'Seanad does not provide value for money' - Pearse Doherty
Donegal Senators Pearse Doherty and Cecilia Keaveney were on last Friday night's Late Late Show defending the existence of the Seanad.
With a budget looming and the economic crisis taking its toll on households across the country, feelings were running high.
There were even calls for the abolition of the Seanad, Ireland’s ‘upper chamber’.
However, Senator Pearse Doherty, who agreed that the current set up “does not offer value for money” says radical reform, not abolition, is the answer.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney told host Pat Kenny that she was grateful to have the chance to “show people what we do”.
The Inishowen Senator said: “We all recognise that the Seanad, like any institution which is in existence since 1937 can do with updating. We can all buy into the need for change.
“However, there is also a need for people to see what we do and how the existing system operates. The National media and the National broadcaster RTE have been very weak in their attendance in the Seanad and therefore their understanding of what they are criticising is not based on fact most of the time.
“We all must accept criticism but we also like to see fair play. It is actually the local media that get across to many in the community the ongoing and constant work that I am doing.”
She described two important projects that she has progressed since Christmas - bursaries for Irish students attending UK universities, and the retention of Project Kelvin in Derry - as examples of how the Seanad can influence outcomes.
“When students going to the North had to pay fees, but couldn’t apply for bursaries, I created a fuss in the Seanad. Now all EU students attending the University of Ulster are eligible to apply for bursaries.
“When I was working with Philip O’Doherty of E & I Engineering, Burnfoot, Mark Durkan in the North, to bring Project Kelvin to Derry, there was a chance of the €30 million investment going to Coleraine instead. Again, a fuss was created, in the Seanad, in Stormont and at Derry City Council. We were able to move that back to Derry.
Radical reform needed
Senator Pearse Doherty, said he “takes a completely different view of the situation from the other Senators.”
He agreed with many critics. “I think the Seanad, as it is, is undemocratic, unaccountable and elitist. I think we do need serious reform. Of course every senator will call for reform but they’re only talking about tinkering around the edges.
“What I’m arguing for is an end to the cosy relationship of appointments and the introduction of direct public election, including absentee ballots from Irish people living abroad.
“The way the Seanad works needs to be changed as well. At the moment, it’s too dominated by the political parties. There’s also too much duplication of what goes on in the Dail. There have been twelve different reports since 1937 advocating reform of the Seanad: not one has been implemented.
“What the Seanad should be is a gathering of the best independent minds in business, agriculture, education, industry and commerce - to reflect the panels that currently exist. If a former president of the IFA were to stand for the agricultural panel, it’s unlikely he would be elected under the current system.”
Senator Doherty also called for ministers to take a substantial cut in wages.
“When a minister is earning 200,000 euro or more, there’s no way they can understand the difficulties that families are having or the burdens they are struggling with.
“From my point of view, as a senator for Sinn Fein, I’m only allowed to earn the average industry wage. The rest goes back to party, apart from wages of the person I, as a registered employer, hire to run the office.
“Ministers need substantial wage cuts, in the region of 20-25%. They are simply being paid too much,” concluded the Sinn Fein senator.
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Weather for Derry
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 12 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 12 C to 16 C
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Wind direction: North west