Ministers and Ministers of State (Successors) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to ensure the prompt appointment of successors to Ministers and Ministers of State who have as a result of a general election ceased to be members of the Oireachtas; and to provide for related matters.

This Bill comes on the back of the incredibly long negotiations required to form a Government at the start of this year. There were more than 140 days of negotiations before a Government was formed. That is a shocking length of time. It dwarfs the previous negotiating period, outlasting it by about 70 days. Many people outside the political bubble were shocked. They looked to their own lives and saw people knuckling down to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, getting on with life and making decisions within community organisations, businesses, etc. They saw events in the political bubble in Leinster House move in a phenomenally slow and sluggish fashion. People were horrified by this.

This period of 140 days represented a democratic deficit and a democratic crisis. We had a Taoiseach with no mandate, a Cabinet in which many of the Ministers were unelected, newly elected Deputies who were unable to scrutinise those Ministers, and a Dáil that was unable to legislate. There was a significant crisis within the political system at a time we needed to be able to function properly to deal with the crisis that was at hand. People in the political class did not realise the difficulty a situation such as this poses on several different levels.

The first is the democratic level. A Minister making decisions for a country should have a democratic mandate giving him or her the right to make those decisions. A collectively responsible Cabinet with its roots in the political will of the people of Ireland should make those decisions. When designing a plan of action for the lockdown period, the Taoiseach left the Cabinet of unelected Ministers, drove past the Dáil to the RTÉ studios and literally launched his plans there. The democratic process was ignored. It was wrong and it should not have happened. Ministers such as the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Senator Regina Doherty, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, were making decisions worth billions of euro with no mandate.

There was also a cost to the Exchequer. It was estimated that these Ministers cost the Exchequer an extra €40,000 annually. Many saw an increase in their pensions because their terms as Ministers were extended. We have heard a lot about ministerial pensions in the House today. Many of these Ministers had their pensions radically increased or jumped into different pension brackets.

It is in the gift of the Taoiseach of the day to replace Ministers who are in place without a mandate. It is in the gift of the Dáil of the day to select successors to those Ministers. I understand that it is very difficult to replace Ministers in the short period following a general election when a Government is being formed. This Bill allows the existing Ministers who had mandates in the previous Dáil to remain in place for six weeks to make the decisions necessary to keep the country afloat.

However, there must be a red line. There has to be a period after which it is recognised that the new Dáil has the democratic mandate and the requisite skills and experience to replace the sitting Ministers. This is a very simple Bill. It simply puts the onus on the Dáil to select new Ministers and appoint them six weeks after the election. It provides that any Minister without a mandate does not have a right to remain as a Minister any longer.

Ba mhaith liom a rá go raibh géarchéim uafásach sa tír seo ag tús na bliana mar gheall ar Covid, srl., ach bhí géarchéim dhaonlathach anseo freisin ós rud é go raibh go leor Airí gan údarás ag déanamh go leor cinntí tábhachtacha. Bhí siad ag caitheamh go leor airgid – na billiúin euro – cé nach raibh údarás faighte acu ó thoghthóirí na tíre seo. Má ghlactar leis an mBille seo, as seo amach beidh ar an Rialtas agus ar an Dáil Airí nua a chur in áit sé seachtaine tar éis an olltoghchán. I mo thuairim, bheadh a leithéid de chóras i bhfad níos sásúla agus i bhfad níos daonlathaí.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.