Dublin Mid-West By-election: Issue of Writ

I move:

That the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his Writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the election to the European Parliament of Frances Fitzgerald, a Member for the constituency of Dublin Mid-West.

I was asked earlier at the Business Committee, if the House moves all four writs today, when the polling order will be signed. Those polling orders will be signed immediately thereafter, so people can get their poster teams at the ready for the by-elections that are about to get under way.

Frances Fitzgerald will be an enormous loss to Dáil Éireann. A politician of renown, I was aware of Frances's commitment to social justice and equality before I entered politics. She has served both her constituents and the people of Ireland with distinction. Prior to being elected as a Deputy, she demonstrated her commitment to helping people in need in her career as a social worker and family therapist, working with inner-city communities in both Dublin and in London. Recognised for her trailblazing work on equality, Frances served as the chair of the National Women's Council of Ireland from 1988 to 1992. Her continued and relentless progression of the principle of inclusivity earned her the title of European Woman of the Year in 1992, the same year that she was first elected to Dáil Éireann.

Frances's achievements in her parliamentary career range from serving as Leader of the Opposition in Seanad Éireann to being a member of Government and Tánaiste. She has been at the centre of some of the most radical reforms undertaken in public life, including helping to establish the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2011, where she pioneered a number of groundbreaking reforms, including the comprehensive reform of our child protection and welfare systems. She oversaw the successful children's referendum in 2012. As Minister for Justice and Equality, she not only radically reformed the laws regarding sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children but also introduced legislation for the holding of the marriage equality referendum, which saw Ireland become the first country in the world to vote in a referendum to introduce an equal right to civil marriage for same-sex couples in its Constitution in May 2015. As Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, she established a Brexit loan scheme for small and medium-sized businesses, and worked to build new trading relationships and agreements abroad, which are critical to Ireland's future after our UK neighbours leave the European Union. She was, as a Cabinet colleague, incredibly supportive of my own work as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Knowing the central role that Ireland plays on the European stage, Fine Gael has a long history of sending experienced and capable politicians to represent us in the European Parliament. I know that Frances will serve the people of Dublin with distinction over her term as an MEP. The people of Lucan and Clondalkin have had the benefits of a Government party Deputy representing them, and I believe it is imperative that they retain this, because there are challenges before us in housing, education, and transport. These challenges can only be met by a responsible, progressive and principled politician, someone, I believe, in the mould of Frances Fitzgerald. There will be stiff competition, of course, as this by-election has some very fine candidates from all political parties and none seeking to secure the public support to serve in this House. I hope this campaign will be fair and respectful, as our democratic process demands it. The forthcoming by-election will give the people of Dublin Mid-West the opportunity to select someone to continue the work of Frances Fitzgerald and to build on her significant legacy.

I and my party agree with the motions to move the writs for the by-elections to be held at the end of November. This was discussed earlier this year with all party leaders. I will move the writ for the Cork North-Central seat that has become vacant because of our former Member, Billy Kelleher, being elected to the European Parliament. Billy was first elected to this House in 1997 until July of this year. He was first elected to the Seanad in 1993 and served there until 1997. Billy served the people of Cork North Central with great distinction, pride and good humour. He is a valued colleague and friend and we wish him well in his role in the European Parliament, where he has hit the ground running on many topical issues that concern Europe and Ireland, and indeed Ireland South.

Our candidate, Pádraig O'Sullivan, who is an excellent public representative as a councillor, is already canvassing in Cork North-Central, and we believe he is a dynamic person. He is a teacher by profession and a community activist. Pádraig wants to represent the people of Cork North-Central in the Dáil, wants to help them access proper public services when they need them, and wants to be a significant part in tackling the housing crisis that is not just in Cork but is throughout this country and is a scourge on society. I have no doubt that he will be joining us very soon in the Dáil, along with our other candidates: Lorraine Clifford-Lee in Dublin Fingal, who will be joining my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien; Malcolm Byrne in Wexford, who will be joining Deputy James Browne; and in Dublin Mid-West, my namesake, James Moynihan, who will be joining Deputy John Curran. I wish them well in the forthcoming by-elections. We have a fantastic bunch of candidates and I wish them every success as we head into the final weeks of this campaign.

I welcome the moving of the writs for the by-elections for Cork North-Central, Dublin Mid-West, Dublin Fingal and Wexford. I also welcome the fact that we are not waiting an undue period for these by-elections to be held, as we were in this House ten years ago when the then Fine Gael-Green Party Government delayed the holding of by-elections and I was forced to go to the courts.

It was a Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government.

I apologise - Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. They are interchangeable these days.

They really are - we cannot tell the difference

Ten years ago, I was forced to take a Fianna Fáil Government to court, which included Deputy Micheál Martin, who is the party's present leader, to ensure that the people of Donegal South-West were afforded proper representation in the Dáil, which was denied to them for 17 months, the largest delay ever in the history of the State. The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government of the day contended in the High Court that the court case and the court adjudicating on this matter would tear asunder the provisions of the Constitution. Thankfully, the High Court found in my favour and against the Government of the day, stating that it was the ongoing failure of the Government to move the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election that offended the terms and spirit of the Constitution and its framework for democratic representation. As you know, a Cheann Comhairle, I went on to win that by-election, and I can say that I like by-elections. They are something that I look forward to.

By-elections are an important part of our democracy. While it is high time that this Government was put out of office and a general election called, these by-elections are important. Sinn Féin will be fighting to win in all of these constituencies. We have an excellent slate of candidates that have already been selected. We have Councillor Thomas Gould in Cork North-Central, Councillor Mark Ward in Dublin Mid-West, a former mayor of South Dublin County Council, Councillor Ann Graves in Dublin Fingal, and Councillor Johnny Mythen in Wexford.

All four are top-class activists who work day in, day out to stand up for ordinary people and deliver for their local communities. They will, no doubt, provide first-class representation in the Dáil. I send them my best wishes and look forward to campaigning with them in the weeks ahead.

There is no substitute to talking to voters on the doorsteps. That is where we all get the real sense of where people are at. I am aware that far too many are struggling. There are families barely scraping by. They are burdened by out-of-control living costs, sky-high rents, excessive childcare costs and rip-off insurance premiums. These people have a voice here in the Dáil in that they have Sinn Féin, a party that wants to give workers and families a break. They have in Sinn Féin a party that stands up for ordinary people and delivers for local communities. That is the basis on which we will be seeking a mandate in the by-elections. It is to give people an alternative to the failed politics of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the failed experiment that is the so-called new politics.

The past three and a half years have seen a housing and homelessness crisis spiral out of control. We have two parties that are wedded to failed policies and are doing nothing to improve circumstances for far too many ordinary workers and families. We need to get back into a position in which the State and local councils are building homes. Today we see again that the health service is in perpetual crisis. Crime is spiralling out of control in both urban and rural areas. Sinn Féin will take a fundamentally different approach to the conservative alliance of the two parties that control this place in tackling these issues, which affect ordinary people and communities. We want to give people, including workers and families, a break. To do so, it means helping renters and reducing rents by up to €1,500 per year. It means reducing the cost of childcare by an average of €100 per month per child. It means providing two free general practitioner visits for every person without a medical card so nobody will delay in going to a doctor because of worries about the cost. It means ending the rip-off that we see with insurance premiums. We would do all this along with tackling the serious issue of climate change. One of the measures we propose is the introduction of free travel on public transport for passengers aged between five and 18.

Sinn Féin is the only party seriously committed to Irish unity. While the other parties pay lip service to this issue, we want action. We want preparation for unity, and that preparation must begin now. An all-Ireland forum on Irish unity should be convened without delay to make the transition to a united Ireland a success for all who share this island, for our economy and for our public services. We want a referendum on Irish unity and we want to win it.

These by-elections are an opportunity for voters to vote for positive change. I will appeal, today and over the coming weeks, to the people of Cork North-Central, Dublin Mid-West, Dublin Fingal and Wexford to vote for Sinn Féin, to vote for strong candidates and to make their voices heard.

I welcome the moving of the four by-election writs today. The Labour Party has four excellent candidates in the by-elections: Councillor John Maher in Cork North-Central; Councillor Duncan Smith in Dublin Fingal; Councillor Joanna Tuffy, a former Member of this House, in Dublin Mid-West; and the current Mayor of Wexford, Councillor George Lawlor, in my constituency, Wexford.

The four by-elections move us one step closer to getting rid of the current Government and allowing for real change. I have said before that I do not have confidence in the current arrangements. The Government has failed to deliver on affordable housing. It presided over a shocking waste of public money on the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan. It plans to give €3 billion of the public's money to a private company rather than keep the broadband network in public ownership. It has failed to address the shocking way in which women were treated by successive medics and officials in the CervicalCheck scandal. It allowed State enterprises such as Bord na Móna to wither rather than invest in them and give them a new lease of life in the era of climate change. Now it has failed to support the national broadcaster, RTÉ, despite the Labour Party's proposal six years ago to fix the television licence system to sustain public broadcasting at the heart of our democracy.

The Government has failed. It has no plan on poverty and no plan to reduce the cost of living, and it still finds money to give tax cuts to top earners. Fianna Fáil has supported the Government so I have no confidence in its being any different. The four by-elections are not a choice between a Fianna Fáil candidate and a Fine Gael candidate, as will be said by some. That is no choice at all. In the general election we last held, fewer than half of the voters opted for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. In these four by-elections, the real choice will be between progressive candidates who will bring about real change and conservative candidates who will maintain the status quo. If one looks at the 2016 election results in detail, one sees an interesting pattern. In Cork North-Central, the combined vote for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Identity Ireland and Renua Ireland was 24,694. The remainder was 26,480. In Dublin Fingal, the combined conservative vote was 28,456 while the remainder was 31,932. In Dublin Mid-West, the conservative vote was 18,366 while the remainder was 24,768. In my constituency, Wexford, the combined conservative vote was 35,814, compared with 35,847 for the remainder. In all these constituencies, the votes for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael combined were less than the alternative. Therefore, the conservative parties do not have an automatic right to win these by-elections.

The Labour Party is significantly different from the other parties. I would like to reach out to all who want to build an alternative, including the progressives and the independents. This will be the first step in an historic choice. I sincerely hope that the opportunity will be grasped by the electorates in the four constituencies. I know all the constituencies well. I know all of the four candidates the Labour Party will have fighting in each constituency very well indeed. I know my constituency, Wexford, best of all. I am confident that in each of these battlegrounds, there will be a significant vote for change. It will be the mark of a change of Government in the future. I look forward in the coming weeks to facing the challenge with vigour.

These four by-elections represent an opportunity for people to strike a blow against the policies of Fine Gael, which leads the Government, and Fianna Fáil, which props it up. In Cork North-Central, Solidarity will stand Councillor Fiona Ryan. Do not underestimate the righteous anger of those who see more than 600 people on hospital trolleys today, at a time when there are more than 10,000 nursing vacancies thanks to the Government's HSE recruitment freeze. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have created a society in which 4,000 children have been made homeless, yet 3,000 others became millionaires last year. The Government defends a capitalist market in which 100 corporations are responsible for more than 70% of carbon emissions. It turns its back on a just transition and instead loads carbon taxes on the backs of working people.

Councillor Fiona Ryan is the only elected female representative on Cork's north side. She is the youngest elected representative contesting this by-election but, most important, she is the only elected representative contesting it who is a socialist. Like the People Before Profit candidate in Dublin Mid-West, she offers an alternative to all the other parties, which, to one degree or another, bow before the altar of the capitalist market. She finds herself in agreement with both Mr. Bernie Sanders and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn that a fair society, a society free from the rule of the profiteers, would have no billionaires and no one living in poverty.

While campaigning on all issues that affect workers, women and young people, Solidarity will strive to make mental health a genuine issue in this by-election. In the United Kingdom, 13% of the health budget goes towards mental health services. In this country, the proportion is a mere 6%. That is wrong. It leads to great distress and loss of life and it must change. Mental health is a complex issue. Many factors are at play. Who could deny, however, that precarious work, precarious housing and educational stresses are not major factors? Who could deny that a system that puts profit before the needs of people is not a major driver of the mental health crisis in this society? We aim to make this a real topic of conversation in Cork North-Central and beyond in November. I recommend to the voters of Cork North-Central that they put Councillor Ryan into the Dáil at the end of the month to represent them.

Most people believed we would have a general election before the by-elections. It is probably a bellwether indicating how people feel about the incumbent Government. After the end of the month we will know the results.

Kellie Sweeney will be the People Before Profit candidate in Dublin Mid-West. She is the youngest candidate to stand in any of the four by-elections. I first got to know Kellie during the Dublin Mid-West campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. She played an amazing part in that campaign. She had not been involved in too many campaigns before and she really cut her teeth on that one. It was an honour to work with Kellie. As a nurse, she knows only too well the challenges for nurses in this country but also the challenges facing the health system. Some people come to activism by accident and others by choice or necessity when there is something wrong and they want to correct it. They are not inspired to sit on these seats but to change things that they know are wrong in society. There are many things wrong in society, especially in the context of housing, the health service and the direction in which Ireland is going. Kellie is a fantastic person. She is not a politician. I do not consider myself a politician. We are activists. She is a mother, a nurse and a voice for working-class people. If one has that, one has everything.

I wish to share time with Deputy Joan Collins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

As we know, the by-elections in the two constituencies have been caused by the election of Clare Daly and Mick Wallace to the European Parliament. I can say without contradiction that our loss in this House is definitely Europe's gain. Clare Daly was recognised by everyone here as a very capable and resourceful Deputy. Her constituency of Donegal Fingal has certainly missed her. I apologise, that was a mistake. The constituency is Dublin Fingal. She spoke on behalf of her community and workers in her many contributions in this House and many campaigns outside the House as well, whether it was in respect of the airport workers, Right2Water, Right2Change or communities all around Dublin Fingal.

In the by-election to come, the people of Dublin Fingal will have the choice to vote for Councillor Dean Mulligan, who has worked with Clare and has gained the necessary experience to take her place in this House, should they so choose. Dean believes that our problems will not be solved by those who created them and has set out to work on that basis in everything he does. He believes that short-term fixes when issues come to crisis point merely put a plaster on a gaping wound. Short-term, narrow-minded, election-focused politics have resulted in a record number of people being either homeless or struggling to pay rent, with little hope of owning their own homes.

In Wexford, there will not be an Independents 4 Change candidate in the by-election but there will be for the general election, which we know will follow quickly. Everyone in this House knows Mick Wallace's work and its value. That was reinforced strongly in recent weeks when the overruns relating to the children's hospital project were discussed here again. That is not to mention Mick's work on policing reform and NAMA and his and Clare's contribution to the justice committee, which Deputy Connolly and I are delighted and honoured to try to continue.

Clare Daly and Mick Wallace have spoken in the European Parliament at least five times each in recent days. That is not to mention their contributions in recent weeks. They have embraced the European Parliament and I have no doubt they will put their stamp on it and raise issues in respect of which they are passionate. It is a pity that our media do not pay as much attention to the European Parliament and report on the work our MEPs do, which would let the people know what they have been doing. I know Dean Mulligan will try to continue that work level here in the Dáil when he is elected in the by-election.

We are at a crisis point. Many of the people of Dublin Fingal and Wexford believe that electing Tweedledum or Tweedledee will not solve anything for them or for the rest of the country. It is only by electing candidates like Dean Mulligan that will lead to the change that we need.

I thank Clare Daly and Mick Wallace for their contributions in the Dáil since 2014. They were effective, diligent and determined on every issue in which they intervened. Everybody will agree that their political presence and tenacity is sorely missed in the Dáil and in Irish politics. They will bring the same political pressure and tenacity in Europe.

Like others, I would prefer to see a general election take place rather than the four by-elections but we are where we are. Deputy Pringle announced that Councillor Dean Mulligan is standing for Independents 4 Change in the by-election in the Dublin Fingal constituency. Ruth Nolan will also stand for Independents 4 Change in the Dublin Mid-West constituency. They both support the Right2Water movement's policy principles of the Right2Change. The latter are ten human rights policies on water, jobs, decent work, housing, health, justice, education, democratic reform, equality, sustainable environment and natural resources. Those human rights demands challenge establishment politics in Ireland and in Europe. Ruth Nolan has a record of being an active trade unionist and a community critical activist all her life. She is one of the key organisers of the Right2Water campaign in the South Dublin County Council area and she was also very involved in the movement to repeal the eighth movement. A number of years ago, among many issues on which Ruth Nolan campaigned, she introduced a motion to South Dublin County Council to introduce reverse vending machines for cans and plastics. She had the foresight to do that to challenge the waste created by plastics and cans in the area. Following her tenacity and determination Repak put in place 13 vending machines throughout the area. The people of Dublin Mid-West have a genuine opportunity now to vote for a real alternative and a genuine class and climate change fighter. Ruth Nolan is an alternative to the "Lanigan's Ball" politics of this Dáil played out by the establishment parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael whereby Fianna Fáil steps out and Fine Gael steps in and then Fine Gael steps out and Fianna Fáil step in again. She is also an alternative to those parties who want to join in that dance and be coalition partners with those two establishment parties. She is an alternative to that and she will stand with working class people in her community. I hope she does very well.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I welcome the Government's moving of the four by-election writs today. It provides the people of Cork, Wexford and the Dublin constituencies a chance to show how the Government has failed the people. In recent weeks and months many in west Cork thought that we would be facing a general election. The people to whom I spoke were hungry for a general election because they have a message to send to the Government.

We have a health crisis where millions of euro have disappeared into a hole in the ground. That has left people without any home help service. Others are left on lengthy waiting lists. People are in pain who need hip and knee procedures. People going blind need cataract procedures. The SouthDoc service is collapsing around us. More than 600 people are on hospital trolleys. Such day-to-day issues cause enormous concern to people in the constituency of Wexford, Cork North-Central or the two Dublin constituencies. The Government will face those issues when they face the people in Cork South-West.

Beef farmers are on their knees and have no one to fight for them. Fishermen are struggling and are worried about their future. Little or no money was allocated to the farm sector in the budget, all because of Brexit. Only a lick and a promise was given to the fishing sector on the premise that if it happens, it happens and if it does not there may be a little compensation for fishermen to tie up their boats at the pier.

School transport in west Cork is in a disastrous state, with young children left on the roadside. Nobody is willing to resolve ongoing issues even though parents were informed they were resolved. An announcement was made on the rural regeneration fund during the week but not one brown cent was allocated to the constituency of Cork South-West, which is sensational. It is the second time running that no brown cent was allocated to the Cork constituency. The third time the fund was rolled out, one project crossed the line. The Government is sending a clear message to my constituency, which is not having a by-election. It will send the Government a very clear message because very angry groups have been in contact with me in the past 24 hours asking why the constituency of Cork South-West is being continuously neglected when it comes to rural regeneration funds. Surely be to God projects such as the one in Schull where €500,000 has been spent qualifies in some manner for funding. Some group are walking away because they say they have had enough.

Deputy Michael Collins should inform himself on what happened with that application. I am very familiar with it.

The application has been before the Government for the past six months and it was not able to deal with it.

It is not even in my constituency but I am very familiar with it because I am committed to west Cork.

People are worn out trying to make progress. The group is a voluntary community group. The Government needs to assist it to get the project across the line but it was not willing to do that. Areas in Mayo, which I do not begrudge, are getting massive amounts of funding for such projects and for rural regeneration. The best of luck to them.

It is an independent committee.

Funding needs to be fairly distributed among all. The Government will have to face that in the general election. I am getting the Government ready. That is what people are telling me. Perhaps I am listening to the wrong people but they are some of the groups out there.

Another issue we must discuss is the closure of rural polling stations.

This is a serious issue for many people living in rural Ireland and it needs to be examined. We need to make voting more accessible and ensure that we boost the numbers of people who want to vote there.

Registrars in constituencies such as Cork South-West and Wexford have been done away with, despite the fact that they cost very little. I do not know how many politicians have raised that issue here. I saw the value of registrars over the years. They were in touch with what was happening in local communities and made sure that people registered in time to vote. No matter how many advertisements one produces or efforts one makes, this is a serious issue. The Government has removed them so there are now no registrars. All of these people throughout west Cork and elsewhere, who had done Trojan work for a pittance, are gone. The Government then wonders why people are not registered and voting. The Government is the cause of that because it is not encouraging it from the ground up. If the Government looks at the budget, it will see that these registrars cost a pittance. It has decided to remove them and not give people their democratic right. I could talk about homeless figures and such but I will not speak too much. It is not an election that is being contested in Cork South-West this time but I can certainly tell the Government to be ready because the people in Cork South-West are ready at the doorsteps.

I wish the people who are running the best. Independent candidates will give people a clear choice for a new type of politics that speaks on behalf of the people and not on behalf of the party. That is what this country needs and has been lacking for many decades. Independent candidates can offer that.

I welcome the moving of the writs for these by-elections, of which the Social Democrats will contest three, with Sinéad Halpin in Cork North-West, Tracey Carey in Fingal and Anne-Marie McNally in Dublin Mid-West. We have no problem getting women candidates to run, as the Government can see. They are three excellent candidates. I have already been on the doorsteps in Dublin Mid-West. The issues being raised are issues that people will not want to give this Government a vote of confidence in, including health, traffic and housing. It goes across the spectrum, including people being embarrassed about having to ask their parents to help, people having to stay at home for a long time and hidden homelessness. The question of whether water is safe to drink came up, understandably in the current context. The cost of living is something that people are acutely concerned about. Those are the issues that I heard about on the doorsteps.

Governments tend not to win by-elections except in very specific circumstances because the public view them as a second string election that give people a great deal of freedom to express the discontent that they feel, which so manifestly exists. There tends to be low turnout in by-elections and we all need to encourage people to get out and vote. I won a by-election in 2005 when Charlie McCreevy went off or was packed off to Europe, however one wants to look at it. There were two by-elections on that day, with the other being in Meath. The result came as a significant surprise to the political establishment. Childcare was an issue for many young families in the commuter belt. As a result, €1,000 was allocated in respect of children under the age of five. That was followed by the early childhood care and education, ECCE, year, which has been expanded to have a second year, which is a good initiative. The public put that issue on the agenda.

These by-elections represent a unique opportunity for people to have a say and to put items on the agenda that are not coming to the fore to the extent that they need to. There will be a short period between the by-elections and the next general election, which we expect will be held between now and late spring. This will be the marker that will determine the kind of agenda that will be set for the general election. These four constituencies have a unique opportunity to return people who can make that point. We are looking for support for our three wonderful candidates on 29 November.

Question put and agreed to.