Seanad debates

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages

 

12:00 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 113, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister of State may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister of State will deal with the subject matter of a related group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed grouping. Senators may speak only once on the grouping on Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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This Bill was first introduced by me to the Seanad on 7 July 2009 and subsequently passed all Stages. I indicated on more than one occasion that it might be the intention of the Minister for Finance to introduce an amendment on Committee Stage in the Dáil to permit changes to be made to the parliamentary allowances system, such as may be agreed between the Minister and the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas, to be introduced by regulation. Such an amendment was made and, therefore, the Bill has returned to the Seanad.

The amendment relates to a new section 3 of the Bill. The purpose of the new section 3 is to facilitate consideration of a proposal made by the Oireachtas Commission for the introduction of a single composite allowance for Deputies and Senators, to be known as the parliamentary standard allowance. That will replace separate allowances payable at present. In the case of Senators, for instance, the Commission envisaged that the composite allowance would include all, or elements of, the existing expense allowances, including travelling facilities, overnight allowance, miscellaneous expense allowance, telephone allowance and mobile telephone allowance.

This new section will enable the Minister for Finance to provide for the payment of the single composite allowance, instead of the existing separate expense allowances. It will also enable the Minister to make regulations determining the rate of the allowance, the date from which it will be payable, the conditions of payment and the manner of payment. In addition, it will allow the Minister to make regulations regarding the recording of attendance and deductions for non-attendance, such as is, for example, the practice with the European Parliament, where there is signing into plenary sessions. As we know, committee attendance here is already recorded, which is particularly relevant when the Houses are not sitting.

The new section is an enabling provision only. The Commission's proposals have the potential to provide a simpler and more streamlined system. However, there is a need for further consideration and discussion of the proposed composite allowance before it is introduced in regulations. Any such regulations that might be made later would be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

1:00 pm

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. I presume this will be a relatively short debate. Two Bills relating to pay and expenses of public representatives in these Houses and the European Parliament were passed in recent weeks. Approximately one month ago we debated legislation on payments to MEPs. The legislation that was passed by this House related to MEPs only, but the State pays a significant number of people in the European Commission and in other European institutions. We pay judges, auditors, senior civil servants and a range of other people. Those people were specifically excluded from the legislation passed one month ago, which focused purely on elected public representatives.

This type of legislation is concerned with ensuring good governance of taxpayers' money and a sensible approach to how we deal with the crisis in our economy. As such, it should not focus exclusively on politicians. There is a nagging doubt that these measures are being introduced merely for optics, to prove that something is being done in regard to politicians' pay, as opposed to examining the system in a broader way and making the necessary changes across the board. That is why I was surprised that the Minister of State avoided the issue of the remuneration of all individuals working in the European Commission and otherwise when that legislation was introduced last month.

The legislation before us today focuses specifically on aspects of the remuneration of Members of the Oireachtas. However, there has been little specific focus on the remuneration of Ministers other than a reminder of voluntary reductions in ministerial pay. Perhaps such changes will arise out of the report by an bord snip nua, but there is no evidence of that in this legislation. There is nothing about the expenses associated with ministerial offices and the salary costs of civil servants who work for Ministers. I understand some Ministers of State have as many as eight civil servants working for them.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I assure the Senator that it is not so in my case.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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There must be very little work for those Ministers of State to do. Is there sufficient work to require the deployment of eight civil servants to one Minister of State? Perhaps these officials are managing clinics on behalf of their Ministers. Will the use of ministerial and departmental credit cards be reviewed? From what I can gather, there are no significant checks on the use of such credit cards for so-called miscellaneous expenses, purchasing rounds of drink in Brussels and so on. These are issues that should have been included in this debate.

We will undoubtedly be accused in the media of taking a self-interested perspective in discussing this legislation. Most public representatives define their role differently to how it is generally perceived. Oireachtas Members are first and foremost viewed as legislators, as defined in the Constitution. Our betters have been discussing these issues in the media, making the case that we should confine ourselves to legislation and policy. Before the last election, I confined myself to a significant degree to the important legislation then being debated in regard to nursing homes, the Medical Council and pharmacies. I also undertook a substantial amount of work on policy development at that time. Regrettably, when I was canvassing for the election, nobody asked me about that legislation. However, several people observed that I had been seldom seen about the place. Among the most ferocious of these individuals were members of my own party.

In short, an exclusive focus on legislation and policy puts one in danger of losing one's seat. Most constituents perceive the role of a Deputy as beyond merely legislative. In other words, to be effective public representatives, we cannot be confined to Leinster House. No account has been taken of that reality in this debate. The Minister of State compares Leinster House to the European Parliament where Members sign in for plenary session. However, Deputies and Senators, who have an important role to play as public representatives in their constituencies, often work very differently to MEPs.

There must be further debate on the proposal to introduce a swipe card system for Members. I am not of the same mind as those Fianna Fáil Members who apparently expressed their distaste to journalists at being treated like factory workers. That attitude is contemptuous of workers who clock in and out every day. My point is that our role is not specifically confined to Leinster House. That must be acknowledged and taken on board before any such swipe card system is introduced. Many Members who are within striking distance of their constituency will leave the House for certain periods during the day to attend meetings and so on. Some may return to their home or constituency office for a short time before returning to participate in a late vote. People put themselves out in this way all the time. The notion of having to swipe in and out reflects a lack of understanding on the part of the Government in terms of how Members conduct their business. The Minister of State must keep in mind how Deputies and Senators work in fulfilling their role as public representatives.

If such a system is introduced, there will be a strong case for the abolition of the pairing system between Ministers and Opposition Members. If the purpose of this measure is to ensure Members are confined within the walls of Leinster House, there is no justification for Ministers going here, there and everywhere on sitting days. They should be obliged to organise their schedules in such a way that business requiring them to leave Leinster House must be conducted on non-sitting days. Unless they are sick or on maternity leave, they should be obliged to be in Leinster House on the days the Dáil and Seanad sit. I am interested in the Minister of State's views in this regard.

When I raised the issue of increments on Second Stage, the Minister of State responded that anybody could challenge anything and that the matter could be taken to court at any stage. I suggested that a reduction of 25% in increment payments to every Deputy and Senator would provide the same saving to the State in the period leading up to the next election and would entirely negate the prospect of a legal challenge. The Minister of State did not indicate whether the Government is considering a broader review of long-service increments, with a possible reduction for all members of the Civil Service and public service.

I recently submitted a query to the Department of Finance regarding pension arrangements for county managers. It was pointed out to me that having completed their seven years in office, the latter can retire on substantial pensions and with significant termination payments. The answer that finally came back from the Department in response to my query was quite staggering. I was told there is a special gratuity of six months' salary and an immediate payment on leaving office of one and a half times the salary. This means that county managers who retire immediately receive two years' salary on retirement and if they have served for more than 20 years as a member of the local authority, which is usually the case, they will get ten years added to their pension, which, in effect, means they can retire early on a full pension. That is quite generous.

Again, there has been no indication in this House as to whether there will be any change to such payments. Such change is more important than tinkering around with the arrangements whereby sitting Members can draw ministerial pensions. As I said, I am concerned that this is more about the optics of being perceived to be doing something to ease the understandable public anger about what is happening in the wider economy, and that politicians are being singled out as a specific group for a hammering. That will not make much difference in the long term when it comes to resolving the core problems of payments across the Civil Service and public service. I would have hoped the Minister would have focused more on that aspect of the matter.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no objections to the measures under discussion, apart from a significant minority who might object to the amendment tabled by the Minister of State. I cannot speak for other parties but, overall, the majority approves of having a single monthly payment rather than separate allowances. That may be the way forward on this issue. I have not heard any major objections to the legislation. The rest of the legislation points out that more could have been done. More discussions should have been held on the broad range of what is actually happening. The director of FÁS had to resign, as did the financial regulator, basically for making one hell of a mess of what was going on within their organisations. However, the lump sum payments and pensions on which they retired would even make the former Taoiseach weep, although he has been the least affected by these cuts. To instill confidence and regain the public's trust in what we do, we should have looked at every aspect across the civil and public service, and not just ourselves. Politicians have no problem in taking the lead. From the viewpoint of gaining public trust, it would probably be better to be seen to pay more than comparable grades. For instance, we are linked to the standard principal officer's grade in the Civil Service, but there is no harm in us paying a little bit more. However, if we are really going to make reforms and show that we can do things differently, we need to have a debate on what can be done across the Civil Service and the public service. There was great concern about whether the financial regulator fulfilled his role properly, so we need to decide whether or not these sorts of pay-offs are justifiable. If not, something needs to be done in that regard.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh. In the words of David Hanley on "Morning Ireland" many years ago, I must ask if the Minister of State is serious about signing in. What have we come to? While this legislation is necessary and we must take a principled stand, it is also important to ask the serious questions and be practical about this matter. For example, are we now going to sign in to public meetings? My constituency is over 120 miles long, from Cork airport almost to Kenmare, taking in the Beara peninsula, the Mizen peninsula, and the harbours at Kinsale, Clonakilty, Baltimore and Courtmacsherry. There are three electoral areas. As a successful constituency politician himself, the Minister of State will be aware of the importance of attending events and being seen where the crowds are. The perception and optics of a public representative include being seen in different places to meet constituents and support events. Will we have to sign in for attending festivals, regattas, tidy town competitions, public meetings and ribbon-opening ceremonies? Will we have to provide proof of attending funerals to the Minister of State? Will we sign in when we meet planners or when we visit a site? Will we sign in when we attend a local authority meeting to listen to a report to councillors? We are no longer councillors; that was the first sacrifice we made by virtue of the Minister, Deputy Martin Cullen's, legislative vendetta against local authorities. It was also inherently anti-rural Ireland because he abolished the first-time buyer's grant. He is now running off with the proceeds of the national lottery contribution to his Department because he has abandoned the sports capital programme for this year.

We will now have to go to local authority meetings to pick up that information. With all due respect, no matter how good one's replacement or surrogate is, one will still have to attend a certain number of local authority meetings, but will we have to sign in for those? A constituent may call after 10 p.m. to raise a housing, planning or roads issue, or about an elderly relative who cannot get a bed in a community hospital, or the loss of a medical card, or about a couple who cannot get grant assistance for a child who is starting third level education, and third level fees are going to be reintroduced. Will we have to log that phone call and bring it back to the House and say that is what we were doing at 10.30 p.m. on a Sunday? Are we going mad?

I just came from an Oireachtas committee that dealt with over-regulation of the shell fishing industry, but this Bill concerns the over-regulation of politicians. Are we to be fingerprinted when we come into Leinster House so that we can draw expenses? We must not forget the add-ons in the public service, as well as the vulgar filth that took place in FÁS, and the illegal practices in banks. Did they have to sign in? No they did not. They left their jobs, took their large pensions and lump sums and sat down. They never once had to knock on a door to offer accountability. They had contempt for parliamentary democracy by refusing to come before an Oireachtas committee to explain their actions. They do not have to sign in, but we must do so. It has become ridiculous.

I wish to ask about the meeting last Friday between the Minister for Finance and the backbench Fianna Fáil TDs. Who organised it?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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No one.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Labour)
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What was discussed? What role does the Oireachtas Commission have concerning this? The Minister for Finance took his PR battle against Members' conditions, allowances or expenses to the front page of The Irish Times at the start of this year. After leaving a meeting with the Oireachtas Commission and making an agreement, he ran off to that newspaper to make a front-page statement. He was the reforming Minister who was going to clean up Dodge City, but what role does the Oireachtas Commission have in this matter? My understanding is that the commission was dealing with these issues. There are representatives from each party in this House, and none, to deal with those issues. What input did the Oireachtas Commission have concerning this legislation? What was the background to the meeting last Friday? Can we expect the Oireachtas Commission to be on the hit-list of an bord snip nua? I am perplexed that when so many people are on the live register, the Government is obsessed with cutting expenditure and protecting banks. It is doing so to the detriment of other sectors. There is no absolute strategy or clearly managed vision for job protection or job creation.

This reminds me of the legislation that was passed in the House last night. It was debated restrictively because amendments could not be taken since the Dáil is in recess. That is why this Bill is before us, because it had to be amended in the Dáil. That is the proper procedure. That is masking the problem, which is far greater than the content of these Bills. The problem with criminal justice is that the Garda Síochána does not have resources to deal effectively with the thugs, scumbags and psychopaths involved in gangland crime. We produce legislation that circumvents a process-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is moving away from the amendment.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Labour)
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-----to create the impression that the Government is reacting proactively to the issue, but it is not. We should not believe otherwise for a second. This is absolutely ridiculous. It is a smokescreen which is masking Government incompetence in dealing with the issues that are affecting ordinary men, women and children.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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It was not my intention to speak but events and what has been said indicate that I should add a word of caution. The enabling amendments before us are technical in nature. I understand how Opposition Members might express anxieties about what they might mean. As regards what they will mean, however, we can give a view as to what is proper or not. It is not correct to say that we are not prepared to make sacrifices. We are the first people who must do so. We must give a lead. It is entirely appropriate that everybody together - which, as I understand it, is the Government's intention - would come back to the 2004 levels of standard of living. We can then take it from there and start rebuilding a competitive economy. If we do not give the lead, who will? There are caveats within that, however. It does not help the debate to use quotations from a "dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean leí" Fianna Fáil TD who was quoted in the media.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Labour)
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Dúirt fear liom.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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That is not evidence of what somebody said, it is what is said in the media. Neither is it particularly helpful to say the Government will do anything to help the banks. The Government will do anything to help this economy and the way to do that is through the banks. Whether we like it or not, the way to get funding and capital into the economy is through the banking system. There is no other way. I do have anxieties but I am certain that they will not materialise. Sometimes, people who do not understand how we operate our business are looking at how we operate and are making suggestions. It is important that when people look at how we do our business here, they should understand that there is an element of flexibility. There is also a sword hanging over us and if we do not do our work properly we will be gone at the next election. From the perspective of people worrying about clocking in and out, I do not think they need to worry because I do not see that materialising. However, there must be some way of ensuring attendance. Heretofore we had a system whereby one received an allowance for attending; under the new system of composite payment there would need to be a row-back if people were not genuinely here for committees when the Houses are not in session. I cannot understand why we would have to clock in at any other time. We have always had to attend to receive allowances when the Houses were not in session.

There is one further aspect of which I am conscious. People who still do not understand how we operate may look at our terms and conditions and allowances and think they are quite generous. They are, if one is a paid employee with no expenses. We are more similar to self-employed people. We have telephone bills and other additional costs. Members have referred to subscriptions they have given on an annual basis which represent a high percentage of their salaries. It is important that those in the Department of Finance understand that the average term here is 11 years. In what other job does one not know from day to day whether one will be in a job in the next term?

We must be exceptionally careful to ensure people realise that the expenditure is necessary for what we do and, in some cases, it is less than we need. I know for a fact that some people have telephone bills of €600 and €700 per month. I do not doubt that we must lead by example. However, it should never be allowed to happen that only those who are well off can afford to become involved in politics. It must remain available to all sectors of the community. If we cut too tightly into the allowances which allow for the fact that we are to some extent self-employed, we are putting at risk the ability of people to become involved in politics. Notwithstanding that, I welcome the amendment and the changes that are about to take place. However, those who are making decisions sometimes do not understand how we operate.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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Senator Hanafin asked how many other jobs are there in which the person doing the job does not know whether he or she will still have it in a year's time or a few years' time. The answer is that under the current economic circumstances this applies to nearly every job. Most people working in the private sector are uncertain whether they will have their jobs, or their current incomes, in 12, 18 or 24 months' time. The point made by Senator Hanafin would have been correct a number of years ago, but the current circumstances and the profound uncertainty that is grasping our economy and society means that unfortunately, many people holding down jobs at the moment do not know whether they will have them in a year or in four years' time. Circumstances have changed such that the working conditions of most people in the private sector now resemble the contingencies and uncertainties of political life.

The point was made by a colleague earlier that a Member of this House could lose his or her position in an election regardless of performance. Again, unfortunately, those are the conditions under which most people in the private sector are operating. People who are superb contributors - who are highly productive and are doing a wonderful job - may find themselves without jobs due to exchange rates or the problems in the banks. That is the reality for people working in our economy at the moment. It is of major importance that the institutions in which we operate are reformed so they are relevant to and reflect the working lives of the taxpayers who pay for them in the first place.

Unfortunately, due to the way Fianna Fáil has operated in Government over the last 11 or 12 years, politicians have moved beyond being a laughing stock with regard to the economic issues we are discussing and become a lightning rod for public anger about where our country stands. As I make a comment such as this, far more experienced people than me could stand up and say it has always been like this; politicians have always been blamed for everything.

However, what is different now is the economic circumstances. The chief executive of IDA Ireland said recently that he expects industrial wages in some sectors to fall by 15% in the coming years. This will result in a fundamental change in working conditions, standard of living and disposable income for the overwhelming majority of people. That is why our party is supporting the Bill. If these institutions are not relevant in terms of this change, they will be irrelevant. The reason this matters is that it is these institutions, ultimately, that have the job of leading the country out of the difficulty it is in.

Some of the points I wished to make about this legislation have been touched on by my colleague Senator Twomey. However, they are worth emphasising. Senator Twomey mentioned ministerial salaries. As I walk into Leinster House in the morning I look at the great figures from all political parties that founded this country and consider the conditions of austerity in which they did it. If they were around now and saw that the average Cabinet Minister is paid at least €200,000 per year to perform his or her job, they would wonder where we went wrong. What happened to the spirit of service? What has happened to the austerity that needs to be adopted by the holders of high office as our country goes through these changes? As I have said before, the salaries of those holding high office - both elected and unelected - must be radically reduced so that they can regain the moral ground to lead our country through these changes.

Other colleagues mentioned the contribution people make to legislation in the House. Senator Twomey made a point which I know from my short time in the Oireachtas to be only too true. One's performance in terms of legislation, while it is sometimes said to be important, is not often acknowledged as such. However, it is within our grasp to change this. The Houses of the Oireachtas should publish on a quarterly basis figures pertaining to the attendance, contributions and roles of Members. One can find this information on the Internet. There is a website that provides details of how many times I or Senator Twomey spoke in the House. If a website can provide such information, why can the Houses of the Oireachtas not provide it in a way that is verified and accurate and shows the performance - and, at times, lack of performance - of Members, who are funded by the taxpayer? Such changes, if implemented, would ensure these Houses are not on the back foot in leading the change that needs to happen.

The issue of swipe cards was raised. I used a swipe card for ten years of my life in the private sector. I swiped it every morning to say I had arrived at my workplace. Are we seriously suggesting that such a system is not appropriate for the place that is supposed to be leading the country? The comment that we are not factory workers was a new low in terms of how out of touch we can be with the lives of the people we represent and serve. People attend here every morning and say that we need to get more factory workers into the country, rebuild manufacturing and get people into high-tech services and jobs that create value. These are the people who will come to their places of work and prove they are in attendance, and they will be paid in return. Why is that not appropriate for this House?

The point has been made that Members may be obliged to leave the Houses between votes to attend committee meetings, to deal with the other work relating to their office or, if they enjoy the luxury of being able to do so, to visit their families. However, I do not believe it would be a great imposition to introduce a simple system that would indicate one was in attendance or that one entered the Houses of the Oireachtas at some point during a sitting day. Such a system would illustrate that we are willing to proceed with the same type of reform we are asking members of the public to embrace.

I wish to comment on the idea that members of the public do not understand that a sword hangs over all our heads in respect of our gaining re-election. There are many people who understand what it is like to lose their jobs. Through no fault of their own, the sword has fallen on these people and their lives are filled with dread, particularly in the context of what will happen to their families and what has happened to their bank balances.

I emphasise the utter political responsibility of Fianna Fáil in allowing matters to reach this stage. It is unbelievable that legislation such as this is necessary to cosset people in respect of their concerns. I support the Bill but we should go further. In the context of the change that will unfold in our country in order for our democracy to survive, the legislation is but a starting point.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of information-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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There is no provision to take a point of information at this stage.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of clarification then, we have heard two sides of the same coin from Fine Gael, one which supports the introduction of a clocking-in system and the other which does not. Will those opposite clarify what is the Fine Gael position on the matter?

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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There is no harm in providing for the Senator the information he seeks.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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There is no provision for Senator Twomey to contribute at this stage.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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What we are proposing is that the wider role of Members of the Oireachtas be taken into account-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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There is no provision for the Senator to intervene at this point in the debate.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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-----when we are making provisions along these lines.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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There is no provision for the Senator to make a contribution now. I call Senator Wilson.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh. I listened attentively to the Second Stage speeches on this legislation. There are differing opinions on all sides of the House on the Bill. However, as the Minister of State and Senator Hanafin pointed out, this is enabling legislation which will allow the Minister for Finance to introduce various regimes in respect of allowances, expenses etc. To my knowledge, a decision on the introduction of such regimes has not yet been made but I urge the Minister to make such a decision with haste.

Anyone who has small children will be familiar with the television cartoon "Dora the Explorer". In that programme, the expression "Swiper no swiping" is used. That expression is appropriate in respect of the legislation we are debating. As Government Chief Whip, I am in a position to state that it would make my job much easier if colleagues were obliged to use swipe cards on entering and leaving the Houses.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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It is keeping them here that is the problem. They cannot even find their way to the Chamber when they are present in the Houses.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I do not believe that Members of this House or the Lower House should be obliged to use swipe cards. I agree with Senator Donohoe that technology has advanced to the stage where it is simple to check how often people attend the Houses. On a daily basis - sometimes too often in this House - votes take place in particular matters and the record of those votes indicates whether Members are present. That is the proper mechanism to use in the context of verifying people's attendance in the House.

Rather than introduce a regime which would involve swipe cards or under which Members would be obliged to sign in and sign out, we should be obliged, like everyone else in the country, to make a sacrifice. Regardless of how long we might retain them, it must be accepted that we are lucky to have jobs. We should take an across-the-board salary cut of 10% or 15%. We should cut out the type of nonsense mentioned by a number of speakers. We must make the sacrifice to which I refer.

Expenses are claimed in respect of money one pays out in the course of doing one's job in the Oireachtas and I accept that we must take a cut in respect of such expenses. I also accept that it would be easy for Members to keep their expenses and do nothing, but they will not remain Members for long if they do so. Let us be sensible in respect of this matter and stop putting forward proposals of a particular kind.

I do not wish to put words in the mouth of the Minister for Finance. I understand that he has not yet decided what action to take in respect of Members' expenses. However, I am in favour of dispensing with all the codology and introducing a cut of 10%, 15% or whatever in order that we might move to deal with other matters.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators for their contributions on the new provision that has been inserted into the legislation, with which the House dealt last week. The new section 3 is an enabling provision relating to the contingency where the Minister for Finance may decide to adopt a standard parliamentary allowance. A decision has not been made on the matter but I can confirm that discussions and consultations will take place in respect of it.

I was a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission when I served as a Senator and I am aware that its role in matters such as this is to provide advice to the Minister. The proposal came from the commission and the Minister has put in place, by means of an amendment, the necessary legislation to implement it if that is his decision. However, such a decision has not yet been made. The proposal clearly requires more work, consideration and consultation before a decision is made. It is highly unlikely that it will be made before the autumn.

Senator Twomey made the point that there are many other broader and relevant considerations in respect of this matter. If it were the case that one could not take action until one had considered everything that might conceivably be connected with a matter, I suspect one would never get anything done. Inevitably, one must deal in a piecemeal fashion with issues as they arise.

The Minister for Finance pointed out in his budget speech that he asked the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector to study pay at higher levels throughout the sector, among both elected and unelected officeholders, and to compare it with that which obtains in comparable developed countries that are similar in size to Ireland. The report of the review body is to be presented to the Minister by the end of September. Recommendations which might be made in respect of these matters by an bord snip nua, as it is popularly termed, will also be taken into consideration.

Deputies are paid the same amount that applies at the maximum of the scale of principal officers in the Civil Service. Senators are paid 70% of the salary which applies in respect of Deputies. As for MEPs, that legislation was required specifically to deal with the implementation of an European Parliament decision on pay and conditions that only pertained to MEPs. The legislation in question reflected the terms of the decision by the European Parliament and European Union's institutions on the MEP salary system and was required before the new Parliament met.

I will deal with some other points that were made, all of which were interesting. In some of my remarks, which will be clearly indicated, I will be speaking for myself rather than in any collective sense. Senator Twomey referred to people working in offices. I have the same three people working on constituency matters for me now as I did when I was a backbench Deputy. The only difference is the number of hours done. I could have had more but consciously decided not to.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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Is the Minister of State the exception in this regard?

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I am not in a position to say. In such matters I simply tend to concentrate on what I consider to be right for myself, without looking at other people whose situations may differ from mine. As for ministerial credit cards, I have such a credit card of which I make very little use. I use it for train fares to official functions or if I am obliged to stay overnight in a hotel somewhere. I am sure such information is available under freedom of information regulations and that the sums involved are small.

While discussing the issue concerning signing in and signing out, the question was raised as to what is the role of Oireachtas Members. Our role as legislators is important. I remember putting "active parliamentarian" on the second line of one of my election posters, only to be ridiculed by some journalists from the newspaper of record, who queried how anyone would want an active parliamentarian. It is necessary to have Members in these Houses who attach adequate importance to their parliamentary work.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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A well known and popular Deputy from the city of Dublin told me an anecdote recently about a woman who complained to him regarding his failure to attend a constituency meeting on a Wednesday night. He responded that unfortunately, he was unable to get out as he was in the Dáil, to which the reply came that his constituents had not elected him to be in the Dáil.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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That is the reality.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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It has a certain grain of truth regarding public attitudes. However, and this also is true of my constituency colleague from my own party, I simply make it clear that I cannot attend constituency functions on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings as one is obliged to be present in Leinster House.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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Is the Minister of State referring to his own constituency colleague?

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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Yes I am. He had one of the best records for attendance at votes. As I am an officeholder, I sometimes am obliged to be paired to facilitate attendance at meetings. As for the point on arranging meetings, one cannot determine when an EU meeting or an OECD meeting will take place. As it may well be when the Dáil and Seanad are sitting, one must be realistic in that regard.

I certainly have no problem in comparing myself or being compared to a factory worker. A factory worker has a useful, valuable and dignified job and I do not regard myself, as an Oireachtas Member, to be in any way above or beyond someone who happens to be a factory worker.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I take the points that have been made in this debate. However, my experience of both Houses leads me to suggest that if one leaves aside illness, which can prevent people from attending the Houses, and if one leaves aside pairs for important business, which do not always involve officeholders, all Members could think of a small minority of Members who, for one reason or another, do not attach great importance to attending these Houses. I have a sneaking suspicion that were remuneration to be connected to attendance, one would cease to have a problem in that small minority of cases.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to the system proposed by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The one glaring case that affects almost all Members and for which the allowance is far below the actual cost pertains to office rental. As Senator Donohoe noted, Members must adapt, take reductions and accept a greater spirit of austerity. However, I would not wish, for example, for Senators to revert to the conditions that obtained up to the early 1980s, whereby one might have six or eight Senators in a single room with just one secretary among them. Justifiable improvements have been made in this regard.

I hope I have dealt with the different points raised by Members. Obviously, no decision has been made on either the question of the introduction of a standard allowance or on the specific issue mentioned by the Minister regarding a form or system of signing in. Many places of employment do so and as I mentioned in my short speech at the European Parliament, this is a subject on which people in different parties have different views. I do not hold it against either Senator Donohoe or Senator Twomey that they might have different views on the subject. Different views exists within all parties in this regard and we still are working through these issues.

I thank the House for its broad support for the changes in the new section 3.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take the next stage?

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Now.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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I wish to make the point to the Minister of State that Fine Gael supports this legislation and does not intend to obstruct its workings. The Fine Gael Party fully understands the position and is aware of the probable need to make significant reductions to many aspects of Members' pay and conditions. The Fine Gael Party does not have a different view in this regard. I sought acknowledgement that the role of a Deputy or Senator is broader than one might imagine and that were one to introduce systems involving swipe cards, one would be obliged to recognise the differences in respect of how that role works. The respective roles of Dublin-based Members, those who are from within striking distance of the capital and those who are not all differ and this always should be taken into account.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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Does the Senator consider Wexford to be within striking distance?

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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Yes, I have often done it. My constituents expect me to meet them in Gorey and I find my way back to Dublin at night. If media reports of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings are anything to go by, there is more than diversity of opinion in the party.

Question put and agreed to.