Issue of Writs: Motions. - Dublin South-Central and Mayo West By-Elections.

I move:

That the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his Writ for the election of a member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the resignation of Deputy John O'Connell, a member for the Constituency of Dublin South-Central.

A year ago today the Fianna Fáil/Labour Coalition Government introduced its first budget but 24 February 1993 was significant for another event. Late on budget night the Ceann Comhairle came into the House and, to the surprise of most Members, announced that Deputy John O'Connell was resigning his membership of Dáil Éireann. When the initial surprise had died down inevitably politicians' attention turned to speculation about a by-election, when it would be held, the candidates and, obviously, who would win.

Few people would have believed that, 12 months on, Dr. O'Connell's seat would remain unfilled, that there would still be no firm commitment on when the relevant by-election would take place. Of course, Dublin South-Central does not represent the longest outstanding vacancy. Almost two months earlier, on 1 January 1993, former Deputy Pádraig Flynn announced his resignation as a Member for Mayo West to take up his post as a member of the European Commission.

I regard the refusal of the Government to hold by-elections for vacancies which remain outstanding for 12 and 14 months respectively as a matter of the utmost gravity which strikes at the heart of our democratic system. When a Government with the largest majority in the history of the State adopts such a cavalier attitude to the holding of elections, when it considers that constituencies can be left under-represented for such a long period, the alarm bells should start ringing.

Details of the gap between the occurrence of casual vacancies and the holding of subsequent by-elections are difficult to come by but one would have to go back virtually to the Second World War to find vacancies which had been left unfilled for so long. I challenge the Minister for the Environment to tell us just how long it has been since we had two simultaneous vacancies in Dáil Éireann for over 12 months, and the circumstances which led to their not being filled for so long. Is there any other modern democracy in which seats in the National Parliament can be left vacant for so long? In the case of our nearest neighbour, Britain, by-elections are held regularly, within a matter of weeks, even when they occur in the most politically embarrassing circumstances for the Government. No justification has been offered by either of the parties in Government for this unprecedented refusal to hold these by-elections. While there have been reports that the by-elections may be held in June, in conjunction with the European Elections, the Government has not been prepared to give a firm commitment to that effect.

Regrettably, under existing legislation, there is no requirement that by-elections must be held within a specified period. In theory at least there is nothing to prevent the Government from voting down this attempt to move the relevant writs, from voting down any subsequent attempts, and leaving the relevant seats vacant until the next general election. This is a serious loophole in our electoral legislation which needs to be addressed.

Democratic Left has a Private Members' Bill on the Order Paper aimed at closing this gap. Under the provisions of our Bill — the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1993 — the Ceann Comhairle would automatically direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue the writ for a by-election 90 days after the vacancy occurred unless the Dáil had passed a motion directing that the writ be issued at an earlier date. Surely this is a reasonable proposition since the enactment of that Bill, or a similar one, would prevent any Government from abusing its majority in the way it has done in the case of these two vacancies and, in so doing, dodge the people's verdict.

The principle of equality of representation is clearly enshrined in the Constitution. The refusal of the Government to hold these by-elections is a breach of the spirit, possibly the letter, of the Constitution. Article 16.2.2 of the Constitution reads:

The number of members shall from time to time be fixed by law, but the total number of members of Dáil Éireann shall not be fixed at less than one member for each thirty thousand of the population, or at more than one member for each twenty thousand of the population.

Article 16.2.3 of the Constitution reads:

The ratio between the number of members to be elected at any time for each constituency and the population of each constituency, as ascertained at the last preceding census, shall, so far as it is practicable, be the same throughout the country.

These figures are distorted as a result of the vacancies in Dublin South-Central and Mayo West. The people of Dublin South-Central have particular reason to feel aggrieved. Until the 1992 general election the constituency had five Deputies. As a result of the recommendations of the constituency review committee the number of seats was reduced to four and now the constituency has been left for more than a year with three Deputies.

The refusal of Fianna Fáil and Labour to agree to the by-elections being held is in stark contrast to the position adopted by both parties when vacancies arose while they were in Opposition. There are repeated instances of them demanding that by-elections be held. When Deputy Ciaran Doherty died on 4 August, 1981 Fianna Fáil moved a writ on 21 October. In 1983, following the death of Deputy George Colley on 17 September, they moved the writ on 2 November and the following year they waited only five weeks before moving the writ following the death of Deputy B. Cowen.

This Government came to power on the basis of lavish promises of political reform. Those most generous with their promises were the Labour Party. This is a Government which agreed a programme "to restore confidence in the democratic process by encouraging openness and participation at all levels, by ensuring public accountability, transparency and trust and the highest standards in public life". How those fine words contrast with the seedy reality of the Government's record. Will Deputy Spring tell us how denying the people of Dublin South-Central and Mayo West their full representation in the Dáil is compatible with his promise to ensure the highest standards in public life? Will the Taoiseach explain how leaving by-elections outstanding for the longest period in 50 years contributes to public accountability, transparency and trust?

The refusal of the Government to hold the by-elections might be understandable if the outcome was likely to plunge the Government into a minority. That is not the case. The Government has the largest majority in the history of the State and even if the Opposition win both by-elections it will not seriously impact on the Government's majority though clearly it will dent its credibility. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that, despite the size of its majority, the Government fear the wrath of the people and is so lacking in confidence in its record that it is afraid to put it before them. Irrespective of the size of a Government's majority or its performance in office, there is a right to have vacancies filled within a reasonable time. As the Government parties have failed so spectacularly to live up to their promises there is a particular obligation to allow the people express their views when the occasion arises.

Those most reluctant to allow the people of Dublin South-Central have their say are the Labour Party. The party is in serious difficulties in that constituency and local polls show that the impressive vote it received at the last general election has disappeared like yesterday's snow. On the other hand, Democratic Left has a particular interest in the holding of this by-election. Eric Byrne, who was an outstanding representative, lost his seat by just four votes after the marathon re-count in the general election. We want to see him back in the Dáil as do many people in Dublin South-Central.

The Government can run but it cannot hide from the people. It will have to face the people of these constituencies at some time and when it does the local polls indicate that it will be Fianna Fáil and Democratic Left who will battle it out with Labour relegated to the position of also ran.

For the past year the Government has been allowed to get away with an outrageous abuse of our democratic system by refusing to hold these by-elections. Last April, Democratic Left moved the writs for the by-elections and the motion was cynically voted down by the Government. It has been allowed off the hook and I find the indifference of the media pundits and commentators, columnists and leader writers to this abuse of democracy astonishing.

I urge the Government to seriously consider the message that is being conveyed to the public by its refusal to hold these elections. The message is that democracy, politics, membership of the Dáil or the views of the electorate are not important. There is an alarming degree of cynicism among the public and the Government's attitude will only feed this and do further damage to our democratic system.

Those of us who value and want to defend the principles of democracy insist on these by-elections being held without further delay. We urge the Dáil to support the motion by Democratic Left for the by-election to be held in Dublin South-Central.

I wish to share some of my time with Deputy Gilmore. The reaction of the public to the budget will be foremost in the minds of Government Deputies when they go through the lobbies on this motion. No matter how long they put off the proposal for a by-election in Mayo West and Dublin South-Central the people will not forget that the budget resulted in the taxation of unemployment benefit, continues the taxation of disability benefit and, but for the outcry, widows pensions would have been means-tested. The unemployed and sick now pay more tax than the farming community. If Labour has any regard for the principles it claims to stand for, it would vote for the motion despite the fact that it is unlikely to win the by-election in Dublin South-Central. It is unacceptable that the House would, for a second time, vote down a motion to give those people their democratic right to full representation.

There are two reasons a Government would refuse to hold by-elections: either it has contempt for the people and democracy or it is afraid to face the people. Given its record and the abandonment of the policies on which it was elected 15 months ago the latter reason is probably the more accurate.

There is in this Government a smugness, arrogance and bloatedness that is becoming increasingly hard to take. It has an absolute contempt and dismissiveness for the Opposition and the views of Members, largely brought about by the size of its majority. It has much of the same kind of contempt for the public and has managed to inflate the offices of its members with additional staff, spin doctors——

And consultants.

——and pedlars of good news who try to turn even the most menial of announcements into an event of major national importance and sell it to the public.

Most disturbing of all is the Government's approach to the people. Two vacancies exist in this House for over a year and the Government has refused to fill them. That is showing contempt for the people of those constituencies who are entitled to full representation in this House and who are entitled, as a litmus test for the rest of the country, to pass judgment on the Government and on its policies.

That judgment is necessary because of the extent to which the Government has abandoned many of the policies for which it stood in the election in November 1992 and also because it has abandoned many of the principles set down in the Programme for Government. This was the Government that would address the unemployment crisis but instead is addressing a tax bill to the unemployed. This was the Government that would address the housing waiting lists but those lists have increased. This was the Government that would introduce equity in many areas of social policy.

I wish to concentrate on one area where, even in the past few days, we have seen one of the most craven climb-downs from a stated position by the Government at the time of its formation. I refer to the position the Government has taken in the area of student grants for higher education. The people of Dublin South-Central, in particular, are among those urban dwellers who have suffered for many years under a system of student grant administration. Those PAYE workers who pay the taxes to provide the service are discriminated against in the provision of the service.

The issue of equity in student grants was put forward by both parties in this Government at the last general election. In one of its typically cynical pre-election promises, the Fianna Fáil Party stated there would be free third level education for everyone from 1994. That promise did not last long. In fairness, the Labour Party was more prudent; it promised that student grants would be based on the net income of the applicant rather than on the gross income, as at present. That promise was withdrawn formally in this House about ten months ago.

In March 1993 the Minister for Education set up an expert advisory group on the third level student support grant system with the following terms of reference, and I quote from the Official Report of 14 December 1993, column 459:

(a) to recommend appropriate criteria for assessment of eligibility of grounds of means, with reference to equity and the financial capacity of parents and applicants. In so doing the group would examine the application of the criteria for assessment of eligibility on grounds of means in the existing third level student support schemes; (b) to examine and make recommendations for the most effective and efficient organisational arrangements for the administration of the scheme, including rationalisation of the existing schemes.

There is nothing wrong with those terms of reference. The expert group reported to the Government. It is widely reported that it recommended that the basis on which eligibility for student grants should be based should be radically changed. It made certain recommendations with regard to the administration of the grant scheme.

On 14 December 1993 the Minister for Education promised in this House that the report would be published when she said:

I expect to be in a position to publish the report in February next,

that is now——

as well as to set out my intentions with regard to its conclusions and recommndations.

Two day ago we had, through the usual spin-doctored format, an announcement from the Minister for Education that there had been dramatic changes in the way in which the student grant scheme would be administered. Those changes apply to the second of the two terms of reference which the advisory group was given. For some reason the report of the group was not published even though that was promised in this House. There was no announcement as to what the group had recommended in relation to the first term of reference, which dealt with equity, or what the Government proposed to do about it. It is widely known that the group recommended that the basis on which eligibility is calculated for student grants should be changed. At present it is based on the reckonable taxable income of the parents.

In the case of a family with three children, the first of whom would be going to college, the reckonable income is £15,500 gross — an income a postal worker or a local authority worker with little or no overtime would have. A family with such an income, applying for a student grant may also apply for help with housing or a medical card. That is a very low income. The result is that the vast majority of PAYE taxpayers in low or middle incomes simply do not qualify for student grants. There is discrimination against PAYE workers because the self-employed, such as farmers, can deflate their reckonable income in the year in which they apply for the grant.

A farmer applying for a grant can buy a new tractor in the year in which the child is sitting the leaving certificate and consequentialy the reckonable income is deflated for that year. The result is that big farmers and business people qualify for student grants whereas people who are often employed by them do not qualify because their income is assessed on the basis of PAYE. The expert advisory group recommended that this should be changed and that eligibility should be on the basis of assessable assets or wealth. The Government has climbed down on that recommendation and has conceded on the issue of equity. It is an example of the abandonment, particularly by the Labour Party, of the urban PAYE people who elected them to office.

People in Crumlin, Drimnagh and throughout the constituency of Dublin South-Central, who are outside the limit for student grants and many other benefits, would have expected that the recommendations of a committee set up by the Government to examine this area would have been implemented. What we have had in recent days is a climb-down from the Minister for Education, a climb-down from the Government and a further kick in the teeth for PAYE workers. That is one of the reasons this Government is afraid to face the people. It is afraid to face them because of its record on issues such as employment, its abandonment of the promise to reverse the so-called dirty dozen which have now been increased to the filthy 15 and its abandonment of those on the local authority housing waiting lists. Because it has abandoned the people the Government believes the people should not be entitled to express opinions on their performance of the Government.

This is the second time a motion is before this House to hold by-elections which are due for over a year. It would be an astonishing travesty of democracy if the Government with the biggest majority in the history of the State was for the second time to deny to the people of those two constituencies their democratic right to elect Members to fill the present vacancies.

I propose to share my time with Deputies Enda Kenny, Barrett and Gay Mitchell who is, unfortunately, absent because he is involved in the select committee dealing with the Extradition Bill.

That the Government would leave two Dáil vacancies open for a full year shows the complacency of the Government and illustrates that it is putting its own convenience before the principle of the representation of the people. The Government in all that it does puts its convenience first. The Government consists of two parties who believe that because of the size of their majority it can take not only the House but the people for granted. There are many people on the streets of Dublin South-Central and in West Mayo who are only waiting for the opportunity to speak their minds to Government TDs and to pass an unfavourable verdict on the high spending, high tax policies of this Government.

This Government is the most centralised in the history of the State and virtually everything that moves in terms of enterprise has to be taxed and/or paid a grant. Every activity creates dependency on central Government. It was only in this year's budget that the hidden agenda of this complacent Government became obvious. With the means-testing of the windows' pensions a vista opened up to show people that the pensions to which they have contributed were no longer secure. It is clear that the Government has a long term agenda to undermine what were previously guaranteed entitlements. It also intends to extend what it euphemistically describes as the tax base. What it means by extending the tax base is removing allowances that people have had for many years for their mortgages, voluntary health insurance and health expenses and requiring them to pay tax on their houses. People who entered into commitments to buy their homes, to provide for their health costs through health insurance find that the commitments they entered into are to be undermined because the allowances previously available are to be reduced. Long-term entitlements to pension is to be undermined and people's long term commitments to provide for themselves are to be taxed. The Government is promoting dependency on the State rather than independence so that people can provide for themselves and their families. This is deeply corrosive and it is accompanied by a policy of centralising power.

The Government has refused to appoint a Minister with responsibility for the west who would take account of the 500 townlands which have been depopulated since the State was founded. In the next ten years a large number of primary schools in County Mayo will close because there are not enough pupils to make them viable. We are seeing the gradual disappearance of population in large tracts of country. The consequence of that is that elderly people will be living alone in townlands and villages without a family member within 100 miles where perhaps the closest member may be living in Athlone or Dublin, if not in New York or Sydney. These people will not have the traditional support of the extended family in times of tribulation. That is the human cost of depopulation of the west.

Similar problems of isolation are occurring in the Dublin South-Central constituency. It is significant that the detection rate for crimes against women in the Kevin Street Garda district which covers a large part of the Dublin South-Central constituency is one of the lowest in the country and only 11 per cent of crimes against women are prosecuted as a result of detection. The general detection rate for crime in the Dublin South-Central area is 16 per cent as against a national average of 30 per cent. People in Dublin South-Central are isolated in their homes. They are afraid to open their doors and have normal exchanges with other people because of the unattended problem of crime in that area.

In certain parts of Dublin South-Central the unemployment rates are as high as 70 per cent. The unemployed people in those areas will not be satisfied with more training schemes and more "make work" activities provided by the Government. They want jobs based on the production of goods and services because they know that the only truly secure job is based on the production of goods and services for which there is demand. They are not interested in being involved in "make work" and they recognise that at the core of the unemployment problem is the tax on the social welfare system being complacently administered by the Government which penalises the creation of jobs.

Any Member who two weeks ago had the opportunity of watching and listening to a series of programmes on unemployment, on RTE radio and television would have noted the deep sense of pessimism about unemployment and would have heard employers admit that there is no prospect of them creating additional jobs in the near future. They would have noted that the Government is saying that additional costs must be met by manufacturers of furniture, of clothing, of heavy engineering goods and of cement, even though the prices being obtained by producers are falling. Employers will not create sustainable jobs if Government policies fail to recognise their lack of viability due to falling prices which they are enduring.

The Government does not see the commercial sector of the economy, other than the multinationals and the large companies which are well represented in IBEC and which can pay large consultancy budgets to ensure they can penetrate the maze of programme managers and advisers surrounding each Minister to insulate them from the feelings of ordinary people. Small employers and the unemployed cannot get an appointment with programme managers. It is only those who are well placed, who are well off, who are represented by IBEC and, perhaps, by ICTU who can gain access to Ministers. Those in small businesses, those who are isolated, never get a chance to meet the policy makers. It is that sense of isolation, the cocoon which the Government has built around itself, which the by-elections will offer us an opportunity to penetrate. In the by-election campaigns Ministers who have been able to sit comfortably in their offices contemplating — in the case of the Labour Party — two or three more terms in Government with Fianna Fáil, "cosying" up to Fianna Fáil as Fianna Fáil, fatally for Labour, is "cosying" up to them, will have their cocoon penetrated. The cocoon will be penetrated if the Ministers are forced to walk the streets of Dublin South-Central and the roads of Mayo and meet the real people who will have much to say to them. In that spirit it is right that we should support the moving of these writs so that the people can have their opportunity to vote.

The level of anger about the budget is extreme. It is essential that the people of Dublin South-Central and Mayo West have the opportunity of passing a verdict on this Government before the Finance Bill is finalised — in other words within the next three weeks — so that the Government may learn a lesson from contact with real people. Having broken out of the cocoon created by the programme managers, the Government will have to learn that it must change some of the mistaken policies it is currently pursuing.

I support the moving of writs in respect of the by-elections. Traditionally by-elections were held on the death of an existing Member but both these arise from the resignation of Members — one of whom went to Brussels as Commissioner and the other who, for his own reasons, decided to opt out of the political mainstream. People in these respective constituencies should have an opportunity to pass judgment on the Government's performance. It is also an opportunity to pass judgment on the national performance of Government. Somebody once said that the only valid test of leadership is leading vigorously. This came to mind during the past ten days in regard to Fine Gael.

The Fianna Fáil-Labour Government has become complacent — in some ministries extremely arrogant — and has lost sight of the trust and responsibility placed in it by its seal of office. Fear generates a situation in which a Government refuses to contest elections but the result is almost inevitable. I recall distinctly that the Fine Gael led Coalition Government decided to postpone the local elections in 1984 because the timing was not suitable but when they were held in 1985 the party suffered devastating defeats. I believe this Government will lose both these by-elections. However, it is undemocratic, politically incorrect, morally wrong and smacks of downright cowardice that the people of Dublin South-Central and the expanses of Mayo West have not been given the opportunity to give their verdict on the performance of this Government.

It is very obvious to anybody observing the antics of the Government that the Minister of State of the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Brennan, who was mandated to identify 17 constituencies in which Fianna Fáil could take over, identified them. However, the former Deputy, Mr. Stafford, was nominated to contest the European elections although I understand from Deputy Briscoe's supporters that that was not to be the case.

It is politics.

The Labour Party has been subsumed into Fianna Fáil. I notice that the Taoiseach — rightly — is at rugby matches, race meetings and other events which previously were the only places where one would find certain members of the Labour Party. I recall listening in this House to the Taoiseach clarifying the role and the responsibilities of the Office of the Tánaiste a number of months ago. It was proposed practically to have a Tánaiste's Question Time, the Tánaiste was to be the spokesman on Northern Ireland and the Taoiseach would give an occasional supervisory look at this, but what do we find? He has dominated this area completely. His aspiration, to which he is entitled, is to have a Fianna Fáil majority, be returned as Taoiseach and see peace in Ireland, all very laudable aspirations.

The Government is literally all over the place. A Probate Tax was introduced but elements of it have since been abolished. The 1 per cent income levy was introduced but following pressure, it was also abolished. It was proposed to introduce a means test on the widow's pension but it was dropped following a great deal of political pressure. Residential property tax was introduced but, after great pressure from Fianna Fáil Deputies, anomalies will be addressed by the Minister for Finance. It will, rightly, go the way of the other nonsensical proposals.

I assure the Minister of State and his Cabinet colleagues that when they cross the bridge at Tarmonbarry and enter the province of Connacht they will certainly receive a warm welcome because the anti-Government forces have been building up for the past 12 months. In Mayo West, the Fine Gael Party candidate, Councillor Ring, has been canvassing very enthusiastically for the past 12 months.

We have to give him a clear run for a while.

He is having a good run. There have been difficulties in the Fianna Fáil Party in choosing a successor to the great commissioner——

A plethora of candidates are offering and it is getting very warm——

The new name for Fianna Fáil is "family fortunes".

——and the time is approaching when Fianna Fáil is about to make a decision. Irrespective of that decision it will lose the by-election.

The Minister of State is well aware of the two central failures of the Government in Mayo West; (1) it failed to deliver unequivocally, in spite of statements by the Minister for Education and the Taoiseach, third level courses for the students in a Mayo regional technical college; (2) it failed in the provision of phase II of Mayo General Hospital — where for a very nominal sum medical facilities could be provided for the people of this constituency as well as for the whole county for the next 50 years. Many Fianna Fáil and Labour Ministers do not comprehend the distances in the west. Mayo West, the constituency I represent, covers Headford to Blacksod, which is over 120 miles and Achill to the borders of east Mayo which is 75 miles, a huge sprawling constituency comprising dwindling villages and small towns in a severely disadvantaged area. From the increasing numbers turning up at my clinics I know that people resent being deprived of their democratic right of representation.

The by-election in Mayo West arises as a result of the former Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, being nominated a Commissioner. He decided to seize his opportunity and move to Brussels having been thanked by the people of my constituency for his undoubted expenditure in some areas. Last week he was nominated Mayoman of the year and in his acceptance speech, the Commissioner in his inimitable fashion, referring to his beloved people said: "I salute you, I celebrate with you and I raise you up on eagles' wings". Let me assure the members of the Fianna Fáil Party that when they cross into the Barony of Erris, the self same eagles might decide to attack on this occasion.

I support the moving of this writ. I look forward to the successful return of two new dedicated enthusiastic ambitious Opposition Deputies to put this Government on the rack and take them out at the appropriate time.

I look forward to having two Fine Gael Opposition Deputies returned to the House after the by-elections.

When I was first elected it was a great honour to walk into this Chamber and see so many famous people dedicated to public life. It was held in great respect like the Government of the day and the main Opposition Party. All these traditions were very important to me. The leader of my party — the main Opposition party — the leader of Democratic Left and the leader of the Progressive Democrats are present but all the Government can do in its arrogance is send in the nice Chief Whip to sit opposite us with the faithful Deputy Briscoe on the back benches. No member of the Labour Party or the Cabinet could find the time to come into the House and show the respect the people demand of politicians.

The Government is displaying arrogance, swanning around as if it owns the place. Mobile phones are ringing around the House; there are programme managers, spin doctors and assistants. Every family member is given a job if there is one going. The leader are the Labour Party, the great socialists, those who say they will fight for the poor. I cannot see how that party fought for the poor when widows' pensions are to be means-tested.

The public ask why do we not discuss these matters in the Dáil. When we try to raise them we are ruled out of order and the Ceann Comhairle says that we should change Standing Orders and that it is a matter for the Whips. This House is totally irrelevant and every important announcement is made outside it.

In Dublin Castle or elsewhere.

No one is answerable to this House. We made an arrangement for priority questions at Question Time to allow the Opposition parties to question the Government on matters of national importance but the smart handlers supply Ministers with an eight or nine page reply to the first question to use up the available time so that Ministers cannot be questioned. Not only is the Government displaying arrogance but it is treating the people of Dublin South-Central and Mayo West and Parliament with contempt. If Parliament is treated with contempt the people represented in Parliament are treated with contempt.

While the leaders of the Opposition parties have found the time to contribute to this debate no member of the Cabinet or the Labour Party, either Front Bench or back bench, could sit here for two minutes or even 30 seconds. The public are waiting for their chance. We can say what we like about opinion polls but I have been in politics long enough to know what the people are saying on the highways and byways. I am not saying any particular party in Opposition is doing exceptionally well in the polls but the people are waiting for Government Ministers and Deputies to knock on their doors; they will not get away with what the Government is attempting to do at present.

I have been appointed by my party leader to direct our by-election campaign in Dublin South-Central. I am not surprised that the Government does not want to face the people of that constituency because the main issue in the campaign will be unemployment. When Fianna Fáil took office in 1987 fewer than 200,000 people were unemployed, a figure no one could have been proud of. Various promises were made. However, in the space of seven years — whether Fianna Fáil likes it or not it must take the blame for this — another 100,000 people have been added to the unemployment list. There is no point in indicating what the position was during the term of office of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition because the fact remains that 100,000 people have been added to the unemployment list in seven years.

Since Deputy Ahern became Minister for Finance the national debt has increased by £1 billion a year. I do not see any columnists writing about this but such facts cannot be ignored. In addition the national plan is a sham. It is now collapsing despite the fact that it was launched with a fanfare in Dublin Castle and every spin doctor tried to convince every group that the Taoiseach would secure £8 billion for the people. We soon realised that the figures were out by approximately £1 billion. A European Commissioner called the Tánaiste a liar on television.

The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, is also displaying incompetence. We have been told that the allocation for the road network under the National Development Plan is to be reduced by £200 million. The Minister's only defence for his part in this debacle is to blame county councillors and county managers and accuse them of not filling in the potholes properly. According to a report in theIrish Independent this is one of the reasons we are in danger of losing this massive sum of money. Who is codding who? The Minister also had the arrogance to say that councillors ran away from their responsibilities by not having the guts to impose local charges. What has that to do with the National Development Plan? Can anyone imagine someone being fooled into writing this rubbish?

Those living in places such as Templeogue are waiting for their chance to have a say on the residential property tax and service charges which the Minister instructed councillors to impose. Lest the Government thought matters were going to improve it hammered VHI relief and mortgage interest relief. The National Development Plan has fallen out of the famous bag holding the money.

We were promised that during the period of the last plan, between 1989 and 1993, 175,000 jobs would be created. Although 80,000 jobs were created 70,000 people lost theirs. The crunch is that 93,000 people emigrated during that period. My message to the Minister for the Environment is that he should not blame county managers and county councillors for his incompetence and that of his colleagues in Government but rather blame the Government for the fact that European Unions officials are coming to examine the plans.

If the Government says it will solve the unemployment problem by creating 175,000 jobs and ends up with a net gain of ten, the loss of 93,000 people and unemployment increased to 300,000, it is no wonder the people in Europe who hand out money are asking what this incompetent Government is doing with it. If I were handing out money I would ask the same. The Minister should look into his own heart and soul before looking into the hearts and souls of councillors, county managers and county engineers and blaming them for the loss of, perhaps, £200 million in the road plan alone, never mind the promised 15 per cent in the overall plan that we have been warned about.

On a point of order, I note that there is not a single Labour Deputy in the House and only three Fianna Fáil Deputies. I, therefore, call a quorum; I would like to see the whites of their eyes today.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

The Progressive Democrats support the motion in Deputy De Rossa's name. I agree with many of the comments made earlier by Deputies De Rossa, Bruton, Kenny and Barrett. It is important to hold these elections because the seats have been vacant for 14 months in one case and, in the other for just over 12 months. The Government has a large majority, two of the Fianna Fáil Deputies do not have the Fianna Fáil Whip but in all the votes in this House since the Whip was removed from them they have voted with the Government. The Government, therefore, has a majority of 35 which is bad for democracy and the country — I will deal with that later. It would not be sensible for the electorate in Dublin South-Central or Mayo West to return any other Deputy for either of the Government parties. I agree with my colleagues on the Opposition benches that the Deputies elected should represent Opposition parties. After that we might disagree as to which Opposition party the Deputies should represent. The important thing is that they should represent the Opposition and I intend to deal at some length with my reasons for believing that.

I am disappointed that again we have no Member of the Labour Party in the House. They came in to form a quorum but within a minute had left. It is an indication of the attitude of the Labour Party in Government to this House. Last night I read the Programme for Government, I advise Deputies on all sides of the House to read it because it makes entertaining reading. Fred Astaire once said that in politics you can make a few mistakes on the way up, but if you make enough mistakes at the top people will think it is your style. This Government is making so many mistakes it has become its style.

Page 58 of the Programme for Government is relevant to what we are discussing.

We know that we cannot achieve our objective on our own. That is why we are seeking to establish the widest possible consensus and participation in decision making at national and local level so that the energies and ideas in every part of our community are harnessed in trying to achieve tangible progress for all our people. The hallmark of our Government will be openness and accountability and we will reform and modernise our institutions and laws. We will foster a flourishing culture and a healthy environment. In all that we do we will try to bring out and reflect our national character and spirit at its best.

The Government has dampened the spirit of the people, instead of trying to create an enterprising culture and spirit the Government puts down, at the first opportunity, anybody who is enterprising. The property tax was mentioned earlier and some Government Deputies misrepresent what it is about. The concern is not just about the amount of money individual families will pay but about what it represents. I saw it described as a begrudger's tax and that is what it is. Those who try to help themselves are put down at every opportunity by the policies of the Government. The former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, said in his book that he and his daughter-in-law devised the residential property tax. That did not matter when she was just the daughter-in-law of the former Taoiseach but she is now a Minister of State — to use her own words, she is the Minister for the £8 billion.

Everything she turns her hand to is a disaster and most Government back-benchers know that.

Yesterday afternoon the Minister of State said that the row over Tallaght Hospital was a storm in a tea cup, it is not and the Government's plan for the Structural Funds is in deep trouble. Respected senior European Community officials were rounded upon in an unfortunate fashion by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment who should know better. The intemperate nature of his remarks referring to the officials as merely civil servants was most unfortunate. These are honourable people doing their job. They are paid by the European taxpayers and it is their job to scrutinise the plans for the allocation of Structural Funds. They are drawing attention to major deficiencies in the Government plan and to the Government's own inadequacy.

The Structural Funds started off at £8 million which attracted the Labour Party because, if there is anything the Labour Party loves, it is spending taxpayers' or European money, anybody's money but its own. Last July the Tánaiste told us we would receive £7.8 billion in Structural Funding and in October it became £7.2 billion. He told us in this House the plan was so good that we would get the full range of what he called the "forchette", that we would get the top of the range, the range being £7.2 to £7.8 billion. We now know that the true figure is nearer to £6 billion and I understand the Government is being forced to submit revised plans for a meeting on 3 March next. Rather than openness, accountability and transparency, which the Government claims is its hallmark, it has refused to answer questions on the issue. It refuses to have statements in this House on the issue, even though it will be discussed at senior European level on 3 March next. The manner in which the Government handled that matter is a disgrace. When the people of Dublin South-Central, Mayo West and those voting in the European elections are called on to pass judgment on this Government after one year in office, I have no doubt about the verdict.

There have been 108 by-elections since 1923 and 50 per cent of them were lost by the party who previously held the seat. Unfortunately, the majority of those by-elections were necessary because of the death of a Member of this House, but on this occasion they are necessary because of the resignation of two Fianna Fáil Members. Fianna Fáil does not deserve to hold those seats. Its record in Government with the Labour Party does not warrant support from the electorate in either of those constituencies.

The Labour Party in Government has an influence far beyond its size. Every time I meet a Labour Party Minister, whether at junior or senior level, he or she is anxious to tell me about the marvellous relationship and how well both parties are getting on together. A vote for Fianna Fáil is a vote for Labour and a vote for Labour is a vote for Fianna Fáil — there is no difference whatever. Members of the Labour Party are so content they do not want anybody to raise objections. They do not want this House to meet; if the House never met it would suit them better. They do not want to answer questions. The real debates on the important political issues are not held in this House, but on radio and television programmes and in newspaper articles. We have received more information from Tommy Gorman, Seán Flynn, Catherine Butler and others about issues such as the Structural Funds than from any Member of the Government. The manner in which this House is being by-passed in regard to effective debate on the issues of the day is tragic.

The Structural Funds debacle is only part of the overall approach of this Government. I will not bother to give the full details of what the Minister for Equality and Law Reform is supposed to do except to say that he claimed every citizen would be treated equally and the number of laws passed would be unique. His first task was to look after the travellers, but what did he do? He tried to find a Deputy from the Opposition benches to chair a task force and Deputy McManus, a very able and courageous Deputy, agreed to take it on. Could he not get anybody in the Labour Party to take the job? If so, would he have offered it to members of the Progressive Democrats and Democratic Left and, perhaps, to Fine Gael? The first time he had an opportunity to do something for a marginalised group in our society — a Minister with a portfolio at last — he ran away from his responsibility, handed it over to a task force and put a Deputy from an Opposition party in charge of the task force. If there are any political problems the Labour Party will not be blamed. When there is a problem, the Democratic Left will hold responsibility, but when a solution is found the Minister will take the credit. I know the style of this Minister.

He also ran away from the problem of the Matrimonial Home Bill, which could have been amended. He decided to forget about it. The divorce referendum will be a disaster and a worse nightmare than that of 1986. At least on that occasion the Taoiseach and the Cabinet, by and large, were committed to holding a divorce referendum. On this occasion the Minister for Equality and Law Reform and one or two others are committed to holding a referendum, but the full Cabinet is not committed. I will give it my full support, the issue is much too serious to play politics with. Marital breakdown is a tragedy and the victims deserve to be dealt with realistically and compassionately by our laws and Constitution. I am committed to the concept of providing divorce for those whose marriages have broken down and who want a second chance. The Opposition will probably be expected to carry the can for that referendum. No doubt the Government will walk away from its responsibility. It is disgraceful that it walked away from its responsibility in respect of the Matrimonial Home Bill. The Supreme Court did not throw out the whole principle. It stated that couples should not be forced to make particular arrangements. It did not say that the principle of joint ownership of the family home was wrong. The Government should re-examine the matter because it is fundamental, particularly to the female spouse in a marriage partnership. Women who work in the home should be entitled, as a right, to joint ownership of the family home.

We sought to hold a debate on the role of the Presidency. When the President was asked to Chair an important UN working group, which would have been a great honour for us as a small nation, she was first told it would be unconstitutional for her to do so. When she received her own advice that it was not unconstitutional, she was told it could involve a policy conflict, even though we do not have a policy on the UN, as the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs established during a number of meetings with officials. If we do not have an official policy in that regard, with what policy could the President be in conflict? This is part of the Government's begrudgery — if it cannot do it, she cannot. Rather than face the music and answer the questions, the Tánaiste told us the President's role would be expanded. When asked if his views were representative of those of the Government as a whole, he said they were and that he had no reason to believe otherwise. However, the Taoiseach told us yesterday that the Government does not have any plans to expand the President's role. When a problem arose the Tánaiste created a smoke screen and when attention is diverted, it is forgotten about.

On the Order of Business on Tuesday, 15 February I asked the Taoiseach if the Government intended moving the writs for the two by-elections and he said, "if not in this term, certainly next term". When I asked him if he intended holding the elections on 9 June he said that was not decided yet but it was a possibility. If the Government can get away with it, it will not hold the by-elections on 9 June. Fortunately, we are forced to hold the European elections at this time; if not, we probably would not hold those elections either. MEPs would probably be chosen by the Minister for the Environment, similar to the representatives on the committee of the regions, of which eight of the nine members represent the two Government parties and one represents the Fine Gael Party, the chairperson of the General Council of County Councils. The manner in which the Government treats this House, the people it represents and its total abandonment of democracy is a disgrace. A measure of any majority is the way it treats minorities. Judged by that criterion, this Government's behaviour, its treatment of this House, the minority parties in it and the people at large, is a disgrace. When an opportunity arises the people will know that it makes no sense to elect another member of Fianna Fáil or the Labour Party; the two are one as far as I am concerned.

The Government referred in its Programme for Government to freedom of information, the broadening of democracy and ethics in Government. Those words sound fine but when tested they mean nothing. When the Tánaiste ran into difficulties in allocating the Structural Funds he called on civil servants to rescue him and said that if people did not believe him they could ask Ambassador X or Ambassador Y. They could not speak for themselves but they were used to back up the Tánaiste's approach. On this occasion the European officials were again called in but not for support, rather to take the blame. We were told the officials were wrong. As Deputy Barrett said, we are told that if money is not allocated for secondary roads it is not the fault of the Minister or the Government but of the county managers or the county councils. Everybody else is at fault except those who are elected and should be accountable, but are refusing to accept that.

It is important that people in Dublin South-Central and Mayo West, two different types of constituencies, be given an opportunity at the earliest possible date to pass judgment on this high spending, high tax Government. It is a Government which seeks to drown the spirit of the people at every opportunity through higher taxes and higher spending. Public sector pay will increase by 6.1 per cent this year and it is estimated that inflation will be 2.5 per cent. Government spending this year compared to last year has increased by 17 per cent. The rate of inflation was approximately 1.5 per cent last year and it is estimated it will be 2.5 per cent this year which amounts to an inflation rate of 4 per cent over the two years and we have a spending level of 17 per cent. Government spending is four times higher than the rate of inflation. The philosophy of the Labour Party is to keep spending, to borrow money or raise it through taxes. That party wants to spend money and to be involved in handing it out.

The Minister for State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Fitzgerald, described herself as the Minister for £8 billion although I have not heard her describe herself as the Minister for £6 billion or the Minister for £7 billion. As a former junior Minister I know how such office holders can be landed with unpleasant tasks. However, Deputy Fitzgerald should explain what is happening in relation to the Structural Funds. She should seek to live by the noble words contained in the Programme for Government but she might as well put it through the shredder. After a little more than one year in office the chapters in that programme make entertaining reading.

I wish to share some time with Deputy McManus.

The Mayo West and Dublin South-Central constituencies are different types of constituencies. Dublin South-Central is an urban constituency and part of it has a high level of unemployment. Some constituents will be affected by the property tax and those who try hard to help themselves are concerned about what that tax represents. The Tánaiste described the Structural Funds moneys as a fourchette — a range of funds from £7.2 billion to £7.8 billion. That fourchette is already leaking millions by the day. When the voters of Dublin South-Central get an opportunity to vote for the Tánaiste fourchette in the form of the Tanaiste's candidate, I have no doubt as to what the result will be.

Last week, the Taoiseach, commenting on the bishops report, "A Crusade for Survival", said he was committed to the development of the west. He said he did not intend to appoint a Minister for the west because the issues there cut across several Departments and I agree with him in that regard. The issue is not just about appointing a Minister for the west but that the Taoiseach will not allow the west have its due quota of Deputies. The Mayo West constituency has been without a Deputy since the formation of this Dáil. The quota of Deputies for the Mayo West constituency has not been filled since the Government came into office a little more than a year ago. The way the voters of that constituency have been treated is a disgrace. The issue is not about the internal differences of finding out who the candidates will be, it is about whether all electors should be treated equally as proved under the Constitution. Is there to be an equality of Deputies as between all constituencies or are some constituencies, because of matters that might be expedient at a time, to be treated on a different basis? The Government are not prepared to face up to the task of allowing the people to pass judgement on it because it knows what the result of the by-elections will be in both constituencies.

In April 1993 this issue was raised by Deputy De Rossa and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Dempsey, was given the task of responding to the questions. I support what has been said about there being no senior member of the Government or a member of the Labour Party present for this debate. That speaks volumes about their attitude to the people they were elected to represent, to democracy, the broadening of democracy, ethics in Government and a host of other matters. The Minister of State said in April last that the Government had only taken up office, it needed time to put its plans in place and did not want to be distracted by by-elections that are timeconsuming. He said that the business of the House was such that if we had by-elections, the Opposition — about which he was particularly concerned — because of its small numbers would not be able to service the committees, participate in debate in the House and canvass. I envy a Minister of State who has such concern for the Opposition. The Minister of State does not give a damn whether the Opposition can service the House or the committees. He was battling to put a good face on a bad decision by the Government and, no doubt, he will do the same this morning.

The Minister of State, when responding, should indicate if the Government has finally decided to hold the by-elections on 9 June. If the intention is to vote down this motion, when will the writs for those by-elections be moved and when will the Government make a decision on this matter? The Taoiseach said last week that the holding of the by-elections on 9 June was only a possibility? That is not good enough. It is the duty of Government to provide the opportunity for the consensus referred to in the Programme for Government, and to ensure that people are allowed have representation, regardless of what type of representation that might be.

Voting for these motions this morning will obviously result in the by-election being held in March and not on 9 June. That might not make a great deal of sense if elections will take place on 9 June. I will vote for the motions because I strongly believe in the principle involved. Democratic Left are right to come back ten months after they last put a motion to the House and ask what is the delay now and why have the by-elections not been held. An impression was given last April that the by-election would have been held in the autumn of last year. Most Deputies understood that to be the Government's intention. The way the Government has treated the voters of those constituencies is not good enough. The appropriate time to hold these by-elections is 21 to 30 days after the passing of these motions. That would mean they would be held on a different date to the European elections and would allow the voters in those constituencies, which are different types of constituencies but typical of the majority of voters as they include a mix of rural and urban voters, to pass judgment on the Government's credibility. When that is put to the people it will be resoundingly shown that the Government does not have credibility among the electorate. Its mismanagement of high spending and high tax policies and its mishandling of so many issues of vital interest to this country will lead the voters to refuse to endorse the Government's approach or give it two Deputies to continue its approach and policies.

I thank Deputy Harney for sharing her time with me. We like to think we live in a democracy, but what we are living in is an Orwellian type democracy; all animals are equal but some are more equal than others. The voting population of Dublin South-Central and Mayo West are less equal than electors in other constituencies. That is not their choice but is due to pure political connivance by the Government. Our neighbouring island had a history of rotten boroughs which had a small electorate and were in the gift of certain noble families. Loath as I am to call Dublin South-Central or Mayo West rotten boroughs, the Government is treating them as if they were constituencies in their own gift. In Britain, the great Reform Act did away with rotten boroughs but, unfortunately, that has not happened in Ireland. Those quaint remnants of a reactionary British system are what Fianna Fáil are now upholding in the way by-elections and general elections are determined by parties in power, regardless of the rights or desires of the people. That undermines political credibility.

I have heard much talk since I was elected to this House of how concerned Deputies are about the lack of credibility in politicians. Government manoeuvring in terms of the by-elections is part of the reason people have lost faith in politics and politicians. If it does not really matter whether a by-election is held, why fill the seat? If it does not matter that only three seats in a four seater constituency are filled, why have four seats? Why not reduce the number to two or even one? We should remember that a significant number of people in these constituencies did not vote for the TDs who now represent them. Do those people not have a right to representation, or is it simply, which is clearly the case, that the Government is running scared? The Government is afraid to meet people and answer questions they will legitimately ask, that is why the by-elections are being put on the long finger. It is certainly not due to fear of the Government falling because it has a vast majority.

In Britain the Government is usually shamed into holding by-elections — at present it takes a lot to shame a British Tory politician. By-elections are held and they take their medicine, but here it is impossible to shame the Government. It has adopted all the worst features of shoddy politics. It is all about political advantage, not about democracy. If this trend continues, eventually a precedent will be set to eliminate by-elections. What will that do to democracy?

I checked the dictionary for the definition of "democrat", I wanted to see if the Taoiseach is a democrat. The dictionary states that "democrat" is an advocate for democracy. I discovered — this is probably not well known — that "democrat" is also a four-wheeled cart with several seats, one behind the other. The problem is that one seat is missing from the democratic cart in two of our constituencies.

We need only look across the Border to see what happens when people feel disenfranchised. The distortion of gerrymandering is deeply buried in the Northern Nationalist psyche and it will probably take generations to die, regardless of the solutions proposed. This affects our fellow countrymen and women and should not be disregarded. We should learn from that lesson. People have a right to elect their representatives, those who, whether in Government or Opposition, will make laws by which they will subsequently have to abide. To mess about with that right is to play with fire.

Séamus Deane referred to unemployment in our bones, ending up with stones in people's hands. I do not think we have got to that stage, but if people are disenfranchised, if the fundamental principles of democracy are disregarded, it will result in a lot of anger. We should remember that the population who elect us are our masters and should not be manipulated, as the Government is doing. They have an inalienable right to determine who will represent them and no Government should deny it.

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

I have noticed, like the country at large, the latest form of political manipulation by the Government parties.

I must call another speaker.

On a point of order, it is unfortunate there is not a single Labour Party Deputy in the House to listen to this debate. Following the last quorum I called, a number of Labour Party Deputies appeared but then disappeared just as quickly. On this occasion I appeal for a quorum so that a number of Labour Party Deputies will be present to listen to their spokesperson who will defend the anti-democratic practices of these two parties.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Every time I hear Deputy De Rossa speaking——

The Labour Party Members are again leaving.

There will be no representative of the Labour Party in the House.

On a point of order——

I cannot hear a point of order now; the Deputy is infringing on Deputy Briscoe's time.

I merely want to point out that members of the Labour Party are participating in a committee of this House.

The Deputy told us he was in his office doing constituency work.

(Interruptions)

Acting Chairman

Order, please.

I understand a vote has been called at the Select Committee on Legislation and Security, where most members of the Labour Party are at present.

Acting Chairman

This is a limited debate——

Are the 33 members of the Labour Party attending that committee?

I will be very brief as I am sharing my time with Deputy Hughes.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I have been a Member of this House since 1965 and I have never met anyone with a harder neck than Deputy De Rossa:

Bar the Deputy's own.

All Members of the House, whether they are members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or the Progressive Democrats, know that the parties in Europe supported by Democratic Left, formerly The Workers' Party, are undemocratic, those in the socialist bloc.

The Deputy has a hard neck.

I do not know who the members of Democratic Left are trying to fool, but the last people they should try to fool——

I also feel sorry for the Deputy.

Acting Chairman

Deputy De Rossa has made his contribution and I ask him to desist.

The Deputies opposite should take their medicine.

The Deputy is part of a socialist Government——

I am not talking about that type of socialism. I do not think one could seriously equate the Labour Party with Democratic Left.

I hope not.

I do not think one could equate it with socialism either.

In regard to the comments made about the way in which the people of Dublin South-Central have been disenfranchised, the three Deputies for this area represent approximately 26,750 people. Under the Constitution, there should be one Deputy for every 20,000 people with some leeway given for one Deputy for every 30,000 people. As Shakespeare said, "there is nothing either right or wrong but thinking makes it so". If Fianna Fáil was in Opposition it would be making exactly the same case as the Deputies opposite are making. I assure Deputy Harney that the problems of law and order and unemployment in Dublin South-Central were as bad when the Progressive Democrats were in Government with Fianna Fáil a few years ago.

The task of the Opposition is to knock the Government as hard as it can, and it has no better opportunity to do this than during a by-election. This is only natural, it always happens. We all know that by-elections are notorious for going against the Government of the day. However, as Deputy Harney correctly said, the outcome of these by-elections will not change the Government.

Will the Deputy be campaigning?

Some years ago the former Deputy L'Estrange — I am not sure if he is still in the land of the living——

He is still with us.

He certainly is.

I am glad to hear it, because he will enjoy this. When his challenge to the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, to hold a by-election was accepted, poor old Gerry was put on the mat, so to speak, by the leader of his party for forcing a by-election which the Opposition did not want. This shows what can happen.

I hope Deputy McManus was not calling my constituency of Dublin South-Central a rotten borough. The people in that constituency are very decent and honourable——

The Deputy would try anything.

These people are very well served by their public representatives. The clinics formerly held by Dr. John O'Connell have been very well manned by Councillors Sean Ardagh and Michael Mulcahy — the service is as good if not better than it was previously. No one has come to me complaining they are not properly represented.

The former Deputy Byrne of Democratic Left got 7 per cent of the votes in Dublin South-Central in the last general election, a drop of 8 per cent. If one takes The Workers' Party and Democratic Left together, the share of the vote amounted to 9.21 per cent. There is no question of the people of Dublin South-Central being disenfranchised. One of the reasons the Democratic Left vote fell so sharply was that it made promises which people knew it would not keep. One can only do this for so long before people cop on. Fianna Fáil, which had only 29.6 per cent of the votes, held two seats in that constituency — supporters of other parties who want good representation, and please God will continue to, also voted for the Fianna Fáil candidates.

I have no doubt that Fianna Fáil will win the by-election in Dublin South-Central. We will do our best to explain our policies to the electorate, who will know that the Opposition parties are merely carrying on. Will Members of the Opposition be canvassing?

I know that the Deputy will be, but I want to know if certain other people will be out canvassing.

Certainly.

The big question is whether Deputy Briscoe will be out canvassing.

I will be out canvassing. As the Deputy said, I am a good faithful Fianna Fáil man.

On a point of order, will we hear the Labour Party's views on this matter?

Acting Chairman

That matter does not arise now.

Are any of them on your list of speakers?

Acting Chairman

If they are on the list they will be called.

Will the Minister speak after Deputy Hughes?

Acting Chairman

The Minister of State is sharing his time with Deputy Hughes and Deputy Briscoe.

In other words, we will not hear the views of the Labour Party on this matter. With 33 Deputies, I am surprised that not even one will speak.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy is infringing on Deputy Hughes's time and I ask her to desist.

This is a hypocritical exercise by the Opposition parties. If agreed, these motions would have the effect of bringing candidates in the Dublin South-Central and Mayo West by-elections out to canvass on the highways and byways and in housing estates between St. Patrick's Day and Easter. I do not think anyone either inside or outside this House would thank the Opposition parties for imposing another election on them — the local elections will be held in June and the promised divorce referendum will be held in the autumn. Nobody is in favour of holding by-elections at the end of winter-early spring to fill two Dáil seats.

Does the Deputy think the elections should be scrapped altogether?

Thank God for the European Union.

It is all very well for the Opposition to say that the people of these two constituencies have been disenfranchised, but in 1981 the Fine GaelLabour Coalition Government — it had a very slim majority — voted down a similar Opposition motion. The Government has no reason to vote down these motions because, as correctly said, it has a majority of 35 and it would not matter a whit if it lost both by-elections — it would still be in control and would continue with its very heavy legislative programme, which is much appreciated by the public. It would be totally irresponsible to disrupt the work of the Government by holding these byelections——

By-elections do not disrupt the work of Government; it is only general elections which do that.

The Members of this House would have to spend two or three weeks canvassing for the candidates in these by-elections, something the public does not want.

Deputy Kenny is a gentleman and a fine constituency colleague, but I am not sure he would look as comfortable as he did this morning if his prediction that Fine Gael, through Councillor Michael Ring, would win that seat was proved correct. Deputy Kenny has had a long reign in Mayo West but I predict that the Government will win the by-election and any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous. I do not have to refer to the opinion polls where the Opposition parties are languishing. The people of Mayo have ample confidence in the Government which has been in control of economic policy for the past 14 months.

For the past seven years.

I wish to mention briefly what has been happening in Mayo West during those 14 months, despite the fact that our representation has been halved. The former Minister, Mr. Flynn, did much for the constituency and had ample opportunity as Minister for the Environment. Development has not stopped in Mayo West. There is a record level of Government investment in the constituency in 1993-94. In the past week alone three measures have been implemented which will be beneficial.

For 20 years we sought development of Darby's Point, on the island of Achill. Unfortunately, Achill is an area which has suffered a huge loss in population in the past five years. For 20 years the locals campaigned for the development of a port in the area and an allocation of £300,000 from Structural Funds was made to add a 25-metre extension to the pier. This is a welcome measure after a 20-year campaign because it is the major fishery port situated between Killybegs and Rossaveal.

In the past week, within a few days of receiving the report "A Crusade for Survival", which was prepared at the behest of the west of Ireland bishops, the Taoiseach announced that he was setting up a task force which has been given a mandate to report within two months. I am satisfied that serious consideration will be given to all the 140 recommendations in that report.

A new programme for local development has been announced by the Taoiseach's Department. Under the old programme there was an area of North Mayo known as theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress area. We now have a new area called Mayo Central which covers almost the entire remainder of the county. This programme, working along with the IRDs and the Leader companies, is a welcome development and we look forward to its implementation at the earliest possible opportunity.

Millions of pounds are being spent on water, sewerage and road improvements in our country. There have been record levels of investments and a record number of schemes are under consideration in the Department of the Environment. I have no doubt that the planning of those schemes is progressing, irrespective of the fact that we are minus one Deputy. Confidence is so great in Fianna Fáil that we have five or six candidates offering to contest the Mayo West by-election.

That is great.

If we are to be humiliated to the extent suggested by the Opposition, why would five or six capable, experienced councillors wish to put themselves forward? The people in West Mayo have confidence in the work of the Government, despite suggestions of the Opposition at county council level that the west has been forgotten because the opportunity has not been availed of to appoint a Minister for western development. The people of West Mayo are the best barometer in this regard. There has been a high level of investment by people in the area, and by organisations and communities right along the western seaboard. This includes community fundraising activities, developing additional sporting and social facilities, investment in golf clubs and record levels of house building by private contractors. This is in addition to the programme that has just been announced for a record number of new houses.

Reference has been made to the budget and while some people in West Mayo are subject to the residential property tax, it is not a major issue. The concerns of my constituents are the matters which have been dealt with directly in the budget. The budget has been widely applauded and I have no doubt that the confidence to which I have referred will be further enhanced by its measures.

Lest there be any concern on the part of the members of the Opposition, I assure them that the Government will be opposing these motions when the time comes to vote on them. They will be delighted with that reassurance because I noticed when the political correspondents yesterday suggested that the Government would accept the motion, there was a degree of panic among the Opposition parties at the prospect of a by-election between now and Easter. Rather than keeping them in suspense, I want to make it clear that we will be opposing the motion.

I do not see any panic.

There has been much talk about democracy from the Opposition benches this morning and reference to the so-called arrogance of the Government. It has been said also that the Government is afraid to face the electorate. I wish to deal with those issues in addition to some other hypocritical statements that were made by a number of Deputies. I realise I have only 15 minutes to reply but I will try to respond to much of the rhetoric I have heard in the past hour and a half.

The Government has a safe and substantial majority in the House. I suppose it could be arrogant if it so wished. It could ram legislation through the House. It could disregard the wishes of the Opposition and ignore their requests for debates, changes to legislation and so on. That is a possibility with the size of the majority that the Government has at present but any fair minded person observing events in this House during the past 14 months since this Government came to power would say that exactly the opposite has happened. The Government has facilitated the Opposition at every opportunity.

Government business is set in conjunction with the Opposition Whips. In the past 14 months the guillotine has rarely had to be used in this House. Any reasonable request by the Opposition for additional time to debate Bills or to make statements has been reasonably met and I defy any fair minded person to say otherwise. Due to the reforms that have been introduced we now have a system whereby the Opposition have more say than ever before in the business of the House and in legislation. Members of the Opposition have commented favourably during the past 14 months on the committee system and comments have been made in the public media also about the willingness of Government Ministers to accept amendments on Committee Stage.

The Government is taking credit for that. I do not mind also giving credit to the Opposition for its very constructive participation in the various committees, which is as it should be. As implied by Members earlier there is no danger to democracy. Every fair minded person will accept that the position over the past 14 months has been the opposite when everybody got a fair crack of the whip in relation to business in this House.

I want to deal with a number of points raised on theNational Development Plan 1994-97 on the Order of Business in recent mornings. The plan provided for approximately £8 billion worth of projects and is at present being discussed by the Government and the European Commission. The negotiations are under way and it is hoped to settle a Community Support Framework for an agreed allocation. There will be a mid-term review of that allocation in 1996. Within that context the Government will make whatever adjustments are necessary in the national plan figures but, in doing so, will include all the projects contained in the original plan. This is the same procedure followed in the case of the 1989-1993 plan when the Community Support Framework provided for £3.7 billion worth of projects. The framework, the equivalent of what we are now discussing, was for £2.86 billion but the eventual draw-down by this country was £3.4 billion.

How much of that was inflation?

I want to repeat that the procedure at present——

On a point of order, the Minister should recognise that inflation is included in that figure.

Acting Chairman

There can be no point of order in reply to a debate.

——is exactly the same as that followed between 1989 and 1993.

We will get £6 billion only.

Deputy Harney seems to think that everything the Government does is a disgrace, the word she most often uses and has used in recent months.

Not true.

I am delighted she took time to read the Programme for Government. Perhaps if she and Deputy Gilmore read it in greater depth, with our policy document issued prior to the last general election, they might have a better idea of what the Government is doing. If Deputy Harney looks at the cover of the Programme for Government she will see that it is not due for completion until 1996. Anybody who expects the entire programme to be put in place in one year is living in cloud cuckoo land but the Government will not join them there.

Deputy Harney referred briefly to the residential property tax and her party's position on it. In a recent programme on RTE she said that her party never supported property tax but the record is different. For example, Deputy O'Malley, when Leader of the Progressive Democracts supported property tax without qualification. On 11 July 1988 he said in the House that his party was committed to a comprehensive property tax, which was confirmed at the Progressive Democrats Party Conference later in 1988.

Will the Minister of State show me a document containing that policy?

Are the words of the party leader not sufficient?

I am the party leader.

The Deputy was not leader in July 1988. If she notifies us of policy changes we will be delighted to take them into account.

I will send the Minister of State all the policy documents. He should adhere to his policy as I will to mine.

What is his policy?

I am delighted Deputy Barrett is paying attention. We listened this morning to Deputy John Bruton speak about high spend and high tax Governments. The Fine Gael policy in relation to PRSI was to remove the ceiling altogether, which was also the Progressive Democrats' policy. Deputy Harney alleged, repeated by Deputy John Bruton, that this was a high tax, high spend Government. Is Deputy Harney objecting to Tallaght Hospital being built?

From where will the money come?

I do not think she will object. We will get the money where we get a lot of the rest of it.

The second allegation levelled at the Government was that it was afraid to face the electorate and that was why the by-elections were postponed. I do not know where Members of the Opposition get the impression the Government is afraid to face the public. Over the past 12 months — as I said when this matter was last debated in the House — the new Government wanted to get on with the very serious business on hand as it had a lot of legislation to process. The record over the past 12 months will show that we did so. Within that period over 50 Bills were processed by the House, demonstrating that the Government is working in that respect, but not in that respect only. In referring to Northern Ireland Deputy John Bruton, in his contribution to the debate last time round predicted — Official Report 28 April 1993, column 1,626:

I hope this combination of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party has the capacity to make a contribution towards solving that problem. However, I have the gravest doubts about this because they seem to be paralysed by indecision when it comes to making any major move by way of a generous response from people on this side of the Border in order to break the logjam in the talks process. It seems that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are unable to make up their minds as to who is ultimately responsible for Northern Ireland policy. They have effectively paralysed each other in regard to making any generous gesture and indicating a willingness to change Article 2 and 3 of the Constitution, if there is a settlement, to get the talks moving. As long as we have this coalition of paralysis in office we are not going to see movement or the urgency that should be shown on this side of the Border about the problems of Northern Ireland.

I quote that just to show how far out Deputy John Bruton can be in his predictions. His predictions in relation to job targets, the economy and so on this morning will be as far out in 12 months as they were 12 months ago.

He gave support to the Government in its efforts.

I am endeavouring to make the point that Deputy John Bruton's predictions are not very reliable.

So what; is the Minister of State saying he has solved the problems of Northern Ireland?

Acting Chairman

I might remind Members that only one minute is left.

I repeat that the record of the Government over the past 12 months clearly shows it is not afraid of facing the electorate. We look forward to facing it in the by-elections at the appropriate time. We have delivered consistently on our Programme for Government over that period and have made major progress in a variety of areas, not least Northern Ireland.

We will oppose the issue of the writs. We think it inappropriate to hold an election between St. Patrick's Day and Easter Sunday. I do not think anybody in this country would thank us for doing so, with European elections in June and a referendum in October.

When will we have it?

Acting Chairman

Please, Deputy, the question must now be put.

May I put a question to the Minister?

Acting Chairman

No, Deputy.

What is the appropriate time? Is it 9 June next?

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 41; Níl, 66.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan M.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • (Limerick East).
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Broughan, Tommy.
  • Browne, John(Wexford).
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hilliard, Colm M.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Morley, P. J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Eamon.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Rabbitte and McManus; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and Ferris.
Question declared lost.

I move:

That the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his Writ for the election of a member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the resignation of Deputy Pádraig Flynn, a member for the Constituency of Mayo West.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 65.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan M.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • (Limerick East).
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Broughan, Tommy.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hilliard, Colm M.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Eamon.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies E. Kenny and Boylan; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and Ferris.
Question declared lost.