MEP calls for immediate Seanad reform group

If the government refuses to bring forward proposals to reform the Seanad Fianna Fail which led opposition to its abolition should make reform a central plank to its manifesto for the next General Election.

Independent MEP Marian Harkin this week stated that if the government refuses to bring forward proposals to reform the Seanad, Fianna Fail which led opposition to its abolition should make reform a central plank to its manifesto for the next General Election. Harkin insisted that the vote in the Seanad Referendum was not just a vote by citizens to retain it but was a clear demand to reform it. In particular she called for greatly increased attention to be given to European Affairs and in particular to transposing EU into Irish law.

She said: “Unfortunately very little debate during the campaign focussed on the fact that the very significant volume of EU legislation which currently constitutes about 80 per cent of all new legislation being transposed into Irish law, received enough attention from Irish legislators. This situation has cost Ireland very dear in the context of millions of euros in fines for failure to properly transpose Irish law. For example inadequate transposing of septic tank regulations led to €2.5 million in fines plus unknown but significant legal costs. The fines have arisen despite the fact that we have a scrutiny Committee on EU Affairs in the Oireachtas but its role is confined to the first - and not necessarily most important - step in the legislative process. Scrutiny occurs at the very start of the legislative journey, to ensure that the proposed legislation does not go beyond the remit of EU competence and that it will attain a certain objective and no more. This legislation then goes to the European Parliament, where MEPs amend it and in most cases make significant changes - that is after all the core function of MEPs' legislative work.

“Further changes occur during negotiation with the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, and when final agreement is reached, the new EU Directive or Regulation is often significantly different to what the Oireachtas scrutinised in the first place, maybe two to three years earlier. At that point, the role of the Oireachtas is to transpose and implement the legislation. This is a critical piece of work and is often achieved by Statutory Instrument (in 2012, there were 592 instruments, in 2011 there were 741 instruments ) with very little Parliamentary debate and input. The implementation of the legislation is often critical to its effective functioning, e.g. The Habitats Directive or legislation governing septic tanks. However, unlike many of our EU neighbours, Ireland has largely failed to devise a system for the efficient transposition of EU regulations and directives into Irish law, and their subsequent implementation.”

Harkin went on to say that, “A reformed Seanad provides an opportunity to remedy this deficit and avoid the situation where Ireland has had to appear before the European Court of Justice many more times than countries like Denmark and the UK who joined the EU at the same time as Ireland.

She concluded by saying, “Accordingly the government should immediately constitute a body to examine all of the reports existing on Seanad reform, and bring together other political and civil society interests to respond to the obvious demand for the Seanad to be reformed and play a more effective role, with the Dail, in delivering more effective government for the people. In this regard Fianna Fail has a duty to include the reforming of the Seanad as part of its general election manifesto. An early decision to this effect could act as a stimulus to the present government to respond responsibly to the decision of the people in the Referendum”

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