I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. In 1963, Professor Basil Chubb published an article entitled "Going Around Persecuting Civil Servants" which subsequently became one of the most quoted articles in Irish political science. The article purported to be an analysis of Irish politi cal practice at the time and from it derived most of the considerations of the politician's role, usually set up in terms of the duality between the demands of being a legislator and the duties of a political representative. From that work in 1963 I remember my own work with others in the 1970s and the 1980s which made an analysis of clientelism. Much of my work in the 1970s and 1980s has been overtaken by changes that have taken place in the political system but the biggest single change has been the fall in the public conception of politics.
This legislation is welcome and has to be seen in the context of a series of legislation that will govern the practice of politics but will not necessarily save politics. Saving politics, that is restoring confidence in politics, requires actions that are far wider than politicians being willing to impose disciplines on themselves and to be accountable in such matters as taxation and so on. There is no doubt that among the changes that have to take place is the adequate teaching of the concept of citizenship in the schools. The suggestion is that public space is important, that ethics are important. A change that has taken place in the time I have been in politics is the decline in the politics of the public space and its substitution by a politics of the persona.
In relation to the politics of the personal, which is a phenomenon to be observed in other political systems, people operating right of centre will offer personal tax reductions and people who are to the left will seek to offer programmes which are attractive on a personal basis by the individual voter. This is a great limitation of politics. The big issue still remains. That the big issues are not central in politics reflects also something else, that is the decline in the power of parliament in every country in western Europe vis-à-vis the larger corporations that surround it. Somebody pointed out recently in an international journal that of the top 100 major economies, 47 were countries while 53 were international corporations. As well as that there have been such welcome developments in our case as the partnership model but beyond that there have been certain corporate tendencies which have moved decisions out of parliament into the fringes of politics itself. Therefore, parliament is under some pressure from a public that is not giving much opportunity to its citizens in political education, even though I fought in the 1970s to have the subject introduced for the junior certificate. Also, there is a rising kind of populism associated with the politics of the personal. It is interesting, but one is almost not free to say it, no more than one was in the 1970s, to note the hostility towards the politics based on ideas that exists in this country. All we needed to do in the old days was to suggest a complicated topic and people would flee in all directions. When I was writing about politics in the 1970s and 1980s I noted a number of different features of reform that might happen. Unusually for me I pay tribute to the Fianna Fáil Party for some of the reforms because it has always been among the first to provide facilities for Deputies. It has a good record in that regard. I mention that because it will compensate for one or two things I may want to say before I finish.
In relation to all kinds of reforms, most of us who are political scientists spoke about the absence of a committee system. In the Danish system there is an effective committee system where a person who wants a career in politics might choose the path of committees he or she wants to be in and there are crucial ones if one is making one's way towards the Cabinet. The committee system in the Danish parliament has the opportunity of access to the public service to draft legislation and a right of access to the Legislature. Those of us who were writing at that time wrote about the monopoly which the Government of the day had over the public service in relation to the drafting of legislation. The committee system here was dragged in. I wrote in 1981 about the need for a foreign affairs committee. Despite the most elaborate opposition, it was established on an ad hoc basis by elected members. That committee system is not funded adequately in terms of research, the ability to take the minutes of the committees or in terms of publishing its findings. It is a scandal.
In relation to Members and referring to Basil Chubb's article, if TDs are to be legislators there must be somebody to assist them in reading the legislation and preparing for the committee. That is a separate function entirely from that of a constituency secretary. One moves on from that to ask whether it is 80 members of the media who are accredited to Leinster House. Are they covering the committees? I am simply saying the disciplines contained in this legislation are welcome. All Deputies who have contributed are warmly in favour of it. It must be put in the context of other legislation but it will not save politics.
When I entered politics I went to a meeting in a rural area where a beautifully turned out woman stood up and said she did not know what I was on about. She said she had an absolutely lovely life. She was happy and was cooking a meal for her professional husband and was not one bit political. This was followed by a round of applause. I said it must be the only country in the western world where one got a round of applause for self-confessed ignorance, following which some mayhem ensued. There is not anything superior about not being interested in politics and it is a disgrace that some people do not vote. It is not the fault of politicians that some people do not vote. In Australia one has to exercise one's vote. One can write any obscenity one wishes on the ballot paper and say what one likes about John Howard. One either has to have a medical certificate or vote. If we are serious about citizenship we must have the courage to take on those who say it is acceptable not to vote, to be against politics and so on.
Moving beyond the parliamentary reforms that are required, if we were to make politics a vibrant entity, there must be respect for the profession of politics. The late Noel Browne, who had trained to be a doctor, and who had spent so much time training to be a professional remarked how little training there is to be a politician. Yet one sails into the Cabinet. I had the privilege of being a member of two Cabinets. We have excellent members of the public service but they know one is transient, and their hopes of preferment are often more serious than one's own.
It is not acceptable that those senior civil servants who take, for example, decisions in relation to privatisation, deregulation or whatever, should occupy positions in the private sector that involve activities related to those on which they gave a professional opinion. That is unconvincing. There should be a period between the holding of such positions and taking a position in private life, or if one wishes to do so it should be in a different position from that in which they were involved.
There is another point on which I hold strong views. It is a pity Deputy Kitt of Galway East, in whose constituency three TDs were elected for £10,000, is not present. Would that such frugality migrated to Galway West where it took nearly £50,000 to elect one. I have never spent more than £11,000 on an election. I have no difficulty about the costs being published. On the question of the funding of political parties, I have arrived at a personal opinion that is strongly in favour of State funding. I am not at all moved by weak arguments that suggest the public would not wear it. There is certainly a case for State funding of political parties in a post-tribunal vibrant democracy with active political activity decentralised and with more accountability and transparency. Funding of independents or people trying for the first time is not an insuperable difficulty. This has been dealt with in other systems. It would then be possible to simply ban donations altogether so that we could get on with the business of being professional politicians.
Most politicians in all parties I know entered politics to give public service. Some who lost their seats, even where they had gone full term, relied on half their salary with their widows in turn relying on half of that, which was a quarter. It is unfortunate that the media covering the tribunals refer to "the payments to politicians tribunals". It is payments to a very small number of politicians. It would help if the media said "payments to certain politicians".
Some of us entered politics without the slightest inclination to want to live the life of the last days of the Borgias or to own islands or to fly here and there buying Palladian buildings etc. Be that as it may, there are two sides to a corrupt transaction in politics. It is not accidental that a certain section of those who have sent people to the tribunals have been associated with speculative building land. Let us call a spade a spade. There is a tribunal dealing with speculative builders' attempts to bribe and corrupt a certain number of politicians and public officials. That does not mean politicians have to go around in sackcloth and ashes saying, "There but for the grace of God go I". Most politicians have never had such an impulse but it is clearly important to identify what has happened and who was involved and the kind of politics they had.
There are many different models for ending that. I favour State funding of parties, even if it is not likely to get general public support. We should at least ban corporate donations. Here we are arguing this ethics legislation. Is there a debate in IBEC about ethics in the corporate world? Is that a world, which is supposed to be a kind of jungle? I will say nothing negative about Mr. Denis O'Brien, except that he enjoyed a popularity among the Irish public in the 1990s that Mother Teresa did in the 1980s. Most of people wanted him to come to their dinner to say how the magic occurred and find out how they also could become a half billionaire by producing nothing except getting a licence from the Government on a free good that was once owned by the people.
If we want ethics, let us have ethics, but I am not running under any bush in relation to making this statement for the importance of politics, civil society or citizenship. It is very important that the way we do our business in these Houses is properly funded and serviced. We should not be funded out of a subhead from another Department. The Houses should have their own Vote, research staff and spokespeople. We seem to be required to apologise for being politicians; I do not.
I spent 23 years as a senior university lecturer. For most of my life I had another career. The career I left had a salary that was about 30% greater than that of a TD. I won a seat, lost it, regained it and had the privilege of serving in a Cabinet. That describes most of the people in this House who had careers they abandoned. If that is the case, I hope we can all work together to go forward with reforms. I am disappointed that it seems so difficult to get even the most minimal change to the way we do our own work.
Draft legislation is published after an election and at the beginning of each Dáil session. When I was a Minister I was told that it took seven years to train a draftsperson for legislation. That is about two Dáil terms. To deal with a backlog, we had to contract out some of it and had a 75 year old man producing great legislation at a rate of knots. There should be a different way of speeding up the legislative process.
We must be committed to being full time TDs. I am against the dual mandate. Working on general legislation and on the Oireachtas committees requires a great deal of time. I listened with interest to some of the previous speakers about the voyeuristic destruction of people's private lives and the notion of rumour. That is as old as Rome, where they used to say fama est and a rumour would spread. As the people on the opposite side of the House know, an American president once said: “I am damned if the truth can ever catch up with a good lie”.
We have reached a pass in politics because of a number of people who were involved in certain kinds of speculative business activity. It is a great pity they were overwhelmingly from the Fíanna Fáil Party and the larger parties. That is simply explained; to get the desired result, people went to those with the biggest clout.
I am happy the Labour Party has emerged intact from this process. I remember my colleague, the former Deputy, Eithne Fitzgerald, raising questions about all of these things. It is unfair to say that we must all carry the burden of some great shadow that is cast over politics. The Fíanna Fáil Party would be better off if it acknowledged openly that a small number of its members were responsible and that the majority of its members were not and are not involved.
Irish people have a curious, humorous and kind of affectionate sense. Having voted in such overwhelming numbers to put the people that are now in front of tribunals at the top of the polls, they find it very difficult to accept they might have been wrong. They explain it in the simplest way by saying all the politicians were at it. That enables people to evade the moral conclusion that they had voted for someone quite consciously who was getting away with something they hoped might benefit themselves. If the politician was doing it for himself or herself and succeeding, like being there in the last days of Rome, maybe the country would benefit indirectly and down the road so would those voters.
Those days are over, but the moral renewal has to come across the public system in the full civil society. One can support this legislation with minor suggestions for amendments that will come at the next stage. It is part of a package, to which we should commit ourselves. We should not regard it as of lesser importance. It is vital that we give ourselves the resources and the freedom to be politicians. We should be proud to be public servants.