A blog about things that interest me, hyperlocal news, architecture, development, environment,local history secularism web dublin ireland tara

Contact me at expectationlost@gmail.com

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Senator Zappone's Seanad article source linked

Senator Katherine Zappone wrote this article for the SBP giving examples of contributions that Seantors made to law whether they were officially amendments passed by them or not. I have tried to find source links for every example Senator Zappone gives, and put them in spreadsheet and inserted them in a copy of the article below.



etc.

It should bother you that among this talk of Dail Reform that politicians are discounting Senators contributions to bills, think, they could say the same thing about the Dail TD's contribution, if all amendments to bills were 'government amendments' we can get rid of all opposition TDs, most TDs, no need for them.

This seemed to be the attitude of Fine Gael deputy referendum director Regina Doherty on Tonight with Vincent Browne this week when he challenged his guests about the strictness of the whip harming democracy and making the government unaccountable, she said that government TDs vote for laws drafted by government and as they had majority of TDs their votes always passed and the opposition always lost she didn't see a problem with this. So Regina what are opposition TDs for? Why are they in the Dail at all?

One presumes she excepts that if an opposition TD makes a good point or amendment that if the government agrees with politically it will be incorporated into the bill, by adoption of the amendments by government or through the whips allowing the majority to vote for the opposition amendment, this happens very rarely. But is this as far as it goes? Doherty pretended not to get that there needs to be an element of democracy within the Dail itself to hold the government to account, and that the backbench TDs shouldn't simply be lobby fodder.

Argue for Seanad abolition as hard as you want, it is archaic and elitist but by repeating this idea that Senators make no contribution to laws that the government passed, by discounting them completely you are also diminishing the contribution of TDs in the Dail, the house we'll be left with, and I presume you want their contributions to be acknowledged and be increased.


Sunday Business Post Opinion: Democracy’s the victim if Seanad is abolished

The Seanad is an important part of the law making process and a counterweight to the government.

In light of recent polls, optimism is rising that the unwarranted referendum on the abolition of the Seanad will fail next October.

I welcome this development. I strongly argue that the Seanad is in need of reform, but it is most definitely not in need of abolition. To abolish the institution without setting out how its functions are to be replaced is beyond folly -- it is simply dangerous to democracy in this state.

The costs argument presented by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton is an indefensible red herring. The real issue is about how power is exercised.

Checks and balances

Nearly 50 years ago, the Report of the Committee on the Constitution of 1967 [link?] stressed the importance of the Seanad in the context of the principle of checks and balances by saying how vital it is to "have a safeguard against ill-considered or hasty action on the part of the first house [the Dáil]" that can give "more comprehensive treatment" to "important technical matters" regarding legislation.

In the absence of meaningful reform of either the Dáil or local government, the necessity of upholding this principle is now more urgent in Ireland than it ever was.

One key function of the Seanad is to scrutinise independently-proposed legislation and bring the government of the day to account.

The strengthening of the party whip mechanism in recent years translates to a Dáil that does not so much represent constituents, but rather rubber stamps policy handed down from upon high by the Cabinet. As a result it is a Dáil where nuanced debate on key legislation and policy is stifled: it's either compliant or acrimonious and not much in-between.

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.[ Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013, Noonan adopts amendment, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan credits Senator van Turnhout with the amendment even though all amendments were government amendments ] 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).[ Finance bills 1, 2, 3 ] 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. [ Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn acknowledging Senators on focus on learner organisations ] 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. [ Alan Shatter credits a number of government amendments to Senators ] [ The InsolvencyJournal.ie credits Senators with improvements to the PIB].

These, and many equivalent legislative inputs, are categorised as government amendments, thereby 'disappearing' the role of Seanad members. Ordinarily, this is not important, but now in the context of Seanad abolition on the rationale of its purported 'irrelevance' it is useful to help voters get a deeper sense of what business is actually done there.

Democratic deliberation

Besides scrutinising proposed legislation, another vital function of the Seanad is to initiate and explore issues of public interest and concern.

The Independent group of Taoiseach's nominees, to which I belong, put forward two motions on the issue of the future of prostitution legislation,[ 1, 2 ] as a result of which the issue was brought to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.

A huge public consultation took place and a report was issued, with radical recommendations for changes in legislation, which are being laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien tabled a motion on the need to establish a Charities Regulator that was debated in the Seanad. [Charities Regulation: Motion] In mid-July of this year, the Minister for Justice and Equality [Alan Shatter] announced this would be created soon. Again, this is one of many examples of how deliberation on issues of policy and law is integral to the Seanad's work.

Generating ideas for law and policy

The Seanad has long been a site where new ideas for law and policy have been generated. There are many such examples: Senator Feargal Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill has now passed into law, and Senator Ivana Bacik introduced the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act [ a private members bill in 2011 that the Minister recognised led to the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012 that was enacted] that allows humanists to officiate at marriages, while Senator Kelly's Wind Turbines Bill 2012 passed to Committee stage last year.

My own Legal Recognition of Gender Bill 2013 that offers a simple legal pathway to gender recognition can justifiably be seen to have triggered the unexpected publication of the long-awaited Heads of Bill on the same issue. The Minister for Justice will be seeking the opinion of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission regarding section 37 of the Equal Status Act, triggered by a Bill sponsored by Senator Power.

Exercising power

I think we need to have the capacity to ensure there are constraints on a sitting government in the form of checks and balances.

Should the government's abolition bid fail at the referendum, let that be a mandate for reform. The government has already accepted a bill for radical Seanad reform proposed by Senator Feargal Quinn and myself.

As an electorate, we can reject spurious argument and insist on expansion of our democratic capacity rather than endangering it.

In my opinion, on this particular issue, we need to exercise our power, and vote no on October 4.

Dr Katherine Zappone is an Independent Senator

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.

http://debates.oireachtas.ie/seanad/2001/07/10/00006.asp

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.

http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad2001071100006?opendocument

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:

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/fg-seanad-leader-will-block-bill-to-ban-opinion-polls-26249592.html


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
2010–20126.

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.