Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Carlow-Kilkenny By-election: Issue of Writ
That, pursuant to section 39 of the Electoral Act 1992 and owing to the vacancy in the office of the Clerk of the Dáil, the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk-Assistant of the Dáil to issue his writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the resignation of Deputy Phil Hogan, a Member for the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny.Commissioner Phil Hogan was first elected to this House in 1989 and was re-elected in every subsequent general election. This was in no small way due to his reputation for serving his constituents to the best of his ability. I congratulate the former Deputy on becoming Ireland's new Commissioner and securing the important post of Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. He will now play a real and important role in shaping the future of Irish and European agriculture, and also the future direction of Europe in a broader sense. I wish him every success in his important work in Europe.
The House is aware that this Government reformed the Electoral Act in 2011 by providing that a by-election must take place within six months of a vacancy arising. Accordingly, we have now decided to move the writ so the people of Carlow-Kilkenny can be fully represented in the Dáil once again. We propose a polling date of Friday, 22 May 2015. The Fine Gael Party is proud to put forward an excellent candidate, Councillor David Fitzgerald, who I know is ably qualified to represent the needs and interests of the people of Carlow-Kilkenny if elected to do so by the people. I had the honour of canvassing with him last week.
It is inevitable that throughout the course of this by-election debate there will be a focus on the state of the country and the role being played by the Government in the future direction of the country. The plan we have been implementing for economic recovery is working and our country is now moving in the right direction. Ireland is on the path to recovery. This Government has a proven plan for the remainder of this decade to secure and strengthen that recovery, and we are never going back to the days of boom and bust. This Government has got the public finances under control and we will continue to prioritise the restoration of our national competitiveness and the stability of public finances in the years ahead. None of this would have been possible without the sacrifices of the Irish people.
Our plan will ensure a fair sharing of the benefits of recovery with those already at work. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has secured up to €750 million in tax cuts for Ireland's workers as part of the next budget. A similar amount will be available for the later years of this decade, allowing for a multi-year programme of targeted tax cuts for Ireland's low and middle income workers. It is the goal of this Government to make work pay and pay more. This Government's jobs plan will lead to full employment by 2018 and a return for our emigrants. Strong growth in jobs is funding tax cuts for working people, and more people in every part of the country will start to experience the economic recovery in their daily lives.
The greatest risk to recovery, job creation and a brighter future is the risk of political instability. This Government will ensure that the progress we have made to date will not be jeopardised, and that the people can trust the Government to make the necessary decisions to continue to build a strong economy that will provide quality jobs for our people, which is, after all, our ultimate aim. With those jobs, there will be more taxes and resources to keep our people at work, repair damaged services and restore our society.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the moving of the writ for the by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny arising from Mr. Phil Hogan's appointment to the European Commission. As his constituency colleague, I thank Commissioner Hogan for his work in the area for many years. He is continuing this with his work in Brussels in the agricultural portfolio. This is an important issue for Ireland and he has all our support in this new project. In my capacity as Minister of State with responsibility for rural economic generation, I visited Commissioner Hogan in January in Brussels and we agreed that Leader funding, which is very important to the rural affairs portfolio, could be used to draw down extra EU investment at a very low interest rate for projects and small and medium enterprises in rural areas.
The Labour Party looks forward to this by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny on 22 May. We have a proud record of representation for the people of the constituency, particularly in my county of Kilkenny, where I am honoured to continue that tradition. I follow in the footsteps of people like Mr. Séamus Pattison, who served in Dáil Éireann for over 40 years, from 1961 to 2007. In that time, he made a significant contribution to Kilkenny, the Labour Party and the Irish nation. I continue that tradition of hard-working, responsible public representation. After the election, I hope to be joined in Dáil Éireann by my colleague, Councillor William Quinn. He is also a very hard-working public representative for south Carlow. He is based in Borris and as a small farmer, he is fully aware of the challenges faced by rural communities.
We will work hard over the next three and a half weeks to deliver a fresh voice for Carlow in the House. During the campaign, we will also speak to people about the economic progress the Government has made since taking office, as demonstrated by the spring economic statement. That we can now speak of growth, falling unemployment and having money to spend in budget 2016 demonstrates the distance we have come on this journey. While people had to make sacrifices to reach this point and must face legacy issues, including additional charges, the broader prospects for the economy are extremely positive.
We are determined to focus our efforts on providing further supports and whatever reliefs are available for working families who suffered most during the downturn. This will be the central message to people across counties Carlow and Kilkenny during the forthcoming campaign. We need to secure the recovery across the constituency, which has been through difficult times. There are signs that the position is improving. Recent job announcements and a major investment by Glanbia will help the local economy. Merck Sharp & Dohme is located in Carlow, we have growth in tourism and the Government has made significant investments across the constituency, all of which will deliver dividends.
The challenge facing us is to deliver more business and employment to the area. I am confident that by having another Labour Party voice in the Dáil, we could achieve more for people in the constituency and deliver a better future. I wish my colleague, Councillor William Quinn, the best of luck.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the forthcoming by-election in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency. I commend my party's candidate, Mr. Bobby Aylward. He is an excellent choice and will be an effective and influential representative of the people of Carlow-Kilkenny in Dáil Éireann.
The Minister and Minister of State noted that the by-election has been caused by the need to replace the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, following his appointment to the office of European Commissioner. While I wish the Commissioner well in his new position, I was struck, while knocking on doors in both County Carlow and County Kilkenny, by the less than enthusiastic response and in some cases anger I encountered when I mentioned Mr. Hogan's name. When I explained that the by-election was being held to replace the former Deputy the response was such that I decided to stop referring to Mr. Hogan, lest people were to conclude that he is a member of my party and I was promoting a candidate to replace him. I learned very quickly on the doorsteps that the last thing one should do when trying to sell one's candidate is to mention the Commissioner's name. I do not want to give the Government side helpful advice but this is what people are saying on the doorsteps of the constituency.
None of this is meant personally. It is the reality, however, and it encapsulates, in a broader sense, the Government's arrogance and detachment from the feelings of people on the ground on issues such as education and jobs. This detachment has also been evident in the discussion on the spring economic statement over the past two days.
People have a choice in the forthcoming by-election. Mr. Bobby Aylward, the Fianna Fáil Party candidate, is a farming man who understands the needs of the community and small business, of which farming is one element. He is rooted in the community and had great success with Ballyhale Shamrocks when the team won the all-Ireland hurling club championship.
His two sons played on it. I am simply giving a sense of where the man comes from. The community from which Bobby Aylward springs is characterised by great solidarity. He is rooted in his community and has a genuine commitment to serve the wider community. In that regard, he is an excellent candidate.
Mr. Aylward will raise issues such as significant cutbacks in local development funding and Leader projects in counties Carlow and Kilkenny. These projects are at the heart of efforts to sustain communities in urban and rural settings.
Now that Deputy Reilly has been exiled to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, he would not be aware of the broader issues. He sums up the problem facing the Government parties in that his Government is so Dublin-centric that it does not understand how people in the regions feel about being excluded from its economic and social policies. There is a real sense-----
In addition to regional disparities, there is a sense that the economic recovery is two-tiered, not only in terms of the wealthy getting everything and those on the lowest incomes being hardest hit but also, as the ESRI and other bodies have indicated, in terms of the regional spread of economic development. One needs only to drive through rural towns in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency and other rural areas to see the extraordinary lack of development.
In 2014, the IDA organised only six sponsored visits to counties Carlow and Kilkenny combined. The figure in 2013 was four. That is a dismal record.
With the greatest respect, I expect that Deputy Phelan will remember the decision of SmithKline Beecham, as the company was then known, to locate in Carlow. I happened to be Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment at the time and I also decentralised the Department to Carlow town.
The issue of public investment was missing from the spring economic statement. The Minister of State attacked my record in respect of counties Carlow and Kilkenny. She should visit the Carlow Institute of Technology. Who made a fundamental transformative investment in the institute more than ten years ago? Who made a major investment in St. Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny which has made innovations in terms of-----
I made investments in the constituency in both my Ministries. Leaving that issue aside, what the constituency now needs is a Government that cares about communities beyond the Pale.
It simply does not care about what happens outside the Pale. This applies across all the yardsticks. In education, for example, I met representatives of interest groups in the south-east who raised the need for a university in the region. In fairness to local people in Kilkenny, they have made good inroads with Maynooth university in terms of providing liberal arts degrees. This can be built on with a little vision and commitment, both of which are lacking in this Government.
It was a pleasure to accompany Councillor Matt Doran in Callan where he and Liam Aylward got a great reception. Councillor John Pender in Tullow is an outstanding public representative. This type of community presence will be effective and it will be delivered by Bobby Aylward if he is elected to the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny.
Patience is my watchword.
The Minister noted that the writ for the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election had to be moved within a six-month timeframe. This requirement was introduced on foot of an action taken by Deputy Pearse Doherty in respect of a previous by-election. I welcome the moving of the writ for the by-election. The Sinn Féin candidate in the contest will be Councillor Kathleen Funchion. As previous speakers noted, the by-election arises from the promotion by the Taoiseach of the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, to the European Commission.
I note the warmth, regard, affection and congratulations expressed not just by the Labour Party but by Fine Gael for Phil Hogan and his many wonders and works.
The citizens of this constituency deserve better representation than they have had in the past. They deserve a Deputy who will stand up for their rights and defend them against the austerity policies of this Government.
There remain serious and unanswered questions around Phil Hogan's decision shortly after the 2011 election to scrap five inquiries, originally established by the previous Minister for the Environment, into serious allegations of irregularities in local authorities. One of the local authorities affected by this decision was Carlow. The termination of those investigations ran directly counter to one of the principle recommendations of the Mahon tribunal, namely, that an independent planning regulator should be set up.
Then there was Phil Hogan’s chief debacle of Irish Water. Mr. Hogan did not tell the Dáil of the expenditure involved in the establishment of Irish Water, including the eye-watering amounts spent on consultants. The Government gave €86 million to consultants while slashing funding for the housing adaptation grant scheme for elderly and disabled citizens. Later, we were to discover there were no records and no minutes of Phil Hogan's meetings with the chairwoman of Bord Gáis, meetings which led to the establishment of Irish Water. Mr. Hogan’s decision to put vital Leader rural development funds under local authority control undermined the years of experience and expertise built up in our local development companies. It also removed the genuine bottom-up approach central to the success of the Leader programme.
I will not be joining in the collective congratulations opposite for Mr. Hogan. The notion that the future of the entire Continent of Europe can rest in the hands of Phil Hogan fills me with a feeling of dread. I get the impression that if the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, could have their way, they would change the anthem for Europe from “Ode to Joy” to “Ode to Phil”. That is a sentiment not shared, not just in Carlow and Kilkenny but across the country.
The Government promised a new way of doing politics, a democratic revolution. Whatever might be said of Phil Hogan, he certainly was not a democratic revolutionary. Instead, the Government, along with Phil Hogan, compounded the worst excesses of its Fianna Fáil predecessors. This Fine Gael-Labour Government, like the Fianna Fáil one before it, has been responsible for significant cuts to public services, including health and education. It has forced thousands out of work or into low-paid employment while driving hundreds of thousands of others to emigrate. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil took the €26 billion of banking debt, which was the responsibility of 22 men, and turned it into the people’s debt, saddling the citizens of Carlow-Kilkenny and across the State with a €64 billion euro bill that will pass from one generation to the next.
The Carlow-Kilkenny by-election provides an opportunity for the electorate of that constituency to pass judgment on this Government and its policies. It also gives voters an opportunity to vote for positive change. Sinn Féin will stand in this by-election firmly opposed to austerity and for a fair recovery. Our candidate, Kathleen Funchion, is a strong young woman, a mother, a trade union official and a political activist. She will make an excellent candidate and first class Deputy for this constituency. Sinn Féin looks forward to the contest and may the best woman win.
I welcome the moving of the writ for the by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny. I particularly welcome the fact that the People Before Profit Alliance will have a dynamic candidate, Adrienne Wallace, a recent graduate who is now working in Carlow. She typifies the new generation of people who have come into politics largely as a result of the complete failure of the political establishment and typified by Phil Hogan, the man whose move to Europe has provoked this by-election. It says everything about Irish politics that the primary architect of the fiasco that is Irish water, the man who presided over the greatest political debacle seen in recent times in this State, gets conferred with the premier political reward that any Government can give, namely the most senior position in Europe. It is precisely that which has spurred people like Adrienne Wallace to enter politics and to get involved in the anti-water charges movement. They are sickened by the political establishment and feel compelled to become politically active.
Apart from making the election a referendum on water charges and austerity, Adrianne Wallace also wants to highlight the whole question of political accountability, as well as the lack of it, the failure of politicians to keep promises they made and the need to have mechanisms-----
I am not talking about Deputy Ann Phelan.
There is a need to have mechanisms to make people accountable and replace them when they fail to honour political promises they made. That is the feeling that drove hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets in recent times, as well as the unprecedented entry into politics of new layers of people demanding political change.
As a young woman, Adrienne Wallace is also particularly keen to highlight issues affecting young people such as the cut in social welfare benefits to those under 25 years of age and the provision of youth facilities. She would be a welcome addition to the Dáil. It would be good to see a young woman elected who has come newly into politics, arising out of resistance to austerity and water charges. I hope she does well and we see her here very soon.
I too am happy with the moving of the writ for the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election and to support the Anti-Austerity Alliance candidate, Conor Mac Liam. He will be a fitting replacement and a total contrast to the man whose seat he will be filling, a man who was rewarded and backslapped amazingly by the Labour Party here today, leaving the water charges, the household charge and the property tax in his wake.
This by-election could not have come at a better time. The Government was elected on an anti-bondholder agenda and a call for a democratic revolution in its workings and operations. This, however, has been fully exposed this past week. We have seen a return to form of crony capitalism at its very best around the issue of Siteserv. We have had a Government devoting three days to a propaganda campaign to try and convince people there is a real recovery under way. The emperor, however, has been found to be naked.
This is a most important by-election, coming when the delivery of water bills to 1.5 million homes will take place. It is the most hated and reviled austerity measure in this country for the past seven years. These issues will be highlighted and championed by the Anti-Austerity Alliance and Conor Mac Liam who will use the election to strike a blow against water charges. He will be the only candidate advocating non-payment and a boycott of the water charges.
The people of Carlow-Kilkenny have a powerful weapon in their hands. They can vote on behalf of ordinary people nationwide. This is the first election since the water charges progressed. It should not be forgotten that the Anti-Austerity Alliance won two by-elections in a row. It would be great if we won third. We can use this election in the same way as the Dublin South-West by-election was used.
Why send another suit to sit over there with the Government, or to be tweedledum or tweedledee with Fianna Fáil? We need real change in this country. Conor Mac Liam is a proven campaigner. He fought against a two-tier health service after the tragic death of his wife Susie Long. She had highlighted the way her cancer spread because of the lack of a universal health system. Conor has also championed the issue of SNAs in Carlow and Kilkenny. He will highlight the fact that Kilcreene Hospital must be kept open.
Very importantly, he will also call for a "Yes" vote in the referendum on marriage equality on the same day, and for a progressive society in general. I note that the Government parties are saying nothing but "Yes"; it is as if they are afraid to say anything more. Conor will champion the idea of a break with the past and a repeal of the eighth amendment of the Constitution as well.
I join with those in wishing former Deputy Phil Hogan well in his new role as European Commissioner for Agriculture. I also want to wish all the candidates in this election well, no matter what party or grouping they are standing for. I am familiar with the Aylward, Crotty, Fitzgerald and Noonan families, and the contribution they have made over the years. I wish them well and hope they continue to make that contribution, albeit not in the Oireachtas.
This is a historic election for Renua and is our first electoral contest. Patrick McKee is our first candidate. The people of Carlow-Kilkenny can make history by electing what would be the youngest Member of the Dáil and the first representative elected for Renua. He is an energetic, committed and idealistic candidate. I have every confidence that people in the constituency will respond to the challenge and elect Patrick McKee on what will be a historic day on 22 May.
Carlow-Kilkenny is a wonderful part of the country centred on three sister rivers, the Barrow, Nore and Suir. I lived in Kilkenny myself for a while and have a great affinity with it. Fortunately a piece of Carlow is in my constituency.
They are a very proud people. It is a historic constituency which elected the first Taoiseach of this country. It is important to realise also that there is diversity within the constituency. The proud people of Kilkenny have had outstanding sporting achievements. Kilkenny city is the jewel in the crown and it is important to acknowledge the role of the former county manager, Paddy Donnelly. He was one of the first creative county managers we had who developed the city.
Carlow has some good representatives in the Dáil. It is important that Carlow town gets industrial development because it has lost a lot of firms, including Braun, Läpple, and the sugar factory. It is important that such firms should be restored. There is a great tradition of light engineering works from Carlow to Bagnelstown, employing almost 2,000 people.
There is a challenge to the people of Carlow-Kilkenny to meet the historic proposal that we will put to them in running Councillor Patrick McKee in the by-election. From St. Mullin's to Gathabawn, Renua and Patrick McKee will bring the message. This election should not be about passing judgment on the Government, or giving Fianna Fáil a second chance, or about "No, no, no". Rather, it should be about electing the best candidate on the day. I have every confidence that in a few weeks we will be back here with a historic and surprise result when Patrick McKee walks down the steps of this Chamber.