I welcome my colleague, Councillor Ger Fogarty, to the Visitors Gallery. He contributed to this debate by examining ways of having the Diaspora represented in the House.
Seanad reform is a broad topic. While the scale of the financial crisis has been widely discussed, the Seanad could play a role in addressing the issue of the national democratic deficit. The scrutiny of legislation by the Houses is nothing short of appalling. Our democratic system failed in the period preceding the financial crisis. The volume of legislation not scrutinised by the Dáil, the Seanad and committees is extraordinary. Dr. Brian Hunt carried out a study of Oireachtas scrutiny of legislation which found that 98% of laws were passed without scrutiny by the Dáil or the Seanad. In 2009 alone, 1,291 EU regulations automatically became law in Ireland and the rest of the European Union. In addition, 164 EU directives became law by the stroke of a ministerial pen and without debate in the Dáil, the Seanad or any committee.
Up to 594 statutory instruments became law without scrutiny by this House or the Dáil, while in 2009 only 47 Acts were debated in both Houses. Up to 98% of the laws made were not debated in these Houses, which means we have a structural problem. A reformed Seanad could play a constructive role in correcting this national democratic deficit. My colleagues spoke about the scrutiny of EU legislation as provided under the Lisbon treaty. In the first two years since the treaty was passed 139 directives were proposed, with 428 submissions made by EU member state parliaments. Of the 428, Ireland made only one submission which was ruled out of order. Our structures are nothing short of deficient. We have a serious national democratic deficit. A reformed and properly structured Houses of the Oireachtas could rebalance this. The power has been in the hands of too few for too long, not with those whom the people elect to represent them. It is time for the national democratic deficit to be corrected and democracy returned to the people.
As well as Senator Katherine Zappone’s proposals, we need to examine how we look at representing those in the North of Ireland and the Irish overseas. There are 70 million people around the world who claim Irish heritage – 40 million in America, 5 million in Canada and 8 million in the United Kingdom. We must examine how we can represent them, with those in the North of Ireland, in order that they can have an input into legislation and policy and how Ireland develops. We must reach out to the Irish overseas who want to play a part in the country’s development.