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Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald]  If the Government is serious, as it should be about honouring the State's equality and human rights obligations, then those very obligations must be knitted as a constituent part into the budgetary process, step by step. It should not simply be an add-on or a secondary consideration, or perhaps in some instances not a consideration at all.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The policy issues raised in the amendments, as I said on Committee Stage, are different from the subject matter of the Bill. We had a disagreement on the matter. This Bill is ultimately concerned with the technical rules for setting limits on expenditure. The fact that I used the word “technical” on Committee Stage caused some ire with the Deputy opposite but that is the fact of the matter. Therefore, the proposed amendments are not appropriate for inclusion in this legislation.

However, considerations of equality, and a range of other issues, form an important component of all budgetary discussions by Cabinet. Cabinet procedures require that proposals put to Government indicate clearly whether there is any impact of the proposal on, among other things, gender equality, persons experiencing or at risk of poverty, persons at risk of social exclusion and people with disabilities. Those considerations are taken into account when Government decisions are being made on any issue, and certainly in regard to budgetary matters.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The Private Members' Bill that will continue to be debated this evening is concerned with amendments to the Equal Status Acts and the matter of equality budgeting. The Government is opposing the legislation. It cites the Bill’s imperfections, which could be remedied on Committee Stage, but the truth is that despite commitments and rhetoric on equality and human rights obligations, there is a fundamental resistance from Government - perhaps even from the permanent government - to hardwiring those considerations into the technical, procedural elements that are necessary to bring forward a budgetary proposition.

The disagreement we had on Committee Stage was not so much about the Minister’s use of the term “technical”, because I accept that this is technical legislation. He might recall that the difference of opinion was based on the Minister saying that equality and human rights considerations were, by definition, subjective. I challenged him on that. I do not believe they are. In any event, I am disappointed that the Minister will not accept the amendments. They would not in any way scupper or compromise the type of system which I support for multi-annual budgeting, proper planning and discipline. All of those matters are very welcome. The Bill is a step forward but it is a huge disappointment that the Minister will not take another logical step and fulfil the commitment to equality and human rights and write it into the technical process by which decisions on spending are made.

Although this is a technical Bill, we must be conscious at every turn that technical processes such as this have real, lived consequences and outcomes for citizens. The reason we set budgets and make decisions on expenditure is bound up with our view of what society needs, what the service needs are or where different categories of citizen and groups within society are and what they need. That is the very process in which we are involved. For that reason, by right the Minister should not alone accept the amendments but I would have thought it would have been something he would have considered at the start of the process when the legislation was being drafted. I am disappointed he has not changed his position. Soft language and in some cases lip-service on equality considerations will not cut it in the long term. At some stage the Government or a subsequent government will have to take the plunge and write into law budgetary processes, expenditure ceilings, decisions, frameworks and equality considerations to make them real.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Amendments Nos. 16 and 21 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I move amendment No. 16:

The Minister will be familiar with the amendment because we discussed it on Committee Stage. As he is aware, the amendment seeks to replace the term "as soon as may be" with the word "immediately". When we discussed the issue on Committee Stage, the Minister said by way of explanation that "as soon as may be" was a more appropriate and standard turn of phrase and that it gave flexibility in the event that, for instance, a decision is taken and the Dáil is not sitting. However, if one goes back to the process that is envisaged, it would be most unusual and irregular for the Dáil not to be in session when these types of decisions are taken. In the event, "immediately" captures not only the immediacy of the need to communicate the consideration to the Dáil but it also has sufficient flexibility if it were to happen that the Dáil was not sitting that the Government would avail of the first immediate opportunity to communicate the decision to the Dáil.

  The reason I have tabled the amendment again, having discussed it unsuccessfully on Committee Stage, is that the new legislative framework should not allow not just this Administration but any future Administration a flexibility that could by accident or design result in slippage and important decisions not being reported to the House with all due urgency and immediacy.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin This is a technical debate about what is practical in the circumstances. I argued on Committee Stage and I still argue that the form of words, "as soon as may be" is more appropriate as there might be circumstances where the Dáil might not be sitting for any period for a decision to be laid immediately before the Dáil. The normal phrase "as soon as may be" is understood to be an imperative to do it quickly. If the Dáil was in session it would be done as soon as practicable to lay it but one could ask whether the term “immediate” means that day or the next day. "As soon as may be" means as soon as is practicable to do so. The normal way in which that is stated in legislation is "as soon as may be". There is no intention to have any delay in that regard but that is the normal parliamentary phrase which means with great expedition.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Just to clarify then, "as soon as may be" is terminology that means, in effect, immediately and without any delay.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin As soon as may be.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald That is as clear as mud.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Amendment No. 17 not moved.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I move amendment No. 18:

  Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Amendments Nos. 19 and 23 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.


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