Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. a8, motion re establishment of select committees; No. b8, motion re establishment of Select Committee on European Union Affairs; No. c8, motion re establishment of Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement; No. d8 - motion re establishment of Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions, No. e8, motion re Standing Orders 79, 82, 82A, 83, 92, 94A, 99, 102, 105 and 163; No. 8, motion re presentation and circulation of Revised Estimate 2011 [Vote 4] and, subject to the agreement of No. 8, it is proposed to take the Revised Estimate [Vote 4]; and No. 3, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 - Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the order of the Dáil of 7 June, 2011, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of Private Members' business, which shall be No. 25, Spent Convictions Bill 2011 – Second Stage (resumed), which shall take place at 7 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later, and which shall conclude after 90 minutes; Nos. a8, b8, c8, d8 and e8 shall be decided without debate; No. 8 shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon or on the Revised Estimate [Vote 4] shall be taken forthwith and, subject to the agreement of No. 8, the following arrangements shall apply in regard to the Revised Estimate: the proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes, the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time and shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, and a Minister or Minister or State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 3 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight.
There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. a8, b8, c8, d8 and e8, motions re establishment of committees and Standing Orders, agreed?
It is not agreed. Today, the Government is putting in place the terms of reference for the new committees. This is deeply disappointing and is a retrograde step which will reduce accountability in this House and the capacity of the Dáil to have oversight over many Government Departments. It was a consistent theme of the Taoiseach's colleagues in the last Dáil that even single issue committees did not have the time or space to deal with issues in Departments. Despite that widely held view, the Government is now pressing ahead with a change which will, in essence, see the level of scrutiny reduced by two thirds.
If we consider some of what is before us on the Order Paper, for example, the select committees on jobs, social protection and education and skills, we find that three Government Departments are being run into one committee with 21 members.
The select committee on the environment, community and local government, transport, tourism and sport and arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht comprises another 21 members and covers a wide range of activities and responsibilities.
Where can we get genuine, real and meaningful accountability in the unwieldy committees the Taoiseach proposes to establish? We all support reduced costs-----
The point has been made that the range of issues to be covered by the committees is such that, even aside from the issue of accountability which is critical, the capacity of them to act efficiently and really deal with the issues at hand is compromised. We object to the fact that these matters are to be decided without debate.
I want to raise in particular the issue of the Committee of Public Accounts. I acknowledge that the Chair of it will go to the Opposition but the balance of the committee is on the Government's side. Given its sensitivity and crucial importance, we believe there a 50:50 balance should have been struck between Government and Opposition Deputies. If that involved increasing the number of Deputies on the committee so be it, but the Taoiseach made the wrong call in respect of that committee and others.
It is quite clear that rolling two or three major issues of governance and Government into one committee is simply a recipe by the Government for ramming through legislation without the proper scrutiny or time that is needed. The selection of substantial areas of Government, which will each take a lot of time in their own right over the remainder of this year, is incredible. Given the lack of time and the amount of pressing business, the Government's intention is quite clear. It should be opposed and stated clearly here.
There is no argument here in regard to costs. We should get rid of the bonanza of fees for Chairs, Vice Chairs, Whips and all the other carry-on that Fianna Fáil stood over and implemented when it was in Government.
In response to the issues raised by Deputies Martin, McDonald and Higgins, in the last number of Dáileanna we had so many committees that Deputies were running from one committee room to another to make up quorums to commence meetings which then disintegrated. What we have looked at is a restructuring of the way in which committee work is carried out in the House. It is true that the work rate and areas to be dealt with by committee have been expanded. A saving of some 35% will be made and there are no allowances for deputy Chairmen, convenors, Whips or deputy Whips, although there is an independent allocation.
On the point made about the Committee of Public Accounts, while the Chair of the committee has always gone to a member of the Opposition, its composition is strictly proportionate to the reflected vote of the people in the Dáil. The Fianna Fáil Party's wish for an expanded finance committee has been agreed to. There will be no question of ramming through legislation because we intend that the committees will have a proper opportunity to debate and reflect on issues that come before them. From September onwards, heads of Bills will come before the committees. Sub-committees can be set up to deal with particular legislation if necessary. It is a matter for each committee as to how it structures its business and, as the Deputy is aware, it is open to every Member of the House, to attend any committee. While non-members do not have a vote, they may contribute and participate in the proceedings that are under deliberation. I hope I have clarified those points.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 49 (Colm Keaveney, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Seán Kenny, Seán Kyne, Anthony Lawlor, Ciarán Lynch, John Lyons, Michael McCarthy, Shane McEntee, Nicky McFadden, Dinny McGinley, Tony McLoughlin, Michael McNamara, Eamonn Maloney, Peter Mathews, Olivia Mitchell, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Michelle Mulherin, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Derek Nolan, Michael Noonan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, John O'Mahony, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ann Phelan, John Paul Phelan, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Brendan Ryan, Arthur Spring, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall, Brian Walsh, Alex White)
Against the motion: 42 (Richard Boyd Barrett, John Browne, Dara Calleary, Joan Collins, Niall Collins, Michael Colreavy, Barry Cowen, Seán Crowe, Pearse Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Timmy Dooley, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Luke Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Tom Fleming, Noel Grealish, Séamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Billy Kelleher, Michael Kitt, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Charlie McConalogue, Mary Lou McDonald, Finian McGrath, Michael McGrath, Sandra McLellan, Micheál Martin, Michael Moynihan, Catherine Murphy, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Jonathan O'Brien, Willie O'Dea, Thomas Pringle, Shane Ross, Brendan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Mick Wallace)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Joe Costello and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.
The third question to be put is the proposal for dealing with No. 8, motion re presentation and circulation of Revised Estimate 2011. Is that agreed to? Agreed.
The fourth item to be put to the House is the proposal for dealing with No. 3, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 – Second Stage (resumed). Is that agreed to?
I make the point that there are many aspects to be considered in this legislation. I do not believe there is any necessity to guillotine this Bill and shorten the duration of its consideration and time allocated for its debate in the House to the degree proposed by the Government. We have had many commitments about Dáil reform and many fine statements about accountability and strengthening the role of Parliament. Every party elected with a mandate coming out of the last election resolved and was committed to putting into effect real and meaningful reform of how this Chamber operates and of how politics works. I have not seen anything emanating from the Government benches that gives any substance or depth to the issue of Dáil reform or accountability. The guillotining of this Bill is a further illustration and example of that.
-----who will vote for an increase in the pension age. It was reduced in a finance Bill and all of us know it should be re-instated through that same mechanism. That is the cynical politics it is at. To add to that, it wants to guillotine the debate on it.
-----and the Government proposes to ram through after a very curtailed discussion a decision that will force those workers who will depend on the State for their pension to stay at work until they are 68 years of age. One of the gains of the Labour movement in its attempt-----
That is the type of comment I come to expect from the backbenchers of this Government. The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, you are making a decision for workers 15 years from now when most of you will have departed the scene with fat pensions-----
Many of them are not at all resigned to their lowly status - that seems to be the problem. Maybe the Taoiseach should give them each a board of scrabble or snakes and ladders every morning to keep them busy while we are trying to make serious points here.
One of the gains of the Labour movement historically was to achieve a civilising influence on the exploitation of the capitalist system by having a shorter working day, shorter working week, shorter working year and shorter working life and the Taoiseach presumes to reverse all that in the space of a few hours here. It is shameful. He could at least extend the debate into tomorrow. I know the welfare of greyhounds is important. I do not diminish it-----
There are 19 measures in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, all of which will have very far-reaching effects on ordinary people, particularly working people. For some of us it looks like a menu to make ordinary working people work longer and harder for less over the course of their lifetimes, particularly hitting the least well off and manual workers who will be forced to work longer. To push all those measures through in such a short time without allowing adequate time for debate is a subversion of democratic debate in this House and this country.
In this regard, the Taoiseach should examine what is happening in Slovenia where there has been a referendum on the issue of raising the retirement age. The people of Slovenia were consulted in a proper referendum on this very serious measure and they voted 72% against raising the retirement age-----
-----but at least they had a proper public consultation and the right to have a say on what is by any standard a serious measure. The Taoiseach will not give us a referendum. He will not even allow a proper debate in the Dáil on such a serious measure. I appeal to him to allow for proper debate on what is a very serious attack on the rights and entitlements of working people.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 98 (James Bannon, Tom Barry, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Joan Burton, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Catherine Byrne, Eric Byrne, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Paudie Coffey, Áine Collins, Michael Conaghan, Seán Conlan, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Jim Daly, Jimmy Deenihan, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Robert Dowds, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Ann Ferris, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brendan Griffin, Dominic Hannigan, Simon Harris, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Martin Heydon, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Kevin Humphreys, Derek Keating, Colm Keaveney, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Seán Kenny, Seán Kyne, Anthony Lawlor, Ciarán Lynch, John Lyons, Eamonn Maloney, Peter Mathews, Michael McCarthy, Shane McEntee, Nicky McFadden, Dinny McGinley, Tony McLoughlin, Michael McNamara, Olivia Mitchell, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Michelle Mulherin, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Derek Nolan, Michael Noonan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, John O'Mahony, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ann Phelan, John Paul Phelan, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Brendan Ryan, Arthur Spring, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall, Brian Walsh, Alex White)
Against the motion: 42 (Richard Boyd Barrett, John Browne, Dara Calleary, Joan Collins, Niall Collins, Michael Colreavy, Barry Cowen, Seán Crowe, Pearse Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Timmy Dooley, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Luke Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Tom Fleming, Noel Grealish, Séamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Billy Kelleher, Michael Kitt, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Micheál Martin, Charlie McConalogue, Mary Lou McDonald, Finian McGrath, Michael McGrath, Sandra McLellan, Michael Moynihan, Catherine Murphy, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Jonathan O'Brien, Willie O'Dea, Thomas Pringle, Shane Ross, Brendan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Mick Wallace)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.