Wednesday, 4 July 2007
Ministers and Secretaries (Ministers of State) Bill 2007: Second Stage
This Bill is required to give effect to the decision by the Government to increase the maximum number of Ministers of State from 17 to 20. As Senators will be aware, the number has remained unchanged since 1995, when section 1 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1995 increased the maximum from 15 to 17.
I will outline for the House some of the key reasons behind the proposal in this Bill. The major consideration, as in 1995, is that of workload. Since 1995, the quantum and quality of ministerial work has increased significantly as a result of the greater complexity of the policy agenda, the management pressures in giving political direction to extensive Government programmes, and the increased engagement with stakeholders at all levels, both domestically and in Europe. A Minister of State may receive delegated powers from a Minister in accordance with the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1977. As a new Government is in place, all such previous orders have lapsed and require to be renewed. The Government will ensure that all necessary delegation of ministerial functions orders are made as early as practicable.
While Government workloads have grown everywhere in Europe, Ireland is affected by additional factors. The population has increased significantly and continues to do so. The economy has grown rapidly to create opportunities to address and prioritise a wider range of issues while generating public demand for enhanced and improved public services. To protect and sustain economic growth and competitiveness, we require improved infrastructure and public transport and greater investment in education, research and development.
Many of the new challenges we face are cross-cutting and of their nature require cross-departmental responses. For example, while the increase in the number of people coming to live and work in Ireland over the past ten years represents a welcome concomitant of economic growth, increased job opportunities and enhanced social and public services, it presents real challenges in the provision of public services across a number of fronts. The provision of education services to the significant number of newcomers creates new and increased demands on teaching resources and language support. These factors must be considered in conjunction with an ageing population, the increasing importance of lifelong education and the promotion of innovation in the educational and enterprise sectors. As such, they necessitate increased focus and activity during this Dáil on integration policy, lifelong learning, innovation, children, disability and older people.
The management of the asylum-seeking process has perhaps tended to overshadow the effective integration of much larger numbers of immigrants overall. The immigration experiences of other countries demonstrate that the most important factor in avoiding socio-demographic problems down the line is the effective integration of immigrant groups with indigenous populations and, indeed, each other. Where integration has been mishandled or neglected, the long-term economic and social consequences have proved deleterious and even disastrous. As relative latecomers to the role of recipient country, we have the opportunity to avoid the mistakes made in certain other states. We are anxious to address integration in a measured, focused and strategic fashion to which end the Government has appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for integration policy. Integration is a cross-cutting issue in which a number of Departments are concerned. Accordingly, it is envisaged that expertise will be drawn from a number of Departments and State bodies to develop a coherent national policy informed by global best practice and tailored to the needs of Irish society and those immigrants lawfully resident here.
The programme for Government contains a specific pledge to designate a Minister of State with responsibility for older people. The commitment was made in recognition of the fact that older people constitute an increasingly important area of public policy arising from demographic changes and merit increased and intensified focus. In 2006, persons aged 65 and over represented approximately 11% of the population, but this percentage is estimated to rise to 14.1% by 2011 and to 20% by 2036. Planning for an ageing population must begin now and encompass problems of special relevance to this older cadre. Such planning must address the development of services for older people nationally, including palliative care services, as well as nursing home capacity and standards. As the programme for Government indicates, a central element of planning will be the preparation of a national positive ageing strategy, a major objective of which will be to maximise the independence of older people and make it easier for them to stay in their own homes.
These are only indicative examples, but I believe they also reinforce the need for extra assistance at Minister of State level. Public policy has become more complex as our society has grown and developed. We are all aware of the need to tackle various policy issues in a cross-departmental and more focused manner. This has been a successful approach in the past, as I know from my experience in dealing with issues, such as drugs and homelessness. The increase in the number of Ministers of State will enable the Government to extend this cross-cutting approach to the many issues in which more than one Department has a significant role.
I believe the additional Ministers of State will play a valuable role in the delivery of our extensive programme for Government, and, accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate Deputy Noel Ahern on his appointment as Minister of State. This is an expensive, wasteful and cynical Bill. We have been asked to create three new posts, each of which will cost €4 million over the life of the Government. Let me give Members an idea of what could be done with €4 million. It would fund 700,000 home help hours or give 23,000 people medical cards. The country is being asked to forfeit other priorities without a business case being made for these posts, the setting of performance tests or any indication that they will yield value to the taxpayer. While my party has no personal gripes with these lucky €4 million men, we will not stand over this roughshod trampling down of the taxpayer.
The path to the creation of three new Government posts is the very same one that resulted in the break-neck expansion of public spending in recent years without commensurate improvements in the quality of public services and where we paid out €1.3 billion in benchmarking awards and got precious little in return. It is soft option politics. It is the sort of politics we need to bring an end to if we are to meet the new challenges this country faces.
The solemn pledges on class sizes, hospital waiting lists and the delivery of social and affordable housing have been cast aside without any consequences for the Ministers concerned. The failure to apply proper evaluation procedures in advance of committing public moneys has resulted in significant costs for the taxpayer but no consequences for the sponsoring Minister. Stadium Campus Ireland, electronic voting, MediaLab Europe, PPARS and the Punchestown equine centre are some such examples. The virtual collapse of major Government policies, such as decentralisation and the climate change strategy, have been simply ignored. Even the failure by a Minister to read the brief provided for him by officials, a failure that resulted in significant costs to the taxpayer, has had no consequences for the Minister concerned. The ordinary taxpayer is sick, sore and tired of this treatment.
No test of performance has been applied by the Taoiseach in his selection of Ministers and Ministers of State. As a consequence, the essential dynamic of any organisation to perform to a high standard is being undermined. Posts are being filled by time servers when loyalty and endurance are the primary qualities recognised.
This Bill is a measure to create new posts designed to quell unrest among backbenchers, who rightly see a congested and unfair plutocracy blocking the way of new talent. The Taoiseach has argued that government has become more complex and he needs new posts to manage the volume of business, New challengers are always arising, just as there is always a constant demand for new programmes and activities. It is the role of the Taoiseach, however, to set priorities. When some new need arises and demands attention, other areas of lower priority that have been soaking up resources must make way. If there are new tasks that need the supervision of a dedicated Minister of State, they should be accommodated by closing down areas that no longer justify such a level of political oversight.
The appointment of each Minister of State will cost the taxpayer €4 million over the life of this Government. To justify such spending, a clear policy agenda with a tough performance standard should be set out, but because of the slide in the performance standards of senior Ministers, the Taoiseach would have no credible authority to impose such demands on newly appointed Ministers of State. I do not think either that the case for an innovation strategy is strong. Do we really need separate Departments for forestry and for horticulture on top of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with its own senior Ministry? Is there not scope to consolidate integration policy with equality? We now have separate Ministers for food and food safety. The Taoiseach's concern was not about identifying new areas of importance and allocating people skill and aptitude to address these tasks. It has been widely publicised that many backbenchers feel aggrieved by the selection process on which the Taoiseach has embarked with regard to the appointment of Ministers of State.
This Bill is about nothing other than keeping the Green Party, which has got nothing in terms of policy, happy. The Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil got such a good deal from a weak, pathetic and miserable Green Party negotiating team, that they decided to take solace in jobs for the boys. This Government has disgraced itself from the start. Since the election we have been treated to failure to allow the Oireachtas to know what agreements have been entered into in order to copperfasten this Government. It is an affront to proper standards of accountability. It is a disgrace that the Taoiseach, when he did not need the Independent Members of the House, entered into private deals with them without making these deals or their quantifiable costs known to the electorate. It is an insult to the people. The taxpayer is entitled to know the details of those private deals. There should not be private arrangements between the Taoiseach and Independent Members of this or the other House.
The selection by the Taoiseach of his preferred nominee for Leas-Cheann Comhairle was a crude political stroke that showed no respect to the mandate of other Deputies, as was the appointment of a Ceann Comhairle, once again from the Government party. The pronouncements on the suitability of Deputy Beverly Flynn for ministerial position at a time when she was seeking to overturn existing law and to reduce the payments owing by her to RTE showed little respect for the independence of the authorities dealing with those issues. This is a point that was brought up in the ethics Bill that we discussed yesterday. I raise this as an issue that, among others, arose since the election.
Fianna Fáil, aided and abetted by the Progressive Democrats, of whom we would expect nothing else, and the Green Party, of whom we expected so much more, may have made a correct calculation that by the time voters are again asked to express their preferences, this sort of contempt for standards will be long forgotten. We make the point loudly and clearly that we will strive for higher ideals. Where the Government proceeds in the direction it has gone already in the past in regard to appointments, we will quickly remind it of its aberrations. We see this as an expensive, wasteful and cynical Bill.
I welcome the Minister back to the House and wish him well in his new capacity. I support the proposal in the Ministers and Secretaries (Ministers of State) Bill 2007 that the Government may, on the nomination of the Taoiseach, appoint not more than 20 persons who are Members of either House of the Oireachtas to be Ministers of State at Departments of State and may, at any time, on the recommendation of the Taoiseach, remove a Minister of State so appointed.
In 1995, Deputy Ruairí Quinn appointed extra Ministers of State on the basis of need. It reminds me of how much an Opposition can say and do something while in Opposition but do the exact opposite when in Government. It might even suggest that it would not be divisive on the last sitting of the House and then turn around and be very divisive. If there was a need in 1995 for extra Ministers of State, there is certainly a need, 12 years later, in 2007, when Ireland has changed substantially in terms of our increased immigrant population, our economy which has doubled in that time, the number of new houses being built, the infrastructure with every city linked by motorways, the global initiative of which we are part and our role in addressing global warming and EU expansion.
There is a compelling case for extra Ministers of State. It is wholly inappropriate for the Opposition, who in 1995 appointed extra Ministers of State, to tell us in the Ireland of 2007 that we do not need extra Ministers of State, especially given this Government's attention to issues such as insurance, which at the beginning of 2002 resulted in job losses and people not being able to afford to take out insurance and caused real problems for competition in our economy. The price of insurance today is at the same level in real terms as it was in 1997. This is as a direct result of the work of this House.
People have been appointed to address issues such as care of the elderly. We need to upskill if we are to meet the needs of our high wage economy. We need to have fifth level people coming on stream because the economy and foreign direct investment demand it. We need people with doctorates and masters. We need an economy that is inclusive of all its citizens.
Forestry is an important area, as is global warming. We are now conscious of the effects of what we do in our global environment. In regard to horticulture, we need to produce more food going forward and to ensure our food is safe. I commend the Taoiseach on what he has done in this area.
Sadly, we heard this morning remarks in respect of the appointments of the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil. I suggest it was wholly inappropriate of the Opposition to raise this matter in the House. I commend the Government on its choice of Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Anybody, in either House, who shows disrespect for those appointments should not get away with it.
The reality is, though I know it is hard to get over, that the Opposition would not have supported this Government. We know that. The Opposition lost and should move on. We must accept those appointed to the position of Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I do not believe it is good for such matters to be raised in that context. We are all aware of what happened last week. It is not good for that to be happening in either House.
This Bill is entirely and wholly appropriate. It is important that this Government continues, together with the type of progress it has made during the past ten years. I look forward to the Government being in office for another five years.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Senator Hanafin has drawn our attention to some of the successes during the past five years. I accept his example in respect of insurance in terms of the Government's battle against insurance costs. However, I will be opposing the Bill. I do so not with any inherent opposition to what Government has done in the past but for a specific reason. In the 14 years that it has been my privilege and honour to serve in this House I have often had the opportunity to criticise legislation that was being rushed through the Oireachtas without sufficient time being provided for us to scrutinise it properly. I have stated again and again that speedy legislation almost always results in bad legislation. Time tends to reveal flaws that could have been noticed had the legislation been debated in a more leisurely manner. We should not rush measures such as this through both Houses of the Oireachtas.
What we are dealing with today is bad legislation of a different kind, an altogether worse kind. Most emergency legislation arises out of a real need and the intention behind it is at least worthy. We have all accepted on occasion the need to pass legislation urgently. No such defence can be offered for this Bill. It has been introduced for the most questionable of reasons. It is gravely flawed on its very face. It is one thing to pass a measure while believing its flaws may show up after a time. It is another to pass a measure that bears its flaws for all of us to see as it passes through the Houses.
I now have family in France and I find myself taking an interest in what happens there. When Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of France, he started his term of office with a striking symbolic gesture. He announced a Government with far fewer members than has been the norm recently in that country. That gesture not only brought about better and more effective government, it also cost the French taxpayer less. It also made sense as a response to the widely felt public opinion that in recent years government had tended to grow like Topsy without any apparent restraint and without any clear benefit to the people who paid for it. What a bold gesture that was by the French Government and President. It was one that we would have done well to emulate in this much smaller country. Instead, our new Government tarnished its image in its first days by producing a shoddy Bill, the effect of which will be to bloat the benches of Government further and will produce worse administration at higher cost.
When he announced his intention to increase the number of Ministers of State from the already bloated figure, the Taoiseach waved a fig leaf of justification in our direction but he did so limply and with no conviction. No growing or pressing workload will be addressed by making these appointments. The Minister of State and Senator Hanafin both mentioned the increased population and the challenges that brings. That does not create a need for extra Ministers of State.
The new Government faces many more major challenges than in the past ten years. The biggest of all is the crumbling national competitiveness which becomes worse every month because of inflation at double the European average. This battle against inflation should be very high on our agenda. One of the reasons for our inflation, as the figures we saw yesterday show, is the huge increase in the cost of Government. Despite this, one of the first acts of the Government has been to increase that cost again. I did not hear the Minister of State explaining why this is a worthy increase in cost. If the battle against inflation has such a high level of importance, the Government should reduce the cost of Government by reducing the number of Ministers of State from 17 to the original 15 of 12 years ago. This Bill will not address the challenge of national competitiveness, the battle against inflation or any of the other serious challenges that lie ahead.
The motivation behind this Bill, which even the Government has hardly bothered to mask, is purely political. This is a very expensive Bill which is being rushed through as emergency legislation purely to fulfil the narrow political needs of the incoming Government. Winning office as a Minister of State is a wonderful occasion for any politician. It is the first rung on the ladder of Government. It is a pity those who rise to this office on this occasion do so by means of a tawdry political gesture which, inevitably, detracts from their very achievement.
It gives me no pleasure to voice my opposition to the Bill, not just because of its content but because of the speed at which it is being introduced. I express this disappointment, although it is highly unlikely we will be able to stop the Bill going through. I would have preferred to have seen the new Government in its first days in office state it was introducing a Bill to appoint only 15 Ministers of State rather than 17, although it probably would not have had to do so. It would have set an example that one of the challenges it faces and that one of its priorities is to reduce the cost of Government in this State. Therefore, it would have set an example to all those other areas in which inflation is increasing, thus reducing our national competitiveness. I urge us to rethink this Bill.
I hope the Acting Chairman will excuse me if I speak outside the conventions of the House. As everybody is aware, it is my second day in the House as it is only the second day it has sat since my appointment following the death of Senator Kate Walsh. I wish to start by paying tribute to the late Senator Kate Walsh. She is a lady who sadly I met only on half a dozen occasions and did not get to know in the way I would have. However, I was struck by her enormous passion, determination and compassion. On a number of occasions following my appointment, Members from all sides of this House approached me and spoke fondly of her. It was a nice way to get a sense of who she was as a lady given that I did not have the chance to get to know her terribly well.
Yesterday I was struck by many of the comments in the House about the appointment of Senators in the short term. On the day of my appointment when I came up to sign the register of the Seanad, Members of both Houses pointed out to me with a certain amount of glee that it now meant I had free car parking in the House for life. Yesterday that was pointed out in a very different tone. It is a perk many like to point out. However, for me the only purpose of having car parking in the grounds of Leinster House must surely be to be able to contribute to the work which goes on here. That would be my primary interest.
I return to the Bill before the House. Members will excuse me if I am naive and idealistic in my take on this but it is important to separate the political from the practical. One thing which was certain was that the Opposition would oppose this Bill and speak in emotive terms about big Government, waste of money, Government excess, etc., and point out that it would have done things very differently. We will have to take Fine Gael's word that in the negotiations it undertook with members of all parties and of none in its efforts to form a Government, it would have adopted a very different approach to the Government. I am not so certain that is the case. It may also be the case that had Fine Gael been successful, members of other parties would now be raising exactly the questions it is raising. Perhaps that is just part of the game.
It seems the net outcome of this Bill in terms of the new positions which will be created is that it will be of significant benefit to the State and to certain people in it. We are all very aware that in the run up to the election, interest groups and others would have lobbied very hard about the creation of Ministries of State and senior Ministries to meet their interests. If Government was ever to meet all those demands, we would probably have a Cabinet table with approximately 30 chairs around it and a Minister of State complement massively increased beyond its current level.
We must consider the importance of the posts being created as a result of the Bill. I would like to speak particularly about the creation of a Minister of State with responsibility for integration and a Minister of State with responsibility for older people. It is one thing to make an argument about cost effective government, which my party has advanced on many occasions over the years. Although I was not there, I remember our negotiations on a programme for Government which successfully sought the abolition of programme managers across all Ministries. I can stand over the record of my party, despite what Senator Michael Finucane said about our role, in reducing the cost and perhaps the size of Government on occasion.
I am certain the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Older and Bolder campaign and many others would not agree that the creation of Ministries of State with responsibility in those areas is an excessive waste of taxpayers' money, a waste of time or the creation of jobs for the boys, which clearly it is not.
Absolutely. The areas of integration and older people present a huge and significant challenge. Members of Senator Finucane's party have played a significant and worthwhile role in raising issues, particularly in regard to the treatment of older people in residential care. The creation of this Ministry is in part a reflection of the importance of that issue, and I welcome it in that context. It is some years since the report in 2002 on elder abuse. Given my work before now, I am certain that unless one creates a voice at the highest levels or within Government for people who have been marginalised, one is unlikely to hear of and understand the pressing needs of that group. That is the case in this instance.
I warmly welcome the appointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for older people. I hope that post will grow in significance. One can point to the success of the Office of the Minister for Children, which started in a similar way. My party had proposed the creation of an ombudsman for older people. Perhaps that will be considered at some stage in the future. Legislation and social policy with regard to ageing and older people will require significant attention and, to that end, it is an important appointment.
With regard to integration, I lived in the UK for 17 years. That country experienced the same inward migration 50 years ago that we are experiencing now. I saw the consequences of the failure to address that issue properly. They can also be seen in many other countries, such as in France last summer and in the United States. Failure to deal properly with immigration in a way that promotes appropriate and successful integration would be a gross failure on the part of a state that has the opportunity to learn from the failures or mistakes of other states. To that end, I welcome the appointment.
It is, of course, the job of the Opposition to suggest that the Government be mindful of how it uses public money. It also must ensure that office holders discharge their responsibilities. These are two different issues. To oppose this measure for the sake of opposition without recognising the importance of the positions being created is short-sighted and contrary to the significant needs of the groups that will be better represented as a result of these appointments. I am delighted to support this Bill. If it is necessary to examine how these officeholders discharge their responsibilities, I am sure the Opposition will be delighted to do it and I look forward to that.
I, too, congratulate Senator O'Gorman on his maiden speech. I hope he gets an opportunity to contribute further in the future but, if not, he can be assured that he has made a contribution to this Seanad.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. I congratulate my constituency colleague, Deputy Hoctor, on her appointment as Minister of State. She has been given considerable responsibility in the area of care of the elderly. It is an onerous and responsible duty and I wish her well in it. I do not accept the argument that the cost to the taxpayer of Government or additional Ministers of State should be the only consideration when dealing with the number of Ministers of State or the extent of Government Departments. It must be a consideration, but should not be the only one.
One of the most important issues is the effectiveness of the work of the Minister of State and the Department he or she runs. Senator O'Gorman mentioned that point. We must also recognise that our committee system, as currently constituted, is not working effectively to hold Ministers and Ministers of State sufficiently to account for their work. A number of pertinent issues in the past five years were not effectively or sufficiently dealt with by Government but there was no mechanism available to change that in time to make a difference.
Take the mental health area as an example. That issue is close to Senator Henry's heart and I have raised it in the Seanad on a number of occasions. In north Tipperary it is an issue of major concern for a number of individuals, groups and families in the local community due to the absence of sufficient and appropriate services for people who suffer from mental ill-health. The former Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, was responsible for the publication of more than one very good report. However, it was reported by the inspectorate that in the two years between the publication of a report and the election, progress was not made on implementing very fine and widely agreed recommendations. The result is that people who need services still do not receive them. The bottom line is that the Department was not effective in delivering those services.
Other Senators referred to child care. In this House I acknowledged the commitment, dedication and work of the former Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan. However, the intention of the establishment of the Department was not met. Entire areas have not been effectively or sufficiently dealt with, such as the growing needs of children in care. It must be measured in effectiveness as well as cost which should not be disregarded.
Accountability must also come into play and one of the most important aspects is to examine our systems of accountability. Government is growing not only because we have more Ministers of State but also because we do not appear to ask the question whether Government could be smaller. Automatically, the issue is that Government will be bigger.
I wish to raise the issue of managing the issue of integration, which was referred to by Senator O'Gorman, and the Taoiseach and the Minister have also referred to it. The speed at which we received a new population in this country is extraordinary. To a large extent, we have dealt with it effectively, but many issues are bubbling under the surface which will come back to haunt us shortly if we do not get our act together.
I wish all the new Ministers of State well. In particular, I wish my constituency colleague, Deputy Hoctor, all the best with her new and onerous responsibility. I am sure she has the ability and commitment to make a difference in the area.
Like Senator O'Gorman, as this is my maiden speech, I ask the Acting Chairman for her patience and forbearance while I briefly go through a number of matters of importance to me. Like all Members, I welcome the Minister of State to the House, congratulate him on his appointment to the Department of Finance and wish him well. I welcome the Bill.
Having followed the affairs of the Seanad as an interested observer for many years, it is a great privilege to address the House as a Member. I thank all Members for their warm welcome and kind comments since my appointment by the Taoiseach two weeks ago.
Mine is an interim appointment and my time in the House will be short. However, it is a huge honour for me and my family to serve as Senator. I am sure it is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. As I stand here today, I am conscious that I stand in a chamber that is hugely important to our democracy, a chamber that has made a long-lasting and invaluable contribution to the development of our republic.
In my day job as general secretary of Fianna Fáil, I have closely observed in recent years the workings and business of this House. I am aware of the commitment and contributions made by Members from all sides to the continued working of our democracy. Sometimes I am frustrated and annoyed when I hear some commentators criticise the Seanad, among other things, many of whom have probably never visited the House or studied its workings.
Yesterday I heard some Members call for reform of the Seanad. That is something to which Fianna Fáil is committed. Some years ago Fianna Fáil made a detailed submission on the reform of the Seanad to the group shared by then Leader, now Deputy Mary O'Rourke. I visited here at that time with colleagues from our party to present our submission. I note that the programme for Government makes a commitment to seek cross-party support to establish areas of agreement in terms of moving that report forward.
To have been nominated by the Taoiseach is a personal honour. However, I see it more as a recognition of our party's staff who have worked so hard all year round to support our leader, our elected representatives, and during the past two years our election candidates, along with our 50,000 plus members. Today I pay tribute to them. They are a dynamic, committed team and combine a mix of youth and experience together with a uniform dedication.
I beg your pardon. It is a privilege to work with them and their contribution to the recent election campaign has been invaluable. I acknowledge the other new Senators appointed by the Taoiseach for the remainder of this session. Senator Cassidy's knowledge of the Seanad is unmatched and his return to the position of Leader of the House has been widely welcomed. Both Senator Sands and Senator Wall represent an essential but rarely acknowledged part of our democracy. They have been active in politics longer than most but it has never been a career for them. Their contribution has been to work in their communities on behalf of their party and its representatives. They have also distinguished themselves in other areas of public and community service. I acknowledge also the appointment of Senator O'Gorman.
It is simply not possible to have a healthy democracy without a broad base of activists within all our parties. There are many countries where parties have tiny memberships and little direct contact with the public and where politics is something which takes place in the media alone. Thankfully, that is not the case in Ireland. Comparative surveys clearly show that the Irish electorate has more contact with its public representatives than political parties in almost any other in Europe. I acknowledge the importance of political activists across all parties. They are the life blood of our democracy and, more particularly, I express my gratitude to those many tens of thousands of members of my own party who work extraordinarily hard and whose critical role in the past election campaign will probably only be fully appreciated in years to come.
There is a growing cynicism towards politics in some quarters which is also directed at the electorate when it chooses to make up its own mind. This is deeply misplaced and is based on little more than a dismissive and simplistic caricature of what motivates people to be involved in politics. The overwhelming majority of people involved in politics give a huge amount of time and receive nothing in return but the satisfaction of working for people and ideas in which they believe. In the recent general election campaign, tens of thousands of political activists from all political parties and none worked for weeks and months in advance of polling day. For a country of our size, this is significant and should be cherished and nurtured and not lightly dismissed. All political parties have a duty to do more to encourage more people to get involved and to value and encourage their contributions.
The Bill is the final element in the process of forming the Government which emerged following the recent general election. The Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil fought that election on the basis of a positive manifesto. Having agreed a programme for Government with coalition partners, the Taoiseach has now decided the make-up of the ministerial team to implement the programme and the roles they are to fulfil. The programme for Government is very ambitious. While it has as its foundation an absolute commitment to protecting prosperity, it also involves significant steps forward on issues such as the elderly, disability and the environment.
It is an accepted form of modern government that many of the most significant challenges require a cross-government approach. While Cabinet committees have an important role to play, the most effective way to push policy development and action is to have one person responsible on a day-to-day basis for bringing together the different strands. The work of the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in children's policy showed us all how effective this can be. With the growing complexity of government and the range of issues that can only be reasonably addressed through a genuinely interdepartmental leadership, I welcome the Taoiseach's proposal to extend the number and range of Ministers of State.
It is very easy to dismiss, as the Opposition has done, every political job as jobs for the boys. However, this misses a fundamental fact: the people elect politicians to govern and to make a difference. Within a framework, with many limits and oversight mechanisms, the number of ministerial posts that will be put in place if the Bill is passed will be perfectly reasonable and will better enable the Government, returned by the people, to implement its programme.
I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Finance. I pay tribute to all the work he did on affordable and social housing. While it was not an easy job to do, the statistics prove the effect his work had locally. While I did not take the opportunity this morning, as it was inappropriate, I now thank the Acting Chairman, Senator Henry, for her professional medical expertise that she shared with us in the House when she spoke on matters medical. It was fantastic to listen to her.
I welcome our two new colleagues, Senators Dorgan and O'Gorman. The integrity of Senator Dorgan as general secretary of the party is beyond doubt all the time. It cannot be said about everybody, but in Senator Dorgan's case my regard for him is absolute. As we all know, Senator O'Gorman put the issue of child sexual abuse on the agenda. It was only proper that he was appointed and I hope he will be reappointed to the new Seanad to allow him to continue the work he has done on child sexual abuse which has not been adequately addressed in many institutions beyond those we know about.
I wish to make a point about the three new Minister of State positions. Senator Quinn referred to jobs for the boys but the new positions are not jobs for the boys or girls. Our population has increased by 10% over the past number of years and immigrants are critical to the sustainability of our economy. It would be remiss and neglectful of us as Government policy makers if we did not look after the integration of immigrants and the public would not thank us if we failed to do so.
A total of 10% of the population comprises foreign nationals. Immigrants have been not been integrated properly in Britain and France. For example, five NHS doctors in the UK are alleged to be involved in the latest attempted bombings. It is difficult that doctors who take an oath to protect life would do so. There is something wrong in British integration policy. Most immigrants to Britain hail from former British colonies and some have travelled on to Ireland but, even though many of their children were born in England and they have lived there for many years, they are still not treated as British by the British people because their skin is different. How did five doctors get involved in bombings in England? Reference was made earlier to riots in France involving immigrants because of the lack of proper integration. A strategic policy on the integration of immigrants is needed and it should respect those who travel here to sustain our economy, given that it would collapse if they did not do so. The public would be critical of the Government parties if they did not take effective action to integrate immigrants who kindly take up work in the State.
With regard to the elderly, I published a document, A New Approach to Ageing and Ageism. I drove the issue of care of the elderly and I ensured it was picked up on the political radar. I fought hard to ensure the issue was addressed in the Fianna Fáil manifesto. Our population is both increasing and living longer because of better housing, medication and so on. However, when I give talks on my document on the elderly, I reiterate that our life expectancy is still lower than 32 other OECD countries because of bad dietary habits, lack of exercise and a propensity towards alcohol and cigarettes. One of the achievements of the previous Government was the ban on smoking in public places, which was tremendous. A Minister of State is needed in this area. A total of 71% of those aged over 50 voted in the general election and, as that cohort of our population increases, it needs to be looked after. We are 40 years behind the US in the care of our elderly. I am delighted Deputy Hoctor, who is a sensitive and visionary politician, has been appointed Minister of State for the elderly and she will do a tremendous job.
Deputy Devins has been appointed Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children. As a doctor, he will, hopefully, emulate Senator Henry. People attending his clinics have mental problems and so on. I have learned in recent weeks county councillors also act as social workers and mental health counsellors to the public. As people no longer go to confession on a Saturday and because of the general fall-off in religion, local authority members and county councillors are looking after the public. That is a fact. People come to councillors to get problems off their chest.
I have a final point regarding disability issues and mental health. It took a long time to get the disability issue on the political radar. For a long time the human rights of a person born with a physical or mental disability were being neglected because the system was not geared to helping them develop their full potential.
With regard to Senator Quinn's comments, I do not believe the Bill will just cause more expense. We must be focused.
We need constant innovation in Government and policies must be changed. They cannot be carved in stone and we only continue with Government policies until they need to be changed, as in a good business. These three portfolios are first class and I know the people in them will do their best to deliver a proper service without added bureaucracy. They will deliver value for money for the taxpayer in the jobs they do.
I thank the Leader for his consideration. It gives me great pleasure to speak on this legislation, although I understand my time is short.
One part of this legislation which disappoints me is that it may have perhaps been the opportune time to take a broader look at what we needed to do in the reviewing of junior ministerial positions within Government. I have no difficulty in accepting there is a need for greater numbers and the appointment of additional portfolios. My difficulty stems from an examination I conducted on the geographical spread of the Ministers and Ministers of State.
It may interest the House and the Minister of State to know that of the 15 members of the Cabinet, there are only four from the Border, midlands and west region. That includes Deputy Cowen, who I would place in Leinster rather than the Border, midlands and west region. There are four from elsewhere and seven in the Dublin area. That makes a statement.
Considering the junior ministerial posts as they have been allocated, we have very fine Ministers of State, including Deputies Smith, Gallagher, Devins and Michael Kitt. There are four Ministers of State from the Border, midlands and west region. I would like to record my disappointment that constituencies in the west did not get a greater spread. There is a lack of transparency, and I understand it is at the discretion of the Taoiseach of the day.
Is it not time for us to look at this and consider what, geographically, is best for the country? It should not be about what is best for the particular parliamentary party in power at the time, but what is best for the country. What is best for corporate Ireland, as the Leader stated yesterday? How do we keep it moving?
There could be an option, even through the Government's tenure, for a change, so there would be some kind of equality in the system for all the constituencies. Every constituency in the country is entitled to representation at the Cabinet table or junior ministerial level.
Only four Ministers of State, some 20% of the total of 20, are from the BMW region, which makes a statement. It is probably part of the reason we see what we would have spoken of in the past, an imbalance in the development between one part of the country and the other. We have an opportunity, as we go into the next five years, to consider this issue. I appeal to the Minister of State to put this on the Government radar and accept that we need not only the Seanad reform we spoke of earlier, but that perhaps it is time to review how posts are allocated for the good of the country.
I do not have a difficulty with the decision to appoint additional Ministers of State, particularly if there is a perceived need for them. I have not tabled an amendment for Committee Stage but perhaps the Minister of State would take on board, in the context of the good of the country, the need for greater transparency and a better geographical spread as regards these appointments.
As it is now 1 p.m., I am obliged to put the following question:
That notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the Bill is hereby read a Second Time, sections 1 and 2 are hereby agreed to in Committee, the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby received for final consideration, and that the Bill is hereby passed.