minute Bills’ procedure will be introduced.
Fine Gael keep promising more Dail reform proposals will be unveiled before the referendum vote but there no guarantee they'll be implemented.

A Sunday Independent had an article suggesting disagreement between the coalition partners over the place of external experts in reviewing legislation. The government proposals says invite external experts to committees, Fine Gael says the proposals are (pg 8 & 16)

The Government’s reforms to the Dáil will establish a panel of available experts to be available to Committees to assist in their work.

They publish they're Abolish Seanad Eireann Bill booklet today

Fine Gael Abolish the Seanad booklet by lostexpectation

Cost of new committees

An analysis and comparison of the 20 million costs of the Seanad by Shane Conneely.

On the question of whether the savings from abolishing the Seanad will be swallowed up by expanded Dail committees Fine Gael asserts on page 16 that they will be funded from Dail Budget.

Even though we've heard Minister in charge of Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin link the Seanad abolishment with more resources for new Dail committees.

Any additional resources needed for new structures in a single chamber can be funded from smaller Dáil membership and continuing savings in the Dáil

Separately to the €20 million Seanad saving, we estimate that approximately €2 millions in
savings will be generated by cutting the number of TDs from 166 to 158—a measure which is
already scheduled to take place at the next general election.

The Houses of the Oireachtas will continue to drive down costs, like all other government
departments. There were overall savings of over 8% on the three year Oireachtas budget for

These savings will be sufficient to fund the additional resources required to serve a reformed Dáil, such as the panel of independent experts and additional Committee Hearings.

does that make the cost 2 million plus (that 8% of 125 million Dail cost) around 10 million.

which is reduced from 168 TDs to 158 for the next Dail. So the Seanad savings will go on 'urgent' frontline services apparently. Still even though there will be less staff, a lot of the same staff and work and cost will have been shared by the two houses of parliament and they won't be able to cancel out all the indirect costs.

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