Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 Oct 1995

Vol. 457 No. 6

Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995: Motion.

I move:

That, pursuant to section 1 (2) (b) of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995 (No. 22 of 1995), it be hereby declared that—

(a) Part II of that Act in so far as it relates to—

(i) Dáil Éireann and its members,

(ii) the Clerk of Dáil Éireann,

(iii) committees of Dáil Éireann and their members and clerks,

(iv) joint committees of Dáil and Seanad Éireann and their members and clerks,

(b) Part III of that Act in so far as it relates to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Dáil Éireann, and

(c) Parts V and VI of that Act in so far as they relate to members of Dáil Éireann,

shall come into operation on the 1st day of January, 1996.

Last week I heard a radio show on which a well known singer was asked who he would least like to share a taxi with and his answer was "any politician". There is cynicism about people in public life and a belief that we in this House are only out for what we can get out of politics. People in politics, never mind the long hours worked and the strong commitment to public service on all sides of the House, are all tarred with the same brush — that we belong to a discredited profession.

That is the reason the Ethics in Public Office Act is important to us as Deputies and in strengthening trust in our democracy. It is also important for confidence in the public service and the wider public sector. It sets out to put the facts, not the myths, on the record. It establishes the principle of openness in addressing any potential conflicts of interest. It sets out a framework where the conduct of public business and the private interests of people in public positions are seen to be kept separate.

Ministers and Deputies, civil servants and people running State companies are in positions of public trust. The Act provides a framework for identifying and dealing with potential conflicts of interest in these roles. It enables people in public life to demonstrate that the values of public service come first and people in positions of public influence to show that they keep their public duties and their private interests separate. Its mechanisms are a safeguard to show that those who work in the public's name are working on behalf of the public interest.

These rules on disclosure of interests echo those in other parliaments among our European neighbours and in the European Parliament itself. They are a basic feature of democracies in the modern world.

The Act provides for the annual registration of interests by people in key public positions — Oireachtas Members and Ministers, the Attorney General, senior civil and public servants, board members and senior executives of State companies and Ministers' special advisers. It sets out procedures for handling conflicts of interest which arise on the job and new rules in relation to the acceptance of gifts by office holders. It introduces greater openness and accountability into personal appointments by office holders and provides for an independent commission to oversee key provisions of the Act and investigate complaints.

The Act has been debated at length both in the House and in committee — few Acts have received a more thorough going over — with spirited contributions from all sides, including Deputy Connolly and Deputy McCreevy of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Michael McDowell of the Progressive Democrats, the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, who fronted for Fine Gael, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, of Democratic Left and Deputy Willie Penrose of my own party who made a robust contribution.

Our purpose today is not to revisit those debates. The Act is now law and today we are making arrangements to commence those sections which apply to Members of this House. This is in line with the constitutional principle that each House regulates its own affairs.

The Government has already made the commencement order to bring the other sections of the Act, other than the provisions for Deputies and Senators, into operation from 1 November. The Minister for Finance, the designated Minister under the Act, is proceeding with the necessary orders to apply the Act in respect of the public service.

As the Act is a technical one, I will set out in simple terms the provisions that we are making for the commencement order today. I have already circulated during the summer an informal guide to the Act's requirements for Deputies and Ministers which covers these issues in somewhat more detail.

A select committee of this House chaired by the Ceann Comhairle must be set up under the Act with the statutory task to prepare guidelines on compliance with the Act for Deputies and to offer advice on individual queries from Members. A similar select committee of the Seanad will have the same functions for that House. This follows the constitutional provision, Article 15.10, that each House regulates its own affairs.

The guidelines will be drawn up following consultation with the independent commission which oversees the Act for Ministers and senior public servants and with the Seanad select committee to ensure maximum consistency. It will be an important protection under the Act for Deputies to show that they were acting on the advice or following the guidelines laid down by the committee if a complaint was made. A further role for the committee is to investigate complaints and report to the House. The committee will have comprehensive powers to summon witnesses.

Preparatory work on setting up the committee and preparing the guidelines can begin when today's order has been made to ensure that all the necessary elements are in place for the commencement of these sections on 1 January. The House may also consider any amendments required to the Standing Orders of this House.

The Act requires two types of disclosure of Deputies, as it does of all groups which come within its remit: an annual statement of interest and ad hoc declarations of interest where a conflict of interest may directly arise, that is, in speaking or voting on a specific issue.

Oireachtas Members, including Ministers, must set out annual statements of their interests in a public register. The first register covers interests arising from the time the Act was passed to the first registration date, that is, from 22 July to the end of January next. The interests to be declared in the register are outside income; shares and directorships; land, but not the family home; gifts, other than personal gifts; public contracts and work as a paid lobbyist. These points are covered in more detail in the informal guide which I have already circulated to Deputies.

These interests are similar to those listed in other parliaments. Interests below a threshold value do not have to be disclosed, that is, assets or shares worth £10,000 or less, income of £2,000 or less, or gifts worth £500 or less. These amounts will be index linked. In no case is disclosure of the amount of income or the value of the interest required.

In addition, when speaking or voting in the Houses of the Oireachtas, Members will be required to make a formal declaration if the issue involves a potential conflict of interest for either themselves or a connected person, that is, a close relative or business partner. A simple statement that the Member has an interest is sufficient.

As people holding executive positions, Ministers and other office holders are required to make a more comprehensive declaration of interests than ordinary Members. In addition to the annual declaration of their personal interests, which as in the case of other Members forms part of the public register, Ministers are required to make an additional private declaration of those interests of their spouses and children known to them which could have a bearing on their public duties.

The Taoiseach and the independent commission have to be informed where a Minister proposes to exercise a function of his or her office which could potentially benefit themselves, their immediate family or business associates, or another Minister. The Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle are office holders under the Act. In line with the developing role of Oireachtas committees, it will be open to the House to designate the Chairs of particular committees as office holders under the Act. An Attorney General who is a Member will also come under the provisions for office holders. An Attorney General who is not a Member is treated in the same way as other senior public servants.

The order before the House provides for a commencement day of 1 January next for the sections of the Act dealing with Members. The first registration date for registration of Members' interests is 31 January next. Members have 30 days from the registration date in which to register their interests. The register is laid before the Houses following a further 30 days. In other words, Members will make their first declarations by the beginning of March and these will be published in the beginning of April.

The Act deals not only with politicians. It sets out rules for the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest for senior civil servants and those running State bodies.

Senior public servants, senior executives and members of State bodies are required to make annual declarations which are private in respect of their own interests and of those interests known to them of their spouse and children which could have a bearing on their public duties. They are also required to make once off declarations where a potential conflict of interest, involving themselves or close connections, could arise in the performance of official duties. Further, they are generally forbidden, as a term of their conditions of appointment, from performing a function where there is a conflict of interest unless there are compelling reasons for so doing. In such cases these reasons must be given in writing to the relevant authority and made available to the independent commission. These rules are based on the existing guidelines which operate for senior executives and board members of State companies. They provide an important safeguard.

The Act is careful to strike a balance between serving the public interest through disclosure and respecting the legitimate right to personal privacy. Those in public life declare their own interests on a public register. Declarations by public servants and State board members will be confidential to the relevant authority. Declarations in relation to family interests, which are required only from people in executive positions, from Ministers but not from ordinary TDs, will likewise be confidential to the commission. Any unauthorised disclosure of such information will constitute a criminal offence.

Apart from addressing the separation of public and private interests, the Act also deals with gifts to office holders, and with the appointment of personal advisers and assistants by Ministers. The Act provides that any gift worth over £500 given to a Minister, their spouse or child by virtue of that ministerial office becomes the property of the State.

As regards personal appointments by office holders, e.g. personal assistants and special advisers, the Act provides that these will be temporary and will cease when the office holder leaves office. The Government will be precluded from appointing such persons to permanent positions in the Civil Service. This gives legal effect to what is already established practice. The Act also provides for publication of details of all such personal appointments.

An independent commission will oversee key provisions of the Act in respect of office holders, special advisers, public servants, including civil servants, and senior executives of State boards, mirroring the role of the select committee in relation to overseeing the Act in this House. The commission will undertake the investigation of complaints of possible contraventions in respect of these groups. The commission will comprise the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman, the Ceann Comhairle and the Clerks of Dáil and Seanad Éireann. A Cheann Comhairle, you will have onerous roles as both Chairman of the select committee and Member of the commission, which, I am sure, you will discharge with distinction.

The purpose of the motion before us today is to bring those provisions of the Act as apply to the Dáil into operation from 1 January next. I commend the motion to the House.

My party was in Government when the origins of this Act were being discussed. It was published during the term of office of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Coalition.

The purpose of today's motion is, as the Minister said, to bring the regulations of the Act into effect from 1 January next. It is a little unusual that regulations under an Act are discussed in the House. It does not happen often. It can be done on any occasion if they are challenged and sometimes Government Ministers decide to bring the regulations before the House. On this occasion, I suggest the reason the regulations under the Ethics in Public Office Act are being brought before the House is that the Government has run out of business and it fills a few hours of Dáil time.

This Act has been fully debated in select committee and in greater depth than most other Bills, including Finance Bills and other possibly more important Bills for the following reasons: (a) there was considerable interest among Members on all sides of the House; and, (b) there is exceptional interest in the media with regard to anything which affects politicians.

I have no problem with the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, because I readily recognise we must proceed in this fashion. The vast majority of Members have nothing to fear from the publication of any documents or register which will be formed.

The Minister made the point that the Act will restore public confidence in the tarnished image of politicians. I do not think it will even though I welcome the Act. This must be the only profession in Ireland — perhaps politicians all over the world suffer in the same way — but we are acutely aware of it in the Irish context, whose individual members go out of their way to debase it. I am a chartered accountant and Deputy Michael McDowell is an eminent practising barrister. In both professions, members compete against one another for business, even though barristers do not admit it.

They do not engage in price competition.

Except in the upward spiral of price competition because there is such a limited number of them.

In any event, if one member of the club were attacked, both Deputy McDowell and I would go out of our way in our respective professions to, at least, defend the club atmosphere. In Dáil Éireann and Irish politics, particularly over the past 15 years or so, we have gone out of our way to do the opposite. Whatever we could say about one another that would bring disgrace on that person, and eventually upon all politicians, we have said. It is amazing then that politicians get up and ask why people are so cynical about politicians. I suggest it has been politicians themselves who have brought this about over the past 15 years with the help of an ever compliant media.

I do not blame the persons in the media for reporting or investigating as it is believed that this sells newspapers. One could predict every few months that a certain newpaper will run an article on TD's long holidays. It is something which will fill the pages. There will always be a TD or someone from the other House there who will not give the full picture. When we have been attacked in the public press for excessive salaries, travel, etc., we have always had TDs who go along with it because they believe if they play to the media, they will get favourable publicity. Is it any wonder we bred the cynicism which the Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald rightly points out is there?

I do not believe this Act will do much to restore public confidence in politicians. I have been on record a long time as having said one of the main reasons people lost confidence in politicians is not that we keep denigrating ourselves, even though that is an important factor, but that over a long period of years successive Governments, which were composed of all the parties now in this House, have gone out of their way to run the country in a totally irresponsible fashion and have pandered to the public will.

We will shortly get to the stage where, like the United States of America, we will be governed by opinion poll. Politicians and political parties who go down that road for short-term political gain debase the currency of politics in the long-term.

This aspect of politics has been advanced in the past number of years by a number of parties in this House. Whether in Government or in Opposition, Fianna Fáil has been on the other end of it. We have been attacked consistently. I am not saying other politicians and parties have not suffered over the years but, in general, Fianna Fáil is perceived as the receptacle for bad things in political life and politics. Notwithstanding my friendship with the Minister of State, which goes back to our time in University College, Dublin, I think Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald honestly believes that. I do not think it is out of base motives. Since before she came into this House and shortly after coming into the House, I have heard her make many statements. I do not necessarily blame her but this is a common perception among a certain class, in which the Minister of State moves, perhaps more frequently than I do. It is not only her. Many people of her generation and background believe that about my political party.

This generation of Fianna Fáil and Front Bench will fight back when accused. In the past, and I have been a Member of this House since 1977, Fianna Fáil preferred to get on with the business and, whether under former Deputy Haughey or Deputy Reynolds, more or less said there was no point trying to defend ourselves against a lot of it. No one would believe us, there was an ever compliant media and they were well able to listen to all these bad things.

The reconstituted Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and Members of the Front Bench have had enough and will fight back. An article in The Irish Times of 25 October 1995 carried the heading: “Ignoring the kudos to be gained from backing high political standards”. The political correspondent made great play about the Electoral Bill and implied that Fianna Fáil's position on it was what one would expect from that party. The same political correspondent, and others, have long argued that Fianna Fáil will do anything to get votes and that it has nothing to do with standards, ideas or policies. That is what emanates from the media, particularly The Irish Times and I have had enough of it. They state that this is what one can expect from Fianna Fáil; everything is done to get votes, nothing is too low for us to stoop to and we are not to be accepted in any form.

The thrust of the article is that there are political kudos and votes to be gained from going down the road advocated by the political correspondent. He and others have argued that this party will do anything to get votes yet in the article he states that Fianna Fáil cannot bring themselves to face up to the Act even though there may be votes in it. As far as this party is concerned, turning logic on its head is nothing new for the media or for that newspaper but this defies belief. The article mentioned Deputy Dempsey and I am sure he will be well able to defend himself.

If we think the Ethics in Public Office Act will change public attitude towards politicians while one of the major organs of the State continues to campaign vigorously against my party — as they are entitled to do — we need to think again.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement that guidelines will be published. As I said on Committee Stage, I hope a booklet will be published so that every Member will know how to comply with the provisions of the Act. My colleagues, Deputy Connolly, put forward various proposals to guard against the making of vexatious claims in the run up to an election but these were not accepted.

The Act is a good one and I welcome it. Most Members who are more worried about their liabilities than their assets have nothing to fear. There is belief, fostered more by the party of which the Minister of State is a member than any other, that every Member is up to his ears in scandal, money dealing, asset management and has all kinds of income. The majority of Members find it hard to live on the salaries generously given to them by the taxpayer. The Devlin Commission used to assess the salaries of politicians, the Judiciary and higher public servants. This was replaced by what was known as the Gleeson recommendations. Successive Governments had great problems in implementing them.

I was proud to be a member of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government that decided in the summer of 1994 to implement the recommendations. However, I was disappointed when the new Government used the same old cop out and deducted the increase in salaries recommended for members of the incoming Government. The media pressure was too much for them. My advice to all Members is that the people do not respect any profession that debases itself. I do not know any medical doctor who gets more business because his fees are the cheapest, nor do I know of any chartered accountant who gets more business for a similar reason and I certainly do not know of any barrister who gets the best business because his fees are the cheapest. The opposite is the case. We make the same mistake by responding to people who write about us. The people are not really concerned about the salary a poliitican receives. However, if they are asked in an opinion poll they will say we are paid too much but we are less respected for postponing increases than if we accepted the increases recommended by an independent commission. I was very disappointed when colleagues with whom I served in the previous Government postponed them. Does anybody remember that now? When it is decided to grant the increases the same journalists will write the same old rubbish about us and the debate will continue.

I welcome the Act. I would like to think that it will increase public confidence in Oireachtas representatives, as stated by the Minister of State. I hope it will but I will not hold my breath.

My position has been consistent in that I have always favoured the establishment of a register of interests in the House. The Act has that effect and in so far as it achieves that it is an unduly cumbersome method of doing what virtually every Legislature does by Standing Orders. However, it seeks to extend its remit to people who hold public office in various guises and in that respect its effects could not be achieved by a change in Standing Orders.

My interest was drawn to the opening remarks of the Minister of State when she quoted a singer on a radio show saying the last person the singer would like to share a taxi with was a politician. There is a fair number of singers with whom I would not care to share a taxi either.

I agree with Deputy McDowell.

I am not the slightest bit worried about that kind of remark. In any democracy I do not think politicans ever will be the flavour of the month. Certainly barristers realise they never will be the heroes of any democratic society, but there are circumstances in which the members of any profession should stop digging holes and denigrating their profession and instead begin to defend it if and when publicly criticised.

I also agree with Deputy McCreevy that, if there were a full statement, as opposed to a statement of registerable interests, of the financial affairs of Members, if the full unvarnished truth were required to be published in general terms, the only surprise would be at the relative poverty of the Members of this House.

Or minus net worth.

Yes. Nobody I know of has enriched themselves to any significant extent by participation in the political process. Personally, I have found that the only financial effect of participation in politics has been disastrous. I am not pleading for sympathy, but merely making the point that, were I not a Member of this House, my net worth would be substantially more than it is now. That does not apply just to me but to many others who, had they applied their talents and energies to selfish pursuit of wealth in their various professions, trades or callings, would be far better off for never having darkened the door of Leinster House.

Of course, the corollary of that point is that many people now believe, and say it to Members, including myself, that we must be mad to be in politics since it is thankless and pointless and is a demeaning profession of which to be a member. That public incredulity that anybody who has anything to offer would bother to make a contribution to the political system is a serious problem which this Bill does not address. There will be no register of what people could have earned had they remained outside this House, no register of the long hours they put in here. Deputies who lose their seats and livelihoods will not be registered. There will be no newspaper articles written about those ruined by politics nor about those whose health has quietly collapsed owing to their political commitment. There will never be any public interest in the down side of political involvement but there is a huge appetite for suspicion that there is some secret up side to being in politics that motivates people corruptly and secretly to participate in a profession which otherwise appears to be unrewarding.

I have no reason to believe that any legislation ever can seriously improve the general ethical complexion of our political system. If one can influence decisions by brown paper bags, be they in the planning, political, legal process or anywhere else — and suspicions that these things happen are greatly exaggerated — this Bill will never stop that. This Bill will not root out or expose corruption. Anybody who wants to behave corruptly will not find that this Bill offers them a moment's worry or in any sense amounts to an obstacle to their corrupt path in politics. If one wanted to make corrupt decisions one could drive a coach and horses through this Bill if its provisions ever were invoked.

This Bill will not clean up politics. It whitewashes some aspects of politics perhaps, but will never clean up politics in the sense that it cannot offer the electorate any guarantees that henceforth their politicians will be more upright and less corrupt because this Bill is in operation.

If one wanted to make money out of peddling political influence one would be far better off not being a Member of this House but a public relations consultant who can and will charge clients hefty fees for influencing others. Certainly within my time in this House I have never witnessed any opportunity for a Member to make the kind of substantial sums some people in the private sector appear to make out of lobbying us. If there were to be protections of the public interest in that regard, then concentrating on politicians probably is the last exercise in which one should engage. If and when influence is peddled by a professional group of consultants and lobbyists, public attention should focus on them rather than on those whom they seek to influence.

One shortcoming of this Bill which persists is its failure to address the relationship between the public service and the private sector in one very serious and material respect. Where is it provided in this Bill that senior members of public bodies and senior civil servants may not take up directorships in companies with which they had dealt previously as public servants? I think that is provided for, to some limited extent, across the water in Britain.

There should be a code of practice in this country that prevents senior office-holders in the public service and in public bodies from retiring from one job and thereafter joining a group with which they had dealt previously on behalf of the public sector, at least for a period of time, in order to demonstrate that their subsequent appointment cannot be related to anything they did while in public office. It is not good enough that large firms can have a relationship which people making decisions about their fate which enables those firms to recruit those same people after they resign from positions in which they have substantially influenced the commercial success or failure of those companies. That is an area with which the Bill does not deal. I wonder whether it is necessary that it should deal with it. Perhaps it would be better were there to be a convention to the effect that, say, a Secretary or Assistant Secretary of a Department could not resign and join a company with which his Department had had close dealings over a period of one or two years. That would remove the suspicion that people holding high office in certain Departments of State expect to be invited to join the boards of companies with which they had dealings while exercising public authority. The Minister of State might apply her mind to this issue. I cannot imagine how to draft a section of a Bill which will achieve that end, but we need to put in place a convention along those lines. I do not criticise the public service when I say this, but it is undesirable, as undesirable as it would be for a High Court judge to resign and become a director of an insurance company whose cases he had decided until the time of his resignation of retirement.

One of the things which disappointed me was that the promise to consider this Bill in tandem with the Electoral Bill was not kept. The Second Stage of the Electoral Bill is now before the House, but the Ethics in Public Office Bill will come into operation before it is dealt with. I am deeply suspicious of the moral stance of those who say politics will be cleaned up if contributions to political parties are transparent and parties — if not wholly placed on the public payroll — are provided with a basic income from public funds. I do not believe that will have the intended effect. Politicians require public help much more in the area of assistance to carry out their duties rather than direct funding for their re-election campaigns. An analogy of sorts exists between the argument that it is wrong to use tax-payers' money to fund one side in a referendum and the argument that it is wrong to use taxpayers' money to pay political parties' expenses between elections, on the basis of the outcome of the most recent election. Using taxpayers' money in this way effectively makes the result of the next election more likely to correspond with the result of the last one.

On the subject of using public moneys in the political domain, I listened to Deputy Shatter deal very ably with Mr. Binchy on the radio this morning. He said public funding was necessary to counteract propaganda from the anti-divorce group during the referendum campaign. It seems that the use of public funds to affect the outcome of elections or referenda is deeply suspect.

It is all very well to think in terms of a complex issue such as Maastricht or the Single European Act and state that these were circumstances where public funding could be so used. However, is it correct to use public funding in relation to a social issue such as divorce? Is it correct to use public funds in a campaign to eliminate proportional representation and return to the straight vote system, to curtail the independence of the Judiciary or to deprive some religious minority of their rights or citizenship under the Constitution? Would public funding be made available to finance such projects because a majority of the Dáil felt use could be made of the Exchequer's resources to promote its view of society? I doubt it.

This legislation and the Electoral Bill, which were supposed to be considered in tandem, are examples of using statutes to attempt to persuade the public that all is well. They also represent an attempt to create the illusion that it is possible to legislate for honesty in politics by use of statutory provisions. The only guarantee of honesty in politics is the standards of the people who vote in elections. They know the people with whom they are dealing and can judge them reasonably. If they do not know, or are not prepared to make assumptions about the calibre of the people with whom they are dealing, they have no business voting for them. The best judgment of the honesty or integrity of a politician must be that, if his or her political standards fall below those required or desired by the public, he or she can be removed from office at the next election. The electorate cannot cast responsibility for its faulty judgments on to the Legislature.

It is not our duty or function to put laws in place to attempt to assure the electorate that we are honest, upright people. It is the function and responsibility of the electorate to ensure that their politicians are what they require. This legislation is more of an aspiration than a guarantee. It will not guarantee anyone that politics following its enactment will be different to politics prior to its enactment. It may have a symbolic effect in that some elementary safeguards will be in place. However, those safeguards are unnecessary or redundant, in large measure. As Deputy McCreevy stated, Members would be better to spend time assuring the public that politics is not a way to become wealthy, is not corrupt and does not need more legislation to prevent it being corrupt. The reverse is the case. Any shortcomings which the Irish political system may have are largely shortcomings inherent in our society and due to the choices voters make on election day.

It has most emphatically not been the case, from my experience, that Members of this House are brokers in influence for personal gain. There are many faults in our political culture including patronage and favouritism, which probably exist in every political culture. Personal corruption, however, is not a vice which I have ever encountered in this House. In so far as the Irish political system wishes to vindicate itself — I echo Deputy McCreevy's statement in this regard — I wish to place on record my feeling that the largest sacrifices in favour of democracy are made by those who engage in the political process. They make the big sacrifices and in large measure they are the losers personally, economically and in their family lives. We should never cease to point out to the electorate that going into politics is not a sign of madness — as they will say over a pint in a pub — or a thing a cute person would not do but is a matter of public service. We should not pander to those who believe that the dominant motive of those who engage in political life at a representative level is self-interest.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Boylan and Nealon.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this Bill but have certain reservations about it. I agree with Deputies Michael McDowell and McCreevy because as an auctioneer serving on the urban council and the county council I am debarred from council work and as a Member I am debarred from every doing Government work of any sort. Some people view political life as a blood sport and great fun but they do not see the commitments that public representatives make to democracy and the work they put into trying to be honest and decent in public life. All that is reflected in the media is smart remarks about politicians.

Recently I read in a newspaper what property a Minister in the Government owned. I met a constituent who said he had thought that man had more property and was wealthier than that. If people like me or other Deputies stayed in business we would make a great deal more money. People ask why we get involved in politics. One gets involved in politics because one believes one can do some good for the country, for the community and the county. That is why I got involved in politics. I try to do the best job I can on behalf of the people who elected me.

There are cynical people who will say what they like about you. At times you would feel like suing them but that is only a waste of time. What is said is hurtful to public representatives and their families. Public officials implementing Government policy on halting sites in my county are the subject of vicious talk. It is wrong that people say nasty things about public officials and public representatives. People should think before they talk.

I welcome this Bill but I have a problem with the fact that politicians can no longer come into this House and look for better pay and facilities for TDs because straight away the media will report that we are at it again. I have a small auctioneering firm in the west and before I was elected I had a fax machine, yet in 1995 there is no fax machine in my office in the Dáil. The general community expects a good and reliable service but simple facilities, the provision of which would not place a great burden on the taxpayer, are not in place in this House.

The Deputy still manages to contact his local paper.

I do the best I can to get the message across. It is not easy but I do it.

Our secretaries are overworked. I would love to have more time to research the issue on which I speak but I have no researchers available and my secretary is already overworked. It is wrong that we do not have research staff. People say TDs are paid a massive salary but say nothing of the tax we pay. When I go home to the west tonight I will attend three public meetings, tomorrow morning I will be at my clinics and we do not know what funerals I will have to attend and who will be calling to the house. Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays do not matter in politics. People will come to your house and you have to bring them in and deal with them. That is the way it has to be done.

I have no difficulty with Members' interests and assets being public but I do not think it should be on the front page of The Star, The Irish Times or the Irish Independent. I find it difficult enough to live and I do not know too many millionaires in the Dáil. It would be grand if we knew when elected to the Dáil that we would be here for the rest of our lives or if we lost our seat there would be provision for us. This is where the media do not give us credit. I have been in the Dáil for 15 months and am an auctioneer with three young children. The seats in the constituency have been reduced from six to five, by decision of a committee set up by the Dáil, and there is no guarantee that the present Members will be elected at the next election. One could be left trying to get one's business up and running again. Nobody has any sympathy if the business is gone. It is difficult to do two jobs but one has to keep an eye on one's business because of the uncertainty of losing one's seat. If you have been a Member of this House for ten or 15 years things are fine because you have a pension but someone who loses his seat after one term has nothing and his business may be gone.

I have absolutely no difficulty with this Bill. Once and for all the myth of the gravy train in Leinster House should be blown out of the water. In the eight years I have been in this House I have not seen hidden wealth or opportunities for making money. I know only what it has cost me. If Members have wealth they were successful in their private life but they have to make a sacrifice to come in here. We need to attract successful people who can generate ideas that are for the benefit of all. The business they left will not be as successful as if they had remained. I have absolutely no doubt that they had to make a sacrifice to enter politics. I could name numerous Members who, had they remained in the business in which they were involved, would have been extremely wealthy, but they had a flair for public life and felt they had a contribution to make. The general public perceive that once you get into Leinster House you are on a gravy train. That is nonsense. I believe the media have a role. It is time that people are shown for what they are and that the Members come in here to do a job.

I am slightly confused about the declaration of interests. I am a farmer and I am fairly interested in agriculture and have a good knowledge of it. In my parliamentary party there would be solicitors, doctors and so on and when we all come together we can have a viewpoint on policy. The same applies to all the other parties. If there is a debate on agriculture, must I declare that I have no personal interest? Of course it would benefit my farm in Cavan if we got better export refunds. However, I am not taking part in the debate from personal interest but because I know it will benefit agriculture here. Likewise, if we are debating the legal system, does Deputy McDowell have to declare that he would not benefit from changes? Of course his practice may benefit. He is a man with a high reputation, and it is good that such people give of their time in this House when they would be extremely successful outside the House.

If the sacrifice aspect of being in public like is mentioned, people ask us why we went into politics. I do not like that attitude. A sacrifice is made by elected representatives whether at urban, town commissioner, county council or Oireachtas level. Once one becomes a public representative one's life becomes public. Constituents with problems go to their public representatives and have no regard for the fact that he or she may also have problems. The public representative must be available at any time of the day or night on any day of the week, Sundays and bank holidays not excepted. Constituents want their problems addressed immediately. People entering public life accept that, but the public must realise that there is sacrifice involved and that the family life of the public representative can be disrupted.

People may ask why I entered public life but I am not complaining. The same question could be asked of doctors and solicitors. A doctor who is called out late at night might complain that the patient could have called him earlier, but the patient would probably go to another doctor. He cannot complain, he must be available. That must be accepted. The public must understand that a sacrifice has to be made and the media must play a role in making the public aware of that. The other side of the coin is the satisfaction I get from being in public life is being able to do something for people.

As my party is in Government people expect I can do something for them with the result that my workload has trebled. It is not that they are expecting something to which they are not entitled. Their view is that I have closer contact with a Government Minister, and that is understandable. They come to me expecting to get results. However, people can change their loyalties. If they are dissatisfied with a doctor they will go to another.

If I can be of help to a constituent it may be said that I can pull strings. That is nonsense. If a person has a problem it is understandable that he would write to his public representative. What would be the point of being in public life if one could not go to the top and get the best people to sort out a problem? It is a serious problem for the person and if a public representative can get results, that person is grateful. On the question of backhanders etc., in my 21 years in public life, the offers I got of the £5 note would not make anyone rich. If somebody asks me to have a drink or gives me a bottle of whiskey at Christmas, I accept and appreciate that gesture. However, the idea that public representatives get backhanders is ridiculous.

The general perception seems to be that favours can be bought and that deals are done behind closed doors. I reject that. Let us be open with the public and they will respond. If there are to be deals they should be negotiated openly. Let us be more honest with the people and not create the idea that we can pull strings. Generally people will get nothing more than their rights, and if they get that they will be happy.

It is time we decided on a fixed-term Dáil. The change of Government recently without a general election has been marvellous for the country.

The Deputy might not think so if he was on this side.

There has been an increase in economic activity with fresh thinking etc. and we did not have an election or end up with a rag-bag of politicians as a result of disillusioned people voting for Jack, Tom or Harry rather than the political party that can do something. We should have fixed-term Dála and be able to form a new Government within that term if a Government cannot follow through on its policies. This would help political parties and Deputies because election campaigns are a costly exercise.

There is more I would like to say but I am sure Deputy Nealon has a very enlightening contribution to make and I will yield to him.

This is a well intentioned Bill but its influence on the conduct of affairs will be minimal. If people want to beat the system this Bill will not stop them. It will be just another obstacle, a minor irritant to be circumvented. Nevertheless, the intention is good and in that respect I wish the Bill well.

For the vast majority of Dáil Deputies it will have no relevance. We will have nothing to declare, and the longer we are in this House the less we will have to declare. Deputies are impoverished rather than enriched by the rewards of working here — I am talking about financial and monetary rewards, of course. We have only ourselves to blame for this. When it comes to rewarding ourselves properly or giving ourselves the services to which we are entitled as public representatives in order to do the job for which we were elected, we are cowards. We are always looking over our shoulders and worrying about what the electorate will say. If we were more courageous in this respect and gave ourselves the services and the monetary rewards to which we are entitled, the reaction from the public would be positive rather than negative. In that respect I was greatly disappointed that the difficulties that arise from Deputies regarding the work they put in and the expenses they incur which are not reasonable were not taken on board.

I am sure Deputy McDowell is a better authority on this Bill than I but I believe it could be challenged in the courts by any Deputy or Senator. We, particularly in the Dáil, were elected by the public under certain conditions — it is not like being appointed to a job. Now a new set of conditions are being imposed which impinge not just on the Deputy but on his family to a certain extent. If it were challenged in the courts it could possibly be overturned for the duration of this Dáil. It may be different when we face the electorate the next time knowing of the changed conditions.

Something on which I am sure Deputy Connolly will have some strident and important comments to make is the fear that this legislation could be used to damage the reputation of a Deputy. A person can bring an unfounded accusation to the attention of a committee or commission which, inevitably, will get into the public domain and if that happens it does not matter whether it is true of false. Three or four months later the public will merely recall the allegation, they will not remember the outcome or whether — if it was false — the person who made it was fined. Such accusations can be deliberately timed to damage a person's reputation at election time and politicians are in a rough game in so far as getting elected is concerned.

The Minister endeavoured to stop such practice by increasing the fine for frivolous or unfounded allegations, but the increase is not enough. It should be £10,000 or, as Deputy Connolly called for, £20,000. What is £20,000 compared to the irreparable damage that may be done to the reputation of an election candidate? The provisions of the Act enable the fine to be increased. Despite that, however, the Electoral Bill and this Act are worthwhile, but we will not address the real issues unless we provide the services we require. Members should have a secretary in Leinster House as well as in their constituencies, they should also have the necessary technology to operate efficiently. That is the least we deserve. They should also be properly paid. The public has a cynical attitude about us, much of which may be our own fault. We do a difficult job that is badly rewarded. It is time we addressed these matters and the sooner the better.

This legislation has been debated for more than two years and today we are dealing with the motion and regulations. When I was elected to the Dáil four decades ago a Deputy's salary was £1,500 per annum and one secretaty worked for ten Deputies. I recall an incident in which we did not know whether a key on an Underwood typewriter was the letter I or T, a brush had to be used to discover which letter it was.

I am sure the Deputy knew where the No. 1 votes were.

I am a survivor. I am grateful to the people from Laoighis-Offaly for taking good care of me and I hope they can say the same about me in relation to them.

Those who have been Members of the House for as long as I have, perform their duties in a highly commendable manner with great dedication and devotion to their constituents. They have also devoted a great deal of their time to the passage of legislation. Some of my colleagues, from all parties, who were not re-elected left this House penniless. Many of them had young families and had left remunerative employment to serve in this House in the national interest. However, because of the whim of the electorate they failed to be re-elected.

Deputy Ring referred to constituency changes which at one time affected mainly the Dublin area, but they are now affecting Mayo where, if the six candidates go for re-election, one will not be re-elected. That is unfortunate but the reality.

The Laoighis-Offaly constituency is the only one that has not been changed.

It has not been changed because of the status quo of the population there, we are fortunate in that regard. I sympathise with Members who, because of boundary changes, had to move from areas they represented for years and relaunch themselves elsewhere where, in some cases, they faced great opposition from their party colleagues.

All Members need transport, especially if they live in a rural area. Most rural Members clock up car mileage of approximately 65,000 in a two year period and perhaps more if they live in Cork, Kerry, Mayo or Donegal. When they are trading in their cars they need a minimum of £10,000 to buy another. Because of high mileage, garage owners will not place a high value on their cars. Many Members have to take out a mortgage to buy a new car. I am fortunate that I own my house. Most Members pay approximately £400 per month in mortgage repayments and £200 on car loans. They must also pay their taxes, living costs and other expenses incurred in representing their constituents. Many organisations approach them for funding and the new trend is to include a Member in a draw and inform the person later that he or she owes, say, £100 for the ticket. Those selling the tickets justify their actions by saying they thought the person would wish to be included.

I have been a Member of this House for a long time and I sometimes wonder whether I am in the right place or whether I am tuned in correctly to what happens here. Some people say Deputies receive brown envelopes every week but I never saw one of them and I doubt if other Members did. I resent the implication that politicians are corrupt. There have been very honourable people here from across the political divide. As other speakers said, if a Member does not behave properly his fate will be decided by the electorate at the next election. That is the way democracy operates.

I have not ever been personal in debate; I deal with the issues as I see them. The Act provides that where an allegation of improper behaviour is made against a Member, the Clerk of the Dáil investigates the matter, but such an investigation may take months.

If a general election is held in the meantime that allegation hangs over the candidate who could be from any party. As a woman said to me many years ago: "There is seldom smoke without a fire". It is very difficult for a person to exonerate himself in those circumstances. Under the Act a fine of £1,500 may be imposed on anyone who makes a false allegation against a Member, but a number of people could form a cartel to collect that relatively small sum. I proposed that the figure be increased to prevent frivolous, damaging allegations being made against a Member. If a candidate against whom an allegation has been made is defeated at an election, the allegation falls. That person may have acted properly but people will simply say that he had hard luck and it was a pity the allegation was made at that time. I feel very strongly about that issue because unfounded allegations can be extremely damaging to Members. I hope that no colleague across the political divide finds himself or herself in that position, but in the event of it happening I will watch with great interest to see how it is dealt with.

I have no objection to the spouses of members of Government declaring their interests but I have reservations in regard to the children of those members declaring their interests. A person's son or daughter may become involved in a business transaction relating to land rezoning or land designation, a transaction which the Deputy may favour or of which he may not be aware and it may be alleged afterwards that the member concerned was aware of the transaction.

In future, candidates of good calibre will consider the position fully before standing for election. People who are faring well in business should think long and hard before coming in here. On leaving office in 1992 I learned that returning to business was not easy and being a Member of the House is a disadvantage to my business. I would be better off if I was not a Member. Some people are reluctant to deal with me in view of the carry on in this House down the years. Lest anyone thinks that we are well off financially, that is not true in my case nor is it true in the case of many Members.

People may ask why we stand for election. We do so for the common good. I have a deep interest in the welfare of my country and wish to see it make good progress. I believe I have much to offer and the people I represent obviously hold that view also. I would not like people to think that we are here on the make. In my years here I have never known that to be the case. I regret to say that many people would have been better off if they had not come in here. Certainly their work in the business arena would be much more rewarding financially. I do not have a problem with the regulations in the Bill, but if somebody wants to upend the system the provisions in it will not guard against that.

There is a perception that we are about to do a big clean up but that is not true. The salaries that apply to Members would not attract new people into politics.

I was disappointed with the manner in which the Gleeson report treated Members of the House. Deputies work seven days a week, including bank holidays, and are always on call. In what other employment is such a commitment required?

It may apply to hospital consultants.

They are paid a good deal more.

I doubt if they work seven days a week. After leaving the Dáil many Members return to their constituencies to attend meetings which are often a long distance from their home.

I hope when the Bill is enacted in the New Year its provisions will not pose difficulties for any Members. Difficulties would not be caused by the Member concerned but by others. As a long serving Member, I have given my views on the Bill without rancour or reference to personalities. If my late parents had not provided me with funding, I would not have been able to survive on my Dáil salary in the early days.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Broughan.

That is satisfactory and agreed.

I listened carefully to what Deputy Connolly said. He is a forthright and robust presenter of his case. He participated in the debates on amendments to the Ethics in Public Office Bill on earlier stages. However, I disagree with his approach. The principle of accountability and transparency is one on which neither of us disagrees. Deputy Connolly missed an important point in deploring the fact that Deputies work all hours, are poorly remunerated, have an onerous job and very few have made money out of politics. I put forward a different view. We who are elected to the House as national politicians are privileged to serve. We are privileged to be in a position of power and influence. There is a heavy responsibility on us to ensure the public has confidence in us and we must put in place a statutory system covering a register of interests and donations which is transparent to guard against a conflict of interest. We owe that to the public. We need to be paid more and we could do with a trade union to protect our interests. However, the key issue is that we are public servants. Like those who hold key positions on public boards and public offices in other areas, we are in the public arena and must be seen to be accountable.

It is not very long ago since Deputy Connolly's colleague, Deputy Cowen, then a Minister, was the subject of what I would regard as a somewhat scurrilous campaign because he held 1,000 shares in a company which were worth a small amount of money. If this legislation had been in place at that time, his interest in that company would have been declared and there would have been no question of anybody trying to gain political advantage or otherwise over the then Minister as he would have been protected. That example illustrates how this legislation would have benefited the Deputy's constituency colleague, and I am sure there are other examples.

There is a perception among the public that politicians are not entirely honest or the type of people others look up to as role models. I decry that view and it is unfortunate that it exists. We get a very bad press, but there is a cynicism abroad that politicians are on the make and they will avail of any opportunity to improve their financial or other positions. That is not true, but how do we prove that to the public? We do not do it by complaining that we get bad press, that there are scurrilous journalists and we need to put a press council in place. We can do all of that from time to time, but we must be seen to be transparent and accountable. There is no other effective way of achieving that other than on a statutory basis. Other parliaments have put similar legislation in place long before now and the political world has not collapsed around them. We have nothing to fear. The fears enunciated by Deputy Connolly are unfounded. In our work today and that carried out over many months, in the specific commitment in the last programme for Government and in this one, we are ensuring that politicians are not only answerable to the public but that our status in the public eye will be protected, defended and asserted. That is important.

I am sure Deputy Costello will agree I have been consistent.

In the document signed by Fianna Fáil and Labour, the Fianna Fáil and Labour Programme for a Partnership Government 1993-1997, probably no other issue was spelt out more clearly in terms of broadening our democracy than ethics in Government. It is interesting to note that the matter was covered in that document and enunciated by the present Administration in A Government of Renewal. It undertook to urgently implement what was decided in the previous manifesto. That document outlines in great detail the provisions for the enactment of an ethics in Government Bill. It states that in line with our commitment to open Government and transparency in all Government transactions we will undertake the following measures: enact an ethics in Government Bill; a register of Members' interests will be introduced; a similar registration of interests will be introduced for senior civil servents; the Government procedure instructions as they relate to the registration of gifts to office holders will be incorporated into the legislation. The second part of that set of provisions states that we will introduce State funding for political parties in line with European models; we will introduce a system of registration of substantial donations and subscriptions to political parties and candidates and limits will also be imposed on expenditure for each election for each candidate and for political parties. We have a twin track approach: first, politicians will be protected, their interests will be declared and any conflict of interest will be enunciated. Second, we will deal with the funding of political parties and spending by candidates at election time. These are two essential elements. Both are exceedingly positive because they will ensure that nobody can level a claim that individual politicians are making money out of politics and that in carrying out their campaigns political parties and candidates are being bank rolled by non-political interests, big business and so on. These will enhance the profession of politicians and I fully support both.

I congratulate the Minister of State on her timely work in bringing forward these Bills. They fill a vacuum that would have had to be filled at some future date.

While we are enhancing our democracy in terms of the role of politicians I am concerned about another item. I listened yesterday to the debate on the Harbours Bill, much of which had to do with whether politicians should be allowed serve on harbour boards. This question has arisen in recent years in relation to education boards, the Dublin Institute of Technology, the regional technical college board or whatever new boards were established. Every Bill for the semi-State sector has only one prohibition. It bans national politicians, not local politicians but members of the Dáil and Seanad and MEPs as well as debtors and criminals from sitting on such boards. That prohibition is somewhat at variance with what we are doing to enhance the role of the politician in this legislation and in the Electoral Bill. I would much prefer that we did not include in all our new legislation this prohibition on elected members of the national parliament from sitting on national State boards. It is unnecessary. By and large politicians would not serve on them, but certainly in some cases they would serve and they would have a tremendous expertise to offer. By having a specific prohibition we are, by innuendo, suggesting that somehow national politicians cannot be trusted or that there would be a conflict of interest not covered in this legislation. We should look again at this prohibition in our own interests to ensure we do not undermine our position as elected politicians.

We are providing a statutory system whereby key public servants and public representatives declare their interests to show transparency and to assure the public it is being served. This will strengthen our democracy. It will ensure that allegations levelled at us in the past cannot easily be levelled at us in the future. I will be happier to be a Member of the House when this legislation becomes operable on 1 January 1996.

I congratulate my colleague the Minister of State on her enormous efforts and work in bringing this very complex legislation through the Dáil and the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs and on bringing the regulations into force. The Minister deserves the commendation of everyone in the House and, indeed, the public, on her achievement. I congratulate also all Deputies who contributed to the debate, none more so than Deputy Ger Connolly who made a tremendous contribution particularly on Committee Stage. Deputy Connolly maintained a watching brief for all of us on all the complex matters particularly the roles of our families and friends. He has made a fair case for the difficult life of a TD and the enormous pressures on backbenchers.

As a student I remember reading Basil Chubb's famous book on the Irish Constitution in which he referred to the life of TDs. He quoted a long extract from a former distinguished Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, who told him of the type of things that happened to him 40 years ago. One incident was on the golf course, perhaps St. Anne's when constituents seeking favours more or less followed Mr. Haughey from tee to tee putting their cases and making suggestions. Mr. Haughey found it difficult to concentrate on his game. Times have not changed that much, that happens to us every Saturday and Sunday.

But not on the golf course.

Not generally on the golf course, but it is a very difficult life. A corollary of the Bill could be that at long last Deputies and particularly backbenchers will receive proper remuneration. My constituency colleague, Deputy Liam Fitzgerald, remarked during the first few days I was in this House that Deputies should be paid at least as well as a principal officer in the Civil Service. We seem to be paid well in terms of salary and backup facilities but we are still the "Cinderellas" of the political system. Yet we will be subjected to this fairly transparent and open regime, of which I totally approve. Perhaps the Minister would look again at remuneration and support for backbenchers.

When our outgoings are taken into account — GAA clubs, soccer clubs, sales of work all the Christmas functions and so on——

We are a target for everything under the sun.

——up to one-third or 40 per cent of our salary can be spent on supporting these activities. The partnership Government was right, as Deputy Costello said, to bring the Ethics in Public Office Act into force. Deputy Connolly who is a philosopher will remember The Republic by Plato, one of the first great political books in the history of mankind. Plato found the problem of how to guard the guardians as the most difficult. His solution was that they were not to get married and they were not to have any property. As a result of this philosophy we have what are called platonic friendships today. Plato's solution was overstrict. Our solution, the Ethics in Public Office Act and possibly the Electoral Bill which will complement it, is more civilised and humane and that is the reason I commend it.

One of the reasons for the low esteem of politicians in the eyes of the public is that there are one or two politicians who were extremely wealthy, even though the source of their wealth was not their public life. However, there was a remarkable coincidence between the enormous prosperity of one or two politicians and their rise to political prominence. That gave reason for concern.

Great concern was expressed also, particularly in the County Dublin area, about the development of our city and the dramatic way in which Dublin has expanded. There are problems in relation to people owning property on the outskirts of the city and in trying to put in place a taxation regime to address that. Many vile rumours and innuendoes have been circulating over the past six months. A prominent firm of solicitors in Newry has alleged that complaints have been made to it about the rezoning of land in the Dublin area. We must examine that area. As the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, said, a taxation system is one way to deal with this problem but under the Ethics in Public Office legislation we will clearly know in what areas people have particular interests.

As one of my colleagues mentioned to me this morning, declaring one's interests has been a regular practice in local government for a number of years. When certain discussions arise in our City Council chamber people declare their interests in or connection with the topic being discussed. To that extent, there has been a degree of openness at local government level.

That was always the case and it was disgraceful the way some people tried to malign members.

There was always an opportunity for staff in our development and planning departments to sign the register of interests and to clarify those interests if the matter came up in subsequent debate.

I welcome this motion. I am sure everybody in this House will be happy to sign the register of interests and to indicate areas in which they may have a material interest of say whether they are connected to persons in such a way that it would be important to declare that information to the House. I welcome also the ad hoc declarations system similar to the system in local government. That will give people an opportunity to outline any interests they may have.

The buzz words of the 27th Dáil have been "openness" and "transparency". We now have an opportunity to implement this legislation and I welcome what the Minister has done in that regard. The people most affected are Ministers and top public servants. I welcome this legislation which will clarify what most politicians have always accepted, that public life should not only be totally above board but should be seen to be so.

I came into the Chamber to speak on the Refugee Bill but my interest in this matter has been aroused by the contributions of the last three speakers and the Minister of State. The aims of the Bill, as set out by the Minister of State on numerous occasions, are highly commendable but, like Deputy Callely, I believe it may not achieve its better aims. Undoubtedly there is a suspicion that there are negative aims in the legislation in that there are obviously people in political as well as public life who are suspicious of their fellow politicians. Part of the reason for this legislation is that people feel they need to keep an eye on some of their colleagues. That is unfortunate.

One of the effects of this legislation is that the interest of the media and others — which we like to complain about in this House — will be justified by the actions and suspicions of Members and their party supporters outside this House. That is unfortunate, I also share the concerns of some speakers that this legislation will not convince the public that the political process is beyond reproach. In the context in which people wilfully make allegations on foot of information which they know to be at best suspect and perhaps entirely incorrect this legislation will not achieve the aim of bringing the political process into the open and making it more respectable. I doubt if anything could do that.

This legislation will put additional pressure on a number of politicians who have the best interests of their constituents at heart. I ask the Minister of State not to make public the register of interests, which would be compiled following the enactment of this legislation, unless it is relevant to some matter of public interest, legislation going through the House or some other development. It is possible that the register might become of prurient interest to some people and may be reproduced. That would not matter in my case because I have nothing of interest to declare but some of my colleagues on all sides of the House may be more concerned about their poor as opposed to their advantageous financial status and the kind of comparisons which might be made following the implementation of the legislation.

I have some reservations about the timescale. It will be difficult for a committee of the House, which has not yet been set up to consider the matter, to prepare the type of guidelines required under the legislation by 1 January. I suspect many of my colleagues would have liked to express reservations about this matter but one runs the risk of being targeted if one comes into the House to express reservations about an Act such as this. A Member may be suspected of having something to hide, which is manifestly not the case where most of us are concerned.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Connolly, for having debated the Bill in such detail. I had the advantage of having discussed this matter with him on a number of occasions. While I share some of his concerns, I commend the basic aims of the legislation in terms of raising public awareness of the work of politicians and reducing the level of suspicion that appears to exist.

I thank all the Members of the House for what has been a reflective debate. Following the long teasing out process this legislation has gone through, today marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. I have learned much from the process involved in preparing and steering legislation through this House. It has certainly been a hugely educational experience for me

I thank the Members who helped me on that journey, particularly Deputy Connolly who has probably given an unprecedented amount of time to this legislation.

Deputy McCreevy made the important point that no political party, particularly a party which commands the allegiance of over 40 per cent of the electorate, should be automatically deemed corrupt. There is a knee-jerk reaction in that regard. We were caught up in it to some extent during the last Government. It was a period which I enjoyed and during which we did much good work. However, we were guilty by association, anybody associated with Fianna Fáil was also enmeshed in a sea of corruption and sucked down to lower than acceptable standards. It is unacceptable to make such a broad statement about any political party or group of TDs and the Deputy made a fair point.

Deputy McCreevy asked if I could issue another guide to the intricacies of the Act. Today we are handing over the process to the House. Under the Act, the committee of the House issues the guidelines. I have staff who could write PhDs on the Act and my office will be available to offer help and assistance. Under the Constitution the House makes its own rules and regulates its own affairs. It is now the business of the House under the Act, to interpret and issue guidelines for Members.

Deputy McDowell raised an important point about conflicts of interest where people are working with and supervising a company one day and taking a job with them the following day. He was referring to senior civil servants who move on to such positions. We looked at this point and it was raised during the discussion on the Bill. There are constitutional impediments to stopping anybody earning a living. If Deputy Connolly was to lose his seat— I hope that day is long postponed—he would be entitled to go out and earn a living in whatever way he could. There are constitutional difficulties in this area.

However, the Department of Finance which regulates standards in the public service is looking at rules and guidelines which would deal with that issue as part of people's terms of appointment. It would not be possible to introduce legislation in this regard because we must respect people's right to earn a living. The Deputy made a fair point. The issue can be dealt with by drawing up guidelines for people about taking subsequent positions if there is a conflict of interest.

It would not stand up in law.

I was slightly amused by Deputy McDowell. His love for market economics is part of his political make-up and he protested about the money people are paid. It is a job for which there has been no shortage of demand. However, I accept the points made on all sides of the House, particularly about the conditions for backbenchers. As a Dublin TD I find the pressures hard enough but at least I sleep in my own bed and see my family every evening, if they are awake. I appreciate the pressures on rural TDs and those with geographically dispersed constituencies. Those pressures may not be as widely recognised as they should be. It is easy to make cheap shots about long holidays. People in our business work very hard and long hours with little time off. In the new year I will introduce legislation to place a ceiling on working hours for ordinary workers. The maximum will be 48 hours a week. Most of us would love a maximum 48 hour week.

Please extend it to us.

I do not think we will be able to get that.

I do not think we will. Deputy McDowell also mentioned the Electoral Bill which, as Deputy Broughan said, is part of the overall package. A number of Deputies mentioned the need for more back-up for TDs in the area of research. I raised that point with Deputy Howlin who is now steering the Electoral Bill through the House. A percentage of public funding should be invested in research and it is important to accept the rationale for public funding. It is preferable that there is no suspicion that any of us would be influenced by disproportionate funding from business, trade union or other interests. That is why State funding for political parties is important.

Deputy Ring made a thoughtful contribution and described life as it often is for people. Deputy Boylan asked if, as a farmer, he has to declare his interest each time the House debates headage and so on. The Act states clearly that where people are dealing with an issue in which they have a general interest which is shared by a wide number of the general public, it is not declarable. Each time we debate children's allowances I do not have to declare that I have one child to whom it still applies. The purpose of the select committee is to offer guidance to any Member with a worry or doubt in this regard. The Act covers specific interests, such as where the value of a Deputy's shares might increase following a specific action relating to a specific company.

Deputy Nealon asked whether the Act is constitutional because it involves a change in our conditions of service. It is a change which we have enacted for ourselves in conformity with Article 15.10 of the Constitution. This House regulates its own affairs. It enacted the legislation and is today giving effect to those provisions. Deputy Connolly has consistently raised the problem of false or malicious allegations during elections. It is a fair point with which I have much sympathy. We had a good and lengthy discussion of the issue on Committee Stage. I was sympathetic to increasing the figure but the advice of the Attorney General's Office was that the maximum possible was £1,500.

Deputy Killeen asked whether the register should be published. The Act provides for a public register. It is important to distinguish myth from reality. The public can see that most Members operate on overdrafts and do not own property. It is important that people see that we are dealing with the public's business and do not have anything to hide. Deputy Killeen also mentioned the timescale in the Act. When all the provisions of the Act are implemented procedures follow as night follows day. The committee will be established and draw up the guidelines. There is no reason preparatory work cannot be done in the House in advance of 1 January and I again offer assistance from my office.

Deputy Broughan raised an interesting, platonic point. I hope that, at a time when priestly celibacy is being widely debated, there are no proposals to introduce political celibacy.

Thank you, Minister. You finished on a rather interesting note.

This concludes a long debate which has lasted for over two years. On behalf of my party, I offer our appreciation to the Minister for the manner in which she dealt with the Bill and for her courtesy towards us on all occasions. I also thank her staff.

I thank Deputies for the courtesy they have extended to me. When Deputy Connolly says there is nothing personal in his remarks he is telling the truth. He argues his case robustly but, as a true gentleman, he always does so with courtesy and dignity.

Question put and agreed to.