Speech on Order of Business regarding new Seanad
27 March 2020
I would like to join with the Cathaoirleach in extending sympathies to Senator Ruane on her loss. I am very sorry to hear that at such a difficult time. On behalf of Labour Party Senators, I would like to express condolences to the families of the ten people whose deaths were so sadly announced last night, to the 19 families who had been bereaved so far in this jurisdiction and the 29 on this island. I extend my sympathies to all those who have been affected either directly through illness themselves, the illness of loved ones or through job losses or other economic hardships.
I join with others in commending all our front-line workers. I was glad to participate last night on my own street in the applause in which we all took part. I also thank the Leader for suggesting we would do the same today at the end of the Order of Business. That is commendable.
On the Bill today, Senator Kevin Humphreys will be leading for us. We will be welcoming it as my colleagues, Deputies Duncan Smith and Nash, did in the Dáil last night. Several issues have been raised with me – I am sure with other colleagues too – which I have raised directly with the Minister concerning the procedures, for example, of the Mental Health Commission during this crisis. It is important to ensure there is not too onerous a regulatory or administrative burden put on those trying to operate those procedures now, particularly for inpatients.
I wish to raise one other issue concerning the operation of the Seanad which has been reported on by Marie O'Halloran in The Irish Times today, namely, whether an incoming Seanad can validly sit before the nomination of the Taoiseach’s nominees. Our clear advice in the Labour Party, and my own considered view having looked at the Constitution and Standing Orders, is a view shared by my Trinity College Dublin colleague, Dr. Oran Doyle, and by Tom Hickey in Dublin City University, both of whom wrote a piece in The Irish Times yesterday expressing the view that the Seanad can be lawfully constituted without the Taoiseach's nominees.
That is based on our reading of Article 18 of the Constitution. Article 18.8 gives the Taoiseach a power that cannot be confined or contradicted by Seanad Standing Orders. That power allows the Taoiseach to advise the President on the first meeting of the Seanad after a general election, regardless of whether Seanad Standing Orders require the nominees to be appointed first. If one looks at Seanad Standing Orders, one can see that Standing Order 190 gives a power to suspend Standing Orders for a sitting. Therefore, I do not even think it is necessary for us to amend our own Standing Orders to enable a newly constituted Seanad of 49 Senators to sit and validly pass legislation after next week's election before the Taoiseach's 11 nominees have been appointed. I am aware a different legal view is being expressed in Government circles, apparently on the basis of the Attorney General's advice but a reading of Article 18 of the Constitution clearly implies that the Seanad would be lawfully constituted. I say this in aid of the Government and, indeed, of all our efforts to ensure we can continue to operate through this crisis and address all the challenges that may arise and to ensure any further emergency legislation that may have to be passed may be passed. I commend all those who are working so hard to prevent the spread of this virus.