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Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald] Time and again, Ministers paid their special advisers huge salaries, including most ironically and shamefully, the special adviser to the Minister for Social Protection. This is the same Minister who brought forward many of these social welfare cuts that will hurt and damage people so badly.

I had an amendment dealing with the withdrawal of the allowance of €17,000 paid to Ministers of State who attend Cabinet meetings. There are two individuals in that bracket. It would represent a saving of €34,000. I had an overall amendment in respect of pension entitlements for pensions in excess of €60,000. If the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was here, he would, no doubt, either nod or shake his head or make some gesture because I have had many long and fruitless debates with him on this issue. That would represent a saving of €10 million.

Those may not be earth-shattering sums of money for the Government but they are very significant because they come to almost €17 million. If the Government was minded to make those types of savings, it would allow it to reinstate 950,000 home help hours. The amendments and cuts I have set out are proportionate and moderate and are doable if the Government was so minded. They would not sort out the economic crisis and I do not make that claim but they could offset, for example, the cut to the home help hours. That would be a very worthy and worthwhile thing to do. By taking initiatives such as that, politics, politicians and the Oireachtas would genuinely demonstrate a capacity for and interest in leading from the front. However, this Government has no intention of doing that. My amendments were set aside and I was only informed of it at the very last minute. The Government hides behind the story that the commission does not decide the rates of allowances and pay.

We find ourselves in a pincer movement by Government. On one hand, the Ministers will not take the type of decisions I have described. They have stubbornly refused to cut their pay. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers are grossly overpaid by international standards. This is a small State in a so-called bailout programme with almost 15% unemployment. It is a State that is haemorrhaging our best and brightest with emigration levels up where they were in the 1800s. This is the depth of the crisis. No State in those circumstances awards to its Taoiseach a salary of €200,000 per year. It is as simple as that but the Ministers either do not hear or do not want to hear that message so the Government in its Estimates will not take the decision to make the cuts that would be reasonable, proportionate and fair.

We then arrive at this pass where we have the legislation for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, or the board of management of the Oireachtas to use the Minister's expression, and are asked to nod through €324 million over three years by the same Government that will not take any of the reasonable decisions that citizens would expect them to take. This is deplorable. Perhaps the Minister of State will have more influence with his ministerial and Labour Party colleague, Deputy Howlin, and others to make them see sense.

A headline in one of today's newspapers stated that our budget for the Oireachtas was being sneaked through at the last minute. Not unreasonably, the article reflected on the fact the figures reflected a 2.5% cut to the budget for the three-year cycle. This does not tally well. I am a Deputy on the Opposition benches and one of the people who has argued strongly and sometimes trenchantly against the strategy of this Government and the endless austerity that is damaging the economy and society and for stimulus and investment. I have made and will continue to make that argument. I cannot understand or justify a system which continues to overpay politicians, particularly senior politicians and office holders.

Those on the far side of the House should understand that it is they who argue for cutbacks and savings. They are the people who tell cancer patients they are terribly sorry but the patients must pay €75 or possibly €80 for their outpatient appointments. They are in a Government that knows that in some instances, hospitals have taken on debt collectors to pursue these patients to get the money from them. It is a Government that tells older people it has tripled the prescription charge from 50 cent to €1.50, that they must take it on the chin and if they do not have the money, they will have to find it somewhere. It is a Government that tells families, many of them working families who rely on their child benefit to pay a bill, that it is tough luck as it is taking money from them as well. It is a Government that tells struggling families who will be trying to get children back to school next September that it is taking another €50 from their back to school clothing and footwear allowance. That is the Government's message to the public. If this was not bad and politically and economically stupid enough, the Government then tops it off by saying that it will not cut its own salaries. It will fiddle a bit on the edges on the issue of allowances but it will not do anything radical or anything that might cause any discomfort to the political class.

It does all this at the very last minute on 20 December 2012 in the dying hours of this Dáil session. The Minister with responsibility for this matter does not bother to show up. Apparently, he has something better to do. Towards the end of the Minister of State's speech, he said, "The Bill is designed to allow funds be made available to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to continue to provide the services that facilitate both Houses in the carrying out of their work". It is followed by this classic line: "I am sure that Deputies will support this very worthwhile aim". This Deputy will not be supporting the Government's aim for the reasons I have set out. If the Government expected to come into the Dáil looking for clearance of a budget of €324 million for the next three years and passive agreement or acquiescence from this side of the House, it was very wrong. I was struck by the fact that when the Minister of State made his opening statement, he left out one line.

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