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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 19 Dec 1996

Vol. 149 No. 16

Oireachtas (Miscellaneous Provisions) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I addressed the other House on this Bill at some length yesterday. The resources for political parties and the democratic process have been less than adequate for many years. Recently, controversy has surrounded the way political parties finance themselves. A conventional way over many years now appears, on the basis of a statement ongoing in the other House, to have become the subject of enormous controversy. That is one reason the Bill is before the House. However, it is not the only reason and I will outline its purpose before I return to the main theme of financial support for political parties.

The Bill contains a number of measures. Prior to last year, I agreed, following consultations with the Whips of all parties in both Houses, that the provision for overnight allowances was inadequate and that the rules and regulations which applied to Thursday nights were not fair because of the increased workload of Members of both Houses regarding committees. I made provision in the budget and the Estimates for an additional sum of approximately £0.5 million for extra costs associated with Thursday overnights and a new administrative system in relation to telephones.

Members are familiar with the original system which required Deputies and Senators to submit their telephone accounts. These had to be verified and checked and 75 per cent of the costs were recouped up to a maximum of £2,000. This engaged an enormous amount of administrative time which was wasteful because it involved second gussing and checking material which had been already verified by Telecom Éireann. The money involved was considered less than adequate, particularly for some Members who represent constituencies in provincial Ireland who had costs in excess of the 75 per cent limit.

It was decided to change the system and to give Members approximately £2,000 to be allocated in four quarterly instalments. The purpose of this was to eliminate the unnecessary bureaucratic second guessing of the verification. However, it was not possible to do that by regulations and a statutory basis for the new arrangements for the overnight allowance and telephones is necessary. I wanted to do this for some time. The provision in the 1996 Estimate was £0.5 million and I wanted to spend it this year.

Section 4 relates to payments indemnification in respect of certain persons in employment. Since 1980 a system of secretarial assistance for Oireachtas Members has existed, but not on a proper statutory basis. Problems in relation to its administration led to industrial relations disputes and confrontations on a number of occasions, involving issues such as whether the Deputy— Deputies have had individual secretaries since 1982—or the State was the employer. Either way the status and basis on which the system was administered was loosely linked to Article 15.15 of the Constitution which describes the delivery of services to Deputies and Senators as a facility.

The Government was advised that it was necessary to put the system on a statutory basis in order to improve the arrangements and to reach a satisfactory conclusion with the secretarial assistants representing all parties and Independents. This is why the matter is covered by the legislation. It is an enabling provision which will not deal with terms and conditions of employment. It will just provide the legal basis on which people will be able to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment from time to time. Members are aware that discussions have been ongoing for some time in this area. I hope we are close to a resolution of this matter which has been the source of conflict on a number of occasions. I assure Members on all sides that the enactment of this enabling provision does not in any way pre-empt the negotiating position of the management of the staff in this area.

The issue of the indemnification of employees and the extraordinary liability exposure that currently exists was alluded to at some length in the debate in the other House. This matter came to a head following an industrial accident which could have happened to anybody working in the Oireachtas for any particular group or political party. However, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn was willing to offer the information herself. A person working for her suffered an industrial accident during her work and she will never be able to work again because one of her arms is partially paralysed. When she sought compensation in the normal way, it emerged the employer's liability was not the State's, which paid her salary, or Leinster House, which provided the place of employment. It was Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn and the Fianna Fáil Party. That was never the intent of the legislation or the administrative processes put in place in respect of it. Therefore, section 4 deals with the indemnification of all people who have secretarial assistants, supervisors, etc., working for them.

I appreciate the speed and alacrity with which the Seanad has addressed this legislation. I know there is disquiet in this House at the apparent haste with which we introduced this measure. It was not because we wanted to get something through by way of subterfuge nor because we had not made provision for something. Neither did we want to obscure public knowledge of the legislation. I have taken a public stance in the Dáil and chosen to take this measure through the Seanad. I will take as much time as the House orders for the matter.

The part of this Bill that has attracted all the publicity relates to the extra allowance for parliamentary parties in Leinster House. Going back 15 years, the Labour Party argued that there should be State funding similar to that in all 15 countries in the EU with the exception of Britain. The newly emerging democracies of Eastern Europe such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland also have provisions for State funding of political parties, including provisions for election time. There are various checks and balances in all of the systems but there is a common principle. It is that the democratic process should be encouraged, transparent, open to all citizens' participation and it should not be open to distortion or manipulation by any group, class or individual by virtue of excessive monetary or economic power.

To a certain extent we had that up to 1965. If one goes into the history of the limited franchise of the last century, one finds, for example, it was an offence to buy a prospective voter a drink. That would probably disqualify every Member of the House but there were then 300 to 500 electors in particular constituencies. In T.P. O'Connor's book, Parnell and the Irish Movement, T.P. O'Connor was the only Irish Nationalist MP elected to the Houses of Westminister from a Liverpool constituency. The other members of Parnell's parliamentary party came from Ireland. He goes into great detail on the allegations and charges of corruption against an MP called Keogh from the constituency of Westmeath who was based in Athlone.

Buying votes and the associated corruption is not new and goes back to the time of limited franchises. As the Acting Chairman may be aware, these were male franchises. Up to 1965, the first general election I participated in as a foot soldier, there was a restraint on how much could be spent in elections. It was subsequently removed by the then Minister for Finance, Mr. Haughey. Arthur Mitchell was director of elections for Michael O'Leary, the successful candidate, and I recall him struggling with the accounts which had to be returned to the returning officer of Dublin city, the City Sheriff. Since 1965 concern has been expressed by different groups at different times which culminated in the controversies about the 1992 election and which suggested that the process of politics had to be put on a different footing. To be partisan, the Labour Party, of which I am Deputy Leader, campaigned on a slogan of "Ethics in Government and justice in economics". A number of measures were part of our programme for the consolidation of ethics in Government. There was ethics in office legislation, the freedom of information proposal which is to be published on Monday and the electoral Bill that was to deal with funding of political parties. It would deal with funding during election time, caps on expenditure and funding for parties between Oireachtas elections.

I go into this extensive history to nail the suggestion that, burning the midnight oil during the declining days of December in the penultimate year of a general election, we got a sudden rush of blood to the head and decided to write ourselves big cheques. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Electoral Bill was initiated in the Dáil but stalled in committee because, between agreeing it in Cabinet and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, publishing it, we had a change in administration. We also had the Supreme Court judgment known as the McKenna judgment. That fundamentally altered the basis on which that Bill was constructed. The judgment said in effect we could not distinguish between parties and Dáil Deputies in general elections but each candidate had to be treated on an equal basis and we could not give money for political parties out of the Oireachtas allowance. It meant that if we wanted to increase the Oireachtas allowance for parliamentary purposes, we would have to ensure the proceedings of the allowance to parliamentary parties would be limited and restricted for bona fide party activity. In essence, we were obliged to return to the drawing board following the McKenna judgment because of that judgment's implications. Members will be familiar with the controversy that surrounded the divorce referendum and affected, in part, the way the bail referendum was subsequently conducted by the Government.

We said we wanted to give political parties the kind of money we had always intended to give them and to do so on a basis that would be seen as equitable, fair and as addressing the concerns of ethics in office, access to the parliamentary process and, in particular, equality of access. Deputy Howlin announced a three part package some 10 days ago of which this legislation forms the middle part. I will describe the other two parts first to give Members a comprehensive picture.

The proposal by way of new amendments to the existing electoral Bill which is before a Dáil committee is that there would be a limit of £18,000 on what a candidate can spend in a general election as a prospective Deputy whether the candidate is independent representing no group other than himself, or a member of a political party. If the candidate saves the deposit, this is the threshold of qualification and the candidate can then reclaim up to a maximum of £5,000 from the taxpayer provided he produces vouched receipts. The £18,000 will have to be administered in the following way, as per a very strict legal interpretation given to us by the Attorney General. Political candidates running on a party ticket in a constituency can decide that they will only spend £10,000 each. That will release a sum of £16,000 which can be spent nationally by their party. Parties will draw up a budget based on the number of candidates they field in the 41 constituencies and will then decide what portion of the £18,000 will be retained for the national campaign and what portion will be spent locally. The accounts of the party, nationally and locally, must be lodged with the Electoral Commission at the end of an election. There will be a series of penalties and fines associated with breaches of expenditure.

The philosophy behind this is clear and this House will have an opportunity to debate it in detail. It is exclusively for election purposes and designed to ensure that participation in the electoral process is not confined, as it currently is in the United States and increasingly in other jurisdictions without proper funding of political parties, to people who are either independent, independent and wealthy or wealthy. Being wealthy means one is also independent. There is also a limit on what can be spent, something which did not exist before. That is the first part of a three component package upon which the Government has decided. Funding will be based on the Lower House and this is not intended to show disrespect to the Seanad.

We then asked how parties handle their affairs and how one deals with the issue of funding political parties. I will return to the issue of donations at the end of this exposition. Political parties are currently funded between Dáil elections by the provision of a leaders' allowance decided upon by Mr. de Valera who had either the foresight, wisdom or a combination of both never to express it in any Estimates which go before the House. It is taken out of the Central Fund. A leader is not obliged to account for it. It is paid in instalments during the year and is designed for a two and a half party system. It is based in favour of the Opposition on the correct assumption that parties in Government have the support of the infrastructure of office, now reinforced by the provision of programme managers and special advisers.

We were advised on foot of the McKenna judgment that the party leader's allowance was probably unconstitutional in that it gave taxpayers' money to political parties which were not accountable for how it was spent and it could be used to assist the financing of political parties' head offices. It could, therefore, be open to legal challenge by a disaffected citizen or defeated election candidate on the grounds that, on foot of the McKenna judgment, a candidate had the benefit, directly or indirectly, of taxpayers' money to the disadvantage of the plaintiff. The same legal frailty was associated with secretarial assistants because there was no statutory basis for them.

As an election year was approaching with a crowded legislative programme, problems which had already been identified had to be addressed because they could have left the election process open to challenge. The current allocation of moneys in the party leader's allowance which is unaccountable and comes out of the Central Fund is approximately £580,000. I will make the figures available to Deputies and Senators during the debate and they can be examined in detail tomorrow on Committee Stage.

To address the second component of the package, the financing of political parties during the life of the Oireachtas, we have decided to put the parliamentary Oireachtas allowance on a statutory basis payable to the parliamentary leaders of parties because it must be made payable to a designated person. There are also provisions for paying Independent Deputies. It will be payable quarterly and can be used only for parliamentary activities and not for electoral purposes, especially the funding of political parties. This does not preclude a political party from providing services for a parliamentary party which can be paid for out of the parliamentary leader's allowance. However, the allowance will be transparent, accountable and clear which it is not at present. If the Bill is passed into law, it will also be legal which is not the current situation. Sums of money were negotiated on the basis of what political parties reckoned they needed to operate. Contributions will be limited. In summary, the second component of the financing package is to provide guaranteed and regular funding for the operation of political parties during the life of the Oireachtas.

The advice of the Attorney General on foot of the McKenna judgment was that a distinction could not be made in law without being open to challenge between a citizen who stood for election and received a mandate in terms of votes but was not elected and one who was elected. The Attorney General, the only legal adviser to whom the Government can listen, said there was another category of citizen that must be addressed if the first two components were addressed. Political organisations or groups of people who stand for election and get support must have equality of treatment with other groups which benefit from the first and second components of the package.

To address this, a third component is contained in the Electoral Bill, 1996, which will be introduced by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin. That component is State funding for political parties as political parties, irrespective of whether they are in the Oireachtas.

How will this function? As it is currently designed and written in the Bill, subject to whatever changes both Houses make, a fund of £1 million per annum will be available to support political parties, payable in quarterly instalments on the basis of the percentage support they received from the electorate at the previous general election. This provision will not, therefore come into play until after the next general election which must take place in 1997. There will be a qualifying threshold of 2 per cent of the vote. The concept and precedent of qualifying thresholds is clear in this jurisdiction in that we have the requirement of a deposit and the forfeiture of that deposit if 25 per cent of the quota is not reached. That knocks on the head the idea that people would instantly form political groupings to stand at elections to get the money.

The qualifying threshold has two components. The first is the one to which I have just referred, obtaining an aggregate minimum support of 2 per cent in a general election. The second requirement is that the group be a registered political party. There is much jurisprudence associated with this. Many actions have been taken by groups and organisations who wanted to register as a political party. Some were successful, others were not. Some of us are old enough to recall Seán Dublin Bay Loftus's herculean attempts to get the Christian Democratic Party of Ireland registered on his behalf and on behalf of two other people, one of whom lived in Donegal. There is therefore a test as to what constitutes an organised political party against which there is now a body of jurisprudence.

What would happen with this £1 million based on the last general election? Our calculations suggest that Kevin Street or Parnell Square Sinn Féin would get some money as it received over 2 per cent of the vote in the last general election. The Green Party, which has a representative in the Dáil, would also get money. Christian Solidarity, which I understand is now a registered political party, could also qualify if it received the vote Nora Bennis did in the European elections. We would then have at least one and possibly two registered political parties which demonstrated that they could get over 2 per cent of the vote in a national election, which would receive £20,000 for the four or five years during the period of that election. At the next general election they would retain that amount, lose it if they were below the threshold or increase it.

This in essence is the overall approach to the funding of political parties by the State. The total cost in a non-election year will be £2.7 million. Leaving aside the capital account of £1,500 million, the annual current account budget of this country is £13,038 million and out of that sum, we are looking for £2.6 million to fund political parties.

How are political parties funded at the moment? At present their money comes from mandatory membership fees, voluntary subscriptions by friends and supporters, donations from corporate Ireland or particular organisations such as trade unions in the case of the Labour Party and by levies on public representatives. For example, in the Labour Party I, as a Minister, pay a monthly standing order of £125 towards party funds; Ministers of State pay £110, Deputies £90 and Senators £75.

After tax.

I assure my colleague in the Lower House that this will not change. On top of this, funding for political parties, at election time in particular, has come from large corporate donations. In the presidential election campaign Fianna Fáil spent about £1 million. In general elections the two large parties spend between £800,000 and £1.5 million. That money does not fall from the trees; it comes from corporate donations. In the past it was given by individual business people who had a particular commitment to a party but, increasingly, it has come from the corporate sector. Many of these are public companies and a decision is taken by a board to allocate, for example, £50,000 on a pro rata basis to the political parties.

Individuals also give substantial amounts to political parties. We never hear of this and it is often done in anticipation of political favours. It is obvious from the public anger displayed during the beef tribunal and the Dunne saga that this system of funding is totally unacceptable. The Government always argued that it was so but the perception, or the reality, of people buying favours through private donations was unacceptable and it was against this background that we argued for State funding.

In return for this funding we believe that there should be a transparent declaration of contributions made by individuals both to candidates and to parties. The Bill requires every donation over £500 to a candidate to be declared by the donor and the candidate and every donation over £4,000 to a party to be declared likewise. The details as to how this would function have yet to be decided. For example, in the case of individual donations, to whom does the donor declare the money? The candidate, in accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission, would outline spending and expenses of, say, £10,000 and, having saved their deposit, would receive £5,000. These accounts would also outline the sources of income.

When a company makes a donation that money would have to be declared in accounts submitted to the Revenue Commissioners. It is argued that the taxpayer is implicitly and inadvertently subsidising many of the corporate donations to political parties. These parties seek and receive donations which the donor corporations can offset against taxation. I say this without reference to the Dunne controversy. I am not suggesting that this happened in that case even though I am speaking under privilege.

I would be happy to go into this area in detail on Committee Stage. However, the Government has been guided by the intensity of the debate of the last three or four weeks, by a policy decision going back years and a published Bill which is over two years old. This is not a midnight raid as we approach Christmas.

Soon after I became Minister for Finance I received representations from Members of both Houses and from all parties, particularly those representing provincial constituencies, that they were prohibited from claiming overnight expenses on a Thursday when they were forced by business to stay in Dublin longer than the regulations allowed for. As a consequence they were financially losing out. I looked at the detail with the assistance of Department of Finance personnel and the Houses of the Oireachtas and the representations made were proven to be accurate. I decided to change the system to make provision for overnight allowances because, in many cases, extra committee work resulted in Members staying until Friday. The cost of this alteration will be £300,000 approximately.

I also received representations about the delay and unnecessary bureaucracy involved in the administration of the telephone allowance. Up to a maximum of £2,000 of verified costs in telephones would be allowed. This required people submitting accounts which was taking up too much administrative time which could be put to better use. To move from a vouched expense to an allowance system and to avoid the hazard of its being deemed income, I had to have a proper statutory basis to pay the telephone allowance. Following extensive discussion with the parliamentary draftsman it was necessary to put the overnight allowance for a Thursday on a statutory basis also. That is why the sections are in the Bill. I have already addressed the question of the secretarial staff which will also have a statutory basis and the legal indemnification of people who might work in the Oireachtas for a Member and who under the present system do not have the protection of proper insurance.

I would have liked to have had the legislation published and enacted sooner. Senators will recall that on two occasions I had meetings on a Saturday afternoon with the three party leaders, not because we have nothing else to do on Saturday afternoons but it was the only time we could meet. Given the itineraries of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, in particular, whose involvement was essential, it did not prove possible to have the meetings earlier.

I would have liked to have circulated the Bill in November in the normal way because we have nothing to hide. However, that was not possible. The Bill was agreed politically last week and subject to changes in the draft it was available late on Tuesday. I know some Senators, my esteemed cousin included, have expressed understandable concern at why the Bill has appeared to fall from the sky, so to speak. There is a view that any measures associated with politicians' expenses are somehow suspect and are only discussed because there is some cause for complaint or scandal. That, in part, explains the publicity the Bill has attracted. It received publicity on Pat Kenny's radio show this morning, for example, yet he refuses to tell the public what he earns. There is an extraordinary juxtaposition in interest particularly from journalists and commentators who refuse to reveal their earnings yet have a voyeuristic obsession with what we are paid.

I am a passionate republican and a defender of democratic politics. I agree with Bernard Crick that it is a noble profession and people should be encouraged to participate it. The rates of remuneration in salary terms is one issue but this Bill does not deal with salaries. It is about having the resources to do the job. Two Deputies from Galway spoke of having telephone bills of £6,000 to set against an allowance of £2,000. We are in the midst of negotiations with many categories of workers about what they are paid. Nobody is arguing about what we are paid. We are honoured to volunteer and to be elected to serve in the Oireachtas. However, to do the job we need basic resources. As a minimum we need to be paid what it costs us to go from A to B and to have paid the cost of the telephone calls we have to make.

Our political parties, particularly those in Opposition, need proper resources to match those which Ministers have at their disposal — an entire Civil Service of dedicated and non-partisan professionals. They are my resource to prepare legislative measures which the House may wish to challenge. How can Members do so without resources? They may get the resources in one of two ways. They may seek money from the corporate sector to challenge legislation but that sector will want to know what legislation is involved. Alternatively, they can go to the taxpayer and seek funds to try to make democracy work on the taxpayers' behalf. If taxpayers do not like the way democracy works they can fire the Members. Members of the Oireachtas are the original contract workers and they are not on zero hour contracts or 48 hour a week contracts. I make no apology for making adequate provision for the funding of political parties.

The Constitution does not recognise political parties, although one cannot run a democracy in a complex industrialised society without political parties. The founding fathers of the United States thought they could do without political parties— the variants of the Whigs and Tories from the mother of parliaments. They thought they could have an assembly of individuals addressing the values, issues and concerns of the representatives best enunciated in the Edmund Burke's famous address to the electors of Bristol. However, such a system would prove inoperable. It would mean, for example, there would be mayhem if the Ceann Comhairle had to regulate 165 Deputies on the Order of Business.

Political parties are the skeleton of parliamentary democracy yet they are not provided for in the Constitution. The concept was not all that fashionable in the 1930s. There were then two strains of thought—corporate fascist Germany and Italy, soon followed by Spain and Portugal, and the party state Marxist-Leninism of the Soviet Union, soon to be followed by the central European countries. Democracy was not necessarily the only intellectual option in the 1930s, on the left and on the right. That is one of the reasons political parties are absent from the Constitution. This absence has made it more difficult to provide legislation to support political parties. That is why we have chosen to use the device of having the allowance paid to the leaders of the parliamentary party.

This legislation must be seen in the context of the provisions for elections on the one hand and the provisions for support for registered political parties who get 2 per cent or more of the vote in general elections.

I welcome this Bill. The Minister has dealt with it openly and explained it in detail and I congratulate him on his presentation. I could probably talk for an hour on the reasons the Bill is needed.

I complained to the Minister, through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, before the summer recess and he replied by letter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges indicating his intention to introduce the legislation in this session. I do not consider the legislation was rushed and Senator Quinn is entitled to make known his views.

I do a good job for the party and for the House. I usually travel home on Friday mornings having worked until Thursday night. The reason I complained about the overnight was that on a Thursday our secretaries normally leave at 4.30 p.m. which gives them time to cash their cheques and go home a half hour earlier. I have no complaint with the way Senator Manning runs the House as Leader. It is perfectly run. I know the problems in trying to get legislation ready for the following week.

Even though I have finished work at 2 p.m. in the Seanad I must then work until almost 5 o'clock to produce the Order of Business in consultation with Senator Manning. There are times when I have to check if there will be a vote and who I will pair for next week. That is the normal running of Seanad business. The letter I produce advises Senators of the business for next week. It tells them whether a three-line Whip will be imposed or whether it will be an easy week if someone needs a pair.

When I claimed my allowances I had worked on Seanad business on my own in the office up to 7 o'clock on a Thursday night. So, I was hurt by the reply—although it was not the officials' fault—saying that as the Seanad finished at 3.30 p.m. they were not in a position to grant me an overnight allowance. I complained about that matter before the summer recess because, as Chief Whip, I felt we were not being treated properly.

As for the expenses and other items in this package, like other political party members I travel to cumann meetings. The furthest cumann meeting I have to attend is at Staigue Fort which is 93 miles from my home in Dingle. It is almost the same distance as travelling from Dingle to Nenagh. The Minister knows that part of the country. I must travel from Dingle to Milltown, Killorglin and Killarney, across Moll's Gap and down into Kenmare before reaching Staigue Fort. That is the furthest I have to travel, and I go there once or twice a year. However, I must also travel to other cumainn in Caherdaniel and Waterville which are nearly two hours from Dingle. While they may be only 80 or 90 miles away it takes two hours to get there because there are no motorways. It hurts me to see the remarks made in the newspapers. I am not a crook, nor am I corrupt. I do not travel the county for my own benefit but —as I originally set out to do when I entered politics—to try to improve the lot of local people. That was the only thing that brought me into politics. I succeeded in being elected to the Seanad in 1981 and 1982. Nobody saw me at home at that time. I ran for election to the Dáil in 1982 and when I lost I ran in another Seanad election which rolled over into 1983. When I went home I did not recognise my teenage son. Because of the amount of time I had spent in getting elected and progressing my political career I was not at home much in those years. When I arrived home late my children were in bed. They went to school in the morning and when they came back I was gone. That is the way life was.

The Minister did not go far enough. I am not a begrudger but I cannot think why I should have a car phone simply for the use of the State. I do not need a car phone but it is the only way people can contact me during the 20 hours a week I spend travelling by car. It takes me five or six hours to go home. I have never been able to drive to Dingle in four hours. One would have to break many rules and regulations to do so. On average and without too much traffic it takes me five and a half hours, including a quick stop for tea, to get home.

I seldom make a call on my car phone because calls are charged at trunk rates, yet I pay a £20 monthly rental plus 21 per cent VAT simply to do the business of the State. However, it makes me available to Senators who ring me on the way home to arranging pairing for the following week. When travelling to the Seanad recently I received a call from Athens. As Senator Manning knows, three weeks ago when we were voting in the new Cathaoirleach, people on a foreign delegation wanted to know if the pairing position could continue, which it could not.

It could not and did not.

The funny thing was that the call did not come from a party colleague but from a Member of the Fine Gael Party.

I do not intend to go into the big money business and party funding. To be truthful, we are treated disgracefully. The Leaders and party Whips run this House without any help from civil servants. I am not complaining about the Clerk of the Seanad or the Assistant Clerk who are top of the list. The girls in the Seanad Office could not be more helpful but outside that we are trying to run important business on our own. Is the Minister aware that in most cases three Senators must share the services of one secretary? That situation is ludicrous.

I am prepared to shout to every newspaper in the country that there is no allowance for Chief Whips or the Leader of the Opposition. They should be entitled to an allowance. There is a small allowance—I would call it a pittance— for the Leader of the House. Like the Minister, nobody pushed me into politics. I walked in and wanted it. I am proud to have achieved something as a Member of the Seanad, no matter how small it may be.

I have a car but my wife also needs a family car. If I was not a Senator I would not need a second car. Indeed, the last time I bought a new car was before I became involved in politics. I could afford it then; I could not afford it now. All I am saying is that I need a second car to do my business because if my wife and family want a proper life, they need a car too. If I was not in Dublin on Seanad business, there would be no need for that.

I call on the Minister to look into a couple of matters and I do not care if the newspapers say I am looking for something for myself or for somebody else as we do not know where we will be this time next year. There is a need for allowances for the general staff of the Leader and the Chief Whip of the Government parties and for the Opposition.

I have no hesitation in telling the Minister that I must send letters to 23 people weekly. Members of the other House are treated in a different manner. The convenor of a committee of the other House will get an allowance for notifying Members on a number of occasions but we must do that on a regular basis.

What is being said in the newspapers about the Minister and politicians is scurrilous. I know he called on members of the press in the Dáil yesterday to come down, take over his job and set themselves up for election. He mentioned the criticism on radio of people who will not reveal what they earn. One can see from my file in this House that I have a half acre site and a small fishing boat in Dingle, County Kerry. I do not know what these other people have and they are more often in the public eye.

I am not biased when I speak about politicians. Every politician who stood for election or sat in either House of the Oireachtas came with the same ambition as I, the Minister, Senator Manning and all the rest of us had and to be treated in this manner is scurrilous. If they want to know what I earn, I have a small private income from a boat. The can examine it, they can follow me home to Dingle and they can come with me to meetings.

The Minister and everybody involved in politics knows that we go out at Christmas to cumann meetings and meet people who have been generous with their support; I do not mean generosity in monetary terms.

The biggest sum of money I ever received from a grateful person was about £50. Inevitably, cumann meetings in rural areas are in public houses and a Member cannot walk out the door without buying a drink on the night of the AGM of the cumann which attracts the largest crowd.

If he did, he need not bother coming back.

It is not that I begrudge it. I will do it over Christmas. I am only saying that, considering the lives we live, we are being treated wrongly.

I am not trying to put the Taoiseach on a pedestal but I watched him last week at the Council of Ministers in Dublin Castle. The next time I saw him he was in Brussels and the following morning he was meeting President Clinton. Let us look at it this way: if the Irish soccer team travelled to a foreign country, they would go out about a week or ten days before the match because they might suffer from jet lag but politicians are supposed to go from A to B and sleep on the aeroplane. That is the way their lives are run.

I do not begrudge what some Members of this House have and their salaries are greater than the Taoiseach's. A proper restructuring should be undertaken and it should start at the top by treating the Taoiseach in a proper manner by giving him a realistic salary for the work he does. The Tánaiste, Ministers, Ministers of State, etc., should be tackled from the top down and not from the bottom up. We received small increases —5 and 10 per cent—over the years and they amount to a small sum.

I am glad I did not lose my temper because I came into the House to say things which I would probably regret and I was advised by some of my colleagues in the other House to refrain. I have said enough. I have made my case. I welcome the allowances which the Minister is proposing in this Bill.

I did not go into the matter of money for parties. I know that if all parties gather around the table and agree to something in principle, it is all right. As the Minister explained it, it seems very fair.

Guím Nollaig shona don Aire. Go mbeimid anseo ag an am seo arís.

I welcome the Minister and this Bill to the House. We heard from the Minister for Finance one of the best speeches I have had the privilege to hear in my time in politics because it combined passion with a great grasp of the subject, great clarity and a willingness to defend what is utterly defensible, that is, the contents of this Bill. I suspect there will be little coverage tomorrow of what he had to say. It was not so much the speech but his extempore contribution over 45 minutes without a note which was fine because of its content and honesty.

These are areas from which we tend to shy away. The greater the amount of open discussion, the better because people can see the reality of how most people conduct their business, as Senator Fitzgerald outlined in a fine contribution, the pressures under which they work and the very meagre financial reward. I would advise any Member with young children interested in making money not to enter politics. One might advise them to try and get into politics at a later stage in life when they are secure. If a person is looking for security he should work for the bank or do an MBA; he should not think of going into politics.

This is a short Bill and I intend to be brief. There is only one question of principle in the Bill and that is the State funding of political parties. Section 2, which deals with overnight allowances, and the sections dealing with telephone allowances are straightforward. They try to redress, in a small way, an inequity and a wrong which has existed for some time especially in the case of overnight allowances. I can see it. I am in a privileged position in one sense in that I probably live marginally closer to the House than Senator Henry—we both probably live within ten minutes' walking distance of Leinster House— so I do not have overnight allowances. Certainly, if I did, they would be news to my wife since I am certainly not entitled to overnight allowances. I can look at the picture in a disinterested way. Everything Senator Fitzgerald says is correct. Frequently, while I have waited as Leader of the House on a Thursday or, on occasion, Friday, for Departments to come through with details of legislation which the House is to take, Senator Fitzgerald has had to wait around and has then been forced to drive to Dingle, County Kerry, or stay overnight at his own expense. He has been involved in legitimate business at the centre of the life of this Parliament and his anger is justified because he, and many other Senators who live some distance away, have not been treated well.

One colleague, who had a heart by-pass recently and needed to take it easy, was obliged to leave here on a wet murky evening. He was not entitled to an overnight allowance even though he had been in his office for a couple of hours after the close of business doing political work so he was obliged to drive 120 miles home, thereby putting his health in danger.

I do not want to be personal about this but many Members of the Oireachtas live on a financial tightrope. We go into great debt at times of election and after 1981-1982 period when three elections were held in a row, people had to remortgage their houses and went into enormous debt. I do not have huge financial problems but it took me about four years to recover from three general elections and one Seanad election over a period of 18 months. We do not talk about these things. It is difficult to listen to some of the new moral arbiters of our time as they lay down the law about everybody else in public life while refusing to disclose their own earnings, arrangements, the appearance money they earn and so forth. Sections of the media are generating a very sour anti-politician ethos and that should worry us.

I am a politician. I can say what I think with a degree of objectivity because I have come from academic life. I am impressed by the quality of the people I have served with in both Houses, their grasp of a wide range of issues, their breath of knowledge which would put most professors to shame, their common sense, their feeling for the people, and their ability to devote themselves to bettering the lot of their people and their locality. It impresses anyone who looks at this work in a serious way. However, this is not widely recognised. There is a danger when we create an anti-politician ethos that all sorts of destructive groups will come to prominence. Public life would not be improved by this. Our political parties and those who come from independent traditions in this country have had a great deal of learning and experience invested in them by their predecessors which is at the service of the people through those political parties and politicians.

Senator Fitzgerald is absolutely right in regard to the overnight allowances and the telephone system. What is being provided was long promised. This matter was discussed at the Committee for Procedure and Privilges very early this year and on more than one occasion. We were aware that the Minister intended to bring in these measures. Each party and group has its representative on the Committee for Procedure and Priviliges. I conveyed this information to all of my members and I am sure it was widely available. The Minister explained about the indemnification aspect of the Bill and there can be no argument about it.

The only point of principle in this Bill is whether the State should fund political parties. The Minister is correct when he says the Constitution is silent on the question of political parties. It is almost as if it was a subject which was not spoken of in polite company in the 1930s. The Constitution is specific on the number of members of the Cabinet, the re-election of the Ceann Comhairle and a range of other issues. It may even be too intrusive in some cases. However, on the question of the political parties it is silent, as if they did not exist. In a sense that means that our public life is based on a myth.

Curiously, the west German constitution came into being just 12 years after our Constitution and in their constitution the Germans recognised that political parties are at the very centre of parliamentary democracy and political life. The Germans did what we are now beginning to do and must complete. They built a framework of laws around the way in which political parties operate. These cover the democratic content and aspirations of political parties and the way in which they are funded and must disclose how their money is spent. West Germany also took the view that parties are central to democracy so the State funds political parties, pays for research, and does what is needed to make them fully professional. As the Minister said, this is now a fact of life in every country in Europe apart from the UK and Ireland.

Many of us have had an opportunity to help some of the emerging parliaments in eastern and central Europe. We have been at seminars and have been there to advise them. We see the importance which these people attach to strong political parties and their grasp of the principle that these parties must be properly funded so members are not distracted by the constant burden of fundraising. We all do a fair amount of fundraising. It goes on all the time and is an enormous distraction to elected politicians and ordinary members.

It is also a deterrent to new members.

Indeed. As the Minister said, State funding for political parties ensures that we are not dependent on major donors and there is an openness and clarity about what happens. I make no apology for saying that political parties should be funded by the State. Walter Bagheot said in the 19th century "Without political parties there is no parliament, there are no politics".

When this State was founded in the 1920s, Kevin O'Higgins and others hoped that our parliamentary system would develop without what was called "the tyranny of the Whip" and the dominance of political parties. They hoped that the Free State Parliament would have been an assembly of largely independent people, that there would be a great debate on every subject, that every issue would be discussed on its merits and finally a conclusion would be reached. They discovered in a matter of weeks that for a Government and the State to get their business done there was a need for political parties. This is not a negative thing.

Political parties provide the agenda at election times. They develop policies between elections. Political parties recruit people, train and groom them. There is a sifting process through which people of ability can rise in political parties. Political parties have traditions which are also important in the life of a State which lives off its inherited history. I could talk for hours on the justification for political parties and on the vital role they play. Political parties are democratic. There is no small group sitting in a board room in Middle Abbey Street deciding that it will make or break a politician. Political parties are answerable to their members. There are no small groups which decide what public policy should be and in whose interests it should be carried out.

I make no excuse whatsoever for a defence of political parties or for saying with passion that political parties should be funded. There should be an electoral law which does all of the things we want, which ensures that funding is open and transparent, that the uses to which it is put are seen by the public. If, as the Minister said, the public does not like a party, it has the ultimate right to throw us out, and it does. Some parties become redundant over the course of time. Some parties grow, others wax and wane; that is life. However, as long as parties are at the centre of our political life they should be funded adequately to do their job.

I have heard much nonsense about State funding. The State funds golf courses. It funded part of the Cork Park redevelopment. There is hardly a group in the country that is not in receipt of some sort of State funding. For example, the National Women's Council, an excellent organisation, is funded because there is a need for that group to pursue particular policies which are in the public interest. Surely political parties are at the very centre of the political life of the State? The need for funding of political parties is unanswerable.

On a number of occasions the Minister spoke about politics being a noble profession. James Dillon always referred to politics as being the greatest of all vocations after the priesthood. In his memoir he recalls standing with his father in 1918 outside Monica Duff's in Ballaghdreen. John Dillon was being opposed in the seat he had held for 40 years by Éamon de Valera. One political world was collapsing and a new political world was coming into being. John Dillon said to James, who was then just 16 years of age, that the previous day he had returned the last evicted tenants to their land and said that on the next day those people would vote to throw him out of Parliament and that was political life. He said that politics is the greatest, after the priesthood, of all the vocations, but never to expect gratitude in politics. On that note, I welcome the Bill.

I welcome the Minister, and not only because of the very interesting speech he made. It is a shame that the nation's attention is focused on another issue because it has missed one of the finest political speeches I have heard. I say this because the Minister's contribution was unscripted. I am aware that a script was available, I have not had an opportunity to peruse it to see if all aspects were covered, but I understand the Minister dealt with a great number of the issues without reference to his script. Senator Manning referred to the passion with which the Minister spoke. It must be stated that he also made a very cogent argument. I congratulate the Minister and I am proud of the blood relationship we share.

The Minister's contribution influenced me because I was unsure where I stood on many of the areas covered by the Bill. Many of my attitudes in respect of political funding have changed and I recognise the challenges the nation must face in this regard. The Minister provided an explanation of what he referred to as the three components which I had not understood and to which I must now give serious consideration. I do not disagree with the principles, aims and objectives of the Bill. The case made by the Minister should be widely circulated and I hope it will be understood by those who have not given it the attention it deserves. For this reason I must express my concerns which are emphasised by the fact that the attention of the nation is focused on a matter being dealt with in the Lower House. There is a need to present to the electorate the correct message about the political process. That is my concern and it is underpinned by the comments of Senator Fitzgerald.

My colleagues and I are honoured, as Members of this House, to represent our fellow citizens. It is clear that Senator Fitzgerald's words were spoken from the heart and I will not attempt to comment in that regard. Senator Manning stated that he feels privileged. I am certainly privileged because I live near Dublin and do not experience the same problems as Senators who live in other parts of the country. I have an income which makes me independent of the need to worry about the financial tightrope to which Senator Manning referred. I would be ashamed to comment on that aspect of the debate.

However, care must be taken when we deal with the question of Members' incomes in both Houses. I disagree with the Minister regarding the situation to which he referred in respect of Pat Kenny. It seems that members of the media who refuse to provide details of their income are in a different situation because they negotiate their salaries with another party. We negotiate our incomes among ourselves and we must be very careful when debating the income we receive —be that an income in respect of salary, expenses, allowances, etc.

Unlike Senator Manning, who stated it was common knowledge that the Bill was coming before the House, I was unaware of its introduction. People may criticise my inability to know everything that is taking place but I was unaware that the Bill was to be debated. My criticism involves the question of speed. I do not believe the Minister provided an adequate explanation in this regard. He stated that he would like to have published the Bill sooner and went on to explain that the Government has been extremely busy. I agree with him but this sends the wrong message to the nation.

When the Order of Business commenced at 2.30 p.m. yesterday in this House, I was still seeking a copy of the Bill but I could not obtain one. I was informed that Cabinet had only discussed it at 11 a.m. and it would not be available. I understand that copies had been available but were withdrawn until Cabinet made its decision. The Cabinet made its decision during early yesterday afternoon and I finally obtained a copy of the Bill at approximately 3.15 p.m. Last evening the Bill was rushed into the Lower House and passed within two hours. I understand why people outside the Houses expressed vehement concern about the way those arranging their own income rushed the legislation through so quickly. This morning we were informed that this House would debate the Bill today and I am delighted the Leader responded to my concerns and stated it would not be rushed through. Item No. 5 on the Order of Business involves a request to the President to sign the Bill when passed by the House but the Leader responded to my request to take Committee Stage tomorrow.

I am concerned about the message we are sending to the nation. It sometimes takes years to have Bills passed which deal with other areas but legislation concerning our own income is passed quickly. A number of weeks ago I expressed concern about the Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and I was intent on arguing long and hard in respect of one aspect of it. It was made clear to me that, if I managed to delay the debate and ensure the Bill was not passed before Christmas, a £500 million deal in connection with the Telecom Éireann's new strategic alliance could be threatened. I stated that there were three weeks for the Bill to be returned to the Dáil if it were amended by the Seanad. I was informed that it would be almost impossible to return the Bill to the Dáil before Christmas. What happened? Time was suddenly found to introduce the Bill now before us.

I accept that some of the details we discussed may have been published two years ago but the Bill itself was not published at that time. I appreciate the Minister's explanation with regard to funding parties and the way such funding is to be provided. We will have an interesting Committee Stage debate in that regard.

I will now deal with the major reason for my objection to this legislation. I do not object to the Bill in principle, I object to the aspect of retrospection. Each time we debate a Bill relating to increases or reductions in taxation or social welfare benefits we are informed that the provisions cannot be put in place immediately. This cannot happen in respect of increases in taxation but in the case of duty the Minister for Finance will inform us that the changes will take effect from midnight on the evening in question. When it comes to a reduction in taxation or an increase in social welfare allowances, we are informed that these cannot be implemented for a number of months. However, we are now informed provisions relating to the incomes of political parties and Members will be backdated to 1 January last. We are setting an unacceptable standard and sending the wrong message to the people. I believe we should reconsider our actions.

I congratulate the Minister for the explanation but I must express deep concern about the speed with which the Bill is being dealt. I recognise that we are being given an opportunity to debate it but I harbour a deeper concern that we are making an error if its provisions are made retrospective. We should consider instead the way we deal with matters which affect us. I suggest that we will demean this House and the entire political process if we rush the Bill through and make it retrospective to 1 January last. I urge the Minister to reconsider this matter.

I welcome the Minister and I congratulate him on his excellent speech. I am proud to be a member of the same party. He has taken on board what is a thorny issue, particularly when dealing with the media and those outside the Houses, and handled it well. I stress that we are not talking about income for Members. They will not receive one penny extra. The matters being dealt with relate to expenses. Mileage and overnight allowances must be paid. Such expenses are paid to other people, including celebrities who open festivals and who charge accommodation costs to the committee which invites them, but we hear nothing about that.

I welcome the provision relating to the payment of the overnight allowances on the night after Members attend the Houses. I received a letter outlining the route I should take when going home. It was like something one would get if one was involved in rally driving. Stage one was to Portlaoise, stage two was to Cashel and stage three was to Cork and the final journey home was the last lap of the rally. I was to drive at 35 to 55 miles per hour depending on weather conditions. When I get into my car to head for west Cork I often say I am off on a rally.

If I am to be in the House by 10.30 a.m., I must leave at about 8 a.m. Provision was made for me to get home at 12 p.m. at night but how many people work until that hour? Driving home is part of my work, I do not drive for the fun of it. Approximately three or fours years ago I asked someone who was an authority on the motor industry how much it would cost to have a car on the road and I was informed it would cost 55p per mile to keep a car on the road. There is a big difference between expenses and income.

Members will not gain from the telephone allowance. We will get the same amount of money but the system will be less cumbersome. Journalists want to say we will get extra money but we will get £1,000 per year which amounts to less than £20 per week. I must make telephone calls to the Department of Social Welfare office in Sligo, to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry offices in Castlebar and Portlaoise, to the Department of Education in Athlone and frequent calls to Dublin. I do not have much change from £20 after one day not to mention one week. The telephone allowance is inadequate.

I must travel to Labour Party and community meetings in my constituency which stretches for 125 miles from Kinsale to the Dursey Sound for which I receive no travelling expenses despite what was mentioned in one of today's newspapers. There is no provision for constituency travel as far as I am aware. An inspector of taxes told me I could not get income tax relief on my salary if I received secretarial assistance. That is a matter which should be addressed. If I want to employ somebody to work in my home, I should be entitled to income tax relief.

The Minister handled very well the situation pertaining to political party funding. I will not go into it since he made an excellent speech on the issue earlier. State funding for political parties is necessary because he who pays the piper calls the tune. Parties should not receive money from people who want to benefit from their contribution. If people are interested in a party and wish to give money, they should do so without strings attached.

I refer to criticism being levelled at people in public office by the press. We are great talking-points for radio and television programmes which is not right. Often the amount we are paid does not compensate us for the work we do. I enjoy working for the people in my constituency and being a Member of the Seanad and I should be properly recompensed for doing so. The press never mentions constituency work. I have yet to find somebody who will accompany me to clinics and party meetings to see what is done and the long distances which I must travel. Elected members of county councils, corporations, town commissions and urban councils, etc., spend much of their spare time doing work for which they are not paid. They only receive travelling expenses.

I remember an occasion when a press correspondent attended a county council only until the question of conferences was raised. He wanted to know where councillors were going and the cost of sending them to meetings. The meeting dealt with the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds on housing and other matters but there was no mention of that in the newspaper the next day. I congratulate the Minister on the fine job he is doing and on his excellent speech. He has a great grasp of what is required to keep the country running properly. If we want the right people in politics, they must be paid accordingly.

I welcome this legislation and hope it will pass speedily through the Houses. I thought it would have been convenient for us to pass it this evening and bring it with us on our visit to Uachtarán na Éireann so that the President could sign it in our presence. I congratulate the Minister on his speech which I did not hear because I was listening to one in the other House but I gather it was a fine one which is what I would expect. This is a matter on which we are on a hiding to nothing. We are an easy target. We will lose in that we will be lambasted whether or not we defend ourselves. I have no difficulty with that if this is a good spectator sport for the press and that is what it wants to do.

The press subject us to reasonable and not unfair scrutiny but there are exceptions. Some people who make snide indirect remarks and who are on good salaries would never in one hundred years present themselves for the humiliation of an electoral defeat or even the satisfaction of an electoral victory. It is important to say we have a democracy for which people died. It is worth preserving and paying for and it is good value. Thank God we have it because the alternatives are ones which do not bear contemplation. There must be a sensible and equitable way to fund that democracy.

We accept we work long hours and travel long distances. The life is difficult in many respects but it is also rewarding. It exposes us to people and influences which I would never have encountered if I had not become a practising politician. It is a fulfilling life. It must also be said that we enter politics voluntarily. We know what is at stake when we enter politics. Perhaps we do so from an old-fashioned, even defunct, ideal of service, a belief that we owe the State a service and that people should work for the State. It is good to work for the State and we need not be defensive about it. However, we volunteer for this life and enter it with our eyes open.

I did not have a background in politics. When the Minister and I were in college we were in different political parties. His career blossomed while mine went into abeyance. However, I came to politics with no political pedigree but because I thought it was something worth doing. That probably gives one a more detached view than if one comes from a traditional political background.

I discovered one extraordinary fact on my first day as a Senator in 1989. I had not been in the Oireachtas buildings for 20 years when I was nominated to the Seanad so I knew little about how it worked. When I was introduced to my secretary I asked her where was the PC. She explained that she did not have a computer but a typewriter. Then I asked about the fax machine. She said I had to go to the party offices if I wished to send a fax. At that time all a Senator received was a hand held dictaphone.

I had come from a journalistic background, the same background as those who now criticise us. In that environment new technology was taken for granted. One had a PC and fax machine on one's desk and a modem to transfer information. One had only to lift the telephone to have every source of information available. However, in 1989 I wondered how the country was run when Members of the Oireachtas had to work in almost primitive circumstances.

Look at the problem of research. I have become the renaissance man. Only Senator Honan and I represent our party in the Seanad. We must deal with every Bill that comes before the House. I am now an expert on matters such as removing sand from the foreshore and the buoys in the channel below Waterford and New Ross. I have acquired knowledge as a result of membership of this House which I would never have acquired and that is desirable.

We must defend our democracy and ensure it is on stable foundations. There is nothing wrong with private people making donations to political parties, even if the parties are also funded by the State. If people wish to act improperly they will do so even if there is full State funding of political parties. State funding will not exclude abuses and the abuses are no more evident here than they are anywhere else.

I remember when the House debated the serious events in the sugar company. At that time I said there must be a relationship between business and Government because it is in the interests of both the country and business. It is the nature of the relationship which is at issue, not the fact of its existence. It should be possible for business people to see a Minister if there are matters of serious national interest for the business community. It is appropriate that they should have access to Ministers and their officials. The only question is where do the improprieties arise? They arise from abuses. It is wrong for an individual to use money that is given for political purposes for his or her own use. It is a different matter if money is given to individuals who give them to the parties. In my experience, the money has always been handed over to either the local party organisation or the national organisation, depending on the specification under which it was donated.

Senator Calnan made a number of valid points. The issue of secretarial support in one's constituency deserves consideration. I accept our constituency is national but it should be possible for Senators, if they so wish, to have some of their secretarial support located in their home constituency. Senator Calnan also spoke about tax deductible expenses, a matter which I have frequently pondered. If I were running a business and drove to west Cork in my car, that would be a tax deductible expense. However, when I drive around my constituency as a practising politician I do not have that facility. If I decided to pay for a secretary in my constituency it would not be a tax deductible expense, but if I had the good fortune to have a business and I employed the person in that business I could probably claim it as such, although that might be queried by the Revenue Commissioners.

Expenses arise which are directly related to our work as politicians. I have expenses which I never had before. All Members are familiar with having to contribute locally to associations and worthy causes. It is a considerable annual expense but it is not tax deductible. I do not know what the Minister can do about it but it should be examined.

It could give rise to a constituency cartel among public representatives.

I would not advocate such a noncompetitive practice. With regard to the parliamentary leader's allowance, in which the public have probably most interest, it is appropriate that smaller parties should get a disproportionate amount compared to larger parties. As Deputy McDowell said in the Dáil, one cannot have half a secretary and half a fax machine. Each party must have a certain basic infrastructure irrespective of the party's size. The larger parties obviously have additional expenses above that. However, there are good reasons why Opposition parties should receive proportionally more funding. They do not have the resources of parties in Government.

While I have become the renaissance man, it is an amateur approach to research. I could do with access to expertise in various areas. In practice, when one is dealing with an issue before the House, one telephones a person whose expertise in that area one respects and seeks their balanced view. We regard that as the legitimate view and we put it forward as our own. Of course we plagiarise it dreadfully. That is not wrong but it means there are deficiencies in our ability to argue a case on legislation. In my experience, when a case for an amendment is well argued the amendment will be made, whether it is proposed by the Government or the Opposition, and legislation has been improved as a result.

With regard to people donating to parties, nobody claims it is wrong to make a donation to Amnesty International or to Greenpeace or to the friends of East Timor. Why is it wrong to make a donation to a political party? I have sold tickets for national draws in aid of the Progressive Democrats to members of other parties and they have willingly contributed. Nobody ever approached me later to ask for a favour. People in business who make donations to political parties do so with no strings attached and it is important to remember that.

I welcome the Bill. I realise that Members who live near Leinster House have an easier task dealing with work in the House than those who come from rural areas. I am in the fortunate position of having an independent income which makes an enormous difference. I am sympathetic to those who live some distance from the House and do an enormous amount of work here. They have the onerous task of coming back and forwards to the House to make their splendid contributions.

Some of the criticisms made about overnight expenses have been outrageous. If this was looked on as a health and safety measure, how many people would be encouraged by their firms to leave Dublin to drive to Dingle late in the evening? I think there would be very few and this should be considered. There has also been criticism of claiming overnight expenses if a Member lives more than 20 miles from the Houses of the Oireachtas. This House rarely sits late although the Dáil does sometimes. With modern methods of travel 40 or 50 miles may seem like an easily commutable distance. However, it is unwise to ask Members to travel that distance at night after a long day. As a woman, I think it is particularly unwise to ask people to travel around the country late at night. I am glad that any temptation to change the 20 mile limit has been resisted and that the Minister has also changed the matter of overnight stays on Thursday. As Senator Fitzgerald said, some Members of the Dáil who have young children and who live far more than 20 miles from home have told me they go home at night as they do not want to miss them growing up.

I am sympathetic to what Senator Dardis said about money for research and the fact that he has become an expert on so many subjects. Fortunately I can consult my colleague Senator Quinn on all economic matters and I can also consult people in the university. I feel chintzy constantly telephoning people and asking them to give professional advice for which they could charge if a large body asked them. More funding for research would do no harm.

Much of the criticism outside the House has been concerned with the fact that expenses are not receipted. As the European Parliament is looking at this matter again, perhaps the receipting of expenses could be considered in the future. As Senator Dardis said, Members have a large number of expenses which are not allowable but are necessary to run a constituency. As one who has an international constituency I know this can be expensive.

I hope the Minister will not have to revise his figures as regards the party payments in the morning. Earlier today, Senator Lanigan, referring to the Official Secrets Act, was enthusiastic in telling people I was a member of the Labour Party. I assured him it was not a secret and was on my manifesto when I ran for the university. He said I could not be independent and I said he should ask how the Labour Whip felt about that.

I will give the Senator a character reference.

I thank the Leader. I hope I will be entitled to expenses twice as a member of the Labour Party and as an Independent. However, the Minister has known me a long time and he knows to what I will be entitled.

I will reply to some of the points raised. Tomorrow we will have extensive time to go into the thinking behind the funding for the political party leader's allowance.

I thank Senators for welcoming this measure and indicating that it will be passed. Senator Quinn criticised the retrospection of expenses and the bad taste in terms of public perception which is associated with that. This is a valid point and is perhaps a reflection on a failure in communication. I wanted to address this problem as I became aware of it at the end of 1995, as Senator Fitzgerald knows. I provided a sum of £500,000 for retrospective payments in this year's Estimates in the expectation that it would be spent during the year. For self-evident reasons I am not in the business of raising more money than I need in the course of a year. The Department of Finance has a system of surrendering. That money would have been lost if it was not spent by the Houses of the Oireachtas and we would have had to look for it again. This is not a good way to do business and it was an administrative concern.

Members in both Houses expected they would be paid expenses, particularly overnight expenses which they had been denied. There was much anger and many queries were raised by all the political parties at parliamentary meetings. Senator Calnan will verify that was the case in my own party and the Chairman of our parliamentary party, Deputy Bell, raised the issue on numerous occasions, as did the Committees on Procedure and Privileges. There was an expectation that money which they were owed would be paid. In some cases this is arrears because the costs have been incurred.

As regards telephone expenses, there is little or no real increase. Not everybody is using the full £2,000 allowance. I may look at the suggestion made by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn last night that all Deputies and Senators be linked to the GTN system which would considerably reduce telephone costs. I do not know what the cost implications are but already this morning staff in the Department of Finance were looking at the matter.

As regards retrospection and political funding for parties, the existing leader's allowance will be increased by approximately 150 per cent, with some variations. When the present Administration was formed, the question of funding for political parties was discussed by the three parties involved. They were given a report by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, who had negotiated with the previous Minister, Deputy Michael Smith. The details were published and there was an expectation when it would be enacted. Some parties in this House, including Senator Dardis' party, which is not well funded, entered into contracts and employed people on the basis that this money would be paid in 1996, which they had every reason to believe would happen.

The Minister, Deputy Howlin, was hesitant about proceeding with this because of the anti-party political atmosphere generated around the McKenna judgment and the difficulty in designing a system that took account of the three aspects of the interpretation of the judgment. These factors slowed down progress in the Bill but there was an expectation. We were asked by party leaders, who had entered into commitments, when the extra money would come. Some of them had written to corporations and said they would no longer be able to raise money in the conventional way and they were seeking a last donation. In a free society it would be wrong to ban contributions to political parties, but they can be made transparent. There is a question as to whether they should be capped, which is a matter for detailed debate. People cannot be prohibited from donating money as it would be a manifest intrusion of basic civil liberties. Many corporate companies give money to all political parties because they feel it is their civic duty. I have spoken to people who feel they are no longer obliged to do this.

An appeal for funds was made by the major political parties, including the Labour Party because it has arrears, to corporate bodies. Money was received but liabilities in terms of ongoing budgets for running political parties and parliamentary parties and research were maturing. There was an expectation that this money would be paid in 1996. This is essentially why the legislation was introduced and is being dealt with as quickly as possible. There were a number of compelling reasons this should be done. Of course I would prefer to be elsewhere this evening and if the legislation had been published and circulated in the usual fashion, but I have explained why that was not the case. It is not a great excuse but it is factually accurate.

There was legal frailty in relation to the leaders' allowance and the problem regarding employers' indemnification because that case is ongoing. I believed the sooner the issue was addressed, the sooner indemnification would exist. The law moves slowly but solicitors were engaged and counsel had been hired by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn and the Fianna Fáil Party. Until the Bill was introduced, that exposure existed. In addition, Senators, Deputies and political parties had expectations. I did not make provision for the extra money for the leaders' allowance but the resources for it are available because of the particular buoyancy in revenue this year. All these reasons made it desirable to introduce the Bill as soon as possible.

I am aware this is not a politically popular measure. I have been severely criticised for it and I took a particularly strong position in the other House yesterday. However, perhaps because of the elegance of the Wedgwood decoration of this Chamber or because it was previously a ballroom and the strains of music continue to haunt the plaster and ambience, this is a much less aggressive and adversarial House and I do not need to defend the Bill as aggressively and stoutly as I did in the other House. Somebody of my stature and seniority in the political system should stand up, outline what is being done and explain the reasons for it. It is unpopular but it must be done and this is why I seek the enactment of the Bill before the end of the year.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When it is proposed to take Committee Stage?


Committee Stage ordered for Friday, 20 December 1996.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.