Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Following the 2007 general election, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, decided to provide a few additional posts of responsibility as Ministers of State and committee chairmen to members of his party. People were mindful that this had happened previously but, nevertheless, the economic climate warranted political leadership in making the Oireachtas more cost effective and effective in parliamentary terms. This is about saving taxpayers’ money and making Ireland competitive in order that people can keep their jobs. It is about fairness in order that the matters about which the House must come to conclusions in the next few weeks can be seen to be taken in the context of fairness by public representatives.
In 2007, the number of Ministers of State was increased from 17 to 20 but nobody could understand the gaping hole in policy by which the increase was justified nor could anybody see the justification for additional committees and posts of responsibility because sufficient committees were appointed to do the same volume of work in the previous Dáil. Why did the then Taoiseach do that with the approval of the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen? The only conclusion one can come to is he had to appease the unease in his parliamentary party to ensure members had posts of responsibility and were working hard on behalf of the people and, therefore, were not too concerned about the deterioration in the nation’s finances and increasing unemployment.
The three newly appointed Ministers of State were scattered throughout various Departments. For example, at a time when the Health Service Executive is not even accountable to the House, the Department of Health and Children has four Ministers of State, one with responsibility for children and youth affairs, another with responsibility for health promotion and food safety, another with responsibility for older people and the fourth with responsibility for equality, disability and mental health. It is difficult to justify four Ministers of State for a Department that has abdicated responsibility and for which the Minister is not accountable to the House for the bulk of its budget. It is reasonable to ask what the Ministers of State do.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has three Ministers of State with another Minister of State who deals with issues cutting across multiple Departments. Four Ministers are, therefore, in the House for Question Time dealing with labour affairs, trade and commerce and science, technology and innovation. The roles and responsibilities of some of the Ministers of State in these areas are justified but not to the extent provided for in this Dáil.
Fine Gael wants to know whether we need the current number of Ministers of State and whether the number can be reduced to ensure effective administration. Currently, responsibilities allocated to such Ministers are ineffective and unnecessary. The junior Ministers are entitled to their salaries but their offices cost a significant sum when support staff are taken into account. Senior Ministers have 33 staff assigned to them to deal with constituency work while the number assigned to Ministers of State is 85. Whey would a Minister of State require additional posts of responsibility for people to do constituency work when senior Ministers, who receive more correspondence, including from their parliamentary colleagues, require only 33 officials to address constituency business?
The cost of the staff of senior Ministers is €3.616 million while the cost of the staff of Ministers of State is €8.2 million. That requires examination. Fine Gael believes the average cost of the office of a Minister of State is €750,000 annually but only 12, not 20, Ministers of State are required. Each Department does not need a Minister of State assigned to it. Given the responsibilities of Ministers and the busy lives they lead, cover must be provided at various events and functions and for departmental and parliamentary responsibilities. Delegating responsibilities to a Minister of State is essential if we want to ensure the Cabinet system works effectively and well on behalf of the country.
I concede a Government Chief Whip is needed to ensure the parliamentary affairs of the State are overseen. A Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs is required given the large number of meetings on European issues. However, I am not sure Ministers of State with responsibility for lifelong learning and the Information Society are needed. Other people could cover these areas over a cup of coffee judging by the throughput we have witnessed. What does “local services” mean in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government? Rationalisation is easy to accomplish in the Department of Health and Children which has four Ministers of State who have no responsibility for the largest budget in the State. This is given to the HSE, which is not even accountable to the House.
The motion is intended as a catalyst to discuss the various issues in which the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has been interested since Christmas. He has been talking out loud about the need for parliamentary reform and the way the political class must show leadership on this matter. Three weeks ago, he stated, “It is now time for all of the political parties in Dáil Éireann to play their part. They need to lead by example and show those people currently feeling the pain that the political class will play its part”. That is a noble statement by a Minister whose party is a partner in government with Fianna Fáil. I am sure he has influence over decisions made at the Cabinet table. Why is he in government otherwise?
The Minister could at any time decide to make this a major issue but he has chosen not to do so to date. All we have from him is rhetoric with no indication that he is serious about electoral reform because he has not even set up the electoral commission, which was promised in the programme for Government in 2007. We are on the verge of local and European elections. We were told an electoral commission would be in place to oversee them as a trial run before the next general election but there is no sign of any change. The Electoral (Amendment) Bill before the House is the epitome of the failure of the Minister to initiate and implement a programme of electoral reform. The net point of the legislation is how many days are required before posters can be erected prior to polling day.
If that is the best that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, can do I would not like to see the end result in the White Paper on local government reform. This was promised for before the end of 2008 but we have not yet seen it although we are on the verge of European and local elections. Those who will be elected to local government on 5 June do not know in advance what the Minister has in mind and have no programme of legislation or policy devolved to local government that will give them any meaningful involvement in the affairs of their communities. It is business as usual, as the Taoiseach said recently about the economy and Anglo Irish Bank. It is business as usual too for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. We will hear a great deal but will see no action on his genuine concerns about reforming this House, having a leaner and more effective administration and devolving real power to communities through their local government system, in the form of a White Paper on local government. I look forward to the proposals but I do not think I will see much meat on them between now and 5 June.
Tonight’s Fine Gael motion gives the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and others like him, an opportunity to reflect on their rhetoric and take action tomorrow night by voting with the Opposition on some of our proposals. It is not a comprehensive package of electoral reform but a small item that will make a meaningful contribution to showing the public that we are serious about becoming more effective and making Departments leaner for the times we are in.
I was heartened to see that many staff are allocated in various ways in Departments but I know now why Ministers and Ministers of State have been so busy doing constituency work since Christmas. They have enormous resources and contributions that people on this side of the House would love to have. We do a reasonable job with a parliamentary assistant and a secretarial assistant. Why not let everyone have the same resources to look after their constituencies? They would do it effectively and well. There is no reason that any Ministers or Ministers of State who have significant backup, apart from constituency office staff in their Departments, cannot do their personal constituency work with two people in their constituency offices. That is a reasonable suggestion, instead of Ministers of State having an average of eight staff doing their constituency office work. Ministers of State have a total staff of 189, at an annual cost of €8.24 million, while Ministers have a staff of 78 at a cost of €3.6 million. If an bord snip nua examines how this House does its business, those proposals speak for themselves in favour of rationalisation.
We have heard too many promises from this and previous Governments about the need to carry out parliamentary reform. Deputies Stagg and Stanton, and others, have been to the fore in contributing to that debate but it is up to the Government to bring forward proposals to make this Chamber represent the electorate more effectively. Some of its procedures are so archaic and out of date that reform is urgently needed. People demand and expect this of us.
The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Carey, has a legitimate and genuine interest in how this House conducts its business. In his response to this motion he might flesh out how we can have meaningful Dáil reform, with accountability from quangos, some of which we do not need, and from Ministers of State in terms of the effectiveness of their responsibilities in these financial circumstances, and also what committees we need.
Committees are necessary to shadow the Departments. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which sat today for 90 minutes to discuss the social housing programme. We could not spend that much time in plenary session here doing such detailed work. Committees are important but we do not need all of them. After the last general election many were established for political convenience rather than for the work they might do.
While some people need remuneration for their work, Members of this House can take their responsibilities seriously by being chairmen, vice-chairmen or convenors of committees without remuneration. It is a great honour and privilege to represent one’s constituency here and to be asked to take on such a responsibility by the Houses of the Oireachtas and one’s party. People would look forward to that additional responsibility and to getting stuck into work they would not have the opportunity to do as an ordinary Deputy.
I suggest that there is an opportunity to have a meaningful debate about how we do our business, the number of people we need to do it and how we can be a more effective Parliament and Government. We do not need as many Ministers of State. Government Members, particularly those in the Green Party, will have the opportunity to vote with the Opposition tomorrow night in favour of reducing the Ministers of State from 20 to 12, and the number of ministerial constituency office staff to two. That would be a start in showing whether they are genuine about meeting the objectives about which we have recently heard so much rhetoric from the Minister, Deputy Gormley.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I thank my colleague, Deputy Hogan for tabling this motion. The way Members vote on it tomorrow will be a litmus test of the sincerity of Members on all sides who have rushed at every available media opportunity to talk about the need for Dáil reform. We do not have 20 Ministers of State because the country needs them. They are a tribute to the inventiveness of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in ensuring that as many members of his parliamentary party as possible received positions. It was not a case of creating positions that were needed or performing necessary functions.
While 20 is the maximum number of Ministers of State that any Government could appoint, we do not need 20. Twelve is a reasonable number to meet all the requirements to ensure that Government runs properly, but we could manage with fewer than 12. I do not want any of the Ministers of State to take my comments personally because I am sure they are all decent people. It is not their fault they have been given their titles, although I am not aware of any who refused them. The calls for Dáil reform by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and Senator Boyle, who can never see a microphone without speaking into it, are nauseating. Deputy Gogarty has subjected us to streams of consciousness on issues of Dáil reform and junior Ministers.
We have the Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, who has responsibility for food and horticulture. I cannot figure out what it is he does that is in any way different to the responsibilities exercised by the senior Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith. The Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, appears to be essentially the Minister for wild mushrooms. It seems that his primary function is to pop up every so often in the media, surrounded by vegetables. I do not refer to the type of vegetables we saw at the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis surrounding Mr. David Davin Power but to vegetables of the edible variety. The Minister of State runs a website on which one can get happy hints on how to do one’s gardening. I do not believe it requires €150,000 a year, paid by taxpayers, in addition to a number of departmental advisers, for any Member of the House to achieve this. I am reluctant, on occasion, to slap myself on the back but I am a fair and reasonable gardener myself and I do not believe I should get an extra €50, 000 a year from the taxpayers of Ireland to be able to speak eloquently about my geraniums or the benefits of planting my own lettuces. Yet, it seems to me that is essentially this Minister of State’s function.
There are people in this House who have mysterious roles. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, has special responsibility for road safety. For the life of me, I have not been able to figure out what he does that is different from what Gay Byrne does. The Road Safety Authority of Ireland, as I understand it, is a separate body and the Minister of State cannot even answer questions in this House in its respect. If that junior ministry were to be abolished overnight we would not see people gathered in protest in their thousands outside Leinster House in order to save the Minister of State’s position.
We then have Deputy Seán Power, who is Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. His special responsibility, God help us, is the information society, as Deputy Hogan already mentioned. If this means doing something to ensure that everybody in the country can have access to broadband, it is quite clear that the Minister of State has failed utterly in his function. I constantly hear the senior Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, talking about broadband. Is it necessary for him to have a mini-me junior Minister who can mouth the same inanities when the Government has failed utterly to deliver on policy in this area?
Then there is the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, whose responsibility is health promotion and food safety. I am not quite sure whether because the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, has responsibility for food and horticulture, and the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, has responsibility for food safety, we are to understand there is a difference in what Deputy Sargent does with regard to food and what Deputy Wallace does. Is it that Deputy Sargent is responsible for food that is slightly dangerous and just a little iffy, whereas Deputy Wallace is responsible for food that is supposed to be safe? In the context of health protection and the cervical cancer immunisation programme, I am not aware that Deputy Mary Wallace was consulted on the cancellation of that programme, or of what input she has made to it. I do not see what added value she lends to that position.
We have Deputy Michael Kitt, who is Minister of State with special responsibility for local services. He is attached to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government along with Deputy Michael Finneran, who has responsibility for housing, urban renewal and developing areas. Does either of them know the difference in their individual functions? Does anyone outside this House know? Can anyone actually define what it is either gentleman does that is different from what the other does? What requires us to have two Ministers of State with practically identical functions but different names? A former Taoiseach was inventive and the current Taoiseach has maintained that area of responsibility.
We then have the ultimate Minister of State, Deputy Máire Hoctor, whose grasp of her brief was rather eloquently displayed to the nation in a recent edition of “Prime Time”. She has responsibilities for older people. God help us, she is the Minister of State who did not know that the medical card was being taken as a right from the over 70s. What does she do for older people other than issuing a newsletter exhorting them to live a long life? What is she doing? In what way do any of these Ministers of State function in a manner that matters to the public or increases the greater good of society?
The truth is that everybody in this House, including all those on the Government benches, knows that these ministerial appointments are nothing other than political sinecures designed to keep a reasonable number of members of the Government parties happy that they have a title and a so-called status. At this stage, when this country faces enormous economic difficulties, nobody can say that abolishing junior ministerial positions will solve our economic problems. However, at least it would be symbolic and would show that we are getting our act together structurally in this House and that the Government acknowledges the need to tackle areas of waste in the use of taxpayers’ money.
It is hugely depressing that the response to this motion from the Government side is not to accept the motion but to declare that the volume of Government business has grown. This statement is worth quoting in its superficiality:
There would be a better return to the Exchequer if we got rid of the number of junior Ministers and their accompanying advisers. That would be an instant saving of approximately €8 million per year that might be better spent on other areas.
The truth, of course, is that our parliamentary system and our democratic system are essentially broken. The truth is that none of the parties in government, neither the Green Party, nor the remnants of the Progressive Democrats nor the Fianna Fáil Party, have any real interest in Dáil reform.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The experience in this House over the past 12 years is that Fianna Fáil in government, regardless of the party that accompanies it, has sought to ensure that this Parliament plays as minimal a role as possible. There is no acceptance of parliamentary accountability or of responsibility for anything that goes wrong. There is no question of an incompetent Minister ever resigning, for any reason. Question Time in the Dáil has been played around with to the extent that it is little short of show business rather than a true parliamentary engagement. Every Minister who comes into this House knows that, because of the way Question Time is organised, if he or she talks long enough on any issue he or she will never be held to account for anything because the timeframes for individual and supplementary questions are limited.
This Parliament is not functioning in any shape or form as a modern Parliament should function. This is a consequence of the manner in which this Parliament has been treated by a succession of Fianna Fáil-dominated Governments whose sole objective is to ensure that Ministers are never held properly to account for their failings. We have an economic disaster that is a substantial result of failed Government policies, not only those prior to the May 2007 election but those implemented by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in government during the first 18 months of their period in power. There has been a complete failure to come to grips with the economic crisis this country confronts. Nobody in government is willing to say: “We got it wrong. We apologise. We are accountable. We recognise the time has come for us to go and for the people to give a new mandate to another political party or to the specific policies required to get this country on the road to recovery”.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Green Party in government, and members of that party have stated publicly there should be a reduction in the number of Ministers of State. Will they have the courage to vote according to their so-called beliefs tomorrow night or are they playing the cynical political game that was played in this House for so many years by the Progressive Democrats? They have one foot in government and the other out of government. They say the populist thing while always doing what they believe is in the interests of their own party and the Government of which they are a member. The Green Party members will show tomorrow night that they have no courage. Tomorrow night the Greens will happily go along and vote to maintain the 20 Ministers of State we have currently. Let no Government Minister or Minister of State come into this House and lecture the public about the need for cost savings or lecture Members about the need for this House to deal with its business in a more cost-efficient way in circumstances where they vote to maintain 20 Ministers of State, at least eight of whose functions are completely and totally irrelevant——
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: Given the number of Ministers of State and Ministers, Ireland has one of the largest Governments in the EU while being one of the smallest states. When one takes those numbers and calculates the percentage of members of the Government compared to the number of Members of the Legislature, it is more than 20%. This is one of the largest percentages in the EU.
Deputies Hogan and Shatter have spoken about some of the roles performed by some of the Ministers of State. When I came into this House just under two years ago and participated in the committees, I was really surprised to learn that a chairman of a committee has an allowance of €20,000. This is an incredible amount of money for some chairmen who only chair two or three meetings. A vice-chairman gets €10,000 while convenors — I did not even know there were convenors — get €6,000 each. The public perception of politicians is that we are creaming it and in my view that is an unfair perception. However, as long as the Government chooses to do nothing about changing that perception, it will persist and it is a slur on the entire body politic.
I have spoken many times about reform of the public sector. I have always said that reform should be done with a scalpel and not with a lump hammer. What I mean by a lump hammer is the public sector pension levy because that is lump hammer economics. It is a case of, “Here you go, lads, a 7% decrease in your salary”. I do not know what will happen on 7 April but perhaps the Ministers of State opposite know. However, it will be lump hammer economics again. It is a case of an increase in the standard and higher rates of income tax but without reform. The reason there is no reform is because there has been an entente between the Government, the management of all the public sector areas — the management are extremely well paid — and the public sector unions. The entente is obvious in the case of this proposal, unless the Government chooses to do something about it. There is no public sector union for Ministers of State so they are on their own. They will have to fight their own corner to stay in place.
The Taoiseach is the manager in this case; it is within his remit to decide that under the current circumstances, and because of the financial difficulties we face, the number of Ministers of State should be reduced. The only thing the public is looking for, and has been looking for since the budget last October, is fairness. Prior to the last budget, the Government’s spin doctors put out the line that the people who earn more would be expected to pay more. However, this did not happen as we saw with the attack on the medical card for old age pensioners and the other very unfair aspects of that budget.
We do not need 20 Ministers of State; 12 would be enough. I think it was the former Taoiseach, the late Charlie Haughey, who started the practice during the leadership contest with George Colley. I was only a child at the time but, if I remember correctly, Mr. Haughey promised people he would make them Ministers of State if they supported him, and that happened. He created positions so that he could become Taoiseach. It is a power game and the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, knows that better than most.
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: Then I can keep going. The measure of any society is how well we look after those who are less capable of looking after themselves, but our society is not doing this. We are not prepared to take on public sector reform courageously by removing excesses and non-productive areas. In my view, an example should be set by the leadership of the State which means the Government and the Taoiseach. The excessive numbers within the junior ministerial ranks is extreme.
I refer to a point made by Deputy Shatter about the Green Party. I do not necessarily agree with everything he said but, in my view, the Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, is one of the few people who acted with the courage of his convictions. He said he would not go into Government with Fianna Fáil——
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: I apologise. He said he would not lead the Green Party and he stood by that decision. However, I cannot say the same for his senior colleagues. They have gone into Government and they have become the new green, the republican green, and, in effect, they have been consumed by the Fianna Fáil Party. This is disappointing, considering the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent’s stance.
Given that there are so many Ministers, the role of a Minister has been devalued. Ministers show up for everything. No matter what is happening anywhere in the country, there is a Minister capable of opening just about anything. If an envelope dropped on the floor, a Minister of State would have it opened before it even hit the ground. I remember there used to be a big to-do if a Minister visited a constituency but there is no to-do now because there are so many Ministers falling over each other to put a hand on a scissors to open bits and pieces.
It should be a privilege to be the chairman of an Oireachtas committee and there should not be a €20,000 payment. Being a Chairman is a halfway house between being a backbencher and a Minister of State. A Deputy is paid €100,000 while a chairman is paid an allowance of an extra €20,000 and a Minister of State is paid €150,000. Those of us on the backbenches who try to get our message across are not given the same coverage as a Minister of State or a senior Minister and neither are we given the same coverage as the chairman of a committee. Being appointed a chairman should be regarded as a privilege and Members should be glad to have the opportunity.
I refer to the anger in the country. I am out and about knocking on doors on behalf of European and local election candidates. At every door, people are angry not because hard decisions have been made, but because unfair decisions have been made. The Government does not seem to get that or understand it. Members on the other side of the House say that people are angry because of the hard decisions but they are mistaken; they are angry because the Government has not been fair or reasonable. The reason the Government has neither been fair nor reasonable is because it is completely out of touch.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address the Dail this evening in relation to this counter motion. I believe that the Government has a good story to tell with regard to Government and Oireachtas reform and the drive for greater efficiency in these areas. This reform is not only timely, but also necessary. Various initiatives have been taken and are in the pipeline. Taken together, they will ensure that the systems of public representation and of governance in our country will be more efficient and address the evolving needs of our rapidly changing society.
It remains true, and indeed inevitable, that the business of Government continues to grow year on year both in volume and complexity. While this is probably the case almost everywhere throughout the world, there are obvious reasons for the expansion of the workload in this country. After many decades of population decline, our population has increased significantly over recent years. The cultural diversity of our people has also increased remarkably over the past decade or so. Our society is now truly cosmopolitan. One has only to keep an ear open on the streets of any of our cities and towns to hear a diverse range of languages being spoken.
While we welcome this cultural and societal diversity, we must acknowledge that it poses particular challenges. These challenges, arising from changes to our population, have long been familiar in many other countries, but are still relatively new in the Irish context. While we can learn from the experience of others, we must forge our own solutions and responses to the issues that social change brings about.
It is widely recognised that the process of government in the modern era is complex and multifaceted. We have a sophisticated and educated population which, rightly, has high expectations of Government. It demands — and is entitled to — top quality public services that are delivered efficiently and that provide value for the tax euro paid. There is a greater awareness than ever before that few problems confronting Government have a single, or narrow focus. Most of what are termed the “big issues” on the Government agenda cut across the traditional boundaries of ministerial and departmental responsibility. I believe all sides of the House can agree that holistic integrated thinking and actions is required to address these issues. This Government is determined to ensure that the appropriate structures that it has in place are adequate and appropriate to address these challenges.
The severe economic and fiscal challenges facing this country add a further layer of intricacy to the issues that I have just mentioned. An economic recession does not mean that the demands on Government have abated. It means we must manage the needs of our country with significantly diminished resources, while addressing the particular challenges and problems that are characteristics of recession in a small open economy such as ours. As we all know, tax revenues have fallen sharply over the past number of months and Government must take hard decisions about spending allocations and prioritise if we are to maintain essential services and to put our public finances and the economy back on the right track. As politicians, these are difficult decisions to take, but are essential to the future of the country. Indeed, the nature of the problems facing the country at present means that the oversight by Government of, and our taking action in relation to, the economy and the public finances must be an ongoing process that requires constant vigilance.
It is essential that Ministers devote their resources to discharging their responsibilities in these challenging times. Anyone who has been privileged to hold ministerial office will know that it is simply not possible for Ministers to carry out effectively the range of complex tasks for which they are responsible without the support of Ministers of State. It is because of the increasing complexity of Government business and the enhanced focus on the need for joined up thinking that the number of Ministers of State has been increased on several occasions since the office was first introduced in 1977. Indeed, it was the rainbow Government which increased the number during its time in office.
I have no doubt that the decision taken by the Government led by former Taoiseach John Bruton and his Cabinet colleagues at the time, Deputy Enda Kenny and Deputy Richard Bruton, recognised the cross-cutting nature of so many of the problems that confront Government. In recognition of this, I would like to say a little more about this factor and the unique role that Ministers of State can and do play in leading and co-ordinating these multifaceted issues and in ensuring that policy responses are appropriate and comprehensive. Deputy Hogan focused on a number of specific areas, but it is important to flesh out areas that, I believe, people may need to understand.
Specific areas of Government activity where Ministers of State play a pivotal role in ensuring joined-up thinking and action include integration policy, where the particular challenges posed by the integration of the new Irish into our community are addressed and suitable policy initiatives brought forward. Ironically, former Deputy Gay Mitchell, now an MEP, was one of the people, along with other parties who called for such a position to be established, because of the high number of multicultural groups in his constituency at the time. Much has been said about lifelong learning. As anyone who has been involved in education for some time will know, this is a new relatively untapped area which requires substantial input, both here and elsewhere. The Government is acutely aware that the needs of the jobs market place and those of modern society demand that all of us remain open to new ideas and to the acquisition of new skills and expertise. I know those Deputies opposite whom I have met in a previous job I held fully recognise the opportunities presented to young and not so young in the area of lifelong learning through vocational educational committees, local partnerships, RAPID groups and so on.
In the area of science, technology and innovation it is clear we must strive to place Ireland at the cutting edge. This is a challenge for various sectors of our society if we are to set the pace once the world economy shows the first signs of growth and renewal. That is why we have a framework document on developing the smart green economy. As regards children, disability and older people, our society must be one that truly cherishes all of its citizens, and attends to the needs of those who may sometimes be marginalised and unable to realise their full potential.
Let us look again, for a moment, at integration policy. The management of the asylum-seeking process has sometimes tended to overshadow, especially in the media, the challenge of facilitating the effective integration of the much larger number of immigrants — including successful asylum applicants — who are settling in Ireland for the medium to long term. Ireland is late on the scene as a major recipient of economic immigration — most of our previous experience has been in the opposite direction. From the immigration experience in other countries, it is commonly held that the most important factor in avoiding socio-demographic problems down the line is the effective integration of the immigrant groups with the indigenous population and with each other. Where this aspect has been mishandled or neglected, the long-term social and economic consequences have proved deleterious, even disastrous in some areas.
The Government has sought to avoid this potential downside by addressing the integration issue in a measured, focused and strategic fashion. To this end, the Government has created an office of Integration under the leadership of a Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, with staff drawn from a number of Departments and State bodies which provide services in this area. Integration issues in so far as they affect all non-Irish nationals coming to the State come under the remit of this new office. A major priority for the office is the development of a coherent national policy on integration which draws on global best practice, establishing what works best, and which is tailored to the needs of Irish society as well as the reasonable requirements of immigrants who are lawfully resident in the State.
Another area of public policy, arising from demographic changes, which the Government believes merits increased and intensified focus, is the particular range of problems arising from the steadily increasing proportion of persons aged 65 and over in the population. In 2006 the percentage of the population aged 65 and over was 11%. By 2011 this is estimated to rise to 14.1% and to 20% by 2036. This expansion has to be planned for, and problems of particular relevance to this older generation addressed. A central element is the preparation of a new national positive ageing strategy — an interdepartmental strategy which is being developed under the supervision of the Minister of State with responsibility for older people, Deputy Máire Hoctor. These are some of the problems that fall to be addressed as the population of older persons continues to increase both in absolute and in percentage terms, and which 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 an interdepartmental and more focused manner.
The motion before the House represents a certain cynicism on behalf of the Opposition. In the run-up to the election in 2007, the so-called “Mullingar accord” promised new Departments including one for small business, as suggested by Deputy Hogan. There was to be a Minister with responsibility for integration, one for a healthy population, a full Department of the marine and a new Minister of State with responsibility for labour and social affairs. I would be the first to admit that each of these is worthy of a special policy focus. However, for the Opposition to now put down tonight’s motion only strengthens the cynicism that many people have towards politics.
I assure the House and the public that the Government is committed to ensuring Ministers of State represent optimum value for money and that they contribute to the savings that are so necessary to put our economy and our public finances back on an even keel. Along with Ministers, Ministers of State accepted a voluntary pay reduction of 10% late last year. In addition, the recently enacted public service pension levy deduction applies to salaries of Ministers and Ministers of State as it does to the salaries of all public servants. The cadre of Ministers of State will continue to play an invaluable role in the delivery of our extensive programme for Government and represents even better value for money.
Much has been said about Oireachtas and Government reform. I assure the House that the Government is fully committed to promoting efficiency and reducing costs in all aspects of the administration of the Oireachtas and the running of Government. As parliamentarians, we must also show that we are committed to ensuring that the Oireachtas remains relevant in the way it does its business to our people now and in the future. We must also show we are motivated by the determination to drive down costs and deliver an ever more efficient service. To these ends, in addition to the measures already mentioned, the Government has piloted a wide range of important initiatives, which I will mention briefly.
I refer to Seanad reform. The sub-committee of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges published a report in April 2004. That report raised a range of difficult and complex issues. It set out recommendations for comprehensive reform of the Seanad for further consideration. These recommendations are being considered by the all-party group chaired by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, in line with the commitment in the programme for Government to establish the extent of all-party consensus on the issues.
I understand that all political parties are currently considering a paper prepared by the group setting out various issues associated with Seanad reform in advance of the group’s final meeting scheduled for 22 April 2009. Clearly, the whole question of Seanad reform is a core element in a wider debate about democracy and the political process. We saw something of that on “The Late Late Show” last Friday night. The work of the group is potentially of major significance and I am sure I speak for all in the House when I wish the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, and his group well as they strive to find an all-party consensus approach to this important issue.
I refer to Dáil reform, an area in which I have a particular interest. I am delighted to see Deputy Stanton in the House and I commend him on all the work he has done in this area. We sometimes hear criticisms that parliament in general, including this House, has become somewhat irrelevant to the needs and interests of contemporary society. I believe profoundly that such criticisms are usually founded on an incomplete understanding of the work parliamentarians do. However, it would be foolish and blinkered to adopt a complacent attitude and assume we can continue to discharge our business without alteration, following unchanged patterns laid down in the past. Like all institutions, this House must adapt and change to reflect developments in society at large.
With this in mind, the Government has established a group to identify how best we can restructure the way we do our business in the Dáil and to ensure that the people have a modern Parliament which reflects their concerns and needs. As all of us know, the Dáil has two primary roles which are to be examined by the group and, where possible, improved. These are to bring forward legislation and to hold the Government to account. The working group is charged with identifying a range of reforms which will improve the workings of the Dáil as a Parliament for the 21st century.
There are many good ideas out there which have come from the Opposition as well as from the Government side. The Government side does not claim to have a monopoly on knowledge or insight on how to restructure the business of the Dáil. The Government initiative in this area has the potential to make this House truly relevant to the needs of our evolving society. I am confident that within a relatively short period of time, we will be in a position to bring forward very significant proposals which I hope will receive broad approval from the House. Deputy Stanton is smiling.
Another important matter is Oireachtas expenditure. We know that virtually no sector of our society is immune from the negative impact of the economic downturn. It is important that we in the Oireachtas show leadership by putting our own ship in order. I understand that the Oireachtas Commission has recently brought forward a range of proposals which will yield €4 million in savings on a full year basis. This will incorporate a 10% overall reduction in Members’ expenses. The proposals represent a response from Deputies and Senators across all parties to the need for Oireachtas Members to play a leading role in finding savings in State spending.
In this regard, the Oireachtas Commission has recommended the adjustments to the Minister for Finance, which include a reduction in the daily allowance paid to Dublin Members and a reduction in the number of Oireachtas committees. I note there is no mention of Oireachtas committees in the Fine Gael motion even though there has been much talk about them. I wonder if there has been a change of mind on that matter in Fine Gael, but I merely speculate.
Deputy Pat Carey: The recommended adjustments also include a cut in the free postage allowance paid to Members, a decrease in the mileage rates payable, and a reduction in the committee travel budget. These proposals are currently being considered by the Minister.
Deputy Pat Carey: ——is examining in detail all aspects of public expenditure. The group will review the scope for reducing or refocusing the existing range of expenditure programmes and it will look critically at the numbers of public servants employed across all areas of the public service to assess the scope for transferring staff to priority areas, for reducing numbers overall and to identify surplus staff. The overall efficiency of the public service will be examined, including ways of doing business that are out of step with the needs of a modern, responsive public service. The group will also examine and make recommendations for further rationalisation of State agencies beyond the measures announced in budget 2009.
Among the areas coming under the review of the group is the Oireachtas. The Government is anxious that the group expedites its review of where savings and efficiencies can be effected in the Oireachtas. We want to see that happen at the earliest possible date.
I turn briefly to the question of the staffing of Ministers’ offices who work on constituency matters. Ministers have two roles, namely, they have responsibility as members of Government as well as their role as public representatives looking after the interests of their constituents. It is very important that Ministers have appropriately staffed constituency offices to enable them to devote due attention to their Cabinet responsibilities in the current economic climate.
Many Members will recall that in a recount in Cork, the Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, had to make a presentation on the amount of time devoted to his constituency work as opposed to time spent on work outside his constituency. It turned out that more than 50% of the work of the Minister related to issues outside his constituency.
Appropriate staffing levels in this area mean that Ministers can strike a reasonable balance between the time they devote to their Government responsibilities and to dealing with the call of their constituents. Ministers’ offices have not been immune from the ongoing drive for greater efficiency across the public service. The 3% reduction in pay allocations in the current year impacts on Ministers’ offices as it does on the public service generally.
Furthermore, the Government has also decided that the running costs of Ministers’ offices be reduced by at least 10% and this decision has been implemented. In short, Ministers’ offices along with all parts of the public service must work smarter with fewer resources. While the Government is fully committed to the achievement of efficiencies and the process of reform, much has been done already in this area and more is in the pipeline.
Deputy Pat Carey: I assure the House that the Government will continue to pursue these issues vigorously. I call on the House to recognise the commitment of the Government to reform and efficiency in the areas of Government and parliamentary affairs and to support the amendment.
Reform of the Oireachtas tends to be talked about by Opposition and Government but it is a pattern that when in government the people who talked about it in Opposition tend to go easy on it and when they are in Opposition they get strong about it again. When Deputy Hogan was in government he had many opportunities to do something about it, but in this Government he will see, to start with, reform in the Seanad. I understand the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, will be able to speak more comprehensively on this aspect because we are now seeing reform.
This debate relates, particularly in the current economic climate, to the expenditure level of the Oireachtas more than anything else. It is very important that we in the Oireachtas take bold steps to see how we can save taxpayers’ money. It may well mean fewer Ministers of State, but as all Deputies are aware——
Deputy Trevor Sargent: I listened carefully. Technology allows me to do so without being present in the Chamber. The Oireachtas Commission recently brought forward a number of proposals which we expect will deliver savings of some €4 million on a full year basis. It is an initiative by Members of the Oireachtas from all parties and will contribute towards the crucial goal of reducing public expenditure. The specific changes which the commission has recommended include reducing the number of Oireachtas committees which, strangely, given Deputy Hogan’s declared interest in reform, does not feature, even in passing, in his motion.
I wonder, when we hear about the €20,000 paid to chairpersons who are members of Fine Gael as well as other parties, why the Deputy would not declare his sincerity and say his party will forgo this money to demonstrate just how serious he is about reform, if he is serious about it the first place. He can act unilaterally, as I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is aware. I will not draw him into this.
Deputy Trevor Sargent: When we in the Green Party unilaterally declared we would end the dual mandate and operate the policy of ending it, we did not get any support from Fine Gael. When the Government finally did abolish the dual mandate, Deputy Michael Ring and others screamed loudly from the rooftops that this was a disgrace.
The Deputy refers to reform and tries to come across as being sincere but, given the opportunity, we do not see it happening. He has an opportunity in the committees to do something meaningful by acting in a unilateral manner——
Deputy Trevor Sargent: ——rather than just talk about it. Voting on this motion is not going to change it, as Deputy Hogan well knows. I do not believe he is able to face up to that. It is more convenient to talk about it in Opposition but not do anything about it.
The Ministers of State have accepted the pension levy and a 10% pay cut. I have cut another 10% from the expenditure in my own office. It has meant people have had to forgo positions and the loss of staff but I take seriously the need to reduce expenditure. The job I have to do needs to be done. It is up to the Taoiseach to declare how it is done and who does it, but it needs to be done. Food security in this country is something which will need to be faced up to. The situation worldwide demands it.
I am working with various Departments in terms of food safety in the Department of Health and Children, school gardens in the Department of Education and Science, allotments with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and farmers’ markets with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Finance, including the OPW to demonstrate growing and how people can get involved and become involved in farming.
All of these issues, whether it is Agri Vision 2015, the McIvor report, the plans for the organic target which need to be driven or the obesity report, need to be addressed. The problem of obesity is costing this country more than €4 billion and has, according to a recent report, been set at €5 billion. What if we could save that €5 billion? It would help contribute to a major reform in the public finances.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. At the outset, I feel like the accused in the dock having to defend myself from the angry mob on the other side. It is important to keep these things in perspective. First and foremost, we are a parliamentary democracy. We have two Houses of the Oireachtas, the Dáil and the Seanad. Everybody on both sides of this debate acknowledges reform is required.
I want to address the issue of the motion itself and the reduction in the number of Ministers of State. The role I play and feel I can play is something that is positive. I feel I can genuinely make a contribution as a Minister of State. When I was first appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs by the previous Taoiseach I was honoured to receive that appointment and felt I could make an impact, just as when I was first elected to the Dáil I felt I could make an impact as a Member of Dáil Éireann.
Everybody who stands and speaks here has a mandate as they were elected by the people. Sometimes we diminish the role of politicians for populist debate. I accept that is the cut and thrust of parliamentary democracy. Fundamentally, politicians from all sides of this House are mandated to come here and speak on behalf of their constituents. I believe sometimes we make apologies for that. I will make no apologies that, as a Deputy, I have the resources to represent the people of Cork North-Central who, in their decisions over a number of elections, have decided to send me to Dáil Éireann as a messenger on their behalf.
Reference has been made to the staffing levels of the offices of Ministers of State or Ministers. I have two drivers. I have two people working in the constituency office in Cork North-Central who serve the constituents. I have one person in the office of the Minister of State who also works on constituency duties. That is my staff complement in the context of my constituency duties.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: It would be unfair if I had fewer staff, simply because I have other roles and responsibilities. As to whether people believe they are roles of responsibility is a decision those on other side of the House will make. I passionately believe no person should be at a disadvantage in representing their constituents because of a role or responsibility they hold in this House.
This motion is slightly populist. While there is intense public debate on this issue, it is not good enough, for populist reasons, to reduce the number of Ministers of State in order to send out a message that Government is serious about cost cutting without facing the serious challenges in other public expenditure costs.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: I have no difficulty in doing that. If we are to seriously degenerate the debate of the challenges facing Ireland, particularly the economic crisis, the global recession, an international credit crisis and all the other ills facing this country such as rising unemployment, we could say the solution would be to throw a few Ministers of State to the wolves and all the other issues would be resolved. However, that simplifies a very important debate.
We should have Dáil and Oireachtas reform. There is a need to look at Seanad reform. I have no difficulties in discussing those issues. We are all aware that Oppositions embrace Dáil and Seanad reform and Governments, by their nature, are resistant to them. That has been the swings and roundabouts since I was elected in 1993.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: Since 1993 I have seen many a debate here on Dáil reform. First and foremost, we do not want to diminish the roles of Oireachtas Members because we have a critical and important role to play, which is representing our constituents. Ministers and Ministers of State should not be put at a disadvantage or at an unfair advantage to other Oireachtas Members from a particular constituency. If one looks at the issue of an evolving Ireland, involved in Europe and facing into another Lisbon treaty referendum, we all know the crucial role Europe now plays. In that regard, Ministers of State have an important function in making sure that Ireland is always represented by responsible Ministers. The Fine Gael motion is somewhat populist. There is a responsibility on us all to reflect on the challenges we face rather than putting forward these types of populists proposals.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: I welcome the opportunity presented by this motion to examine the issue of reform of the institutions that enable our democracy to operate. Many of these institutions, including the Oireachtas, were designed for a different era and time and to satisfy different requirements. However, the motion before us proposes reform of only one aspect of this broad area and seems to be directed at cost savings rather than effective reform of the system. If Deputy Hogan had not set out his case so clearly in proposing the motion, I would have suggested that it smacks of populism. While the savings generated by the implementation of this proposal would represent the elimination of some unnecessary waste, they would be relatively small. Moreover, it should be noted that reform does not always equate with savings, with some reforms costing more to implement than the system they are intended to replace.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the increase in the number of Ministers of State from 17 to 20 by this Administration has led to understandable public criticism. Not only do many members of the public not know the identity and role of individual Ministers of State, Members themselves are often similarly confused. Moreover, the creation of a large number of Oireachtas committees for the purpose of providing Government backbenchers with paid positions as chairmen, vice-chairmen and convenors has also been widely criticised. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, made several such appointments to ensure that the Members in question towed the Government line.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: I was. As Minister of State with responsibility for housing in the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government, I successfully tackled the housing crisis. I went on to serve as Minister of State with responsibility for the alternative energy sector in the Fine Gael-Labour Government, where I laid the foundation for an industry that is now booming. Therefore, I am not of the view that Ministers of State are a waste of time or space. They often do a good job within the democracy we all serve.
Having examined the matter, the Labour Party is of the view that the number of Ministers of State should be reduced to 15. The rationale behind this proposal is that there should be one Minister of State serving the relevant senior Minister in each Department and being responsible to a standing legislative committee. It is essential that effective powers are transferred to the Ministers of State so that they have a specific remit with clear responsibilities and targets. Without a transfer of power order, which is made by the Government, Ministers of State are reduced to “gofers” for their senior Minister and have no effective role. I am interested to know whether such orders were made for the current crop of less than outstanding officeholders, present company excluded. They look tired and worn out and give Ministers of State a bad name.
However, such changes would be little more than window dressing and a sop to public anger unless they are accompanied by reform of the Oireachtas committee system. There are now serious duplications between several committees and these must be rationalised. Nevertheless, committees play an important role in dealing with legislation on Committee Stage and in offering an opportunity to a wide cross-section of the citizenry to be consulted, to present their case and to be heard. This is an important tool of democracy and it should be guarded zealously.
The aspect of reform by which I am most exercised is the matter of the transfer of the powers bestowed on this House by the people to faceless and unaccountable quangos, agencies or boards. This ongoing practice has diluted our democracy by taking power from the people and their representatives and handing it over to so-called independent agencies. I assume their independence consists solely in being independent of the people’s representatives.
In its amendment to the motion, the Government puts great store by its establishment of a committee on Dáil reform. This committee comprises the Fianna Fáil Whip and the Green Party Whip and effectively replaces the previous committee on Dáil reform which had no paid chairman or convenor and included all the party Whips. We have heard much in recent times from the Government about co-operation from the Opposition. The exclusion of the Opposition in this instance shows the shallowness of these calls for co-operation. I have been involved with the Dáil reform committee for some years and every proposal, including many from Fianna Fáil representatives, was blocked by the Government.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Acknowledging the need for reform, as the Minister of State did in his speech, is no substitute for action. If he can succeed in ensuring that the Government accepts even a modicum of reform, that will be an achievement. However, I am not convinced the Government is serious about Dáil reform. Its track record in this regard speaks for itself.
While I am disappointed with the narrow thrust of the Fine Gael motion, I and my colleagues certainly do not propose to vote for the Government’s self-serving amendment which ignores the realities facing all of us. This is not a time for encouraging a corrosive cynicism in politics. Rather, it is a time for strengthening representative democracy.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I commend Fine Gael on putting forward this motion so that we can discuss a critical aspect of how the Government works. Under the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, there was an outrageous expansion of the Minister of State system. This represented not only a waste of public money but has also played a part in discrediting our system of governance. The public rightly questions exactly what it is that the 20 Ministers of State do. There is general agreement that the last three or five appointments were made merely to keep Fianna Fáil backbenchers content.
It is particularly disappointing that the Green Party joined and supported this grotesquely overblown, unwieldy and wasteful system of governance. I am pleased to see the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, in the House for this debate. His evolution into a Minister of State in a Government led by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, is one of the most pathetic sights I have witnessed during my entire time in politics. I recall all the mornings when the Minister of State stood on the other side of the House and berated the then Taoiseach and his Ministers on a range of matters.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The key aspects of reshaping the structure of government, a process I hope will be undertaken by the next Administration, involve assessing the key functions in society and in the economy and seeking to manage them in a coherent way. The Government has not done this. There are various important roles to fulfil among the ranks of existing Ministers of State. The Chief Whip, for example, performs a vital function. It is important to have a Minister of State with responsibility for children and young people. It is also vital to have a Minister of State to deal with issues relating to our membership of the European Union, particularly in the context of the debate on the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. I was bitterly opposed to the way the marine function was cannibalised and shamefully wiped out by this Government under the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the latter having promised marine interests that all relevant responsibilities would be held together under one Department. I also see a function for a Minister of State with responsibility for community matters, with a particular emphasis on drugs issues. There is also a function for a Minister of State with responsibility for older people. There is room too for a Minister of State dealing with labour and employment issues. These represent the key concerns of any Government.
Moreover, there are functions currently carried out by Ministers of State which should be represented in their own right by a full Department. A good example of this is housing. How on earth did we have a situation where the largest industry in the State — with 300,000 directly employed and up to 200,000 in related employment — was not represented at the Cabinet table? My distinguished colleague, Deputy Stagg, had responsibility for this area as Minister of State under a previous Administration. There have been other Ministers of State with responsibility for this issue, up to and including the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran. However, along with the marine, housing should be represented by a full Department.
Other changes are required in the system. The Department of Finance is a case in point. We should look to the British system in this regard. There is a strong case for the Minister for Finance having a financially inclined Member beside him or her in the role of deputy Minister for Finance. With the best will in the world the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, came in here and gave us the first pre-budget submission when Fine Gael, Labour and everybody else was prepared to start the debate at full ministerial level. There are many ways at both Minister and Minister of State level where the functions should be reformed. I cannot see how the current system of 20 Ministers of State with the cobbled together bits of portfolios that many of them have can be justified.
I will give one brief example. I have been dealing with the Department for Transport, where there is a Minister of State. In the past eight or ten months I am not sure what exactly he has been doing. He needs to prepare one piece of legislation, a road traffic Bill. For the past two years going back to before the time that I became spokesperson for the area and back into the previous Dáil we have been asking for that Bill. I bet the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, even asked for that Bill, which we still do not have. We have a Minister of State with responsibility for older persons. A few weeks ago I asked her about nursing home care — a central issue relating to older persons. I was told to contact another Department. It seems to be an incoherent system that needs reform and I commend Fine Gael on tabling tonight’s motion.
Deputy Martin Ferris: No one can argue with the logic of the motion, especially given the current economic situation and that the Government appears to be intent on imposing a large part of the burden for saving public money on those who can least afford it. All of us have received hundreds of representations through meeting constituents, and receiving e-mails, phone calls and letters about the effect the pension levy will have on low-paid workers in the public service and the impact of the vast range of cutbacks that have already been made. Apparently many more are in the pipeline in the proposed budget next week — a week in which the people of Dublin will be without buses due to the shortsighted decision to decimate services and crews in the city, and a week in which tens of thousands of workers will be making known exactly what they think of the Government’s approach to the economic and financial crisis.
It is ironic that the Government appears fully intent on draconian measures aimed at the public sector and public services while at the same time Ministers are falling over one another to associate themselves either geographically or otherwise with President Barack Obama. I say that because President Obama’s Administration is pumping $800 billion into a stimulus programme which it hopes will get the American economy going again. It is interesting that the world’s largest capitalist economy is placing so much emphasis on public investment while there seems to be an almost blind ideological aversion to that here. There is a belief that, for example, laying off 200 bus workers to cut losses is worth the amount of money it will cost to keep them on social welfare, not to mention all the other negative consequences which any increase in unemployment has in social, health and other ways.
It is interesting that the US stimulus package has targeted areas for investment including physical infrastructure, schools, the upgrading of homes to become more energy efficient, health care and so on. The hope obviously is that this will create jobs and generate further investment leading to recovery. Our Government appears to want to go in the opposite direction and to attack all of those things. After decades of neoliberal economics and a free hand given to the financial speculators who have brought the global economy to its knees, President Obama and the Democrats appear to be returning to their roots in the Roosevelt New Deal. Keynes, who was for many years discredited, has been rediscovered and it is his theory of the multiplier — of investment leading to even greater spending — that underlies the current American package. President Obama has turned his back on the reactionaries who would have American working class and middle class families pay the price for a crisis that is not of their making.
Fianna Fáil too should learn from its own history in this regard. It was first elected in 1932 in large part due to the failures of the first Cumann na nGaedhael Government. That Government ironically pursued many of the policies which seem to be tempting the current Government and which many suspect would also motivate the Fine Gael Party if it were in power. It was a Government that cut pensions, refused to build public housing while Dublin’s north inner city slums had the highest child death rate in Europe, and which considered abolishing both social welfare and income tax. It was thrown out of office by Fianna Fáil with the support of Labour and Irish republicans including militant republicans. Those early Fianna Fáil Governments were among the most radical in Europe because they understood the need to look after people’s basic needs and because they were prepared to invest public money when those with wealth in this country refused to and put their money in the London banks and stock exchange.
Deputy Martin Ferris: Where did it all go wrong? Does this Fianna Fáil Government and its Green Party partners want to be remembered in the same way as Cumann na nGaedhael or will it return to its roots and even adopt the sort of approach being followed by President Obama in trying to stimulate the economy not by destroying ordinary people’s living standards, but by injecting investment into the areas where it will pay dividends in jobs, spending and confidence?
With regard to the substance of the motion, of course it makes sense to reduce the numbers of Ministers of State and to tackle the issue that some of those who are nominally working for Departments are in fact performing constituency work for the Ministers in question. In a series of parliamentary questions to each Department regarding that issue, asking all Ministers for the number of civil servants engaged in constituency work on behalf of his or her Department, and the salaries, accommodation costs and expenses involved in or associated with these duties, it was disclosed that only the Ministers for State, Deputies Curran and Mansergh, did not have civil servants engaged in constituency work. In total there were 44 civil servants whose time was spent looking after the Ministers’ constituency work rather than anything to do with the work of whatever Department employed them. As Sinn Féin’s economic spokesperson, Deputy Morgan, said at the time in response to the information divulged, this use of significant numbers of civil servants for constituency work is an “outrageous squandering of the State resources”. It is an abuse of privilege. At a time when the Government parties and Ministers are lecturing the rest of us on the need to accept cuts, and at a time when they are targeting low paid public sector workers in particular, it is ironic that they should also be cynically spending a significant amount of public money in attempting to protect their own Dáil seats.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, said that having civil servants in his constituency office was servicing his constituents. There are four Sinn Féin Deputies. We each have a person in our constituency offices. The one in my area is paid for out of my own pocket. At this stage between Ministers, Ministers of State, Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and conveners of committees, all bar two Members from the Government benches are covered. That is not necessary and is an abuse. It is also an abuse to have former Ministers and Ministers of State drawing ministerial pensions on top of their salaries. It is wrong and there is an obligation on all of us to speak out against such abuse.
Deputy Martin Ferris: There is urgent need for reform in here. I cannot disagree with the substance and content of the motion. Especially for those who have been campaigning and canvassing in recent weeks the anger felt by the public is palpable. I would not like to be a member of a Government party going to a voter’s doorstep at this point in time.
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