Dáil debates

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

12:00 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)

A Theachtaí, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh as mé a thoghadh mar Cheann Comhairle Dháil Éireann inniu. Is mór an onóir domsa é.

Fellow Members, I thank you most sincerely for the great honour you have conferred on me today in electing me as Ceann Comhairle. I congratulate all Members on their election, in particular those elected for the first time. It is 30 years since I first took my seat here and I can fully appreciate what a great day it is.

Many have said that the recent election was the most important since the foundation of the State. If that is so, then the 31st Dáil should be one of the most important since this State gained its independence. Public trust and confidence in this Parliament has also been questioned. The striking mandate of the election, with more than 50 new Members, in its own way renews that trust. Our task is to ensure we live up to the confidence placed by the people in us and this Parliament. This will be achieved by this Dáil if we can conduct our affairs with purpose, professionalism, passion, civility and in a manner that reinforces the relevance of this Chamber to the people who elected us.

We need a modern Parliament for a modern age. We need a modern Dáil in which there is open and constructive debate. Debate can be constructive and passionate, but most of all responsive. This must be so if the wide diversity of views held by those Members elected to the House by the people are to be heard and, more important, understood inside and outside this great Chamber.

"Reform" was one of the catchphrases of the recent general election campaign. While as Ceann Comhairle, I am required to lead political and procedural reform, I will be proactive in areas where the Ceann Comhairle can contribute.

The criticism of the rules of the Dáil as appearing to be archaic and irrelevant owes much to how we have applied them ourselves in the Dáil, where, for example, the ordinary backbencher has effectively been cut out of parliamentary questions due to the predominance of spokespersons. I am convinced that some simple changes to our procedures can make the workings of the Dáil far more dynamic by encouraging the participation of the ordinary backbenchers who are the backbone of the Dáil.

With regard to my role, it is my task and duty to administer and apply the rules of the Dáil with utter impartiality, fairness and equality between parties and Deputies. This I intend to do. All Members can be assured of my full support to enable them to fulfil their duties as Deputies in accordance with Standing Orders as laid down by the House. I encourage Members, as my predecessors did on many occasions, to change the rules which they collectively believe are outmoded. I will faithfully apply any such changes.

Members can also be assured that I will not only be fair but firm and will, with your co-operation, maintain order in the House to ensure the right balance is struck between the reconciliation of the rights of Members to participate in debate with the need for the efficient and expeditious discharge of parliamentary business. Indeed, it would be difficult for me to fulfil my obligations as Ceann Comhairle without your support and co-operation. In doing so, I will defend your rights to be heard and to contribute in accordance with Standing Orders. However, I will also hold you to the responsibility that comes with those rights. They are interdependent.

For the Dáil to be as effective as possible in serving the people, the House and its administration must also continue to be modernised. Significant improvements have already been made in parliamentary services that were delivered in the previous Dáil in a cost-effective manner, in keeping with the stringent times, but there is still some way to go to improve matters. I look forward to playing my part in building on those improvements and in meeting the challenge of providing a Parliament that is more relevant, fit for purpose, efficient and effective to deal with the challenges we face as a nation. This is not only a question of cost but also a matter of creativity, innovation and openness to change. In seeking to uphold the best traditions of the House, it is important for me to remember my illustrious predecessors. There have been many, and I am acutely aware of this as I take this office today. I wish to mention in particular my immediate predecessors, Deputy Seamus Kirk and former Deputy John O'Donoghue, in that regard.

I must now perform my official duty as Ceann Comhairle. In accordance with Standing Order No. 8 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, I wish to make the following declaration:

I do solemnly declare that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and ability execute the office of Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann without fear or favour, apply the rules as laid down by this House in an impartial manner, maintain order and uphold the rights and privileges of Members in accordance with the Constitution and the Standing Orders of this House.

Finally, when I consider the momentous challenges facing this country and thus the 31st Dáil, I think of a few simple words of hope spoken by a distinguished person who addressed this Chamber in the past. When faced with his daunting task of rebuilding a nation, Mr. Nelson Mandela said: "It always seems impossible until it is done." Go raibh maith agaibh.

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