Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
I wish to propose Deputy Seán Barrett for the position of Ceann Comhairle of the 31st Dáil. Deputy Barrett has long experience in national politics. He is a deeply respected individual who has worked untiringly towards keeping the status of and respectability relating to politics at a high level. Of all the Members of the Dáil he has an intimate and deep understanding of the mechanics of how the House works. More importantly, he has a deep and abiding commitment to changing the relevant regulations in order to make the Dáil more effective, transparent and accountable.
As a public representative of many years service — who has been Chief Whip in Government and in Opposition, who has been a Minister and who has been our party’s spokesperson in a number of areas — Deputy Barrett will, as Chair of the 31st Dáil, uphold the reputation established by many of his illustrious predecessors. I can testify to the fact that he will be fair, objective and accountable and will see to it that the House does its business efficiently and effectively on behalf of the people who elected its Members. I commend the nomination of the Deputy for the position of Ceann Comhairle to the House.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I wish to support the nomination of Deputy Seán Barrett for the position of Ceann Comhairle. During his years in the House, the Deputy has been viewed by those on all sides as a committed and fair parliamentarian. In the often unruly exchanges which have taken place in the House from time to time, his has been a rather restrained voice.
In view of the fact that the incoming Government will have the largest majority in the history of the State, Deputy Barrett will have a central role to play in protecting the ability of those in opposition to have their voices heard and in ensuring that said Government will be held to account. Even though the Deputy is a senior member of what will be the major party in Government, we on this side of the House have no doubt that he will be an impartial Chair.
I also believe Deputy Barrett will be a good person to preside over what should be a fundamental reform of how the House does its business. Given that almost all parties made promises in their election manifestos regarding the way in which the Ceann Comhairle is elected, this should be the final occasion on which the current model relating to his or her election will be employed. While a constitutional change may be required, the move to a system of election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot is something which my party would advocate because it would assist in further strengthening the independence of the Parliament.
I wish to support the proposal that Deputy Seán Barrett be elected as Ceann Comhairle. I have had the privilege of sharing a constituency with the Deputy for approximately 22 years. He is an outstanding colleague who is committed to the service of the people of Dún Laoghaire and is someone with whom I have had the pleasure to work very closely. I am of the view that he will be a very fair chairperson of this assembly. I support the proposal on behalf of the Labour Party.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Tosóidh mé le cúpla focal pearsanta. Tá mé an-bhródúil a bheith anseo mar Theacht Dála don Lú agus mar cheannaire ar Shinn Féin. Nuair a bhí mé mar ionadaí ar Iarthar Bhéal Feirste, ní raibh seans againn agus níl fós, a bheith tofa chuig Dáil Éireann. Mar sin, tá mé an-sásta a bheith anseo le foireann mhór láidir Shinn Féin.
I wish the incoming Ceann Comhairle well. Fine Gael stated that the Ceann Comhairle would be elected by secret ballot, a proposition which Sinn Féin supports but which appears to have disappeared. The incoming Government has a huge majority but it is proposing one from among its own number for the post of Ceann Comhairle. I am sure Deputy Seán Barrett will do a good job. However, it would be fair and appropriate if the Ceann Comhairle came from among the ranks of the Opposition. It is hoped this will be rolled out in the time ahead. Tá mé an-sásta agus tá fhios agam go bhfuil onóir mór ar Seán Barrett agus a chlann. Tá mé sásta leis sin agus comhghairdeas dó. Go raibh maith agat.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I wish Deputy Seán Barrett well. I worked with him on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and found him to be a fair and impartial chairperson. I have known Deputy Barrett as a colleague in the Dáil for the past 11 years. While my preferred choice would have been the election of an Independent as Ceann Comhairle, I wish Deputy Barrett and his family well.
Fellow Members, I thank you most sincerely for the great honour you have conferred on me today in electing me as Ceann Comhairle. I congratulate all Members on their election, in particular those elected for the first time. It is 30 years since I first took my seat here and I can fully appreciate what a great day it is.
Many have said that the recent election was the most important since the foundation of the State. If that is so, then the 31st Dáil should be one of the most important since this State gained its independence. Public trust and confidence in this Parliament has also been questioned. The striking mandate of the election, with more than 50 new Members, in its own way renews that trust. Our task is to ensure we live up to the confidence placed by the people in us and this Parliament. This will be achieved by this Dáil if we can conduct our affairs with purpose, professionalism, passion, civility and in a manner that reinforces the relevance of this Chamber to the people who elected us.
We need a modern Parliament for a modern age. We need a modern Dáil in which there is open and constructive debate. Debate can be constructive and passionate, but most of all responsive. This must be so if the wide diversity of views held by those Members elected to the House by the people are to be heard and, more important, understood inside and outside this great Chamber.
“Reform” was one of the catchphrases of the recent general election campaign. While as Ceann Comhairle, I am required to lead political and procedural reform, I will be proactive in areas where the Ceann Comhairle can contribute.
The criticism of the rules of the Dáil as appearing to be archaic and irrelevant owes much to how we have applied them ourselves in the Dáil, where, for example, the ordinary backbencher has effectively been cut out of parliamentary questions due to the predominance of spokespersons. I am convinced that some simple changes to our procedures can make the workings of the Dáil far more dynamic by encouraging the participation of the ordinary backbenchers who are the backbone of the Dáil.
With regard to my role, it is my task and duty to administer and apply the rules of the Dáil with utter impartiality, fairness and equality between parties and Deputies. This I intend to do. All Members can be assured of my full support to enable them to fulfil their duties as Deputies in accordance with Standing Orders as laid down by the House. I encourage Members, as my predecessors did on many occasions, to change the rules which they collectively believe are outmoded. I will faithfully apply any such changes.
Members can also be assured that I will not only be fair but firm and will, with your co-operation, maintain order in the House to ensure the right balance is struck between the reconciliation of the rights of Members to participate in debate with the need for the efficient and expeditious discharge of parliamentary business. Indeed, it would be difficult for me to fulfil my obligations as Ceann Comhairle without your support and co-operation. In doing so, I will defend your rights to be heard and to contribute in accordance with Standing Orders. However, I will also hold you to the responsibility that comes with those rights. They are interdependent.
For the Dáil to be as effective as possible in serving the people, the House and its administration must also continue to be modernised. Significant improvements have already been made in parliamentary services that were delivered in the previous Dáil in a cost-effective manner, in keeping with the stringent times, but there is still some way to go to improve matters. I look forward to playing my part in building on those improvements and in meeting the challenge of providing a Parliament that is more relevant, fit for purpose, efficient and effective to deal with the challenges we face as a nation. This is not only a question of cost but also a matter of creativity, innovation and openness to change. In seeking to uphold the best traditions of the House, it is important for me to remember my illustrious predecessors. There have been many, and I am acutely aware of this as I take this office today. I wish to mention in particular my immediate predecessors, Deputy Seamus Kirk and former Deputy John O’Donoghue, in that regard.
Finally, when I consider the momentous challenges facing this country and thus the 31st Dáil, I think of a few simple words of hope spoken by a distinguished person who addressed this Chamber in the past. When faced with his daunting task of rebuilding a nation, Mr. Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Go raibh maith agaibh.
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