Private Members' Business.

Standing Orders: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Kenny on Tuesday, 10 February 2004:
That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business are hereby amended as follows:
(a) by the deletion of Standing Order 26A; and
(b) by the adoption of the following in substitution for Standing Order 26:
‘26. (1) Every sitting of the Dáil shall be governed by a printed Order Paper, which shall be prepared under the direction of the Ceann Comhairle.
(2) The Taoiseach shall have the right to determine the order in which Government business shall appear on the Order Paper and, by announcement at the commencement of public business, the order in which it shall be taken each day; and may propose, on motion made without notice at the commencement of public business, arrangements for sittings and for the taking of such business until such business has been disposed of; save where any such proposal is opposed, the Ceann Comhairle shall permit a brief statement from a representative from each party in opposition and the Taoiseach before he or she puts the question thereon. Provided that where a second or subsequent division is demanded on any such proposals on the Order of Business, the period for which the division bells shall ring and the interval between the ringing of the bells and the locking of the doors shall be not less than two minutes and not less than one minute respectively.
(3) Following the announcement by the Taoiseach and the disposal of any motion comprehended by paragraph (2), the Ceann Comhairle may permit, at his or her discretion—
(a) a brief question not exceeding two minutes from each Leader in Opposition to the Taoiseach about a matter of topical public importance and in respect of which the following arrangements shall apply:
(i) The Taoiseach shall be called upon to reply for a period not exceeding three minutes,
(ii) The Leader in Opposition who asked the original question may then ask a brief supplementary question not exceeding one minute,
(iii) The Taoiseach shall then be called upon in conclusion to reply for a period not exceeding one minute.
(b) the total time allowed for Leaders' Questions on any given day under this Standing Order shall not exceed twenty-one minutes and the Taoiseach may nominate another member of the Government to take Leaders' Questions in his or her absence.
(c) in this Standing Order, “Leader in Opposition” means the leader of a group as defined in Standing Order 114(1): Provided that the Leader of a party which is a group under Standing Order 114(1)(a) shall have precedence over the designated Leader of a group recognised under paragraph (1)(b) of the Standing Order.
(d) questions from any member about business on the Order Paper; about the taking of business which has been promised, including legislation promised either within or outside the Dáil; about the making of secondary legislation; about arrangements for sittings; and as to when Bills or other documents on the Order Paper needed in the House will be circulated: Provided that, the Taoiseach may defer replying to a question relating to the making of secondary legislation to another day.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann:
— notes:
— the continuing commitment of the Government to engage constructively with all the parties in the Dáil on ways in which the conduct of business can be further improved;
— that valuable Dáil time is wasted on procedural wrangling and recognises the need for a constructive dialogue on all aspect of Dáil reform;
— the initiatives which have been taken to improve the functioning of the House, including the allocation of a special Leaders' Questions time on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; and
— agrees that Dáil reform is a continuous process, best advanced by cross party agreement through the sub-committee on Dáil reform, which was established for that purpose."
—(Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach).

I wish to share my time with Deputies Carey, Ardagh, Johnny Brady, Peter Power and Curran.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. Every Member of the House is concerned to some extent about the workings of this House and how it performs its functions. I am disappointed there was not cross-party consensus on how we should move forward on this matter. The Government and the Chief Whip would have preferred that and that an agreement could have been reached to put proposals before the Members of the House and have them agreed.

There is a need to change our working practices. There should always be an ongoing system of reform and review of how we do our business not only in the House, but in the Seanad. Some of the practices in which we engage are archaic and need to be updated. What the Chief Whip proposed last night is welcome and should be the basis for moving forward the reform package and bringing this House up to date in how it carries out its work.

This House needs, and should be seen, to be an effective and efficient Legislature. At times what we, and the public in particular, see is not very edifying. Today, no business, apart from Question Time, was carried out up to about 12.45 p.m. If this Legislature is to be effective, we cannot continue to have what I can only describe as "the carry on" we had this morning. It does not do anything for the credibility of this House or its membership, even though some Members believe they are scoring political points and getting good headlines by engaging in that type of behaviour. At present, we are not an effective Parliament in the manner in which we do our business — we have to resort to guillotining debates. That is not the way we want to see legislation passed. The Opposition parties will always be able to make the point that is not the correct way to pass legislation, but also from the point of view of Government backbenchers, it is not helpful to see many debates on Bills guillotined.

The proposals as outlined by the Chief Whip are a step in the right direction. They will not solve all the shortcomings but represent a good start from what I have seen of them. I hope that the Opposition parties will engage in constructive debate with the Chief Whip to try to progress these proposals. The reforms in themselves are not radical, but the House needs to change its workings. The current balanced approach to change should be phased in. All the proposed changes that are on the table could not be agreed and put into practice over night. The Chief Whip said last night that she was talking of a timeframe of five or six months, and that would be welcome.

Members on all sides should support all the Government proposals. The Government is prepared to negotiate and listen to constructive proposals from the Opposition parties in so far as they are constructive and will help in the reform. The early starting time proposed is welcome. There is not a business or organisation here or elsewhere that starts its business at 10.30 a.m. While that proposal might not suit some rural Deputies who commute to and from Dublin to start at 9 a.m., it sends out a message that we are serious about our business. I welcome the proposed changes the Chief Whip has announced and I hope we will have the co-operation of the Opposition parties in bringing them into force.

I was present for the debate on the motion last night and it was interesting, but it has been some time since I recall a Private Members' debate engendering any passion or temper. The number of Members who are in the Chamber is indicative of the energy this debate has provoked among our colleagues.

I welcome the proposals brought forward by the Chief Whip. She has a passion for reform of this parliamentary Assembly, as had the former Chief Whip, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan. I commend Members such as Deputy John Bruton and the late Jim Mitchell who went to his grave with many proposals unimplemented which would make this Assembly much more relevant.

Having observed today's performance and that of many other days, I have come to the conclusion that there are times when I think this Assembly is almost beyond reform. I was a member of Dublin City Council for 18 years and the quality of debate in that assembly, many of whose members were Members of this Parliament, was vastly superior to what I have heard since I was elected to this House. I listened to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle informally tell us one evening last week about how times have changed in here and from what I can gather, the change has been very much for the worse as far as debate is concerned.

This House is too structured, inflexible and stage managed. While it is imperative and important that Parliament is broadcast on radio and television, I often think we are inclined to see some Members putting on a performance to attract a television audience rather than adding to the substance of the debate. The Dáil is a parliamentary Assembly, primarily tasked with bringing in, scrutinising and passing legislation. It is also important that it holds the Government to account. Members on this side of the House and Members opposite are equally interested in seeing that happening. Unfortunately, I and many other Members are of the view that the mechanisms we have in place do not do that. We are representatives of the people and from time to time we have to bring issues to the floor of the House at short notice which are of interest and relevant to the people we represent. Therefore, the proposal put forward by Chief Whip that there be a topical debate issue is vital, but such a debate should not be buried at the back end of a long day. A topical debate ought to be topical and to allow the Members, whether from the Government side or the Opposition, who raise it with a particular Minister to question him or her. That would represent quite an important move forward.

This House is not the L and H, the Oxford Union, a court room or a tribunal. Let us be clear about our task. Leaders' Questions have deteriorated into a farce. I admire what the leaders are trying to do; they are trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

The farce is that they cannot get answers to their questions.

They are adding nothing to the sum of the wisdom of this House.

We cannot get any answers.

We ought to be able to use our time more constructively.

The Taoiseach talks into his tie.

It is good that at least we have some interchange of debate, as we ought to have. I do not believe that, in the main, Leaders' Questions are working out. The arrangement needs to be modified.

The questions need to be answered — Deputy Johnny Brady knows that.

No party has a monopoly of wisdom on what should or should not be done, but it is not helpful that, for example, last night Deputy Stagg said that either we implement everything before us, all 80 pages of it, or we take the ball and go away. That is not helpful to the constructive reorganisation of this House.

It does not matter a whit if we sit 365 days per year if we do not ensure quality rather than quantity. Like Deputy Nolan, I believe no self-respecting organisation should start its work even at 9.30 a.m. — we should be starting at 9 a.m. and working until a reasonable hour, such as 9 p.m. This would be very difficult and I do not believe such new hours would be family-friendly either, but they would certainly represent an improvement over the current sitting hours.

There are probably too many committees, but we should make better use of them. The proposal that committee chairmen make reports and possibly take questions in the House every so often is laudable. The Committee of Public Accounts and the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny, for example, ought to be better utilised.

The idea of having an extra sitting week in January and September to discuss European matters and other important issues that could not be discussed otherwise is extremely important. Speeches in the House should be shortened to between five and ten minutes.

I am delighted to support the proposal on reform of the Dáil, as suggested last night by the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin. It is incumbent on all parties to be serious about Dáil reform. It has been talked about for as long as I have been in Dáil Éireann, which is about seven years. Great efforts seem to be made by the Minister of State and these are being frustrated at all times by totally unreasonable demands by the Opposition——

That is rubbish.

——in particular the demand that the Taoiseach be present in the House on a Thursday to answer questions and to take Leaders' Questions.

If he can open public houses, why can he not be here as well?

That is a spurious argument. He does not do that every Thursday and the Deputy knows it.

This is his place, not in a pub.

The Taoiseach is here on a Tuesday. He answers Leaders' Questions and questions to the Taoiseach and he takes the Order of Business. He does the same on Wednesday. The excessive amount of time he spends in this House has resulted in a farce. When the leaders of the Opposition are supposed to ask questions, they do not do so but utter media soundbites. These media soundbites are now reduced to the lowest common denominator in the gutter tabloid press. All the Opposition leaders are looking for is a laugh; they are not looking for answers to serious questions. If the Taoiseach was not here for the length of time he spends here, perhaps the Opposition would be more serious and try to obtain answers on the issues on which the people want it to obtain answers.

We have a parliamentary democracy and the Opposition has to go along with the Government in ensuring that the best form of democracy applies and that the best legislation is made. It should be considering legislation and trying to ascertain its weaknesses and where improvements can be made instead of standing up for hours, day after day, making smart remarks, looking to see if it has got the attention of reporters in the Press Gallery or raising pieces of paper to the cameras just to try to get some media attention.

Would the Deputy have us sit with our hands tied and our mouths shut? Can the Deputy not take criticism?

We must improve and perform as democratically elected parliamentarians and this can be done only if we all take the issue very seriously.

One proposal the Minister of State made last night, about which I am particularly happy, is that on committees. As Chairman of the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I note the amount of work being done by those committees and by the Committee on European Affairs, particularly with regard to EU scrutiny, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Agriculture and Food, of which Deputy Johnny Brady is Chairman. We want the opportunity to explain to the House the work we are doing and we want Members to question us on that work to ensure we do it in the best possible way. Furthermore, we want to ensure the public is better informed of what the committees are doing. This will only happen if the focus is on the committees, which will only be the case if the committee chairmen are afforded the opportunity to explain to the House the work they are doing.

The proposals on new technology are to be commended. The dedicated television channel would be of particular benefit to committees in that the committees prepared to do their work on non-sitting days would be in a position to have their proceedings televised on those days. Public knowledge of what the committees are doing would be improved.

I also commend the proposals on e-legislation. We should use the Internet and any electronic technology that is available to make us more effective and efficient and allow us work in a paperless environment. I look forward to a time when all the proposals that have been made will be taken on board by us all for the benefit of this Parliament and particularly the people.

If tonight's motion is Fine Gael's contribution to Dáil reform it shows how irrelevant the Fine Gael Party has become.

Deputy Johnny Brady should not be jealous. He is only talking because we tabled the motion.

Fine Gael believes that the Taoiseach should come into the Chamber every Thursday.

Who wrote the Deputy's speech?

That is the sole purpose of tonight's Private Members' motion. What a waste of Dáil time. The Fine Gael motion was drafted before the summer and there were differing views within the party on whether it should be formally moved. This should not surprise anyone as Fine Gael Deputies cannot seem to agree on anything these days. The reality is that Fine Gael is a spent force in Irish politics, a party with no credible policies to speak of and which is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the public.

While the Taoiseach deals with current issues on Tuesday and Wednesday, his attendance is not mandatory on Thursday. The Whips agreed to that in the previous session. The Order of Business on Thursdays is now usually taken by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, or the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, and this system has worked very well.

If Fine Gael reforms are introduced, Deputy Kenny will be able to continue to waffle and rant——

What is Deputy Johnny Brady doing except waffling and ranting?

——for another morning at the Taoiseach, issuing meaningless monologues and silly soundbites.

Spell "rant".

No other prime minister in the world answers questions that are not notified in advance or seen beforehand.

Did he work in the same bank as Deputy Cooper-Flynn?

It is widely acknowledged that the Taoiseach spends more time in the House than his predecessors and his European counterparts.

How can he know if the name on the cheque——

The Taoiseach now holds one of the most important roles in Europe — President of the European Council of Ministers. He is working to find agreement on a new EU constitution. He is preparing a new six-year EU budget and is involved in the selection of a new European Commission President. He is trying to restore equilibrium in transatlantic relations.An editorial in the prestigiousInternational Herald Tribune last month stated: “For all this, Ahern is the right man — Ireland is a rich training ground for the skill of negotiating, its relations with the United States are good and the country's economic transformation is a shining model of what wise EU spending can achieve.” The International Herald Tribune, when referring to the Presidency, also referred to the unfortunate fact that “Ahern has only six months”.

This motion is typical Fine Gael double-speak. Its members make agreements and then renege on them.

We would never agree with Deputy Johnny Brady.

Consider the issue of benchmarking. Deputy Kenny's threats to walk away from benchmarking last September would not only leave tens of thousands of families out of pocket, it would have flown in the face of Fine Gael's commitment to public service. The party's economic plan of 19 March 2002 stated that it believed that public sector salaries would have to be in line with those paid in the private sector if we were to continue to attract into and retain in public service people of the required expertise.

Fine Gael duplicity also extends to the issue of incineration. In January 2000 in A Plan for the Nation — Fine Gael's Vision of Ireland in 2010, Fine Gael stated that we must open our minds to a future which involves incineration as an integral part of a waste management strategy. However, only last month, Deputy Kenny spoke at the Cobh Chamber of Commerce on the issue of incineration. He said that incineration was not the answer and was the sledgehammer response of a Government that had failed to explore safer alternatives when it had time. Government is not about U-turns, walkouts and indecision; it is about leadership.

I thank my colleagues for sharing their time with me. Regarding Dáil reform, I am delighted as a newly elected Deputy to speak on the issue for the first time since being elected. New Deputies such as Deputy Curran and I have an important role to play in this debate, with due respect to the more seasoned Members of the House. We bring a different perspective to the debate. We have come from the real world outside the House and are faced with a different world and an unusual way of doing business. The views and ideas of new Deputies should be given plenty of weight in this debate.

Two things struck me when I entered this House. The first was the obsession of Deputies of all parties with voting. Perhaps it is because we spent half our lives trying to accumulate votes to be elected to the House. One would think that, once we had been elected, we would stop for a few years, but we vote morning, noon and night. I was genuinely shocked that we spend half our time in this House going up and down from our offices like yo-yos to vote. Many of the people in the Visitors Gallery are leaving and I hope it is not because I am speaking. They probably came expecting a debate on some weighty issue of national interest or some important legislation. However, they see a House which is self-absorbed and self-obsessed.

Two weeks ago I arrived at a public meeting in Limerick half an hour late. I apologised and explained that I had to vote in Dáil Éireann and, unfortunately, if one leaves Dublin at 3.30 p.m. on Thursday one will not reach Limerick until after 7 p.m. They asked why I was late. I explained that there was a vote at 3.30 p.m, that we all went down to the Chamber, pressed our buttons, that I got up to go straight to my car to be in Limerick on time when a Member said he was exercising his right under Standing Orders to request everyone to vote again, that we had to wait for ten minutes while everybody left the Chamber and came back in again and that we wasted 15 minutes. I explained to them that was why I was late for the meeting. They looked at me in stunned silence. They wanted to know if this was genuinely what I was doing in Dáil Éireann, to which I answered: "Unfortunately, yes". Those are two brief observations.

On a more serious note, there are three main aspects to Dáil reform. First, there is the legislative business as one of the three arms of Government. Second, there is the business of dealing with issues of public interest. Third, there is our important function of making Government accountable.

The overriding aspect of the Dáil's function is the role it has in representing the views of the people. This appears to be lost on the Opposition which has singularly failed to recognise that the Government of the day, in this instance Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats but it could be Fine Gael in another instance, has a mandate to bring through a legislative programme. In my brief experience in the House, when one wants to make a serious contribution in the House, nobody wants to listen, even when the Taoiseach answers questions.

(Interruptions.)

Opposition Members constantly harp on about not having an opportunity to speak, but they never listen to anybody else. That is the problem.

I strongly believe that the other important aspect of our business is dealing with crucial matters of public interest. This is critically important in developing the capacity and trust of the Dáil. I have spent the past four weeks on the sub-committee on the Barron report under the chairmanship of Deputy Ardagh delving into a critical issue. I found that an extremely welcome and rewarding experience. Any aspect of Dáil reform should focus on enhancing and promoting this aspect of our business.

I would like to have more time to get things off my chest. The people down the country laugh at the way the Opposition treats this House.

I thank my colleague for sparing me a few minutes and the opportunity to say a few words. First, and I do not say this jokingly but quite sincerely, I thank Fine Gael for tabling this motion because the issue of Dáil reform has been discussed outside this forum, privately among our colleagues in various groups. We have an opportunity now to discuss the issue. This is not the forum in which to resolve the issue. This will require all-party agreement.

When I first thought about Dáil reform I thought a plan would be put together and it would happen at a given point in time. However, it will not. It will evolve over a period of time in a number of steps and measures. The debate is useful but, ultimately, reform will occur by cross-party agreement and step by step.

Like the previous speaker, Deputy Power, some people might think it unusual that a rookie, somebody who has been here only a year and a half, should speak on Dáil reform. Having been here only a year and half, I am shocked at how drawn out everything is between procedures in this Chamber, in committees and so on. There must be a more efficient way to deal with our business. I welcome several of the proposals put forward by the Government, especially longer days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays starting at more appropriate times in the morning. In this day and age 10.30 a.m. is not an appropriate time to begin. Equally, staying here until 11.30 p.m. is not appropriate. We should be able to organise ourselves better than that.

I would like to deal with the question of committees. I was here early in January when the Select Committee on Education and Science dealt with the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. We dealt with it at a time when the Dáil was not in session. I can honestly say, and I believe there would be cross-party agreement on this, that the Members who participated made much more valuable contributions without the interruption of the division bell to return for a vote or quorum in the Dáil.

Valuable committee work is being interrupted at times by the procedures of the Dáil. We need to look at how we schedule our work, both in terms of the Dáil and committees so that the latter may sit for a period of time without being interrupted. The Bill was lengthy and tedious, with several hundred amendments, and it was being done in a professional manner. We did not conclude the Bill during the Christmas period. It concluded after the Dáil resumed and this was more difficult.

A previous speaker mentioned his experience of going to a meeting and referred to the manual vote. It is the right of Deputies to call for a manual vote. However, when a manual vote is called this is done primarily as a mark of protest. That is the purpose for which it has been used in the House because the numbers have not varied and the margins have been quite substantial. The manual vote takes an additional 15 minutes. There can be between 140 and 160 people involved. That is the equivalent of one working week, 40 hours, if 160 is multiplied by 15 minutes, for a manual vote, a significant loss of time. The manual vote should only be used in more appropriate circumstances than heretofore.

The Deputy has spoken well — ten out of ten.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter which, although narrow, relates to Dáil reform of a kind. The motion simply deals with the need to get the Taoiseach into the Dáil on Thursdays, that he would answer Leaders' Questions and that the Labour Party would retain its position because, to quote Deputy Kenny, "it is defined and a growing political party". For the information of Deputy Kenny, the growth that occurred at the last general election was not in his party or the Labour Party, but in the number of Independent Deputies returned to Dáil.

I have more information for Deputy Kenny: at the last general election the Labour Party got 10.8% of the vote and Independents on their own got 10.3% of the vote, while the total vote of the members of the Technical Group amounted to 20.6% compared to Deputy Kenny's party which got 22.5%. It is particularly interesting that the Labour Party is also supporting this motion. One of the things I fail to understand at times about this place is the hypocrisy engaged in by various elements. It was the Labour Party alone that supported the absence of the Taoiseach from the Dáil on Thursdays. However, as the motion relates to Dáil reform, I wish to make the following comments.

The situation whereby many Deputies are forced to engage in a charade with the Ceann Comhairle, for example, under the Order of Business, where Members continually strive to raise matters relevant to their own constituencies, which they know only too well are outside the scope of the Order of Business, demeans the working of Parliament. Equally important, it shows that under current procedures the need for Deputies to raise matters of interest to their constituents is not being met. Much of the criticism of the Dáil and Deputies relates to the amount of time the House sits. Some of this criticism is warranted, some not. For example, on occasions coming up to Dáil breaks, etc., the Dáil not only sits four days per week, but it also sits until 12 midnight on some of those days. Such sittings largely go unreported because they do not suit the media.

Hear, hear.

Dáil sitting times need to be revised to increase the number of hours the House sits and also to bring about a more uniform length to sessions. The word "debate" used to describe happenings in the Dáil Chamber is an abuse of the English language. The set pieces that happen in the Chamber in the course of debating legislation are too regimental and need to be reformed to allow for interventions, questions, explanations, etc., which should be obligatory on Members as well as Ministers. The committee system introduced in recent years has worked reasonably well, but has the potential to be much more useful and effective. The current situation whereby committees run concurrently with proceedings in the Dáil Chamber is unsatisfactory and a more uniform regulated timetable needs to be brought forward.

The legislative programme at the commencement of the Dáil session is a further example of the lack of forward planning and strategic thinking that applies to the business of the Dáil. To publish that programme at the end of the preceding Dáil session would be more appropriate and allow longer time for research. In addition, a review of the progress of the legislative programme should be carried out monthly and an updated version should be published for the forthcoming month. On the specific issue of Dáil sittings, taking into account that many rural Deputies reside long distances from Dublin, sittings of a full week's duration are not feasible. Furthermore, given that a Deputy's work is representational, a structured amount of time needs to be spent in his or her constituency. Therefore, a Dáil week comprising sittings from Tuesday to Thursday is the maximum practicable and any assertion to the contrary is playing to the gallery.

As regards Dáil sitting times, the hours should be increased to 30 per week and should be spread over the three days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This would give a 30-hour sitting week and allow some time for preparation work and the fulfilment of a representational role. The current operation of the committee system is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, including lack of resources and unsuitability of meeting times. To make the committee system more effective, it should be changed to a "committee week" every four weeks. The absence of a facility for Deputies to raise important matters of immediate public interest, similar to Leaders' Questions, makes the Dáil somewhat irrelevant and artificial. A new item of business to cover such situations, namely "matters of immediate public interest", should be introduced. Under this item, the Taoiseach or Ministers would be expected to reply immediately.

On the issue of media coverage, the limited and selective method of covering Dáil proceedings, as seen, for example, on RTE's "Oireachtas Report", is totally unsatisfactory and unfair. It is totally unacceptable that a television editor or reporter should decide which Members of the national Parliament should get coverage on a national public network. A fully dedicated Oireachtas television channel should be set up. This channel should cover the unedited proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas. If the national broadcaster fails to achieve balance in its coverage of proceedings, the public should be allowed unhindered access to the workings of the Oireachtas.

When I was elected to this House I thought I was coming to a democratic institution, but I have learned this is not the case. I received a mandate from the people of Clare to represent them in this House. I was of the view that I could do this, remaining totally independent. To exercise my democratic right I had to join the Technical Group. In the UK, America and Australia independent MPs do not have to join a group to get speaking rights in parliament. Also, if they abstain in a vote, that is recorded. Why is that not done here?

Deputy Kenny, in moving this motion last night, said that the Taoiseach should be in this House every Thursday and that the Labour Party, a growing party, should have speaking rights before the Technical Group. Here is another leader of a party that wants to suppress the right of the minority in this House. Independents are a thorn in the side of the major parties, but I remind the House, and Deputy Kenny and his colleagues in the Front Bench, that we could be the second largest group in Dáil Éireann after the next general election. Deputy Stagg, for the Labour Party, said the Taoiseach should not be on leave of absence from this House on Thursdays. Who agrees? This is the height of hypocrisy for the Labour Party when its leader colluded with the Taoiseach to allow him to stay out of this House every Thursday in order to get speaking rights before the Independents and the Technical Group and Leaders' Questions.

Turning to Dáil reform, there is now a proposal that we sit five days a week. This is not on for rural Deputies. The Chief Whip said in her statement that the House should be flexible, with a framework in place to make it more meaningful and bring it closer to the people. On the Order of Business, Deputies continually ask questions about promised legislation, wasting time. During Leaders' Questions, leaders have two minutes for their questions. The Taoiseach waffles, does not reply to the question and when he finishes, we are as wise as before he started.

The Taoiseach and his Ministers sit on the opposite side and giggle and talk while motions are being read. If asked what was said, they would not be able to answer. They are treating this House with contempt. When it comes to written and oral questions, the relevant Minister will do anything but answer the question asked. He or she will, perhaps, a day later write to a party colleague informing him or her as a result of the question asked what is happening in the particular constituency. Last week, I tabled a question to the Minister for Health and Children regarding Ennis General Hospital and was given the same reply trotted out in 2002 and 2003. The Minister then wrote to Senator Daly informing him that the Mid-Western Health Board had been given the go ahead to appoint a design team for that hospital. Is this the openness and transparency about which the Taoiseach spoke?

It is Government in Opposition.

We are being shafted.

The Chief Whip should ensure Ministers answer questions asked in the House. I also tabled three questions to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the appointment of a county registrar for County Clare. Twelve months later, I have still not received an answer to my question. The Minister cannot get through the internal wranglings of the Fianna Fáil Party on this issue.

I will not be supporting the motion or the amendment because the amount of money squandered by the Government is a national scandal. I will abstain from the vote because of the litany of broken promises, apparent lack of accountability and the lengths to which the Government will go to remain in power.

I appeal to the Chief Whip to ensure Deputies receive answers to oral or written questions. Ministers will do anything but answer the question asked. The Minister for Health and Children did not reply to a question I tabled to him today. This is supposed to be a democracy.

I find this a curious motion, narrow in its focus and seeking to make a small change correcting a huge wrong done in the House earlier in the life of this Dáil. That said, it is worth supporting if it represents even a tentative step towards Dáil reform. I hope the spirit in which it can be taken moves us in the direction of the real changes and reforms needed. I have noted the contributions of other parties and that of the Chief Whip. I hope we can have a real debate and are not engaged in an exercise of reshuffling the deckchairs. This motion is about more than how many days or hours we meet; it is about the respect in which parliamentary democracy is held.

Hear, hear.

It is on these grounds that we, as politicians and political parties, are suffering. There is a need for a unified approach to making politics relevant.

This morning, I attended the launch of a community action network publication on rediscovering democracy and heard how it is engaging with people in Fatima Mansions and St. Michael's House in the south east of the city. They are approaching the problems of democracy in ways which political parties are failing. We should be engaged in more than exercises of regular navel gazing. Dáil reform is important and vital. What is more important is the ever-decreasing number of people engaging with the democratic process. If we, in this House, can get our act together then perhaps we can begin to make politics more respected and more utilised by the population as a whole. That is the real challenge facing us as politicians and political parties.

In defining this narrow motion, I hoped the movers would have examined the cause of the unfortunate changes. Standing Order 114 defines political parties in a narrow way. It is to the disadvantage of my party that seven is the number used to define a party. My party has six members, albeit with a parliamentary party of eight including our two MEPs. The figure "7" was not included in Standing Orders for 50 years. When included, the interpretation was looser, enabling people to be enticed into groups if so inclined. I would encourage enlightened, intelligent people to flock to the Green Party banner. The current Standing Order is so restrictive that even if the Green Party succeeded in a by-election in the lifetime of this House and was to achieve seven members, it would still not be recognised as a formal party in its own right. The drafters of that Standing Order knew what they were about.

The Technical Group is not a political grouping; it is an administrative one. It does not speak with one voice; it cannot speak with one voice and should not speak with one voice. It includes members of several political parties and ten Independent members. It is a mechanism that is working well and it allows members of that grouping access to time which the established parties have not made available.

In approving this motion tonight, we must acknowledge it as the small step it is. We should put aside the feelings of collective ego which preceded it resulting in the changing of the said Standing Order and should embark upon a real journey of Dáil reform.

Sinn Féin supports the Fine Gael motion before the House. The effect of the change to Standing Orders will, first and foremost, ensure the Taoiseach is present in the House on Thursday and that there will be Government accountability on that day. It also includes a restatement of amended Standing Order 114(1)(a) and (b), the prize sought by the Labour Party. Shock and horror, I can also live with that.

Let us for a brief moment remind ourselves of how the Taoiseach came to absent himself from the House on Thursdays. It happened as a result of what I have previously described as "a sordid little deal" between the Labour Party and the Government.

The Taoiseach spends more time in this House than any other Taoiseach ever did.

That deal did not yield one additional minute for the Labour Party. It was done to ensure that party retained what it saw as its speaking slot in the pecking order of parties in this House. In return, the Labour Party agreed to the Taoiseach absenting himself from this House from lunchtime on Wednesday.

The Labour Party could have, and in my view, should have, engaged with other parties and Independent Deputies who constitute the Technical Group. While it is difficult to say with any certainty, with the passage of time, there was every reason to believe the Labour Party could have achieved its objective without bringing upon itself the shame of the accommodation agreed at that time. Its embrace — if that is what it is going to do, there are no members of that party in the House as I speak — based on the contributions I have heard so far of this Fine Gael motion will not erase the memory of its shameful action on that occasion.

Let me state once more for the record that Sinn Féin is less concerned with the pecking order in terms of speaking slots and is more concerned that every Member and every party has an opportunity to play a full part in the engagements that take place. We are also anxious to ensure that not only is there a continuance of accountability on a daily basis but that there is increased accountability to this House by the Taoiseach and Ministers. We indicated to Labour Party Members at the time that we were prepared to rotate the speaking order or make any reasonable arrangement rather than witness the shoddy deal that was entered into.

The Labour Party's U-turn in supporting the Fine Gael motion is worthless because the deal it struck with the Government will be bound by Standing Orders for at least the duration of this Dáil, given that the sheer weight of numbers in the Government parties will defeat this proposal. There will not be a reversal of the deal and this is only a cosmetic exercise because the Government will maintain what it has already got.

Promises of Dáil reform have been made during the debate and on the Order of Business earlier.

However, I will believe them when I see them and it is within the Minister of State's gift to come back with proposals.

If I can get agreement.

When will we have agreement? The Minister of State is doing nothing.

I hope substantive change will be offered. Last night the Minister of State said the Government's priority was to make the House more effective as a legislative body. As I said on a number of occasions on the Order of Business over the past two weeks, during the opening few weeks of this session the guillotine mechanism has been used to stymie debate and curtail the opportunity for Members to participate on Second Stage. That does not take account of the exercise of guillotines on Committee, Report and Final Stages of legislation.

The Minister of State is sitting idly by doing nothing.

Many reforms need to be undertaken. However, I commend one to all Members, which is motion No. 42 on the Order Paper in the name of Sinn Féin Deputies. It once again proposes a mechanism by which the participation of elected representatives of the Irish population in the part of this island that does not have a voice here can be accommodated, that is, the people of the Six Counties. I ask the Minister of State to revisit the proposal and ensure Northern representation in specific and relevant debates is accommodated at the earliest opportunity. She should make no mistake. The Taoiseach kicked the ball into her court in response to me yesterday.

I wish to share my time with Deputies McCormack and Perry.

This is an important debate and I welcome the constructive contributions by all Members. The debate centres on the running of a democracy and a parliament. Everybody believes that the Dáil's business is about making the Government accountable for its actions and ensuring its activities are transparent and open. Dáil reform should begin with the office of the Taoiseach. He or she should be accountable to the House on all sitting days, as was the case prior to this Dáil. It is eminently reasonable that the Taoiseach should be present on sitting days to answer important and urgent questions and that Fine Gael should highlight that he is not present on Thursdays or Fridays. His job is to be here.

His job is to run the country.

His diary will show he has appointments such as opening supermarkets and public houses and conducting constituency tours. He should be in the House when it is sitting.

What about Northern Ireland?

Changes should be made to the checks and balances in the democratic process. I praise all the current office holders but the Ceann Comhairle should be selected from the Opposition, not the Government, even if the Government only has a majority of one. That would lead to better balance between the Government and the Opposition and improved transparency, openness and accountability.

The chairmen of all the select committees should come from the Opposition ranks. A weighting system operates currently, which relates to the number of Members in each party, but the Taoiseach of the day has 15 ministerial and 18 junior ministerial posts to allocate to his supporters and give them due recognition. If I am a Minister and I appear at a select committee of which a party colleague is chairman, I may not necessarily get as tough a time as I would if the chairman was an Opposition Member. In the interest of good governance, accountability, transparency and openness, the chairman of all committees should come from the Opposition parties of the day.

I refer to the resourcing of the Opposition. Ministers have access to civil servants in every Department along with God knows how many spin doctors and other officials. However, an Opposition spokesperson's primary resource is the Oireachtas Library. Its staff are wonderful and they are very helpful but there are too few of them. Our library resources should be beefed up so that two experts on each Department would be employed to help all Members when they are dealing with legislation. There is a severe lack of access to first-class information from neutral sources. That is an important issue, which should form part of Dáil reform.

The parliamentary question system can be ridiculous. Deputy James Breen outlined a case where he received the same reply to two or three parliamentary questions tabled over a long period. I tabled a question to a Minister and I queried whether Drogheda was considered as a location for the decentralisation of his Department. He refused to answer the question. I received the usual gobbledegook from him.

Keep it secret.

I approached the Ceann Comhairle and pointed out to him that the Minister had not replied to the question. He said I could bring it to his attention but, ultimately, the decision rested with the Minister. That is not good enough. We are deeply unhappy with the manner in which the same gobbledegook is issued repeatedly to questions tabled under the current system. I received similar answers to three parliamentary questions I tabled regarding the entitlements of three students in different third level institutions who had specific urgent financial problems. That must end. A procedure should be employed whereby we can scrutinise the gobbledegook and say, "That is not good enough, Minister. We want a better deal. We want a real answer for a change."

However, the Minister for Health and Children has been exceptionally facilitative in providing answers to questions I have tabled regarding my constituents. He provides clarity and excellent information. Other Ministers are totally defensive when replying to parliamentary questions and the attitude is to tell us as little as possible. That is not good enough in a democracy.

I refer to Question Time. I have the privilege of shadowing a Minister. During Question Time the Minister replies to five Priority Questions, Other Questions and to supplementary questions on each question. Last week the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs replied to my questions during Question Time. He was excellent because, when Priority Questions concluded, he took three questions together, which meant we could debate an issue for between ten and 12 minutes. All the Members present engaged in a constructive and positive debate. I propose that when Priority Questions conclude, a maximum of four other questions should be taken during the remaining half hour. They could be dealt with effectively and a good debate could take place, otherwise it is a sham. Neither the Government nor Opposition Members benefit when questions are rushed and a proper debate cannot take place, particularly when the Minister wants to contribute and the Opposition wants to question him or her.

A number of Members said the motion does not go far enough, but it provides a window of opportunity for Members to debate proper Dáil reform. All Members, whether they care to admit it, know in their heart that we are becoming involved in a farce in terms of the powers of the House and the way it operates. I will provide two examples that occurred during the past week.

In theatrical terms, I was a supporting actor in two events this week. On the Adjournment last night I raised the matter of the work of the review group into the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' tax concessions scheme. The Minister established that group in 1997. If Deputy James Breen has been two years waiting for an answer, I have been waiting for seven years for a reply to my questions in respect of the scheme. I receive the same reply to each of the questions I have posed. Last night, in my frustration, I again raised the matter on the Adjournment and the Minister of State read a prepared script which bore no relation to what I had stated and which was merely designed to allow him to place on record the benefits of the tax concessions to disabled drivers and passengers.

That is democracy.

That is not what I inquired about. If Ministers or Ministers of State cannot come before the House without a script and acknowledge and deal with matters raised on the Adjournment, what we are doing is only a farce. We are not fooling anybody with that type of behaviour.

That is openness and transparency.

The event to which I wish to refer was the taking earlier today of Report Stage of the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill. Ten amendments were tabled but we only managed to deal with one amendment before the Bill was guillotined. That is an absolute farce. The Bill in question, particularly the part that deals with electronic voting, is extremely important.

Electronic voting is not included in the legislation.

It is. That is what we were dealing with on Report Stage. The section and amendment we dealt with today related to electronic voting.

The Deputy moved an amendment. Electronic voting is not in the legislation.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government rushed the Bill through without independent IT people or members of the public being allowed to ask questions. It is no wonder the public is becoming fed up with and suspicious of what we, who are supposed to legislators, are supposed to be doing in the Dáil. We are not doing the job they want us to do. Everyone in Parliament, including Government Members, will suffer from the lack of confidence on the part of the general public.

The type of arrogance portrayed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in pushing through the Bill to which I refer comes from the complacency of being in power for long periods. It tried to do away with the PR system on two occasions. However, the people rejected its attempts. That arrogance comes from being in Government for too long.

There are no Progressive Democrats, who proclaim themselves to be the watchdogs of the Government, present in the Chamber. During the general election campaign, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, stated that people should not trust Fianna Fáil in Government on its own and that he should be allowed to climb the pole to watch over that party. Not one of the Progressive Democrats Members contributed on Committee Stage or Report Stage of the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill. We are fundamentally changing the system of voting in this country, without proper procedures or safeguards being put in place.

Not as a result of that Bill.

That is what is being done.

Deputy Curran should sit down. He has a prepared speech which was drafted by the spin doctors.

That is why this Parliament is becoming a farce.

The spin doctors——

Deputy McCormack should be allowed to continue, without interruption.

I do not mind a little interruption.

The Deputy should not invite interruptions because it is difficult to control proceedings on some occasions.

I sometimes get better when I am heckled.

We in this House must shoulder much of the blame for the fact that members of the public are losing interest and confidence in the political system. If a constituent of mine, who is a disabled passenger, has been asking me for seven years to obtain an answer to a simple question and I have tabled parliamentary questions and raised the matter on the Order of Business but all I have received by way of reply is waffle, then the House is a farce. That is only one example of what occurs.

Dáil Éireann should be relevant to the people but it is not. People have lost confidence in the political system because of the extraordinary events of the past ten years. I will not go into detail in respect of those events now because I would be here all night if I did so. Due to the fact that they are seeing what is happening at the highest level of politics, people are quickly losing interest in democracy. That is why fewer people vote in elections. Why should they do so when they see what occurs?

The Taoiseach must be obliged to come before the Dáil on Thursdays. That is what the motion is basically about. However, it is about a great deal more than that; it is about the entire system. The youngest Member of the Dáil, Deputy English, who represents the new generation and has only been here for 18 months or so, is already disgusted by what goes on here in the name of politics and that of government. Will the Government Chief Whip indicate the number of Bills that have been guillotined since we returned in the current session? I believe it is five or six, including the Bill we took earlier today. Bills are being guillotined on Committee Stage and every other Stage.

I will concede the floor to Deputy Perry. I have rid myself of enough aggravation for one evening.

I am delighted to contribute on this issue. Like Deputy McCormack, I believe that the Government, which has been seven years in power, is intoxicated with power. It is clear that the Progressive Democrats is as intoxicated as its counterparts in Fianna Fáil.

There has been a great deal of discussion about local government reform and how the abolition of the dual mandate would improve the latter. It was stated that it was the job of those in local government to gain election to Dáil Éireann to work as legislators and become involved in the debate here. The reform of local government announced by the Minister, Deputy Cullen, was, in many ways, a sham. The only real reform introduced is the fact that councillors cannot now serve as Teachtaí Dála. This is regrettable because those who are informed at a local issue can bring issues before Parliament. The type of debate that takes place at local authority level can be far more beneficial than some of that which occurs here in Leinster House.

Very little has changed since the foundation of the State in 1922. There is a high level of apathy in the political system and a lack of connectivity with the electorate. Let us consider the level of debate which takes place in the House. Even on the Adjournment, there is no facility for questions and answers and a second point of view cannot be put across. The latter is regrettable. It is important to connect with the electorate, particularly in terms of accountability.

It is disappointing that major announcements are made outside the House. Agreements reached with the social partners are negotiated and announced outside the House. When one tables parliamentary questions, one now receives replies from the Ceann Comhairle that particular Ministers are no longer accountable to Dáil Éireann in respect of certain matters. We are elected by members of the public to represent them here and we are given replies to the effect that matters were raised with health boards, the National Roads Authority, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann and that the Ministers in question are no longer accountable. Ministers should be accountable for all matters relating to the public accounts. Where taxpayers' money is allocated, Ministers should be accountable to the House and answerable to Members in respect of the way that money is spent. I guarantee that Ministers are accountable to the House for only a fraction of the €29 billion that comes under the auspices of the public accounts. That is wrong.

The Government has complete disregard for all elected Members on both sides of the House. That is regrettable, particularly if Dáil Éireann is to be meaningful. We are discussing change and there is a saying that to change is to live. We have a 19th century political system in the 21st century. We are about to make a massive change to the electoral system. We need to change the way the Dáil conducts its business because we are about to impose a 21st century methodology of voting on a 19th century political system. This is a contradiction.

By its action the Government is showing contempt for the Dáil and for the people who elected their representatives to this House. It is a great honour to be elected to Dáil Éireann, but when we arrive here it is regrettable that we merely fill space. It is outrageous to see a Minister failing to give a real reply to a Deputy's question and not being challenged on an issue. We are too concerned with the aesthetic of politics. The political system has failed.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government announced major local government reform and the empowerment of the electorate at local level. However, the Government has further curtailed local democracy by giving more power to county managers. This is regrettable.

That is correct.

Leinster House merely provides a rubber stamp for issues. The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, must agree that his achievements in Dáil Éireann are a mere shadow of what he hoped to achieve.

I ask you to conclude, Deputy Perry. The Minister of State has been allotted only five minutes.

That is too long.

I hope Fine Gael will soon get an opportunity to form a Government and bring in meaningful reform.

We will and we will deal with that issue.

Moving one-sided amendments to the Standing Orders of the House is hardly the way to engage people in politics. This is hardly the most important issue for the people of the country this week.

It is a very important issue.

Getting answers for the people of the country is important.

People expect us to do our business professionally and in an orderly way and not to waste time. They want us to get on with the business and not just to talk about how we get on with it.

Is the Minister of State coming over to this side?

I had my opportunity to do that.

He was very nearly on this side.

He is better off on this side.

Dáil reform is a matter for all parties and one best progressed through co-operation by the Whips rather than point scoring. The Fine Gael motion focuses on one main issue, the presence of the Taoiseach in the House on Thursdays.

Or his absence.

I suspect that the same people who complain about the Taoiseach in this way would also complain about presidential type politics where all the focus of government and parliament is on one person. We do not have a presidential system——

Not yet.

——and the House would be wise not to allow one to come about, either by mistake or deliberately.

The Minister of State had better say that tongue in cheek.

It is a dictatorship.

As the Government Chief Whip pointed out yesterday evening, the Taoiseach will be in Rome next Thursday, in Northern Ireland the following Thursday and at meetings with the Slovenian Prime Minister and the European Commissioner, Mr. Barnier, the following Thursday. The House should continue to recognise fully the work the Taoiseach engages in on behalf of the State, as it always has done. This is especially important when Ireland has the Presidency of the European Council of Ministers.

Dáil reform is a matter for all parties as we strive together as national parliamentarians to make the work we do more effective, more transparent and better understood by our constituents. I empathise with some of the points the Deputies made, but it is for all of us to work in that direction. Every aspect of how this House does its business should be considered in depth by the sub-committee on Dáil reform. I would like to see all parties come to that forum with constructive proposals and a genuine willingness to put party politics aside in order to implement meaningful changes together. In this way, proposals from all sides of the House could be considered and the best among them used as a framework for the effective operation of this House in the 21st century.

I welcome the ambitious and comprehensive proposals outlined by the Government Chief Whip yesterday evening. Extra sitting hours and more special Dáil sittings would greatly improve our ability to legislate effectively. The lengthening of the existing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday sittings rather than an addition of extra sitting days would allow Deputies to achieve the right balance between our roles as legislators and public representatives. Representation must be informed by genuine communication and interaction with the people we represent. I value my time spent as a local representative in Laoighis-Offaly hearing the views and concerns of the people who elected me.

And distributing posters about decentralisation.

In Parlon country.

I also welcome the new initiatives proposed for monthly calendars of forthcoming Second Stage legislation, which should help Members to prepare more considered contributions to Second Stage debates. The introduction of topical issues time at a prominent time of day would be a major improvement on the current arrangement for matters on the Adjournment and would give backbenchers, who often find themselves eclipsed by Ministers and Opposition spokespersons, the opportunity to draw greater attention to the concerns of their constituents. While Deputy Durkan gets more than his fair share of the time of the House, this measure would allow other Members to make a greater contribution.

At least when I promise something to my constituents, I see that they get it.

I welcome the proposal for a weekly slot for committee chairs to report to and be questioned by the Dáil itself. The increased effectiveness of our committee system is a tribute not only to previous Dáil reform initiatives, but to the dedication and hard work of Members on all sides of the House. Any initiative which supports the work of committees and improves the two-way communication process between them and the Dáil itself should be strongly supported by all sides.

The proposals put forward by the Government Chief Whip yesterday provide a solid foundation for real progress on the issue of Dáil reform, but progress will require the efforts and co-operation of all parties. I can only hope the Opposition parties come to the next sub-committee on Dáil reform with genuine suggestions and are willing to work together in the interest of ensuring that Dáil Éireann provides better value for money for the people. Fine Gael's decision to waste this week's Private Members' time dwelling on the singular and mischievous issue of the Taoiseach's presence in the House on Thursdays is a poor reflection of its priorities, a sad indictment of its lack of policy focus and a waste of valuable Dáil time.

I commend the Government's amendment to the House and I conclude with a genuine hope that the issue of Dáil reform will be taken seriously by the Opposition in future so that we can all move forward together.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ring.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. The Minister of State thinks it is a waste of time. Does he not realise the dangerous level of cynicism among the people because of the way the House performs? Unless the House does something about this situation and ensures that we are accountable for the issues of concern to the people, this cynicism will not change.

Yesterday, we debated the Civil Registration Bill 2003 on Report Stage. Members had spent ten hours debating the Bill on Committee Stage, with much discussion and promises by the Minister to examine aspects of the Bill on Report Stage. However, we did not have time to deal with more than half of the Report Stage amendments before the guillotine fell. It was extremely frustrating for someone who had spent much time debating the Bill on Committee Stage and had done much work on improving the Bill to find that the Report Stage debate was guillotined. Legislating is our key responsibility as elected representatives. We are being frustrated in that responsibility and we cannot fully debate all aspects of Bills which come before the House.

Standing Order 31 is a joke.

Hear, hear.

The Deputy should tell that to his Opposition colleagues.

I have given up making requests to adjourn the Dáil under Standing Order 31. I can remember only one occasion when such a request was granted. Issues of national concern have been raised in this context. What exactly is permitted under Standing Order 31?

A major disaster.

Would Sellafield have to blow up to have a request accepted? The Ceann Comhairle says he is constrained by the existing rules and I have no reason not to believe him, but it is our duty to change those rules. This is what we mean when we talk about Dáil reform.

Another area of concern is the Adjournment debate. I wished to raise the issue of mental health on the Adjournment this evening. I have many issues to raise in that regard if I am allowed to speak on the Adjournment, which I have not succeeded in doing this week. Perhaps that will happen tomorrow night.

Hope springs eternal.

The Minister will not respond to one of those issues because someone has already written a speech for him. In all my time here, on only one occasion did a Minister deviate from a script for some two or three lines. That was the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, and in fairness to him he responded and promised me something if certain things came to pass. Those things did happen and we now have an independent inquiry into an issue which I called for on that night. If the people who wrote the scripts had their way, he would not have gone off the script and made that commitment. That was the only time I saw anything positive coming out of an entire range of responses on the Adjournment.

Regarding parliamentary questions, I asked a simple question last November regarding the level of finances spent on suicide prevention and research in 2002 and 2003. The answer I got was that there was additional funding of €665,000 and that since publication of the national task force report in 1998 a cumulative total of €13 million had been spent. I was totally confused and put down the question again on 20 February, getting a similar answer. I eventually asked for the figure spent by each health board area and found out that the total spent in 2003 was €665,000. Up to this the talk was of cumulative spending and extra funding. The extra funding was on top of what was spent over a period of five years, but the interpretation most people put on it was that there was €665,000 in extra moneys allocated over the previous year. It took three questions to obtain the information that I could have been given on the first day.

The attitude to questions seems to be how to give as little and as vague information as possible. Ministers could insist that as much information as possible be given and if they did so there would be much more confidence in the system and many of us would feel much less frustrated with the way we are treated. When putting down a question one has to look at every angle to make sure there is no leeway in it. One has to almost totally close down questions and put down half a dozen of them to get information, and put them down on different days, because if put down on the same day they will be taken together, with a vague answer given.

Oral questions are a joke. I heard Deputy O'Dowd saying that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, treated such questions in a different way last week. I have never experienced that, and I table many health questions.

The last time I put down two oral questions on health, one of them came last on the list. I was at a parliament recently where the Ministers lined up and the Opposition asked the questions,with the appropriate Minister responding immediately. If he did not have the full answer he promised the MP that he would supply it within a few hours. Anyone could ask a question. I am not sure if the questions were pre-submitted to the Minister, but there was no question of reading from scripts.

The two Ministers of State, Deputies Hanafin and Parlon, should accept this Fine Gael motion. It would show goodwill on the part of the Government in that it is prepared to sit down with the Opposition. The staff of this House has to be considered too in the matter of Dáil reform.

When I became a Member of this House, I used to bring people in on a regular basis. I do not do so any longer.

The Deputy is ashamed.

I am embarrassed. The visitors come to the House, sit in the Visitors Gallery and see what is going on. They see the Opposition asking questions and getting no answers. They see the Government with its press secretaries sending out speeches to backbenchers, some of whom do not even understand what they are reading. That is part of the problem. Politics have fallen to a new low.

I do not like saying the following. The Taoiseach enters the House on Tuesday. He is gone on Wednesday at 1 p.m. If he stopped his car on Merrion Square and waited there, six or seven Ministers would run into him five minutes later, because as soon as the Taoiseach leaves the House, so too does every other Minister.

The Taoiseach is the chief executive of the country.

That is why he is running the country.

We expect him to be in this House on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, talking about the Taoiseach tonight, as did the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin. They said he had to go to Rome for important international business. This House will always accommodate the Taoiseach and Ministers when they are about Government business.

Every time.

A number of weeks ago, I was in this House on a Thursday. I asked my party Whip for a pairing and he refused. I wanted to go to Mayo. Meanwhile the Taoiseach was opening a nursing home, of which we have 40 — too many — in Mayo, because the people involved with it were friends of his. The Taoiseach should have been in this House.

That is why he is Taoiseach and the Deputy is in Opposition.

The Taoiseach then went on to Breaffy House to open a leisure centre. Breaffy House has been opened seven times in the last five years. The Taoiseach went down again because the Lynch Group supports Fianna Fáil. Is that what the chief executive and Taoiseach of this country should be at? Is that what the people expect him to be at, opening little leisure centres, swimming pools and pubs? If the Taoiseach has to go to Europe or Brussels or America, the Opposition will certainly allow him do so, but as I said before he treats this House like a FÁS scheme — a day on and a day off. That is not acceptable. This is the Parliament of Ireland.

Every Bill enacted should be announced in this House.

Hear, hear.

It should not be announced on "Morning Ireland". The Ministers of State opposite and their staff and PR people, all former journalists, are wining and dining the journalists of this country, dropping them hints and bits of information, leaking it to the media, while "Liveline", "Today with Pat Kenny" and every other show in the country are discussing what is going on. When I raise matters in the morning, the Ceann Comhairle tells me I am out of order and may not speak. Joe Duffy and everyone else in the country are discussing it, and three weeks later we discuss the matter in the House.

As I said earlier, I no longer bring people into the House.

The Deputy should look after his seat. He should continue to bring people in.

I am now like the Deputies sitting opposite. I am learning from Fianna Fáil. The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, came into this House and we were told the Progressive Democrats would be the watchdogs of the country. They are mere poodles. I do not want to be disrespectful to poodles because I like poodles. The Progressive Democrats Members are certainly not watchdogs. They are lapdogs. The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, has learned fast. He was not here a week before he was putting up signs like an auctioneer, promoting decentralisation and "Parlon Country". That is the kind of pollution now going on in the Government.

The Deputy is at it himself. If he had the job he would be at it himself.

The Minister should sit down.

Inspector Clouseau.

There is the man who jumped ship from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, as it was, when there was no money in it, and landed poor Minister, Deputy Coughlan, in it. He got out fast. I like the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, ran.

Regarding real Dáil reform, I listen to parties talking about this House sitting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Let us not be fools. We all have to be elected. This House should sit on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays — not like last year. When the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, and every other Minister wanted to go to Cheltenham, they made sure there would be no Dáil sitting in the week of the Cheltenham races. They organised the business of the House to make sure there would be no sitting in the Cheltenham week.

The House never sat that week.

The Dáil should sit Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday every week of every month, except the month of August. If it did that we would not have to talk about Dáil reform.

A Cheann Comhairle, you will have to sit down with the Government and the Opposition parties. This House must get organised because it is losing its importance in the minds of the people. This House is the House of Parliament but I hate putting down parliamentary questions to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government because the reply I get is that he has no responsibility.

He is right. He has none.

He says it is the responsibility of the county council. If I put down a question to the Department of Education and Science——

The Deputy wants to be in the county council. He should make up his mind. Which does he want to be in?

We have our minds made up.

Deputy Ring, without interruption.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, was sent out of this House on a previous occasion to do a job, and he did not do it. I do not want to get nasty.

The Deputy should make up his mind which he wants to be in.

I will tell the Minister what I want. I want to be in this House and I want to be in the council. I make no apologies to him and his hypocrites on that side of the House.

"Hypocrite" is not an appropriate word to use in this House.

I want to represent the people and I am in this House to do that. Ministers should answer questions when they are asked them and not be like the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, running for cover, sending out the spin doctors and programme managers and sending out the scripts to the boys on the back benches instead of coming in here and giving real answers.

There are no spin doctors or programme managers. Fine Gael had the programme managers.

If we did that, people would have more interest in politics and young people would want to become involved in politics——

Hear, hear.

——but they see the hypocrisy that is going on now. Nobody wants to get involved in politics because they see it is a sham. That is what is going on in this House, a sham. We want to give power back to this House. People died in this country for the vote. My own granduncle died in this country so that people could vote to have our own Parliament and what are we doing? We are taking the powers away from this House every day and what does the chief executive of this House, the Taoiseach, do?

He runs the country.

He comes in on Tuesday, he is gone by Wednesday evening and we do not see him again until the following Tuesday.

The Deputy will not come in here to do the work on Fridays. He is down in Mayo.

Deputy Ring, your time is concluded.

That is not real democracy. That is dictatorship at its worst. This is a democracy, not a dictatorship.

The time is concluded, Deputy, and I am obliged to put the question.

The Minister of State has an opportunity tonight to accept this motion and, having done that, she should sit down with the Opposition, the staff of this House and the Ceann Comhairle with a view to introducing real reform——

That is what the amendment states.

——so that the people can have respect for politicians and for this House and not run away from accountability to this House.

Hear, hear.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 74; Níl, 54.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Connor, Charlie.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Flynn, Noel.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Malley, Fiona.
  • O'Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Perry, John.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 54.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Connor, Charlie.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Flynn, Noel.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Malley, Fiona.
  • O'Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Perry, John.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Question declared carried.