Ministers and Secretaries and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Court Offices (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

In case there is any misunderstanding, there are 30 minutes for this debate from start to finish. The guillotine will be coming down after 30 minutes.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

Sinn Féin Deputies are opposing this section. We have tabled an amendment. This section is silent and has not been referred to by any of the Ministers even though the Bill is only three sections long. What is happening is absolutely crazy. The Government has deemed it a priority to rush through an amendment to this legislation, legislation that Sinn Féin would otherwise be supporting and welcoming as has been pointed out by our spokesperson, Deputy Conway Walsh. Section 2 gives junior Ministers who are already on a salary of €124,439 an increase of €16,288. As I have said before in the past number of days, I do not understand how under God in the middle of a pandemic the Government believes this is the right thing to do. This was opposed by Fianna Fáil, which is showing the height of hypocrisy at this time. It is an example of why we cannot trust that party. The party website says that Fianna Fáil will vote against any legislative change which attempts to fund an additional super junior Minister post. However, every single one of them like sheep will walk in here and press the "Tá" button to ensure their super junior Minister gets an increase of €16,288. Deputy Eamon Ryan is no different. He is in the Official Report as the leader of the Green Party saying: "There are too many super-junior Ministers. I am sorry, it must be a very difficult decision and a hard call when some people have to lose jobs but there are too many people around the Cabinet table." That is the reality of it. There are issues in respect of the constitutionality of the positions of super junior Minister in the first place. I ask the Minister to outline how the position of super junior Minister and indeed this section of the Bill are consistent with the principles of collective responsibility under Article 28 of the Constitution and in respect of the confidentiality of Cabinet deliberations.

This point has been made many times. We have seen social media posts from those on the front line asking whether the super junior Ministers could not just accept a clap instead. That might be a throwaway comment but all the Deputies who are going to vote for this increase for somebody who is already on €128,000 should just think about what our front-line workers have done over the course of this year. They should think of a registered staff nurse on basic pay who would have had to work every single day up until last Friday to get the equivalent amount by which they are going to increase super junior Ministers' pay this week. It is absolutely sickening. Ministers will give front-line workers all the plaudits, claps, nice words and all the rest. They should think of that staff nurse who had to go into St James's Hospital, Connolly Hospital, Letterkenny University Hospital or anywhere else from January right through to Friday of last week to earn the increase they are planning to give to super junior Ministers in this legislation. It is obscene and wrong. The pay of Deputies, Senators and office holders should be cut, not increased. If ever there was a time to be taking decreases rather than increases in pay, the middle of a pandemic is it.

Who would have thought the most oppressed section of Irish society in terms of pay was three junior Ministers? It beggars belief that the Government would bring forward this proposal. The Minister is a former Minister for Health. Doctors and especially nurses, to whom all of us have rightly paid tribute over the past weeks and months and who have done Trojan work keeping us safe and operating on the front line of our health services, had to fight the Government tooth and nail for every single pay increase they have ever had. Even pay increases that were due have not been paid to their satisfaction. Either they have not been paid quickly enough or they have not happened in terms of the just claims nurses and doctors have made. Every time they raise these issues they are told the money is not there, they have to follow due process, there has to be a negotiation and all of what goes with that. Yet at the stroke of a pen this Government can just slip a pay increase into another Bill, one which is designed to do the right thing in terms of establishing the Minister's Department. The Minister knows I have an interest in this because of the need for a technological university for the south east. I wish him well in his role and hope he can get that job done for Waterford and the south east.

To increase the pay of three super junior Ministers when they are already well paid and at the time of a pandemic is, as mentioned by Deputy Doherty, to give the impression that they are the most oppressed, marginalised group in Irish society because the only group of people to which, thus far, this Government has given a pay increase if this Bill passes today is those three super junior Ministers. How in God's name can anybody in this House stand over that? It is beyond shameful that the Government would do that. As others have pointed out, Fianna Fáil has done a U-turn on this issue, as we have no doubt it will do on many other issues over the next number of weeks, months and years, as it has already done. There is no justification for this increase. Any Deputy who votes for it can no longer look a front-line worker, nurse, doctor or consultant in the eye and tell them that their pay claim is unjust, that it cannot be done, that they have to go to the bottom of the queue or that Government does not have the resources for it because they will rightly throw back at him or her how at the stroke of a pen Government slipped into this Bill a pay increase for three super junior Ministers but not for those who have held the front line.

As others have said, members of Government were quick to clap those front-line workers but now it is a slap in the face in terms of this proposed measure. Surely Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party members know this is wrong and sickening and that it should not be happening. Government knows it should not be doing this, but it does it anyway. Government should be ashamed of itself bringing forward this measure at a time of a pandemic, when so many people are suffering and when, as part of its July stimulus package, it proposes to reduce the pandemic unemployment payment for people who need it. The Government has the brass neck to introduce an amendment to increase the pay of three very well paid politicians. The brass neck of the people who will support this is galling. The hypocrisy is galling. Government knows that this is wrong and it should not be doing it. I hope at this eleventh hour it will support us in opposing this section of the Bill and do what is right on this occasion.

There are a number of speakers indicating. I will leave it to Deputies to be generous to their colleagues. I call Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh.

I am disgusted at what is going on here today. I am newly elected to this House. Bringing forward this measure on Wednesday at 11 p.m. and pushing it through is the most devious thing I have witnessed to date. This Government talks about 22 million trees per year to tackle climate change. I am not quite sure how it proposes to do that but what I know for certain is that the money tree has landed firmly in the circle of greed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. It is appalling, as others have said. The only excuse offered is that pay must be regularised. I agree it must be regularised but why not by reducing the salaries of the other two junior Ministers?

We have discussed front-line workers and care assistants. The care assistants who are on the minimum - some of them not in receipt of it - are the people who sat by the beds of people who were dying without any personal protective equipment, PPE, because we could not afford to give it to them. We could not afford to provide them with the PPE they were begging for. They are the same people who went home crying every night because we could not afford it. We sit here now and say that a salary of more than €2,000 per week is not enough. If it is not enough for politicians, there are others for whom it would be adequate. We tell the families applying to SUSI for grants that because they are €5 over the eligibility criteria, we have nothing for them and then Government does what it is doing here today. It is disgusting. Everybody who votes for this measure should be ashamed of himself or herself.

It is nothing short of nauseating that the Government would consider it okay to increase the already staggeringly high salaries of super junior Ministers of €124,000 per annum by €16,000. How can it possibly justify that when nurses who were infected with Covid-19 on the front line did not get sick pay? That is the reality. Nurses recruited to the call for Ireland on agency contracts and on a fraction of the salary of these super junior Ministers did not get sick pay when they were infected with Covid-19 yet three super junior Ministers think they need an additional €16,000 per annum on top of their existing salaries of €124,000. It is unbelievable.

When I challenged the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, about this yesterday and asked him to provide an explanation or justification for this pay increase for super junior Ministers who are already on high salaries he said that we need pay equality around the Cabinet table. People need to dwell on that fact. Our nurses have been fighting for pay equality for years now and it has been refused and resisted. There are nurses who, because they were recruited after 2011, have to work alongside other nurses who do the same job and are paid more. Pay and equality exists for super junior Ministers but the Government appears to think that it does not apply to workers on the front line, fighting to protect our health and our society. For a person on a salary of €124,000 per annum in the role of super junior Minister pay inequality is unacceptable. The double standards and hypocrisy of that are shocking beyond belief and an insult to our nurses, healthcare workers and front-line workers and others in the higher education area for which one of these super junior Ministers has responsibility.

That is not true.

It is. A lecturer recruited post-2011 starts on a lower wage than a person recruited pre-2011. That is a fact. That pay inequality exists for lecturers in third level education. It is unacceptable, apparently, for super junior Ministers to have to put up with pay inequality. The double standards are nauseating. It is a pity Government has tarnished a good Bill, which has the good objective of setting up a new Department of higher education and research, with this backdoor attempt to boost the salaries of three people who are already extortionately well paid.

The main purpose of the Bill before us today is a positive development. It is a proposal that across the board we would all agree with. It is regrettable and ill-judged that the Government would slip-in this amendment to provide for a pay increase for the super junior Ministers. It is regrettable that the Government is dividing the House in the context of this legislation.

A salary of €124,000 is a very good salary. Adding €16,000 plus to that salary is an indication of how out of touch the Government is with the mood in the country. It is a slap in the face for people who have had a really hard time over the past five months, people who have lost their livelihood, their income and, in some cases, whose homes are in danger. It is also a slap in the face to the business community which is struggling to survive. It is an indication of just how out of touch the Government is and how insular thinking it is.

This proposal contributes to bringing politics into disrepute, in my view, and it is a breach of trust with the public in circumstances where people have in the main been pulling together over the past five months. It is a serious error to make. Even at this late stage, I would appeal to the Minister to think better of this move. It is wrong. The Minister will know in his heart that it is wrong to do this. There is no justification for an increase of €16,000 for people who are already very well paid. I appeal to the Minister not to divide the House on this matter and to withdraw this section of the Bill.

This amendment is about ensuring that the Government can allow anybody who is entitled to the allowance already by virtue of attending the Cabinet as a Minister of State to draw down that allowance. There is a real stench of hypocrisy from some speakers in this House. Deputy Doherty argued that Ministers should be reducing their salaries. Sinn Féin Ministers in government in Northern Ireland accepted a pay increase in April. During the height of the pandemic their pay went up. I presume Sinn Féin Ministers will be marching into Stormont on Monday to rush through legislation because it wants to reduce the pay of Ministers. Sinn Féin MLAs did not turn up for work from January 2017 to October 2019 and claimed €4.7 million in a closed Parliament.

In 2014, BBC’s "Spotlight" programme investigated and reported that over a ten-year period Sinn Féin MLAs claimed £700,000 for Research Services Ireland, a company run by two persons who are also in charge of Sinn Féin’s finance department in Northern Ireland. The BBC "Spotlight" investigation was not able to find any evidence whatsoever of any research being carried out, and one Sinn Féin MLA, who I am sure got into trouble for this, when asked had not even heard of the company until it turned up on the Member’s expenses.

When one talks about equality, the Sinn Féin Chief Whip in this House receives an allowance almost twice that paid to the Whip for the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats or Solidarity-People before Profit. I am sure that this information will not make the party’s Twitter video, but let us at least be honest and not hypocritical.

This is legislation to set up a new Department, and within the legislation the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has asked for the arbitrary figure of two to be removed in order that anyone who attends Cabinet as a super junior Minister can draw down allowances. Sinn Féin can use this to slur the Government if they wish. The objective here is very clear and, unfortunately, Sinn Féin has been silent on all of the inconsistent stances that its MLAs, elected representatives and Ministers adopt in Northern Ireland.

A lot has been said about this Bill by every other speaker here and I just want to add my voice to that. The Minister has his beef with Sinn Féin and he can outline whatever his concerns are with that party, but that does not take from the fact that what he is doing in this Bill is completely wrong. He can attack us, the Social Democrats and everyone else in this House who says this is wrong and this should not be happening. If Ministers are attending the Cabinet, however, it should be an honour for them to do so, to be there and to participate in running this country. That is what it should be about. There is no doubt that all of us in this House are all extremely well paid. It should be enough for any of us to have a say and to be sitting here and participating in how this country is run.

Others can bicker across the floor and whatever it is they want to do, but it is a sad reflection on the Minister and his Government that they are bringing this forward in this way. Basically, it is because the three parties that are now in government having to have three Ministers of State who have to get super junior Minister wages. That is what this is all about and that is the bottom line. It is not about anything else. It is about facilitating the three-party system in government and that is it.

It came to my notice late in the day that this aspect to the Bill had been slipped in. I would have been very supportive of the Bill because it is an important one to set up this new Department, the new Minister and so on. To be honest, however, I really am flabbergasted that the Government would put this forward and would look for an increase of €16,288 for each of these new Ministers of State. If that is divided by 52, it gives a figure of €313 per week, and that is an increase, which is not a lot more than the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and is a great deal more than the carer’s allowance.

This increase is such a negative message to people. What is being said here is that we can do this and we will. I am really surprised that all the parties in government would allow such a negative message to go out in the middle of a pandemic, looking for an increase in salaries. In my role as a Deputy, I regularly come across ordinary people who apply for different social welfare payments but are €5 or €10 over the limit or whatever. I know many people waiting anxiously on the new limits for the medical card. Once a person is over, however, he or she is over and that is it. Whether it is €1 or €100, it is a red line. Such people will look at this today and they will wonder how a Government could this to its own image.

I hear the talk about pay equality, and that is a legitimate argument, but we have pay inequality already. I remember in the European Parliament trying to bring to the attention of the European Commission the fact that younger teachers who started in 2011 or 2012 – I do not remember the exact detail – were paid less than their colleagues. I tried to bring this up from the perspective of pay equality but I was unable to and I had no success with it. While I know the Government is moving to close that gap, that gap still remains and it has been there for many years. Section 39 workers are another group who suffer under the issue of pay inequality, and as far as I understand, and I hope I am wrong, there is no move there to bring up their salaries.

My objective is not to slur the Government. I am just really astonished that it is doing it, to be honest. I just want to represent the views I have heard. I got a couple of phone calls from people who are just shocked that this is happening and who are asking how it can be happening. It is really those views that I want to reflect here today, and my own sense is the same. For what it’s worth, this leaves a sour taste, and it is not worth it.

I am not going to take time to respond to the Minister bar to say that he should be better briefed, especially in his Department. He would know that all five parties in Northern Ireland opposed the increases of £1,000 to MLAs and asked for it to be deferred. No Minister or party of any political view passed legislation to increase salaries in the North. What they, including Michelle O'Neill MLA , actually did was to call it scandalous and outrageous and to say that it should not happen in the middle of a pandemic.

Give it back. Why not give it back then?

What the Minister is saying is that his Ministers of State, on salaries of €124,000, need an extra €16,000 and he is asking us to change the law of this State to allow that to happen. Perhaps we can have a wee whip-around if we get Deputy Michael Healy-Rae’s cap to help out the poor Ministers of State who cannot survive on €124,000. That is the reality of this. The Minister is asking this House to change the law so that legislatively the Government can increase the salary for a Minister of State because he or she has the privilege of sitting at the Cabinet table, and for that effort and that alone, with no other responsibilities, he or she should get an extra €16,000. As the proposer of this motion, I ask that we move this to a vote.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 46; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Denise Mitchell and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

As the time permitted for the debate has expired I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 21 July 2020: "That section 3 is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 46; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Denise Mitchell and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.
The Dáil adjourned at 4.55 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 July 2020.