Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Ministers and Ministers of State (Successors) Bill: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

5:25 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am very glad that the Ministers and Ministers of State (Successors) Bill has reached Second Stage. A lot has happened since I first put the Bill forward. It seems like an age has passed in the history of the country since the Bill was tabled way back in the middle of the lockdown.

We had a very strange situation following the general election. We had a period of 140 to 150 days when the political establishment got involved in a slow set, a merry dance, a very slow political process of trying to form a government. During that time, we had a Taoiseach who lost a general election. We had Ministers who had lost their seats and had no mandate themselves. We had a Dáil that was unable to legislate. We were in the middle of one of the most severe health crises in the history of the State. A pandemic was rolling across the world in our direction and we had a political system that was in effect completely broken.

We were not able to make life-or-death decisions in Leinster House. Eleven Senators could not be selected because the Taoiseach had to be the Taoiseach elected by the new Dáil before the Senators to be nominated by him could be selected. As a result, the Seanad was in abeyance. As we know, the Oireachtas needs the two Houses to function properly and deliver legislation. On plenty of occasions emergency legislation was necessary and we had a political system that was flailing about, trying to get its act together and get things done when it needed to most.

One of the most striking images was that of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, who was in Government Buildings designing and developing one of the most rigid and restrictive plans that any Government in the history of the State had ever developed. That was done in Government Buildings. He got into his ministerial car and drove to RTÉ to deliver the contents of that plan. Here we were, the elected Deputies who had a refreshed mandate - some of them had a new mandate - at Leinster House at their desks twiddling their thumbs not really sure what the content of that plan was and with no opportunity to feed into that plan, no opportunity to block, stop or amend any elements of it whatsoever. All they could do was pick up their remote control and listen to the speech the Taoiseach was going to deliver in RTÉ. They were, like the rest of the citizens, helpless.

If that type of political dysfunction had lasted so long anywhere else in the world, there would have been uproar. If President Trump were completely to ignore the Houses of Congress and take all the power within that democracy into the hands of just a small executive, ignoring the freshly elected representatives, it would be all over the news. People would be shouting from the rafters and hammering the action if that was the case. However, that was what was happening in Ireland. There was a breathtaking subversion of democracy in that period. We are a republic and the most important element of how this republic functions is the democratic system. The idea that citizens are sovereign and are in control, and that we legislate on their behalf at their will, is a key element of what a democracy is and yet that issue was subverted for a long period of time.

The Government parties seemed to make this issue personal at the time. When I raised this there were three Ministers who had lost their seats in Cabinet at the time. There is nothing personal about the Bill and nothing personal about the desire to see the actions of the people implemented as soon as possible in any new Dáil in future. I imagine some of those Ministers found it very difficult to have lost their seats. It is a very difficult personal experience and they had to remain in that role at a very difficult time. There is nothing personal in this; it was not an insult.

However, many people at home were asking how such a person was still a Minister. Did that person not lose their seat? In fact, many of the citizens of this country saw it as an insult to them that these Ministers were staying on. Many people on the street felt that here were Ministers who having had a certain number of years in office had achieved pensions for their particular roles and if they made it to June, those pensions were going to increase. Obviously with the process of Government formation taking so long, many of those saw their ministerial pensions increase.

A couple of things were at the heart of this crisis. Society had a sense of urgency.

The body politic was in a bubble and was detached from that sense of urgency. I believe it was full of its own self-importance with regard to how to proceed. Any political establishment that takes nearly 150 days to get together to negotiate is radically detached from the reality of people's lives. That detachment underlined the subversion of democracy and the idea that a person serves only by the will of the people.

Obviously we have a Constitution, which is the basic law of the State. That Constitution makes provision for a caretaker government after an inconclusive election for the period in which political parties are negotiating with each other but I am not sure that anybody here can say that the writers of the Constitution honestly felt that a government formation process would take 150 days. I am not sure that anybody would have thought that a ministerial office would be a blank cheque that could last for such a length of time. There is no doubt in my mind that 150 days is not the longest period of government formation we may witness in our lifetimes. We are living a far more fractured political environment than we have ever seen before. With the way things are going, it is likely that we could see 200 or 250 days of negotiations on government formation in the future.

The key question is whether a Minister who does not have any democratic mandate should be able to spend billions of euros of people's money. Should a Minister with no more of a mandate than my four year old son be able to make key decisions relating to people's lives, rights and entitlements? My instinct is that he or she should not. There has to be a logical deadline by which we replace those Ministers.

The Constitution says that Ministers stay in place until the Dáil chooses successors to replace them. My Bill creates a deadline of six weeks. The existing Minister has an opportunity to function, to tidy up his or her office and to make sure that issues which have to be dealt with quickly are dealt with but, after those six weeks, a decision would be made to select a new Minister. The names of the Ministers would be put before the Dáil to be voted on. The new Minister, who would have won an election and would have a democratic mandate, would then function within the Chamber. It is a very simple process and I believe the six-week element of this Bill will be radically helpful in the future. It will create a deadline for government formation because parties in a caretaker government that are part of negotiations will not want to go before the Dáil to seek a replacement Minister because they will know that there will be political challenges in doing so. Minds will be focused on trying to form a government within that six-week period. That is simply what this Bill does.

This proposal means that if one wants to be a Minister in this country and if one is going to act and exercise the authority democracy gives a Minister, one must first and foremost have been democratically elected. Democracy is not just for Christmas or for the good times. It is not just some kind of appendage or add-on which we do our best to get around to at some stage. Democracy is sacrosanct. Nothing built in this Oireachtas should be built on anything but a democratic foundation. Any effort to do otherwise means ignoring the people and shows how separate the elected representatives in this Chamber have become.

There is also a practical element to this Bill which relates to the junior Ministers. A vote of the Dáil is not necessary to replace a junior Minister. They can be replaced on the will of the Taoiseach so there is no real difficulty in replacing them after six weeks. In that situation, junior Ministers would be able to attend the Dáil to answer questions. A situation arose here where newly elected and newly minted Deputies wanted to ask the then Minister of State, Senator Kyne, questions at the start of this Dáil term. In fairness, he wanted to answer those questions in the Dáil but he could not.

A Minister without a mandate was making decisions while completely unaccountable to the Dáil. At the very early stages of the confused situation we were in, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, was coming to the Chamber to answer questions for Senator Doherty. One of the problems I have with Irish politics is that it was an accountability-free zone for many years. One of the only tools we have to hold people accountable is democracy. Everybody here knows that if we do the wrong thing, there is a good chance we will not be elected at the next election and will not be able to continue our work. We all have clinics to go to every week where we listen to the people and make sure we understand what is happening at a grassroots level and in real people's lives. If one is a Minister who has already lost one's seat, however, one is not threatened by the possibility of losing that seat. That key element of accountability is lost in that situation.

It is also incredible that, at the start of this particular Dáil, there was a Minister who basically said that she did not want to answer certain questions as they were questions for the next Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. There was an attitude among Ministers who were being fully paid and whose pension entitlements were increasing that they did not have a responsibility to answer Deputies' questions.

There is also an economic cost to the current situation. At present, 160 Deputies must be elected but Ministers without mandates must also be paid a certain amount. The current process therefore costs the State approximately €40,000 a week.

The key issue, however, is one on which we must really focus and which must be at the heart of all we do here. We need to find a mechanism to make sure the democratic deficit that existed and the crash in democracy that occurred at the start of this Dáil does not happen again. The best way to do this is to introduce a deadline and to use the skills and energy within the Dáil to fill those ministerial seats. Some people will say that certain Ministers are fantastic even though they lost their seats, that they have great experience and that people would have to read themselves into their ministerial briefs to be able to deal with them. There is a serious problem if we are saying that we do not have the political and technical skills necessary to do these jobs within Leinster House and that we have to rely on people who are not elected representatives to do them. We need to make sure we do not divorce the actions of this Dáil from the accountability and oversight inherent in the democratic institutions.

Some people may disagree with the six-week time limit and perhaps with the selection of Ministers. They may feel the responsibility should be passed to an existing Minister, as has happened under previous Governments. That is fine but this Bill should be allowed to grow on Committee Stage. People should be allowed to table amendments to improve it, if necessary. We should not, however, lose this opportunity only to find ourselves in another crisis in three or four years' time seeing 200 years of the will of the people ignored.

5:35 pm

Ossian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I commend the Deputy on his energy and diligence in bringing forward this Bill but it is not a proposal the Government can support. The Government is established, appointed and regulated in accordance with the Constitution rather than statute. This is confirmed in Article 28.1, which states that Ministers are "appointed by the President in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution."

As such, it effectively appears that this Bill attempts to add a further ground to the procedures for the appointment and removal of Ministers contained in Article 28.9 but it purports to achieve this by way of legislation rather than by amending the relevant provision. In addition, it does not appear that this is a proposal which falls within the matters which may be provided for by statute in accordance with Article 28.12 of the Constitution. As such, it is highly questionable whether the form of this Bill is consistent with the Constitution or whether this is a matter which may be legislated for in the first place. On this basis alone the Government cannot support it. What is envisaged under Article 28 is that a Minister should remain in office until such time as his or her successor is appointed. The Constitution states: "The members of the Government in office at the date of a dissolution of Dáil Éireann shall continue to hold office until their successors shall have been appointed." One of the great benefits or advantages of our Constitution is that it is so easy to read, understand and remember. To me that paragraph is crystal clear. We can understand the intention and meaning of those words and the intention of the people who drafted them.

It is a sensible and proportionate measure. It is designed to ensure certainty and continuity so that the day-to-day operations of Departments of State are not impacted unduly in the interregnum between an election and the formation of a new Government. The wisdom of this approach has been illustrated in recent months. As Departments struggled to contain an unprecedented pandemic that reached crisis point shortly after the election was held, it would not have been to the benefit of the public for Departments to be forced, based on an entirely arbitrary and inflexible deadline, to change leadership while also trying to maintain a strategic focus on the delivery of essential services in the face of a crisis. In fact, if we look at the section of the Constitution I quoted, it is clear that the drafters of the Constitution were familiar with situations like the pandemic. After all, there was a pandemic in 1918 on a similar, or even larger scale to the present one, and we are used to situations of war. There are times of great crisis which may go on for some extended period of time and the Constitution makes no reference to an end time for those things to happen.

In practical terms, this Bill would mandate a caretaker Taoiseach who does not have sufficient support in the Dáil to form a Government to nevertheless make ministerial appointments. Aside from the pragmatic consideration of preventing unnecessary and disruption in the day-to-day operation of Departments, as far as democratic legitimacy is concerned, it is difficult to see how this proposal is preferable to the current arrangements whereby outgoing Ministers remain in place on a caretaker basis. Certain countries, such as Spain, specify in their constitutions the length of time permitted for government formation which may be a more workable means of advancing the Deputy's objective. The Irish Constitution contains no such provision, however, and to insert one would require a referendum rather than legislation. As such, aside from the fundamental constitutional issues engaged by this proposal, on policy grounds the Government equally cannot support it.

At this time it is fair that I acknowledge the contribution of those Ministers who did not retain their seats and who despite that continued to do their jobs during the pandemic emergency. They absolutely devoted themselves to public service and brought us through an incredibly difficult time and many people across the country, no matter what party they are in, recognise, acknowledge and honour those Ministers for the work they did at that time.

5:45 pm

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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I acknowledge the remarks of the Minister of State, which are pretty much on the money. The Constitution could not be clearer about the arrangements which must pertain where, subsequent to a general election, a delay occurs in forming and electing a new Government in the Dáil. I also acknowledge the spirit of the Bill developed by Deputy Tóibín and agree that it is not ideal that Ministers remain in office between an election and the election of a new Government if they have failed to retain their seat. It may be an offensive set of circumstances for the Deputy and it may rankle with some in society but the Deputy and others might be a little surprised to know that the last place a fallen Deputy wants to be is in ministerial office, for even a day longer than they have to when they have lost their seat. I speak from personal experience in the context of the 2016 general election and the interregnum period between that election and the formation of a new Government in early May of that year.

The Minister briefly referenced some of the relevant constitutional provisions which govern this particular policy area. They are represented in Article 28. According to Article 28.10 the Taoiseach must resign from office on his ceasing to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann unless on his advice the President dissolves the Dáil for another general election. Under Article 28.11.1 if the Taoiseach at any time resigns from office the other members of the Government are deemed also to have resigned but the Taoiseach and the other members of the Government must continue to carry on their duties until their successors are appointed. Under Article 28.11.2, which I think the Minister of State referenced, the members of the Government in office at the date of a dissolution of the Dáil must continue to hold office until their successors are appointed. Thus, quite correctly, the Constitution envisages a possible delay in the process of forming a new Government and the outgoing members must remain in office and continue to perform their functions until such time as a new Government is chosen by the Dáil.

As such, there has to be some rule about what happens after an election result and before the new Government is approved. There could, for example, be no Government at all which would be chaotic for all kinds of reasons. There could be an acting Government made up of incumbents who are waiting to be replaced, which is the current rule and which has been in place for some time, or there could be a Government made up of interim appointees nominated by someone who does not himself or herself have a democratic mandate, which is what this Bill proposes.

The Bill is aimed at what is seen as a particular issue, where some acting Ministers may be individuals who have lost their seats in a general election. Deputy Tóibín considers it anomalous that one can remain, for this short period, a Minister without being either a Deputy or a Senator. The Bill proposes that no later than six weeks after the general election the acting Taoiseach, even though there is no such term in the Constitution, must get Dáil approval for the ministerial appointments to replace Ministers who have lost their seats.

The first problem is one of basic policy. Why is it better that someone who lost an election, namely, the acting Taoiseach, be given the right to nominate new Ministers than the losers continue in an acting capacity? The second problem is the Bill envisages a Minister may have lost his or her seat but does not envisage the Taoiseach failing to be re-elected. The machinery the Bill mandates imposes obligations on an acting Taoiseach which could not be discharged by a person who is not a Member of the Dáil. The third problem is that, as I indicated, Article 28 of the Constitution already sets out rules to govern this very kind of situation. The model chosen is that members of the Government in office going into a general election must continue to hold office until their successors are appointed. The fourth problem is that while the Bill requires an acting Taoiseach to nominate successors to Ministers who have lost their seats, there is, of course, no obligation whatsoever imposed on the Dáil to approve those nominations. Why would a Dáil in which the Taoiseach has lost the vote on his or her re-nomination, facilitate him or her in way with their reshuffle? It is contradictory to expect a Dáil which has expressed its lack of confidence in a Taoiseach to approve his or her ministerial nominations. The Bill requires the Taoiseach to attempt something which is most unlikely to be successful.

The fifth problem is that if the Dáil approved the nominations then a very strange entity would be in charge of the State whereby most members, including the Taoiseach, were functioning in an acting capacity but the new members would be real as opposed to acting Minsters. Why should they be given a different and perhaps democratically superior designation when they are part of an administration that is, as a whole, acting, outgoing and has lost the support of the Dáil?

It is in the nature of a change in regime that there must be transitional arrangements to ensure that at all times the State has a functioning Executive. We had a functioning Executive of sorts, whether we accept it or not, between the most recent general election and the election of the current Government. It is in the nature of transitional arrangements that they are not perfect. They may very well be clunky. They may have anomalous aspects that make many of us feel uncomfortable, such as having persons who are not Members of either House addressing the House as a Minister. I completely understand these sentiments but the Bill does not provide a workable solution to what is, in any event, not an intractable problem. We believe there are aspects of the Bill that are repugnant to the Constitution and are not, in fact, amendable.

5:55 pm

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I intend to be brief. This is a very welcome Bill that has provoked the appropriate conversation and debate on the urgency required when we have a potential transition of Government. Urgency is what has been absent, which has probably motivated the Bill. At the very beginning of the Thirty-second Dáil and Thirty-third Dáil, there was an absence of urgency that continued for several months. There was posturing, political game-playing and people making political statements to take shots at their rivals and tell us all of the reasons we could not work together. What we needed was a degree of leadership. This was particularly prevalent during the Thirty-third Dáil, after the electorate had gone out with an enormous sense of urgency prior to Covid-19, when the issues were the hospital crisis, an absence of childcare and all of the issues we faced on the doors. People throughout Ireland went out in their droves to vote for change, which almost seems like a cliché now. That excitement brought new voters into the public sphere. People voted for the first time and thought it would make a difference and that the make-up of the next Dáil would reflect the urgency and change for which they voted. What materialised was a little frustrating. It was in no way untoward constitutionally but voters who were eager to see their votes represented in Dáil Éireann could not understand why the same Ministers were in the same place. That is absolutely fine.

The Bill is interesting. I agree with Deputy Tóibín that there is no reason it could not progress to Committee Stage when Deputies could have further debate on the concerns they have. When Deputy Tóibín wrote the Bill he understood the constitutional position which has been raised by the Government. That is why we bring forward legislation.

I acknowledge that the 150 days it took us to form a Government has implications, including societal implications as people lose confidence in the political system, which is quite dangerous. It has become almost the norm that we have brinksmanship. The only thing that should happen after an election is that political parties should get around the table and decide whether they can agree on forms of taxation and how it is spent and on policy. If we can deliver on that, it should be the basis on which a Government is formed. In the absence of this, what happened after the most recent two elections is that people engaged in posturing. They fundamentally agreed on everything but there was political posturing, which has been to the detriment of public will and probably the public interest. This conversation is definitely worth having. I would like to see the Bill progressing to Committee Stage and, as such, I will support it.

Ossian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I have heard the contributions of the Deputies and I thank them, in particular Deputy Nash for outlining his personal experience as a Minister of State who did not retain his seat and his feeling that the last place he wanted to be was back in the Dáil. I also thank Deputy Gannon for his contribution.

Something that struck me was the reference by Deputy Tóibín to the lack of accountability that a Minister would have where that Minister was not planning to run for election again. Deputy Tóibín described a situation where such Ministers are surely completely unaccountable because they will not be held to account by the electorate and will not be held up to that standard in a general election. Of course, many people who are in ministerial office are at the end of their parliamentary careers. They are not planning to run for election after that term but they still want to do a good job. There are other mechanisms of accountability. They do not want to be remembered in the media, or by the critics or public, as somebody who did a poor job. That is how I want to address the accountability question.

With regard to the concept that a person who has not won a general election should not be in ministerial office, we have to remember that according to the Constitution, two Senators can occupy ministerial office. At present, my colleague, Senator Pippa Hackett, is doing a great job at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. What if a Deputy who is a Minister planned to move to the Upper House for the next stage of his or her career? The Seanad election must be held within 90 days of the general election but the Bill proposes that within 42 days of the general election, Ministers should be deposed.

Everybody in the House would agree that it is far from ideal for the process of Government formation to take a matter of months rather than days or weeks. However, we must also take account of the unprecedented public health challenge faced by the State both then and now. That was the main cause of the delay. It is my sincere hope that in future, no outgoing Minister or incoming Government will face a crisis of such magnitude that it requires the full resources of the State to be brought to bear as a matter of supreme urgency. Such a hope is almost certainly in vain. In practical terms, it is easy to foresee that taking an arbitrary and inflexible approach such as that proposed in the Bill would have a detrimental impact on the ability of the State to respond to future crises. Further practical and administrative issues are also foreseeable, including making arrangements for the engagement and remuneration of a Minister who may only be in office for a matter of days or weeks in order to tick the box of meeting the proposed obligation while the final composition of the incoming Government remains to be decided.

To the best of my knowledge, there have been only two other occasions when the process of Government formation exceeded the six-week period stipulated in the Bill, in one case by only a matter of days. Historically, the time taken to form a Government has tended to average approximately 20 days. Aside from these practical concerns, I have outlined the constitutional issues that are immediately apparent when considering the Bill. While the Government notes the points raised by Deputy Tóibín and other speakers, for the reasons I have outlined, the Bill cannot be supported.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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We believe there is no constitutional problem with the Bill. We have sought legal advice from constitutional lawyers on it and we use language in the Bill that is fully sympathetic to the language of the Constitution. The words were chosen to meet the needs of the Constitution. The Bill seeks that a new Dáil select and appoint Ministers. This is a key point. The Constitution demands what is necessary. It states a successor needs to be selected from the new Dáil and appointed to the position of Minister. That is exactly what the Bill also states.

It is notable that in the ten years I have spent in the Dáil, on most occasions that Governments opposed certain Bills they did so under the banner of the Constitution. When there is something good in a Bill that is hard to argue against, such as the democratic premise and the necessity for democracy in this Bill, very seldom do we see Government parties rush headlong into that particular objective because it does not look good for members of the Green Party, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to say they oppose the premise that Ministers should be fully elected.

7 o’clock

That is a hard thing to argue on the streets of one's home town, on one's local radio station or even on the national airwaves. Therefore, when a Government is faced with the choice as to whether to go headlong into what is actually a positive or healthy thing in a Bill, it often lifts the banner of the Constitution. It is just funny on this occasion because on most occasions, the Government will say it has received advice from the Attorney General that the Bill is not constitutional. Then there is a back-and-forth in the Chamber, with the Opposition asking to see the advice and Government saying it never shows the advice. On this occasion, however, the Government has not even gone as far as to say the Bill is unconstitutional or to say the advice of the Attorney General is that it is unconstitutional. All the Government is saying is that it is a little iffy, that it may or may not be constitutional. That is not a good enough response to set back a Bill from being discussed on the next Stage. I will read out the words of the Bill itself:

On or before the specified date, the Taoiseach shall, with the previous approval of Dáil Éireann, nominate for appointment by the President the successors in office of those Ministers who have ceased to be members of a House of the Oireachtas.

The Bill is designed in sympathy with the needs of the Constitution.

I am surprised by the words of Deputy Nash on this. He stated in his contribution - I am paraphrasing but I think I am doing justice to what he said - that he does not see that a Minister who has been democratically elected is preferable. That is a shocking statement. A democratic mandate is not just preferable but sacrosanct. It is without question necessary. Going back to Lincoln - "government of the people, by the people, for the people" - or any of the great democrats who have gone before us, they have built the idea of mandate at the centre of executive government. Deputy Nash also stated that the Taoiseach could come into difficulty in a future Dáil if the Dáil were not to play ball with the Taoiseach and not ratify his or her preferred ministerial appointees. That is like saying a future Dáil is likely to believe that a Minister without a democratic mandate is preferable to a Minister with a democratic mandate, which, again, is very hard to see because any Opposition party preventing the swapping out of a Minister with no mandate would find that a very difficult sell anywhere in the country. It would definitely be a challenge to a Taoiseach in the future to face such a situation. It would be a headache. However, perhaps that headache would be enough to give that Taoiseach a kick in the backside to get Government formation done in a timely fashion. Perhaps we would not see 150 days slide by.

There was a process on the most recent occasion of Government formation whereby what are now the Government parties were meeting each other once a week. We in Aontú were involved in that Government formation. We contacted Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. It was five or six weeks before they responded. It should be remembered that we have a pandemic washing across the world. We had a Government without a mandate, a Dáil unable to legislate, freshly minted Deputies unable to ask questions of Ministers of State and Ministers of State not able to come in to answer questions. We had Ministers simply saying it was none of his or her business and to wait until the next Minister came along. It is an unsatisfactory situation when the Legislature cannot legislate. I refer to the idea that we would see that democratic deficit, that crisis that existed just a few months ago, as something we just move on from and do not seek to tackle. Moreover, when an Opposition political party puts up a reasonable response and is open to future developments in respect of a Bill to improve it and make it suitable to the other political parties, that opportunity is not grasped.

The Minister mentioned the Seanad and said two Seanadóirí can become Ministers. In fairness, though, do we not agree that the Seanad needs reform? I, for one, believe the Seanad is undemocratic and needs to have a stronger democratic mandate in the future. There is probably a room full of reports on Seanad reform somewhere in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Nothing is happening about that, unfortunately. Just because the Seanad is undemocratic and there is a process that allows for an appointee of a Taoiseach to become a Minister does not necessarily mean we should start from that position legislatively to try to fix this situation.

As Deputy Gannon rightly said, there was a radical urgency and a hunger among the people during the most recent general election campaign. It is interesting that when I first floated this Bill, it got support from right across the political spectrum. People who would not necessarily share my politics at all came out strongly in support of the idea that democracy is sacrosanct and that Ministers should be democratically elected. There is an urgency, and there was an urgency in the process of Government formation that did not happen. Democracy delayed is democracy denied. How long does it take for the will of the people to be stopped before it is undemocratic? It seems to me that the process we have now gives no end date to that difficulty. There is a real and practical necessity for this place to be able to legislate in future. If we close our eyes to this now, I guarantee that within the next 20 years, there will be a moment in time when the hands of the Dáil will be tied, unable to legislate. There has to be accountability. Of course, there are Ministers who retire and, as such, do not go through the test of the election, but in the main the test of the election is a serious one. How many Deputies sit here without the idea of the test of the election constantly in the back of their head? Everybody has it in the back of their head when they work here.

By voting against this Bill, parties are voting against the implementation in a timely fashion of the will of the people. By voting against the Bill, they are voting against the premise that Ministers should have a democratic mandate. By voting against the Bill, they are highlighting the separation of this bubble from the urgency of the real world. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider and have a discussion among Cabinet. I am not saying by any means that the Bill is perfect. We are the smallest political party in the Chamber. We do not have the resources of other political parties. We certainly do not have the resources of the Government drafters. I ask the Government to work with us on this, let the Bill proceed to Committee Stage, bring forward the Government's amendments and let us make sure we do not have such a democratic crisis again.

Question put.

6:05 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 17 September 2020.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.10 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 September 2020.