The Civil Engagement Group has been at the forefront of Seanad and Oireachtas reform initiatives since the group was formed in May 2016. All six supported the Seanad Reform Bill 2016, which radically reforms Seanad elections, and have made major inroads in opening up the work of the Oireachtas and its committees to groups often overlooked, including in the Seanad Public Consultation Committee and Petitions Committee. Supporting one another’s core areas of focus, the Group has made many very meaningful improvements to legislation in the Seanad.

The Civil Engagement Group in February 2017. Not pictured: Lynn Ruane.

Among these the Group has successfully amended the Planning and Development (Housing) Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 to make it harder for vulture funds to evict tenants; the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 to make it fairer for the families of children in care to be heard in their adoptions; the Heritage Bill 2016, seeking to protect Ireland’s biodiversity and the welfare of canal users; and the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 to protect young people from unhealthy exposure to alcohol.

Working across Party lines is a hallmark of the Group’s work in the Seanad, cosponsoring bills, amendments and motions with every other group and party in the upper house, and in turn securing their support for the Civil Engagement Group’s work. The The Group is represented on the Joint Oireachtas Committees for Social Protection; Justice and Equality; Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement; Health; Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government; Education and Skills; Public Petitions; the Special Committees on the Future Funding of Domestic Water; on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution; on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union; and the Seanad’s committee on Public Consultations; Committee on Procedure and Privileges; and Committee of Selection.

Senator Kelleher’s Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017 passed second stage without opposition in April 2017 and is now progressing through the legislative process, followed closely by Group senators. Senator Kelleher has also spearheaded work on raising awareness and coordinating Oireachtas work on dementia, organising Dementia awareness training for 60 members of both houses, and launching the first All Party Group on Dementia which has produced five reports, held two study trips and a high-level roundtable on home care. Senators Kelleher and Dolan are now focusing on launching an All Party Group on Disability.

Senator Dolan’s motion on the housing needs of people with disabilities was agreed by the house early in the term, while Senator Higgins’ motion calling on the Seanad to reject the proposed CETA agreement between Canada and the European Union was similarly passed. Senator O’Sullivan’s Vacant and Derelict Homes Bill 2017 moved the debate on housing in Ireland forward at a crucial time and Senator Ruane’s Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017 has been receiving significant support as it moves through the legislative process.

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