Ministers and Secretaries (Ministers of State) Bill 2007: Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is required to give effect to the decision by the Government to increase the maximum number of Ministers of State from 17 to 20. As members will be aware, the number has remained unchanged since 1995, when section 1 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1995 increased the maximum from 15 to 17.

It is appropriate to set before the House the reasons behind the Government's decision in this matter, which are similar to those set out by Deputy Ruairí Quinn when he moved the Bill to increase the numbers in 1995.

The major consideration, as in 1995, is that of workloads. In determining the number of Ministers of State to be appointed by the Government, the Taoiseach has taken account of the growing burdens on Ministers and Ministers of State as a result of the greater complexity of the policy agenda, the management pressures in giving political direction to extensive Government programmes and the increased engagement with stakeholders at all levels, both domestically and in Europe. As a result, the Government has decided to increase the number of Ministers of State by three. A Minister of State may receive delegated powers from a Minister of the Government in accordance with the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1977.

It remains true, and is inevitable, that the business of Government has grown and continues to grow yearly in volume and complexity. While this is probably true almost everywhere, there are obvious reasons for the increasing workload in Ireland. Our population has increased significantly and continues to grow. The economy has grown rapidly, providing us with the resources to deal with issues which in less affluent times we could not address as thoroughly as we might have wished, and generating demands for Government to allocate some of our new wealth to areas that previously could not be prioritised against competing demands. Our economic growth has also produced needs of its own, for example, the need for improved infrastructure, public transport and investment in education, research and development if we are to retain our competitiveness.

Many of the new challenges are cross-cutting issues which require cross-departmental responses. For example, the increase in the number of people coming to live and work in Ireland over the past ten years is a welcome concomitant of the growth in our economy, job opportunities and social and public services, but it also presents real challenges in the provision of public services on a number of fronts. For example, the provision of education services to the large number of newcomers requires the provision of physical and teaching resources and language support.

These factors, and the ageing of our population, plus the increasing importance of lifelong education and the promotion of innovation in the educational and enterprise sectors are the background to the particular challenges for which the Government requires an increase in the cadre of Ministers of State. Specific areas for increased focus and activity during the life of this Dáil encompass integration policy, lifelong learning, innovation, children, disability and older people.

The management of the asylum-seeking process has perhaps tended to overshadow, especially in the media, the challenge of facilitating the effective integration of the greater number of immigrants settling in Ireland for the medium to long term. Ireland is late on the scene as a major recipient of economic immigration. Most of our previous experience has been in the opposite direction. The immigration experience in other countries shows that the most important factor in avoiding socio-demographic problems is the effective integration of the immigrant groups with the indigenous population and with each other. Where this has been mishandled or neglected, the long-term economic and social consequences have proved deleterious, even disastrous in some areas.

We have the opportunity to avoid this potential downside by addressing the integration issue in a measured, focused and strategic fashion. To this end, the Government has appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for integration policy. It is envisaged that this Minister of State will draw on expertise from several Departments and State bodies which provide services in this area. Integration issues, in so far as they affect all non-Irish nationals coming to the State, will come under this remit. A major priority will be the development of a coherent national policy on integration which draws on global best practice, establishes what works best and is tailored to the needs of Irish society as well as the reasonable requirements of immigrants who are lawfully resident in the State.

Another area of public policy, arising from demographic changes which the Government believes merits increased and intensified focus is the range of problems arising from the steadily increasing proportion of persons aged 65 and over in the population. In 2006, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over was 11%. By 2011, this is estimated to rise to 14.1% and to 20% by 2036. This expansion must be planned for and the problems of particular relevance to this older group addressed. These include matters relating to the development of services for older people, the development of palliative care services and the capacity and standards of nursing homes.

As the programme for Government indicates, a central element will be involvement in the preparation of a new national positive ageing strategy. The objectives identified in the programme for maximising the independence of older people and making it easier for them to stay in their own homes represent crucial challenges for our ageing population. These are only some of the problems that fall to be addressed as the population of older people continues to increase, both in absolute and percentage terms, and which reinforce the need for extra assistance at Minister of State level.

Public policy has become more complex as our society has grown and developed. We are all aware of the need to tackle various policy issues, such as drugs etc., in a cross-departmental and more focused manner. This has been a successful approach in the past, as I know from my own direct experience. The increase in the number of Ministers of State will enable the Government to extend this approach to different areas.

The additional Ministers of State will play an invaluable role in the delivery of our extensive programme for Government. Accordingly, I commend this Bill to the House.

We are being asked today to approve three new Ministers of State, which will cost €4 million each over the lifetime of the Government. That €12 million could buy 700,000 home help hours for the people the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, has mentioned. It could provide 23,000 extra families with medical cards and could make a real difference to people's lives. However, we are being asked to forfeit all those opportunities and, instead, vote for these extra Ministers of State without any business case being presented as to why we should have them, any performance tests setting out what they are to achieve or any indication of the value for money to be derived from the new posts.

No other business in the country would decide to spend €12 million of its own money, let alone taxpayers' money, without some firm indication that the money would yield something of value to the people paying for it. The thought process behind the three new Ministers of State is the very same as that which saw us pay out €1.3 billion in benchmarking awards and receive virtually nothing in return. It is soft option politics based on the notion that when we need to, we can dip into taxpayers' pockets and take some more from them because it is convenient. That is not the type of politics that will meet the challenges we will face in the coming five years.

We know the era of soft money is at an end, as the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance has spent the past two hours telling the House while we debated other issues. Within minutes of the Minister telling the House how frugal we must be with taxpayers' money and, accordingly, not offering any concessions in the area of stamp duty, a Minister of State in the same Department comes into the House and, without offering any significant business case, tells Members we must shell out money for three new Ministers of State.

I have no objection to the lucky €4 million-men this legislation will create. I am sure many are of estimable character. In reality, we are being asked to allocate money which is scarce for other purposes. A justifiable case needs to be made but the Minister of State opposite has not done so.

The reason we have this type of politics goes back to the attitude the Taoiseach has taken. He refuses to set standards, either for himself or his Ministers, and that is a core issue. Politics must command respect because it sets standards for those who assume high office. I do not pretend to believe standards of personal propriety have not been damaged by this Taoiseach. I abhor the notion that it should be acceptable that a Minister for Finance would allow a "dig out" to be organised on his behalf when speaking in his capacity as a sovereign minister of a government. That is wrong. The Bill to outlaw that practice has not yet surfaced. I hope it will be returned to the Order Paper quickly. It was not passed, despite the promise that it would be passed in the last Oireachtas.

This same "dig out" culture is still very evident. Only last week we saw it clearly in the appointment of people to chair and manage important State bodies. This is not the sort of culture we want. We cannot afford to appoint people on the basis of their past loyalty when deciding who occupies important positions in State bodies. I am not naive enough to think that people who have a Fianna Fáil background should not be appointed to these bodies, but I do not accept that persons who bring no proven skills or aptitude to the task they are undertaking should be appointed because they support Fianna Fáil. That is unacceptable, but that standard continues to prevail and we have seen it since the election.

The issue of standards goes much deeper. It is about performance and setting important standards of performance for Ministers and Ministers of State. We are being asked to approve three more Ministers of State without any standards of performance being applied to the existing Ministers. We need to ensure that public procedures are applied to protect the tax payer, but that is not happening. We need to see standards on delivering pledges made solemnly to the public, but that is not happening. What about the solemn pledges made on class sizes? What about the solemn pledges on the number of people on hospital waiting lists? What about the pledges on the number of social and affordable houses that would be delivered? All of these promises were breached and no Minister took any responsibility for them. What about the failure of evaluation procedures — designed by the Department of Finance — to protect the tax payer when decisions are being made? The Department of the Taoiseach tore up those procedures when trying to develop Stadium Ireland. Those procedures were also torn up with the failure of e-voting, MediaLab Europe, the Punchestown equestrian centre and so on. These projects were prominently promoted by Ministers who destroyed the evaluation procedures that were there to protect the tax payer. There was no consequence when these projects failed and cost the tax payer millions of euros. The Ministers who were involved were either promoted or left in their position.

These are the issues at stake when we see new people being given the nod. We have seen the virtual collapse of major public policies, but no Minister has suffered the consequences. At the end of the period when decentralisation was to be completed, less than 10% of it was implemented. Ministers hide their personal responsibility for this behind an implementation group which has been given an impossible task, because its political masters have not thought out the implications of what is to be done about it. The climate change strategy was published in 2000. By 2007, it had not achieved one whit of what it had set as a target, yet no Minister took responsibility.

When we expect the tax payer to pony up to fund Ministers and new Ministers of State, we must see Ministers take responsibility. Even a Minister who would not read his brief — and it cost the tax payer millions of euro — has not been sanctioned and he continues to operate within the Cabinet. No tests of performance are being offered today for these Ministers of State. If a system exists where performance is not at the core of promotion and of holding posts, then the capacity of an organisation to deliver is dumbed down. Efficiency is undermined, as is the value of high performance. That is what has happened. Posts are being filled on the basis of loyalty and endurance, rather than on the basis of merit and performance. That is not acceptable. This Bill is designed to quell unrest among Fianna Fáil backbenchers who rightly see a congested and unfair system of promotion, where an existing plutocracy bars the way for new talent within that party.

I take with a grain of salt this argument about greater complexity and the need to manage new volumes of business. New challenges always arise. That is the nature of politics. One will always face new challenges, just as there is always a case for new programmes. What we have learned the hard way in the past is that if there are new priorities, other matters must take the back seat. When one decides on priorities one makes something a posteriority — something that has lower value. That is what Governments must do. That is what Taoisigh must do. They must set priorities, decide what is important. When the new demand arises one finds space elsewhere to accommodate it, but that is not the way this is being approached.

I do not dispute that there are new tasks to be addressed. I do not deny that there is a strong case for an innovation strategy, for example, but is there still a case for having separate departments for fisheries, for forestry and for horticulture, and a senior Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? I doubt there is still a case for having a separate Minister for food and for food safety? I doubt there is a case for having a separate Minister for integration and for equality?

We need a proper debate if we are to give this the nod, but such a debate will not occur. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, has come in with no such brief. There is no policy agenda to be pursued under these headings. There are no performance tests by which we might be able to judge in a year's time or two years' time whether these new Ministers of State were justified. That is not an acceptable way to play free and loose with taxpayers' money, and it is part of a culture that must change. I am disappointed that the Department of Finance, of all Departments, comes in here to rubber-stamp this sort of shoddy approach to public business.

The truth is it was not a concern about new areas that led to this allocation. If we were discussing meeting the challenge of innovation, we would look on the Fianna Fáil benches for someone who had skill and aptitude to address a task like this. While I know many members in Fianna Fáil, I would have said Deputy Sean Ardagh is an ideal person to occupy that position. He is a professional accountant. His family has been involved in innovation within business. He has a perfect identikit to bring value to this post. I have no objection to the person who has been given the post, but genuinely looking around on the backbenches for persons who would bring skill is not the test and we do not see such a test being applied in the way these positions are being doled out. That is what is deeply disturbing about what is happening here. Jobs are being chucked out because it is politically expedient to do so and that is not a fair or correct reason for doing it.

It has been said that the successful politician is one who will promise a bridge, even where there is no river. I suppose the Taoiseach is building three such bridges today. People will take off stating that he is the cute operator, and he probably is. He is probably correct in making the calculation that by the time the people come to vote again they will have forgotten about this cavalier attitude.

They also will have forgotten about the cavalier attitude that agreements which they negotiate with Independent Deputies to support the Government should not be revealed, which is also a clear breach of any decent standard of accountability. The voters will have forgotten, where a particular Deputy was in the courts contesting a law and had a deal to negotiate with RTE about the money she owed, that the Taoiseach had come out in the midst of those sensitive negotiations stating that this was a Deputy who ought to be in Government. If that is not interfering with the independence and due process of matters that are being dealt with elsewhere, I do not know what is.

These are cavalier abuses of the high trust that people have in this Government and they should not happen. They should not happen at the beginning of Government because the Government is confident that people will have forgotten about them by the time it is all over. If we ourselves do not have standards, and believe that we must apply and honour high standards, people will take us for what they see. By this decision and by many of the decisions that have been taken in the past two weeks, we are undermining the trust we want to see people have in their politicians. It is time to get away from soft option politics. If the Minister of State were genuine, he would say that new Ministers of State were needed and he would provide strategy approaches and performance tests to judge them. That would be great but this Taoiseach does not have the authority to do so because he has allowed shoddy standards to apply in the past without sanction. That has undermined the important accountability of Ministers to Government and of Government to this House.

I will not ask the taxpayers to stump up €4 million for each of these three Ministers of State. I do not see the case for it and I do not accept it.

I read the Taoiseach's announcement yesterday about the gallery of Ministers of State. On a personal basis everyone is pleased for the Members and their families. It is a signal honour to be asked to serve in Government as a Minister or Minister of State. We wish them well.

The Department of Education and Science has five Ministers of State and one Minister. The Department of Health has four Ministers of State and one Minister. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform kicks in with another four Ministers of State and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has another four Ministers of State. I do not know if the Taoiseach was having a laugh when he provided the Department of Education and Science with five Ministers of State. What is the Secretary General to do — order an extra large conference table for the ministerial meeting room? The Minister and the Ministers of State all have advisers, press attachés and personnel to hold their hand and carry out ministerial duties.

Deputy Bruton referred to sound management principles in respect of Departments. Many have management meetings to which the Secretary General and various assistant secretaries are invited. In most Departments this runs to at least six or seven people. In the Department of Health and Children there is one Minister, her senior advisers, a Secretary General, five Ministers of State with one adviser each, and the assistant secretaries. Is this additional work for the Office of Public Works? Was this a clever ruse by the brother of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to invest in new, state-of-the-art, Irish designed ministerial furniture for all the posteriors that will occupy places around departmental conference tables? It is unbelievable.

One could draw a matrix of this. The Minister with responsibility for children, Deputy Brendan Smith, is a super junior but the super man is Deputy Jimmy Devins. He is the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In fairy tales, when a prince or princess is born, they are given a series of titles. When Deputy Devins is introduced at some grand state function at the UN, in some marbled hall or perhaps when he meets the King and Queen of Belgium, and the major-domo holds out his staff and stamps for attention, will he read out the full and mellifluous titles to be enjoyed by this proposed Minister of State? It is a cod. His responsibilities are spread across four Departments with special responsibility for disability issues and mental health (excluding discrimination). This reads like a treaty of some kind. I presume when the Green Party was negotiating with Fianna Fáil, the brackets were square ones but subsequently when the deal was done they were converted to round brackets. That is the way it is done in international diplomacy at the UN and in various other such organisations.

One of the first jobs of the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, will be major orders of furniture and fittings for the offices of the new Ministers of State. All of them will require nice curtains, carpets and so on. We need to establish whether they will have an office, however modest, in each of the Ministries to which they have been allocated. That was the tradition where Ministers of State had multiple functions. They usually had a home Department in which they had their primary base.

My second question, which is a serious one, relates to what will be the designated functions of these Ministers of State. As someone who has served as a Minister of State, I expect any civil servant or Secretary General worth his or her salt would tell any Minister of State that unless he or she has designated functions, he or she will have office but no power. In the previous Government, perhaps because it was its second term in office, there was a growing tendency for Ministers of State to have no designated functions. At that time the Ministry of State with the largest budget, namely, the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development, had little in the way of designated functions. Given that we are now spending in excess of €500 million and we are all committed to increasing it, I note the senior Minister began to move back to exercising his right to be in command of overseas development assistance.

A number of Ministers of State on the list before me have real jobs, including the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Noel Ahern, who is present. I congratulate him. As Members are aware, being Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW is one of the plum jobs of Government. It is probably one of the best possible Minister of State positions. In effect, he has a budget and a range of interesting responsibilities. Given his experience and connections, I am sure he will have designated responsibilities. He will make sure of that.

Let us examine some of the proposed appointments. Deputy Pat Carey has been assigned some direct responsibilities, such as for the drugs strategy and community affairs. That is an important job. However, what are we to make of the responsibilities of the poor Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan? He is to be Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with special responsibility for integration policy. One who is Minister of State in three or four Departments is Minister of State for everything and nothing because one has no budget line and, by and large, one has no delegated functions. This brings Members back to the issue whether the Taoiseach is acting with supreme political cynicism by filling offices. To keep happy the parties that compose the Government, a plethora of Ministers of State exist with little thought given to how they will do their jobs.

I revert to the Department of Education and State which has five Ministers of State. One of the key areas in this regard concerns the development of a national preschool education system to give all children an opportunity to go to preschool. However, preschool education is not mentioned in the list of responsibilities of the five Ministers of State. Another important educational issue pertains to having a Minister of State with responsibility for universities because in investment terms, as far as continuing our economy's growth is concerned, it is education, education, education.

While we have good primary and second level systems, we must expand into a preschool system for disadvantaged children in particular. We must give them an opportunity to get involved in preschool, thereby giving them a flying start in life. At third level, the universities and institutes of technology are critical to our economic future by supplying graduates in fields such as information technology, in which there is a huge shortage, business, in which the numbers applying for degrees are falling and, in particular, in mathematics and science. There is a serious shortage of candidates who are interested in mathematics and the sciences, and all Members are aware that these are critical areas for our future.

In recent years, Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, and others have done good work by putting more money into science and technology at third level. However, no Minister of State is responsible for this issue and it is not even mentioned. There is something called innovation policy, which constitutes a Civil Service fudge by the permanent government. Presumably the Department of Education and Science did not wish to hand over a directly stated designated responsibility for the universities, the institutes of technology and higher education in general. Instead it came up with this entity which is to straddle the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Education and Science and which has no title other than innovation policy. It is a case of adding a little bit of this to a little bit of that, putting in a little bit of salt and pepper, stirring the mix and hoping that something will emerge. In the context of this economy's present status and future development needs, I am surprised and disappointed that the Taoiseach copped out to the permanent government in this regard.

I understand the establishment cost of each Minister of State, excluding their salaries and so on, is €450,000 per year according to answers supplied last year to my colleague, Deputy Eamon Gilmore. I would not begrudge this money to the present cast of 20 were they to have serious defined responsibilities in respect of some critical areas. I feel sorry for some of the individuals in question because they will be running from one Department to another having interviews with Secretaries General, they will have no designated functions and they will comprise a hodge-podge. In some cases, they will be distributing cheques and funds to community organisations, but that will not help our economy in terms of the challenges we will face. I am sorry the Government has missed the boat this time.

Is Deputy Mansergh offering?

He should have been a Minister of State.

That is a good start.

I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his appointment to the Chair. I can think of no more suitable a person.

It is a great honour and responsibility to be elected to Dáil Éireann to represent the people of Tipperary South with my party colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, and Deputy Tom Hayes of Fine Gael.

The legislation to expand the number of Ministers of State to 20 accompanies the formation of a third Administration under the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, an extraordinary political achievement without parallel since the days of Éamon de Valera. Some allege that the continued dominance of Fianna Fáil is harmful to democracy, but elections were always hard fought and there was not the slightest advance certainty about the outcome of the recent election.

We have heard much about performance criteria, business tests and so on from Deputy Bruton. Ireland is regarded at home and abroad as a high-performing country whether one examines economic performance, progress in terms of increased incomes and development or the success of the peace process. These cannot be measured by a cost benefit analysis of particular Ministers or Ministers of State, nor was such done previously. Those in Gordon Brown's Britain — it is no longer Tony Blair's — are fond of benchmarking everything, but it can create a great deal of extra bureaucracy that costs money.

Nostalgia has been expressed in the press for more austere days when there was only a handful of parliamentary secretaries, but let it be remembered that the last rainbow coalition increased the number of Ministers of State to 17, including an extra super junior who could attend Cabinet meetings. From 1992 to 1997, there was a separate Department under the Tánaiste. Upon entering the rainbow Government, one Minister appointed five special advisers immediately. It is all very well to talk about dipping into the pot, soft options and so on, but will Deputy Bruton explain the qualitative and moral difference between what occurred in 1994 and 1995 and what is being done now?

The increasing responsibilities, the new problems and complexities of decision making and the need for better cross-departmental co-ordination have contributed to the legislation to appoint three extra Ministers of State, which smooths the passage of a novel and exciting coalition arrangement involving the Green Party for the first time.

Deputy Burton expressed criticism about Ministers of State being attached to several Departments. I do not know what her experience is, but my own is that attention to problems that are at the edge of one Department's responsibilities, and perhaps marginally eligible for the attention of another Department, may fall through the cracks. It is necessary to have people who can pull together those with different responsibilities and from different Departments to address problems. I do not see the same problem that Deputy Burton does in somebody being attached to more than one or even several Departments.

For example, our ageing population and the integration of the immigrant population, the new Irish as they are called, are important issues requiring special attention as they are problems that are increasing. As people live longer, the proportion of the population that is ageing is on the increase. There are predictions that we will soon be in a situation where 10% of our population will have been born outside Ireland. We are all aware of the language problems involved in this and the potential threats to social stability in the event of a serious downturn in the economy which, however, I do not foresee.

In many governments throughout the world, Ministers of State, Secretaries of State, Under-Secretaries, or whatever title may be used, are attached to each cabinet member. That we will have 20 at the second level attached to the 15 Cabinet members under the Constitution is neither disproportionate nor unusual. A picture has been painted of four Ministers of State attached to a particular Minister and five attached to another. In many cases, however, each Minister of State may be attached to several Departments. It is my understanding that no single Minister will have four or five full-time Ministers of State.

Those who depict a bloated Government leave out of account that Irish people value the accessibility of their political decision makers and their ability to contact and encounter them personally. The representative dimension of officeholders also includes representation to the media, the demands of which are forever increasing.

In the brief time I have been in this House, I have found that the word "cynical" is undoubtedly the one most overused. It features practically in every other breath in Opposition speeches. I suppose it is us they are accusing of being cynical rather than they being cynics themselves. In focusing on this legislation, we should not succumb to the cynical view that only the holding of office counts. Being an elected parliamentarian, together with exercising the duties of a public representative, is important and valuable in its own right. In many countries and multinational organisations where there is a clearer separation of powers, officeholders cannot remain members of parliament. This is the case in the United States, France and the European Parliament, for example.

I warmly congratulate all who have been appointed to this Government, especially the three new Ministers of State whose offices are created by this Bill. I congratulate my fellow countywoman, Deputy Hoctor, on being granted an important responsibility for older people. I look forward to continuing active cross-border co-operation with her, especially given the overlap of constituency and county council borders from Annacarty to Killenaule. The two Government Deputies in Tipperary South, like party colleagues in a similar situation in six other three-seater constituencies, will have to work hard, without relying on the advantages of ministerial office or an independent arrangement, to ensure the same level of Government assistance is delivered to our constituents. It can be done. Earlier this year, for instance, sports capital grants to County Tipperary in its entirety doubled, notwithstanding the absence of officeholders in either constituency at that time. I offer my support to the entire Government team which will be enhanced and completed by this Bill.

I agree with everything my colleague, Deputy Bruton, said in this debate and I will try to avoid repeating some of his comments, although I may be tempted to stray into some of the issues he raised. I also found Deputy Burton's contribution to be especially interesting. She is correct in the context of one or two Departments in which it appears that Ministers of State will be tripping over each other to find relevant work. However, I do not wish to be churlish because I regard it a great honour to be re-elected to this House, so I wish all those appointed as Ministers of State well and hope they will find relevant work. However, the track record for Ministers of State has tended to be that five or six have real jobs while the remainder have notional duties.

It was not that long ago when legislation provided for only ten Ministers of State, a figure since increased to 15, 17 and now the 20 provided for in this Bill. According to my theory on the matter, there are two reasons for the increase in the numbers of Ministers of State. The first is the simple political reality of senior Ministers who retain their positions in Government, Fianna Fáil Members on the backbenches for too long, and Fianna Fáil Taoisigh feeling the need to keep Members under some degree of control and preserve a certain level of personal happiness while also ensuring they retain their sanity. The only means of achieving those aims is by increasing the prospects for Deputies of being appointed Minister of State. With each new intake of Deputies, the number of Ministers of State has increased in an environment of limited reshuffling of Ministers.

The problem is a fundamental one. I was interested to hear Deputy Mansergh's comments as a new Member of this House. He raised a matter of importance which is missing from the manner by which the Dáil operates when he referred to the fact that simply being a Member of Parliament offers a meaningful and important role and should allow a meaningful contribution to the legislative process. That is the nub of the problem because, if we leave aside the need to appoint Ministers and some Ministers of State to ensure a functioning Government and the political reasons for appointing extras who have no serious jobs to perform, the second reason for such appointments is because this Parliament requires root and branch reform.

It is interesting to return here after an absence of five years and discover that no meaningful reforms have been made to parliamentary procedures. The committees which were created by the previous Dáil have had a limited impact on the workings of Government and the provision of policy. The real difficulty for Deputies who want to do work other than simple constituency services while also ensuring their re-election is that non-ministerial Members perform no meaningful legislative function of any nature whatsoever. The present Government, which has been in office for the past ten years and could have its remit extended a further five years, has done everything it can to ensure Deputies on the backbenches of the Government and the Opposition sides of the House play as meaningless a legislative role as possible. I say that as someone who has published 25 Private Member's Bills and was fortunate enough to manage, in circumstances where governments had limited majorities, to pass four of them. The remaining 19 Bills, while ultimately defeated by the Government, resulted in very similar Government legislation within two to three years.

There is a need to reform the way this House operates and this Government has a unique opportunity to do so. Perhaps if this House operated differently and if Members who are not members of Government were allowed to play a real legislative role, there would not be a need for us to continue to grow what are largely meaningless positions of Ministers of State, to give people titles so they feel better about what they are doing, while giving them no meaningful functions at all.

I wish to highlight an issue I discovered through research I carried out in the few weeks since the general election. I have discovered the extraordinary statistic that in the 29th Dáil, a total of 70 Private Member's Bills were published, all of them by Opposition Deputies. Indeed, the Leas Ceann Comhairle himself published some of those Bills. In any normal parliament, given the broad range of issues with which those Bills dealt, a reasonable number over a five-year period would have been enacted. The Bills covered a broad range of issues, some of which were of great importance but were not given priority by the Government. Many of them dealt with issues that should not have embarrassed the Minister of the day.

The Government should have welcomed constructive proposals coming from the Opposition side. Instead, the Government has a knee-jerk, negative reaction to Private Member's Bills published. Ministers feel that, rather than being worthy measures that should be encouraged, they in some way diminish the stature of the Minister and undermine his or her legislative potency in the eyes of the public. Of the 70 Private Member's Bills published, only one was enacted. That was a Bill published by Deputy Rabbitte, making an important but minor amendment to the coroners legislation. The Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005 was eventually enacted in December 2005. A total of 70 Private Member's Bills were published but only one was enacted.

The way this Parliament operates is fundamentally wrong. This Government should, in the context of retaining and preserving the sanity of its own backbenchers and allowing this House to play a meaningful role, make a policy decision that it welcomes constructive legislation published by Members from all sides of the House. If legislation is published by a Fianna Fáil backbencher, it should not been seen as treachery and an attempt to embarrass the Minister. If legislation is published by an Opposition Deputy, the merits of that legislation should be considered. It should not simply be allowed a first reading and then either squashed on Second Stage or put into a vacuum in a committee that never progresses it. Specific time should be made available in this House to allow Private Member's legislation a degree of priority to progress various issues.

We must ensure on Committee Stages, particularly in committees, that Ministers welcome constructive amendments proposed by Opposition Deputies and do not always perceive them as being a political trap. We should no longer go through the charade of voting down amendments from the Opposition, only for the Minister, on Report Stage, to produce an identical amendment in order to say the legislation is his or hers and the Opposition played no hand or part in it.

Debate adjourned.