Issue of Writ: Donegal South-West By-election.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 686 No. 4

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Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I move:

Molaim an rún chun fo-thoghchán a chur ar siúl i nDún na nGall Thiar-Theas gan mhoill. Tá sé mar cheart bunúsach ag pobal an Dáilcheantair seo ionadaíocht iomlán a bheith acu sa Dáil. Tá dualgas daonlathach ar an Rialtas dáta an fo-thoghcháin a shocrú anois agus iarraimid orthu é sin a dhéanamh inniu.

This by-election should be called now so that the people of Donegal South-West can have their full representation in the Dáil and the representative they elect can take his or her place here on the resumption of the Dáil in the autumn.

The democratic representation of the people of Donegal South-West must be restored to its full quota at the earliest opportunity. We must not see a repeat of previous situations where constituencies have been left for more than a year without their proper representation. Sinn Féin is taking the lead in calling for this by-election to be held at the earliest opportunity.

County Donegal was, by and large, left behind by the Celtic tiger and is suffering the highest levels of unemployment in the State with 10,000 people losing their jobs last year. The infrastructure deficit in the constituency is massive. It has no railway link, little access to broadband, [21]local and regional roads are in a state of disrepair and it is not connected to the national gas grid. The fishing sector is on its knees as a result of Government inaction, the fundamentally flawed EU fisheries policy and over-regulation. Cancer services are to be withdrawn from one of the hospitals serving south Donegal along with massive cuts in home help hours. The future of the Gaeltacht is in question as it continues to contract.

All these issues need to be addressed and it is, therefore, essential that Donegal South-West has its full democratic representation restored without further delay. There is a special obligation on the Government to hold this by-election since it created the vacancy. Fianna Fáil’s EU election strategy for the European Parliament North West constituency fell asunder when its candidate and MEP Seán Ó Neachtain pulled the plug at the last minute. The party was forced to draft in former Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, as both a proven vote-getter and a Donegal representative, with the view to thwarting the challenge of Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.

If the Government refuses to accept this motion today, it will be rightly concluded that the prospect of Sinn Féin electoral success in County Donegal was again a determining factor because Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty would be a front-runner in this by-election.

Deputy Dinny McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  I wonder was he selected.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Will it be for the people of Donegal South-West to decide who represents them? Our system is flawed in that only the Government can give the people that opportunity and trigger the process of calling a by-election to fill a vacancy that arises during the Dáil term. That should change with a constitutional obligation for a by-election to be held in a set period after the vacancy arises. It should not be determined by what is politically expedient for the party or parties in office at the time.

The last thing the Government wants to do is to face the people again after its drubbing at the recent local and European elections. Yesterday, the Taoiseach announced the latest disastrous unemployment figures and actually tried to put a positive spin on them by saying the rate of increase was slower since January. Who does he think he is fooling? The Taoiseach should let the people of Donegal South-West decide. Let the Government put its record before the people. Then it might be compelled to finally come up with some attempt at a coherent strategy for the retention and creation of jobs, something it has failed to produce so far, even though we are in the depths of the worst unemployment crisis ever experienced.

The Government must not drag its heels on this by-election writ. I remind the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Fianna Fáil Deputies of the words of Pat The Cope Gallagher himself calling for a by-election in Donegal South-West in 1986. He told the House it was “morally and democratically wrong” for the then Fine Gael-Labour Government to oppose the holding of the by-election.

Deputy Mary Coughlan: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  That was when I was first elected.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  We should aspire to the standards argued by the newly elected MEP for the North West constituency and former Member of Donegal South-West.

Deputy Dinny McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  I wish to share time with Deputy Kenny.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Dinny McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  As one of the two remaining Deputies for Donegal South-West, along with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I support this motion. When writs are moved for by-elections, it is usually as a result of a sad event such as the passing away of a Member as occurred in the last two by-elections caused by the deaths of [22]two long-serving Members, Séamus Brennan and Tony Gregory. As was said earlier, this is a different occasion with the writ being moved under different circumstances and I formally congratulate our former colleague, Pat The Cope Gallagher, on his recent election success.

With him going to Europe, however, there is a democratic deficit in Donegal South-West. As a Member for the constituency, I believe the 67,000 constituents are entitled to the same parliamentary representation as any other constituency from Donegal to Cork. Donegal South-West needs full representation in the House to highlight its needs and difficulties. The economic crisis is having a more severe impact on Donegal than on any other county.

When the Government came to office two years ago, unemployment in Donegal was at 8,500. Today, approximately 20,000 people are unemployed, an increase of over 100%. I do not know of any other county where this has happened. The economic and industrial base of Donegal has severely contracted with many factories shut such as Hospira in Donegal town, with the loss of 600 jobs, Parian China and James Likely in Ballyshannon and Herdsman and Nena Models in the Finn Valley. Tourism, fisheries and agriculture, the lifeblood of the county’s economy, are at a low ebb. More shoppers are going across to Northern Ireland due to unfavourable trading conditions. The people of Donegal South-West should have an opportunity to give their verdict on the Government’s performance in the past two years.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I support the motion in the name of Deputy Ó Caoláin that the writ be moved. The people of Donegal South-West should have an opportunity to cast their verdicts on the candidates in the by-election following the election of former Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher to the European Parliament. It is a democratic position that needs to be filled.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  The Labour Party supports the motion to move the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election. We believe in principle that by-elections to fill vacancies in the membership of the Dáil, whether as a result of a Member’s death, resignation or election to the European Parliament, should be held at the earliest opportunity.

However, the timing of the motion needs to be taken into account. If it were passed today, the by-election would be held between 23 July and 30 July. Other than August, we cannot think of a worse time to hold a by-election. It would be at the height of the holiday season with many families on holidays, some out of the country.

Deputy Arthur Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  They cannot afford to go on holidays this year.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  It would probably result in the lowest turn-out in a by-election in the history of the State. I am sure even Sinn Féin members take holidays at some time. For any party, mobilising party personnel, whatever about candidates and voters, would be difficult coming up to a long weekend. I am not sure either as to what businesses in Donegal South-West would feel about election posters and canvassers descending on them during the busy summer period. Sinn Féin’s wish may well be to have the by-election held on the same day as the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty, which I understand is due to be held at the beginning of October. That will not be possible if this motion is passed today, however.

The Labour Party is not happy with the situation that has developed over the years, whereby Governments use their voting power in the Dáil to defer by-elections for an unacceptably long period. That has happened on numerous occasions. In the most recent cases, the vacancy in Dublin South caused by the death of Séamus Brennan was left unfilled for almost a year, while the vacancy in Dublin Central caused by the death of Tony Gregory was left unfilled for almost six months. In the past, seats have been left vacant for almost two years.

Previous speakers have suggested that the Constitution should require writs to be issued within a specific period of time. I do not think such a constitutional requirement is necessary. [23] I suggest that the Constituency Commission, which makes a determination every few years on the appropriate number of Deputies to represent every constituency, should have a role in determining how the Order of Business is carried on in this House and how writs are actually proposed. It is simply not acceptable for the Government to deny the people the level of representation to which they are entitled by refusing to arrange a by-election in Donegal South-West, in my own county of Cork or in any other part of the country. As soon as a seat becomes vacant in this House, there is a democratic deficit. Every constituency should have its full democratic entitlement in this House. It should not be possible for the Government to use its majority in this House to prevent the holding of a by-election.

This is not an appropriate time to consider amending the Standing Orders of the Dáil that govern what happens when a vacancy occurs in the membership of the House. When that time comes, however, I suggest that we should put in place a system whereby the writ for a by-election is automatically issued after a specified period of time — three or four months, for example — if a motion issuing the writ has not already been passed at that stage.

I would like to conclude by referring to an issue that is significant in this context. The European Parliament election takes place on a five-year cycle. It can almost be predicted that at least one candidate who is a sitting Member of this House will be elected to the European Parliament every five years. I suggest that we should prepare for that possibility in advance of every European Parliament election. When a Deputy is elected to the European Parliament, the Opposition should not have to wait for the Government to use its discretion to issue the writ for the by-election. The people of Donegal South-West and every other constituency deserve better treatment. We need to find a means of tidying up this long-standing issue.

The Tánaiste: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  I thank Deputies for giving me an opportunity to contribute to the debate on this matter. It is important to mention that a long-standing convention has been broken by the Sinn Féin Party this morning. The party in which the vacancy arose always used to be given the opportunity to move the writ.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  In fairness, the Labour Party tried to move the writ for the Dublin South by-election earlier this year.

The Tánaiste: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Deputies are aware that many factors must be weighed up when deciding when a by-election should be held to fill a seat that has been vacated. We need to ensure we have the best outcome, for example. On that basis I wish to confirm that the Government does not believe this is the right time to issue the writ for the filling of the seat that has been vacated by my colleague, Pat The Cope Gallagher. Like Deputy McGinley, I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Gallagher on his election.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I am sure the Tánaiste is saying “bye bye”.

The Tánaiste: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Many people, regardless of their political support, cannot but admire the success achieved by Mr. Gallagher within a short period of entering the race.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The latest story circulating in The Rosses is that the Tánaiste will be following Mr. Gallagher to Brussels as Ireland’s representative on the European Commission.

The Tánaiste: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  His enduring popularity certainly helped him to secure that seat. Anyone who knows Mr. Gallagher will not doubt that he will admirably represent the interests of the people of Donegal South-West when he is in Brussels as an MEP for the huge Ireland North West constituency. I do not agree that the constituency is under-represented at the moment. Along with my colleague, Deputy McGinley, I will continue to represent the entire constituency in this House. We will continue to work as diligently and closely as humanly possible.

[24]I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that although the Donegal South-West constituency faces many of the same difficulties and challenges as other constituencies, it has benefited from substantial investment over recent years. There have been significant improvements in its infrastructural development, for example. I refer to Aerfort Dhún na nGall, for example. Tá níos mó postanna i nGaoth Dobhair faoi chúram Údarás na Gaeltachta. I was appointed as Minister of State at the former Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands after a considerable number of jobs had been lost in the area. I concentrated specifically on developing new employment opportunities for the people of the Gaoth Dobhair area. That has been achieved. Almost €90 million has been invested in broadband services, metropolitan area networks and other technical infrastructure. More than €100 million has been spent on modernisation projects in our schools.

  12 o’clock

Despite the challenges we all have to address, sustained support will continue to be given to the Donegal South-West constituency. Job retention and creation will continue to be a central element of my work as a Deputy for Donegal South-West and as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. We will continue to work on the introduction of the job stabilisation fund. We are dealing with the due diligence on export credit insurance, which is hugely important. Agreement on the conduct of lending has been reached between the banks and the small and medium enterprise sector. I hope the credit supply clearing group will be supported by the Department of Finance, which has sanctioned research into the real problems that are affecting access to credit and working capital, which is a hugely important issue. We are revamping our public procurement policy so that it better supports small and medium sized enterprises. It is important to emphasise that jobs will continue to be created and retained in Donegal South-West. New opportunities will be offered to people in employment. The new initiatives in question are being developed in conjunction with the social partners. We will continue to have huge activation measures that will not just benefit the people of Donegal South-West, but the people of all the constituencies we represent. I assure the House that the Government will keep the issuing of the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election under review.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  What does that mean?

The Tánaiste: Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  In the interim, Deputy McGinley and I will continue to work on behalf of the people of Donegal South-West.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl, 72.

Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  Bannon, James. Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Barrett, Seán.
Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat. Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P.
Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard. Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Burke, Ulick.
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Information on Joe Carey  Zoom on Joe Carey  Carey, Joe. Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  Clune, Deirdre.
Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul. Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  Coonan, Noel J.
Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  Costello, Joe. Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Coveney, Simon.
Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Crawford, Seymour. Information on Michael Creed  Zoom on Michael Creed  Creed, Michael.
Information on Lucinda Creighton  Zoom on Lucinda Creighton  Creighton, Lucinda. Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  D’Arcy, Michael.
Information on John Deasy  Zoom on John Deasy  Deasy, John. Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy.
Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  Doyle, Andrew. Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Durkan, Bernard J.
Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  English, Damien. Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Enright, Olwyn.
Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  Feighan, Frank. Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin.
Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  Flanagan, Charles. Information on Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  Flanagan, Terence.
Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Gilmore, Eamon. Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hayes, Brian.
Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  Hayes, Tom. Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Higgins, Michael D.
Information on Philip Hogan  Zoom on Philip Hogan  Hogan, Phil. Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Howlin, Brendan.
Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul. Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Kenny, Enda.
Zoom on George Lee  Lee, George. Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Lynch, Ciarán.
Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen. Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  McCormack, Pádraic.
Information on Shane McEntee  Zoom on Shane McEntee  McEntee, Shane. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Joe McHugh  Zoom on Joe McHugh  McHugh, Joe. Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  McManus, Liz.
Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  Morgan, Arthur. Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis.
Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan. Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus. Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John.
Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  O’Shea, Brian. Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Jan.
Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Maureen. Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie.
Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John. Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Rabbitte, Pat.
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Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Sherlock, Seán. Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín.
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Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Ahern, Dermot. Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Ahern, Michael.
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Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  Brady, Cyprian. Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Brady, Johnny.
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Information on Margaret Conlon  Zoom on Margaret Conlon  Conlon, Margaret. Information on Sean Connick  Zoom on Sean Connick  Connick, Seán.
Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Coughlan, Mary. Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John.
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Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Harney, Mary. Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán.
Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire. Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy.
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Information on John McGuinness  Zoom on John McGuinness  McGuinness, John. Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  Mansergh, Martin.
Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  Martin, Micheál. Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael.
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Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  O’Connor, Charlie. Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  O’Dea, Willie.
Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  O’Flynn, Noel. Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  O’Hanlon, Rory.
Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Batt. Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Edward.
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Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Sargent, Trevor. Information on Eamon Scanlon  Zoom on Eamon Scanlon  Scanlon, Eamon.
Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Treacy, Noel. Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Wallace, Mary.
Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  White, Mary Alexandra. Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Woods, Michael.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan.

Question declared lost.

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