Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Reform of Structures of Government: Motion (Resumed)

 

The following motion was moved by Deputy Howlin on Tuesday, 9 November 2010:

That Dáil Éireann:

— concerned that the sudden and calamitous change in our economic fortunes, coupled with revelations of waste of public money and resources, has undermined public confidence not alone in the present Government but also in the structures of government;

— recognising that fewer and fewer people feel any sense of ownership of their politics and that we need to bring about a more practical democracy, that empowers citizens and ends the sense of exclusion of so many of our people, and to ensure that individuals have a far greater involvement in the decisions that shape their lives;

— acknowledging that a process of renewal must commence with the Oireachtas itself and with fundamental reforms of our national parliament and its procedures, so as to meet the needs of the Irish people in the 21st century;

— believing that the principles and practices underpinning accountability in government and in public administration also need radical reform and that legislation and constitutional measures guaranteeing the primacy of the public interest must be put in place as a priority; and

— affirming that the abuse of the whip by the parties in Government, as exemplified by the recent dismissal by the Government majority on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the Ombudsman's special report on the lost at sea scheme, is utterly destructive of attempts to secure the accountability of the Government to the Dáil as required by the Constitution;

calls for the introduction of a programme of reform that would include at a minimum the following elements:

— legislation on the issue of cabinet confidentiality, to ensure that it cannot be used to cover up necessary investigations;

— the restoration of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 to its original form and scope and the extension of its remit to the Garda Síochána and other public bodies;

— the introduction of whistleblowers legislation;

— spending limits for local and Presidential elections and the reduction in the ceilings for European and general elections;

— reform of the system of appointments to State boards to ensure that the process is transparent and that those appointed have the requisite knowledge and skills;

— legislation to further restrict contributions to political parties and candidates and to require greater disclosure of donations;

— repeal of the Official Secrets Act 1963, retaining a criminal sanction only for breaches which involve a serious threat to public policy (the international relations of the State, the conduct of a fair trial, national security and the like);

— a statutory register of lobbyists and rules concerning the practice of lobbying;

— rules to ensure that senior public servants (including political appointees) cannot work in the private sector, in an area involving a potential conflict of interest with their former public employment, until at least two years have elapsed;

— a 50 per cent increase in Dáil sitting days, with sittings four days a week, a shorter summer recess and significantly reduced breaks at Christmas and Easter;

— a break-up of the Government monopoly on legislation and its stranglehold over the business of the Dáil;

— a restriction on the use of guillotine motions and other procedural devices that prevent full debate on bills and other measures;

— a petition system for the Dáil, similar to that operating in the European Parliament;

— an independent Fiscal Advisory Council, separated from decision-makers in government, to undertake fiscal macro-economic projections and monitoring, independent of the Government and reporting to the Dáil and the public;

— bring forward the annual Estimates cycle, so that it becomes more timely and relevant, with the Book of Estimates accompanied by a detailed performance report on what the previous year's spending had achieved;

— Oireachtas Committees to be given powers to publish reports on the economy, efficiency and propriety of the Estimates and to give the Dáil an assessment and evaluation of the merits of individual expenditure proposals;

— a role for the Ceann Comhairle in deciding whether a Minister has failed to provide reasonable information in response to a question;

— a repeal of the 'gag' clause that applies to the officers of public bodies and prevents them from expressing an opinion on the merits of Government policy;

— a requirement that the Attorney General's advice to Government be published if it is publicly relied upon as justifying or requiring the passage, defeat or amendment of a bill or the development or amendment of a policy or programme, unless the advice is given in the course of litigation or in relation to pending or contemplated litigation;

— the provision of adequate powers for parliamentary inquiries into matters of public interest and importance, if necessary by an amendment to the Constitution; and

— a reformulated code of laws, replacing both the Ministers and Secretaries Acts 1924 to 2007 and the Public Service Management Act 1997, which would spell out the functions, powers and duties of Ministers in charge of each Department of State; the law that defines the relationship between Ministers and their Departments to enshrine three basic propositions:

— if the Minister takes a decision personally, he or she should say so and account for it;

— if the decision is taken by the Department, under a delegated power, then the relevant, named official should say so and account for it; and

— the Minister would then have to account for the degree of supervision he or she exercised over the Department in relation to the exercise within it of delegated powers;

— legislate for a system of delegation of specified Ministerial powers to specified officers who would, to the extent of the authority delegated to them, be accountable within the Department and directly to the Oireachtas for the exercise of those powers;

— ensure that each Minister is responsible for the supervision and oversight of his or her Department to ensure that adequate standards are maintained; outputs are delivered as determined or agreed; and procedures are in place to enable the Minister to respond to problems of administration and to give an account to the Dáil and to the public generally;

— the responsibilities of Secretaries General to be strengthened by assigning to them authority and accountability for ensuring that the Department and its officers perform their functions in a non-political and impartial manner, in accordance with law and with the highest ethical standards of conduct and integrity and in accordance with any prescribed code of conduct;

— the Secretary General to be required to ensure that risk management and other internal controls are in place so that public funds are safeguarded; functions are performed effectively, efficiently and economically; laws, regulations and approved policies are complied with; and records and reports are adequate, reliable and accurate; and

— the Secretary General to be given specific responsibility for ensuring that legal advice or opinion is brought to the personal attention of the Minister if it casts substantial doubt on the constitutionality or validity of a statute, statutory instrument or departmental scheme, practice or course of action.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"— welcomes the commitment in the Renewed Programme for Government to increase transparency by putting as much information as possible on appropriate Government websites to inform the public of the workings of Government and State institutions, by expanding the Freedom of Information Acts to include specific administrative matters in An Garda Síochána, and by legislating to prevent employers in the public and private sectors from retaliating against employees who, in the public interest, disclose misconduct;

— recognises that legislation already provides for spending limits for local, general, European and Presidential elections and welcomes the commitment in the Renewed Programme for Government to provide for further controls on political donations;

— welcomes the commitment in the Renewed Programme for Government to provide for regulation of lobbyists and notes the need for appropriate advancement of this based on the studies undertaken and emerging international experience;

— welcomes the commitment in the Renewed Programme for Government to introduce a more open and transparent system for appointments to public bodies;

— welcomes the commitment in the Programme for Government to extend the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Civil Servants in relation to the acceptance of outside appointments and of consultancy engagements following resignation or retirement to all public servants in designated posts so as to ensure that they shall not within twelve months of resigning or retiring from the service:

— accept an offer of appointment from an employer outside the Civil Service where it is deemed to create a conflict of interest; and

— accept an engagement in a particular consultancy project, where the nature and terms of such appointment or engagement could lead to a conflict of interest, without first obtaining approval from the Outside Appointments Board;

— welcomes the Government's tabling of a Dáil reform package aimed at improving the efficiency of the Dáil's procedures, the relevance of the Dáil in terms of addressing issues of topicality and concern to Members, and the family-friendly nature of Dáil sitting times, and acknowledges the effort by Government to achieve a consensus on this reform package;

— highlights the comparative analysis carried out by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission in its 2009 Annual Report which shows that the Oireachtas "performs well when benchmarked against other national parliaments in terms of total sitting days and sitting hours";

— notes that measures have already been put in place to improve the budget process, including the introduction of a unified Budget and the development of Annual Output Statements, and that a range of appropriate structural reform measures will be put in place in the context of the forthcoming Four Year Plan to improve performance budgeting and the Estimates processes; and

— notes that there are already ample provisions in the Public Service Management Act 1997 to allow a Secretary General or Head of Office to:

— manage the Department/Office, implement Government policies appropriate to the Department or Office, monitor Government policies that affect the Department/Office and deliver outputs as determined with the Minister of the Government having charge of the Department/Office;

— provide progress reports to the Minister on the implementation of the Department's Strategy Statement annually or at such intervals as the Government may direct;

— provide advice to the Minister on any matter affecting or connected with the responsibilities of the Department/Office;

— ensure that the resources of the Department/Office are used in a manner that is in accordance with the requirements of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993; and

— assign responsibility to other officers of the Department/Office."

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Dara Calleary)

7:00 pm

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We resume the debate of which ten minutes remain in this slot. Deputy Phil Hogan is the next speaker.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity given by the Labour Party to deal with matters relating to political reform and Dáil reform. When I read the motion I was surprised. I suppose I should not be surprised that we agree so much on these matters. The motion was very similar to a document I published myself in the last year. I suppose the best form of flattery is imitation. I welcome the fact that the Labour Party and Fine Gael are very much in agreement regarding the tone and tenor of the essential requirements to ensure that this House works more efficiently and well in the interests of the people and that the political system, at local government and national level, is changed radically to ensure that we no longer have the same political decision making processes as we have at the moment.

The centralised system of government perpetrated on us by Fianna Fáil Governments, particularly under the leadership of Deputy Bertie Ahern, is something Fianna Fáil would find difficult to change. The communist-type centralist approach of handing down edicts from the central executive and treating the Dáil as lobby fodder without meaningful input into policies and decision making is something that Fianna Fáil have brought to a fine art over the years.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Is Deputy Hogan saying we are communists now?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Yes. Fianna Fáil's centralised system would put the communists in the shade, in regard to how they do their business. Deputy Lenihan knows that as well as anyone. It suits the purpose.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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It is Stalinist.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies, I ask you to address your remarks to the Chair. I will protect you, as necessary.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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You might ask the Minister of State to desist, Acting Chairman.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will protect you, Deputy.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The economic and financial issues the country faces have culminated in the following decision, communicated today by Reuters:

Forget passing the 2011 budget. A new Government with a strong parliamentary majority may now be the only thing that will convince investors that Ireland can and will overcome its financial crisis.

The statement goes on:

Sustained political turmoil would complicate Irish plans to resume borrowing in the bond markets from January and analysts said bringing forward the general election, either before the budget or shortly after it, could be the best solution.

That is the sort of remark that is being made internationally. It is a clear indication of no confidence, internationally, in the Government and its policies. The political system in which the Minister of State is involved has contributed to this scenario where every decision is parked into a quango and 11 agencies of the State were merged into the HSE, resulting in no rationalisation of efficiencies but in a worse health service. There have been no reforms in the public service and the Government had to commission the OECD to tell it what to do. The Sir Humphreys of this world are not being told by the Minister of the day to get on with implementation, even though the unions are up for making the necessary changes. That is the sort of political decision making that has brought the country to this sorry mess.

We need a radical change. Fine Gael has published its programme of radical change entitled New Politics, which is a very ambitious programme of political reform. Our starting point is simple. It is that Government and political failure lies at the heart of Ireland's economic collapse and the finger of responsibility must point directly to the policy failures of the recent and present Fianna Fáil-led Governments and their willingness to promote the interests of the, so called, golden circle over the interests of the citizen.

Under Fianna Fáil a political culture developed which ensured that the bankers and the developers were not dealt with before it was too late, a culture which tolerates cosy cartels and high costs in the private sector and ignores the need for radical reform in the public sector. However, it is also clear that several key weaknesses in Ireland's political system facilitated the failures of the last 12 years, in particular a hugely centralised State with few real checks and balances; an over-powerful Executive that increasingly ignores the Dáil; a proliferation of State agencies and quangos that answer to no one; a model of social partnership which effectively excludes the Dail; and an outdated budget and fiscal system that makes it extremely difficult to manage the State's finances properly.

Fine Gael, in its document, New Politics, believes that central to our party's vision and the transformation of Ireland is the transformation of politics itself. As part of the new politics, we are advocating that one third of the membership of the Oireachtas is no longer required. In other words, we would put the abolition of the Seanad in a referendum to the people. We would have a stronger budgetary system and a stronger committee system in the Dáil that would hold Ministers and State agencies to account and get real answers in an open and transparent manner about decisions that are being made. We would involve the citizens in a constitution day, to ensure that all the issues dealing with freedom of information, whistleblowers' charters, standards in public office and the registration of lobbyists would be properly scrutinised by the public in a consultative way so that we would have a package of measures in an Open Government Bill to offer to the Irish people in a referendum and in constitutional referendums when they are necessary.

We believe, in Fine Gael, that there needs to be a fundamental shift of power from the State to the citizen so that local people and local communities have more control over their own lives. In Government we will deliver more accountable local government and national Government and we will dismantle the public sector's command and control model, where everything is run from the top and local voices and concerns are constantly ignored. This can be done within 12 months of assuming office.

We also believe it is vital that the citizens of Ireland are actively involved, through a citizens' assembly, in drawing up the various proposals to be put to the people in a referendum, similar to what was done in Canada and the Netherlands. The purpose of the assembly will be to consider what changes should be made to Ireland's political and government system over and above the specific changes that Fine Gael proposes to make and to make recommendations on how the electoral system might be reformed.

The All-Party Committee on the Constitution has made important recommendations on these issues, including a recommendation that by-elections be held within six months of a vacancy arising. I am surprised that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with his colleagues in Government, voted down that proposal in June of this year. It would have saved the Government the money spent on going to the courts and saved the courts having to force the Government to hold a by-election in Donegal South-West and, perhaps in due course, elsewhere.

There is also a need for a constitutional amendment to deal with the Abbeylara judgment. This would allow the committees of this House to have much more power to call witnesses and give them the ability to hold full investigations, rather than having tribunals of inquiry, which are very expensive and can often run into the sand. The banking crisis, which is topical, could also be addressed by a committee of the Dáil, as the DIRT inquiry under the chairmanship of the late Deputy Jim Mitchell was able to carry out valuable work when Members of the House, on an all-Party basis, came to conclusions in a very short space of time and an inexpensive way.

There are ways in which we can do our business if we have the authority and power in the Dáil to give meaningful roles and responsibilities to the Members of the House rather than having a centralised system of political control by the Executive, which is not in the interests of the citizen and has led to the political failures that have brought the country to the brink of financial ruin. That has to change. It must change and it will change.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Does Deputy Hogan agree with the idea of downsizing the Dáil as part of his proposals?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Yes. I thank the Minister of State for asking.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with Deputies Seán Power, Conlon, Thomas Byrne, Collins, Mattie McGrath and Kelly.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly on this debate. It is important that changes be made to the way in which we do business. Many calls have been made to make the Dáil more family friendly and these calls relate to sitting times. An attempt should be made to achieve consensus in this regard. We have been talking about it for a long time. When I was first elected to the Dáil, in the same year as Deputy Kenny, we sat until 10.30 p.m. every night. One of the first changes, under Dr. Garret FitzGerald, I believe, was to make sitting times more reasonable. I actually agreed with Dr. FitzGerald at the time. Our party believed the sky would fall in if we changed the traditional sitting time. However, the change was made. If one is to attract young people and female candidates to the Dáil, more family friendly sitting times are required. We all agree with that.

The ability to raise topical issues of concern to Members and making the Dáil more efficient are very important. We have been talking about the raising of topical issues for years but we have not made much progress on it. It is important to be able to receive answers to the questions one asks rather than being told they are being dealt with by an agency, authority or executive. That is very frustrating for Members.

The issue of transparency and openness also arises. It is very difficult in respect of Cabinet confidentiality, as former Taoiseach John Bruton found out. He talked about trying to operate the Government behind a pane of glass. One cannot operate in such a manner if one is dealing with important matters that cannot be discussed outside the Cabinet room. In fairness to Mr. John Bruton, he favoured many reforms affecting the operation of both the Seanad and Dáil.

I welcome in particular the points in the motion on spending limits for elections. There should be a reduction in the ceiling for European elections and general elections. There is legislation on spending limits for local elections. These limits were put in place last year by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley. Those spending limits range from €7,500 to €15,000, depending on the population within one's local electoral area.

It is most important that we put an end to the sense of exclusion felt by so many people. It is important to have more people involved in making decisions. I welcome in particular the Lisbon treaty's establishment of a petition system for the European Parliament. We certainly should have such a system. Decisions should be made as close to the people as possible. One fault of the HSE, by comparison with what was formerly the Western Health Board, is that decisions formerly made locally by a CEO are now made in some very faraway places. It takes much longer for a decision to be taken.

I would welcome an increase in Dáil sitting days, the introduction of shorter summer recesses and reduced breaks at Christmas and Easter.

While lobbying is a very legitimate activity and while public representatives engage in it all the time, I understand that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, is considering the regulation of lobbyists and intends to bring proposals in this regard before the Government in due course. I very much welcome his intention in this regard.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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It is rare that we see a motion covering as many different areas as the motion before us. This may not be a great idea because it is very difficult for the sponsoring party to explain clearly why it is making all the various proposals. Equally, it is very difficult for the Government to reply adequately to such a large motion. In the few minutes allowed to me, I will be very restricted in what I can address.

The theme of the motion is very much of reform and change. We all agree that major changes are required in the way in which the House does its business to make it more relevant. Since I was elected, the system has been such that the Government generally proposes while the Opposition opposes. Instead, we should be able to build on what the parties have in common. We always seem to emphasise the issues that divide parties. There will always be differences of opinion; that is healthy. Opinions differ even within my party. It is healthy that people, rather than accept what is presented to them, question it on occasion. However, opposition for the sake of it is certainly not healthy. This must be changed.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is fairly good at it himself.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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It is rare that a Government accepts Private Members' motions, even where legislation is proposed. Very often motions with great merit are voted down on the basis of some small point with which we disagree rather than being accepted for what they are with a view to improving upon them. The Government is very reluctant to accept amendments to legislation tabled by the Opposition. It is almost as if wisdom is confined to one particular group. Regardless of who has been in government, that has been the practice.

If one examines the record, one will note that Oppositions consistently talk of Dáil reform. However, once they get into Government, they never prioritise it to the same extent as when in opposition. After the next general election, an all-party group will constitute the best way to proceed.

The motion before us makes a number of recommendations, one of which refers to a 50% increase in Dáil sittings and which proposes that we sit for up to four days per week. The present system is hardly appropriate. It is indefensible that we sit for only two days per week during weeks with a bank holiday. The long breaks at Christmas and during the summer are not necessary.

Earlier this year, at the end of May or in early June, I proposed at a meeting of my parliamentary party that we sit during the week we were due off. As it turned out, we did sit, although the work we did was not as meaningful as it might have been. It could have been a little more useful. The idea of taking weeks off willy-nilly must be questioned. We must ensure the work we do is sufficient and relevant to the people we represent.

The practice whereby the Taoiseach absents himself from the House on a Thursday is nonsensical. In fairness to the current Taoiseach, he did not introduce this practice; rather, he inherited it. We should utilise to best effect a system whereby all Members, not just party leaders, can communicate with one another in the Parliament and also with the public. It does not make sense to have a sitting day on which the Taoiseach is not present, particularly in the times in which we are living.

Much as reform of this House is necessary, our priority should be to lift the spirit of this nation. We must demonstrate a new honesty in the way in which we do our business in this House and outside. The country is on its knees and the Government, which I have supported, must accept responsibility for the part it played in creating many of the difficulties that arise. We must not continue to blame others or external events. We must explain in very clear and simple language the action we are taking to get out of the mess and to restore hope to the people, which hope is sadly lacking but badly needed.

The Government faces a by-election in a few weeks. Thereafter, there will be a budget, which will be of major importance to the future of the country. It is vital, for many reasons, that it be passed. It is important to give the people, as early as possible in the new year, an opportunity to pick in a general election a Government that will give the country the fresh start that is badly needed and which it deserves.

Photo of Margaret ConlonMargaret Conlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. While I would not agree with everything Deputy Seán Power said, I do agree with his comments on the broad nature of the motion and the difficulties relating to dealing with it in detail in the amount of time available.

There are aspects of the motion on which I wish to focus. The first of these relates to the rules and standards which apply to those who hold public office. While people have definite ideas and proposals with regard to change, which is healthy and must be welcomed, we must be careful that we do not try to reinvent the wheel. Let us consider what is already in place and see how we can improve upon it.

One of the other matters to which I wish to refer relates to the call for legislation relating to whistleblowing. I stand to be corrected but my research indicates that much of the legislation that has been enacted in recent years has included whistleblowing provisions. It is right and proper that a person who is employed in whatever sector, who suspects that an offence which is covered by the prevention of corruption legislation has been committed and who reports his or her suspicions, should receive protection. People should not be penalised by their employers as a result of what they have done. People have a duty and a responsibility to report suspicious actions and they deserve to be protected as a result.

The motion refers to the spending limits relating to elections. This is a matter with which I do not have any difficulty. On foot of the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, I understand that these matters are under consideration at present. That is a welcome development.

Cabinet confidentiality is another matter to which the motion refers. It is extremely important that Ministers should be in a position to engage in full and frank discussions when in attendance at Cabinet, without fear of the details of such discussions being leaked or reported in the media. Members are aware of what happens at parliamentary party meetings and one can rest assured that one will read about some matter that was discussed at such meetings in the print media. It is important that Cabinet confidentiality should be protected. If, however, the High Court were to make ruling that, in the interests, for example, of the administration of justice by a court or in light of an overriding public interest, it should be lifted-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Damaging tweets.

Photo of Margaret ConlonMargaret Conlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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------that would be fine and it would demonstrate that there could be no cover-ups.

I became a Deputy in 2007 and I had not previously had the experience of being a member of a local authority. When I first entered the House and heard people refer to procedure, practices and Standing Orders, it was as if they were speaking a foreign language. However, as one lives with the system, one becomes accustomed to the different practices which obtain. When I first came here, I was astonished by the fact that so few Members come into the Chamber to hear what others had to say. However, one quickly discovers how busy one's day can be. One must attend committee and party meetings and host different constituency and other groups which want to highlight various matters of concern. The Oireachtas is a very busy place.

I am astonished and, at times, disgusted by the way in which the business of the House is conducted. The Order of Business commences at 10.30 a.m. and we are lucky if it concludes before lunchtime. We are also fortunate if any legitimate discussion takes place during the remainder of the day. There are some weeks when Members on the Opposition benches ask the same questions on legislation they posed in previous weeks. We must engage in our work in a much more productive manner. I have no difficulty with proposals to have additional sitting days. However, I would have a difficulty if business were to continue to be conducted as it is at present.

Any reform of the political system must contemplate how more women can be attracted into politics. Previous speakers referred to the hours we work, the family-friendly nature of the business we are in and the processes relating to the selection of candidates, which is a matter to be dealt with outside the House. Women comprise 50% of the population but their level of representation in the House stands at 13.8%. The latter means that Ireland is ranked a disgraceful 84th in the world in respect of female representation. We must find a way to engage women and to bestow a role upon them.

The Government is examining these issues and others, and, in that context, I am happy to support its amendment to the motion.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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It is sad that I am obliged to repeat the comments I made last week, namely, that we are fiddling while Rome burns. The issues of Dáil and administrative reform are crucially important. However, they are not quite as important as the economic position in which we find ourselves or the high level of unemployment that obtains. Every aspect of business with which the Dáil deals at present should be devoted to matters relating to the economy. I urge the Government as well as the Opposition to ensure that this will be the case. Any motions that are put forward must be relevant to the current crisis. The motion before the House is not particularly relevant to that crisis.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That is not what the Commissioner said.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I am not stating that we in this House - both Government and Opposition Deputies - do not have an obligation to show leadership. Reference was made to the fact that the Chamber is often empty. The answer in this regard would be to make the place more work friendly in order that we would not be obliged to spend so much time in our offices. At present, we are obliged to be in our offices to deal with constituents who demand that we do they work they request. We have a constitutional obligation to carry out such work.

I wish to highlight one aspect of the Labour Party's motion. I refer to the proposed extension of the remit of the Freedom of Information Act to the Garda Síochána. The motion does not really qualify what is meant in this regard. I wish to lay down a marker by expressing my absolute opposition to the extension of the remit of that Act to the workings of the Garda Síochána. What is proposed is typical of the Labour Party. When the House dealt with legislation relating to gangland activities last year, that party again showed its deep suspicion of the force and its workings. The Garda Síochána, either in its actions or in its operational efforts to reduce crime, cannot be threatened by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The latter has no relevance to the force. The Garda would be stymied by an extension of the provisions of the Act to its activities. As a result, crime would increase and the force would be less likely to seek prosecutions or go the extra mile to investigate crimes.

The excellent Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission investigates any alleged wrongdoing within the force. It does a fantastic job in that regard. One sometimes hears about any matters arising in respect of the Garda on the news. Such matters are referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. If, as is often the case, details are not provided, people must understand that this is just standard procedure and is not necessarily something bad. It is not my intention to excuse any abuses which occurred in the past or which may be happening at present. However, the Garda must not be stymied in its efforts to control crime in my constituency. It is extremely unfortunate that those on the left in this country always appear to be intent on stymying the efforts of our police force.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That was Fianna Fáil's view of freedom of information from the outset.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Thomas Byrne, without interruption. I will provide protection to Deputy Howlin when he is replying to the debate.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I apologise to the Acting Chairman.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I pay tribute to the Garda Síochána in respect of the work it does. I repeat my assurance the Garda that I am wholeheartedly opposed to the extension of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to its operations.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Thomas Byrne should have referred to those who were formerly on the left.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Does Deputy Collins wish to contribute now or will Deputy Kelly be doing so?

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick West, Fianna Fail)
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I will make my contribution now.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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There are just under 12 minutes remaining in the slot.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Acting Chairman. I propose to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

There is a great deal of merit in both the Labour Party's motion and the Government's amendment to it. I wish to refer to the part of the amendment which relates to public servants. We must introduce legislation to ensure that there is a complete prohibition on those who retire from the Civil Service or the public service from taking up alternative or new positions in either. At at time when 450,000 people are unemployed, it is simply not acceptable that a person can be in receipt of a very good pension in respect of one State employment while working in another position which could be occupied by someone who is young and qualified. There has been a great deal of this type of thing in the area of education. The Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills has raised the matter with the boards of management of schools, which, ultimately, are the employers of teachers.

There will also be a need to take action in respect of the State Examinations Commission. It has been brought to my attention that many former or retired teachers are obtaining employment in the area of examination supervision and that they receive remuneration for doing so. This is happening at the expense of younger teachers who have mortgages to pay and young families for which they are obliged to provide. I am glad that anyone who avails of the redundancy package on offer from the HSE at present will not be permitted to take up employment elsewhere in the wider public service.

On the comments about extending the Freedom of Information Act to include the Garda Síochána, like Deputy Byrne said we need to flesh that out a little bit further and we have to get the balance right because the flipside is that unfortunately in Ireland malicious and false complaints are sometimes made about individuals. The Garda Síochána has a duty to investigate these but unfortunately the people who are the subject of these complaints never get to see them which is quite distressing for them. A balance needs to be struck.

On Dáil reform, we have to note that in the 12 months to July of this year the Houses of the Oireachtas communications unit placed on the public record the fact that the Dáil and committee system sat for a total of 210 or 220 days which is a significant amount of work. We have to balance that with an informed debate about Dáil reform. We have to be available to meet the public when we are outside the Chamber and the complex of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Meeting community groups, people and interest groups who inform us on our legislation is part of our work.

We cannot lock ourselves away inside the House and pretend to know it all. We also have to get out and mix with people. Part of Dáil reform will also have to involve reform of politicians and our behaviour in the Chamber because often what we see in here is populist grandstanding and it does not serve the people who elected us.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I am delighted to be able to speak on the Private Members' motion. There are a wide range of topics which I could cover but I want to address whistleblowers legislation. I had a call to my office today from a very distressed person from my county who was concerned about an individual living in Dublin who lost his job yesterday which was his thanks for whistleblowing. I want to raise issues like that. There must be more transparency and openness.

There has to be clear legal protection for whistleblowers, not only on a sector by sector basis but across all areas as a fundamental entitlement for every citizen. Only today, as I said, I had a call to my office regarding a young man who found himself fired from his job because of doing the right thing and exposing wrongdoing in an organisation. Regardless of the sector or industry people cannot be sacrificed and the law must facilitate the exposure of malpractice.

On the regulation of lobbyists, we need to ensure that former civil servants and special advisers do not work in an area involving a potential conflict of interest. There are legitimate concerns regarding individuals moving from decision-making or influential roles to lobbying the organisation or bodies with which they were involved. There are questions about undue influence and insider deals. A moratorium of at least two years should be enforced. The roles of Ministers and Secretaries General have to be subject to further scrutiny.

On active citizenship, there is a great opportunity and has never been more need for people who are active in the community and voluntary sector. They need to be supported and all the arms and institutions of the State should be made freely available, not just in economic terms but there should be full support rather than jaundiced eyes trying to pull them back and restrain them from their voluntary efforts. Such people are true patriots and we never needed them more. They need to be encouraged, fostered and allowed to generate enthusiasm and facilities in their communities, thereby giving greater quality of life to citizens at large. By extension, they also create business, industry and employment as well as a social benefit.

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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On the subject of political reform, there is a need and a hunger from the public for it. I would take a good look at the committee system which exists in the Dáil. It is a very good system and an all-party forum should examine committees and give them more teeth and power because that would be the way to go. I would also abolish all the tribunals. They have not served this country well and have proved to be very expensive light entertainment for Ireland. The committees would get to the root of many problems and would solve them.

People elect politicians to represent them and expect them to do so. They do not expect everybody else to be doing the job a politician should be doing. Election reform is required. The people want it. An independent commission should be set up and given a deadline to make new suggestions. Cabinet confidentiality is something with which I agree, especially for the protection and security of the State.

Whistleblowers should be protected and given confidentiality if they request it. Politicians should be more accountable to the public. The public service should be there to advise and help but the buck stops with elected Members and the people do not want to hear, when they make representations to a politician, that is up to the HSE or some other body to make a decision.

Deputies, Ministers of State and Ministers should have the last say and not just give lip service. There should be spending limits at all elections and they should be on the small side. I would also encourage as much cross-party co-operation as possible because, in my limited experience in the Dáil, I have found in committees that cross-party co-operation is and has been available and does work.

People should declare any conflicts of interest. Any new system should focus on job creation, value for money and cutting out waste and fraud. All financial institutions, even though they are not based in the Dáil, should be subject to regular audits without notice. We have had no genuine audits in our banking system for many years. They have caused us enormous problems and they must only lend a percentage of deposits.

Anyone who does not do their job properly, whether working for the State, semi-State companies or the private sector, should be fired immediately with no compensation whatsoever. I agree with limited political donations. Political reform is necessary but I would like to take a closer look at it and come up with more ideas as to how it should be done.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Lynch, Upton, McManus, Sherlock and Costello.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I thank Deputy Howlin for bringing this timely motion to the House. At this time of national crisis it is vital that we review, examine and reform how we use the powers vested in us by the people. The public interest and efficiency, with the elimination of waste, must be re-established. In that regard, I want to concentrate on one area that have raised repeatedly and that needs urgent attention, namely, the transfer of power vested in this House by the people to unaccountable quangos.

Our system of democracy is a relatively new system. Our history books barely reach any form of elective process. Rather, we learn of the system of wars and battles to establish rulers. Gradually a system with some form of representative parliaments was established. First, they were confined to the landed gentry and those with substantial property. Eventually all males were given the right to vote but women were excluded. After a considerable struggle the system we now know as universal suffrage was established. We now have a representative democracy.

It is recognised that in the system power lies with and is vested in the people. The people select one of their number to represent them through a secret ballot. The people thereby transferred their power to that public representative for a limited period to serve them by exercising the power so transferred. If they are not satisfied with how that power is exercised, the people can, and often do, take it back. The exercise of that option may be used in large measure by the people in the near future.

It is the duty of this House to respect and preserve that power we are given and to exercise it for the common good. It is our duty to hand power back to the people when the time comes but, because we have handed over large tranches of power to a wide range of State and semi-State bodies - let us call them quangos - we cannot hand that power back to the people. We have thereby diminished the hard-won authority of the people we represent.

Every time we set up an authority or body for whatever purpose and declare it is independent, and despite the fact that the authority will be 100% funded by the people's tax, I, as a public representative, am precluded from raising a question or tabling a motion in this House on how that body is using the taxpayer's money. That diminishes democracy and dilutes the power given by the people to Parliament by giving it to an outside unaccountable body. That is an abuse of the power given to us. It should not have happened. It must be reversed.

It is not only at national level that this democratic deficit has been created. At local authority level we elect councillors but deny them any real authority in deciding how local services are run or how they are financed. Local authorities such as county councils and city councils are run and managed by officials who have not been elected and the councillors become a buffer between the public and the management. It is now time we expressed our faith in democracy at local level, restored power to these chosen by the people, and returned the managers and their large staff of civil engineers and programme managers to the role they should have had, that is, as advisers.

The outcome is that there are somewhere in the region of 1,000 areas fully funded by the taxpayer which I, as a public representative, cannot raise or question in this House, where I have been sent by the people. These range from health to roads to the environment. Only last week when I wanted to raise an issue about a local illegal dump in my constituency I had great difficulty finding a form of words to overcome the fact that a quango was responsible for such matters. All of these quangos have boards, chief executive officers, chairpersons and spin-doctors to tell us the great job they do for us. They all are rewarded for their services, with some paid more than the Taoiseach or Ministers. Apart from the democratic deficit they create, perhaps there is an area of major savings that could be explored here also. I am not suggesting that those of us who are elected do not need experts to advise us; we do. However, it is just that - advice. It is when the experts and the advisers become the decision-makers that democracy is diminished.

I refer briefly to one aspect of the Government's amendment to my party's proposal which welcomes the Government tabling of a Dáil reform package. What crass hypocrisy. The package was discussed in detail at the Dáil reform committee and at the point of agreement, the Government Chief Whip informed the meeting that he did not have the authority to proceed, in other words, the Government's own package of reforms was vetoed by the Taoiseach.

We must restore the right of an elected Member of this House to raise questions and get answers on the use of taxpayers' money. That is an essential of democracy. We must reclaim and restore to the people the powers they vested in us. Quangos are a negation of democracy and where they are seen to be useful, they must be accountable to this House. As the Minister for Finance stated in this House, government by quango is not government at all.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The next speaker is Deputy Ciarán Lynch. There are 23.5 minutes left in the slot and I understand the Deputy is taking five minutes.

Photo of Ciarán LynchCiarán Lynch (Cork South Central, Labour)
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I thank my Labour Party colleague, Deputy Howlin, for bringing a timely and important motion before the House. It is quite a lengthy motion and if I read it into the record this evening, I doubt I would have any speaking time left. It is quite a substantial motion.

While it is a lengthy motion, it is not complex. It lists a series of measures that should have been taken in recent decades. We should not be at this bottleneck this evening where we find that a plethora of reforms and a series of measures that should have been put in place are still absent from this House.

One could say that many of the measures in the proposal Deputy Howlin has brought before the House are quite simple and a great number of them are attainable in the here and now. They do not need major legislative changes. They do not require constitutional amendments. The Order of Business and the way this House operates on a day-to-day basis could well accommodate the changes in Deputy Howlin's proposal. Many of these changes could be put into immediate effect and there is no excuse to hide behind legislative measures or constitutional issues in that many of the changes that can be made are within the control of this House right now.

There are two approaches to reform: the big bang approach and the incremental approach. I favour the incremental approach to matters. However, we have arrived at a situation where we need a big bang approach because this House has become so stagnant because of the type of governance that Fianna Fáil and its culture of politics has ingrained into this House.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Ciarán LynchCiarán Lynch (Cork South Central, Labour)
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There are two types of disfunctionality for anybody who examines management: structural deficiencies and system deficiencies. Both have been created by the type of governance to which this country has become accustomed because of Fianna Fáil's business culture in running the country.

I arrived into this House in 2007 as a new TD. I, like everybody else, would like to leave some legislative footprints in this House but I would also like to leave some sort of reform footprints here. Recently I picked up a book in which, amazingly, I get a mention. It is by Mr. Fintan O'Toole, who writes quite extensively about the myth of parliamentary democracy. He refers to a situation when I came in here first as a new TD. On the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, I tabled, in 2009, a simple amendment, not one that would have cost the Exchequer a cent. It was not to change Government policy, but merely to cite that the Government had created a technical error in the legislation and was citing the Health Act as dating from 2007 when, in fact, it should have been cited as dating from 2008. I tabled an amendment to the Minister to correct an anomaly or deficiency in the Bill that might create a legislative or legal difficulty further down the line, and the Minister rejected my amendment. At the next stage, on moving from Committee Stage to Report Stage, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, came in with the exact same amendment that I had proposed at an earlier stage. I seconded it and I had tabled my own amendment as well, and he voted for mine. It is the only time in the three years I have been in this House that I have been successful with an amendment. This is the sort of ridiculous behaviour that goes on here on a daily basis because of the adversarial type of politics, and particularly the executive governance of Fianna Fáil and the stranglehold it puts upon the parliamentary operations of this House.

There are 166 TDs in this Chamber. Each of them, I assume, comes to work every morning to do the best job that they can. However, the working environment that this House has now become has made that job extraordinarily difficult, and sometimes impossible.

I will conclude with two critical points. Reform, in itself, does not produce the desired outcomes. In 2004, the Health Bill was brought before us here and the reform that gave us was the HSE.

We should no confuse reform with reductionism, which has become very much a mantra and a sort of Gospel in present times. We here have two jobs: first, to ensure the governance of this country in a sovereign way; and second, to ensure that such governance is not dumbed down to the lowest common denominator so that the operation of the State is reduced to such a level that we cease functioning as a democracy.

Photo of Mary UptonMary Upton (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, for tabling this motion. From an ineffective political system that was not nearly as probing and inquisitive as it should have been, we have seen numerous revelations of waste in our institutions of Government that have discredited these institutions and undermined faith in the operation of our State. This ineffective approach can also be attributed to the lack of rigour in the application of our regulatory systems which were supposed to protect the public interest but have left us with a colossal bill for a broken banking system.

Trust in politics is at an all-time low and for that trust to be rebuilt we in this House must take the lead by engaging in processes of renewal on how we run our country. The dodging of Government responsibility is no longer acceptable and it extends to all aspects of how we conduct our business. The proposals put forward in this motion, from reducing the Government monopoly over the Dáil to empowering committees to carry out their work effectively, are practical proposals that could be implemented and which would address many of the issues that hamper effective legislative delivery and erode public confidence in politics.

Proposals such as restoring the Freedom of Information Act to its original intended purpose, reforming appointments to State boards and introducing rules relating to lobbying would introduce greater transparency into our democratic processes. Restricting for two years the appointments that public servants, including political appointees, can take up in the private sector where there are areas of conflict of interest, should not just be common sense, it should be statutory law.

To have accountability we must have responsibility. How many times have we heard in this House, when questions are asked about the operation of various arms of the State, whether it is the HSE in health or the Irish Sports Council, the Arts Council or Fáilte Ireland, in my brief of tourism, culture and sport, that the Minister has no official responsibility to Dáil Éireann in the matter? We have handed over responsibility for the formulation of public policy and distribution of public moneys to bodies that are not accountable to the electorate. To the public, this situation is impossible to explain.

In the tourism and sports policy documents I published for the Labour Party this year, I called for the recentralisation of policy development to the respective Departments. This is a practical first step that will strengthen the democratic accountability of policy and decisions relating to the expenditure of public funding. The respective Ministers and their Departments would be responsible to Dáil Éireann and to the citizens of the State in a way that semi-State organisations or quangos are not. This would increase ownership of a policy as well as responsibility for it.

The responses from the Government on these issues have been characteristically tame in their breadth and late in their delivery. We are three years into the current Government and it is a year since the revised programme for Government, yet nothing has been delivered with regard to reforming our institutions of State. The revised programme for Government document provided a few token gestures to satisfy the foot-stamping Members of the Green Party in the full knowledge that none of them would ever see the light of day - the token gestures, that is, not the Green Party Members. It is reassuring to know, however, that they are welcomed profusely in the amendment. This is what one might call a céad míle fáilte at its best but with no delivery of any product or progress.

As public representatives, we should be the standard bearers for best practice in public office and, by extension, civil society because we represent our constituents not only in this House but also internationally. The shameful and costly proceedings of the past decade in Dublin Castle have done much to embed cynical notions of politicians into the public consciousness. What were always the actions of a few have created a sense of "a plague on all your houses". These notions can become self-fulfilling which is detrimental to public discourse and our ability to address the many challenges we face.

Since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, we have often heard public expressions of dissatisfaction on the workings of the House. The public, at a time of great uncertainty, have looked to us for leadership. This means they are looking for experience, competency and vision. There is no shortage of the traits of leadership in this House, rather there is a shortage of the will to lead. The Labour Party is prepared to lead and is prepared to introduce the changes that will ensure Government is held responsible for the delivery of outcomes. It will be no more a business-as-usual approach where Ministers queue up to take responsibility for success and pass the buck for fiascoes such as PPARS or the electronic voting machines. As a result of these past errors, we must now try to chart a new course in Irish politics and civil society by rebuilding our economy in a fair and just way. Starting from the top, with the proposals contained in this motion, the Labour Party has the ideas and the will to make those changes a reality.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I welcome Deputy Howlin's reforming motion of substance that we are debating. The motion is so good that taking this Government into account, there is not a chance it will be passed by the House and I regret this because if it were passed, it would be an important signal that this Parliament has the courage to change.

As a society we face formidable challenges, economic and political, and we need to modernise. We need to make our democratic structures fit for purpose. That is the purpose of this particular motion. There is a defensiveness and a deviousness that characterises the Fianna Fáil way of politics. This culture has imbued the system so effectively that even when reforms were introduced by others, they have been successfully emasculated subsequently by Fianna Fáil or those of that gene pool. Those politicians refused to trust the people and now the people sure as hell do not trust them.

In the House, political life has been manipulated so effectively to the point that in many people's eyes we as parliamentarians are a bumbling and costly anachronism. We can do, and we have done, so much better. I am proud of the record of the rainbow Government in which I served as Minister of State. My colleague at that time, Eithne Fitzgerald, strived to open up access to information. The Freedom of Information Act was inspired and progressive legislation. It was grounded on best practice elsewhere but also led the way for others to follow. It was a tremendous legacy for her to leave us. The control freaks in Fianna Fáil could not bear the power the Act gave to the people. Charlie McCreevy dismantled as much of it as he could. This is the same person who as Minister inflated the economy and provided us with light touch regulation which turned out to be no regulation. He wanted to evade scrutiny and accountability and changed the law to suit his outlook. Ireland is now paying a terrible price for his hubris.

I am confident that when the Labour Party is returned to Government, these reforms will be introduced. They must be introduced if we are to ensure that Government, the Oireachtas and the Civil Service work efficiently and openly. How different our country would be if these reforms had been introduced during the boom years. We are learning painful lessons from our past. The Government appears to have learned nothing, however. It is simply irredeemable.

The example of the latest Ombudsman report only serves to prove this point. Since the Office of the Ombudsman was established, it has built up a fine record of work and each Ombudsman, including Emily O'Reilly, has served with distinction as independent watchdog for the public. Sometimes the discomfort caused to Governments was considerable. That said, I do not recall a time ever when a Minister so blatantly and arrogantly dismissed a body of work produced by a person with significant statutory powers. As I recall, Kevin Murphy was the first person in that position to raise the issue of the abuse of the right to nursing home care by the State. To my recollection, this was when the issue was first raised. The Minister, Deputy Harney, did not listen then and she is not listening now.

We must have renewal. The Government is incapable of meeting this task and this challenge. In this motion we have set out the roadmap for a new Government to complete the task.

8:00 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I will follow on from the theme as espoused by Deputy McManus on the role of the Ombudsman. In a speech given by her recently on her office and this institution, she quoted from a speech made by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in which he stated:

[W]e should ... return Dáil Éireann to a central place in public thinking. It should be the battleground for ideas, the location for intellectual debate ... where the brightest and best work in concert to achieve optimal results over the long term, not cheap point-scoring in the short term.

Those are the words of a Fianna Fáil Minister - a Front Bench senior Minister of long standing. The Ombudsman referred to the lost at sea report. I can only speak about my own experience of this Parliament and state that the manner in which the lost at sea report was dealt with suggested to me that no matter what the Ombudsman's finding was, the Government was going to have a partisan, party political view on whether it would support it.

From the point of view of citizens and the complainant this denigrated their position. For a complainant to come forward in the first instance and to go through the process of making a complaint to the Ombudsman is quite a lengthy and stressful process. It was particularly traumatic for the Byrne family with regard to the lost at sea report. For the Government then to reject out of hand a report from an independent officer who is above politics, and to do so in such a partisan way within this House at the joint committee, suggested that the Fianna Fáil party decided it would trample all over that very institution. There was not even a recognition that the complaint had validity. Even if the amount of compensation to be offered was rejected, there should at least have been an acknowledgement of the faults on the Government side.

I speak on this motion as a person who received a mandate for the first time in 2007. This Parliament is ceasing to be relevant for ordinary citizens. The roof needs to be lifted or blown off so that a little light can be let in and the institution can be reformed. It will not take much to do so. With a little lateral thinking and cross-party consensus on how it can be done, we can restore this institution to some degree of relevance to ordinary people's lives. So long as the Executive continues to hold the power it does, this Parliament will die on its feet.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I thank my colleagues for sharing their time and I thank Deputy Brendan Howlin for tabling this motion. It is a long time since this House has had a wide-ranging debate on the current coalition Government, on the institutions that underpin that Government and the Houses of the Oireachtas. Unfortunately, we now have the perfect storm, so to speak, with bad government and outdated and ineffective institutions. Bad government can only be remedied by the people in a general election. The first priority is to make every effort to ensure the general election is held as soon as possible and that the bad Government is removed.

This bad Government has presided over the greatest financial crisis, the greatest recession and the highest unemployment in the history of the State. So bad is this Government that it even attempted to thwart the constitutional right to full Dáil representation of the electors of Donegal South-West, Donegal North-East, Dublin South and Waterford. It has failed to stop the by-election taking place in Donegal, despite its efforts in the courts, and it is now applying to the Supreme Court to prevent the other outstanding by-elections being held. Instead of deploying all its energies to preventing the IMF taking over the country, and preventing a loss of our financial sovereignty, its sole concern is to stay in power, by hook or by crook. In the process, the Government is denying tens of thousands of citizens of this country their democratic right to parliamentary representation. These underhand actions are unacceptable in a democracy and border on dictatorship. Legislation is required to reform this area.

The Labour Party motion includes a substantial and detailed package of reforms which, if implemented, would greatly improve the workings of the institutions. The Government amendment indicates that it will table a reform package to improve the workings of the Dáil. We have not seen the Government's proposals but at least our motion has succeeded in flushing out a response from the Government. However, its proposals deal exclusively with this House and they not extend to the Seanad, the Government or Departments. It will be of little value to reform the Dáil and leave the Government as unaccountable as ever. What is needed is a comprehensive package of reform to overhaul every area of governance so that citizens can once more have confidence in the institutions of the State and in our democracy.

The issues outlined in our motion are comprehensive. Freedom of information has been spancilled by the Government through an increase in fees. Why will the Government not allow new legislation to encompass freedom of information? Whistleblowers' legislation is necessary and appointments to State boards need to be overhauled. There should be spending limits on elections and a cap on donations and regulation of lobbyists. It is important to break the Government monopoly on legislation. The Houses of the Oireachtas should have power to introduce legislation. Responsibility of Ministers to the Dáil must be returned instead of Ministers hiding behind quangos as is currently the practice. This means it is impossible to receive a decent reply to parliamentary questions. The motion proposes increasing the number of Dáil sitting days by 50% and opening up the budgetary process to proper scrutiny. This will be necessary in any case for the European Union if we are not careful. The committees will be given greater powers in order to conduct much of the business and deal with issues which arise. Reform is essentially about the transparency, accountability and effectiveness of Government action and State institutions.

The Government has failed entirely to provide adequate institutional reform to enable Ireland to play a significant part in the development of the European Union in recent times or in maximising the opportunities available through successive treaty changes over the past 13 years of this Government in one form or another. The Taoiseach committed us to treaty change without reference to this House. He returned from a Council meeting and informed the House of the decision. This is not acceptable. It is a case of Government showing disrespect to the House. We have an entitlement but no input into the Commission's annual draft plans, despite the fact that the EU Secretary General, Catherine Day, has told us this is the area in which Ireland can exert the greatest influence. We have not established any alliance with smaller states as we did in the past. There is now a massive power axis consisting of France and Germany and we have done nothing about it. Like Greece, Ireland is now isolated and this is very dangerous in these times when we owe so much money to the ECB and when the IMF wolf is at the door.

The House needs to review how it conducts its business. We need to make our practices and procedures more relevant to the needs of our country and our citizens.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. The Labour Party motion is very wide-ranging. Some speakers widened the discussion beyond the subject of the motion.

My colleague Minister of State Deputy Dara Calleary, gave a lengthy and detailed response to the motion when he moved the Government counter-motion. In the short time available to me I will respond to some of the points raised by Opposition speakers. On whistle-blowing legislation, a number of Bills containing such provisions have been enacted in recent years and several more are currently before the House. On registration of lobbyists, the renewed programme for Government gives a clear commitment that the Government will introduce a register of lobbyists, including professional, corporate and non-governmental organisations.

Deputy Ó Caoláin mentioned the importance of local government reform. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has indicated that the Dublin mayoral legislation is a first tranche in a major programme of local government reform and development. Efficiency measures will be pursued across the entire local government sector, arising from the efficiency review group's report and related initiatives. In addition, the Government will soon be considering the position in regard to the report of the Limerick local government committee and comprehensive proposals in regard to the future of local government will be set out in the promised White Paper on local government.

As regards the budgetary process, the Government has already taken important steps to reform the budget process over recent years. The pre-budget outlook document provides a full range of information on the public finances in advance of budget decisions. The Estimates of expenditure are now determined and presented alongside the annual tax decisions on budget day as part of a unified budget. Of course, our budgetary timetable will have to be reviewed to take account of the new European semester that will come into effect for all member states in 2011.

In regard to the performance aspects of expenditure, annual output statements now provide an opportunity for the relevant Dáil select committees to scrutinise the Voted expenditure allocations for each Department and to examine in detail the public service outputs and outcomes to be delivered. This initiative was complimented by the OECD review of the Irish public service in 2008, which also suggested ways in which this approach could be improved further and integrated more fully into the resource allocation process. These recommendations have been taken up by the Government as part of the Transforming Public Services agenda, which I know the Labour Deputies are encouraging.

As regards Opposition Members and legislation, it is only fair to make the point that there have been occasions where the Government has accepted Opposition Bills in principle, and a current example is the Construction Contracts Bill brought forward by Senator Feargal Quinn in the other House.

On the subject of Dáil reform more generally, I would like, on behalf of the Government, to take the opportunity to correct a factual inaccuracy in the contribution by Deputy David Stanton in the debate in the House yesterday. Deputy Stanton stated that the Government had not brought forward proposals on how the procedures of this House could be reformed and improved. He also stated quite clearly that no proposals brought forward by the Government had been discussed at the Dáil reform sub-committee of the Committee on Procedures and Privilege. Deputy Stanton is incorrect in both of these assertions. Last year, the Government mandated a working group to bring forward proposals for consideration.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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On a point of order, in case the Minister of State would inadvertently mislead the House, what he is telling us is not accurate. This was discussed but it was then vetoed by the Taoiseach. The Minister of State at the time, now Minister for Defence, Deputy Pat Carey, told the committee he could not proceed.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am correcting the proceedings of the House. In June 2009, the Government discussed and agreed a comprehensive range of procedural reforms. On 2 July 2009, the then Chief Whip, Deputy Pat Carey, brought these proposals for discussion at the Dáil reform sub-committee. After consulting the minutes of that meeting, and of subsequent meetings, the Chief Whip has confirmed to me that these items were discussed. The minutes also confirm that Deputy Stanton was in attendance at this meeting. I am not sure why Deputy Stanton claimed this was not the case, but I am quite happy to correct the record of the House. Indeed, in the Chamber this morning, Deputy Emmet Stagg in his contribution acknowledged that the Government has brought forward proposals. I welcome that acknowledgement.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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They were vetoed.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I reject Deputy Stagg's assertion that the Taoiseach vetoed those proposals.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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There is no question but what I am saying is accurate.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The minutes of the sub-committee meeting clearly state these were discussed at that meeting.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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The then Chief Whip, Deputy Pat Carey, came into the meeting and said he was sorry but he could not proceed any further with this.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We will let the Minister of State conclude.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I know that since he has taken up the position of Chief Whip, Deputy John Curran has met the various parties on a bilateral basis with a view to identifying where progress can be made. I understand he has yet to meet Deputy Joe Carey, the new Fine Gael spokesperson in this area, but I hope this will happen in the very near future. I am happy to correct the record of the House.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate introduced by my colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, on behalf of the Labour Party. The motion is probably the most comprehensive one on reform of our institutions and of the way we do our business in the Dáil that has ever been put before the House. This is why it is so dispiriting to hear the Minister of State sum up for the Government.

It seems the Minister of State and the Fianna Fáil speakers almost invariably were of the opinion that this is another routine motion about reform of the Dáil. It is not about that at all. This is a fundamentally transformative resolution that seeks to start by acknowledging that politics is in crisis in this country. It does not matter whether the Government is of the opinion, as it is, that we are being unfairly treated, that many of the criticisms are ill-founded or that some of them are destructive. Closing our eyes to the reality will not make that go away. This is not just a motion about Dáil reform. It seeks to chart a roadmap for reform that will restore confidence in politics, in this House and in our capacity as a country to lead the way to economic recovery.

It was Deputy Seán Power who said in the debate that we have a duty to lift the spirit of the country and to give honest leadership. I agree with that, and I agree with the way he approached the motion. That is what motivated it. The problem is that hot on the heels of the collapse of our economy is the near collapse of confidence in politics and in this House. I do not know how it is but, somehow, the comprehensive failure of Fianna Fáil is coming to be represented as the failure of the political system. The underlying assumption that is allowed to take hold is that because Fianna Fáil has failed so comprehensively, it automatically follows that no other party and no other combination of parties in this House is capable of prudently managing our affairs. It is almost as if the dyed-in-the-wool Fianna Fáil loyalists and their fellow travellers have concluded it is somehow best to salvage something of the reputation of the once-great party by spreading the word that "because we failed to do it, we are telling you the others will do no better". It is a new version of the old story when Fianna Fáil are in trouble, "sure, you are all the same".

There is absolutely no evidence that our political system, for all its faults, and it has serious faults, is incapable of throwing up a competent Government that can restore confidence and lead us to economic recovery. We have now reached such a crisis that nobody in this country, whatever one's political loyalties, has a vested interest in creating such a new conventional wisdom. News travels fast nowadays, and our country's reputation has taken a severe pounding in recent times. Promulgating the notion that we cannot govern ourselves is another nail in the reputation of our country, and it is not true.

The Labour Party motion moved by Deputy Howlin is intended to restore confidence in politics. Our key institutions must be made fit for purpose. This House must demonstrate there is a better way to do our business. Parliament must demonstrate it can lead an independent existence and has a purpose and role which are separate to the Government. Traditional public service work practices must be overhauled.

The relationship between Ministers and their Secretaries General must be brought into the 21st century. We need to redefine the relationship between Ministers and their Departments and between a Minister and his or her Secretary General. Nineteenth century notions of personal ministerial responsibility coupled with legal ministerial responsibility for all official departmental acts and the legal competence of civil servants to perform such acts without any necessary recourse to the Minister lead to a situation where accountability to the Oireachtas is demanded on an entirely fictitious basis. It is absurd to claim that a Minister is personally responsible for every action in his or her Department and it is a dereliction of accountability on the part of this House to excuse a Minister because he or she did not know something in his Department that he or she should have known. It is not acceptable that a Minister might fail to intervene when he or she should have done so or neglect to stay informed of potential, as well as actual, problems.

Our system suits weak Ministers and traditional civil servants. When cock-ups occur, they circle the wagons and engage in collective self-defence. The Minister's impenetrable corporate shroud protects the civil servant and Minister alike from individual examination and accountability. This system breeds the kind of Minister who sees himself or herself as an ambassador-at-large who photographs well but does not read a brief. There is a world of difference between being an ambassador plenipotentiary and being a Minister who wields executive power.

Accountability must be at the heart of the reforms we seek to make. The Dáil is not working as well as it might. The Government is running the country in an unaccountable manner and it is riding roughshod over this House. The filleting of the Freedom of Information Act, the constraining of the Equality Authority, the abolition of the Combat Poverty Agency, the shooting down of the Labour Party Private Members' Bill on protecting whistle blowers and the rejection of regulations on lobbyists all point in the direction of a Government which is opposed to subjecting its actions to scrutiny. The result of unaccountable Government is unimaginable failure. "Consensus" was a word that was unheard of when Fianna Fáil was riding high on the hog. This House should be aware that consensus does not mean cover up and collusion.

This motion is a comprehensive roadmap for reforming our institutions, establishing real accountability and restoring confidence in the capacity of politics to provide solutions and lead recovery. One of the principal reasons for the collapse of confidence both inside and outside of this jurisdiction is the fact that our dysfunctional Government is on a life-support machine. It is guilty of dereliction of duty on a scale never before experienced in this State. As long as the same people remain in office we will not be able to restore our reputation. When the people eventually get the opportunity to speak, the alternative Government must have ready for implementation a programme of reform that puts beyond doubt our determination to change the way we govern.

Fianna Fáil's response is to circle the wagons and close its ears to the daily denigration of politics. Even if some of the commentary is ill founded or even destructive, ignoring it is the wrong response. The way we do politics must change. We have many natural advantages, the talents of our people are capable of digging us out of this hole and we have shown that we can earn our way in the world. Our people demand leadership and they deserve no less.

I was profoundly disturbed to learn that the European Court of Auditors has found that we did need to close Mallow sugar factory. I had an opportunity to visit Mallow sugar factory along with Deputy Sherlock, who was then a councillor, and listen to a presentation on the closure of Carlow sugar factory and the transfer of its machinery to Mallow. The people who made the presentation believed they could grow jobs at Mallow and argued there was no difficulty in transporting beet. They were adamant that Ireland ought to retain its sugar industry. This is a classic example of a Government which was not prepared to hear what this side of the House had to say, even while jobs were piling up in the construction sector and our manufacturing base was being eroded. It was a chronic failure that the jobs in Mallow were allowed to go without a fight for the people who worked at the plant and the growers who supplied it. Mallow is only one of many decisions, however. The biggest decisions, which relate to the banks, were addressed by my colleagues.

This Government in its previous guises killed off the notion of inquiry by parliamentary committee. In the US, a congressional inquiry into the reasons for the banking failure in that country was established within days. After Abbeylara, the Government contrived to kill off inquiry by committee, despite the success of the DIRT inquiry in retrieving €1 billion for the Exchequer and making recommendations that produced our modern and efficient Revenue Commissioners. Neither senior public servants nor the Government wanted to allow inquiries by parliamentary committee.

Banking inquiries, which were conducted in the US and the United Kingdom, were obstructed here. A secret investigation was commenced behind closed doors. Perhaps it was his messianic zeal to become more Fianna Fáil then Fianna Fáil itself that caused the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to claim that investigation would be open but if anybody in this House has come across this open inquiry, I ask him or her to tell us. Huge questions remain unanswered, such as who advised the blanket guarantee which directly resulted in bond spreads climbing towards 9%. Merrill Lynch did not advise such a guarantee and the Department of Finance claims it did not do so either. It is one of the great questions of our time, alongside the meaning of life and whether there is a God.

Deputy Thomas Byrne claimed that attempts to extend the Freedom of Information Act to the Garda Síochána were typical of the approach of the left and he asked how could anybody consider extending it. Clearly he did not hear last night's contribution by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, who stated that the Government intends to extend the Act to the administrative functions of the Garda. I welcome that.

The Minister said last night that the Government intends to extend the Freedom of Information Act to the administrative functions of the Garda. I welcome that. Deputy Thomas Byrne does not think it is a good idea, however, despite the arguments that have been frequently adduced in this House suggesting that it could be very good for the force itself, as well as for society. The Deputy either thinks a few votes might matter in Meath East at the next election - I doubt he is right about that - or he is trying to blacken the name of this party, in terms of our wish to implement the same reforms throughout the entire public service, including in the Garda Síochána. I thought his remarks were unworthy of him.

I do not know how many Members of this House are aware of the existence of the post of confidential recipient. I should mention, in case the Acting Chairman might ever need the services of the recipient, that the role of the official in question involves hearing complaints from members of the Garda about matters that cause them to be disturbed about the discharge of the functions of the Garda Síochána. When I tried to establish what this chap does and where he is based, I was told after a long search that it was confidential. When I telephoned the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the official to whom I spoke expressed the belief that the confidential recipient had an office in the Department. When I rang back a few days later to talk to the recipient, the people to whom I spoke said they had never heard of him. When I cornered the Minister, who is usually full of information and anxious to share it with the Opposition, he confirmed that the confidential recipient is indeed based in the Department of Justice and Law Reform. Does he expect ordinary gardaí from around the country to present themselves in the Department to make their complaints about what is going on in the force? If so, it sums up the Government's attitude to secrecy and the way decisions should be made in government. That is a big part of the reason we are where we are tonight.

Amendment put:

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 77 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Micheál Martin, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 68 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe

Amendment declared carried

Question put: That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 77 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Micheál Martin, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 68 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe

Question declared carried