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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 10 Mar 2016

Vol. 906 No. 1

Selection of Candidate and Election of Ceann Comhairle

Cléireach na Dála

I must inform the House that following receipt of nominations for the position of Ceann Comhairle, the following is the list of validly nominated candidates: Deputy Andrew Doyle, Deputy Bernard J. Durkan, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

As there is more than one candidate, the candidate who will be proposed for election by the House will be selected by secret ballot. Before proceeding to the secret ballot, I will call on each candidate to speak on his or her own behalf. Each candidate will have five minutes. I must, therefore, now call on Deputy Andrew Doyle.

I thank the Clerk. I am conscious that this is an historic moment. As we assemble on the first day of the Thirty-second Dáil to elect a Ceann Comhairle we are actually seeing history being made. Perhaps fittingly, in this the centenary year of our country's Proclamation of our right to self governance, Members of this House will elect their own Ceann Comhairle for the first time. This process marks a significant change and is the first in a wide range of reforms that are necessary. We need to separate the Dáil from government, to allow the Dáil to function as a relevant Parliament and not be a servant to government - a distinction that has been rarely, if ever, seen or evident in the past.

The political system as a whole is under scrutiny. The increased cynicism towards political institutions is an issue we can no longer ignore. This Dáil is more diverse than any other ever elected and affords us an opportunity and, even more, a necessity to embark finally on a programme of real and comprehensive reform. All institutions of the State need it, none more so than in here. As elected representatives, we have to start this reform right here at home in our national Parliament.

The Office of Ceann Comhairle can lead and steer these changes and, most importantly, be a champion of Members' interests. However, the Ceann Comhairle cannot do this alone, which is why the various proposals which, I think, will be accepted to establish a working group to be chaired by the Ceann Comhairle to be elected today to consider the issue of reform, make proposals and report to the House are very welcome. This cross-party committee will be responsible for ensuring its work is acted on.

I am entering my third Dáil term. I believe I have the skills and abilities necessary to effect such an agenda of reform to enhance the functionality of the Dáil as a Parliament and to make the Oireachtas more transparent and relevant to the general public. My role as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has provided me with valuable experience in making committees work and I hope this is generally acknowledged by my colleagues. The committee carries out a very heavy work programme and has published 36 reports. I am committed to giving committees more power in the upcoming term.

I do not want to pre-empt the work of whatever working committee is set up, but there are a couple of issues we should look at as a starting point one of which is the use of the guillotine. Deputies are elected to legislate and we should be given time. There is no necessity to impose the guillotine. Given the diverse make-up of the House, we need to recognise the need to give smaller groups more speaking time and this is something that must be worked out. In giving more power to committees and the Ceann Comhairle more influence on the Order of Business, a fundamental role of the Speaker of the House should be deciding the agenda of Parliament of which he or she is cathaoirleach. If all of these measures are combined and acted on, we can allow for the guillotine not being used and more speaking time for smaller groups to get work done. More power for committees is a key part and central plank of this.

We need to rebalance the way business is done and can work together to achieve this common aim. Enhanced oversight and scrutiny of the Government by the Oireachtas, including the Dáil, is central to this. This, in turn, will allow for better quality legislation and a more expedient way of delivering it. We could adopt best practice from other countries such as setting aside time, either in committee weeks or by way of the arrangement some of us witnessed in the Scottish Parliament under which mornings are set aside for committees and afternoons for plenary sessions in order that Members will not be running back from committees to vote in the House and we can dedicate our time to the work of committees.

The Dáil - the national Parliament - has the power to change the way it does its business. It is up to it and Members to see what it can make of this opportunity. The vote to elect a Ceann Comhairle will give the Deputy elected a mandate to work with all Members in driving forward an agenda and the reform proposals necessary. As I said, we cannot do this alone. In co-operation with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, in particular, the Ceann Comhairle will have to seek real Dáil reform during his or her term of office. Let this be the first day on which we see real reform of Dáil Éireann. The people who elected us nearly two weeks ago expect as much and we must deliver. I believe I am the right person to drive forward this change for the benefit of all Members of the Dáil. History will probably reflect positively on the events of today in the manner in which the new Ceann Comhairle is being selected, but the jury is still out and it is up to us to determine whether history will reflect positively on the work we will do from now on. Therefore, it is important that, with good will and co-operation, we all work together. I am asking for Members' support.

I wish my colleagues who are also running the very best. It is important that whoever is elected today has the support of all Members of the House.

Cléireach na Dála

I call Deputy Bernard J. Durkan.

This is unfamiliar territory for me, given that I am more of a protagonist than a moderator, but every situation after every general election throws up challenges and one should never be afraid to face them. There have been changes in recent times, not only in this country but also in many democracies throughout Europe and the rest of the globe. It is important that we be prepared to react to and accommodate changes as they take place and before it becomes necessary to do so. One of the things this and future Parliaments must be prepared to do is to anticipate long before things develop what is likely to happen and how we should respond to them.

I hope I have gleaned some experience in the years I have spent in the House and learned a little. I am willing to learn more all the time. Some of the things which I believe are sacrosanct at this stage are, first, the rights of the Member. The late Oliver J. Flanagan once told me that I should never allow my rights in Parliament, including my right to table parliamentary questions, regardless of whether I was in government or opposition, to be eroded. He gave very good advice which still stands to this day and is more important than ever. If it is possible to gain information on an issue by way of a freedom of information request, it should also be possible to gain the same information through a parliamentary question. If that was the case, as I believe it should be, there would have been no need for many of the inquiries that have taken place in recent years. If I happen to be successful, I can only undertake to say I would like to see the principle that every Member has the right to raise a parliamentary question on any issue at any time and expect to receive a substantive reply honoured. That is hugely important to the entire democratic system.

We also need to look at the way we do our business. My colleague, Deputy Andrew Doyle, has already referred to this issue. We need to change because we are in the public arena to a greater extent. The outgoing Ceann Comhairle introduced one very important innovation to this House in introducing and facilitating live broadcasting of its proceedings. It has changed and should change completely the way we do things. It has brought us under the microscope to a far greater extent. It has allowed members of the public the length and breadth of the country to observe at first hand the performances of their elected public representatives. That is as it should be. We need to be able to conduct our business in a dignified way without rancour and bitterness in order to accommodate each other's opinions at all times, even though we might hold differing opinions. That is part of the democratic process established in many parliaments all over the world, none more so than this one. If I am successful, I hope I can contribute in some way to the fulfilment of the rights of individual Members of the House in a way that is meaningful to them and the people who elected them. The people who elected every one of us sent us here as messengers and we bear a huge responsibility for them in that we need to be able to respond to them in a meaningful, substantive and responsible way.

I offer my good wishes to my colleagues who are also contesting the election. Let the better person win. Whoever is Ceann Comhairle will definitely have a challenging role to play, but he or she will be assisted considerably by the proposed Dáil reform. The new Ceann Comhairle will preside over a standing committee which will order the manner in which we will do business and eliminate much of the conflict that arose in the past. This is hugely important.

I thank my colleagues who signed my nomination papers and offered support. I hope I can justify their trust in the time ahead. Members of the House, many of whom are serving for the first time, will long remember this day with fondness. It will be a memory they will cherish for the rest of their lives. This is a very important day. Being elected to the national Parliament carries with it a very important responsibility. I hope we can all live up to the high expectations the public has for us.

Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil le gach uile duine atá tofa go dtí an Dara Dáil is Tríocha. Is mór an onóir dúinn uilig ionadaíocht a dhéanamh ar son ár dtoghthóirí. Mar is eol do Bhaill, táimse ag lorg a vótaí inniu do ról an Chinn Chomhairle. Iarraim ar Bhaill a muinín a chur ionam agus a dtacaíocht a thabhairt dom inniu.

I extend my congratulations to all the elected Members of the Thirty-second Dáil on their election in the recent general election contest. We have each come through a tightly fought contest and most of us will have memories of challenging and perhaps even blistering moments. The election is now behind us. On 26 February, the people spoke. They have given us an honoured mandate and one which no doubt we will all strive to respect and fulfil and so it is that we meet here today to take the first steps in the outworking of the people’s decision. For the first time in our parliamentary democracy we, the elected Members of the Dáil, will decide who among our number will preside over the business of this House, who it is we will entrust to oversee the fair conduct of our deliberations and exchanges in this Chamber.

The position of Ceann Comhairle and the allied roles of that office require experience of parliamentary procedures and a disposition that is respectful of all opinion and the right of all to have their views expressed and heard. I believe that in the past 19 years I have acquired the required experience and have demonstrated that I have the skills and the natural disposition to serve in this important role. I have over these past four Dáil terms worked closely with colleagues of all political opinion, party members and Independent Deputies alike. I have been an active and front-line spokesperson in technical groups in two Dáil terms. I have been convener of cross-party and Independent Members in two major health-related campaigns, Justice for the Victims of Michael Neary and Justice for the Survivors of Symphysiotomy. I am an active member of the Oireachtas group on mental health and I am a founding and executive member of the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association. I have considerable experience of working on Oireachtas committees, including the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Finance and on Health and Children. I believe that while I was a passionate and committed advocate of my and my party’s policy positions and outlooks in these fora, I was at all times an interested member and listened to all contributions and was jointly involved with colleagues from government and opposition in producing a considerable body of work, reports and recommendations. I have openly campaigned with outgoing Government Ministers and Deputies on the children’s rights referendum and on the referendum on marriage equality. I have at all times demonstrated my willingness to work with colleagues of all parties and none in the interest of the common good and of outcomes of importance to Irish society.

The Ceann Comhairle must of necessity be independent of government and opposition. It is my certain view that the Ceann Comhairle is duty bound to uphold the primacy of the individual parliamentarian over and above all considerations of party or groupings. He or she must conduct the business of this House in a fair and impartial manner and adhere to the highest standards of the office. Dáil reform has been much commented on of late. It is not within the gift of the Ceann Comhairle to make changes to the conduct of business already governed by Dáil Standing Orders. However, in his or her capacity as chair of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, the Ceann Comhairle can facilitate and encourage real and substantial change. As Chair of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the Ceann Comhairle can lead effective change in Members’ interests. As a member of the Presidential Commission and of Comhairle na Mire Gaile among other roles, there is a lot to the position that Members in the Chamber and the wider public do not see.

I am greatly interested in taking on this honoured responsibility. I am humbled by the support of colleagues who have nominated me and I thank them for their encouragement. In conclusion, I ask each of the Members to consider supporting me this morning. I respectfully request their No. 1 support and if that is not possible, their No. 2 would be greatly appreciated. If called upon on the conclusion of today’s ballot, I will proudly and solemnly declare that I will duly, faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and ability execute the office of Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann without fear or favour. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leir.

A Chléirigh, a Thaoisigh agus a Theachtaí Dála, ar an gcéad dul síos, ba chóir dom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil le chuile dhuine atá tar éis a bheith tofa nó aththofa chun na Dála seo. Guím rath Dé ar obair na mBall agus tá súil agam go mbeidh tréimhse fhada agus fhiúntach againn anseo. Is cúis bhróid dom é a bheith ainmnithe mar iarrthóir do phost an Chinn Chomhairle agus táim buíoch de mo chomhghleacaithe as a gcuid ainmneacha a chur leis an iarratas. Le cúpla lá anuas, táim tar éis a bheith ag stocaireacht agus táim buíoch de chuile dhuine a thug an t-am chun ceist an toghcháin seo a phlé liom. D’fhoghlaim mé go leor agus bhain mé taitneamh as an dteangmháil.

On this the first sitting day of the Thirty-second Dáil, we begin our business with a changed approach to the election of Ceann Comhairle. Change is the word that has been most frequently uttered by Members of this House and in the media since the results of the general election became known. While some of us have struggled to interpret the people’s decision of 26 February, one thing is abundantly clear to me: the Irish public requires us to restructure government and to re-order this Dáil in a manner that more accurately reflects the real needs of a modern Ireland. The Ceann Comhairle has an opportunity in this situation. He or she has a responsibility to play a central role in the reform of our governmental, political and parliamentary system. Every one of the 158 Members here has a mandate that is of equal value and, therefore, each of us is entitled to and must receive in this House parity of esteem. Equally so, each of us has an inescapable responsibility to ensure that the parliamentary forum always conducts its business in a manner that is respectful, constructive and in the interests of the Irish people. We need to work to create a Dáil that we have reason to be proud of and one in which our people can readily place their faith.

As Ceann Comhairle, I would see my role as an active promoter of reform, based on consultation. The process of reform must begin immediately and when agreed it must be implemented without fear or favour. At the heart of what we do must be a change in the relationship between the Executive and the Dáil and the creation of a situation in which the Executive is truly accountable to this elected assembly. In pursuing this objective, I see the Ceann Comhairle as a servant of the Members and not a slave to the system. I would be most grateful for the Members' support and commit myself, if elected, to vigorously asserting the rights of the Members and the integrity of the House.

It would be remiss of me to conclude without wishing well the four other contenders, Deputies Maureen O’Sullivan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Andrew Doyle and my friend of long standing, Deputy Bernard Durkan. Each would, if elected, give distinguished service. It would be remiss of us all not to acknowledge that the outgoing Ceann Comhairle, with whom many of us might have disagreed on several occasions, devoted himself tirelessly to the service of this Chamber and to the service of the people of Ireland. He deserves recognition of that in this House today.

A Thaoisigh and a Theachtaí Dála, Dublin Central is the constituency I represent with my colleagues, Deputies Mary Lou McDonald and Paschal Donohoe.

We had the lowest voter turnout in the country and only three constituencies reached a turnout of 70%. I ask myself why there was that sense of alienation, disillusionment and apathy. Part of the answer lies in the way we conduct business in this House, the way we conduct ourselves and the way we treat each other. At times we leave the electorate feeling frustrated, angry and let down because they expect so much more of us. We owe it to the electorate, those who voted for us, those who voted for our opponents and those who did not vote at all, to do our business in a way that will make the Dáil meaningful and relevant to them and acting in their best interests. We have to show we are listening to the electorate and that we realise they want us to put in place a government to deal with the issues and problems facing the country, and to do so in a fair, more open and just manner.

It is a privilege and an honour to be elected. I am conscious of those former colleagues from the 31st Dáil who lost their seats and are not here today.

I was part of the Convention on the Constitution that discussed Dáil reform - how to make it more accountable, democratic and efficient. It is positive and progressive that the position of Ceann Comhairle is no longer in the gift of the ruling parties. It is very positive that each of us sitting here today had the possibility of standing in this election and there have been five nominees in the end. It also would be positive and progressive if voting did not follow party and non-party lines - I may be voting myself out of a job before it even happens.

I did not actively seek the nomination, but I was encouraged to have my name put forward by Deputies, and with the support of my canvassers and campaigners in the Gregory group. I thank those who nominated me and the others who wanted to nominate me but I had the requisite number.

In my six and a half years here I have always tried to be fair, to respect the views of others, to respect difference and to listen. Almost everything in life is done in a collaborative way, through compromise, consensus and reasoning. I have experienced that here. I was a member of the Oireachtas group on mental health. I was a member of another group that worked on prisoner issues. I chaired the Irish section of AWEPA. I was part of the Justice for the Forgotten group and a group on animal welfare where members from political parties and Independents worked together. In each case it was the issue that brought us together and we worked on that issue regardless of our political views. Of course, the Technical Group was a good example of working in that collaborative way. Ceapaim gurb é sin an tslí is fearr chun dul chun cinn a dhéanamh ag obair le chéile. Tá ciall san seanfhocal, "ní neart go cur le chéile".

People voted for change and they are looking to us to deliver that change. That begins with reforming the way we do business here in the Chamber and in committees. It is both a challenge and an opportunity. Whoever is Ceann Comhairle must, with the relevant committee of like-minded people who are committed to reform, deliver on that reform. It is a reform that I hope will mean people will have credibility and confidence in democracy. It means doing whatever is necessary to increase the authority and autonomy of the Oireachtas so that we legislate in ways that are fair and equitable. It also means an electoral commission really getting going. It means committing to the procedures and practices that encourage and ensure transparency in all decision making. It means equality-proofing of budgets and an evidence-based approach to all resource allocations.

It means moving from the adversarial, the conflict, the theatrics, the shouting-down, and the interrupting that sometimes has this House looking more like the Coliseum than a parliament. It means a different way of setting agendas. It also means accepting that whoever is in government is not all-seeing and all-knowing and that those not in government have something to offer. It also means being prepared to involve others who are not political. That means a Ceann Comhairle who will ensure respect for difference, who will ensure questions are answered, who will ensure meaningful debate and constructive criticism, and who will drive an appropriate agenda. It might not make the headlines; it might not make for good or sensational television, but it would go a long way towards eradicating the apathy and disillusionment I mentioned at the beginning.

Bismarck said that politics is the art of the possible. Anything is possible, including a woman Ceann Comhairle, which would be a precedent. I am conscious of those countries where women do not have a voice at all today. Most importantly we need a person who is best for the job regardless of gender, age or politics.

We have major challenges ahead, including in housing and homelessness, and health, especially for those with disabilities, with mental health issues and those in addiction. We have major challenges regarding climate and the environment. We have challenges regarding our new communities and we are a long way from being progressive in animal welfare. I think our communities and our youth services are areas of great need.

Deirim arís, ní neart go cur le chéile. Tá seans againn rudaí a dhéanamh i slí dhifriúil. Caithfimid é sin a dhéanamh anois. Tá sé riachtanach.

Cléireach na Dála

That concludes the contributions from candidates. We will now ring the bells for six minutes and when they stop we will proceed to take the secret ballot. I ask Members to retake their seats after six minutes and we will then direct them row by row up to the division lobbies.

Members proceeded to vote in a secret ballot in the order directed by the Clerk of the Dáil.

Cléireach na Dála

In my opinion, all Members intending to vote have now cast their ballots, so the ballot has concluded. The votes will now be counted. The counting of votes will take place in the Seanad ante-room, which is open to everyone who wishes to attend, space permitting.

The House will now suspend and resume at 2.30 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 11.50 a.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

Cléireach na Dála

In accordance with Standing Order 7(3), I inform the House that Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl is the successful candidate selected by the secret ballot for the position of Ceann Comhairle. I now put the question that Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who is the successful candidate duly selected by secret ballot by the Members of Dáil Éireann, be elected and do now take the Chair of the Dáil as Ceann Comhairle.

Question put and declared carried.

Cléireach na Dála

Iarraim anois ar an Teachta Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Comhalta do Dháilcheantar Chill Dara Theas, dul i gceannas ar Dara Dáil is Tríocha.

I now call on Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Member for the constituency of Kildare South, to take the Chair of this Thirty-second Dáil.

Whereupon Members rose in their places and remained standing while the Ceann Comhairle proceeded to the Dais.
Standing beside the Chair, the Ceann Comhairle, addressing the Dáil, said:
I do solemnly declare that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and ability execute the office of Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann without fear or favour. I will apply the rules as laid down by this House in an impartial and fair manner. I will maintain order and uphold the rights and privileges of Members in accordance with the Constitution and the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann.
The Ceann Comhairle took the Chair.

Obviously, the seamstresses have been at work.

Taoiseach, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you all for the great honour you have entrusted me with. I thank my constituents in Kildare South for their support and for giving me the chance to take up this particular role. I thank my wife, Mary Clare, and my children for their patience and support over the years.

It is an immense personal privilege for my family and me to hold this position and it is not one I treat lightly.

I pay tribute to Deputies Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Maureen O'Sullivan for their contribution to this contest. Each of them would have made an excellent Ceann Comhairle and I hope I will match their energy and commitment to this House. Furthermore, I will endeavour to follow in the footsteps of Deputy Seán Barrett who, in a deeply difficult time for this country, played a central role in this Chair in steering this House through often uncharted waters. I am aware that in the time to come, tempers may fray and disagreements may flare up. I promise you I will adjudicate without fear or favour based on the respect for each Deputy's inalienable democratic mandate. I implore you, the Members, to respect one another's voices as each of us stands not simply for himself or herself, but for his or her constituents across every reach of this country, in town, city, village and countryside.

Disagreement is the beating heart of a democracy but argument is the lifeblood of a vibrant chamber and mutual respect is the foundation of an effective parliament. Our unprecedented election of this position is just the first step of what I hope will be many on the road to reforming the workings of our political system. I personally am fully committed to overseeing that crucial task. More than 100 years on from the foundation of our Republic, the democratic institutions of the State have often been tested; their strength has not been found wanting. We have stood up when many believed we would fall and this House has played an essential role in withstanding the storms of history. The great project of Irish independence, which the first Dáil embodied, still endures in the soul of this Thirty-second Dáil. That it continues is an historic responsibility that rests upon the shoulders of everybody in this Chamber. I look forward to putting in train and overseeing the implementation of deep-reaching reforms that will benefit both those of you seated here today and the people of the country, as well as the generations that will follow us into this, the people's Chamber. I look forward to working with you all in the coming years as we endeavour together to build a better republic for all our citizens.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.