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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Oct 1996

Vol. 469 No. 6

Dáil Reform: Motion.

I move:

(1) That, in respect of the First Report of the sub-Committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Reform of Dáil Procedure (T. 291) dated 19th June, 1996, and with effect from Tuesday, 15th October, 1996—

(a) the amendments and additions to the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business and the sessional orders recommended in Appendix 1 to the Report be adopted; and

(b) the proposals set out in Appendix 2 to the Report, including the amendment to the Orders of Reference of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies set out at paragraph 1 thereof and the amendment to the Orders of Reference of the Committees set out at paragraph 10 thereof, be adopted.

(2) That, in relation to the Orders of Reference of the Select Committees on Enterprise and Economic Strategy, Finance and General Affairs, Legislation and Security and Social Affairs—

(a) the provisions of paragraphs (17), (18), (20), (21) and (22), inserted by Order of Dáil Éireann of 1st march, 1995, shall be deemed to apply to, and to have always applied to, a sub-committee appointed by the Select Committee; and

(b) paragraph (19) of the Orders of Reference of each Select Committee be amended by the insertion of `or a sub-Committee thereof' after `taken before it'.

I wish to pay tribute to the co-sponsors of the motion who, as members of the sub-committee, worked to achieve a consensus in formulating the report. I thank the Clerk and assistants to the sub-committee for their excellent services and the Clerk of the Dáil whose wise counsel was available at all times to the sub-committee. I also thank the officials from the Department of the Taoiseach who assisted me in preparing proposals for consideration by the Government and in liaising with the Clerk to the sub-committee.

Although a large measure of consensus was achieved in formulating the report, the sub-committee realised that there were issues on which all-party agreement could not be reached. Accordingly, we agreed that amendments may be tabled in the House to the report. A number of such amendments have been tabled and I will reserve my remarks on these until I reply to the debate so that the movers will have an opportunity to argue in favour of their case.

Before outlining the principal elements of the report of the sub-committee, I would like to make a few brief comments on the Government's proposals for Oireachtas reform. Deputies will recall that Oireachtas reform formed a key part of the Policy Agreement A Government of Renewal negotiated between the three parties now in Government in December 1994. Pursuant to that, the Government, on 24 January 1995, published proposals relating to committees, matters of concern, Dáil sitting hours, promised legislation and streamlined voting procedures. The proposals relating to committees were subsequently approved by the Dáil and Seanad in March 1995. The Whips of the various parties agreed on informal arrangements on Dáil sitting hours and committee meetings and the Government published a list of promised legislation for the first time on 24 January 1995 — this has been updated on a number of occasions subsequently prior to the commencement of each Dáil session.

The Opposition parties, however, indicated at the time that the Government's proposals relating to matters of concern and streamlined voting procedures were not acceptable to them as framed. Accordingly, those proposals were not proceeded with. On my appointment as Government Chief Whip at the end of May 1995, I took up consideration of the remaining commitments in relation to Oireachtas reform as set out in A Government of Renewal. I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle suggesting that a comprehensive review of Dáil Standing Orders be undertaken. This led to the decision of the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges on 5 July 1995 to establish a sub-committee on the matter. By this time, a sub-committee of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party had published its proposals for Dáil reform. The Fianna Fáil document graciously acknowledged that many of its proposals had previously been proposed by the parties now in Government when in Opposition.

On 25 October 1995 when speaking on the Dáil motion relating to the relaxation of the repeat rule for written parliamentary questions, I stated that the Government was working on a comprehensive package of Oireachtas reform measures. This package, which took account of the proposals put forward by Fianna Fáil, was published on 6 February 1996. Deputies will be aware from the minutes of the meetings of the sub-committee, which are appended to the report, that the Government's proposals and those of Fianna Fáil, with a submission from the Progressive Democrats on the Government's proposals and a submission prepared by the Clerk of the Dáil on technical amendments to Standing Orders, formed the documentation which was considered by the sub-committee.

I am very pleased that the sub-committee readily agreed to most of the proposals put forward by the Government. These relate to: (1) the widening of the role of the sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges established to review Dáil Standing Orders and to examine proposals on Dáil reform; (2) the extension of the remit of the Joint Committee on State-sponsored Bodies to include Bord Fáilte, FÁS, the industrial development agencies, the National Roads Authority and Teagasc; (3) the investigation by existing committees of matters of serious public concern; (4) the formalisation of a role for the Dáil and Seanad Committees on Procedure and Privileges in overseeing procedures of committees — this will require the committees to report to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at least every six months; (5) an option for debating reports of committees; (6) the financing of up to five Private Members' Bills each year; (7) the rationalisation of arrangements in relation to responsibility for parliamentary questions in so far as ministerial policy for agencies is concerned; (8) the relaxation of the rule for disallowing parliamentary questions which are anticipatory of debate; (9) the introduction of a revised rule that ordinary and priority questions should not be taken together; (10) the provision for interventions during, and on, Dáil debates; (11) the provision of a question and answer facility in debates; (12) the provision for the making of declarations or affirmations in respect of the offices of the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle; (13) the televising-broadcasting of debates; (14) the use of Teilifís na Gaeilge channel for Oireachtas proceedings; (15) the examination of video conferencing; and (16) the provision of a revised format for the Order of Business and the Dáil Order Paper.

I am also pleased that, in response to points made during the deliberations of the sub-committee, I was able, on behalf of the Government, to accept revised proposals relating to: (1) the introduction of streamlined voting procedures, in so far as they relate to the suspension of a Member; (2) revised arrangements for Expressions of Sympathy in the Dáil; (3) rationalisation of time allowed for Question Time on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; (4) rationalisation of time for Taoiseach's Question Time; and (5) the allowance of second contributions on Report Stages on Bills and on Financial Resolutions, as well as accepting many of the proposed technical amendments to Dáil Standing Orders which are detailed in the report.

The willingness by the Government to accept revised proposals indicates its openness to consider proposals, including those made by the Opposition, and to amend proposals which it had put forward.

It may have been a much more expeditious procedure if the Government had pushed its proposals through the Houses of the Oireachtas without reference to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I remain convinced, however, that the approach adopted in seeking to get the maximum consensus was the correct one even if the process is somewhat tedious.

I wish to refer briefly to some of the principal features of the report. To underpin the impartiality of the offices of the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle, it is proposed that there should be a provision for declarations in respect of both office-holders on their taking up those positions. I have been assured by the Attorney General that the proposals are in order.

Up to now, the practice in relation to ministerial responsibility for matters raised on the adjournment and parliamentary questions on agencies under the aegis of Government Departments, has differed from Department to Department. There will, in future, be a consistent line in that Ministers will take responsibility for replying to adjournment debates and parliamentary questions in so far as Government or ministerial policy laid down for agencies under their remit is concerned, as distinct from policy laid down by the board and day-to-day administrative activities.

The time available for the Taoiseach's Question Time is being more evenly divided and an additional 20 minutes is being provided on Wednesdays, thus enabling extra time for Ministers' questions.

On the question of interventions during, and on, debates, such a procedure operated up to the late 1950s. It is felt that its reintroduction will give rise to a more spontaneous exchange of views and enable Members to clarify statements made during a particular debate.

Clearer powers are being given to the Ceann Comhairle to suspend a Member in a case where he or she disregards the authority of the Chair.

Heretofore there was no system whereby reports from committees were tabled for debate. It is proposed that all such reports will be tabled to allow the option for debate.

One of the things we lack in assessing the committees is reports on how they operate. I wrote earlier this year to the chairperson of each committee asking for suggestions from Members on reform. In doing so, I was conscious that I might be accused of interfering in their operations but I felt it was appropriate to allow Members to indicate their wishes. I invited them to convey any proposals for reform to me either directly, through the Liaison Committee or otherwise. I regret I did not receive a single reply.

It is desirable to lay down some specific arrangement for the taking of expressions of sympathy. It is proposed to provide financial assistance for the drafting of up to five Private Members' Bills each year. This is an innovation and all Members will be eligible to participate in a lottery for such assistance. It is also proposed to allow Members to speak a second time on Report Stage of Bills and on Financial Resolutions, subject to a strict time limitation.

The remit of the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies is being extended to include nine other bodies in the tourism and industrial areas as well as Teagasc and the National Roads Authority. In paragraph 2 of the motion we are proposing a slight amendment to paragraph 10 of appendix II of the sub-committee to allow for substitution by members of the Opposition at committee meetings. This already applies in respect of members of Government parties. In paragraph 2 of the motion we are responding to a request of the Select Committee on Legislation and Security regarding the powers of sub-committees. This amendment was agreed with the relevant committees.

I emphasise that this is the first report of the sub-committee. We propose to continue our comprehensive review of Standing Orders. We will be thinking in terms of producing an updated version of Standing Orders. I am of the opinion that the procedures as they relate to parliamentary questions require close examination. Parliamentary questions are a vital tool in our democratic system. Anyone who closely studies the way it operates cannot say that it is satisfactory from either the viewpoint of Government Ministers or individual Deputies. This, however, is for further consideration. In my capacity as chairman of the Broadcasting Committee I am having various issues such as televising and broadcasting of debates, the use of the Teilifís na Gaeilge channel for Oireachtas proceedings and video conferencing and information for Members referred to in the report actively followed up.

The Government is reasonably satisfied that we are far advanced in implementing practically all of the commitments in Oireachtas reform set out in A Government of Renewal. However, we realise that reform is a constant part of life and we must regularly review our procedures. It is with enthusiasm that the committee will proceed. Many of the changes being introduced have been debated for years but consensus has only recently been achieved. We must move to a new level in the debate to take account of the Government's strategic management initiative. The central theme of the document launched by the Taoiseach on 2 May, Delivering Better Government, is the provision of quality service to the customers of the Civil Service at all levels. In order to do this, a framework of change is set out which encompasses legislative changes in order to devolve authority, accountability and responsibility and make the process more concrete.

A key element in underpinning the process of change will be a greater emphasis on openness and transparency in the working of Government. The role of the Houses of the Oireachtas is crucial in this context and the report makes a number of references to the need for change in the existing systems and procedures. It is now appropriate that the areas of change should be further considered and a programme of action proposed.

A number of issues relating to the operation of the Houses of the Oireachtas are raised in the Strategic Management Initiative Report as follows: the need for continued reform of the committee system in support of the change to greater openness and transparency in public administration — the need for greater clarity in relation to the role and remit of individual committees was considered essential; the need for clearer understanding of the relative responsibilies of Ministers and civil servants in relation to the formulation of policy, on one hand, and implementation of policy, on the other; accordingly, in relation to Oireachtas Committees, it is envisaged that Ministers and Ministers of State will address issues relating to the determination of policy, including the policy advice they had received relating to the production of outputs; appropriate arrangements for accountability of civil servants at Secretary and at senior levels to Oireachtas Committees for action on implementation of policy and for ensuring value for money, which would include the publication of strategy statements for Departments which would be subject to scrutiny and examination by an appropriate Oireachtas Committee — the remit of the various committees and, in particular, the role of the Public Accounts Committee needs to be considered in this regard; adequate protection for those giving evidence before Oireachtas Committees; and the question of Ministers answering parliamentary questions on policy and the arrangements for implementing it. It was stated that the development of appropriate mechanisms to answer queries on daily operational decision from Members of the Oireachtas will be required.

I am extremely interested in Members' views on these elements and in particular the views of committees on their future roles and remits. I believe the debate should commence now so that we can prepare proposals for consideration and implementation in due course. Judging from previous debates, I know Members will be tempted to raise extraneous matters such as the impact of electoral reform on Oireachtas reform. I appeal to them to resist this temptation as there will be other occasions on which such issues can be debated. Indeed, the All-Party Committee on the Constitution might be an appropriate forum in which to raise issues such as electoral reform.

I am also aware that we can expect contributions from Members who will probably express themselves on current Oireachtas procedures, particularly relating to the committees. Before they are tempted to do so, the committee will be most impressed if any such contributions are forthcoming from those Members who use the procedures to the full. All Members are now eligible to attend committee meetings and to contribute to the proceedings. If they fail to do so, they cannot be taken seriously if they deride what is available to them by way of such facility.

There are many vague notions about Oireachtas reform. It is time for those with ideas to expand on them and bring them forward into the public arena for consideration. I look forward to Members' contributions. I assure them that all views will be carefully and fully considered. On the other hand, there is an obligation on the assiduous members of committees to let us hear of their views on how the procedures of the committees can be improved. As I stated earlier, committees will be required to submit reports to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges every six months from now on.

It is an indication of the real need for proper reform in this House that, unlike the Minister of State, I cannot provide a written script. He is aware that being in Opposition is extremely time consuming and unrewarding at times. The fact that the Opposition does not have proper facilities lies at the core of the need for proper Oireachtas reform. However, that is an issue for another day.

From time to time Members are lambasted by the media because, with the advent of televising Dáil proceedings, they tend to read from scripts. Some elements of the media have derided us in this regard. It has been my experience that when Members do not produce scripts, however, it is unlikely that the media will report what they say. So be it. That is one of the disadvantages of televising events in this Chamber. On the other hand, from meetings of the various sub-committees of the House — particularly the committee which investigated the collapse of the previous Administration — it is obvious that the general public has a huge interest in the proceedings of the Oireachtas.

Like the Minister of State, I thank all concerned for their efforts to put together this very extensive document on Dáil reform. I pay particular tribute to the staff of the House who surprised everyone by the way in which they were able to produce and reproduce drafts of the document. I also thank the Minister of State and the other Whips. It is quite innovative that a joint motion has been put down by the five Whips. To a certain extent it shows an all-party approach. Having served as a Whip in various guises during the past ten years, it is my opinion that it is not for the Government to dictate the pace of Dáil reform, Members of the House should do so. When the Committee on Procedure and Privileges was being set up I suggested it should not be changed when parties move from one side of the House to the other. While I accept the Government should have the ultimate say, if such matters were discussed on an all-party basis it would demonstrate a much more independent view on the manner in which matters are dictated here. The fruits of our work can be seen in the document before us.

I want to thank in particular the sub-committee members of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. When the Government produced its initial report on Oireachtas reform we set up a subcommittee chaired by Deputy O'Hanlon of which Senator Wright, Deputies Dempsey, Noel Treacy, the late Deputy Lenihan and myself were members. Up to the last days of his tenure here Deputy Lenihan was extremely vigilant about Dáil reform and made a tremendous contribution to the meetings of that subcommittee. As the Minister of State said, we made a significant input to the document before us. The majority of its proposals emanated from suggestions made at meetings of the Fianna Fáil subcommittee which examined all documents and Government proposals on the question of Dáil reform.

Having made those nice comments, I must now criticise the Government on its performance in this area. The document, A Government of Renewal, provides Members on this side with an education from time to time. Page one of that document states:

Government, too, belongs to the people. But the relationship between Government and the people it serves has been damaged by a lack of openness. That relationship must be renewed...

In its first pledge on taking office, the Government stated it would "reform our institutions at national and local level to provide service, accountability, transparency and freedom of information". As quoted in one of our leading newspapers this is the most secretive Government of recent times. Despite the honeyed words about answering all questions, week after week at Question Time Ministers and the Taoiseach lump together questions in such a way that it is not possible to ask a sufficient number of supplementaries. Some Ministers refuse point blank to answer questions. In Opposition, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, demanded answers to questions, but refuses to give answers when in Government. During the Lowry affair the Ministers used every rule in the book to avoid answering questions. Were it not for the build up of pressure to answer valid questions asked in the past week or so, the Government would not have capitulated.

I will remind Members of the views expressed in Opposition by some of the leading figures in Government. In the dark days — for this party at least — surrounding 16 November 1994, the then Opposition made great play of the discomfiture of the Fianna Fáil Party for political gain. Deputy Bruton, now Taoiseach, stated:

We need a new Government that will reform the institutions of this State to make every Member of this House who holds office truly accountable. We need reform to ensure that when the answers to questions asked in the House are not adequate the Ceann Comhairle can demand that a further answer be given.

Will the Minister of State accept the amendment I tabled in the spirit of what was said by his leader on 16 November 1994? He went on to state that we are all accountable for our actions and that he is willing to be accountable for his. Every day on the Order of Business he hides behind the procedures of the House and will not answer questions, but pretends to abide by all the rules and to be the great reformer of the House. Unfortunately, when the shoe is on the other foot he does the opposite. On 16 November 1994 he also stated that "one should not accept anything at face value from anyone in circumstances like this, it is one's job to look for the proof". Not long ago we requested the abolition of the repeat rule, but the Government did everything to prevent that happening. The Minister of State said he would review the matter and, if necessary, introduce amendments. That rule relates to the last century. This is a modern parliament, we must know the answers and Ministers must be accountable. We must be able to react quickly. It is unacceptable that matters can be discussed on radio and television programmes, but not in the House. On 16 November 1994, the Tánaiste stated:

This is the correct and appropriate place for those who hold public office and are responsible for the decisions of public concern to account for their actions and omissions.

These are all honeyed words but when in Government those same people do everything possible to prevent us getting vital information. In a Fine Gael policy document, carrying the Taoiseach's name, it is stated:

Fine Gael believes that it is pointless and hollow if politicians exhort and encourage other groups in society to modernise ... while failing to do so in their own area of responsibility.

The document also stated:

We believe very strongly that if this country is to meet the challenges of the 1990s our parliamentary procedures and practices must be efficient, responsive, reflective, and capable of allowing Parliament to lead rather than to react.

In that document Fine Gael also make a number of proposals, many of which it is not prepared to put into practice when in Government. It proposes that written questions should be taken during Dáil recess, that Members should be able to raise matters of topical concern. The Minister of State said that the parties opposite did not agree with his proposals in that regard. During its first few days in office the Government issued, with great fanfare, its Dáil reform proposals, one of which was to allow matters of topical urgent concern to be raised here. He subsequenty stated the Opposition parties were opposed to that procedure. We are not opposed to it. We oppose the procedure proposed to put it in place. The Minister of State proposed that if a Member raises an issue in the House he or she would be answered by way of letter. That is not what we want. Such matters should be raised and answered in the House at the relevant time. That is why we objected to the proposed procedure. The Minister of State renéged on his promise to allow the Members to raise matters of urgent concern.

I have tabled a number of amendments which propose the deletion of the word "urgent". Will the Minister accept those amendments so that matters raised under Standing Order 30 on the Order of Business and Private Notice Questions are not ruled out of order because of the word "urgent"? We must be able to raise topical issues at the relevant time and not when they have been discussed by everyone else.

If the Deputy has not done so, perhaps he would give the title of the document from which he quoted.

It is entitled "Better Laws, Wiser Spending, Speedier Redress of Injustice" and it is a Fine Gael policy document from 1989. It makes great reading.

That was an ambitious time.

I have another document from Democratic Left entitled "Order in the House". The Minister, Deputy De Rossa's party document in a paragraph entitled "The(Dis)Order of Business" states:

The matters which can be raised on the Order of Business have been so restricted during the past number of years as to render the process virtually meaningless. The position with regard to promised legislation in particular is ludicrous. You now have a scenario of which Myles na gCopaleen would have been proud with a Government Minister able to hold a press conference or make a public announcement (several times) of an intention to introduce a Bill [but does not have to come into the House in that regard].

The document is full of such nuggets from Democratic Left who made great proposals when in Opposition. However, now it is in Government it does all it can to avoid proper Oireachtas reform. The document states: "Vocal proponents of Dáil reform in opposition, too often become unquestioning defenders of precedent and tradition when elected to Government." Perhaps Democratic Left will respond later in the debate.

Could one ask a question on Repsol Ltd. now?

The Deputy is intervening already and we have not yet agreed this.

The Taoiseach was asked before the summer recess if written questions would be allowed to be taken on two days of the non-sitting weeks in July and September. We indicate to the public that the Dáil meets 11 months of the year in plenary session or in committee meetings. Opposition Members should, therefore, be able to ask questions when they are preparing for committee meetings. The Government has rejected our proposal that written questions be taken in July and September on two different days. In response to this proposal the Taoiseach suggested that Members might use the telephone to get answers to questions. This is the same Taoiseach who portrays himself as the great reformer of this institution. I and most Members of the House do not accept that is the case and, perhaps, if the truth be known, the Taoiseach himself does not accept it. Why will he not put into practice what is perhaps in the back of his mind?

I have tabled 11 amendments to this report. None of them deals with the committee system but that does not mean the Opposition is satisfied with it. I will not take issue with what the Minister of State says in the document because most of it is agreed. He referred to the committee system and indicated that if people wish to have a go at the committee system they can only do so if they are using the procedures to the full. If they fail to do so they cannot be taken seriously if they deride what is available to them.

Fianna Fáil is the largest party on this side of the House and we are put to the pin of our collar to have Members attending all the meetings of the 22 committees of the House, not to mention the subcommittees of our parliamentary party and the various meetings with deputations and pressure groups. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for parties such as Democratic Left and the Progessive Democrats to have members attend all the committees. It brings into disrepute the committee system as it has been allowed to develop.

The Government created four extra committees to keep another four Members, a few convenors and vicechairman happy. That is wrong. If it is a question of paying people a little extra then the salaries of all should be increased. We find fault with the com mittee system and that is a view shared by sections of the media which find it impossible to cover all the committee meetings.

However, there are many issues which could be addressed if the Government were more open. Among them is the ability to raise urgent matters in the House at the time they are urgent and to get an immediate answer. I accept that the Taoiseach and Ministers have to receive some notice but such matters must be dealt with on the day in question. The issue of written questions in the summer must also be addressed. I implore the Minister of State to accede to our requests in that regard. The repeat rule is another issue which must be properly examined.

While some amendment has been made on the issue of ministerial responsibility for answering questions, I will be anxious to see how that works in practice. I feel that in this and future Governments Ministers will still hide behind a couple of lines and will not go outside what their officials tell them. That matter should be examined by all parties. It is not for us to hide behind a document. If mistakes have been made somebody has to answer for them.

I compliment my colleagues for their work in the Whips' meetings over the last couple of months. I also compliment the staff involved. This is a good report which is agreed, save for the issues on which I have tabled amendments and other issues which could not be raised today.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Upton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the staff who guided the Whips in this tedious and laborious job over the last few months. This may not be the perfect document but it is a move in the right direction. It is welcome that the sub-committee will continue to meet and that an ad hoc committee of Members will make suggestions.

Since becoming a Member I have been embarrassed at times to sit here and look at the schoolchildren in the public gallery watching the business. The Order of Business is not as it should be. At times we act in an unethical and unprofessional manner and have made the Chair's job impossible on most mornings. The Chair must be protected and this document makes a genuine effort to afford the Chair the protection and authority it needs. It is ridiculous that if the Chair rules a Member out of order, if the Member persists and the Chair wishes to have the Member leave the House, a proposal from the Taoiseach and a division are required. In effect, this calls into question the authority of the Chair.

The changes proposed under this motion provide that the proposal will be made by the Chair, not by the Taoiseach, and that should eliminate divisions. Irrespective of who was in Opposition, that procedure was used by an Opposition Member acting in a rude manner as a tactic to create embarrassment for the Government and it resulted in a call for his or her removal. A division would have been called and there may not have been sufficient Members in the House to ensure that Member was removed, which would have constituted a vote of no confidence in the Ceann Comhairle.

The proposal to allow interventions in debates should add to their flavour. We know how boring some debates can be and some of them have been made twice as boring because of the restriction on intervention. This motion provides that with the discretion of the Chair a Member can be interrupted for 30 seconds. That will add some colour to the debates. In line with this committee, the Broadcasting Committee is also considering ways and means by which we can make the debates more interesting for those who view them on television. Hopefully, we will be able to put forward suggestions together with what has been proposed under the motion to make them more interesting for outside viewers.

The committee system must be considered because it is becoming impossible to ensure that the maximum number of members attend. The back-up service for the committees must also be examined as there is insufficient secretarial staff. Only legislative committee reports have been printed. That is not satisfactory. There is sufficient staff to ensure committees are recorded but not enough to ensure they are printed.

To a degree I sympathise with Deputy Ahern on the topical matter raised during the Order of Business. The Taoiseach and the Government should consider this further in the coming months. It might make life a good deal easier for the Ceann Comhairle when a Member wishes to raise an issue on the Order of Business because it has become impossible to raise some matters. We saw an example of that here this morning. The Ceann Comhairle was put in a difficult position when a matter of grave importance was raised on this morning's Order of Business in that strictly speaking he should not have allowed it to be discussed. Perhaps we could reconsider that in the coming months. We will continue to work on this and hopefully we will come up with a better system. If Members are conscious of the need for improvement and focus on the areas where we can improve the system, perhaps they will advise the committee of their views and in that way we might be able to improve on this document in the coming months.

Like my colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald, I welcome the proposals. They are fine as far as they go and represent a welcome step forward. I pay tribute to members of all parties on the committee for the sometimes boring, tiresome and turgid hard work required to bring the proposals to the stage they are now at. I wish to make some general comments on the need for further change in regard to how business is carried out in the Dáil. I wish to point out some of the limitations that I consider relevant.

I draw attention to the nature and culture of Irish politics which is a major factor in laying limits to the extent to which reform can be carried out in this House or in any other aspect of politics. The tone of political debate is set by the anxiety which exists for confrontation, disagreement, constant harping criticism, be it valid or otherwise, and the difficulty which faces any Opposition party in agreeing with the Government. Deputy Dukes learnt that to his cost when he set out the Tallaght strategy which he considered was in the national interest. Some Members may have disagreed with his concept and with what he was proposing, but the general idea was worth while. As leader of the then main Opposition party he put forward a strategy for national development working in co-operation with the Government, but he got little thanks for it. That is the reality of politics which we must all keep in mind and from which we must learn.

A preoccupation with splits, factions, power struggles and people jockeying for position has replaced other ideas. These are the aspects the media tend to focus on. They are not so interested in constructive ideas. In terms of the order of priority, invariably they will go after a good split or a backbencher who might have an idea of substance. If it is put forward and there is any hint of disagreement with the party line the discussion and the debate will certainly not focus on the merits or value of the idea. It will focus on the concept of a backbench revolt, party split or a party in chaos. I can see from the way Deputy Ahern is smiling that he is only too familiar with those concepts. That approach sets the tone of what will happen in here. It sets the limits and restrictions to Dáil reform because for reform to become effective we need a far greater concentration on ideas. We also need to be capable of tossing those ideas to and fro in this House without that process being interpreted as a power struggle, undermining somebody or destabilising the Government.

That relates to the concept of the ideal Government backbencher. The ideal one is a lady or a gentleman who has virtually no ideas or proposals and in the event of such backbenchers being contaminated by an idea, they will have the good sense to keep their mouths shut. Instead of concerning themselves with proposals, in an ideal world they would sing as best they could the party song, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. That may be something of a dramatisation or an exaggeration of Irish politics, but there is a fair degree of truth in it. Unless we are prepared to address some of these matters, we will continue to have Dáil reform for many years to come because the end product will remain unsatisfactory.

Government backbenchers have considerable difficulty in asking oral questions. They must join the queue. It is almost like the lottery in that their chance of being called is about one in 100. It is possible to go through the figures and check the position. Does that encourage Government backbenchers to ask questions? The Opposition has five priority questions and those take up most of the time. That is one example of the type of difficulty that I would like to see addressed although I am pragmatic enough to realise it will not happen.

There are 22 committees. There is an analogy between the committee system and the lady or gentleman who decides to go into a restaurant and eat everything on the menu. There are far too many committees, they need to be reduced and focused. We need an indepth analysis of the effectiveness of those committees, where much talk and paper is generated. How has it taken the country forward? It is almost impossible for a Government backbencher to do anything about a Private Members' Bill. If a Member who is not a lawyer has an idea or does not have access to a committee the position is hopeless. I have never considered drafting a Bill. However, it is desirable that all backbenchers should contribute ideas on Bills and reform.

There has been discussion about openness, transparency and accountability, much of which is exceptionally naive and almost pitiable. Consideration has not been given to the limitations on openness, transparency and accountability. When does openness become simple and naive? If we are to be more open, we have to understand the limits of openness and accountability. When does openness become nitpicking and an opportunity for cranks to indulge themselves?

There is nothing about that in this document.

I am putting forward these concepts so that people will consider the ideas rather than score points and generate another split.

Much of Irish politics seems to be dictated along the lines of advertising conditioned by our behaviour in the House and in politics generally. Many of the difficulties in implementing reform arise from the manner in which we behave and from the culture of Irish politics. We should take a lesson or two from the behaviour of some other European countries.

I want to share my time with Deputy O'Donnell.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I listened carefully to, and reread parts of the Minister of State's speech. Unfortunately, it is disappointing as it does not deal with the real problems in terms of the status and significance of the House and accountability to it. It deals with trivial detail on the basis that the present system and approach is acceptable and will be improved by minor amendments to Standing Orders. That is not the case.

In the 19th century, when political analysts devised the system of the separation of powers between the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive in a parliamentary democracy, they saw the parliamentary tier as the supreme one. It has to be, as it is the only one directly elected by the people and accountable to them. In parliamentary and political theory, the parliamentary institution has always been the superior one. In this country, the parliamentary institution is by far the inferior one of the three. It is becoming progressively more inferior as the power and strength of the executive dominates.

At least the position of the judiciary is preserved by the Constitution and cannot be changed. They can interpret their own position and therefore will not weaken it. There seems to be nobody to protect the parliamentary institution. It seems to be regarded as entirely under the heel of the Government. Every single parliamentary office, except one, is in the gift of the Government. The only one that is not is the Chairmanship of the Committee of Public Accounts. The reason for this is that there is a long-standing Act which says that office has to be held by a member of the Opposition. If there were not such a statutory provision, one can be sure the office would be held by a supporter of the Government.

Even the office of Ceann Comhairle is now seen as a pawn in the creation of a Government and is not reflective of the views of the House. The filling of that office is seen as a step to the formation of a Government. If anyone doubts this House is entirely dominated by the Government to the exclusion of the House in a parliamentary sense, some of what the Minister of State said today should be examined.

He was pleased he was able, on behalf of the Government, to accept revised proposals. In other words, the Government decides what will be accepted here in terms of Standing Orders and the procedures of this House. He went on to mention the Government's willingness to accept revised proposals and said:

It may have been a much more expeditious procedure if the Government had pushed its proposals through the Houses of the Oireachtas without reference to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

That is accurate and reflects the reality we face today. The Government makes up its mind and does whatever it likes. This House is here to simply accept and put up with whatever the Government decides.

Is it only now the Deputy realises that?

It is not now that I am realising it, but it has become more blatant now than it ever was. If this continues and intensifies, as it seems to have done in recent years, the situation is very dangerous indeed. We are told by the Minister of State that "all Members are now eligible to attend committee meetings and to contribute to the proceedings. If they fail to do so they cannot be taken seriously if they come in here to deride what is available to them by way of such facility." I am a member of five committees and I attend them constantly. However, when I left the Chamber for a few minutes I was met by a member of one of those committees who said that I missed a meeting last week and that all kinds of things happened in my absence. Frequently, I am in the position where I have two committee meetings going on at the same time and I am supposed to be speaking in this House also; I have three things going on simultaneously.

The committee system as we have adopted it has gone from almost nothing to a ridiculous plethora of committees. We have, according to Deputy O'Donnell, 22 main ones and a few subsidiary ones. This party has eight Members. How can it service those? We have tried to service them. Deputy O'Donnell and I, perhaps more than any others, have taken on an enormous quantity of these committees and have tried to service them in the spirit in which they were introduced by this House. We are being told by our members and by people on all sides of the House that, electorally at least, we are wasting our time because the public do not give a damn whether I go to my five meetings or whether Deputy O'Donnell goes to hers. We are doing it because we are trying to make the system work in this House. It is not working. The sooner this nonsense we have of these committees as they are at present constituted is brought to an end the better. They are there for the purpose, unfortunately, of the Government rewarding its otherwise potentially disaffected backbenchers with posts as chairmen and convenors. Convenor is a new post. I am on a number of these committees and I fail to see what the convenor does. In fact the convenor for some of them never attends, but apparently they are paid as are the chairmen. They are paid, unlike a Deputy's ordinary salary etc., free of tax. I pay tax at 51 per cent so those who get X amounts as chairmen are in practice getting 2X.

That is not true.

They are not free of tax.

I am sorry, I withdraw that comment. I was under that misapprehension, but I was so informed. They are still worthwhile, even paying tax at 51 per cent. Why, if they are reflective of this House as parliamentary committees, is every one of the 22 chairmen, bar one that is compelled by Statute to come from the Opposition, on the Government side of the House? Is that reflective of this House as an institution? Is it reflective of his House as elected by the people? It quite clearly is not and it is a further indication that all aspects of this House as an institution will be used by the Government of the day simply to further its own interests. That is not good enough and it is a very dangerous and serious matter.

There is little or no accountability to this House. Fiddling around with the detail of Standing Orders will not create accountability. Accountability to this House and to the public will only come if there is a change politically and within the Civil Service from the culture of secrecy which dominates it at present. If there was any one episode in my long history in this House which goes back almost three decades — I was the Government Chief Whip three decades ago so I know something of what I am talking about — that sticks out in my mind as indicative of the attitude of the Executive and of the Civil Service to this House it is what I saw written on a file in the Department of Industry and Commerce after it was finally produced to the beef tribunal in the early 1990s where a senior official commended a junior official on "successfully confusing the Deputy" in an answer that was provided in this House. That was regarded as worthy of commendation by a senior civil servant. It probably went on his personnel file to make the junior civil servant more worthy of promotion for "successfully confusing the Deputy". It was about export credit to Iraq. The only constraint is that when answering questions in this House or drafting replies to questions for use in this House, a direct, deliberate lie, cannot be told but one can mislead to any degree possible short of directly telling a deliberate lie. That is the official culture and, frankly, it is not good enough. Until that attitude changes, fiddling around with the detail of Standing Orders, which the Minister of State proposes, is of no use.

Not a week passes that there is not evasion of accountability by Ministers. One only has to look back a day at any time for evidence of this. Yesterday, my colleague, Deputy Quill, asked a question of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht about Teilifís na Gaeilge which is about to be set up as a result of a Government decision. It will cost an enormous amount of money. Many people have great reservations about it. It is a political decision which is costly to the Exchequer and will be for as long as it exists. She wanted to ask a question about it yesterday and was told responsibility for Teilifís na Gaeilge lies with the Independent Radio and Television Commission. The Minister has no responsibility to this House and the question is refused.

That was a Priority Question.

It is simply ridiculous. Deputy O'Donnell has a sheaf of letters from the Ceann Comhairle disallowing many questions about hepatitis C. We had lectures last night from the Minister for Health about his transparency and accountability, yet the Deputy has a sheaf of letters in front of her about which she will tell the House. What is the point in fiddling around, as this motion and the report on which it is based does, with the detail of Standing Orders unless there is a fundamental change of attitude? Different attitudes exist in parliaments in different countries. What we have here is not the norm and because it is not the norm, it is dangerous. This is where the real change needs to be made.

Deputy Harney puts many questions to the Taoiseach, particularly about Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach transfers the bulk of them to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and they may come up for answer six to eight weeks later. I am handed a list of questions at that time by the General Office and told that there are 19 questions in Deputy Harney's name and I am asked if I want to put other names to them. Through no fault of Deputy Harney, the questions are out of date by that stage, even though they were pertinent at the time they were tabled.

As Deputy O'Malley said, this House is misled on a daily basis by the manner in which parliamentary questions are obstructed by the procedures of the House or transferred to other Ministers. Alternatively replies are drafted in such a way as to fillet out information sought. Where one overcomes the procedural obstructions questions are answered in a minimal way and in many cases in such a way as to confuse, thwart and indirectly mislead Deputies. That has been the pattern of several administrations. This administration, which owes its existence to the failure of the previous administration to deal with issues of accountability and reply properly to parliamentary questions, has been more attentive than its predecessor.

Any procedure which subjugates the rights of the Dáil to information must be challenged. In our contribution to Oireachtas reform we have proposed a complete review and radical reform of procedures, not just a tinkering around with Standing Orders to tidy up procedures. I accept that is important, and we support all the proposals in the Dáil package of reform, but the real issues have not been addressed. There is nothing radical about the proposal for Dáil reform. If we are to enhance the role of this body as an inquiring body we must address the real issue of accountability. The legislative function of Dáil Éireann is well known, but the inquiring function, an equally important function in a parliamentary democracy, is hardly developed and is being thwarted by the Executive.

In regard to the current controversy surrounding hepatitis C, a judicial inquiry is to be set up. At last the Government has come round and what was out of the question several days ago is now Government policy. Last night the Minister for Health said that all issues relating to his handling of the matter in terms of parliamentary accountability will be dealt with by this House. Eleven questions which I tabled for written reply today have been ruled out because they anticipate debate on this evening's Private Members' motion. Those questions were not answered by the Minister last night and they will not be answered tonight. Those 11 technical questions relate to matters over which this Administration has responsibility, its handling of the hepatitis C issue. instructions given by the Government, how much it knew about the handling of the court case, why liability was accepted at the last moment and the manner in which the severance packages were agreed with the two BTSB officials. All those issues have been obstructed.

The statement by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, last night is, to use his expression, a cod. He accused us of codding women when we asked questions, but he is codding the Dáil when he says that there will be accountability to this Chamber in terms of his handling the crisis. To establish the truth of these matters the tribunal of inquiry must look into what happened not only up to 1994 but since the Minister took over in the Department of Health. The House is being misled in this matter. There is a chronic inability to change our procedures and to review and reform the culture of secrecy, retaining information and holding on to knowledge. The actions of the Government, which has a stated commitment to openness, are directly contradictory to that aspiration. Without radical reform of the way this House deals with parliamentary questions we are only skirting around housekeeping matters which are of interest only to us. In terms of the public interest we must ensure that parliamentary questions are no longer obstructed or answered in a misleading way.

Unfortunately I missed most of the debate because of a party meeting, but I heard some of the contributions of my Progressive Democrats colleagues. Democratic Left and the Progressive Democratic have at least one thing in common, the small size of our parties. I understand the difficulties of small parties in making a contribution in Parliament and trying to perform on behalf of their constituents. The Progressive Demorcrats has an advantage over Democratic Left in that all its members are backbenchers whereas Democratic Left, with generous ministerial representation, has a deficit on the back benches. The two backbench Deputies must carry a great workload, including weekly contributions to Private Members' Bills, raising questions with Ministers each day and attending in excess of 22 committees, which is crucifying.

I am not, however, complaining in that when I was last elected to this Parliament most if not all of the work was conducted in this Chamber — there were a few committees such as the Committee of Public Accounts and one or two smaller committees. This Parliament inherited the Westminster model. On the foundation of the State there were six or seven Departments whereas today that number has been increased to 15 or 16.

Fifteen and a half, or is it two thirds?

There is an additional obligation on Members to partake in the proceedings of the House. Small political parties will never be able to play the role they wish to play. I have not heard Fianna Fáil's contribution to this debate, but that party has a sufficient number of backbenchers to cover all committees and it should have no cause for complaint. I may have to attend, for example, a Committee of Public Accounts and at the same time watch the monitor to see if a vote is called at another committee. I may then have to go to the House to raise a question with the Minister. I literally have to run from one room to the next to deal with business. If we are serious about introducing Dáil reform in a way that will benefit not only small political parties but also Fianna Fáil and other parties, we must recognise the need for back-up resources by way of personnel for every TD.

I recently spoke to a Deputy who has decided not to contest the next general election — it is interesting to note the number of TDs who will not seek reelection. If asked they will say the Dáil has been transformed completely since they were first elected. By anyone's standards the amount of work expected from a TD is disproportionate to that expected in the past. We will see fewer and fewer part-time Members of this House. We know the legal profession tends to treat this House as a part-time job but it is becoming increasingly impossible to treat Parliament as a part-time experience.

If Deputies are to play a role to the maximum of their ability they will need back-up research workers. I am an extremely busy politician and my secretary has been out sick for the last week. As a result, my office has come to a standstill. When a Deputy's secretary is sick he or she should automatically be entitled to a replacement. It is impossible for me, or any Member, to prepare a few words for delivery in the Dáil, at the Committee of Public Accounts or at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges while two phones are ringing constantly in my office.

I appeal to the Government and to the Minister of State. If backbenchers are to play the role expected of them as legislators they will need substantially more resources by way of substitute secretarial staff and researchers. Every TD should have a personal aide capable of doing research work outside the secretarial arena. Without that we literally run from one committee to another not making much of a contribution to the debates.

There is currently one journalist in the Press Gallery. It saddens and disturbs me to see the image of a TD's role as projected by the media. It was more hurtful last week when we read of the imminent opening of two bars in this House and the suggestion by a Member of the Oireachtas that most of us spend our time in the bar and are divorced from the real world. That is a slur on every hard-working TD. Some TDs work harder than others. Some do their work in Parliament, see their primary role as legislators and do not maintain any direct or meaningful contact with their constituents. There are others, like me, who have to work difficult constituencies like the south inner city of Dublin. There, for example, Deputies Gay Mitchell, Pat Upton, Ben Briscoe and I have been at more meetings about the drugs crisis than one could imagine. We are obliged to be there. I appeal to the media to be less flippant in their response to the workload of TDs. They should recognise that a TD in this House works for a minimum of 12 hours a day and that does not include evening meetings so prevalent in certain constituencies.

Deputy O'Malley spoke of the culture of the Civil Service in responding to questions, but we could also query the cultural approach to politics. Should we attempt to break the incredible link that exists for many TDs with their constituents? Some British Labour Party MPs do not communicate with their constituents to the extent we do. American students and others who come to Dáil offices and hear TDs contacting their constituents are amazed and flabbergasted by the extent of it. Maybe it is a criticism of those who are in such daily contact with constituents, but we feel obliged to deal personally with them. If the culture is to be changed I would strongly argue that Parliament can only assist in changing it by providing us with the necessary back-up resources including researchers and other personnel to allow us to devote more time to dealing with legislative matters.

I warmly welcome the document produced. It will not necessarily resolve all the problems, and some of the issues I raised have not even been addressed in it. I wish to impress upon all our parliamentary colleagues across the political divide that backbenchers need additional staff resources in order to make a more coherent, intelligent, articulate and researched contribution to the Parliament to which they were elected.

I also welcome the proposals before the House today in the name of the Government Chief Whip. I join in complimenting all those who have worked so assiduously in putting those proposals together. I particularly compliment our Chief Whip, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who has devoted a great deal of time, effort, thought and work to this document. I regret that all our proposals have not been taken on board. I heard the Minister say he would listen carefully to the case being made in favour of Deputy Ahern's amendments and I hope we can persuade him to accept some of those. It would be a better document if the totality of our input could be included.

I cannot seriously oppose any of the proposals before the House because they are fairly unexceptional. I particularly welcome the proposal to finance Private Members' Bills, although it is regrettable that it is confined to only five in view of the fact that we see a much greater initiative on the part of Opposition Members in putting forward Private Members' Bills. The Minister of State should examine that proposal which appears small and carping.

There is a change in relation to allowing questions and answers during debates but, as I understand it, there is already provision for that. We have already had a number of examples when it has been allowed during debates by agreement with the Whips. I am not sure what the extent of the change will be; will it be the norm and will it be automatically agreed by the Government? What exactly will change?

I also welcome the recommendations for streamlined voting procedures for the suspension of a Member but I wonder why this proposal is being confined to that specific matter. Why can we not have a generally streamlined voting system given the amount of time we waste trooping through the lobbies in this antiquated voting system we inherited from the English Parliament, which is more relevant to Victorian times? The time spent coming down from our offices to vote in the division lobbies, having a chat and waiting for the results to be announced before returning to our offices, could be used more fruitfully in proceeding with the Business of this House.

I am interested in the proposal for a revised format for the Order of Business and the introduction of an interruptions rule but I will reserve judgment on those until I see how they operate in practice.

The proposals before the House leave one with the impression that what is being proposed are marginal procedural changes which will have no effect on the matters so eloquently adverted to by a number of Members during this debate. Even if some of the amendments we are proposing are accepted, these proposals will only have a marginal effect, if any, on accountability.

On coming to office the Government promised openness, transparency and accountability. Despite this we have been treated to a constant diet of secrecy, obfuscation and cover-up in the Lowry affair, in the defective warrant extradition case and most recently in the blood debacle where the story has been dragged out of the Government by instalments. We are still miles away from the true story. If the judicial tribunal being established by the Government does get at the truth I will welcome it but this House will not get at it or make the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, accountable for his stewardship of the Department of Health since December 1994. The procedures which will be left largely intact will prevent it from doing so, as the Minister of State knows.

I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendments in the name of Deputy Dermot Ahern. Nobody could argue logically that the repeat rule as it stands should remain in place. It should be abolished as it has been used successfully as a device behind which the Government can hide when it wants to avoid accountability. In practice we cannot bring up a matter on the day after it is first raised, even though it may still be topical, but the media can do so. Every political journalist and current affairs broadcaster can ask the question on the day after and the day after that if it is still topical. What does that say about this House? Is it any wonder that the public's perception is that this House is less important than the political journalists and the broadcast media, that it is of little relevance and rubber stamps decisions taken by the Executive? The repeat rule allows the Government to avoid accountability in this House even though it cannot do so in the public media. The net effect is to make this House less relevant and infinitely less important than the media. That is regrettable in a democracy.

We have proposed an amendment to Standing Order 30. I have been a Member of the House for almost 15 years and have yet to see a matter raised being allowed, although I am sure it has happened on a few occasions. It seems it is little more than a parliamentary ornament shown to visitors to the House. It has little or no effect in practice. Because the word "urgent" is rigidly and narrowly interpreted Standing Order 30 is used consistently to avoid discussing matters of topical importance which are being discussed in the media. It seems they can be discussed everywhere but in this House. We are told they cannot be raised because they are not sufficiently urgent. Even where a factory closure is imminent and hundreds of people are about to lose their jobs any attempt to raise the matter will be ruled out of order because the Ceann Comhairle will adjudge it is not sufficiently urgent even though the factory is about to go into receivership or liquidation. Because the word "urgent" has been interpreted so narrowly Standing Order 30 is useless and has no effect in practice except to allow the Government to refuse to answer questions about matters which are of vital importance and urgent in the ordinary sense of the word.

The Government is refusing to allow written questions to be tabled in the months of July and September. This makes no sense. As the Minister of State knows, committees of the House sit during those months. The Members who attend those meetings need information urgently. To get that information they have to use the tactic of the written question. The Taoiseach has given us the ridiculous excuse that Members can get the information they need by using the telephone. If we take this argument to its logical conclusion, we should abolish written questions altogether. If the Minister of State is serious about introducing parliamentary reforms and making even a minimal difference during his term of office he should accept our proposal to allow written questions to be tabled during the months of July and September.

Although it promised us openness, transparency and accountability, this is without doubt the most secretive Government in the history of the State. Even if one wants to ignore what has happened in the past two years, this can be seen in every line and section of the proposed freedom of information Bill to amend the official secrets legislation. Even from a cursory reading it is evident that the Government has no interest in getting rid of the culture of secrecy which has infected this State since its foundation.

The Taoiseach and the Lord Protector of Great Britain and Ireland, Oliver Cromwell, had at least one thing in common; both came to power on the basis that Parliament was allegedly being ignored and treated with contempt, that the Sovereign or the Executive was too strong and nobody was being held accountable. In fairness to the Lord Protector, it took him about five or six years to decide that Parliament was irksome and it would be better to ignore it. Apparently, the Taoiseach decided to do this immediately on assuming office. We can be thankful that he does not have Oliver Cromwell's power to prorogue Parliament. On occasion I have felt on the Order of Business or in various set piece debates that he would have preferred to take that option if it had been available to him.

I agree with Deputy Eric Byrne and others. I, too, wonder why we have so many committees. We have gone from the point where we had few committees, including the pilot scheme committee in which I participated which debated the Companies Act, to the point where we have 22 committees. I sympathise with Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats because we have been put to the pin of our collar to service these committees. This is ludicrous. With the greatest of respect to the Members who serve on them and try to make them relevant it seems that many of these committees have been created simply to provide jobs, whether as chairman or convenor, for those who would have expected ministerial preferment and were disillusioned and disgruntled when that did not happen. This is a device to keep them quiet.

By using this device to buy off potentially disaffected backbenchers the Government has brought the entire committee system into disrepute. I ask the Minister of State to look seriously at the difficulties being encountered by Members who are genuinely interested in having a proper committee system in place and making it work. What is in place is a farce, a stunt and a device. It is not working and has undermined confidence, not only in the House but among the media, in the entire committee system. It is little better than a joke.

We were told that the committee system would make backbenchers more relevant and give them more power but that has not been my experience. I have debated legislation in the Select Committee on Legislation and Security and if the Minister does not want to accept an amendment put forward by the Opposition, he or she can use the Government majority on the committee to reject it. I have not found any evidence to suggest that because the amendment is being proposed in the cosy context of a committee, rather than in a full session of the House, it will make any difference to the Government's attitude.

I agree a proper committee system would make the House more efficient. The current system has made it more efficient in that it has enabled more legislation to be processed because the time of the House has been freed up while Committee Stage debates on legislation take place in committee. Apart from that, my reservations remain.

There is a perception outside this House, reinforced consistently by the media, that Deputies are more interested in holding on to their own seats than coming in here to do the business for which they are paid. The media, particularly those people in the media who focus on that issue, are somewhat disingenuous in this regard. We have a multiparty system which puts enormous electoral pressure on Members. As Deputy Eric Byrne rightly said, we have now reached the stage where, with the exception of a few, being a Member of this House is a full-time job for more and more Deputies. It is their livelihood, although I pity anybody who depends on it for their livelihood. If it is their sole means of income and that of their families, the pressure on them to hold on to that job is even greater.

We have an electoral system whereby the people who elect us, our constituents, demand a minimum amount of attention. They demand that we attend clinics, address their personal problems and are seen occasionally in whatever town or village in which they live. Those demands should be taken into account. Without reform of the electoral system, which we have carefully avoided discussing and continue to put at the bottom of the agenda — the Government put it down the agenda in the run-up to the establishment of the committee on the Constitution, despite what the Minister of State said in his opening remarks — those of us in this House who want to survive will have to give a minimum of time to their constituencies, with the remaining time being devoted to their parliamentary duties. That is the reality and it is time that we, as a Parliament, as well as those in the media, faced up to it.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion before the House. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed by Members opposite on the various procedures and modus operandi which currently exist. In the brief time available to me I propose to deal with a number of topics which I believe are particularly relevant to the efficient operation of the House.

The most popular interpretation of the dual mandate is that of Members of the Oireachtas being also members of the European Parliament, but I want to extend consideration of that subject to Members of the Oireachtas also being members of local authorities. It is clear from the contributions of Members to this debate that to carry out one's duties in this House efficiently and effectively on behalf of our constituents is practically a full-time job. It is almost impossible to exercise a dual mandate at European Parliament level in addition to being an effective Member of the Oireachtas. It is time that situation was regulated. I favour greater liaison between Irish members of the European Parliament and this House but if Deputies are members of both institutions they cannot execute either responsibility efficiently. That aspect must be examined.

It is extremely difficult for Members of this House, particularly those who represent rural constituencies, to execute a dual mandate in so far as it applies to being members of local authorities or health boards. The House is normally in session from Tuesday to Friday, with various committee meetings taking place, but local authority meetings are frequently held on a Monday or Friday and it is becoming increasingly difficult to execute both functions effectively. The whole question of dual mandate must be examined in the context of reform of this House and efficiency in its operation.

The most significant point which has militated against the efficiency and effectiveness of the House is the introduction of the multiplicity of committees. As many Members stated, there are now 22 committees and it has become an all too familiar phenomenon to meet Deputies wandering the corridors of Leinster House, with a glazed look in their eyes and folders under their arms, searching frantically for the committee room they are required to be in by 2.30 p.m., with perhaps their attendance being required at another meeting at 3 p.m. Enormous powers of bilocation or even trilocation are required by Deputies in respect of the committee system as it currently operates.

I sympathise with the smaller parties but the members of the larger parties are put to the pin of their collar to service the 22 committees of the House. It has become almost a full-time job for convenors and party Whips to search for bodies to attend committees and make up a quorum. It is not unknown for committees to be unable to initiate their business due to their failure to muster a quorum. I omitted to say at the outset that I wish to share my time with Deputy Deasy.

Acting Chairman

I am sure the agreement of the House will be forthcoming. Agreed.

The time restriction does not permit me to make an effective contribution in this regard but a radical overhaul of the committee system is long overdue. Yesterday the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs, which is dealing with prebudget submissions, received submissions from various organisations including the IFA, the IAVI, the drinks industry council and the Irish Hotels Federation. It is difficult for Members to do justice to such an important committee meeting, notwithstanding that they are required to attend a number of other committees and parliamentary party meetings. The whole question should be examined with a view to establishing ten or 12 effective committees of the House.

The system of voting in the House is archaic. Time is our most scarce resource and an electronic system of voting needs to be introduced immediately. Another point in regard to the waste of time concerns the Order of Business. Every morning the Taoiseach comes into this House and reads out the Order of Business. Under existing Standing Orders, the Ceann Comhairle is obliged to repeat, word for word, what has been said by the Taoiseach. The Order of Business should be circulated to Members who could then make observations on it. That would be better than wasting ten or 15 minutes every morning reading out the Order of Business.

There is a lack of resources for Members. I am fortunate to have the assistance of an American intern who is amazed at the extent of the hands-on contact between public representatives and their constituents. That contact demands a great deal of time and, if one is a public representative, it leaves little time to do the work for which we have been elected to this House. Much of that work could be delegated if sufficient resources were available. Research facilities are lacking and that is an area which should also be examined.

I thank Deputy Creed for sharing his time with me. I welcome the opportunity to debate the proposals before us. I hope they will lead to an improvement in the manner in which this House operates.

We all thought, some years ago when the committees were set up, that we would have a far better system of debating and legislating in the House. That has not happened. A number of Bills are dealt with in committees but there has been no overall improvement in the workings of the Dáil.

The revised method of dealing with questions has been the cause of much frustration among Deputies in the House. There are Deputies, including Government backbenchers, who ask awkward questions, and the manner in which priority questions are dealt with, taken in conjunction with the Taoiseach's questions, can mean that the ordinary Members, more than 100 out of 166 Deputies, never get a chance to pursue a question they have on the Order Paper. That is not good for democracy. That procedure has been a retrograde step and something will have to be done about it. At least an hour should be reserved three days a week to allow backbenchers to ask questions. The present system has led to the despicable practice of Ministers filibustering on the questions preceding a question they do not wish to answer to such a degree that the question will not be reached. That is a negation of democracy and should not be tolerated. Until we have a system whereby all relevant questions are answered, we are defeating the purpose of democracy. Under the old system a Minister's questions were dealt with until such time as they were exhausted, even if it took a full week, so that a question was reached regardless of whether the Minister liked it.

The mention of parliamentary questions also brings into focus the matter of disqualification of questions. As time passes I get more and more letters from the Ceann Comhairle telling me my question has been disqualified on the most frivolous of grounds.

Imagine how we feel.

It happens to me more often than to any Opposition Deputy. I had two questions yesterday for oral answer and both were disqualified. The Deputy and his colleague are only in the ha'penny place, because I have a tendency to ask pertinent questions which some people might say are too close to the bone. That is what politics is about. I do not know who is responsible. The letter comes from the Ceann Comhairle but I suspect that questions are often disqualified because the Minister responsible has said he does not want to answer. It is happening nowadays on an ever increasing scale.

I deeply resent the fact we cannot ask parliamentary questions about the activities of State-sponsored bodies because, taking them in conjunction, they spend more money than the entire budget of this House, with the exception of major spending Departments such as the Departments of Social Welfare and Health. There are 40 or 50 State-sponsored bodies that handle billions of pounds of public money and we cannot ask a question about them. Where is the justice in that? If one writes to the company in question one gets the brush-off. They are responsible to nobody. They should be responsible to the relevant Minister, to the Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies. People may contradict me and say I am wrong when I say they are not responsible, but I am not wrong. They are not responsible, and their arrogance and their activities prove that time and again. They have the best of trips, the best of accommodation in first class hotels, the best of wine. We need only go back a few months to the Bord na Móna débâcle. One could point the finger at dozens of State-sponsored bodies where the same practices are in operation. It is a disgrace that this House has given away so much of its power.

Hear, hear.

I hope that if Fianna Fáil gets into Government something will be done.

Every side of the House is responsible.

I am glad to see additional State-sponsored bodies included in today's legislation. I compliment the Minister of State on that. However, they are only included for examination by the Joint Committee on State-sponsored Bodies. They should be for examination by this House, and every penny they spend should be open to the close scrutiny of this House.

I would like the Minister of State to bear in mind that we never have a debate in this House on the proceedings in the Council of Europe which is the humanitarian body looking after the human rights of people throughout Europe and of which 36 or 38 countries are members. I happen to be leader of the Irish delegation at the moment and feel it is a great pity that we do not occasionally have a debate on the proceedings in the Council of Europe. It has some very relevant debates, most recently in relation to Northern Ireland and the conditions of detention of republican prisoners in British jails which delegations from the three main parties in this House have found to be appalling and a contributory factor in the breakdown of the ceasefire in Northern Ireland. Such issues should be debated in this House and I ask the Minister when replying to give consideration to that. We discuss such matters in Strasbourg but not here, and we should do so.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the motion. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, on his presentation on the first report of the sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on reform of Dáil Éireann and amending orders of reference of committees. I wish to congratulate also the members of the sub-committee who, I understand, are the party whips, especially my own party whip Deputy Dermot Ahern. I was also pleased to hear the Minister refer to the input of the staff of the House which was endorsed by Deputy Ahern. This is welcome as the input and contribution of the staff of the House to the business of the House is not often publicly appreciated.

I note from the report that although a number of proposals have been submitted and agreed, there is no mention of legal representation for the chairmen and members of the various committees who make a very valuable contribution. It is fundamental to the working of the many committees of this House that they should be fully covered by way of legal representation if they so require. I appeal to the Minister and the sub-committee to give this matter serious consideration.

The Minister emphasised this is the first report of the subcommittee and that it is proposed to continue the comprehensive review of Standing Orders. In that regard we will be thinking in terms of producing an up-to-date version of Standing Orders. I am of the view that the procedures as they relate to parliamentary questions need close examination. On this point legal representation is most important and I ask him to take it into account.

I support the point made by Deputy Eric Byrne who referred to the need for back-up for backbenchers in regard to research. It is important that this matter be taken into consideration. There is no doubt that the workload of backbench TDs is not appreciated by the public. If a backbench TD slips up in any way in regard to communication he will pay for it at the next general election.

In my brief contribution I will deal with matters relevant to the Committee of Public Accounts. Following the press release in relation to Dáil reform, all committees were invited by the Government Chief Whip, on 23 February 1996, to make submissions to the subcommittee on Dáil reform, setting out their observations in relation to the proposed changes and any further proposals for reform.

Prior to that request, on 14 February 1996, as chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle pointing out where there was a conflict between the orders of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts and the proposed amendment of the orders of reference of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies. This letter was passed by the Ceann Comhairle to the Government Chief Whip. The Committee of Public Accounts is very disappointed with the response of the subcommittee to its representations.

Dáil Standing Order 131, which sets out the orders of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts states:

(1) As soon as may be following the reassembly of the Dáil subsequent to a General Election there shall be appointed a Select Committee, to be known as the Committee of Public Accounts, to examine and report to the Dáil upon:

(a) the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by the Dáil to meet the public expenditure and such other accounts as they see fit... which are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and presented to the Dáil, together with any reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon:...

These orders of reference were extended in 1994 following the adoption of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, which was enacted following extensive lobbying by the Committee of Public Accounts. Section 9 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, states:

The Comptroller and Auditor General may, in relation to ... any other person or fund whose accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General... carry out such examinations as he considers appropriate for the purpose of ascertaining—

(a)whether and to what extent the resources of the Department, person or fund—

(i) have been used, and

(ii) if acquired or disposed of by the Department, person or fund, have been so acquired or disposed of,

economically or efficiently, and

(b) whether any such disposal has been effected upon the most favourable terms reasonably obtainable ...

In this report, it has been proposed that the orders of reference of the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies be amended to extend its remit to cover particular non-commercial bodies, namely, Bord Fáilte, FÁS, Forbairt, Forfás, IDA-Ireland, National Roads Authority, SFADCo, Teagasc and Údarás na Gaeltachta. All these bodies already come within the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts, by virtue of the fact that they are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and a number of them have already been examined by the committee this year, in accordance with its orders of reference which, unlike those of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies, are contained in Standing Orders of the Dáil.

As a result of the proposed amendments there will now be a significant overlap in relation to the functions of the Committee of Public Accounts and those of the Joint Committee. In addition, as the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies looks at the economy and efficiency of bodies, and their effectiveness, its new terms of reference will not overlap the duties of the Committee of Public Accounts but those of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I acknowledge the inclusion of a phrase instructing the joint committee to "have regard to the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts in relation to the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993", but the proposed amendments to the orders of reference of the joint committee will be extremely wasteful on the already over-stretched resources of the committees of the Houses, particularly as a result of the overlap of functions of these two committees.

The Committee of Public Accounts urges that the provisions proposed by the sub-committee be amended to remove the sections which, in effect, dilute the already limited powers of the committee. The committee fought for many years for the extension of the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and that of the committee to its present level. As a result it is reluctant to allow for a reduction of its recently extended remit.

If the Minister does not see fit to amend the proposal as suggested, it will be necessary that detailed guidelines be drafted to address the problem of the overlap of functions of these two committees, to clarify the position and to allow for a new system to operate.

It is the intention of the committee to fully utilise the provision of the report allowing for the co-ordination of the committees by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and it will be in contact with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges as soon as possible in relation to the operation of the amendments.

I wish to refer to the inclusion of a proposal to amend Standing Order 131 to allow for the printing and publishing of the Minutes of Evidence of meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts from time to time. This technical amendment was requested by the committee some time ago and its inclusion is more welcome.

I thank the House for the opportunity to contribute on this motion, particularly in my capacity as chairman of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies. I wish to share my time with two other Members.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The main changes for my committee, arising from the motion, are a change of name from Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies to Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies and the addition of nine bodies to the committee's existing remit. My committee deals with 24 bodies, some with subsidary bodies. An examination of these bodies involves a minimum of ten meetings, even allowing for the committee meeting on an average of 30 times a year. Because of the additional bodies being added to our remit I calculate it would take between nine and ten years to cover the investigation of all these bodies. That is neither possible nor likely. On the basis of our term of reference, it would require three Dáil terms to cover the whole of these bodies. One of these bodies, Irish Steel, should be removed from our remit shortly. I hope that those commercial bodies which form a strategic alliance, but still remain in public ownership to a minimum of 51 per cent, will remain within our remit and answerable to public representatives. That is an importance point because more alliances are being forged and I hope there will not be a requirement to remove them from surveillance under our committee.

The addition of nine extra bodies means we will have to give serious consideration to how we do our work. I will return to that later. The nine additional bodies are already among the 100 plus non-commercial semi-State bodies under the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts. Our proposed orders of reference state that the joint committee shall have regard to the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts in relation to the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, in its examination of State Sponsored Bodies. The orders of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts include provision that the committee will examine and report to this House upon (a) the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by the Dáil to meet public expenditure which are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and presented to the Dáil, together with any reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon, and (b) the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the examination of the economy, efficiency, effectiveness of evaluation systems and procedures and practice.

Having regard to the preceding orders of reference I will endeavour to ensure that any committee does not duplicate work which can be carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General due to the vastly superior resources at his disposal. The appropriate legislative committee can invite these bodies to come before it to discuss the matters within its remit. It is important that these bodies are not brought before more than one committee, thereby using up their valuable time and duplicating work. My committee must consider ways in which it can play a useful and complementary role to that of the Committee of Public Accounts in dealing with these bodies.

The main remit of my committee has been to examine the reports, accounts and overall operational results of various bodies. Having examined the annual reports of these bodies over many years, I am convinced more than ever that the purpose of these reports is to accentuate the positive and ignore the negative. Perhaps it is time we devised a new method for examining these bodies which is more relevant to the present era. The emphasis on strategic management presents an ideal opportunity to reassess the remit of my committee so that we do not duplicate the functions of the Committee of Public Accounts in relation to the nine new bodies. Strategic management with its emphasis on agreeing policy objectives and necessary results, on the one hand, and providing the necessary results, on the other, appears to offer a more attractive, efficient and relevant method of assessing value for money and performance and to provide a basis for avoiding duplication of work by committees which have an interest in the same body. I propose to raise this matter with the members of my committee under Standing Order 76 (d) which enables committees to review their procedures and roles and to report to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at least every six months.

Nine bodies are being brought within the remit of my committee but I am surprised An Bord Tráchtála and An Bord Bia are not included. Given that up to 90 per cent of all Irish-owned manufacturing companies are small and medium sized enterprises and the vital role these bodies must play if enterprise is to flourish, it is difficult to see how my committee can get a complete picture without their inclusion. The further success of Irish-owned enterprise would appear to depend to a great extent on the level of co-ordination and co-operation between these bodies, including some of those being brought under our remit. There are also cross-departmental issues involved in the carrying out by these bodies of their functions. This is an area where my committee can have a useful input and which it can raise under Standing Order 76 (d).

Deputy Deasy referred to the inability of Members to query certain areas within the semi-State sector. I hope Members will use the substitution rule to attend committees where they can voice their concerns about such matters. I have received letters which have raised queries about the semi-State sector and the committee pursues these on behalf of Members. I congratulate the Minister on the proposals he has put forward today.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Broughan. While I welcome the proposals brought before the House by the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, I am surprised that there is not more in them for backbenchers. Last year I referred to the way backbenchers have to operate in the Dáil. As can be seen from the proposals before us today we do not really count. It is time backbenchers set up their own unofficial committee to consider ways of improving their facilities. I am sick and tired of the way we are treated by Ministers and Governments and it is time we got together and organised ourselves.

I agree with the points made by Deputy Byrne. If my secretary is on sick leave for one, two, three or four weeks I have nobody to assist me and my office comes to a standstill. When she goes on holidays there is nobody to replace her. This is not the way private industry works. A person in private industry who goes on holidays is replaced by another person. What is wrong with us that we do not get together and fight for what we need?

During the summer recess I was visited by a member of another parliament. I was embarrassed to bring him into my office where the only equipment is a telephone. I do not have a fax or photocopier and my secretary was working in my constituency office. When he asked me how many researchers I had I told him I was not a Minister and only had a secretary who has an enormous amount of work to do in my constituency office. My secretary helps me in dealing with the political problems which arise on a daily basis and she also carries out research. Nobody helped me with my speech; I had to go to the Oireachtas Library and read the speeches made on this subject on the last occasion it was debated.

Backbenchers from all political parties do not have anybody to represent them and it is time we got together and set up our own committee. A person who wishes to fax a letter to me must send it to the Fine Gael Press Office where it can be seen by five or six people who then know my business. The general public may not believe what I am saying because the press gives the impression that we have all these facilities at our disposal and that we have control of the Dáil. I want to say to the press that we do not have control of the Dáil, which is controlled by the Civil Service. It is time a Bill was introduced under which Ministers took back control of the Dáil and were answerable to it. I am sick of receiving letters from the Ceann Comhairle's office telling me my questions are not in order or that a certain Minister has no responsibility for the matter. The general public think that Deputies have responsibility for everything but we have responsibility for nothing because we are not told anything. If we do not organise ourselves we will never be told anything.

I am also annoyed at the way in which officials answer questions. Instead of giving a simple answer to a simple question they give a coded reply to try to confuse us. I could give many examples of questions which I have had to table two or three times to get an answer. The Minister and officials know the information I want but they give a coded reply. This is not the way the Dáil should work. Ministers should answer questions honestly and truthfully and should not try to protect anybody. They are elected to represent the people and, as their representatives, we should be given the answers.

I wish I had more time as there are many other points I would like to make. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, on these proposals, but I hope further proposals will be brought before the House which will upgrade the facilities for Deputies and ensure that we have researchers. In spite of what the press and general public say, we do a difficult job and have a heavy workload. It is a difficult job but it is good that public representatives are available because of the way people are treated by officials in certain offices. We represent them and provide a barrier between them and the officials. Without us it would be a poor system.

I second every remark made by the backbencher of the year, Deputy Ring. During my first weeks here, I was amazed to discover that the Dáil is effectively a 19th century assembly operating with early 19th century practices. Like Deputy Ring, I primarily blame the officials responsible for running the Oireachtas for permitting this situation to continue.

On the question of resouces I must inform the House that I share an office with two other Deputies, our secretarial staff and, on occasion, visiting staff from the Labour Party. Five people are trying to work and represent 250,000 people in a few square metres. That is disgraceful.

As Deputy Ring stated, the lack of support is equally disgraceful. In England, each MP has access to a secretary and a researcher. This is considered to be the very minimum in a country where Governments also have a long tradition of not supporting backbenchers.

This report could be likened to a doctor giving two tablets to a patient in need of radical surgery. The procedures of the Dáil require such surgery. Why do we not have electronic voting? This matter has been discussed for 20 years. All votes could be recorded electronically on Thursday evenings at one time, as is the case in the Belgian Parliament. Amendments have been proposed to Standing Orders relating to the Order of Business, but why is it not possible for the Taoiseach to deal with Deputies' immediate concerns? I welcome the proposals to allow 30 second interventions.

Like Deputy Connolly, I enjoy the cut and thrust of debate which is not available in this House. We do not have proper debates in the Dáil. Complaints have been made about only three to four Members being present in the House. However, more people cannot contribute because speeches are far too long. In the European Parliament contributions are limited to three minutes.

There should also be radical surgery of the committees. Some of my colleagues are chairpersons of committees but the Dáil could best function with approximately seven committees. There should be only the four standing committees, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee of Public Accounts and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The remainder should be consigned to the dustbin because they are not necessary. I may be echoing comments made by a previous speaker but the select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy should deal with the semi-State sector.

As Deputy Byrne stated, the Committee of Public Accounts is in a disgraceful position. Almost 75 years after the foundation of the State, this premier committee, with its constitutional role, is not allowed to go public or be televised and does not have the power to compel witness, nor is it protected by privilege. The previous Government was also at fault in this regard. However, two years into the term of office of the new administration, the Dáil does not have the kind of procedures to permit the Committee of Public Accounts to operate in a way similar to its counterparts in Finland, Sweden, England, etc. This key committee is responsible for examining officials and making stringent judgments but it cannot compel witnesses to attend. Gross inefficiencies have occurred because the committee does not have access to the requisite powers.

I welcome some of the ideas and amendments suggested in the report. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, for bringing it before the House. However, it is a pathetic first step given the radical surgery required. Like other Members, I hope to be elected to the 28th Dáil. I also hope the incoming Government will bring the Dáil into the 20th century and introduce new rules of procedure and alter the situation regarding resources available to Members. Such action will make this assembly truly interesting and relevant to the needs of our constituents.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the report and I note what it intends to achieve. There has been criticism of the public service and statements that its members are at fault in the operation of the Houses. I do not blame them; I never did. Successive Governments — I served in many of them — shied away from the problem because they were afraid of the media.

Next June I will have served in this House for 28 years.


When I entered this House, there were ten Members to each typist. The typist who worked for me used an Underwood typewriter and had to use a brush to clean the letter "t" which otherwise appeared on the page as "i". What did we do to rectify this? When he became Taoiseach in 1979, former Deputy Charles Haughey made the first radical changes to the Oireachtas. He appointed secretary typists to each Member of the Dáil and ensured that new typewriters were installed. This might have been a small development but it was a step in the right direction.

I have served on many committees of the House and Members baulked when the issue of improvements arose because we were afraid of the public reaction.

Afraid of the Daily Star?

We were afraid of everything. We were afraid of other newspapers and the media before the Daily Star first appeared. I was never afraid of them. When the Ethics in Public Office Bill was debated in the House, I spoke freely and without hesitation on it. When they completed forms regarding their assets as required by that legislation, it emerged that Members did not own as much as people supposed. It became apparent that many Members left this House with nothing to face ordinary life again. I warn any young people seeking election to this House that it is a new ball game.

It is the fault of Members that the facilities of the House have not been improved. I have worked with members of the Civil Service for almost nine years. Those people accede to all requests made by Deputies and should not have to shoulder the blame. Members across the political divide did not bother their heads to improve the situation because they were afraid of the newspapers.

Hear, hear. That is correct.

There were shabby mean comments recently regarding the Oireachtas bar. It has been stated that Members are purchasing drinks and refreshments in the bar for half price. It is as dear, if not dearer, to purchase alcohol in the Oireachtas bar as it is in a country pub.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.