Today (19 Feb 2019) at the Order of Business in the Seanad, I countered the very serious suggestion by the Leader of the House, Senator Jerry Buttimer, Fine Gael that the ongoing debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 is bringing the Seanad into disrepute. It has been implied that the almost 70 hours of debate has damaged the reputation of the Seanad and by implication its members. I pointed out that since the commencement of Committee Stage debate, the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption had questioned whether the Bill was in line with European Standards and if it actually secured judicial independence. In addition the European Commission in a report in March 2018 was definitive and explicit in its view that the Bill was not in line with European Standards. As recently as November 2018 the Irish Times Editorial stated “It is still not too late for the Government to scrap the ill-advised Judicial Appointments Bill being foisted on the country at the whim of Minister for Transport, Shane Ross.”
I asked the Cathaoirleach if those of us who were doing our best to scrutinize, amend or oppose sections the Bill, were the "enemy from within" or whether allowing one single elected member of Dáil Éireann to fundamentally interfere with a central tenet of democracy was in fact the real enemy of the democratic process. I reiterated that while I was aware that Leader of the House had a political responsibility to ensure the speedy passage of the Government's Legislative Programme through the Oireachtas, I seriously opposed any attempt by him to intertwine the reputation of the Seanad with the fate of Minister Shane Ross's legislation as to do so would in itself be a denigration of the role of the Seanad. I went on to say that nobody reading the extensive transcript of deliberations on the Bill or witnessing it live, could fault the quality of the debate or the public service benefit of having a former Tánaiste, Minister for Justice and Attorney General interrogate the text of this Bill line by line, word by word. I strongly denied that taking the necessary time to point out just how dangerous this legislation is to the independence and quality of our Judiciary is a misuse of any standing order of the Seanad, parliamentary privilege or procedure. I asked the Leader not to sully the reputation of the Seanad because of his own personal political demands and pressures and expressed a genuine gratitude for the checks and balances built into our Constitution to prevent a rogue executive from allowing a single member of the Dáil to dictate the future of our Judiciary.
Debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 continues this evening in the Seanad and I welcome the opportunity to make a very positive and considered contribution on the amendments that I and my colleagues in the Independent group in the Seanad have tabled.