Pessimism increasing on prospect of Seanad Reform

While I am an optimist by nature, for the past two or two and a half years many Senators have called for change in the way we conduct debates in the House but no steps have been taken in that direction. I am afraid I am rapidly becoming a pessimist in relation to the attitude taken towards this Chamber by the Government. This is unfortunate because I would much prefer to remain an optimist. We should make suggestions and by all means subject the views of the Government parties and of the Opposition parties to real scrutiny, analysis and cross-examination. Let us have this type of exchange and debate, including engagement with outside groups and individuals in so far as that can be arranged under Standing Orders.

It appears, having viewed the approach taken by the Government parties that a decision has been made not to introduce any kind of radical change to the manner in which this House does its business.

In respect of something the House can do, I listened yesterday to many colleagues commenting on the statement made by the Archbishop of Dublin. While people have every right to comment on the issue, as to what the archbishop meant and so forth, I did not choose to engage on the matter because it is one for the archbishop and the church. I am interested, however, in what we, as parliamentarians, can do in a practical sense to change the system of child care, especially child protection.

The House should definitely debate two recently published reports, namely, the report of the Ombudsman for Children published yesterday which makes real and practical suggestions as to how change could be brought about in child protection as opposed to merely talking about it, and a report issued two weeks ago by the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon.

To give an example of what I meant with regard to the relevance of the Seanad and the attitude taken towards it, on a recent radio programme my fellow contributors asked me if Mr. Shannon’s report had been debated in either House of the Oireachtas. I was informed it had not been debated. It is extraordinary that individuals who have been appointed by the Government to important positions in the area of child protection have produced reports which the House does not even discuss. Let us make a start in rendering this House relevant by discussing the two reports in question. If necessary, let us have the authors before the House to take questions and debate with Senators who may be able to assist in bringing about real change on these issues.