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

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley] That is why we must give a more extended period of time to Leaders' Questions and to the Order of Business, when parliamentarians get the opportunity to discuss current issues of national importance. That is ultimately what the news programmes carry and what people look at each day. It would be nice, perhaps, if they spent more time tracking the more mundane legislative proposals that might not apply to them for years to come, but they do not. They look to Parliament to hear about the current issues of the day. We have much work to do with regard to giving appropriate time to allow issues to be discussed and thrashed out a little more, even if that takes half a day for three days per week. We would achieve better engagement with the public. I accept that is not something the Government agrees to easily, regardless of who is in government, and it is easy from an opposition perspective to identify and highlight the advantages of such an approach. I am also mindful that business must be done and what might be considered more mundane tasks, such as debating, amending and processing legislation, is important work that must be scheduled as well.

I hope the Minister will fulfil his commitment in the new year to introduce legislation to deal with the modernisation of the senior management structure of the Oireachtas services, based on the work of the parliamentary service reform group. If that amending legislation is brought forward, we will have an opportunity to discuss in more detail the type of expertise and access to information that is required to ensure the Houses of the Oireachtas remain in step with the public and have access to the latest technology and the greatest capacity to communicate with the electorate. I welcome the progress made in broadcasting the proceedings on one of the television channels. Unfortunately, it is not freely and widely available. I urge the Government to enter into negotiations with the transmission providers, be it RTE or TV3. We were led to believe that the arrival of digital television would mean a far greater capacity to deliver a greater number of channels. The Ceann Comhairle has done a considerable amount of work on this and I hope the challenge will be met by TV3 or RTE or whatever broadcaster can provide that facility to the greatest number of people, as happens in other jurisdictions. There is, for example, C-SPAN in the United States, and I am sure there are similar facilitators in other jurisdictions. I will conclude on that point.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I am sharing time with Deputy Harris.

I welcome the opportunity to comment on this Bill and on political reform generally, which has been mentioned by some Members. It has been already mentioned that if the last Administration were in power, the Dáil would have risen last week and would not sit again until probably the first week in February. It would rise again for another fortnight shortly afterwards. One tangible change since the current Government took office is that the recesses are shorter. That gives rise to other issues. We all have constituencies and there is an expectation in those constituencies that we should be there too. However, we must step up and be counted because ultimately we have an obligation to be here in the Chamber.

What was remarkable for me in the past three weeks was the absence of most Members of the Opposition on the Mondays and Fridays when the House sat. It is regrettable. The very people who are crowing from the rooftops that the Dáil is not sitting for meaningful discussions were notable for their absence when those meaningful discussions were taking place. That happens a lot with many Members of the Opposition. As a new Deputy, I have often spoken in the Dáil on various issues when the opposition benches were empty. It happens on many occasions. Ultimately, the Opposition has as much of an obligation as the Government to ensure the Chamber functions. In fairness, many government backbenchers make very constructive contributions, sometimes saying what the Opposition would agree with. However, it is very difficult for a government backbencher to look across the floor and see more than 80 empty seats, without even a front bench spokesperson or even deputy spokesperson from either Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or the Technical Group present.

Today is an exception, probably because we are talking about money in the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill. It has sparked a great deal of interest in many different groups. Suddenly, receipts are being requested. It is disappointing that so many Members chirp a great deal about how effective are the Government, Oireachtas and Dáil, yet they nearly take the doors off their hinges to get out of here on a Monday or Friday. It is up to them to organise their business and ensure their benches are manned.

As Deputy Feighan said, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has made savings in the time since he became a Member. However, I am not aware of any other parliament in the world that has a political party that is represented in two sovereign parliaments and takes a totally different approach in the two parliaments under the same flag of convenience. Sinn Féin Members talk about so-and-so getting this and so-and-so getting that and declare it is absolutely desperate. They complain about the cost of Ministers, chairmen and this and that. However, at least in this Parliament the party's Members turn up to work, whereas in the other sovereign parliament in which Sinn Féin has representation its members do not turn up at all. The cost of their non-participation in that parliament in 2011 was €697,000.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Deputy is wandering from the content of the Bill.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I am referring to remarks made earlier that were unchallenged. I believe I have a right of reply.

I do not know of any other country in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea, where people turn up when they feel like it and draw money from it, yet do not participate in any meaningful way. To be honest, it smacks of hypocrisy to talk here about the cost of governance, the cost of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and of everything else while at the same time there are five Members of the Westminster Parliament in receipt of €697,000 from Her Majesty's treasury and there is not a gig from them. By the same token, if Members of the House consider themselves overpaid, there is nothing preventing them from going to the Paymaster General and asking for their pay to be reduced. However, I have not heard any Member from Sinn Féin or any other Member offering to do that.

Earlier contributors to the debate referred to the cost of running political parties as opposed to the cost of being an Independent. The electorate expects political parties to run the country. It does not expect it to be possible to cobble together a government from a group of Independents because it probably would not last very long. By virtue of the fact that there is a Standards in Public Office Commission, regulations regarding fund-raising and maximum limits for donations, the cost of running political parties is quite high. It is expensive because of the demands made of all of us as politicians. As a result, the leader's allowance for political parties is different from the leader's allowance for Independents.

As I said in the House on several occasions before the budget, it is immoral that there are Members of this House in receipt of a leader's allowance without producing a single receipt. It is essentially an extra payment of €43,000 into the Member's pocket. I am glad the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has made an effort to try to address that, but more must be done. It is an oxymoron. One cannot be a leader of oneself. One is either an Independent or a member of a political party. If the Technical Group is going to vote, speak, kick out members, hold parliamentary party meetings and elect leaders as a party, that means it is a political party. It is a farce at present. On the one hand, people are pretending they are Independents, but on the other, they are behaving as a political party by kicking out people and bringing them in as they see fit, setting rules, holding meetings and appointing whips. It flies in the face of what it means to be an Independent.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Shame on you. That is outrageous.

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