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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.


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

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