Senator Gabrielle McFadden raised some eyebrows last week when she claimed that members of the Upper House are treated like “second-class citizens” in comparison to the Deputies of Dáil Éireann.
The Athlone-based Senator made the comment last Wednesday (October 12 ) during a discussion on reforming the Seanad.
“That line was taken out of context,” Senator McFadden said earlier this week. “I got a bit irritated towards the end of the last speaker, because all everybody was talking about was the reform of the Seanad in terms of how members should be elected. I feel very strongly that it should be about reforming how the Seanad works.
“I talked about the fact that there a committee has been set up in the Dáil to look at a 10-year health strategy, but Senators aren’t on that committee. Amongst us are doctors, lawyers, and others who would have something to say about the health strategy, but we were not included.
“I threw the comment in that somebody with a real interest in economics wanted to come in and sit with me in the gallery on Tuesday, but because I am a Senator I did not get a visitor’s pass. The point of it all was that if we are going to talk about the reform of the Seanad we need to be considered equals, but the ‘second class citizens’ comment was the one line that was taken out of it.”
While the report on reforming the Seanad primarily deals with altering the current franchise for electing its members, Senator McFadden says the focus should be on reforming the manner in which the House contributes to the democratic process.
“The report mostly talks about how we change the panels. As it is now, there are five panels and if you are a councillor, a TD, or a Senator you have one vote on each panel. The suggestion is that you would only have one vote on one panel. I don’t like the idea. I’m also not in favour of disenfranchising the local authorities. They need to have a voice because they are local representatives, democracy on the ground if you like. But I do agree that the public should vote.
“Part of the reform should be giving the House more influence. If a Bill comes from the Dáil to the Seanad, whatever happens in the House should be taken on board as part of that. This idea that the Seanad is full of elderly or failed politicians is incorrect. It is full of passionate and energetic people who have a serious opinion to put out there. The members and the house are much more active than people think; I think that is not reported on enough.”