Wednesday, 18 May 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
That the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his Writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the resignation of Deputy Pádraig Flynn, a Member for the constituency of Mayo West.
Mr. Dempsey: The Opposition are in tatters. They are moving in about six different directions, as was very clear at the Fine Gael Árd Fheis in Limerick last weekend when there were a couple of performances behind Deputy John Bruton's back. The Government is building on the foundations laid over the past five or seven years and doing so very successfully. I know it is very difficult for  the Opposition because, until recently, all the Opposition ever had to do was listen to the claims made——
Mr. Dempsey: If Deputy Enda Kenny will listen to me it might be just as beneficial. In accordance with what his party Leader asked when we were discussing Dáil reform, I am not using a script. I am using some notes, as I have done previously. I would expect that the Opposition would do likewise.
Mr. Dempsey: In fairness to the Opposition, it is very difficult for them to oppose this Government. All the Opposition ever had to do until recently was listen to claims made by a Government and then produce the facts. The problem for the Opposition is that the claims and the facts are one and the same.
Mr. Dempsey: There has been a rise of 56,000 in employment since 1989. It is projected that by the end of the decade a further 130,000 people will be in employment. Current interest rates are the lowest in the past 20 years. The facts  speak for themselves. All the indicators show a huge improvement. I will quote from the Financial Times——
Mr. Dempsey: ——show that the growth of one member state — Ireland — over the past five years is spectacularly ahead of all the others, almost three times faster than the rest of the European Union. It has the lowest rate of inflation during this period, for years it has had the lowest level of public borrowing and by far the fastest export growth.
Mr. Dempsey: It is unusual in that the increase in purchasing power of the average wage since 1988 has been matched only by one other country, Portugal. It was not the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance or Ireland's Commissioner in Europe who wrote that——
Mr. Dempsey: To quote a few more statistics, in January and February of this year the value of retail sales rose in terms of annual change by 12.9 per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively, new car sales were up by 70 per cent in January.
Mr. Dempsey: For the first time since 1980, growth during the next few years will be driven strongly by domestic consumer demand as well as by exports, in other words we will have the economy firing on all cylinders. That is bound to be good for jobs, especially in the domestic sector of the economy.
Mr. Dempsey: It is a great country and this is a great Government as I keep telling Deputies opposite. One of the arguments I have heard used by the Opposition, particularly by Fine Gael, in relation to these elections, is that the Government has too big a majority and that almost by default Fine Gael should get two Deputies elected to this House. I heard Fine Gael accuse us of a begging  bowl approach but that is about the worst possible approach to an election: give us two seats because the others have too many. The only reason anybody should vote for Fine Gael is if he or she believes it would do better than the Government. I can fairly say — and any objective person would say — that the performance of Fine Gael in Opposition is so bad that you would not put them in charge of an under 14 football team.
Mr. Dempsey: In addition to all these economic factors the Government has negotiated a Programme for Competitiveness and Work, agricultural incomes have increased during five of the past seven years and all the indicators show that the Government is proceeding and that there is no hope of Fine Gael, or any combination with Fine Gael, being any better. For that reason we have no difficulty in moving the writs for the by-elections and looking forward to meeting and canvassing the people in the two constituencies. We will be back here with two new Deputies after 9 June.
An Cheann Comhairle: The motion in respect of the two writs shall be debated together and I will put the questions successively on each writ at the end of the debate which shall be of 45 minutes' duration. Let us not forget only ten minutes is allowed for each Member participating in this debate.
Mr. E. Kenny: I congratulate the Minister of State on displaying such scintillating wit in moving the writs. It is the last hour of the last day on which to move them. I assure you, a Cheann Comhairle, that I, as the Fine Gael Whip, will be presenting two new Fine Gael Deputies to you soon after 9 June. The by-election in Mayo West was caused by the acceptance of a position in Brussels by an elected Deputy, the former Minister for Justice, Pádraig Flynn. It is obvious from the Tánaiste's remarks that he is inviting former Commissioner Sutherland to state his view and that he may well be appointed to the Presidency of the Commission if he can be appointed as a Commissioner. That is a matter for the Taoiseach on which I am sure he will deliberate long and hard during the next few months.
Mr. E. Kenny: The Government parties will receive a very warm welcome from Blacksod to Ballinrobe and from Achill to Straid because the litany of promises referred to by the Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey, has not been delivered.
Mr. E. Kenny: What happened in the past 15 months is the result of complacency: £6 million was spent on refurbishing Government offices, £3 million on public relations to massage the message being sent by Government. During the Fianna Fáil national collection in my constituency the message was “please remember voting takes place on Thursday, 9 June 1994”. This was a week before the writ was moved for the holding of the by-election.
Mr. E. Kenny: Obviously the lines of communication are open in some quarters. Ministers and Ministers of State have been making off the wall statements  on promises for a number of years. Fianna Fáil failed to deliver a general hospital and a regional technical college in the constituency. It has also failed dismally to win the war on potholes begun by the then Deputy Flynn who received a three minutes standing ovation at an Ard-Fheis when he said they would be eliminated. However, the potholes have increased and multiplied all over the country.
The regulations of this House are being abused. The Chair, quite rightly turned down my question on the upgrading of several roads in County Mayo, he said it was a matter for the National Roads Authority and for which the Minister for the Environment had no responsibility to the Dáil. Yet in The Western People of 27 April 1994 it was reported that the Minister for the Environment upgraded the Ballina and Westport roads. It was stated that the Minister, Deputy Smith, told the action group in Ballina last Thursday that the news was positive, he had agreed to upgrade the roads to boost the economy of the area, he had submitted his plans to the European Union and was confident of a positive decision within weeks. To hell with the National Roads Authority——
Mr. E. Kenny: ——we are prevented by the regulations of the House from asking the questions the people want answered which, however, are blatantly abused by the Minister for the Environment. I intend to raise this matter with the Committee on Procedures and Privileges.
Mr. E. Kenny: ——they will be ambushed by people angered by their dismal failure. The reason people should vote for Fine Gael candidates in the by-elections is not because we will do a better job but to fire a warning shot across the bows of the Government which has abused its power and failed to deliver on the commitment made. I saw the Taoiseach on platforms in Longford and Westmeath campaigning against divorce but now he is in favour of it — the mighty have seen the light and have turned themselves around completely.
Mr. E. Kenny: A Government that refuses to go before the people when it should will end up with disastrous results. Fine Gael in Government postponed local elections for a year and was then devastated in the polls. I assure Members that I will be coming down those steps with two Fine Gael candidates, Michael Ring and Brian Hayes, and presenting them to the Ceann Comhairle. They will serve the constituencies of Mayo West and Dublin South Central very well.
Mr. G. Mitchell: The Minister of State made great play of the fact that new car sales are up — would anybody buy a second-hand car with this Government in office? Nobody would trust anything that happens with this Government in office.
Mr. G. Mitchell: The absence of an  explanation for Dr. John O'Connell's resignation in January 1993 leaves a cloud over the vacant seat in Dublin South Central and had much more to do with relations between the Taoiseach and the then Deputy O'Connell. The reason for the vacancy should be explained.
Mr. G. Mitchell: In Britain the longest a seat will be left vacant is six months and any attempt to move a writ will be accepted by the Government. Several attempts were made to move the writ in this House but the Government voted it down every time. What is the Government afraid of, why has it taken 15 months for the election to take place?
Mr. G. Mitchell: I have been out with the Fine Gael candidate in recent weeks and I have been canvassing at doors for years. If Deputy Spring visited my constituency he would find that my reputation in Dublin South Central is stronger than his in County Kerry. I predict that Fine Gael will win the election in Dublin South Central, we will see what will happen to the Labour Party vote.
 On a number of doorsteps the Government has been likened to “Dynasty”, with its Government jet, accommodation in fabulous hotels, PR consultants, the mohair suits, employment of members of their families in jobs or accompanying them. Everybody sees the reality. The Government has lost its sense of public service. It thinks that with its 35 seat majority it can do what it wants but the people think differently. Members are elected to do a job and the Government is not doing the job for which it was elected. The Labour Party, in particular, promised to bring about change and was given a mandate for it but it went into Government with a party whom, in Opposition, it criticised week in, week out and caused the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry. The people voted for change but the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs did not give them change.
Mr. G. Mitchell: He will find out what the electorate say about the job he is doing. Unemployment has increased by 100,000 and half the workforce are on training schemes. The Tánaiste has done a good job for himself in clocking up salaries, pensions and travel expenses. It costs £6 million for programme managers and public relations consultants.
Miss Harney: ——and to send a message to it. It will certainly not change the Government, which has a majority of 35 seats but I think a clear message can be sent to it by the voters of those constituencies. It is a pity that in Mayo-West voters have had to wait for 18 months to replace a former Deputy and that in Dublin South Central they have had to wait for 17 months. It is time to review the way we fill by-elections because a Government with a majority can refuse to move the writs, oppose their moving and in one sense retain an almost false majority. I am certain there is a better way of automatically filling vacancies.
Earlier the Minister of State made reference to the performance of the Government. There is a number of issues on which the Government needs to be taken up on and given an answer by voters in these constituencies. In its first budget the Government announced a tax amnesty which yielded £250 million from tax dodgers who were not even required to bring their money back to this country. The Government also announced the introduction of a 1 per cent income levy — another tax on work — which was removed in its second budget. This year the Government announced the extension of the famous residential property tax. The Taoiseach would not answer questions in the Dáil on comments he had made on this issue. The questions that I and  others tabled to him were transferred to the Minister for the Environment.
Many of us find it impossible to ask questions of the Taoiseach, the leader of the Government. Frequently questions are transferred to other Ministers who do not have responsibility for the Taoiseach's remarks. I find it very difficult to understand how a Government which was given a mandate for change, particularly the smaller partner, can constantly refuse to be held accountable for its actions in this House. While I welcome the fact that £10 million is to be spent in improving facilities in the Oireachtas, it is more important that we change the procedures in this House which are out of date and do not allow the Government to be held accountable. As you are aware, a Cheann Comhairle, questions are either ruled out of order if a matter has been referred to in the preceding few months or transferred to other Ministers. This is not good enough from any Government but particularly from a Government which has a majority of 35 seats.
During the past 15 months the Government has signed contracts with communications consultants to the tune of £2.5 million. I note that the Government is to spend approximately £6.2 million on ministerial offices. In advance of the spending of Structural Funds, many companies are concerned about the manner in which Government contracts are awarded. There is no transparency, fairness or equity. We need to change the tendering procedures. Many people have asked me how a company which owes this country £11 million can be given a C2 certificate and can compete with others and get away with only paying 20p in the pound. This is not fair and is causing much concern among companies.
The Taoiseach rightly criticised bank interest rates, but the answer is not for the State to become involved in banking. A State fertiliser company owes £180 million, a State telecommunications company owes £1 million, while the State owes £28 billion. The State should not become involved in banking. We have a competition authority and its powers to  deal with unfair practices should be enforced. The Central Bank has to approve all bank charges and interest rates and those powers should be used fully. I do not support the idea that the State should become a third banking force. Lame-duck companies and those with political clout would be given loans that the taxpayer would have to pay back at the end of the day. There are 39 licensed banks and the two main banks dominate the market. However neither dominates more than 25 per cent of any segment of the market. What we need is consolidation and greater competition in the banking sector. The Government should encourage this and ensure that the powers that exist are fully enforced.
We had the Structural Funds debacle when there was a failure to tell the truth in this House about the sum of money involved. The Government was established on the basis that the famous £8 billion was in the bag. The President of the Commission was drawn into the debacle and we sought to use his influence to get us a good deal.
I welcome the Tánaiste's remarks in relation to Peter Sutherland. The Taoiseach misled the House on two occasions recently when he said that Mr. Sutherland had told him he was not interested in the job. I do not believe the Taoiseach discussed the matter with him. I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste intervened.
Miss Harney: I do not want to offend anybody but the Taoiseach did tell me and other Deputies that Mr. Sutherland said that he had no interest in the job. I find this hard to believe, given what he said yesterday.
Miss Harney: I put it to the Tánaiste who was given a mandate for change, and for whom many people have enormous  respect, that if there is a chance that Peter Sutherland can become President of the Commission he and the Government must use all their power to bring this about. I hope they will have an early meeting with Mr. Sutherland to establish how this can be made possible. I am aware that the present Commissioner is a close friend of the Taoiseach and people do not abandon their friends lightly, but in the national and European interest this country should be prepared to put aside personal friendships and move to support the candidacy of Mr. Sutherland. From informed sources in Brussels I believe he has a great opportunity, if his name is put forward, of being selected.
Miss Harney: The main issues in these by-elections will be tax and unemployment. There are high levels of tax on work and business. Enterprise groups, task forces and development agencies have been set up; we are paralysed by bureaucracy as most business people are aware.
Another issue in the by-elections will be the spiralling level of crime. I put it to the Minister for Justice that morale in the Garda Síochána is at an all time low. I do not want to make the matter more difficult but it is important that the force has confidence in itself and is not dispirited if it is to deal with the crime wave. It is also important that the public has confidence in the force. Will the Minister accept the recommendation of the Commissioner that a mediator be appointed to deal with the difficulties in the Garda Representative Association? If she fails to do this there will be a split on 25 May which will lead to many difficulties.
In the first question to the Minister for Justice today Deputy Callely asks the Minister if she will consider birching and  flogging — this from a Deputy who opposed a battered wives home in his constituency. I find it hard to accept that a Deputy who could do this could table questions and encourage this kind of behaviour. That is not the answer we need. We need modern legislation which would be enforced on a fair and equitable basis. People should serve their sentences and should not be let out through the open door policy which now exists because of a lack of space and the failure to introduce modern criminal law.
I hope that voters in the two constituencies will vote to strengthen Opposition in this House. This is very important if we are to protect our parliamentary democracy. My party will be fielding a woman candidate, Caít Keane, in Dublin South-Central. People might say that the Progressive Democrats pick many women candidates. I would like to think the reason we have so many women is that we pick people on their merits.
Miss Harney: I and others will be insisting that voters send a message to the Government that they oppose the Government candidates, Fianna Fáil and Labour Party candidates. The two are indistinguishable. In the context of the reform of the Constitution, we need to find as a matter of urgency a better way of filling by-election vacancies rapidly.
Proinsias De Rossa: I welcome the fact that the Government has at last been forced to move the writs for the two by-elections in Dublin South-Central and Mayo West. I wonder to what extent the move today is motivated by the fact that in Mr. Eugene Dudley's case in the High Court today a judgement is to be given on whether the Government is obliged to hold these by-elections.
Both seats have been vacant for almost 18 months and the failure of the Government to hold the by-elections is a scandal  which strikes at the heart of the democratic system. These are the longest unfilled vacancies since the Second World War and this is the only time in recent decades that the Government parties voted down motions to have the writs moved on two occasions, in April last year and February of this year when the Democratic Left moved the motions. When a Government with the biggest majority in the history of the State starts to show such a cavalier disregard for the need to hold by-elections and such contempt for the rights of the people in the constituencies concerned it is understandable that the alarm bells should ring.
It is unsatisfactory that vacancies can be left unfilled and constituencies under-represented for so long. This approach is in stark contrast to the approach adopted in the United Kingdom where by-elections are usually held within a matter of weeks and almost always within three months. Under existing legislation there is nothing to stop an Irish Government with sufficient voting power in the Dáil defeating attempts to move writs time after time, leaving seats unfilled until a subsequent general election.
This is a flaw in our electoral legislation which needs to be dealt with. Democratic Left has tabled a Private Members' Bill under which the Ceann Comhairle would be required to automatically direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue a writ for a by-election 90 days after a vacancy occurred, unless the Dáil had passed a motion that the writ be issued at an earlier date. Is there a logical reason that Bill or a similar measure should not be enacted to prevent a Government in the future from abusing its majority, as has happened in Dublin South-Central and Mayo West?
The principle of equality of representation is clearly enshrined in the Constitution. Leaving vacancies unfilled for almost 18 months — more than one-third of the life span of a normal Dáil — flies in the face of that principle. A logical explanation or defence has not been offered by the Government for its determination to block those by-elections. The only reasonable conclusion that can be  drawn is that the by-elections could be politically embarrassing for the Government and that it attached greater priority to avoiding political embarrassment for itself than to representing the democratic rights of the people of the two constituencies. Time has run out. Even this Government can no longer hide and must face the verdict of the people on 9 June. It will face an angry people. People in the two constituencies are angry not alone at the contempt that has been shown for their democratic rights for almost 18 months, but also at the failure of the two parties in Government to deliver on the lavish promises it made when first elected.
I predict the Government will take an electoral hammering in the by-elections. In Dublin South-Central we are fighting to retake the seat Eric Byrne lost in the marathon count in November 1992. I am confident we will do so not alone because of the enormous work Eric Byrne did in that constituency as a TD and councillor, but also because the people recognise that he is the only Opposition candidate who can defeat the Government in that constituency.
Those who hoped that this Government would deliver on real political change have been bitterly disappointed. The impact of the Labour Party, in particular, has been minimal. Can anyone point to a policy, particularly in the economic area, where this Government differs significantly from its Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat predecessor? The Minister of State has told us that this Government is continuing the economic policies of the previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat administration. Nowhere has the performance of the Government been more disappointing than in regard to unemployment. While there has been a small reduction in the numbers on the live register, that is due more to renewed emigration than to policy initiatives by this Government.
Proinsias De Rossa: The Minister of State may trot out the figures, but he  should talk to the people in my constituency and in Dublin South-Central who do not have a hope of getting a job. The most they can hope for is a place on a community employment programme and even in that case they must be at least 12 months unemployed and on the live register. Thousands of women in my constituency do not qualify because they have been denied the right to sign on the live register. Those are unemployed people who need jobs.
Despite the supposed commitment of the Labour Party to the public sector, the pattern of privatisation started by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrative Government has continued. The fiasco of the Greencore-Davy affair has been followed by the apparent determination to privatise the Trustee Savings Bank, despite the fact that this will effectively sound the death knell for the development of a third banking force promised in the Programme for Government.
This Government has also continued to pile on the tax agony. The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, put the political gun to the head of the new Dublin county councils and forced them to introduce service charges. Dublin Corporation will almost certainly receive similar treatment next year. In addition to the new service charges, thousands of families living in modest dwellings will, for the first time, find themselves in the residential property tax net as a result of the recent budget.
The Government continues to deny tens of thousands of women arrears of social welfare transitional payments to which the European Court said they are entitled. I am not surprised the Government continues to deny those women their entitlements, there are various political reasons for that. However, it is regrettable that the Dublin media cannot find an inch of space in the Irish Press, the Irish Independent or The Irish Times to report on the debate on this issue which took place in this House yesterday and which effects more than 75,000 married women. It is a disgrace that the Dublin media should ignore such an  important issue regardless of its editorial view on the matter.
The failure of the farming sector to make a reasonable contribution to the Exchequer is a political scandal which, it appears, not any Government has the courage to tackle. Between 1989 and 1992 the average tax paid by PAYE workers increased from £3,122 to £3,662. This represents an increase of 17 per cent, more than twice the rate at which wages and salaries increased in the same period. In the same few years the average tax paid by farmers decreased by 9.3 per cent. Farmers now pay less than one-fifth of the average tax bill of a PAYE worker. Despite this, the Taoiseach apparently believes that farmers are overtaxed. At a recent Fianna Fáil agricultural conference in Kilkenny he stated that the “future should bring an easing of tax burden, which could only be of benefit to the farming community”. Did he mean that it will be of benefit only to the farming community because that seems to be the trend?
Proinsias De Rossa: The Fianna Fáil-Labour recipe for tax equity is to load the burden on the sick and unemployed in the form of taxation of unemployment and disability benefit and to ease the tax burden on the farmers.
Proinsias De Rossa: In the forthcoming by-elections and European elections the people will have an ideal opportunity to deliver an electoral cold shower to Fianna Fáil and Labour, to demand change and insist that the Government starts delivering on its promises. The Minister trotted out many statistics this morning about how glorious the Irish economy is, but he should tell that to those who do not have a home or a job and to those who watch the Government spending up to £3  million on promoting itself, despite the Minister claiming this morning that the Government is too modest to tell us what it is doing.
Mr. Dempsey: A number of statements were made by the Opposition about the Government being afraid to move the writs for the by-elections. In tandem with those allegations the Government has been accused of spending money all over the place. When the first attempt was made here to move the writs the Government stated they would be moved at the appropriate time. What times would have been more appropriate to move those writs than in tandem with other elections which we knew would have to take place? We are accommodating the public and the political system. It is not a case of being afraid to put our policies before the people. It would have been a greater scandal if, knowing that an election was going to take place, the Government spent money holding by-elections prior to the holding of the European elections.
Deputy De Rossa talked about service charges and the residential property tax, but he omitted to mention the 2 per cent wealth tax his party proposed for all of us on top of the already heavy burden of taxation which this Government has tackled in the last number of budgets. Deputy Harney talked about bureaucracy for small firms and the amount of paper work involved. I agree that the less bureaucracy small firms face the better. In that regard a total of 21 separate measures were introduced in the budget to facilitate small businesses.
The Government has nothing to fear in facing the electorate. We have improved and are continuing to improve prospects. Our policies are geared towards facilitating and helping those who do not have jobs and need housing. The figures and facts exist no matter how much members of the Democratic Left or others try to deny them. The key factor  underlying the improved prospects has been the Government's prudent management of the economy during the recent recession. Ireland is the only EU country to have maintained significant economic growth. Despite Britain experiencing the deepest recession since the war and the problems in the European Union, we succeeded in maintaining previous employment gains. Unlike employment gains in the 1970s, the ESRI made the positive point that the objective of sustaining those made in the 1990s should be achievable. Those gains have been made within the Maastricht guidelines.
The Government parties are looking forward to continuing the campaign. Unlike some members of the Opposition who do not appear to have been out on the hustings, we have been there and we are getting a warm and friendly reception, not a hot one. We look forward to the elections on 9 June.
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