Deputy Michael D. Higgins was in possession and has ten minutes. I ask the House to come to order.
Oireachtas Reform: Motion (Resumed).
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. In a way it makes a seamless connection to what we have just heard. Discussions about parliamentary reform in general, and of ministerial appointments in particular, raise the issue of trust. It is the most important aspect of a society. I have had the great opportunity and privilege of being a Member of this House for over 20 years and of the other House for nine years and also of being a political scientist. As I listened to the Minister for Finance, I could not but be struck by the high tone that was addressed to the Labour Party because it sought in the debate on a financial matter to make sure that no guarantee was given that was not in the public interest and was not totally transparent. Again, the issue of trust is so important.
I refer to a recent study by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Piggott which shows that trust is incredibly important and also, interestingly, to be the result of societies that have been characterised by more equality than inequality. In other words, the more equal the society, the more easily the citizens can relate to and trust each other. There is a contrast in unequal societies. For the sake of safety, I will cite cases in the United States. Where there are deep inequalities, one sees gated communities in housing and large aggressive vehicles rather than smaller cars. It is as if people are protecting themselves against fellow citizens.
One of the things we have to make sure in everything we do is to say nothing that damages the importance of politics as a profession and political representation in this House as something that is the outcome of a long flow of development. We should remember how we got here. Parliament excluded people without property, women and people of a certain age and so forth. We have to make certain that what we do at this time contributes to the recovery of trust and strengthens representative democracy.
In that regard, it is important that there is a sense of courage with regard to the media. We have not had a good relationship with the media in recent decades. For example, where there is a fundamental difference between parties of the left and parties of the right, not only does the media not engage with their different perspectives, but it seeks to dismiss both of them by simply saying "the politicians". This is ignorant, lazy and damaging. It encourages a kind of corrosive cynicism among the citizenry and people who indulge in it should be quite ashamed at their inability to rise to the level of being what is known as a "Pol. Corr.", as it is called in Irish colloquial reference. It is interesting too to draw a distinction between that kind of casual comment and, for example, the tradition in European parliaments of the parliamentary essay. I think of the essay in a newspaper like El País.
I will turn now to a few general points that are important. If we are talking about parliamentary reform and what happens in this House, one does not read some tautological business. I have a personal view in that I have been against the shortening of time for speeches from the time I was a Member of the House with John Maurice Kelly and others. I would have preferred to speak more rarely but be able to engage with a subject substantively. I do not like the idea of short periods of time that are divided among Members and where speeches are written out. We should ask whether we have advanced Parliament by doing that.
Regarding the motion, there are many Ministers of State but one should not judge the number of Ministers of State on the basis of the patronage of the leader of the party in power. That is where it is wrong. There is a need for some Ministers of State but there must be justification of Ministers of State beyond the members of Cabinet. With regard to the function of a Minister of State, is it reasonable in current conditions to expect a Minister, a member of Cabinet, to attend any kind of public function organised by a corporate body? Should they not provide their own entertainment? I remember when I had the honour of twice being the mayor of a city and people would say things like, "I am glad to see the chain is here tonight.", as if it did not matter who was wearing the thing.
It is more on the Deputy's side than ours now.
I am making general comments and if the Deputy wishes to provoke me, I would advise him not to do so, even if I have five or six minutes left. The allocation of Ministers of State should be based on function and I suggest the Ministers of State should be engaged with the committees structure.
The committees structure was introduced late and it differs substantively from developed committee systems such as the system is Sweden, which is now in the European Union with us. The government there does not have a monopoly of the public service and therefore Opposition members of a committee are entitled to use the public service in exactly the same way as Cabinet members. There is an arm's length relationship between the Minister and the head of the Department. The committee is entitled to frame, introduce, reform and amend legislation. One can see that our committees are very close to the Department and also how close the Minister is to the Department. These should be arm's length relationships.
I refer to how committees in Sweden are funded. People developing a career in Scandinavian politics might decide to go on a critical path such as social welfare, housing and then move on to finance or whatever. People are given a fulfilling career while, at the same time, the media in preparing for their interaction with the committees, are involved in research and writing essays about the different options coming before the committees.
I will come now to the Seanad as my last point. We need a careful development of the importance of politics among the public and this is crucial. People have made global comments about abolition or reform of the Seanad. We have always had a Seanad in this State except for the year 1936 when Mr. De Valera abolished the Seanad for reasons about obstructionism as he saw it and its Unionist tendency, but it was brought back in the 1937 Constitution, very much under the influence of the Quadragesimo Anno thinking and the corporatist fashion of the 1930s.
Yes, it could be reformed. However, I am hesitant about those who say we should abolish it. I was a Member of Seanad Éireann from 1973-77 and again in the period 1982-87, in two different capacities. I recall great reforming legislation being passed in the Seanad long before it was passed in this House. I recall, for example discussing the abolition of the status of illegitimacy, a Bill I produced, with the then Senators Mary Bourke — later Mary Robinson — and John Horgan. I distinctly recall a Senator stating, so backward were we about this at the time, that the abolition of illegitimacy was socialism under the sheets. It was much later before there was reforming legislation in the social area in this House. Therefore, historically, the Seanad has been the place where there has been legislative innovation.
In the minute of my time remaining I shall summarise what should be done in relation to reform. The appointment of Ministers of State should not be a matter of patronage or satisfaction in a party sense, but should be related to function. It needs to be justified if it exceeds the number of people who are in Cabinet. In linking the role of the Minister, we need to look at many of the unreasonable demands being made on Ministers by corporate interests outside the Oireachtas. On the question of linking Ministers of State and the committee structure, I have given indications of what a genuine committee structure might be. Finally, as regards the Seanad, I believe we could have a very good debate as regards reform. This is my last appeal to colleagues in this regard, but it is a disastrous road to follow the populist path, with people who refuse to draw distinctions between the politics of right or left and seek to dismiss us all by language about "the politicians", going on to suggest that we give up any kind of institutional activity or whatever. Let us have a debate about parliamentary reform, but let us do it positively and in a genuine comparative manner.
With the agreement of the House, I would like to share time with the Ministers of State, Deputies John Curran, Michael P. Kitt, Martin Mansergh and Seán Power.
Táim sásta labhairt ar an rún seo anocht, agus táim an-sásta go bhfuil an seans agam é sin a dhéanamh. In relation to tonight's motion, I am not quite certain why the Opposition decided to target the Ministers of State. Nevertheless, it gives me an opportunity to outline the very serious work that is under way in my Department and within the office for older people. The Government has a proud record as regards innovative work and planning for the future. The business of Government has changed significantly in recent years and the changing demographic patterns give us no choice but to prepare for the future as regards the ageing population. It is a great achievement for all of us that we are living longer and healthier lives. It is only prudent, however, that in preparing for the future we learn from the work of other countries that have had to deal with such demographic change long before Ireland. We know that 11% of the population is over 65, but that means we are still among the youngest states in Europe. In Italy, 18% of the population is over 65 and in Germany the figure is 16%. I have no doubt Ireland would have also reached that demographic level were it not for the fact that so many of our people emigrated in the 1950s to the UK and America, to grow older abroad.
The Agreed Programme for Government provided for a Minister of State with responsibility for older people. I am very conscious that many of the representative groups for older people lobbied for a Minister of State for older people, and I was privileged to be asked by the Taoiseach to accept that position. Some 5% of people over 65 are in long-term residential care, a relatively small but nonetheless very important percentage. In preparing for developments in this area in the future, I as Minister of State, am empowered under the devolved powers of sections 6, 7 and 10 of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 in preparation for the new Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill, which Members will know is at an advanced stage in the Houses at this point. However, the appointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for older people was also in anticipation of the preparation needed into the future. Statistics show that a baby girl born in Ireland this year has a significant chance of reaching the age of 100, because of medical advancements. In preparing for such eventualities, we must enable people. From my interaction with older people, I know they want to remain at home for as long as is possible. For the remaining 95% of the population we must therefore prepare for the future to enable that.
That prompts me to mention the three Departments in which I am based: the Department of Health and Children, where the office for the Minister of State with responsibility for older people has been set up — I shall speak on this in a moment; the Department of Social and Family Affairs; and the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government, particularly as regards the area of housing for older people where I work with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, especially as regards voluntary housing.
The office was established last year to bring about improvements in the Government's planning, policy and services delivery for older people. The setting up of a national advisory council on older people is at an advanced stage. Hopefully, the legislation will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas within the next couple of weeks. It is envisaged that the council will act in an advisory capacity to me, as Minister of State, in the preparation of a positive ageing strategy, which is under way at the moment. An interdepartmental team has been set up where representatives from each Department has met with me and my officials on a number of occasions. We are seeking to determine how each Department may address the needs and concerns of older people. Some significant advancements have been seen already in some Departments, such as the rural transport link in the Department of Transport, as well as many others. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to elaborate on them at this time, because my time has expired. However, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to address the motion.
I shall leave Fine Gael with one question. Is its motion saying that older people do not matter and that the office of Minister of State with responsibility for older people does not matter? I am not referring to myself, as the incumbent, but rather the office. On behalf of older people, I hope that is not the case.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this motion and debate tonight. I am disappointed at the manner in which Fine Gael has tabled this motion. To be blunt, I agree the whole area of Dáil reform needs to be the subject of debate and discussion, but this needs to be done in a detailed manner. The motion as presented tonight, which refers to reducing the number of Ministers of State from 20 to eight, is populist and the public would agree with it, but there is no indepth analysis as regards background and what should and should not be done. It is in isolation from any other Dáil reform. In that regard, I am very disappointed that Fine Gael has isolated a particular issue rather than dealing with the whole area of Dáil reform. I do not believe one can be done without the other and this motion is very populist. Of course that is what the public is saying. It can be applied to the number of Deputies, Members of the Seanad or whatever and the public will agree. However, the point is that the motion calls for a reduction in the number of Ministers of State from 20 to eight without the supporting evidence or background information as to why.
I know the time available is short but, specifically as a Minister of State, it is important for me to outline, as one of the 20, what I am doing. Otherwise, it might be perceived that the role of a Minister of State is irrelevant. However, we should not be dealing with this as a stand-alone item. I mean this and, in that regard, I am disappointed that Fine Gael has tabled the motion in such a manner. I am all for Dáil reform. I have been a Member for a good number of years, and have looked at the committees and the manner in which we do our business. When the Opposition calls for a manual vote, 166 Members must walk through the lobbies which takes 15 minutes. That is the equivalent of one person losing one working week. We can do our business and make our protests in a much more effective and efficient manner, and that calls for real debate.
I mention some of the things I do as Minister of State. Many people will know I have responsibility for the national drugs strategy. We are in the process of developing a new national drugs strategy which will run from now until 2016. It is fairly detailed and specific. While we are devising and developing the new strategy, there is much work to be done around implementation.
However, I deal with many other issues and that is often missed. As Minister of State, I have had the privilege to introduce and complete legislation, and I use the word "privilege" because Ministers of State do not often get that opportunity. The charities legislation was quite complex and I acknowledge that through dialogue and discussions, I had the co-operation of Members of this House and the Upper House. I acknowledge the contribution of the Upper House in bringing in this comprehensive legislation. While we did not agree on every issue, the legislation introduced has the support of all Members of both Houses. As we implement the legislation, I expect that support will continue.
Apart from the drugs strategy and the charities legislation, I also have responsibility for areas relating to community affairs, specifically issues for older people, including alarms, volunteering, the local development and social inclusion programmes, the community development programmes and area partnerships. It is easy to brush that aside but we travel the country, meet people and implement programmes. I acknowledge that the senior Minister in my Department has, through Cabinet, devolved specific responsibilities to me on which I work.
It is important Ministers of State state clearly their areas of responsibility and the work they do. Many colleagues from the Opposition will say I am the Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy but I also have responsibility for other areas. It is only when one goes through the diary and the work schedule that one realises that the other areas occupy equal time and that they are of equal importance. It is easy to dismiss that.
I am all for debate on Dáil reform but I am disappointed that we have picked a specific issue to debate. We cannot debate one issue in isolation. It is an unfair situation. Many colleagues opposite acknowledge that.
I agree with my colleague that we should have a more comprehensive motion before us rather than one simply proposing to reduce the number of Ministers of State. I would like a discussion on reform of the Oireachtas and the public service. I welcome the Dáil reform I have seen in my time in the Dáil, in particular in regard to Question Time. There have been many changes in that regard, including Leaders' Question. I hope to see more reform so that Deputies can raise topical matters. I know how difficult it is and that the Opposition will always look for more reform than the Government is prepared to concede.
The former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, attempted to abolish the dual mandate. It was difficult for Fianna Fáil because we are the largest party. One of the reasons we did not do too well in the local elections was that we did not have the candidates we thought we would put forward.
I am Minister of State with responsibility for local services. I was honoured to be appointed and when asked about my future in this job, I said it was a matter for the Taoiseach. However, I said there should be a Minister of State with responsibility for local services because it covers a wide area, including water services, climate policy, working with the Environmental Protection Agency and Met Éireann, the water safety programme, the fire services capital programme, the capital programme for public libraries and responsibility for county and city development boards and developing and strengthening their roles.
Other Ministers made the point that there has been a 10% reduction in pay and a 10% reduction in the operating costs of Ministers' offices. That has been difficult because we have lost staff in many Departments. We have tried to achieve savings by reducing overtime, general office expenses and travel. For my part, I have not travelled outside the country since my appointment but what else would one expect when dealing with local services? Issues such as postage and stationery have been looked at by my Department. The number of staff in Ministers' offices is now down to two, for which the motion calls.
I refer to what I regard as much uninformed comment on the role and work of Ministers of State. On "Prime Time" recently, I heard a reference to the State cars Ministers of State use. It was surprising that comment was made because it is over 25 years since the former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, introduced the idea of Ministers of State purchasing their own cars and employing two civilian drivers who would share driving duties on a week on, week off basis. I could not believe that type of comment would be made. There is an idea that Ministers of State are provided with State cars driven by members of the Garda Síochána.
I would have thought there would have been some reference to joint committees in the motion. Many Deputies said we have too many committees and too many jobs for Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and convenors. I know the very good work committees do as I have served on a number of them in my time in both Houses. I was Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science from 1997 to 2002 and found it very interesting work. I hope we can expand on the work of committees.
The motion is very selective and is limited to one issue. I thought Seanad reform would have been mentioned because many parties have put forward proposals on Seanad reform. There is an all-party group chaired by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and I hope we will have a report from it soon.
Over the past few weeks I have been interested in discussions on the spending limits to be imposed in the local elections. Over the past two days in the Seanad, many Members welcomed the spending limits and the fact people know one cannot buy an election. The same is true about staff. I agree with Fine Gael's proposals on staff but as many Senators said, elections are about knocking on doors rather than dealing with the many restrictions laid down. People should not be worried about that because elections are about engaging with the electorate and knocking on doors to get support.
The Government, on the recommendation of the Taoiseach, decides on the number and role of Ministers of State. There is no doubt that the demands on Government and on its members have grown hugely over the past 40 years and that there is much value in cross-departmental co-ordination but we are also living at a time when the overhead costs of running the State have to be cut back.
I was the first Minister of State to intervene in this debate last January, partly because responsibility in the Department of Finance makes me acutely conscious of the financial situation facing the country. Before ever I had the honour to be appointed a Minister of State, I would have held the view that in an ideal world, the number of junior and senior Ministers would correspond. As someone who is both the most junior ranking Minister of State but also having one of the longest political involvements going back to 1981, albeit most of that time in an unelected, advisory capacity, I wished to be helpful to the Taoiseach in terms of creating political elbow room should the Government wish or need to cut numbers. Several colleagues made similar points.
There are alternative ways to cut overheads, including the 10% salary cut and pension levy, to which all Ministers are subject, the 10% cut being the equivalent in salary terms of a reduction of two Ministers of State. Many people in the constituency, and especially in the Tipperary electoral area, from where I come and where I am the first officeholder since independence, might not have thanked me for my offer. The men and women from Tipperary who helped bring about a revolution that led to independence were unselfish and I would rather emulate them than the class from which I am descended.
The Opposition motion, and some of my backbench colleagues, would be more radical. Time may tell, if and when Fine Gael enter a coalition Government with others, whether they would practice what they now preach. I would not for short-term popularity advocate changes so severe that would seriously impair the effectiveness of Government.
I try to run my constituency work in the most economical manner without employing permanent civil servants. I use the same three people who worked for me when I was a backbench Deputy, the only difference being that two of them who were job-sharing in Tipperary and Clonmel, respectively, are now full-time. I use my own car which I bought in 2006. I had no drivers for the first three and a half months in order to save money and I arrange my logistics so as to minimise overnight expenses. This year, I will travel to the ASEM conference, which I have been requested to attend by the Minister for Finance, economy class. I claim travel expenses which are conservatively estimated far below the maximum ceiling to which I might be entitled. Like many colleagues, I have to heavily subsidise the rental of my two constituency offices.
While we all have something to contribute, none of us are indispensable, even those with a substantial workload. The Office of Public Works, founded in 1831, is an important branch of Government in its own right with an annual budget commensurate with some smaller Departments. Its budget has now been cut back under my stewardship to half a billion euro from over €700 million a year ago. It has responsibility for public procurement, flood relief works, much of the State's built heritage and the provision and maintenance of public buildings.
Given current economic and financial difficulties, a substantial parliamentary load relating to the Department of Finance, including informally delegated responsibility for many areas, as well as representing the Minister and the Government at a number of conferences at home and abroad, has been devolved to me. With regard to the arts, where there is often an overlap of OPW responsibility, I am invited to launch and attend many cultural events. Through all my work there is also, by reason of past roles, a significant North-South dimension.
Across the board, in both the public and private sectors, the terms and conditions of employment for many people improved greatly during the Celtic tiger years, including for politicians. Now is a time for pruning back, in order to encourage healthy economic growth in the future, but the Government has to decide where best to do so.
We must stop denigrating our democratic institutions. I would be in favour of maintaining our indirectly elected Seanad as a constitutional safeguard and I agreed with everything Deputy Michael D. Higgins had to say in that regard. Many countries operate list systems which means only a minority of politicians are directly elected by the people. If there were more interest in and reporting of policy debates rather than just power play and personality clash the debates in the Dáil, Seanad and committees would be better covered.
I look forward to a dedicated TV channel. Political skills are needed not just in identifying the right solution but also in winning sufficient public support for them. Despotism, enlightened or otherwise, is not an acceptable alternative to accountable democratic politics.
I wish to share time with Deputies Bannon, Flanagan and Doyle.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I am pleased to make a contribution to this motion and commend Deputies Hogan and Stanton for tabling it on behalf of Fine Gael. Listening to the previous speakers, including Ministers of State, I do not wish to personalise the issue in any way. There was a suggestion that Fine Gael was selective in this motion regarding Ministers of State and that it was not concerned about Dáil reform. My colleague, Deputy Stanton and others introduced a comprehensive document last week on Dáil reform.
It has also been suggested that we raised a topic which should not be raised. Before I attended the Chamber I looked at some past press reports. In the Irish Examiner on 15 March a report stated 11 of the 20 Ministers of State said they would accept any moves by the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen to remove them from their positions. The point being made is that this Fine Gael motion has not addressed this topic, it has been brought up in public and on the other side of the House.
My only interest is that the business of Government is run in an efficient and transparent way, where the public is seen to get an efficient service from the people it elects and from the Ministers and Ministers of State who run the various Departments. For me personally, this motion is not about any individual who is a Minister of State. It is about the system in which they are asked to operate.
We have arrived at a situation where the public does not get an efficient service or value for money. Over the years, and in particular in 2007, extra Minister of State posts were created not to give a better service but to help cobble together a Government and retain power. People were identified first and then jobs had to be found for them. That might be a good way to hang on to power but it is not an acceptable use of resources no matter who is in Government.
If we are going to tackle the recession in our country we must all live within our means. That starts at the top and includes Deputies, and whatever else has to be done. We are starting at the top level. Fine Gael last week made wide-ranging suggestions on this matter and I commend our party leader and his Front Bench colleagues for bringing them forward at this time.
The Government has asked for suggestions from this side of the House and now we are giving them. Someone has to give the lead on this matter and I am glad Fine Gael has provided it. Let us compare that with how the Government side of the House has reacted. When, a couple of months ago, a number of Ministers of State offered up their posts, if they were to be taken away, they were more or less slapped on the wrist and told to keep quiet and get on with their jobs. This reminded me of the lectures that were given by the Taoiseach at the time, Mr. Haughey, in the 1980s when we were all told to tighten our belts, when, meanwhile, people at the top of the pile continued their extravagant lifestyle as before.
The motto then was, and seems to be still, "Do as I say, not as I do". This cannot go on. I tabled a question earlier today about the withdrawal of a school library service in Mayo in the October budget. The net effect of the decision on the ground is that books for special needs pupils are no longer being provided to children in certain primary schools as heretofore. I cannot get transport to a school sanctioned for a special needs child even though it would not cost anything extra as the parents were willing to link up with transport that already exists.
Schools in Mayo and throughout the country are losing their rural co-ordinators because of cutbacks. Is it not reasonable that some of these services could be maintained if the number of ministerial posts were reduced? The Government is not willing to take the lead and set an example from the top.
I have refrained, and I want to emphasise this point, from naming any Ministers of State in my contribution because it is not my intention to take cheap shots at anybody. I have dealt with many Ministers of State and know many of them personally. When I eventually find out who is in control of a particular situation I have always found the Minister of State concerned to be courteous and helpful, but that is not the issue here.
It is crazy that some Departments have four Ministers of State reporting to the senior Minister. How can there be efficiency when there is such duplication? The whole system needs to be simplified and reduced so that a more efficient system is delivered by fewer people who have very clear roles. This should apply no matter who is in Government. We are not asking the other side of the House do something that we on this side are not prepared to do ourselves.
It is not acceptable that a support staff of 187 is employed to service 20 Ministers of State at a cost of €8 million when we look, for instance, at the disproportionate effect of the education cuts in small schools where three teacher schools are to lose one teacher, a third of their staff. People are entitled to be very annoyed and even outraged when they see what is going on in the running of Government, where there is continual wastage and, meanwhile, the vulnerable are falling through the cracks in our health and education services.
Given the acknowledgement by so many Fianna Fáil and Green Party Deputies of the need to review the number of Ministers of State and the number of committees, I am surprised they do not propose to support the Fine Gael motion. This motion represents an ideal opportunity to take action on these issues. The Government has sought proposals from the Opposition. Now it has been presented with an ideal way of showing the bona fides of its request.
When considering the top-heavy composition of the Government, I am strongly aware that quality rather than quantity is the way forward if we are to create an effective, well-honed and economically-viable system of governance. However, even if there is a considerable pruning of the number of Ministers of State, the limitations of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party alliance are such that a thorough overhaul will only be achieved with a change of Government. This new Administration, led by Deputy Kenny, will bring honesty, integrity and respect to the nation.
It is time to throw out the notion of jobs for the boys. An inflated Government that panders to the inflated egos of politicians overlooked for Minister of State positions is a luxury the State can no longer afford. Allowances for Chairmen and other officeholders within the Oireachtas committee system must be discontinued and the membership of those committees drastically reduced. Fine Gael has proposed wide-ranging Oireachtas reform as a direct response to calls for such action from those who should be calling the tune, namely, the taxpayers. We have a Government that demands cutbacks which impact on the old, the young and the vulnerable while itself refusing to take any share of the pain. It is time to clear out these dinosaurs. The only solution to this toxic Government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party is a general election.
Old habits die hard. A Government that is used to the Galway tent lifestyle is clinging to the trappings of wealth while looking to others to make good the deficit it caused. Freedom of information disclosures have revealed its excesses to taxpayers and they are no longer willing to shoulder the burden alone. However, the Taoiseach refuses to reduce the number of Ministers of State and their staff which cost taxpayers more than €8 million annually. Meanwhile, the Minister for Finance demands income and pension levies from those least able to afford them. The figure of €8 million does not include the cost of State cars, drivers and other diverse expenses such as the laughable "walking around money".
It is scandalous that a Minister can draw an index-linked pension after serving less than five years. If these former Ministers are sitting Members, they will also be in receipt of a Deputy or Senator's salary, as demonstrated by a certain politician in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath. This is in obvious contrast to the position of low and middle-income earners with families to support, mortgages to pay and no guarantee that they will have a job next week or next month. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, acknowledged the difficulties faced by this sector when he observed yesterday that people earning €20,000 or €30,000 are obliged to endure income reductions while others have lost their jobs. At the same time, bankers are claiming they cannot work for as little as €500,000. The Minister remarked that there must be a change in this mindset.
While I agree with the Minister on this point, I suggest that he look closer to home to effect such change. He works under an ineffectual Taoiseach who has an inflated basic pay of €257,024, plus perks and expenses. Forcing working families to pay for the Cowen recession is entirely wrong. The Government is imposing levies and cutbacks on ordinary people while continuing to embrace the Galway tent lifestyle. Despite the introduction of these hard-hitting measures, Ministers still consider their rear ends to be more precious than those of the average person. While they are worthy of expensive premier seats on aeroplanes, economy class is fine for those footing the Government's bill.
In addition to reducing the number of Ministers of State, the Taoiseach should also review the parameters of their role and the cost to the State. A number of Ministers of State, Deputies Seán Power, Conor Lenihan and Mansergh, have already acknowledged the inescapable fact that fewer Ministers of State would be viable by offering to step down from their posts. The Taoiseach should have accepted these resignations immediately in addition to several more, voluntary or otherwise.
While undeniably laughable, it is also extremely worrying that the inflated collective ego of the Government dictates that it is necessary to burden the poor of this State of 4.3 million people with the cost of 20 Ministers of State. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in France where there are 22 equivalent positions for a population of more than 64 million. Is this indicative of the mismanagement and spendthrift ways of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government or the relative super-efficiency of the French Government, or both? According to the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, he and his Government find managing the affairs of 4.3 million people particularly difficult. Perhaps they could take a lesson from the French. I am sure it is also the case in that country that the business of government continues, as the Minister, Deputy Carey, described it, to grow year on year, both in volume and complexity. However, the French seem better able to cope with the increasing workload of government. I take this opportunity to compliment the French Government on the leadership it is providing within Europe.
The Minister of State, Deputy Carey, agreed with the Fine Gael motion when he acknowledged that no sector of our society can be immune from the negative impact of the economic downturn. Moreover, he accepted it is important that we in the Oireachtas show leadership by putting our own house in order. The first step in this regard should be to reduce the number of Ministers of State and improve the efficiency of those remaining, thus reducing the scandalous wastage of taxpayers' money.
The way elderly people have been treated is shameful. The abuses being imposed by the Government on a daily basis are shameful. It was only when the door of the helicopter on which he was travelling some weeks ago fell off that we discovered that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, was availing of this means of transport to return from a fact-finding mission to Kerry. We do not know the extent of the expense being incurred by Ministers and Ministers of State on a daily basis.
The forthcoming budget must contain measures to reduce the top-heavy nature of Government and to ensure the pain is equally shared by all sectors of society, including the Government, the Judiciary and the Presidency. Taxpayers' backs have been broken by the burden of carrying the rich and the privileged who are the cronies of the Fianna Fáil-led Government.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I thank my colleagues, Deputies Hogan and Stanton, for bringing forward this timely motion. As the motion makes clear, there was an explosion in the number of Ministers of State in 2007 from 12 to 20. This increase can only be seen as an exercise in doling out jobs for the boys in an effort by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to protect his position as leader of Fianna Fáil.
Much has changed both nationally and internationally since 2007. There can be no doubt that 20 Ministers of State is too many and that we can no longer afford to pay for them or their staff. There are two Ministers of State each in the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has three while, incredibly, there are four at the Department of Health and Children. With more than 350,000 people on the live register and thousands more jobs on the line as more and more businesses make plans to shed staff, the Government needs to urgently reassess this situation. The bottom line is that 20 Ministers of State is an excessive number for a small country such as Ireland.
The large number of Ministers of State and their staff mirrors the excesses present in our health system. We have a bloated administrative structure in the Health Service Executive, with large numbers of middle management staff, but insufficient numbers of front-line personnel. This week, statistics were published for the first time which show that not one of the State's hospitals achieved a satisfactory rating. Something is definitely rotten in this State when we consider the number of people working in our hospitals and these results.
It is outrageous that the taxpayer is paying salaries of €150,000 to Ministers of State and is also paying for an average of eight staff in their private and constituency offices. That is approximately four people in their ministerial offices and four in their constituency offices. Last year it cost the taxpayer €8 million to pay for the 189 staff in the offices of Ministers of State and it cost €3 million to pay for the 20 Ministers of State. There clearly is a question of value for money and what is morally right and acceptable in this economic climate.
The people on the streets are questioning the value of the work these Ministers of State are doing. They are questioning the number of these Ministers of State and are very angry. They want to know what they are doing to contribute to the public good. People are looking for leadership and reform in this area. Where is the accountability? Ministers of State are not required to report to the Dáil or provide a record of the work they have done in their posts to the Dáil.
Last week, my party leader, Deputy Kenny, announced a number of reform measures that need to be introduced in the Dáil and Seanad. If these reforms were implemented they would save the taxpayer between €35 million and €40 million over the term of a Dáil. Included in this package of measures is that the Government should reduce the number of Oireachtas committees from 19 to nine; no ministerial pensions should be paid while a Member continues to serve in either House of the Oireachtas; extend the power of the Oireachtas committees to hold people to account through compellability; and extend the Dáil sitting times to at least four days per week.
As stated in the motion Fine Gael wants the number of Ministers of State to be reduced from 20 to 12. We also want the number of constituency staff working in the offices of Ministers of State to be reduced to two per Minister. Senior Ministers could use their existing staff, policy officers and advisers to do much of the work these Ministers of State do at present. A number of Ministers of State indicated recently in the media that they were prepared to stand down. I ask now that the Taoiseach take these Ministers of State at their word and axe eight Ministers of State in the forthcoming budget.
On 7 April, an emergency budget will be introduced in this House which will certainly inflict more pain and misery on the ordinary taxpayers of this country. How can the Government expect the ordinary taxpayers of this country to take home less pay and accept this if no leadership is shown at the top? Proposals for Dáil and Seanad reform including the details of this motion, which would lead to enormous savings of taxpayers' money, should be included in the budget on 7 April.
I call Deputy Doyle. For his information there is actually ten minutes left in the slot.
I had edited it down to seven minutes. If the Government were a constituent coming to us with its current financial predicament, we would probably send it to something like the MABS. The first question it would be asked would be what it could do to cut down its daily expense. What can it do without and still continue to do its job? One thing we could do is run the country with eight fewer Ministers of State. It might only save €6 million, which is one thousandth of what we think we might need to find in the next budget — budget 2009, part 3 or is it part 4? The advice to a citizen would be to identify what he or she must spend money on and what he or she must have to survive. It is no different for the arms of the State, the political system, the Government.
Over the weekend I listened to "Spin FF" ask us to get involved in putting forward a national government to save itself rather than save the country. What happens when we try to put forward some sensible logical and significant saving proposals? We get the pathetic Government amendment, which finishes by urging "the expenditure review group to expedite its review of where reductions can be achieved within the Oireachtas". I wrote a note beside that stating, "Who is in charge?" My God, the Government is urging the expediting of the expenditure review group in the face of having stated last September that it was in charge and would have an early budget. It did not know the figures at the time, but it was happy to hazard a guess. The upcoming budget will probably look to save three times what that "assertive" initiative was meant to do.
The Government amendment also states it "acknowledges that the business of Government has grown in terms of volume and complexity". So has the running of any school, primary or post-primary with a multitude of languages and cultures, and a multitude of different challenges to teachers, staff and pupils. Yet we have reduced the number of special needs teachers and classes. There is a school in Bray with 18 children with special needs even though the maximum should be 11 and the minimum is nine. I have not received an answer to this question yet. Will they all be assimilated into the one class which would breach the maximum or will seven of those children with the lowest level of disability need to go into mainstream classes and be picked up as best they can? The Government claims that because it has grown in complexity, it cannot trim its complement of Ministers of State by eight and merge responsibilities. When we were really flying we were able to manage with 17 and before that with 15. However, all of a sudden now that things have got more complex we have needed another three.
People can make up their own minds as to why those extra three posts were created. I had only been in this House for a week as a new Deputy when that happened. At the time I suggested that the purpose behind those posts and the hullabaloo regarding new committees was to keep everybody happy and quiet. It is significant that when partnership was initiated it was to map the road to recovery back in the early 1990s. In 1997 it was taken and used as a vehicle for survival and political success for the incumbent main Government party. Everything was solved by spending more, creating more committees and subgroups, and putting people on boards here and there. The very same thing is happening with these Minister of State posts.
We tabled a short and succinct Private Members' motion that would effectively save €6 million from the Government's cost base. It has been rejected with a pathetic amendment. Next week the Government will claim the Opposition is not bothered in engaging with it or in doing anything in the national interest. We are seeing the shields going up. While I welcome that the olive branch for the unions and employers to go back into partnership talks has been accepted, it may be that next week those on the Government side will suggest they do not need national government and will do it themselves. Everything that is done is calculated on the basis of what they need to do to survive. It is not about the best interests of the country.
I am aghast that two Ministers of State who were supposed to speak have not appeared for tonight's debate. They must be so extraordinarily busy that they did not need to turn up. Ministers should be here for the entire debate. I sat here through the debate last night and tonight. Ministers come and go. They come in, make a brief contribution and leave again. It shows the contempt with which Ministers treat this House especially during a debate on the role of Ministers of State. We were criticised by almost all Ministers of State who came in tonight for not having a wide-ranging discussion on Dáil reform. We have been trying to have a wide-ranging discussion on Dáil reform for years but the Government will not engage with us on it. Even the Ceann Comhairle has tried his utmost in a neutral, non-political fashion to get this going but the Government has not engaged. It is frustrating for all of us because we want to see change.
Today and yesterday, we decided to devote our precious Private Members' time to the role of the Ministers of State because we thought it was so important. The Ministers and Ministers of State who came to the House told us we should debate many other issues but we believe this role is so crucial it deserves three hours of debate. Its purpose is to enhance, recognise and value the role of Ministers of State, which is what we have done by devoting all our Private Members' time to it.
It has been said by the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, that when matters get complicated, one needs more Ministers of State. Following the last general election, more Ministers of State were appointed but at that stage we were still in a boom and things were still going well. Now, we are moving into complicated times. Does this mean the Government will appoint even more Ministers of State? If one follows the logic, that should happen.
When Deputy Cowen took over as Taoiseach, many of us expected that he would reduce the number of Ministers of State and that he would show leadership but he has not done so. We need leadership from the Taoiseach and the Government but it has not been forthcoming. As my colleagues have pointed out, we are asking schools, including special needs schools, across the country to cut back on teachers, we are asking for special classes to be abolished, we are asking for the number of home helps to be reduced and we are asking nurses to work longer and harder but, at the same time, we have the same number of Ministers of State in position. We, including the Government and the Taoiseach, must set an example and show leadership. We cannot allow special needs teachers and classes throughout the country to be abandoned and betrayed by Government and, at the same time, carry on in this House as if nothing matters.
I have examined the number of Ministers of State. I find there is a problem in that one could end up diluting the role if there are more Ministers of State. It is a question of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. We devalue the role by having a ministry for almost everyone in the audience, which is what has happened.
I do not want to personalise this because I have personal respect for my colleagues opposite and I do not want to name names or say someone is not doing a good job. What I suggest is that one could, for example, combine responsibility for health promotion and food safety with responsibility for older people. This is not impossible and would make sense. It would also remove one ministerial role. One could combine responsibility for lifelong learning and school transport with responsibility for science, technology and innovation, which would also make sense and one Minister of State could quite easily do that work, as happened in the past — again, that is another Minister of State gone. One could combine responsibility for local services and responsibility for housing and development, which would make sense and, in fact, one role would complement the other. This could be done without too much pain, apart from the fact one Minister of State would have to relinquish a position.
It would be feasible to combine responsibility for food and horticulture and responsibility for fisheries and forestry with no problem, so, again, one of the ranks of Ministers of State would go. One could combine responsibility for labour affairs and responsibility for trade and commerce, given that when I first came to the House in 1997, that was the position and those roles were combined. One could combine responsibility for the drugs strategy and community affairs with responsibility for integration policy. What is happening in some areas is that some Ministers of State have overlapping responsibility.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs is not overly busy. He seems to spend a lot of his time opening hotels, turning sods, topping off buildings and so on, so I see no reason why responsibility for overseas development could not return to the responsibility of the Minister. The Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, who has thankfully stayed with us, asked earlier whether Fine Gael values older people. We do, greatly, and we value having an office for older people and a Minister of State with responsibility for older people. However, that does not mean we must have a Minister of State just for older people. It is quite possible the office could be complemented by being amalgamated with another role, as I suggested.
The Minister of State, Deputy Curran, suggested we are being populist but, as I said earlier, that is not the case. In fact, we value the role of Ministers of State so much that we wanted to devote our time specifically to this role. The Minister of State, Deputy Curran, also said he was in favour of Dáil reform, to which I will return shortly. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, said he wants more Dáil reform and I hope he will back this up when talking to his colleagues. He also said there are too many committees. We could have included the committees as a focus of this debate but that would have taken the focus away from Ministers of State and we wanted to pay them a compliment, if one likes, and value them by focusing on them during this debate.
The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, informed us that the Government decides the role and number of Ministers of State, which is the position. He also made the interesting point that the number of Ministers of State and Ministers should correspond. I remind the Minister of State that at this stage we have 15 Ministers and 20 Ministers of State. It has gone way beyond the number that is required.
Deputy Mansergh also made the point he was one of the first to offer to resign. Another speaker noted that when the Taoiseach was safely away in Japan, 11 Ministers of State decided they would offer themselves up and said that if the Taoiseach wanted to make cutbacks, they would accept them.
A Cheann Comhairle, what is the position with regard to speaking time?
Under normal circumstances, the Deputy would conclude at 8.10 p.m. However, the earlier speakers concluded early, which meant the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, was late even though he was early. The situation is that I can call on the Minister of State to reply for five minutes and the Deputy's party, as it is its Private Members' time, may offer another speaker, if it so wishes. I have asked for that position to be clarified.
I was due to sum up but no speakers were present on the other side. I do not know how I can sum up a second time. Does this mean I can continue until 8.30 p.m.?
In my opinion, the Deputy is entitled to continue until 8.30 p.m. if he does not wish to give way to the Minister of State.
If I give way to the Minister of State, I cannot respond again.
No, but another speaker in the Deputy's party can do so. The situation is quite discretionary. Technically, Deputy Stanton is not the proposer of the motion. That is Deputy Hogan, who is entitled to come in again. What I intended to suggest, if it is suitable, is that we would let the Minister of State speak for five minutes and that Deputy Hogan would sum up, if that is what you wish. If that is not what you wish, I am entirely in your hands.
In order to be helpful, would it be in order if I gave way to the Minister of State and I then came in a second time?
To say the least, it is highly unorthodox. I do not know if Fine Gael wishes to put in another speaker after the Minister of State? Technically, it should put in a separate speaker.
It was not our problem because we were here when the Government people were not. I will continue and to be fair to the Minister of State——
On a point of order, I would be grateful if the Deputy would give way for five minutes so I could wrap up on behalf of the Government. I apologise if it is a slightly unorthodox mechanism but I would——
I think what will happen now is that Deputy Stanton will finish his contribution, the Minister of State will speak for five minutes and Deputy Ring will then sum up for his party.
That is fair enough. I will continue. We welcome what is happening with regard to Seanad reform. The only Dáil reform I have seen in my time in the House has been the arrangement for the Taoiseach not to attend the Dáil on Thursdays and Leaders' Questions being introduced, which was a motion put forward by Fine Gael. There is talk of extending the sitting time to Fridays but I respectfully suggest we do not want more of the same. We need to change how we do our business. We have made two suggestions, including that there be reform of the Dáil for the 21st century. While that is a long-term process, there are other changes that could be made straight away. For example, the Adjournment Debate could be reformed immediately. Currently, no debate takes place on the Adjournment Debate as Ministers and Ministers of State simply come into the House and read out a prepared script, not having heard what people have to say. There is no interaction and Members are not permitted to ask supplementary questions. It is not a debate, it is a farce. One might as well swap e-mails and not come into this House at all. Reform in this area could be introduced tomorrow.
Deputies on all sides would like if they could raise topical issues each morning with Ministers to which they could receive a quick response. This would do away with the raising of matters under Standing Order 32 which, in my view, is a total waste of time because one does not get a response to matters raised.
We are not in the House all the time.
Quangos should be subject to scrutiny in this House by way of parliamentary questions. These are three areas in which change could be introduced immediately. In fairness to the Ceann Comhairle — I do not wish to draw him into the debate too much — he facilitated a discussion between us in this regard.
Currently there exists an official standing sub-committee on Dáil reform, namely, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which has met only once since the election. Its only meeting was on 8 October 2008, which is not good enough if the Government is serious about Dáil reform. We had a lecture last night from Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. The Green Party in its manifesto states it wants the number of Ministers reduced from 15 to 12 and the number of Ministers of State reduced proportionally. They have moved away from this stance since going into Government although this was admitted last night.
Under pressure, the Government established a working group on Dáil reform on 27 January. I was told on 3 February that the group would meet shortly. On 24 February, I was told the inaugural meeting of the group was planned for a couple of weeks time. The group consists of four members, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, and Senator Dan Boyle, who are supposed to put forward the Government's argument for Dáil reform. The Opposition has put forward many initiatives but we have heard nothing on them from Government, which is a shame. We need change.
Being a Minister should be a privilege, not an entitlement because one is a Fianna Fáil Deputy. The whole country is talking about this issue. It would be a concrete visible step were the Taoiseach to take the initiative and reduce the number of Ministers of State. Denmark has 20 Ministers and no Ministers of State. The same applies in respect of the Netherlands. Other European countries have fewer Ministers of State than Ireland. I understand that in New Zealand, which has the same population as Ireland, there are 14 Ministers and eight Ministers of State.
The State does not exist to serve Fianna Fáil; it is the other way round. Fianna Fáil has been in Government so long it believes the State is its own fiefdom with which it can do what it likes. It is time for change. Given our current difficulties, and the fact we are asking for change and that people across the country make huge sacrifices, change should start here. There must be visible and tangible change in terms of how we do our business. The first step in this regard would be to reduce the number of Ministers of State.
I acknowledge that Deputy Stanton has bona fides on this subject which I have discussed with him previously in the corridors. The Deputy repeated this evening many of the points he makes in private in regard to Dáil reform. However, I must address my remarks to the motion before the House.
Deputy Doyle stated that the saving envisaged in this motion constitutes 1,000th of what is needed, a revealing and honest point. I cannot then but wonder why we are having a three-hour debate on such a minor issue during a time of serious crisis in this country. I do not believe there are not in Fine Gael people who questioned the need for a three-hour debate on an issue on which one could make a net point in approximately ten seconds. Fine Gael could simply have made a submission to Government requesting a reduction in the number of Ministers of State from 20 to 15 and so on.
The Government needs to show leadership.
It is a ten second point, a soundbite.
We are being listened to.
Let us be fair, it is populist. Deputy Kenny is populist, not popular. The minor nature of these savings——
Who is the Minister of State to judge anyone on this side of the House? The Minister of State is completely out of order and I ask him to withdraw that remark.
We cannot start that now.
The Minister of State should withdraw his remark. Who is he to judge any politician on this side of the House? He should be ashamed of himself for treating the Opposition with contempt.
I have no power to intervene.
It is no wonder the people will be seeking change in the next election.
Please allow Deputy Andrews to complete his contribution.
Who is Deputy Bannon to judge us or the electorate?
I want to deal further with the comments made by Deputy Doyle. He made the interesting comment that if one was dealing with one's household budget and if it was seriously in debt and one chooses to spend a whole evening considering 1,000th of that debt, one would have to question what it was one was trying to do. I accept there is a demonstration effect in terms of what we do as Ministers, Deputies and Members of the Oireachtas.
If the Minister of State had been in the House earlier, he could have listened to the debate.
There is also a demonstration effect in our spending three hours discussing an issue as minor as this. Capital markets are looking at this country wondering whether we have the capacity to get out of our current difficulties.
They are looking at the toxic Government we have in this country.
I find absolutely amazing the fact that the national debate was geared by Fine Gael this week to deal with the demotion of five to seven people.
We have had facile days spent on statements.
Members opposite speak about leadership. Deputy Bannon is getting excited about leadership. Leadership is not about trying to plug into the prevailing mood and going with it. Leadership is about leading. Last week, we had a debate on Ministers of State, which the people have left behind——
Where has the leadership been for the past 20 years?
Deputy Bannon is stuck with this Private Members' motion which is——
Deputy Bannon should allow the Minister of State to complete his contribution.
The Government brought us into the dregs we are in today. The Cowen recession. The Cowen slump.
——-without any interest. In journalism and politics people get obsessed with issues that, while interesting, are not important. Who will lose their position as Minister of State is an interesting issue.
Last week, America dealt with the $186 million bonuses paid to AIG.
That is interesting but it is tabloid politics.
The issue took up a whole week of discussion in America given its significance.
It is tabloid politics and populism. Fine Gael need to be honest with themselves and accept——
Fine Gael is honest. It is the Fianna Fáil cronies that have raided this country.
——that this motion is naked populism.
I will have to ask Deputy Bannon to depart the scene if he continues to interrupt the Minister of State.
Coast to coast in America the issue was about the $186 million in bonuses paid to AIG. It is a significant issue.
I want now to underline some of the points made by Government speakers. One point is the vital role played by Ministers of State in many different Departments. In terms of my work, the amount of responsibility is immense. The workload is ten times greater than the workload of a backbencher. These are facts. People tell me on a daily basis that they would not take on my job for all the tea in China. Ministers of State do valuable and important work. In fairness, Government and Opposition speakers were united in saying the vast majority of Ministers and Ministers of State are doing extremely valuable work. Members will see from many of the contributions made during the past two days that this is the case.
There are reforms coming down the line in the Seanad and through the Oireachtas Commission. Equally, changes have taken place recently. Last year, we as Ministers and Ministers of State voluntarily undertook a cut in salary. We, too, are affected by the pension levy. If people require further demonstration that Ministers and Ministers of State are willing to lead, share the pain and make sacrifices, we will do that. Ultimately, we must ask whether the demonstration effect has been successful thus far.
The Minister of State's time has expired.
I believe this is an important issue but it is very much a niche and in-house issue. It is a minor issue which seeks to address 1,000th of the problem by way of a three-hour debate. Fine Gael has taken its eye off the ball.
I would like to begin by saying that the two Ministers of State have shown their total disrespect for the House and for the Ceann Comhairle. Neither of them came in on time to listen to this debate. They missed their slot. When they finally came in, they started lecturing the Opposition about the motion we have brought before the House.
It is a debate.
This motion is not about what we——
I did not lecture the Opposition.
The Minister of State lectured us.
I just made my points.
The Minister of State told us that there were far more important things we could have raised.
There was no lecturing.
It just shows how out of touch the Deputies on the other side of the House are.
We are not out of touch.
They are out of touch with the people and with the country as a whole. We are being told on a regular basis that there are too many Ministers of State in this small country of 3.5 million people.
That point has been made.
This country has the same population as the greater Manchester area, so it should not take 15 Ministers and 20 Ministers of State to run it.
It has taken Fine Gael three hours to make that point.
The Government has run the economy into the ground. The people are waiting outside for the Deputies on the Government side. I would like to say a few things about this House. While the Ceann Comhairle and I have had our differences, I have to say he has been one of the best Chairs during my time in this House. I regularly have to write to the Ceann Comhairle when Ministers and Ministers of State, including the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, refuse to answer Opposition questions that are put to them in this House. We end up having to submit freedom of information requests to get the details we want. Civil servants and Ministers prefer to show the two fingers to democracy and to the Opposition, rather than answer the questions that are asked.
I remind the Minister of State that some of the recent tribunals, such as the beef tribunal, would not have been needed if Ministers from his party had answered questions.
What does that have to do with this debate?
It has a lot to do with the debate.
It is a question of responsibility in government.
Am I right in saying that in one instance, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, did not even read his brief when it was given to him? Is that correct?
He did not even read his brief, even though we are paying him over €100,000.
The Deputy should not get excited.
The smart alec could not read his brief.
The Deputy does not know what he is talking about.
We paid millions for a report that the Minister for Finance did not even read.
The Deputy interrupts everybody, but he does not like to be interrupted.
He would not read his brief. He was not able to tell us what was in his brief.
We are supposed to accept it when he interrupts us.
The Minister of State has lectured Fine Gael tonight about the motion we tabled this week.
The Deputy does not know what he is talking about.
He should not lecture us. We have had enough lectures from Fianna Fáil. Ministers and Ministers of State will not answer the questions asked by the Members of this House. Deputy Stanton is quite correct to point out that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are frustrated with the way this House is operated.
I have been having a debate with the Deputy this evening. Fine Gael claims that it wants more debate in the House, but it does not allow people to speak during those debates.
I ask the Minister of State to allow Deputy Ring to continue.
He had his shot. I just want my shot.
I was interrupted by Deputy Bannon.
Two wrongs do not make a right.
The Taoiseach does not even appear in this House on Thursdays. He thinks it is far more important to open pubs in County Offaly, just as the Minister, Deputy Harney, once thought it was appropriate to use a helicopter to go to County Leitrim to open an off-licence.
What does that have to do with a debate on the number of Ministers of State?
Ministers will not come into this House to answer questions. I emphasise to the Minister of State that this country needs reform. We want the political system to be reformed so that the Taoiseach and his Ministers and Ministers of State are accountable to this House, rather than to interests outside it. That is necessary if the scandals that have plagued this House are not to be repeated. We need a smaller number of stronger committees. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, introduced a system of allocating jobs that reminds me of "The Late Late Show" in the sense that there is one for everybody on the backbenches. With two exceptions, every Fianna Fáil Deputy has a job that attracts an extra salary. The boys and girls of Fianna Fáil who are not Ministers or Ministers of State have been given back bench positions to stop them from complaining to the Taoiseach. Given that the Green Party agrees with us, I am glad that the Minister of State from that party, Deputy Sargent, is now present in the House. I am sure he will vote with us tonight.
I would love to.
The Green Party has said it agrees that there are too many Ministers of State. I understand that some of them have offered to resign, on which I compliment them.
There is just one Minister of State from the Green Party.
Some of the Fianna Fáil Ministers of State have offered to resign too. We need a debate on the reform of this House, which cannot continue to operate as it has over recent years.
Some years ago, I went to the High Court to fight the decision to abolish the dual mandate. I was annoyed that Fianna Fáil had chosen to take that decision from the people. The Chief Whip, Deputy Pat Carey — he did not hold that position at the time — told a judge in the Four Courts that one of the reasons the then Government wanted to abolish the dual mandate was to facilitate more frequent sittings of this House, for example on Mondays and Fridays. I can send the Ministers of State opposite a copy of the court transcript if they like. During the ongoing economic crisis, this House has frequently not been sitting when major decisions have had to be taken. It took a long break at Christmas and another break last week. I suppose the same thing will happen at Easter. The Government runs out of the House every time it gets an opportunity to do so. The Dáil does not need to sit on days other than Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, which are the days on which it sits at present. However, there is no need for this House to be closed on those days in the middle of July and in September. I suggest that we should close down for the month of August and for a week at Christmas. This House should be accountable to the people of Ireland, who pay their taxes and elect Deputies. They expect us to represent them and to debate the issues of the day in this Chamber.
All Ministers run out of the House as soon as they get an opportunity to do so. We have had social partnership for the past 20 years. It worked for a while, but it has not been working over recent years. Part of the problem with social partnership is that the Government now thinks it is more important to talk to the unions than to talk to the elected representatives of the people. That has been a big mistake. Fine Gael has proposed a reduction from 20 to 12 in the number of Ministers of State. I will not embarrass the Ministers of State who are responsible for matters like bicycles and buses by naming them. Some of them do not know what responsibilities they have. That has happened in this House. There is no need for a small country like Ireland to have so many Ministers of State. It is not a question of the amount of money that will be saved — it is a question of the message that will be transmitted to the people of this country.
That is the important thing.
The message we will send out is that we understand they are suffering and paying their taxes and that we accept there are too many Ministers of State.
That could have been said in ten seconds.
I hope the Taoiseach will heed that message next week by doing the correct thing.
It is a question of perception.
The people on the ground are sick and tired of the way we are behaving. Ministers of State have programme managers and assistants. They have six or seven secretaries in their offices doing constituency work. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, knows it is not right. We cannot afford it any longer. We need to do something about it. We should lead by example. We should send a message to the people of this country to the effect that we are serious about our business. We know there are problems out there. People are suffering. The Members of this House should agree to do our business in a different way.
Did Deputy Ring take the pay cut that was proposed by Deputy Kenny?
I ask the Minister of State not to interrupt.
Why did he not take it?
I will table a question for the Minister of State next week.
That is fine.
I will find out exactly how much he is costing the taxpayer.
I will stand over it.
I will find out about the telephones that were installed in his home, paid for by the taxpayers of this country.
I will check that out.
I have nothing to hide.
I will have a parliamentary question ready next week. I will get all the information.
I can answer it now if the Deputy likes.
I will find out exactly how much he is costing this State.
It will be grand.
However much it is, I do not think he is worth it.
There is nothing——
Every time I try to make a point, I am interrupted by a Minister or a Minister of State.
I was interrupted by Deputy Bannon.
I did not interrupt the Minister of State.
I know. The Deputy did not interrupt me because he was not here.
The people of this country are angry. They want change. The public wants us to run our business in a different way. Every day, the media sends out the message that we are closed for business, which is often the case. No matter how hard we work in our offices and constituencies, there is a perception that this House does not sit often enough. Every time we leave this House, we damage the body politic, we damage ourselves and we damage the country. We should remember that people died in this country so we could have our own parliament, have the vote and be able to run our own country. What has been going on for the last ten years has been a disgrace. Every time the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, ran into difficulty in his own party, he solved it by appointing another Minister of State. The Green Party and Independent Deputies agree that this a reasonable motion. I hope they will do the right thing by supporting the Fine Gael motion when the House divides. It would be the right thing to do. I hope the Ceann Comhairle can take on board some of the points made by Deputy Stanton, who has been talking about Dáil reform for a long time. In a recent case, it was not right that a Deputy who came here at 9.30 p.m. or 9.45 p.m. had to listen to the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, reading from a script that had been prepared for him by a civil servant.
The script in question was entirely my own, if the Deputy does not mind.
Will the Minister of State go away rather than driving me daft?
The Deputy was not here.
During some Adjournment debates, I would be able to read my own speech and that of the Minister of State. The same speeches are used again and again. They are sometimes rewritten by civil servants for the Minister of State in question. They get up and read the same speech again, and do not answer any questions we ask.
It just shows Deputy Ring is hardly ever here.
And no questions.
The Green Party will be eaten by Fianna Fáil, which will have it as green vegetables in the pot. The Greens are on the way out too. They spoke well when they were over here and when they went over there they went with them.
Deputy Ring has four jobs.
Come with us. Do the honourable, decent thing. They said they agree with it. If they agree with it they should vote with us and not talk rubbish as they do on many matters. They should come with us and do the decent thing for the Dáil and for Ireland.
Give the unemployed some of Deputy Ring's jobs.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Ahern, Noel.
- Andrews, Barry.
- Andrews, Chris.
- Ardagh, Seán.
- Aylward, Bobby.
- Blaney, Niall.
- Brady, Áine.
- Brady, Cyprian.
- Brady, Johnny.
- Browne, John.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Carey, Pat.
- Collins, Niall.
- Conlon, Margaret.
- Connick, Seán.
- Coughlan, Mary.
- Cregan, John.
- Cuffe, Ciarán.
- Cullen, Martin.
- Curran, John.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Devins, Jimmy.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzpatrick, Michael.
- Fleming, Seán.
- Flynn, Beverley.
- Gogarty, Paul.
- Gormley, John.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Healy-Rae, Jackie.
- Hoctor, Máire.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kelly, Peter.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kennedy, Michael.
- Kirk, Seamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Lowry, Michael.
- McEllistrim, Thomas.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McGuinness, John.
- Mansergh, Martin.
- Martin, Micheál.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Mulcahy, Michael.
- Nolan, M. J.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
- O’Brien, Darragh.
- O’Connor, Charlie.
- O’Dea, Willie.
- O’Flynn, Noel.
- O’Hanlon, Rory.
- O’Keeffe, Batt.
- O’Rourke, Mary.
- O’Sullivan, Christy.
- Power, Peter.
- Power, Seán.
- Roche, Dick.
- Ryan, Eamon.
- Sargent, Trevor.
- Scanlon, Eamon.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Wallace, Mary.
- White, Mary Alexandra.
- Woods, Michael.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Bannon, James.
- Behan, Joe.
- Breen, Pat.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Ulick.
- Burton, Joan.
- Byrne, Catherine.
- Carey, Joe.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Coonan, Noel J.
- Costello, Joe.
- Coveney, Simon.
- Crawford, Seymour.
- Creed, Michael.
- Creighton, Lucinda.
- D’Arcy, Michael.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- Doyle, Andrew.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Enright, Olwyn.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Flanagan, Terence.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Hayes, Brian.
- Hayes, Tom.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Hogan, Phil.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lynch, Ciarán.
- Lynch, Kathleen.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McEntee, Shane.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McHugh, Joe.
- McManus, Liz.
- Mitchell, Olivia.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Neville, Dan.
- Noonan, Michael.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- O’Donnell, Kieran.
- O’Dowd, Fergus.
- O’Keeffe, Jim.
- O’Mahony, John.
- O’Shea, Brian.
- O’Sullivan, Jan.
- Penrose, Willie.
- Perry, John.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Reilly, James.
- Ring, Michael.
- Shatter, Alan.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Sheehan, P. J.
- Sherlock, Seán.
- Shortall, Róisín.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Timmins, Billy.
- Tuffy, Joanna.
- Upton, Mary.
- Varadkar, Leo.
- Wall, Jack.