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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 Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White]  Deputy Phelan pointed out that Deputy Fleming was very enthusiastic for there to be an announcement on the referendum to abolish the Seanad. I was taken aback at how enthusiastic he was for that. The Taoiseach has indicated the matter will be addressed in the latter part of 2013. It should, however, be emphasised that the people own the Constitution and own the Houses of the Oireachtas and it is a matter for them to decide if the Seanad is abolished, not for the Government, the Dáil or the Seanad. It is a matter for the people and that is as it should be.

Deputy Dooley made the rhetorical point that if there was a referendum next week to abolish the Dáil, it would succeed. We can laugh at that prospect but there is a serious issue at its heart. This is a parliamentary democracy, a country that is free to determine who its representatives are. People can vote us in and vote us out. Sometimes we must remind ourselves how important it is to defend that. We should defend the integrity of this Parliament. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan pointed out in her contribution that it costs money to run a parliamentary democracy; it cannot be done without funding. There can be legitimate queries about how much politicians should be paid or what there expenses should be, and if they should be vouched, as I always thought they should. All of those issues have been raised by Deputies but we must not lose track of the fundamental point that we live in a parliamentary democracy and should have the confidence as Members of the Oireachtas to defend that and defend the necessity to fund it.

The issue of specifics of allowances and expenses are not germane to the issues in this debate but I have no objection to Members being critical of this or that allowance. Sometimes, however, that debate can degenerate, as it was in danger of doing in the course of this debate, to the hacking away at the allowances and salary issues that risks encouraging resentment and cynicism about the whole process of politics and parliamentary democracy. By all means, Deputies can raise specific issues and it makes for excellent copy to hack away at the issue but I ask colleagues to have regard to the importance of defending the integrity of the work we do here, the people's business, and the fact it costs money, not just to pay our salaries but those of the people who work for us and who work in this building. They do a very important job for the State.

I have already said there was detailed discussion of the specifics of the budget between the commission and the Minister. I will, however, put the envisaged expenditure for 2012 on the record. The major elements of the €116 million are €24 million for the salary costs for the Houses of the Oireachtas service; €21 million for salary costs for Members of both Houses and MEPs; €11 million for travel expenses and allowances for Members; €21 million in respect of salaries of secretarial assistants for Members; and €15 million for pensions for former Members of the Houses, a total of €92 million. The remaining annual allocation of €24 million consists mainly of general administration expenses of €17 million for travel, subsistence, postal and telecommunications, office machinery, premises and expenses, payments in respect of the bar and catering staff amounting to €2 million and €3 million for the televising of Oireachtas proceedings, an important item of expenditure in the context of the imperative that the work in these Houses is communicated properly and fully to the public, whose business we are doing here.

There is one issue that I would like to address on the efficiency of individual Members. This is a personal bugbear of mine that has arisen in the context of the controversy about iPads. I have been a Member of both Houses and I am struck by the sheer volume of paper we carry around with us, Bills and so on. When discussing an amending Bill, like this one, how many Members would have the principal Act available to them? I had to ask the officials to get a look at it. Normally the amending Bill is issued to a Member, and that outlines what is being amended. Very often, it would be good to see the principal Act to see where it fits in. Some people are very assiduous and get that from the Oireachtas Library but most of us do not have the time to do that. How much better would it be if people had an iPad and could use it to quickly find legislation, including the principal Act that is the background to the Bill being debated, and could even access commentary on some aspects of the legislation being debated? Sometimes we lose sight of what we can achieve through efficiencies, doing our jobs better. That is then cloaked by the notion of Deputies being given a free iPad, as if it was something they would find under the Christmas tree for their delectation and enjoyment. We never deal with this issue seriously because it makes great copy to talk about these things as if they are being thrown around for free. There are very few people who would come in here thinking they would get freebies in the way this has been characterised. That is a small matter but it is of importance. We should take our business in here more seriously as politicians on all sides.

I thank colleagues for their contributions. This is important legislation and it deserves the support of the House.

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