Wednesday, 2 July 2003
Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill 2002: Report and Final Stages.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to the House. Of all the Ministers and Ministers of State, he can probably best understand the reasons for our detaining him. I apologise to the Minister of State and to Members.
Before we commence, I wish to remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Each amendment must be seconded. Amendment No. 1 is out of order as it was negatived on Committee Stage. Amendments Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendment No. 1 not moved.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 9, to delete lines 1 to 4.
I wish to thank Senators from all sides for the manner in which they supported the thrust of what I sought to achieve with my amendments on Committee Stage yesterday. Although I do not wish to be repetitive, we must briefly restate the arguments, which I genuinely believe are compelling and have already been put forcibly by all sides. Senator Mansergh, in particular, was very strong and passionate in pointing out the glaring omission of the Office of the Clerk of the Seanad and also the position of the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. I will deal with the argument in regard to the Clerk of the Seanad in subsequent amendments.
Senators from all sides subscribed to the argument that the Cathaoirleach's omission was a slight, an insult and was not accidental. Senator O'Rourke stated clearly that this was a deliberate rather than an accidental omission. The Minister of State is the fall guy because he has to present the Bill but, as we listened to his replies to our arguments, it became obvious that whoever drafted this Bill made a deliberate decision to omit the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad.
Whether we are dealing with the Clerk or Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, the same fundamental argument applies, namely, the status and legal and constitutional position of Seanad Éireann. Articles 18 to 25 of the Constitution deal specifically with the Seanad. We have a bicameral system which involves a two House Legislature. One cannot function without the other. There is an inter-dependence between the two in that laws and Bills cannot pass without the joint co-operative efforts of both Houses. On the other hand there is also a clear independence, whereby this House stands on its own two feet. We have a different electoral system with 49 Members comprising representatives from five vocational panels and 11 comprising representatives from two university panels. We have different procedures and Standing Orders which, in some cases, are vastly different. For example, one of the refreshing things about this House is the Order of Business, during which in the Lower House one is strictly confined to asking questions about promised legislation. In this House we have a refreshing experience where one may raise matters of topical interest provided one calls for a debate. I need hardly mention that we also have different pay scales.
The Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann is deserving of a place as deputy chairperson of this new commission. For example, he presides over the deliberations of this House – which is an independent Legislature in the same manner as the Lower House – he leads parliamentary delegations overseas with considerable style and dignity and he presides and speaks at joint sittings of the Oireachtas when foreign dignitaries visit. Despite this, in the establishment of a new statutory commission he is ignored and left aside, apart from being an ordinary member with no greater power than anyone else. I accept the argument made yesterday by Senator Mansergh that there appears to be a de facto recognition that he will be the deputy chairperson but there is no guarantee of this and there should be. The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad should have a right to be included as deputy chairperson of the commission, and that does not exist.
I second the amendment. Senator Higgins has said almost everything that needs to be said but I would like to make one point. People often forget that this House is not entirely subordinate to the Dáil. It has one power where it is equal to the other House, namely, the power to reject a statutory instrument, and there is no procedure for the Dáil to overrule it. The Seanad is not just a consultative Chamber but one with real powers.
I have great regard for the Minister of State and have had interesting debates with him on numerous topics in many forums. He was presented with tissue thin defences for some of these decisions.
I see in this legislation Dáil Éireann asserting a primacy to which it is not constitutionally entitled. None of the joint committees of the Houses is chaired by a Member of Seanad Éireann. I am not sure if any of them even has a Senator as a Vice-Chairman. I know some sub-committees have Senators as Vice-Chairmen. I detect in the legislation a reluctance on the part of Dáil Éireann, or someone with the mentality of some in that Chamber, to recognise the equivalence and significance under the Constitution of Seanad Éireann. It is as if it reluctantly conceded that there were two Houses but that there was a determination to ensure the legislation would state clearly the view of some Members of Dáil Éireann – not the constitutional position – regarding the significance or otherwise of Seanad Éireann. That is the reason these amendments are important.
The commission is an important body but the constitutional position of the two Houses of the Oireachtas is of greater importance. The commission is about 66 years too late. I have always believed the position of the Department of Finance apparently having the authority to decide how the Houses of Parliament should be funded, how much money they should have and regulating the expenditure of that money is profoundly unconstitutional. If the Houses were ever to go to court to assert their autonomy, the court would have no option but to say the idea that the Department of Finance could regulate the operations of the Houses of the Oireachtas was profoundly unconstitutional. That attitude towards the Houses of the Oireachtas and especially this House is at the core of the issue raised by Senator Higgins.
In seconding the amendment I repeat that this is not a little exercise in vanity by this House but an attempt to insist in legislation on the correct constitutional position. One of the few points Senator Higgins omitted was that the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann was a member of the Presidential Commission and so recognised under the Constitution. I do not understand how it could be for any reason other than deliberate intent to make a statement about Seanad Éireann that a constitutional officer who under the Constitution is one of three people who can function as Head of State of this country could be omitted from having the appropriate status in a commission established to run the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I made my views known on this point yesterday. There is an implicit recognition in the legislation in section 9(1), if one is being logical about it, that the deputy chairperson must be a Senator and a fortiori cathaoirleach in all but the most exceptional circumstances. I would have preferred this to have been stated explicitly for the reasons outlined by my colleagues.
I have no doubt that the matter will arise in the forthcoming discussion on Seanad reform. This House is entitled to proper recognition through its officers of its position as the second House of the Oireachtas. I am a little disappointed that the Minister of State and the Government, which he represents, are reluctant to acknowledge this explicitly. There is plenty of matter for discussion on Seanad reform. This obviously must be taken in the context of a Bill which is an important step forward and, generally speaking, a positive move. I register my reservations but, at the same time, recognise that the point is dealt with.
It will be the job of the Senators who will be members of the commission to see to it that the logical understanding is communicated to Deputies, if any of them is in any doubt about it, to argue the point based on section 9(1) and establish a precedent from the beginning that will continue to be observed. It would have been better had this been explicitly stated in the legislation. I am unsure of the reasons for the reluctance to do so.
We have ploughed much of this ground before. It is necessary to set out the formal process for the appointment of the deputy chairperson, and the Bill simply states the appointment is to be made in writing by the chairperson of the commission. We know who that will be.
I know it has been and surely will be for a while the subject of much debate as to who the deputy chairperson should be and who should have an input into the selection process. Only one member of the commission is precluded in the Bill from being the deputy chairperson, namely, the Secretary General. All other members have an equal chance of being selected for the role.
The Bill does not preclude the chairperson from consulting his committee. I expect that, in the selection of a chairperson by any committee comprising eminent Members of both Houses, it will come to a wise decision. If it is decided that the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is the person deemed to be suitable, I have no problem with this. If we dictate to the new commission exactly how it should fulfil its functions, it will deplete its effectiveness and independence.
I do not want to adopt a belt and braces approach by pointing out the scenarios in which it might be necessary to appoint a deputy chairperson because it will be in exceptional circumstances. The committee will meet when it suits and is necessary and the chairperson will be anxious to be involved because it is a small group with onerous duties. In the few cases that the chairperson is not available, as will be made clear in the Bill, the appointment will be made in writing. I stand over the position I took yesterday and for that reason I cannot accept the amendment.
I have a problem that amendment No. 1 has been ruled out on the basis that it was put to a voice vote yesterday. Amendments Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, were consequent on amendment No. 1 so they do not have much relevance other than providing us with a debating point and I see no point in proceeding with them. We have more to say about the amendments concerning the Clerk of the Dáil being a member of and Secretary General of the commission.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 9, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"(d)the Clerk of Seanad Éireann;".
Yesterday all sides of the House were unanimous in their belief that the Clerk of the Seanad should be a member of the commission by right. We were appalled when we read the membership list because it is patently obvious that the Clerk of the Seanad should come directly after the Clerk of the Dáil as an automatic member of the new commission. We argued strongly, particularly Senators Mansergh and O'Rourke, who are on the Government side, that there should be a reflection overnight and a change of heart.
We were appalled by the insulting argument that because the Clerk of the Dáil, who will be Secretary General and chief executive of the new body, had been Clerk of the Seanad, that should be seen as sufficient representation of the House. It was not and it is not and that is an insulting argument. In that past many Clerks of the Dáil did not come through administrative training in this House and there is no guarantee it will happen in future. We are arguing that the Clerk of the Seanad should be automatically included in the new body. We would go even further and say that not alone should the Clerk of the Seanad be an automatic member, but should be the Assistant Secretary General. This is effectively a Department of State and all Departments have Secretaries General and Assistant Secretaries General. Why should the Houses of Parliament be any different when establishing a new commission?
The argument is made that there are three Senators on the commission by right and we acknowledge that. It is not, however, beyond the bounds of possibility that in a new Seanad, if there is a swing to one party and a large transfer of Members from this House to the other, there will be an influx of new Members. When I entered the Seanad in 1981, having been nominated by the then Taoiseach, there were very few former Senators in the House. A new influx was elected and the then Taoiseach, Dr. Garrett FitzGerald, used it as a training ground for aspiring TDs in constituencies where the party was not represented. This could lead to a situation where novice Senators without the necessary experience to act on the Seanad's behalf represent it on the commission.
I second this amendment. The Clerk of the Seanad is also the returning officer for the elections to the panels of the House. According to its functions, the commission shall provide for the running of the Houses of the Oireachtas. As of now, under this provision, when there is an election to the Seanad, the Clerk of the Seanad will have to apply to the commission to be allowed to use space in this House to conduct a constitutional function – the carrying on of elections to Seanad Éireann. The Clerk of the Seanad will not have a right to be a part of the body that will decide how the facilities of the House will be used during a Seanad election. That is constitutionally and institutionally wrong. It is profoundly wrong that a constitutional officer, responsible for the conduct of an election under the Constitution – an officer of this House – will have to apply to a body as an external person for permission to conduct elections to the House.
Apart from all the other arguments, that is an extraordinary position that was either not anticipated by the drafters of this legislation or was anticipated and ignored. The former is the position frequently taken up by drafters of legislation who have, on many occasions, learned to their cost that Seanad Éireann is perfectly capable of dealing with complex legislation and identifying faults and failings in it. Perhaps, over time, they learn the wisdom not to take Seanad Éireann for granted.
That leaves the latter possibility – that the drafters of this legislation thought this through and decided it did not matter that one of the major roles of the Clerk of the Seanad would have to be conducted in a supplicant form by asking permission of a commission to use this House to conduct a matter provided for under the Constitution. How does that reflect properly on the constitutional reality of elections to the Seanad and the position of the Clerk of the Seanad in the conduct of those elections?
It was clear from the debate yesterday that all who were present had a united view on this issue. I did some research on the Government offices that have number twos. The Attorney General's Office has a Director General and a Deputy Director General. The CSO has two Directors. The Civil Service Commission has a Chairman and two Commissioners. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has a Secretary General and an Assistant Secretary General. The Director of Public Prosecutions has a deputy. The Department of Foreign Affairs has a Secretary General, a second Secretary General, a Government press secretary and a deputy press secretary. In the Minister of State's own office there is a chairman and two commissioners. The Revenue has three commissioners. The Department of the Taoiseach has a Secretary General and a second Secretary General. The Departments I have not mentioned have a number of assistant secretaries.
Two anomalies arise here. At one end of the spectrum we have the Department of Finance, which has two Secretaries General and three second Secretaries General. I have great respect and time for the Department of Finance, and I do not want anyone to think otherwise, but there might be an element of quis custodiet ipsos custodes in terms of the lean, efficient operation of Government. At the other end of the spectrum there will be a new Department or commission which will have one Secretary General and, I understand, although I have this second hand, six principal officers. It will not even have assistant secretaries, let alone a deputy Secretary General. It would be a caricature and a misinterpretation to suggest that of all the offices of State, the Houses of the Oireachtas are the least among them but one could be forgiven for having that impression.
This commission needs to have not only the Clerk of the Dáil, who operates in a number of different capacities about which we spoke yesterday, inform it but also the Clerk of the Seanad, even if not as a voting member. In the rainbow coalition, and during the last Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, former Deputy Molloy was a Minister of State at the Cabinet table. The input and contribution the Clerk of the Seanad can make to the work of this commission would be invaluable. Senator Higgins made the very good point that in certain general elections there may be a large turnover of personnel, particularly in this House. Obviously, the permanent staff provide continuity and the newcomers to the House will take time to learn the ropes and find their feet.
I have to register my disappointment, indeed my protest, that we do not have an amendment to this effect from the Government. Naturally, as an obedient, disciplined member of the party to which I belong, I will not do a John Deasy on this subject.
Another dimension that just happens to apply currently is that we, as Members of this Oireachtas, are supposed to be setting an example on gender equality. It would send a very good message if the Clerk of the Seanad, who happens to be a woman but who is just as capable as anyone else, was a member of the commission along with the Clerk of the Dáil – one man and one woman. Perhaps in time to come the equivalent of assistant secretary posts will be created. Even in that scenario, I do not want to see a situation where the Clerk of the Seanad is overlooked and where there might be a jobs for the boys type system. These dimensions ought to be considered. The Department of Finance is also the Department responsible for the public service. That is also a dimension of the issue. I am sure it will be protested that it is not the case that because somebody is of a particular gender, this move is not being made.
As I said yesterday, there are two Houses of the Oireachtas. There is no logic or rationality in this measure. If we are setting up something new, there should not be a public service read across it to the effect that Department X might want to have a deputy Secretary General. We should do what is right for us. The Houses of the Oireachtas differ from a Department in this crucial respect: there are two Houses in the Oireachtas. It is not a single, unified body in the way most Departments are, at least in theory.
Ms O'Rourke: Here we go again around the mulberry bush. At this time yesterday evening we were debating this matter, and here we are again. I find it extremely difficult to cope with the twisted logic which led to this measure not being adopted. Like Senator Mansergh, we put our case forcibly and at considerable length not just here in the House, but also where we went for recourse.
This is a new Department but it is for Members of the House. It is to allow Members of both Houses to do their own business and work through their €295 million budget over three years, as laid down, with the officials and decide how they will run their own business. This is the only Department which is actually for elected people, and unelected people had to draft the legislation, yet when a very sensible amendment is put forward by the Fine Gael Party that the Clerk of the Seanad should be a member of the commission, it is not accepted.
We are the elected people, although I was appointed, but for many years I was an elected Member. We make up the Members of this Seanad and we are putting this case on our own behalf, yet the unelected people who frame the legislation, advise and act in that capacity are rejecting it. As Senator Higgins said, the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is sent out to do the batting. That is what Ministers are for and there is no doubt he is amiable and astute, but he has been told that he cannot accept this amendment. I know well how the Civil Service works. I know what they say when they send a Minister out with a brief. They say that a Minister cannot accept this or that and must accept something else, but I would say I was accepting it.
Once one does that, it is the most wonderful feeling in the world. One is one's own mistress or master. They are behind one, but one is on one's own feet, using one's own voice. It is a most wonderful experience knowing what to do at a particular time and I have done it on many occasions. People have learned to live with that and if they did not like it, they respected me for it.
We are like supplicants, to take up a point made by Senator Ryan, and regardless of whether we like it, we are regarded within the elected sphere as the poor relation. We have managed to assert ourselves this year with the co-operation of all the Members and the Ministers and staff who have come here, but we are still seen as a type of Cinderella in that sphere of democracy.
We are the supplicants at the door asking for the Clerk of the Seanad to be a member of the commission. It is not because the present Clerk to the Seanad is a woman. There are glass ceilings all over the world and we have to thump at them and try to break through. I have been at it for many years. The incumbent in question is a person of intellectual calibre, dedicated to her job, as indeed are all the people who work in the Seanad office. I would challenge the inherent unfairness of what is now being done. It is being railroaded through, over our heads as elected Members.
Imagine when the history of this comes to be written. There are two Houses of the Oireachtas, the Dáil and the Seanad. Of course we are going to have the Clerk of the Dáil on the commission and he is to have a grand new title, Secretary General. Then there is the Seanad, the second House, with its own place in the Constitution. The response in effect is: "No, we cannot take the Clerk to the Seanad. No thank you. The man we have got will be wonderful." Of course he will be very good. Let nobody say we are casting aspersions on Kieran Coughlan, the Clerk of the Dáil, who is a person of excellent intellectual calibre.
It is the sheer unfairness of what is being proposed in our names that I am referring to, because we are the elected people. We are the Members. We pass the legislation. We debate serious issues and come to serious conclusions. We are, under your aegis, a Chathaoirligh, reasonably run and led by the leaders of all of the parties and the representatives of the independent Members. Yet somehow, we are being put out the back door and told to come in the tradesman's entrance rather than through the main door. One does not know what upset the Clerk of the Seanad might cause. She is not to be taken on board this important commission. It is a total disgrace.
As with Senator Mansergh, I will be voting with my party, but it does not stop my tongue. Nor will it stop what is in my head from coming out. I am determined to say it. I am equally determined to submit a motion at the meeting next week of the committee on the reform of the Seanad calling for the amendment of the Bill so that this House can stand on its own feet and have its Clerk as a member of the commission.
We could fling ourselves out the window, but that would do no good. I am disappointed, but I do not blame the Minister. The Minister was well able to flex his muscles and still is. He was well able to give me a dressing down – which I duly gave back to him – at a feisty meeting of 600 or 700 people in Athlone.
We had a very good time during which he asserted himself, and so did I. The Minister is well able to flex his muscles. Would it not be great to be a pioneer in this Bill and to accept this amendment? The Minister's officials would look twice, on meeting him, in that event.
It is hard to follow those great and stirring words from Senator O'Rourke, not that I believe the Minister will listen, even though the contribution of such an eminent and long-standing Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas should be taken on board. One should have thought that if we had any sense and the system worked, the views of someone like Senator O'Rourke would be taken into account. It is not too late. There is still time for a fine independent Offaly man, such as the Minister is known to be, to do that. It might not be a bad idea for the Minister to put down a marker in terms of how he intends to carry out his business in the future.
It will be a grave insult to the House if this amendment is not taken on board for the reasons Senator O'Rourke and other Members have pointed out. We are being treated as lesser citizens in this legislation. The way it is framed puts us in an entirely weakened position in relation to the important commission being set up to run the business of both Houses. Within that context we are to be given the status of second class citizens by virtue of the fact that we do not have equality of standing within the commission's membership. It simply is not good enough.
Like others I would say it is not a reflection on the personage of the Clerk of the Dáil, but it is not to be expected that he should represent our interests. It does not happen in any other context or legislation. Neither does it happen in the Constitution and it is a bad precedent. I would ask Members on the other side of the House who have spoken so passionately on this to support their sentiments with their vote and let the Government know clearly where they stand. Let it not be a party matter. It should be regarded as pivotal to the standing of this House and its future.
It should be viewed in the context of our discussions on Seanad reform, as Senator O'Rourke has pointed out, and the desired wish of long-standing Members of this House in particular, as well as new Members, that we should be held in the highest possible regard. We are basically legislating to give ourselves second class status. This is intolerable. I call on the Minister to take on board in a proactive manner what he has heard. I have not heard a single valid argument against this amendment and I would ask Members on the other side of the House to put their vote where their sentiments are.
I take a slightly different angle. I accept what has been said about the status of the House and the fact that it should be adequately represented, whatever the body happens to be. Apart from standing on ceremony and status, I believe it would actually improve the body. In relation to Bills at the end of a session, my experience tells me that frequently they can be defective. The defects are not always picked up because of the necessity to get them through the Houses. The argument that a Bill might have to be returned to the Dáil for amendment at the end of a session is not valid. If it is right it is right and should be done.
We made reference on Second Stage to the need for staff to be represented on the commission. I agreed with Senator O'Toole about this. This is one way of squaring that circle.
I understand and I am not going to discuss that amendment, but it is a way of marrying two things, so to speak. The other point is that the Clerk of the Seanad would bring a different perspective from that of the Clerk of the Dáil. In general, the Clerk of the Seanad is closer to the Members than her counterpart is to the Members of the other House. We are all familiar with the Clerk and we have easy access to her. The Clerk would be in a good position to bring forward proposals and recommendations by ordinary Members of the House, not just those who happen to be on the commission. The Clerk of the Seanad has unique expertise which would be beneficial.
Frequently in these circumstances a general commitment is made to take into account certain views, in this case, those of the Clerk of this House. This is not good enough and must be provided for through legislation because general commitments are forgotten about. I share the view of other Senators that the Clerk should be appointed to the commission as deputy Secretary General. The issue at stake is not our standing or status, but the fact that the proposal is right and, if accepted, would improve the legislation.
It was with some trepidation that I entered the House today, having been reminded yesterday by the Leader of my privileged, guest status here. The Leader and other Senators made strong overtures to me on this proposal and sought an instant and positive response. I came to the House with one hand as long as the other which exacerbated my trepidation as did calls from Senators to do the right thing, which suggested I was out of control or out of touch.
Since the debate yesterday evening, the Leader and Senator Mansergh communicated their passionate views on this issue to the Minister and I understand he told them he would sleep on the matter.
Neither the Minister nor I could dismiss the case put to us without giving it serious consideration and nor did we feel comfortable about some of the charges implicitly made during yesterday's proceedings, when we were alleged to have either demeaned or affronted a House of the Oireachtas. This accusation left me uneasy and I chose not to respond to it immediately. It was also suggested that we were being guided by the interpretations of civil servants who exerted undue control over us. I recall Senator Higgins lambasting as a great loss to members of the Opposition the tremendous support civil servants provide to Ministers.
It was implied that senior civil servants have a negative influence on the Minister and me. The suggestion that we are being led blinkered into taking a dangerous position has upset both of us. When asked yesterday to consider this proposal, I did not commit to giving it serious thought. Nevertheless, both the Minister and I considered the matter overnight. Whereas the Minister has had a long and varied career in politics, I am only commencing mine. Both of us, however, were moulded in a difficult school and have been around for a while. The saying regarding the old dog for the hard road could apply as we believe it does not always pay to take the easy option and sometimes passion, irrespective of how articulately expressed, does not necessarily guarantee great wisdom. If one stands back from an issue, one may get a much clearer view.
Having reflected on the amendment, we are not in favour of any change. I implore the Leader, regardless of the outcome, not to fling herself through the window.
The office will serve two Houses but will have more than three prongs. Each House has a Clerk and assistant Clerk and the joint staff has its own tribe of heads of functions dealing with different aspects of the service it provides. This group also has its chief, who does not have a related title, but also happens to be the Clerk of the Dáil. It is the work already undertaken by the Clerk and under his control which will move in its entirety to the commission. As Clerk of the Dáil he will remain under the jurisdiction of the Ceann Comhairle and, similarly, the Clerk of this House will continue to perform her functions unaffected.
The other new capacity of the Clerk of the Dáil will be as chief executive officer of a collective called "the Commission". Senators expressed the high regard in which they hold the current incumbent. I do not envisage that the Clerk of the Dáil in this new position will become a kind of insider trader on behalf of the Dáil, trying to do down the interests of the Seanad. Nor do I envisage that the commission, which will be his boss, would allow him to do such a thing. He will be the chief executive officer of a ten person commission consisting of Members of both Houses, which would not allow him to do down either House.
Senator Ryan raised the possibility that the Clerk of the Dáil would be beholden to the commission. This is a white elephant which will not arise. The commission will have no function to override the constitutional requirements of either House. In other words, the Seanad, like the other House, will be in charge of its constitutional rights, whereas the commission will take control of the administration of the various other tasks of the Houses. Nothing will impinge on or impugn the constitutional rights of the Clerks of either House.
Yesterday, Senator Mansergh repeatedly drew attention to the English language Short Title of the Bill and suggested we were contradicting it by having no statutory presence from among the Seanad officers on the commission secretariat. We do not accept this. The detail of the Bill makes clear what the focus of the commission will be, namely, the allocation of funding for and provision of services and staff to Members of the Houses. The allocation of funds and staff between the Houses, committees and other services will be a large part of the commission's remit and policy decisions on these matters, within which the chief executive will have to operate, will be taken at commission level, not the administrative level, which will act on his behalf.
The elected representatives on the commission will make decisions on behalf of the elected Members of the Houses. The decision makers will include Members of the Seanad, the Cathaoirleach and the three ordinary members. The main decisions will be taken by the commission, not the Civil Service backup.
My previous job, in the course of which I crossed paths with Senator Mansergh, involved considerable toing and froing between various groups and agencies, giving interviews and so forth. A high degree of repetition was sometimes required to get one's message across. This has also been the case with regard to the issue before us during the various Stages. In recent weeks, a large number of amendments have been tabled to this legislation and I have found myself reverting to repetitive mode. Unfortunately, I have been compelled to do so again with regard to the fundamental aspects of this issue because they have been ignored.
In our approach to the legislation, we wish to give the commission the greatest possible level of freedom, rather than tying its members' hands in advance. This is the basis on which the special funding arrangements were devised and the reason virtually all the powers currently vested in the Minister for Finance are being transferred to the commission. The general consensus is that this is a positive move. Senator Ryan, for example, stated it should have happened 60 years ago, while Senator Mansergh described it as a giant step forward, both of which are true.
It was consonant with this policy that the shape of the organisation below the chief executive or Secretary General is being left to the commission. It is being given an opportunity to think purposely about how its business should be carried out by its staff. This is also the reason a provision has been introduced to allow commission members to be chosen well ahead of its opening for business next January. In summary, we are not prepared to change our position on this matter, despite the strong arguments made by Senators.
Senator Dardis correctly said we are not concerned with semantics and the argument has been made regarding the status and autonomy of this Chamber. The key point is that acceptance of the amendment would improve the commission. I appreciate the arguments made by Senator O'Rourke and Senator Mansergh. It will be interesting to see if Senators on the other side of the House will behave like Deputy Deasy.
I thank Senator Mansergh for his research. He could not have put the argument more forcibly. The commission will create the posts of a Secretary General and six principal officers with no intermediate post, while other Departments, such as Finance and Foreign Affairs, are heavily represented with grades at a corresponding level. Despite this, the Oireachtas, which passes the legislation on which all other Departments work, cannot insist on the creation of a deputy chief executive. Senator O'Rourke put that point well.
The Minister of State is only one year in office and he should take note of Senator O'Rourke's well put point regarding the need, now and again, to stamp one's authority. Invariably, memoranda and Bills are presented as a fait accompli. It often means that one must accept them despite arguments to the contrary. Senator O'Rourke said she repeatedly told officials to change one such document presented to her as Minister. I recall debating two good education Bills – the Regional Technical College Bill and the Dublin Institute of Technology Colleges Bill – in the other House when Deputy Brennan was Minister for Education and Deputy Aylward was the Minister of State. Both Bills were concerned with changing the status and the name of the two colleges and, among other things, provided for changes in staff titles from directors to principals. Deputy Michael D. Higgins and I repeatedly argued in favour of two or three amendments. Eventually, and against departmental advice, the Minister of State made the necessary changes, even though it constituted a charge on the Exchequer. He acted because he understood the merits of the arguments.
I asked my Department to authorise practical projects to alleviate flooding that could be implemented at short notice. One such project was undertaken at Belcar, County Galway, near the home of the former Minister of State and Senator, Mark Killilea, where roads had been flooded for 20 years. In fairness to the Office of Public Works, it quickly did the necessary work. Within three hours of the completion of the project, I was to be given the honour of donning a helmet, rather like Senator O'Rourke in relation to the Luas light rail project, to remove the last scoop with the JCB, but I was told it could not be done because of European Union regulation regarding the preservation of the grasshopper. I gave instructions to proceed regardless and nothing was said afterwards.
While we do not expect the Progressive Democrats to assert its independence within the coalition Government on this issue, we expect the Minister of State to accept this sensible amendment. It will not impose a charge on the Exchequer as the necessary funding can be found within the budget allocation of €295 million. The arguments in favour are comprehensive, reputable and compelling. Knowing the Minister of State's ability to make up his mind, I am surprised he has not accepted the persuasive arguments made on both sides of the House.
This amendment picks up where the previous amendment left off. Unfortunately, that amendment was declared lost. The provisions amendment No. 8 seeks to include would have the effect of improving the commission, which would be better if one of its members was a staff representative. Given its broad nature, the amendment would allow the Government latitude in the legislation and would not restrict it in terms of who might be the staff representative. The amendment refers only to a representative of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Once again, I would argue the point made yesterday by myself and others that the Government has promoted—
I am sorry to interrupt the Senator but as it is now 6 p.m. I am required, by the order of the House today, to put the following question: "That amendment No. 8 and subsequent amendments be negatived, the Bill be received for final consideration and the Bill do now pass." Is that agreed?