Thursday, 4 November 2010
Issue of Writ: Donegal South-West By-election
Should the question not be put by those who tabled the motion first and for which there is no amendment, as the motion tabled subsequently by Government mirrors exactly that tabled by the Sinn Féin Deputies here in advance of the required time for same yesterday morning?
The proposal on the Order of Business was put by the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government and, as a consequence, the question of moving the writ falls to the Chief Whip, in this case the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy John Curran. We are moving on. I call the Minister of State to move the writ.
That the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the election to the European Parliament of Pat "The Cope" Gallagher, a member for the constituency of Donegal South-West.
The Government last evening considered the judgement delivered by the President of the High Court concerning the vacancy for membership of Dáil Éireann in Donegal South-West. Having done so, and having considered the views of the Attorney General in the matter, it has decided that, given the constitutional issues raised and the implications of the judgement for the holding of future by-elections, the making of an application for leave to appeal is warranted to ensure their consideration by the Supreme Court. Those issues include the separation of powers and the boundaries of the courts' role in the very important matter of elections. The case has raised the question of whether the Oireachtas is permitted to provide in legislation that Dáil Éireann should be free to decide when to hold by-elections, without imposing any time limit on the House. The court's power to make a declaration has the effect of requiring the Government to exercise its voting power in a particular manner. There is a clear need for constitutional certainty on the legal position with respect to future by-elections.
Notwithstanding the decision to appeal the judgement, the findings of the President of the High Court are such that the Government has determined to proceed immediately with the movement of a writ for a by-election in Donegal South-West to fill the seat left vacant following the election of Pat "the Cope" Gallagher as a Member of the European Parliament. It is proposed that the election will take place three weeks from today, on Thursday, 25 November 2010.
Yesterday's judgment concerned only the vacancy in respect of Donegal South-West. That by-election is distinct in that many more months have elapsed since Deputy Gallagher vacated his seat, compared to when Deputies Lee, Cullen and, indeed, McDaid resigned from the House.
With regard to the Government's constitutional obligations, the Government is appealing the decision for the reasons I have outlined. This is because the Government, and indeed all Members of this House, should not accept that it is a matter for the courts, rather than the Oireachtas, to decide when by-elections should be held. The Government, like other litigants before the courts, is fully entitled to await the determination of the matter by appeal. Therefore, pending the outcome of the appeal to the Supreme Court, the Government's position remains unchanged with regard to the other vacancies that arise.
In the case of Donegal South-West, it is the Government's view that an immediate and short campaign is warranted to address quickly the findings of the judgment, as this is a critical time for our country working, as we are, towards publication of the four-year plan and preparing for budget 2011. For that reason, our preferred timing for the holding of this and the other outstanding by-elections was next spring. As my colleague, the Chief Whip, Deputy Curran, made clear while taking private notice questions on this matter in the House yesterday, we are currently living through an economic crisis with few parallels in our history and the Government's attention has necessarily been fully directed at budgetary matters.
The spring would have given the people of Donegal South-West the opportunity to make their electoral choice with a debate informed by knowledge of the forthcoming budget and the alternatives to be proposed by the parties opposite. However, this is not to be the case. The by-election will, therefore, be one in which the people of Donegal South-West will have to decide which candidate represents the party willing to take the tough and difficult decisions necessary to get the economy back on track. They will have to determine what choice to make by asking which party is demonstrating it has a clear plan for economic recovery and a return to sustainable growth. They must make their judgment on which party is putting the national interest above that of short-term political populism.
While our economy is emerging from recession with growth returning and our competitive position improving dramatically with exports achieving a remarkably strong performance, our borrowing costs have increased significantly and our public finances still require a major additional correction. This correction amounts to €15 billion over the next four years, an enormous challenge, requiring considerable political leadership. At stake, however, is the very economic independence that, as a nation, we fought so hard for.
I have had the great privilege of representing the people of Donegal South-West for a considerable time. I know they will be watching closely over the next three weeks to see what party can demonstrate that Ireland has the political leadership necessary to overcome her current economic challenges. Some of the Deputies opposite will be visiting Donegal over the next three weeks. I advise them the people of Donegal are more interested in solutions than in the blame game.
As a county, we are well accustomed to facing challenges. In addition to facing difficulties such as declining traditional industries and ways of life, we have also had to meet the challenge of being located on the periphery with, for many years, our immediate hinterland in counties Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh being out of reach. That fact has forced us to be innovative in finding our own solutions to particularly unique challenges.
Recent years have seen the county's infrastructure develop dramatically. Donegal has benefited substantially from considerable investment thanks to the priorities and policies of successive Fianna Fáil-led governments.
Substantial improvements in its road network have seen, for example, over €228 million invested in the county's non-national road network. Ongoing support for flights at Donegal Airport by the Government has ensured the viability of air links to west Donegal, essential for the attraction of investment to this part of the county.
The work of Údarás na Gaeltachta, strongly supported by the Government, has seen new jobs created in Gaeltacht areas and in particular at Gweedore business park. Tá níos mó post i nGaoth Dobhair anois faoi chúram Údarás na Gaeltachta.
I recall at the time of my appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands that it was after a period of a considerable job losses in the area. We worked hard and concentrated specifically on developing new employment opportunities for the people of the Gaoth Dobhair area. That has been achieved.
IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the county enterprise boards have also been key in supporting business projects in the county and in job creation. Results have been seen this year including the announcement of 150 new jobs at Abbott in Donegal town.
Employment and the attraction of jobs to Donegal and the regions generally is always a challenge. It was the Government, during my tenure as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, that prioritised 50% of foreign direct investment for the regions, a move opposed by many parties opposite.
In addition to the political will and policy commitment, the right infrastructure is also critical. In Donegal, the development of a modern communications infrastructure has been essential. Some €89 million has been invested in the roll-out of broadband in the county, resulting in the development of MAN projects, as well as the €43 million investment in the Kelvin project will see connectivity between the region and North America, bringing tangible benefits to county and the constituency.
Education infrastructure in the county has also benefited significantly with many parishes seeing new schools or extensions completed. Already this year, in the region of €10 million has been invested in schools in the constituency. Approval was made for a new post-primary school in the Finn Valley and, yesterday, further infrastructure improvements were approved for Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair. In excess of €110 million has been invested in major school building and modernisation projects in County Donegal.
Likewise, important local infrastructure has been redeveloped over the past several years with over €350 million invested in Donegal's public water and sewerage system under the Government's water services investment programme. Tourism, also critical to the constituency, has seen continuing investment with, for example, €2 million spent this year to develop facilities at Sliabh Liag.
Dár ndóigh is contae láidir agus bródúil Gaeltachta é Contae Dhún na nGall. Le blianta beaga anuas, tá fhios agam go maith go bhfuil Gaeltachtaí inár gcontae faoi bhrú – ó taobh na teanga agus na n-eacnamaíochta de.
Ag obair liomsa, roimhe seo leis an iar-Aire, an Teachta Eamon Ó Cuiv, agus anois leis an Aire, an Teachta Pat Carey, chomh maith le mo chomhghleacaithe eile sa chontae, tá an Rialtas seo ag obair i gcomhpáirtaíocht le pobal Gaeltachta Thír Chonaill. Chomh maith lenár n-infheistíocht in infrastructúr sa Ghaeltacht i dTír Chonaill, táimid ag leaniúnt ar aghaidh lenár bplean 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Nuair a bheidh an plean seo aonthaithe, tá mé lán-chinnte go dtabhfarfaidh sé spreagadh agus misneach go muintir na Gaeltachta ar fud an Cchontae. Is é tuairim an Rialtais ná gur acmhainn cultúrtha agus eacnamaíochta atá sa Ghaeilge.
This by-election will be a challenging one for my party. No sitting Government has won a by-election since 1982. In Donegal, however, we have a strong track record of delivery for the county. We will have a strong candidate with a proven track record locally. We look forward to the challenge of the campaign.
The Tánaiste would not be on her feet this morning moving the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election if it were not for the High Court's judgment yesterday. If the Government had accepted a Fine Gael Private Members' Bill several months ago, it would not be in this position today. One reason the Government did not want the four by-election writs moved was that it wanted a clear run into what will be a very important budget in December. Now, the Government will not be focused on the important budgetary matters which must be attended to.
There has been a representational deficit in Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal North-East, with Donegal South-West having the longest. Fine Gael and other parties moved the writ for the by-election in Donegal South-West several times but each time it was voted down by the Government parties. Yesterday, the Green Party claimed it was its policy to hold the Donegal South-West by-election. Taxpayers' money could have been saved, particularly in these constrained budgetary times, if the Government did not go the courts to contest the calling of this by-election.
A Fine Gael Private Members' Bill could have been adopted by the Government to ensure when a vacancy occurs in a constituency, a by-election will be held within six months. Fine Gael has selected its candidate for the by-election, Mr. Barry O'Neill. We look forward to the hustings and seeing if the Donegal South-West electorate believes the Government's claims about what it has done for the constituency over the past several years.
I am sure Deputies Shatter, Mitchell, McGinley, Deasy and McHugh will outline the representational deficit their constituencies have had over the past several months.
I want to deal with the judgment and the Government's approach to it. It is worth putting formally on the record of the House what was said in the High Court yesterday. I notice that the Tánaiste studiously avoided doing so in her speech. The judgment stated that "the court will declare that section 39(2) of the Electoral Act 1992 is to be construed as requiring that the writ for a by-election be moved within a reasonable time of the vacancy arising". The judge went on to state:
Has there in fact been unreasonable delay in moving the writ for the by-election in the Donegal South-West constituency? The Dail has a five-year term and the unprecedented delay, in this instance the longest in the history of the State, represents a significant proportion of the term of the current Dáil.
The judge went on to declare that there has been "an unreasonable delay in moving the writ". Interestingly, the judge referred to a different court case, Dudley v . An Taoiseach, in which the issue arose as to whether the Government is obliged to set down and support the motion for the issue of a writ, or at least not impede or impose such a motion after a reasonable time. The judge stated: "I would hope, however, that there is no need to make such further order."
The reality is that this Government is afraid of the electorate. We know that. Without the court judgment, as my colleague Deputy Kehoe said, quite clearly this writ would not have been moved today. The truth is that writs should be moved for all of the remaining three by-elections simply to ensure that the representation to which people are entitled is provided in this House.
I want to make one straightforward and simple point: at present, there are no court proceedings in being in relation to the other three by-elections. Quite clearly, it would be highly inappropriate that there would be one in being in respect of Dr. McDaid who only resigned this week. There are now solid grounds, however, for taking court proceedings in respect of the other two. The Government is now trying to misuse the courts at taxpayers' expense and make what could only be described as-----
I will conclude on this point. The Government is now trying to misuse the courts at taxpayers' expense and make what could only be described in legal terms as a frivolous, vexatious and unnecessary application to the Supreme Court. The issue in dispute in these proceedings was should there or should there not be a by-election in the Tánaiste's constituency in Donegal. The High Court held that there should be. The Government has acceded to that and the by-election will now take place. There is no legal issue now in dispute between the Government of Ireland and the plaintiff in these proceedings. There is no justifiable, credible basis for an appeal to the Supreme Court. To travel that route is to waste taxpayers' money. It is designed to waste taxpayers' money in circumstances in which this Government is seeking an out to evade its solemn constitutional obligations-----
-----to ensure that people are provided with the representation to which they are entitled in accordance with de Valera's Constitution. One could not get a more perverse application from a Fianna Fáil-led Government than the one they now intend to proceed to make to the Supreme Court. I hope the Supreme Court has the wisdom to tell them that there is no longer a justiciable issue and throws out the appeal.
Only a Government that is so beyond shame that it does not even recognise it would continue to deny the electorate of three constituencies their right to representation. It is a measure of the Government's arrogance that until very recently it had not offered any explanation or excuse for denying people their right to by-elections and proper representation. The Government recently had the gall to suggest that it is their patriotic duty not to have by-elections. Does the Government take the people for absolute fools? People can see that not alone has the Government mismanaged the economy in the good times, but that its mismanagement in the bad times has been absolutely cataclysmic for the country and the general public. Other countries that were as bad as us are now beginning to recover, with banks showing profits. Meanwhile, we slip ever nearer to the precipice. It now seems that no matter how much pain people take there will be no saving them. Even at that, there will be much more pain to take.
Twice this week already we have seen physical demonstrations of people's anger, which I condemn as does everybody in this House. We will see more of it, however, unless people are given a legitimate, legal method of expressing their anger in the ballot box, as they should be given in a democracy.
The Taoiseach is always upset when anybody mentions that he does not have a mandate, but he does not have a valid mandate.
The Government was elected on a specific promise of the current Taoiseach that he was a safe pair of hands to manage the economy. They said they had the expertise and experience to continue and perpetuate the Celtic tiger. That is what they promised and that is what the people voted for, but look what they got. If it was ever valid, that mandate is now gone. If the Taoiseach and his Government had any shame they would walk away now, let the anger die out and let the recovery begin. It is time for elections, so let the people have their say.
Tá áthas orm sa deireadh thiar thall, i ndiaidh tréimhse fada, go mbeidh deis ag na toghthóirí i nDún na nGall Thiar-Theas breithiúnas a thabhairt ar an Rialtas agus Teachta a chur chuig an Dáil le hionadaíocht a dhéanamh dóibh. Donegal South-West has been left for 18 months without proper, full constitutional representation. I welcome the decision at long last, which has been forced on the Government, to hold the by-election in three weeks' time. We have been preparing for a long time for this by-election. Our candidate, Barry O'Neill, is a young, articulate and energetic councillor. He was selected almost a year ago. I am sure that the people of Donegal South-West will have an opportunity of voting for a good man who will represent them in this House for the duration of this Government's lifetime, which will not be for too long. It will also give the Tánaiste's colleagues an opportunity to visit Donegal to witness for themselves the devastation that has been visited on the county, both in the South-West and North-East constituencies, by this Government and its predecessor.
Some 22,000 people are unemployed in County Donegal, including in Ballyshannon where they have regular meetings about unemployment, and the Tánaiste's own town of Donegal where 600 or 700 jobs were lost in Hospira. Killybegs is a ghost town, as is the edge of the Finn Valley and down to my own area in the Gaeltacht. The Tánaiste described the Gweedore industrial estate but it is not the same one that I know. It is just a pale shadow of what it was. We used to have 1,500 people there but there are fewer than 1,000 now.
The forthcoming by-election will be an opportunity for the Tánaiste's colleagues to see how we have been overlooked. We need broadband and infrastructural development.
We also need indigenous industries, tourism, agriculture and fisheries. Everything in the county is in crisis. It is a great pity that this by-election is being held in mid-winter, when it could have been held earlier in the spring, summer or autumn. It is being held in the winter because the Government's hand has been forced.
Our candidate, Barry O'Neill, is knocking on doors at the moment in Ballyshannon. We will be making an effort to reflect on what has not been happening in Donegal South-West. Mr. O'Neill will be challenging the Government on health issues as well as job creation. Unfortunately, Mr. O'Neill's worthwhile opinions and worthy policy initiatives that he has been pushing for on Donegal County Council have not been reflected in Government policy. This will be an opportunity for him to continue with his campaign, working closely with the sitting Member, Deputy McGinley. He will articulate a strong message that jobs can be created in Donegal in future. Barry O'Neill will be a strong voice and it is important for Donegal South-West that that message will be clear come polling day on 25 November.
When a student was not pulling in the right direction, an old geography teacher of mine used to say "Your life is hanging by a thread". This Government is now hanging by a thread.
Unfortunately, the right thing to do would have been to have these by-elections out of the way. We should not even be here discussing this issue. Serious business of the House on economic matters should be undertaken but, unfortunately, as they say on the other side of the House, "We are where we are" and we must take the next steps.
It is impossible to argue any longer with any sense of credibility that one by-election should be held but that the other three should not. People in the Government have argued that by holding a general election there would be a risk to the country of instability at a time when we are struggling to maintain our economic sovereignty. However, there was a distinct element of truth in what former Deputy, Jim McDaid said recently. He stated that the Government was not in a position to make the necessary decisions any longer because of its slim majority in the Dáil. He asserted that the Government was shying away from what needed to be done. Given the political instability with which we are dealing now I do not believe the vital, necessary decisions which affect this country's future can be made. A divide or separation is necessary between political self-interest and self-preservation and the potentially career-ending decisions the country needs now. I do not believe, nor do the international markets, the Government has the fortitude or ability to make these choices any longer.
In recent days the political dynamic has changed. Until two days ago, an argument was being made that by-elections or a general election would destabilise our economy in some way. This has now changed and a majority of people now believe, rightly, that if there is no immediate change of Government, more harm than good will result. This is something the Independent gentleman to my right and the son of another Independent Deputy will find out the hard way.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Ciarán Lynch and Brian O'Shea. The Government now proposes to go ahead with the holding of the by-election in Donegal South-West for one reason only, that is, because it has been forced to do so. In the course of her speech and in moving the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election, the Tánaiste did not utter one sentence to explain why the by-elections are not being held in the other three constituencies.
Let us consider Dublin South. The seat there has been vacant for most of the past 18 months. I realise there was a by-election held and a Deputy was elected for a period but that seat has been vacant for most of the past 18 months and the constituency is under-represented. Waterford has been under-represented since March of this year. Admittedly, Donegal North-East has been vacant only for a couple of days. However, the normal practice has been that when one by-election is held, several are taken together. The only reason the other three by-elections are not being held is political. It is about keeping this clapped-out Government in office, a Government which, the Taoiseach maintains, derives its authority from having a majority in the House. It now derives that majority from a House with a depleted membership, the number of which is greater than the majority the Government claims to hold.
Apparently, the Government has made a decision to appeal the High Court decision yesterday on constitutional grounds and on what it claims is a separation of powers issue. It has done so without asking this wing of government and administration, the Oireachtas, for its view on whether that decision should be appealed or without giving the Oireachtas the opportunity of addressing the issue of unreasonable delay by way of legislation, as has been suggested here several times this morning.
Leaving aside any question of the Constitution or legislation, there is a political and democratic imperative that by-elections for seats in this House be filled within a reasonable period. This issue has been examined by an all-party committee of the House, which concluded that seats should be filled within a three month period.
The reality is that all of this is about Fianna Fáil trying to stay in office to the very last day. I agree with the remarks of Deputy Deasy. At this stage whatever the arguments about the holding of elections and the disruption of normal Government business and so on, the country, the economy and our national interest now require the holding not only of by-elections, but of a general election such that the people can give a mandate to a new Government - a strong, stable Government - which can deal with the country's economic crisis and which will have a mandate for four to five years.
Over the course of recent weeks, we have heard the Government's wish for a four-year budgetary plan. Certainly, we need an economic plan not only to deal with the budgetary issue, but to deal with the necessity to create jobs, to grow the economy and to bring about economic recovery. However, such a plan will only be credible to the international markets if there is a Government with a four or five year mandate capable of implementing it.
The by-election will be held in Donegal South-West. The Labour Party with our candidate, Councillor Frank McBrearty Jr., will contest that by-election vigorously. Glacfaidh an Lucht Oibre páirt sa bhfothoghchán i nDún na nGall Thiar-Theas. Beidh an Comhairleoir Frank McBrearty mar iarrathóir againn. Ní leor go mbeidh fothoghchán in aon dáilcheantar amháin. Ba cheart go mbeadh olltoghchán againn chun seans a thabhairt do chuile dhuine a n-aigní a dhéanamh suas ar an ndroch-Rialtas atá sa tír faoi láthair agus Rialtas nua, buan agus socair a chur ina áit chun déileáil leis an ngéarchéim eacnamaíochta.
We should begin by asking ourselves why we are holding this debate this morning. The reason is that for more than one and a half years, the Government has shown general contempt for the public, the electorate and the courts. This is reflected in Mr. Justice Kearns's ruling yesterday. In his summing up, Mr. Justice Kearns stated: "Far from the Court 'tearing asunder' the provisions of the Constitution by adjudicating upon this application, it is the ongoing failure to move the writ for this by-election since June 2009 which offends the terms and spirit of the Constitution and its framework for democratic representation." Mr. Justice Kearns is suggesting that the Government, through its failure to call these by-elections, is causing a constitutional crisis by not performing its constitutional duties. Members of this Parliament had to go to the courts to find redress as a result of a Government which would not fulfil its functions.
In the past 12 to 18 months we have witnessed the Government dragging the Irish taxpayer and electorate through the courts at a cost, which I believe, the Minister and the Taoiseach should come to the House to explain. How much is this costing the taxpayer? Ultimately, how much will the appeal and ruling amount to?
We are in this position as a result of two distinct problems. A practice has arisen, developed by Fianna Fáil, to suspend at all costs the calling of by-elections. This situation has created a legislative vacuum. The reason this vacuum has been created is that there has been an obvious failure to legislate for what is a predictable and solvable problem. By-elections are caused for several reasons, including the death of a Member, the resignation of a Member and following European elections in which vacancies have arisen, such as in the case of Pat "the Cope" Gallagher. The latter is a predictable vacancy and a predictable timeframe should be in place to ensure that after a European election, if a Member of this House is elected to the European Parliament, it should be a fixable problem. After the summer recess, the seat vacated by that Member should be filled in September. It is measurable and predictable and should be part of the day-to-day operations of this House. The Labour Party has made many suggestions on this matter, similar to the Fine Gael suggestion, that there is a reasonable expectation a seat should be filled within three to six months of it being vacated. At the heart of this matter is electoral reform and political reform in this country. It is notable that the line Minister with responsibility for this matter is not in the House.
-----when the matter was being debated under a special notice question. He was hiding outside the door to come in to talk about his Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill. As soon as we had finished the private notice questions, the Minister flew in, made his speech and while the two main Opposition spokespersons were responding to his proposal for a mayor, he disappeared from the Chamber. If we are to expect real electoral reform in this country, the least we can expect is that the Minister with responsibility for it will remain in the House during a debate on it.
Tá an ceithre fhothoghchán molta ag an Lucht Oibre ach tá suim ar leith san fhothogchán i bPort Láirge. Martin Cullen resigned as a Member of Dáil Éireann on 23 March due to unfortunate ill-health. I trust he has gained good quality of life in the intervening period. In the seven and a half months since, the people of Waterford have been under-represented in the Dáil. This is utterly unacceptable and the point was endorsed yesterday by the ruling of the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns. As with other constituencies, Waterford needs the full complement of Deputies; there was never a time in the history of the State that this was more necessary. As of 30 September 2010, the live register for the Waterford constituency stood at 14,503, while the live register in the Waterford city exchange is 12,115, with 2,388 in the Dungarvan area. In the Waterford exchange area, 1,130 men and 934 women under the age of 25 years are on the live register. The comparable figure for Dungarvan is 312 men and 170 women. These figures do not include the growing number of people forced to emigrate from the constituency. Against this background, the absolute need for the full complement of Deputies is all too apparent. I call on the Government to give the people of Waterford their basic right and to discard the narrow interests of the Government. Whether in Waterford, Donegal South-West or Dublin South, the Government knows its time in office will be harshly treated by the electorate. If the four by-elections take place, the Government will not have a working majority because they will lose all four.
Apart from the fact that it is the right of the people, the other reason we need the additional Member to be elected is that the south-east region and Waterford in particular has been neglected by this Government. Deputy Martin Mansergh is well aware of this and it is particularly true of job creation. There is a need for a university in the south east. I refer to the upgrading of the Waterford Institute of Technology. The Government continues to prevaricate on this fundamental issue. Unless the south east - the only region without a university - has a research and development capacity and fourth level education, it will not be in a position to accept high-tech industry, which is a major area of growth and jobs for the future.
In his capacity as the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Mansergh knows about joined-up thinking. Waterford's courtrooms are in a chronic position. There are two courtrooms in the city and the administration of justice is being crippled. Plans have been developed for an extension to the courthouse but it cannot go ahead unless the existing fire station is demolished and a new fire station constructed on a new site. That project does not seem to be going ahead. The money is not available for the courthouse. We need joined-up thinking to consider what is needed and progress from that.
I also wish to draw attention to the reconfiguration of the south-east hospital services. This has major implications for services throughout the south east, for the future of the regional hospital and the range of regionalised services available. There is an urgent need for capital. Phase 1 of the development control plan at the hospital costs €60 million to provide for critical cancer care, hospice services and 100 additional beds. These projects are going nowhere under this Government. Another voice in the constituency would help to deal with the agenda. The four by-elections should take place. I endorse the comments of my colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, to the effect that legislation should be introduced so that by-elections take place within three to six months after a vacancy is declared.
As soon as the High Court issued its judgment yesterday, Sinn Féin Deputies tabled a motion for the Ceann Comhairle to direct the Clerk of the Dail to issue his writ for the Donegal South-West by-election. That motion is before the House. A Government doing its democratic duty and abiding by the High Court direction would have indicated straight away that it would not oppose the motion and would allow the by-election to proceed.
I quote the judgment of Mr. Justice Kearns: "This applicant's case relates to the effects of delay on his right to be represented by the number of members laid down by law, and the right to equality of political representation" and "I conclude therefore that, by well settled principles of constitutional and statutory construction, section 39(2) of the Electoral Act, 1992 is to be construed as incorporating a requirement that the discretion reserved thereunder be exercised within a reasonable time." God bless the Tánaiste, I hope she will be fit to face the hustings.
The judge stated that while he did not propose to make a declaration that the Government is obliged to set down and support the motion for the issue of the writ or, at least, not impede or oppose such a motion, he stated: "I would hope, however, that any clarification provided by this judgment would have that effect." The judge went further. He said that the court might in another case following on from this one take a more serious view "if any government [...] was seen by the courts to be acting in clear disregard of an applicant's constitutional rights in continually refusing over an unreasonable period of time to move the writ for a by-election." Let us make no mistake, what the Government has now decided to do in the case of the other three awaited by-elections is exactly what Mr. Justice Kearns could well have been referring to.
The judge said the court could intervene in such a case. The Government should note that. The Green Party has so little confidence in its Fianna Fáil partners in Government that it lost no time in rushing to the media yesterday to state that the Donegal South-West by-election should be held as soon as possible. The Greens may now present themselves as the watchdogs who got Fianna Fáil to abide by the court decision. What does that say about Fianna Fáil and the Greens who failed to press for the holding of the by-elections and voted against the moving of the writ in Donegal South-West on no less than three occasions in this House?
We have a situation, with four by-elections now pending, where the Government's majority of three is less than the number of vacant Dáil seats. We can now dispense with the claim, repeated last night on a radio programme I shared with the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, that it could not hold the by-election because it would have distracted the Government from the economy. That is nonsense. Is democracy and giving the people their rightful say a distraction? Taking that position is an insult to the people and to the electorate.
The Government should have held this by-election within a few months of the vacancy at most, in autumn 2009. It could have held it in early 2010, in spring 2010, in summer 2010, but no, it chose to delay and delay. It could have held the by-election when Senator Pearse Doherty first took the case. Again, no. It decided to fight the case all the way using taxpayers' money - something the Government intends to continue to do. Let there be no nonsense about this being a distraction or a drain on the Government at a crucial time. This by-election could have been out of the way long ago, and should have been. All the other delayed by-elections should now also take place and there should be no repeat of the continual deferment in order to suit the political decision of the Government of the day.
The Government has no mandate for what it has done and is doing in terms of the bank bailout, NAMA, the savage cuts and the doomed budgetary approach that is going to further depress the economy. It has been desperately trying to avoid any chance for the people to deliver their verdict, but deliver a verdict they will - in advance of the budget for 2011.
Senator Pearse Doherty deserves congratulation for taking this case as a representative citizen of the people of County Donegal. I take the opportunity to do so today in this Chamber. In July 2010, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution, chaired by a member Fianna Fáil, recommended a change in the law to the effect that Dáil vacancies must be filled within six months. Recommendation 18 relates to the filling of casual vacancies in Dáil Éireann. It states that whenever a casual vacancy occurs in the membership of Dáil Éireann, legislation would require that a by-election be held to fill the vacancy within six months of the vacancy occurring. The findings of the Constitution Review Group in 1996 were quoted by the President of the High Court in his judgment that was delivered yesterday. It was proposed to change Article 16.7 of the Constitution so as to require the holding of a by-election within 90 days of the vacancy occurring. Instead of wasting more taxpayers' money in an appeal to the Supreme Court, the Government should implement the recommendations of these reports. It is clear that the appeal is an attempt to delay other by-elections taking place. I express a preference for the recommendations of the review group of 1996.
The Government claims to want to appeal this case in order to clarify the issues. That is nonsense. The issues could not be clearer. With due respect to the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Kearns, his judgment is crystal clear. What line within the 53 pages does the Government not understand? The reality is that the Government wants to appeal the judgment in order to forestall citizens in Waterford and Dublin South from being able to express their position on the Government. It is ignoring their rights to be duly represented in this House in accordance with the number of seats provided for and in terms of their right to full participation in this Chamber, the same rights that were affirmed to Senator Pearse Doherty yesterday in the High Court.
The Government should proceed now, not only with the Donegal South-West by-election, but with those in Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal North-East. Sinn Féin concurs with other voices in the House that this should be the case. The fact that it has only been created earlier this week does not make a whit of difference. Let the political parties put forward their candidates and positions and let the people of County Donegal, north east and south west, decide. That is the challenge we are putting to Government today.
This is not about a Government limping to get across the finish line of a budget vote on 7 December. This is about the future of Ireland in the next five, ten, 15 and 20 years. This is about the future of our children. A Government with no mandate is about to impose not only a savage budget but also a four-year budgetary plan - an attempt to tie the hands of a future Government and rigidly set our economic direction, all before the people have the chance to give their verdict in a general election. What a tragedy that the Government has been facilitated in this by the so-called main Opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, who have joined the consensus for cuts and signed up for a deficit reduction of 3% by 2014 regardless of the consequences. Savage cuts have not turned the economy around in the past three years and they will not do so in the next four. We need a programme of economic stimulus, revenue saving and raising to address the deficit, the protection of people on low and middle incomes, the safeguarding of social supports and the preservation of essential public services. Instead the Government is set on a path of destruction destruction of the income of low to middle income families, demolition of essential public services such as health and education, removal of social supports and the deepening of the recession. Let us make no mistake about that.
No county in Ireland, including the counties of Cavan and Monaghan that I am proud to represent, has experienced more emigration than Donegal, both historically and in our time. Recently, when we in Sinn Féin spoke of making the wealthy pay their fair share in taxation, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, spoke of people "fleeing the jurisdiction" as a consequence of our proposals. That is rubbish. The gall of the Minister for Finance to make such an accusation to an Opposition party that is delivering real and viable alternative proposals. The Minister and this Government care little for the young people forced to leave this jurisdiction, wholly and solely because of the destruction this Government has inflicted on the economy, resulting in 450,000 people on the dole and a renewed exodus and emigration of young Irish men and women to the four corners of the globe. Shame on the Government and the Minister.
I am reminded of what Peadar O'Donnell, a Donegal man of great note, said when he challenged Mr. de Valera on the rate of emigration. Mr. de Valera asked O'Donnell whether people would be emigrating were he in power. O'Donnell replied that they would be, but that they would be different people. I do not necessarily want the members of the Government to emigrate.
This will be the affirmed message of the people when they get the opportunity to vote before the end of the month in Donegal South-West. When the general election finally comes, the clear decision of the people will be to tell the Government to get to hell out before it does any more damage.