I have written to you recently about the passage of the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Bill of 2022, which has now left The Dáil and moves onto the next stage of the Bill through the Seanad Éireann.
I have produced this Letter directly for you to read and where time allows, to listen to it through my Podcast.
You will recall that when I first wrote to you about this important Bill, I provided a set of amendments (Page 1 - Page 2) which I believe could be introduced to the Bill as a set of agreed Seanad changes. My proposed amendments simply provides an opportunity for a greater clarity, transparency and inclusivity within its provisions.
What my amendments do not do is a) alter the scope of the provisions of the Bill, and b), they provide no additional financial calls upon the Public Purse. It is these two factors that will be uppermost in the minds of the Seanadóirí when considering the next stages of the passage of this Bill.
The purpose of my intervention is to seek a vehicle that will bring a greater consensus to the Bill, a wider recognition of a community-at-large and a reasonable level of accountability. My amendments simply create a requirement that at any stage where onward Regulations are made, then those responsible for creating those Regulations, should give due considerationto certain categories; my amendments do not impose a deeper obligation other than the act of consideration.
You will know that the passage of the Bill has created considerable angst both within The Dáil and at large, and the imperfections presented to you carry with it a lack of general consensus and deep frustration. In fact, in my message to you, I highlighted my experience through legislative and other instrument creating processes, whereby the lack of consensus simply creates an instrument that remains problematic, requiring future generations of politicians to correct those issues.
Now I accept, that perhaps with regards to the wider-community-at-large and indeed some politicians, my amendments may be unwelcome or not presenting the full benefits that should be accrued to many. But, it is an odd scenario isn’t it, that I have proposed amendments to this Bill that still does not provide any ‘benefit’ to my late-Father or late-Grandmother, who died before the official date of the State Apology. My amendments are not about my own individual family’s angst or grief but look toward a recognition of people and of the desire to enable a Political and Social Consensus. I would hope that you agree, that whilst the remit of the Bill provides a benefit to many, the debate about so many others will continue for many years to come – what better way to prepare for the future than to lay the path for the consensus to come – a consensus that will have its roots in my proposed amendments.
I appreciate that I am perhaps out of kilter with many I know, each of whom I hold in deep respect, but I feel most deeply and personally, that the greatest’s changes in our societies come about when we sit, listen, consider and find a common ground to move forward because surely consensus is the key definition of the Public Good?
Whilst I have spoken with many who appear to be in despair with recent events in The Dáil, what has surprised me is how many have so little faith in the Seanad itself. I can see the controversy that surrounds your Chamber, but I do not subscribe to the notion that it is a Chamber that simply ‘nods’ things through or that it is simply a talking shop. In the lifeblood of the Nation it is clear that Seanad Éireann has played a vital role in the legislative life of Ireland whatever its claimed imperfections.
To secure a greater understanding of the life-blood of the Seanad, I am greatly indebted to a Brian Murphy (a former Student at UCD), who within UCD’s ‘History Hub’ published an article entitled, ‘We should not willingly walk into a Constitutional no-man’s land’.
Through his article we can see a wider discussion about the nature, structure and the problems of the reform of the Seanad, but also references to the positive aspects of its work is laid bare for all to see. So if we start from the basis of Bruton’s quote that the Seanad was a ‘watchdog that barks only once every fifty years’, we can begin to see Murphy’s own deconstruction of that claim.
The Seanad will know the various milestones of its contribution to National Life through their interventions on potential legislative overrides of the Irish Constitution, in the School Attendance Bill of 1942, the Third Amendment of the Irish Constitution Bill 1958, the Pawnbrokers Bill of 1964, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2000, the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill, the Credit Union Bill and the Personal Insolvency Bill.
Murphy quotes from DeValera’s comment in the 1937 debate over the draft Constitution, in which he stated:
“That measure will go to the Seanad. The Seanad will consider it and may amend it. Generally, I would take it, if the Second House does its duty as mainly a House of revision, because its powers of delay are very limited under this Constitution, we will get between the two Houses a certain amount of agreement”.
I too have also been greatly indebted to the support structures of the Oireachtas who have guided me on my own journey to understand the processes of Seanad Éireann through its Constitutional structure and its own Standing Orders.
I believe that it is entirely possible for the Seanad to consider the great controversy of the Institutional Redress Bill and take the time to consider the issues that have raged for so long outside its Chamber. In amongst the hundreds of amendments it delivers in each session of the Oireachtas, it is time to perhaps reflect on those controversies and determine a middle-ground intervention for the Bill. A middle-ground that does not alter the scope of the present Bill nor adds extra fiscal calls on the Public Purse.
I sincerely hope that you will give due regard to my amendments and I stand ready to speak with you directly and offer any help I can to deliver that ‘certain amount of agreement’ or a consensus, to make this not a perfect Bill, but a better Bill. A better Bill that will give hope to the many left behind by these awful Institutions – now that would be a fine achievement for the Seanad Éireann.
Son of: Francis Brehany (who died 2001), late of the Tuam Mother & Baby Home (5 yrs) & Boarded-out/Hired-out arrangements until he was 18 years of age.
Grandson of: Mary Breheny (who only had one child and who died 1972), an inmate of the Loughrea County Home (estd: 6 months), gave birth in Galway Central Hospital and remained there for 10 days with her son, was an inmate of the Tuam Mother & Baby Home (1 yr), was an inmate of the High Park Magdalen Laundry, Dublin (40 yrs & 13 days).
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