Mary O'Rourke: Dear Maurice, here's nine things you can do to improve Seanad...
Open letter to Senator Maurice Cummins (FG), Leader of An Seanad
I am writing to you in your capacity as Leader of Seanad Eireann.
Firstly, the compliments. Right throughout this campaign you behaved with discretion and dignity. You carried on your shoulders the job as Leader of the Seanad and you stood by all the senators. I watched you on TV on Saturday pm and I thought you showed immense courage, restraint and again dignity.
Those are fine qualities.
I want to put forward a range of short, easy proposals which can be put through the Seanad without any recourse to another constitutional amendment.
I hope you will accept these ideas in the good faith in which they are sent to you.
I am writing to you in my capacity as ex-Seanad Leader 2002–2007.
1. Convene a meeting this week of your colleagues in the Seanad with the leader of the Fianna Fail group, Senator Darragh O'Brien, the leader of the Labour group, Senator Aideen Hayden, Senator David Cullinane of Sinn Fein and whoever the university senators will put forward.
2. Ask for views at that meeting as to what can be done NOW to improve the work of the Seanad and to make it more visible.
3. Ask the Government what European directives/legislation are pending.
4. Split up the directives as to suitability for senators and divide them out among various senators to scrutinise and come back to you and your colleagues with amendments and suggestions added.
5. Insist on a public relations role within the Oireachtas for the work being done on a weekly basis in Seanad Eireann – the legislation being passed, the amendments being put forward, the Private Members' Bills etc.
6. Insist on at least 50pc of new bills to be presented to Seanad Eireann before going to Dail Eireann. After all, they will get a better airing and better debate in the Seanad anyway.
7. Get one mainline bill coming your way and organise groups to come in either to the full Seanad or to a smaller committee and hear their views on that forthcoming piece of legislation.
8. Read the last report on Seanad Reform 2004 and glean whatever will be useful to you from it.
9. Draw up a piece of legislation implementing the wishes of the referendum of 1979 and get that through the Seanad and send it on to the Dail immediately. Peoples' voices do matter.
Now Maurice, all of the above are immediate and by Christmas a very respectable body of work will have been completed by the Seanad.
Between now and Christmas, Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone's bill (to which all the Seanad assented) can be fully explored as to the next moves forward – which will be the intermediate steps.
Do not become beguiled by talk of another referendum on the Seanad. There is plenty of time for that in the future but, in the meantime, your main task is to ensure that the Seanad gets to work meaningfully. The above proposals will give you rafts of work on which to be engaged.
Talk of sending the debate to the Constitutional Convention is, to my mind, a further route for delay, but does not cut across what immediately can be done right now in Seanad Eireann.
Good luck, Maurice – I know that you and your colleagues can do it!
Mary O'Rourke (Leader of Seanad Eireann 2002–2007)