Thursday, 23 July 2020
Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, are consequential on amendment No. 1. Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This amendment to section 3A of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Court Offices (Amendment) Act 1998 will provide an annual allowance to not more than three specified holders of the office of Minister of State who regularly attend meetings of the Government. As the House will be aware, the Government appointed three Ministers of State, otherwise known as super junior Ministers, who will regularly attend Government meetings. Current legislation provides for two specified holders of these offices to receive an annual allowance for attendance at Government meetings. I bring forward this amendment to ensure equity between all three Ministers of State. The role of Minister of State is important in ensuring policy implementation under their area of responsibility and with an additional role and responsibility of contributing to Cabinet meetings. It is appropriate the relevant Ministers of State should receive the allowance applicable to that role.
Amendment No. 2 is a drafting amendment to delete "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2020" and substitute it with "Ministers and Secretaries and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Court Offices (Amendment) Act 2020". Amendment No. 3 deletes the words, "this Act" and substitutes "section 1". Amendment No. 4 relates to the Title and seeks in line 8 after "science" to insert "to amend section 3A of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Court Offices (Amendment) Act 1998.
I am not afraid to say mea culpawhen it is required. I was not clear enough in my Second Stage contribution. I probably jumped ahead of myself to this Stage. We oppose the amendments, as I made clear. Our opposition to the legislation is based on those amendments being taken as part of this Bill. Although I posed a series of questions regarding the Department and its functions, I hope the Department achieves all the things I outlined. We have a vision for further and higher education and that is why Senator McCallion came in with the remarks she made. We want this to work, to deliver and to make real change for people. We do not think it is the most innovative way to do business in terms of the late hour we received these amendments. That is the point, for the purpose of clarity for colleagues who took issue with some of what I said. That is the point about people watching to see what we do and what our priorities are.
The Minister should be under no illusion. In terms of the Department going forward, we will work with it, engage with it and hold it to account in the same way we do with every Department. We want to ensure we have the proper measures and protocols in place in these Houses to do that and that is why the legwork is required in terms of ensuring, before Departments come to be, that we are able to function properly as parliamentarians and to scrutinise such Departments.
I jumped ahead of myself. I thought I was on Committee Stage when it was on Second Stage and I should have made that clear. The opposition is based on this. At a time people are really struggling, I do not think it is disrespectful. I hear what Senator Murphy is saying and I take his point. The Minister of State will find I will engage respectfully on these issues in this Chamber where it is required but people will be disturbed by the manner in which these amendments have been tabled and the late hour at which they were submitted. Given the arithmetic, it most likely will come to pass that this Department will be established, then we wish it well and hope it does the things Sinn Féin want it to do to deliver the things my colleague outlined.
This has to go through the Dáil and I am sure colleagues there will articulate further and hopefully seek to nuance and collaborate with the Minister of State and others to ensure it is the best it can be. It is not cynical or negative. I hear what everyone has said. Given the fashion in which this amendment is proceeding and the amendments that are being taken with it, it is not a terrible stance, given the reality of life for people out there, that we would take a stand to say we do not think it is a particularly innovative, imaginative or creative way to do business. Most people out there would think it is a cynical way to do business and that it takes away from all of the good things that this Department could, and should, be about.
I am fully supportive of the Bill for further and higher education, innovation and so on. As I said in my Second Stage contribution, I have spent most of my working life fighting for equal treatment for people doing the same job. The education sector was notorious for people carrying out duties and not being paid for them. I have always held the belief that if one does the job, one should be paid the price. However, a precedent was established by the previous Government that a super junior Minister could sit at the Cabinet table and not be paid for the work she did. In fairness to Ms Mary Mitchell O'Connor, she did a phenomenal amount of work in education and equality. She was an excellent Minister and the nature of politics is that she is not back here. That is more a pity for Dáil Éireann and the Oireachtas than anything else.Knowing there are thousands of people in the country who have just found out through the media today that their €350 a week will drop to €300 while others will drop to €250 or €203, we are taking Oireachtas time to create a position so that somebody can get an additional allowance. It creates a total lack of empathy between the Oireachtas and the people who put us here.
At this particular juncture, in the middle of a pandemic, the last thing we should be doing is thinking about ourselves. It will smack with the public as people in this House living in a bubble, not a cocoon like some of the poor unfortunates in their 70s, but a bubble that is totally and utterly lacking in empathy in any way with the ordinary citizens of the country who put us here. It is wrong in every sense of the word to do this.
I understand there is a tripartite Government in place and that we need to ensure the three parties are treated equally but I do not think today, this early in the middle of a pandemic, is the time to do it. We could have held back and waited to see what way the economy will respond to what is an horrendous time. My colleague, Senator McDowell, said that we have no idea what way this will impact the world economy. The one thing we can be damn sure of is that it is not going to be anything like it was in January of this year or December of last year. We are heading into an horrendous time. We should not do this and I will oppose the amendment. I ask that the Government reconsiders it and thinks about the people we represent and the people who look to us to show some degree of empathy with what they are suffering.
It is disappointing that the amendment has been included in the Bill. I reiterate the Labour Party's support for the foundation of the Department of further and higher education, research, innovation and science, recognising that learning needs to be a continuum from early years through lifelong and adult learning, so it is disappointing the amendment is included. The previous two speakers have outlined very succinctly and clearly our reasons for opposing the amendment, the inappropriateness of it at this time recognising the economic climate we are in, and looking outwards to the optics of this and what we are saying to people. I will not labour the point but it is disappointing it has been included. We support the formation of the Department but we will not support the amendment.
There is never a correct time to make a decision such as this and I would not for a minute assume that if the decision was made this time last year, or at any other stage when we had near full employment and balanced books, people would not have objected to it. As somebody who sat at Cabinet and did not receive an additional allowance, it is only right and proper that those who do sit at Cabinet receive it. There were four of us at that stage, two of whom received the allowance. I was not one of them. With regard to equality and the additional responsibilities people have at Cabinet, it is right and proper that they be recompensed for it.
One of the strange anomalies of the system that I have come across in respect of the three positions I have held as a backbencher, Minister of State and Government Chief Whip in the previous Dáil is that I ended up with less money at each step of the promotion. That is what I encountered. I appreciate and accept that all of us in the Dáil and Seanad are well paid. However, it is important that additional work be recognised and it is only right, fair and proper that we use the opportunity when we are amending the principal Act to rectify an anomaly in this case.
There is not a whole pile more to say on the matter. Senator Kyne has summed it up. I respect everybody's views on the issue and the points have all been very well made. Obviously, we have a difference of opinion and it looks likely that the House will divide on it. From the Government's point of view, we will press the amendment.
Niall Blaney, Victor Boyhan, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Michael D'Arcy, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, Vincent P Martin, John McGahon, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.