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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] It is on the second page. The Minister of State was speaking about how the debate in the Seanad had gone and that concerns were raised about a lack of transparency in the commission's operation and in communicating the efforts it makes. In fairness to the Minister of State I know why he left it out. The sentence reads, "In other words, there is a good story to tell here and it should be told vigorously." I am sure the Minister of State can see it in his script.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I have an aversion to clichés, that is my problem. It had nothing to do with the content. Read the sentence before it.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Whatever the Minister of State's personal aversions may be, I well understand why he did not read out the sentence because there is no good news story. The story that €324 million will be required to run this place for the next three years will not be regarded as a good news story. I imagine the Government will not be too keen to tell this story too vigorously, to use the words from the script. The worst part of the story is that it proves definitively - game, set and match - that in the mind of the Government there are two standards in operation. There is the standard of austerity and hardship, and in some cases brutality, for people who are just getting by, who are the average five eighths, the average, regular Joe and Josephine citizens who rely on public services, do their best, are perhaps out of work or get out to work every morning and do their level best to provide for themselves and their families. The story for this set of people is that the Government will come and pick their pockets time and again. When it has picked their pockets it will smack a big tax on the family home. This is the general gist of it. The other story is for a protected class of persons, some of whom are very wealthy, referred to as high net worth individuals. Some of them are in the upper echelons of the public service and Civil Service; they are small in number but they are there. In this protected category in the mind of the Government are Members of the Oireachtas. This is a tale of two realities.

Sinn Féin will not support the Bill and we will never be party to a policy, Government, attitude or outlook which has such a gross sense of entitlement by senior officeholders stitched into its very fabric. We believe this is wrong and that the least the Government could and should do is to trim its own sails, cut its own cloth according to its measure and bear in mind it is the taxpayer who funds all of this. The officeholders are not worth the €200,000 paid to the Taoiseach or the salaries paid to the Tánaiste and Ministers. I have heard the L'Oreal defence used before, but they are not worth it and the general public knows this.

In opposing the legislation I wish to state it would be advisable for the Government to go back to the drawing board and look again at the €324 million. It might even take on board some of the amendments I tabled. The Government should go back through the expenditure line by line and item by item, and if it wants cross-party support for legislation on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and for the spending and budget for these institutions which must be kept up and running it should do what needs to be done, and this means playing fair. The time for exempting senior officeholders and the Oireachtas from any of the budgetary pain must end.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy The first thing that struck me about the legislation is that it amends the principal Act and is framed in such a way that this must be done every three years, the previous occasion being 2009. The very fact we are seeing this on the last day of this term suggests it has been timetabled so it will not be seen, as has been said by other speakers. This is one of the reasons the Bill should be opposed. Other reasons are found in the content and I will discuss what I believe should be excluded.

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission was established in 2004. It seems to have been possible for the Houses to function without the commission and it costs money to service it. It does not meet all that frequently, if one looks at its website. One wonders whether one would miss it if it were abolished. From what we have heard, it is an impediment to change rather than a vehicle for it. I have serious questions about whether it should exist.

In the absence of this argument being accepted, I do not understand why it should not be obliged to produce amending legislation on an annual basis. Why is it done on a three year basis? We are in a very different time now. I remember that not so long ago we voted on a Thursday morning on Estimates for next year presented to us without debate. This is our opportunity to discuss these issues because matters are timetabled in such a way that we do not have time to debate figures whereby we can independently forensically examine them and take them apart. This is an incredible way to treat a very major cost. I accept that democracy does cost and must be funded, but at the same time it must match the circumstances outside of the Oireachtas and the circumstances for many people are dire.

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission was established in 2004, which was a very different time. There was a huge increase in the number of quangos then and I question whether this is just another one. I reiterate my point on whether it is needed and whether it complicates people's understanding of how politics is funded and how our democracy is funded.

According to the Houses of the Oireachtas website, the commission has a responsibility to produce three yearly strategic plans, annual reports, annual Estimates and other information. There is no point in producing these if we will not have the capacity to debate them in detail and go through normal Committee Stage at a meeting of a committee for which, ironically, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission provides funding.

It is no accident that all Stages of the Bill have been tabled in the week prior to Christmas when things are winding down. This is done so little attention will be paid to this €324 million. The way things have been timetabled recently has been an affront to democracy.


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