I turn to the proposals we have set out in relation to the Presidency itself. The President is elected by a direct vote of all the people. It is a measure of the uniqueness of that office that it is the only directly elected office provided for in the Constitution. For this reason, if for no other, the President can be truly said to be the representative of the Irish people.
Whether the elected President epitomises the aims, aspirations and ideals of his people depends in large measure on the quality of the person elected to the office and in particular on his willingness to serve the people who elect him. My party believe that while the President symbolises the nation, the office of President should not itself be regarded as purely symbolic. The President is elected to serve his people. The attributes required of such a person, if he is to discharge his duties properly, are those of energy, enthusiasm, tact and diplomacy, impartiality, integrity, compassion and experience. I do not believe that the office should be occupied by any person who is not interested in pursuing his duties actively or impartially or who would seek to use the office in a sense as a spokesperson for particular interest groups. We are committed to the principle that the President, precisely because he is the representative of all the people, should not when elected allow himself to be beholden to any political parties or any sectional interests or lobbies.
There has not been a Presidential election since 1973. The Irish people now have an opportunity to vote for a President for the 1990s. Fine Gael believe that the qualities necessary for the holder of the office have changed over the years and that the new President should be a person truly representative of all the Irish people, committed to doing a demanding job of work, a person who is not self-serving but who has the energy, the drive and the enthusiasm that characterise the modern Ireland.
We recognise that the powers and functions of the President are limited by the Constitution. The Constitution provides that the powers and functions of the President are exercised mainly on the advice of the Government. Some powers and functions are exercised after consultation with the Council of State and two powers are exercised by the President in his absolute discretion. In his absolute discretion the President may appoint up to seven members of the Council of State and he can refuse to dissolve the Dáil when the Taoiseach has lost the support of a majority vote in the House.
There are six powers which the President may exercise after consultation wih the Council of State. He is not bound to accept the Council's advice and those powers can, therefore, be viewed as independent powers, that is, powers that are not exercisable on the advice of the Government. The most important of these is the power to return a Bill to the Supreme Court for an assessment of its constitutionality provided for in Article 26. Another such power is the power in certain circumstances to have a Bill referred to a referendum where the President decides that it contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people should be ascertained, a power provided for in Article 27. The President has the power, after consultation with the Council of State, to convene a meeting of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas and he may address either or both Houses or the nation but only where such message or address has received the approval of the Government. While the Constitution provides that the President shall not hold any other office or position of emolument, the Constitution does expressly provide that, subject to the Constitution, additional powers and functions may be conferred on the President. That is in Article 13.10. Article 13.11 provides that any such additional power or functions shall be exercisable or performable by him only on the advice of the Government. In fact, the Oireachtas has over the years entrusted additional powers and functions to the President. Under the Institute for Advanced Studies Act, 1940, the President was empowered to appoint Council members and senior professors to the institute. Under the Central Bank Act, 1942, he was empowered to appoint the Governor. Under the Red Cross Act, 1944, he is ex offico President of the Irish Red Cross Society. Under the Ombudsman Act, 1980, he is empowered to appoint an ombudsman. The President's powers under the Institute for Advanced Studies Act, 1940, are exercised on the advice of the Government; his powers under the Central Bank Act are equally exercised on the advice of the Government. However, the exercise of his powers under the Red Cross Act are not so constrained and his appointment of an ombudsman is not made on the advice of the Government but pursuant to a resolution of the Oireachtas.
This summary of the powers and functions of the President shows that, while at first glance, the President's powers appear limited, there is nonetheless great scope for extending his powers by legislation. Fine Gael believe that the role of the President can be widened so as to make the office more meaningful to the Irish people in the 1990s. Fine Gael also believe that giving the President a more extensive role in Irish society can be achieved without the necessity of constitutional change. More substantial powers can be entrusted by law to the President than those currently exercised by him. While Article 13.11 of the Constitution places a restraint on the manner in which the President may exercise such powers as might be entrusted to him, the Constitution does not dictate that his powers must be purely symbolic or nominal. It is Fine Gael's view that powers and functions of substance should be entrusted to the President. The fact that in the exercise of such powers the President is subject to the Constitution does not prevent meaningful executive work from being entrusted to him by law. Fine Gael believe that the decision as to what powers and functions might be given by law to the President should be governed by the following principles: first, any task entrusted to him should be of such a kind as to heighten awareness of his national standing and representative capacity. In other words, he should not be entrusted with functions which are of interest only to a limited section of the people, or particular areas of the country. Executive functions entrusted to him should have national application; secondly, the work entrusted to him should be of such a nature as to exclude the possibility of any party political bias and should ensure that the President will not be permitted to entertain any such political considerations in exercising his powers.
Fine Gael have given detailed consideration to a range of functions which might be exercised by the President bearing the above criteria in mind. We recommend giving to the President by law the following important executive functions.
Under the provisions of the Constitution, the President may convene a meeting of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas and may address the Houses of the Oireachtas, provided the Government approve of the address. The President may also, after consultation with the Council of State, address a message to the nation at any time on any matter.
Fine Gael believe the President should, on an annual basis, convene both Houses of the Oireachtas and address them. While his address must receive Government approval, such an address would be welcomed by the Irish people who get little opportunity to hear their President. An annual television address would ensure that the President could be seen and heard by all and provide for a means whereby he could communicate to all of those who live on this island. In particular, the annual presidential address should include reports on his activities in the areas specified in these proposals and in this motion.
Successive Governments have underused the talents of their Presidents. Some past Presidents have been slow to exercise the powers and functions entrusted to them in an active or enthusiastic way. Fine Gael believe that era is gone and that what we now need is a new style of President. An annual address to the nation would emphasise the dawn of a new Persidency.
For many years Ireland has been committed, along with other developed countries, by a United Nations resolution to increasing its overseas development aid budget each year so that eventually 0.7 per cent of GNP would be earmarked for the purpose. Our record in that regard relative to some other countries is not a bad one but we have never in any year met our commitment in full and in recent years — in the last three years in particular — we have seen a catastrophic reduction in the amounts allocated for Overseas Development Aid.
Because of our missionary tradition and because of our sharpened sensitivity to famine arising from our own history, the Irish people have shown again and again their willingness to make sacrifices to help relieve poverty and under-development abroad. I am confident that there would be widespread public support for the commitment to earmark not less the 0.7 per cent of GNP to be made obligatory by law on the Government. We also believe that our commitment would be emphasised both domestically and internationally by the President having a role of substance in this area in a manner that is above party politics. We therefore propose to introduce an overseas development aid Bill which would establish an overseas development commission with the President having the permanent role of chairman of the commission; provide for the commission to be entrusted with the allocation of overseas aid for specific projects out of funds voted by the Oireachtas; provide that the funding of the overseas development commission be increased each year so that over a specified period of years the 0.7 per cent of GNP commitment would be reached and thereafter, become obligatory; and provide that the accounting officer for the commission be the secretary or second secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. That is a model of how we would give the President a meaningful executive function without in any way trespassing on the limits set out in the Constitution or on the prerogatives of the Oireachtas in voting funds for specific purposes. It is our view that provision should be made by law to the effect that when a vacancy arises on the bench of any one of our courts, the President will initiate a procedure of consultation with the Bar Council and the Incorporated Law Society leading to the recommendation by them of a specified number of candidates for the vacancy whose names would be submitted to the Government. The Government, having examined the proposals made by the relevant bodies, would then advise the President that the vacancy should be filled by one of these specified persons or in their discretion any other nominee of theirs. The appointment would then be formally made by the President as provided for under the Constitution.
The independence of the courts from the Government is a central pillar upon which all democracies rest. We believe that this independence will be enhanced if the President is given the initial consultative role which I proposed with regard to the making of judicial appointments. We believe that this proposal would re-emphasise the independence of the courts and the Judiciary, and has the prospect of taking the appointments of judges out of party politics.
Apart from appointments, there is another key area in which the courts can be impinged upon by deed or omission on the part of the Government. The courts are entirely dependent upon the Government for accommodation, staff, office facilities and resources. In general, court facilities are dowdy and under-resourced and, from the perspective of those who have to resort to court to protect their rights and interests, are often perceived as being outdated and inefficient. Lack of resources can be one cause of delays in the courts but there can also be other causes of delays, inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the courts which can detract from the cause of justice. Arising from the essential separation of powers between the Government and the courts, this is conspicously an area where the Government do not and cannot have a role. However, the same inhibitions do not apply in like degree to the President.
Accordingly, we propose that there should be established under the chairmanship of the President a judicial commission consisting of the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Presidents of the Circuit Court and the District Court, the Ombudsman, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chief State Solicitor, the chairman of the Legal Aid Board, a representative of the Incorporated Law Society and a representative of the Bar Council, to meet quarterly or more frequently as the President in his discretion deems necessary. The judicial council would have the function of taking an overview of the operation and performance of the courts and to make confidential recommendations to Government as to what action, if any, is required to ensure the efficient workings of our courts system.
The environment is a matter of concern to us all and the manner in which we treat our environment will determine the health and well being not only of this but also of future generations. The need to tackle environmental problems both domestically and internationally is now widely recognised in most countries. We believe that the President should, on all appropriate occasions when representing the State abroad, emphasise the need for international solidarity in taking all the necessary action to provide a healthy and safe global environment.
In the domestic context too we propose that the President should have a specific role in the area of environmental protection. We have previously published extensive proposals for the establishment of an independent Environment Protection Agency. We could now be coming close to having a Bill to set up such an agency passed into law were it not for the obduracy of this Government, and the Minister for the Environment in particular, and their stupidity in not recognising the value of their own words when they said that all the things they wanted to do were covered in our Bill. However, it looks, if we can believe it, as if we will see a Bill fairly soon to provide for an Environment Protection Agency among other things.
Our proposal — we will come back to this when we debate the Government's Bill — envisaged that the agency would be headed by an environmental commissioner who would be appointed by the President pursuant to a resolution of the Oireachtas. It was further envisaged that there would be established an environmental council to act as an advisory body to the environment commissioner and the Environment Protection Agency. We recognised that it was essential to ensure that the members of the council in their work acted independently of Government and represented a cross section of different interests. We propose that the President should be appointed by statute to act as chairman of the environmental council and by so doing be empowered to contribute by his work to the improvement and protection of our environment.
Sport plays an increasingly important role in our national life. Achievements of our sportsmen and women on the international stage in recent years have been a cause of national pride and have stimulated interest in sports throughout our national community. To date, the only function the President has been allowed play in the area of sports has been in his attendance at major national sporting events. We previously published proposals for the establishment by statute of a national sports and recreation council to be funded by national lottery moneys. We now propose that the President be empowered to act as chairman of such a council and play a specific role in promoting sports and encouraging participation in sporting activities.
This State is one of the few countries in the developed world which has no national system to grant recognition to major achievement in any aspect of our national life. From the Soviet Union to the United Kingdom almost every country in Europe has its own distinct national award system.
It should be a major function of the Presidency to promote the pursuit of excellence in all facets of national life. The President should have a central role in granting such awards so as to enable national recognition to be given to men and women who, by their actions, make a substantial contribution to the life of this country.
Article 40.2.1 of the Constitution states: "Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State." Article 40.2.2 states: "No title of nobility or of honour may be accepted by any citizen except with the prior approval of the Government." While it is clear that no title of nobility can be conferred by the State, there is no prohibition in the Constitution on the establishment of a national awards scheme. It would not involve the conferring by the State of a title of nobility and it is generally understood that Article 40.2.2 in so far as it refers to titles of nobility or honour, is intended to relate to such titles being conferred by bodies outside the State. Even if this Article were not so interpreted and if an award pursuant to the scheme proposed were to be regarded as an honour within the meaning of this latter Article, it is highly unlikely that the Government would refuse to allow a citizen of this State to accept an award which it is proposed to make to recognise his or her contribution to national life.
We believe it is possible to establish by legislation a meaningful and highly regarded system of national awards to mark conspicuous service and the attainment of excellence in various areas of our national life. Such awards should also extend to non-citizens who have made a substantial contribution to this State or who, in their international work, deserve recognition. It would be appropriate, for example, to give a national award to a person who has made a substantial contribution towards peace and reconciliation in the international arena.
We propose that a commission be established under the Chief Justice to make recommendations within six months in relation to the establishment of such a system, including the different levels of such awards, the manner in which nominations should be made and decided upon, the symbols of such awards, the names by which they would be known, the ceremonial proceedings for the granting of such awards and the civic standing, if any, subsequently granted to the holders of such awards. We envisage that the President would have a central — as distinct from a nominal — role in granting such awards and the commission be asked to propose the legislative form which will give effect to that in keeping with the other provisions of the Constitution.
It seems to be common ground among the three candidates in the Presidential election to want to make the Presidency more active, more relevant and a more vibrant part of our national life. All the evidence so far indicates that a majority of the electorate agree with that view. The question for the electorate, therefore, is which candidate understands most clearly how to go about this. Which of them is most in tune with that aspiration? Which of them has most clearly expressed what people want to see in that regard? That is clearly not Deputy Lenihan. Apart from the fact that he has no proposals, good, bad or indifferent — as he might say himself — he is as I said, and I take no pleasure in saying it, simply not fit, for the reasons I set out, to be a candidate in this election. He should immediately take himself out of this contest, vacate the field and recognise that this country will not have people in public office who try systematically, as he has done, to deceive the public.
The candidate of The Labour Party and The Workers' Party, Mrs. Robinson, an excellent person with whom I have had the pleasure of working in different capacities going back over many years, has indeed made some proposals in relation to the Presidency. The first proposal she put forward was that the President should chair Seanad Éireann. Like any legislative assembly in the democratic world the Seanad has — and wishes to reserve to itself — the right to elect its own Cathaoirleach. In any case, Mrs. Robinson's proposal would require an amendment to the Constitution and, as far as I can determine, that proposal has now been dropped.
The second proposal was to make a change in relation to the kind of person who may be appointed to the Council of State. As Mrs. Robinson has correctly pointed out, the President has absolute discretion in the appointment of up to seven members of the Council of State and from that point of view it would appear the proposal is not new as it is already provided for in the Constitution. It was further proposed, however, that these Presidential appointees should not necessarily be appointed for the full term of a Presidency. On this point the Constitution is perfectly clear. It provides that, unless a member appointed by the President previously dies, resigns, becomes permanently incapacitated or is removed from office, that member shall hold office until the successor of the President by whom he was appointed shall have entered upon his office. Thus, that proposal would also require an amendment to the Constitution and, as far as I can determine, the proposal has been dropped.
The proposals I put before the House this evening are in marked contrast to the other two. They would involve the President directly in overseas development aid, in the making of judicial appointments, in an ongoing overview of the operation and performance of the courts, in national and international action to protect the environment, in the promotion of sports and of participation in sporting activity and in a national scheme for recognising merit. We have also proposed that the President should make an annual address to both Houses of the Oireachtas and to the nation. All the powers which we propose to confer on the President are in keeping with and would be exercised in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The Presidency would become a vibrant and active institution and the President would be involved in important areas of national life in a way which has never before been witnessed in this country. Therefore, I commend these proposals to the House.
The events of the past couple of days are a matter of great sadness to me. I do not think there has been a time when the election of a President has given rise to the kind of controversy we now see. As I said, I take no pleasure in looking at that situation. It is in the interests of the Presidency, the dignity of the office and in maintaining values, which I hope all Members share, that the cause of that controversy be removed. The only way to remove the controversy and its cause is for a Member of this House, Deputy Lenihan, to accept the fact that we all know — and it has been proved incontrovertibly — that things which he denied took place. There is no point in his attempting to present any other picture, neither is there any point in any member of the Government attempting to present any other picture. The evidence is there, has been there ever since January 1982 and has now been independently corroborated by new evidence which has emerged.
In the interests not just of the Presidency but in the picture we have of ourselves, it is time for that candidate to take himself out of that contest and to leave the decision of the Irish people to be a choice between two people who clearly have never tried to deceive the public.