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Senator Bacik speaking on the Status of the Seanad

21 October 2009

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: I join others in welcoming the news of the release of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki. Good news is very welcome at such a bleak time and congratulations are due to all involved, and I pay particular tribute to the strength of character displayed by Sharon Commins since her release after 107 days in captivity.

In response to some of what has been said in the debate on the status of the Seanad, to call Deputy Kenny's sudden conversion to the cause of abolition brave is to miss the point. It seems a rather bizarre if not a rather pathetic attempt to grab headlines from what would otherwise have been a mundane speech to the Fine Gael party faithful on Saturday night. The sudden conversion does not strike me as brave, particularly not after his party put forward very different proposals for reform of the Seanad a mere seven months ago. However, the case for substantial reform of the Seanad is unanswerable. There is a clear case for significant reform.

The schedule of business for the House this week confirms that. We did not sit yesterday for a reason unexplained by the Leader and which many of us opposed on Thursday. Today's business does not include the relevant and topical subjects we should debate. To have statements on postal codes and a marine mapping programme calls into question the relevance of the Seanad and I would also like to propose an amendment to the Order of Business on behalf of the Labour Party that instead we debate what is being debated throughout the country, namely, NAMA's business plan which was published last week. It is being debated everywhere but not in the Upper House where we should see relevant debate take place every week. Will the Leader amend the Order of Business to ensure we can debate the topic here?

I would also like to have a full debate on the cuts to budgets of Protestant schools. Senator Norris and I raised the issue here two weeks ago. Archbishops John Neill and Diarmuid Martin are also calling on the Minister for Education and Science to reverse the cutbacks. It is nice for an atheist to be speaking in support of two bishops. We need a debate on the matter urgently with the Minister for Education and Science who must explain why he is reversing a policy of four decades to give funding to Protestant schools in recognition of their very different ethos within our sectarian education system.