The Seanad May Not Be Perfect. but without It Democracy Is in Terrible Danger
Byline: by Feargal Quinn SENATOR AND FOUNDER OF SUPERQUINN
WHEN I first walked into Leinster House as an elected senator some 18 years ago, I felt a sense of awe at the responsibility of the office. Now, almost two decades later, I still have that feeling each time I enter the Seanad Chamber.
Originally the Earl of Kildare's ballroom in the 1700s when the house was built, it is, after all, a magnificent space in its own right. But it's not about the beauty of the room.
Rather it's about the importance of what goes on inside it. And make no mistake, despite the fact that the Seanad is under attack as never before, there is vital work done within those walls.
Yes, of course there are things about the Seanad that need to be changed, but let's not forget this is a crucial and essential arm of our democracy. To abolish it would be to ignore the importance of the checks and balances that a second House brings to parliamentary democracy.
To abolish it, in my view, would be folly.
The Seanad acts as a brake on the power of the Dail. It is a forum for in-depth discussion and line-by-line scrutiny of legislation.
In many cases, it is the only forum for such careful examination.
If we abolish the Seanad, then we run the risk of the Dail simply 'signing off ' on legislation that has a profound effect on the citizens of this country.
During my time as a senator, the Seanad has tabled thousands of amendments to improve or indeed change legislation. Without the Seanad, our citizens would have been deprived of those improvements. The Seanad also has the ability to exercise power and initiate legislation that is not often recognised.
For instance, I am looking forward to the passing of The Construction Contracts Bill that I recently proposed. This will bring considerable benefits to sub-contractors, ensuring they are paid what they are due and introducing a swift adjudication process where there is dispute.
I believe this legislation could have averted the loss of hundreds of jobs for sub-contractors in one company that recently went into liquidation, owing more than [euro]50million to trade creditors, including more than 1,600 sub-contractors.
If the Bill is passed before the General Election, it will illustrate the value of the Seanad and clearly demonstrate how it plays a crucial role.
crucial There is also my Seanad Private Member's Bill on Presumed Consent, The Human Body Organs and Tissue. This Bill is intended to save lives by presuming that consent has been given for organ donation, unless it is expressly withheld.
Other EU countries such as Spain, France, Italy and Sweden have introduced similar systems that have led to thousands of lives being saved each year. Belgium introduced 'presumed consent' legislation in 1986 and the national organ donation rate rose by 55 per cent within five years.
The Seanad also keeps issues of public importance high on the agenda, such as the rights of the elderly through Senator Mary White, gay rights and equality through Senator David Norris and public sector reform through Senator Eoghan Harris.
The quality of debate, with senators taking a national, rather than a local view, is one of the Seanad's defining features. This is especially true in issues of vital national importance - legislation, for example, that has come before the House on the banking sector and prison reform.
There have been successes, of course. …