Eighth Report of Convention on the Constitution: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann agrees that the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, copies of which were laid before Seanad Éireann on 30th March, 2014, including its recommendations in relation to the right to housing, be referred to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach in accordance with Standing Order 71(3)(k), to consider the implications arising in terms of balance of rights, good governance (including the separation of powers) and resource prioritisation, and that an appropriate opportunity be provided, in due course, for Seanad Éireann to consider the report of the Committee.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber.

I will speak to the motion on the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, and I thank Members of Seanad Éireann for this opportunity to discuss the very important rights issues raised in the eighth report. As they will all be aware, the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution considers a range of issues. It recommends specifically that the Constitution be amended to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Some 56% of the members of the convention wished to make recommendations for reform immediately, while 43% wished to refer it elsewhere for further consideration of the implications of possible reforms.

The most popular option for reform was the insertion of a provision into the Constitution that "the State shall progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, subject to maximum available resources and that this duty is cognisable by the Courts". In relation to which specific rights should be enumerated in the Constitution, 84% considered the right to housing should be included, 78% considered the right to social security should be included, and 87% considered the right to essential health care should be included. The percentage in favour of the inclusion of rights of people with disabilities was 90% and the percentage in favour of the inclusion of linguistic and cultural rights was 75%, and 80% considered that the rights covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights should be also included.

Obviously, the range of issues and the implications arising from inserting these in the Constitution raise questions, which need further exploration and discussion.

The issues arising include the suitability or otherwise of the Constitution as a vehicle for providing for detailed rights in these areas, the possible costs arising, and the fact that there is already power under legislation to confer rights and determine expenditure via primary and secondary legislation, that there is an elected and accountable Government and Oireachtas and that, unlike the Constitution, such legislation can be varied as needed and as availability of resources allows.

Other Issues include the absence of provisions for Revenue to provide for any ensuing expenditure, concerns about transferring the power to the Judiciary, which is unelected, to make decisions affecting the allocation of resources which are more appropriate for an elected Parliament and Government and the current position of the State as regards debt levels and the need to meet stringent EU rules into the future.

On the question of inserting the right to housing into the Constitution, the announcement yesterday that there will be close to €2 billion available for housing in 2018, a sum that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago, is further evidence of the priority placed by this Government on securing homes for people and, in particular, addressing the challenge of homelessness. The package of measures announced yesterday will mean that the housing needs of more than 25,000 households will be met next year.

In addition to the significant increase in funding for 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, also announced yesterday that he has secured a further €500 million for investment in social housing for 2019 to 2021. This is in addition to the previously committed sum of €5.35 billion for housing projects. This will allow the overall Rebuilding Ireland social housing target to be increased from 47,000 to 50,000 units, with a total funding envelope for Rebuilding Ireland of more than €6 billion. The All-Party Committee on Housing and Homelessness in the term of the previous Government recommended that we would reach a level of 10,000 social housing units per year, giving a total of 50,000. We are on track with its recommendation. We have always said we believed in doing that when the resources would become available. The overarching aim of Rebuilding Ireland is to ramp up delivery of housing from its current undersupply across all tenures to help individuals and families meet their housing needs. Members can be assured that this is the number one priority of Government.

On inserting the right to housing in the Constitution, a range of matters need to be considered. There are already specific, substantive and procedural rights for housing in place arising from existing legislation and case law. For instance, a person has the right to apply for and be assessed for social housing assistance, and if deemed qualified for social housing, that is, having met the income and need criteria, a person will normally qualify immediately for housing assistance payment, HAP, subject to fulfilling the conditions of the scheme, such as the suitability of the accommodation selected etc. If a person does not opt for housing assistance payment, HAP, he or she is placed on a list for allocation of a social housing home in accordance with the local authority’s allocations scheme. Where a person avails of housing assistance payment, he or she may on request to be placed on a transfer list to be allocated a social housing unit by the local authority, again in accordance with the local authority's allocations scheme.

There are also many legal protections for the family home and numerous new or recent protections for tenants renting in the private sector. These are very important issues that need further consideration. We will discuss the mortgage-to-rent scheme and it is important that we have a discussion on people's rights and so on as we relaunch that scheme. I look forward to questions on the right to housing together with the other rights referred to in the eighth report being fully considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach.

We had this discussion in the Dáil recently on a motion. It is believed that the committee is the best place in which to discuss and tease out all the possible scenarios that will arise if we enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution, along with other rights as well. I think most people, even those who tabled the motion, agree that it is not just a simple decision but one that needs to be teased out. It is welcome that the Bill was not opposed and that it was referred to the Select Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform and the Taoiseach.

I thank Members for their time and I look forward to responding at the end of the debate.

Each speaker has six minutes. I call Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor.

I thank the Minister for addressing the House today. Fianna Fáil voted to delay this Bill to allow the housing committee to consider the report of the Constitutional Convention on this matter and other economic, cultural and social rights. Broadening the Constitution, the fundamental legal basis of the State, should be done carefully and should take into consideration the wide range of consequences. The committee is best placed to undertake that work. The most important task in addressing the housing crisis is not holding a referendum that will cost €15 million but ensuring that the housing supply is increased. The budget and capital plan are key and should be our immediate priorities.

The Constitutional Convention voted to enhance the level of protection for the economic, social and cultural rights, making them ready for supervision by the courts in certain circumstances. They also voted to highlight certain rights which should be stated in the Constitution, namely, housing, social security, essential health care, rights of people with disabilities and cultural rights, which are covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to send this recommendation to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. We believe this is the appropriate forum to thrash out the issues involved. It is important not to give people false hope or fall into political gestures rather than real action. To add the right to housing to the Constitution will not solve the housing crisis.

It is important to recognise that holding a referendum to insert a right to housing in the Constitution should only be undertaken with full consideration of all the issues. Most important, it cannot be allowed to divert attention from the steps to increase supply and tackle escalating rents. We need to increase capital expenditure on social housing. The social housing capital budget was €300,000 below the 2008 budget. I have significant concerns about that. This should be increased up to €400 million to ensure that extra units will be built.

A new regulatory regime should be established to allow vacant units and units above shops to be converted into residential units. This could open up thousands of units in established areas.

We need to re-establish an affordable housing scheme. Workers on ordinary salaries should be able to buy their own homes. Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 should be amended to ensure that units are earmarked for affordable housing. This is crucial. We do not have an affordable housing system. In addition, local authorities should relaunch their own building programmes with an affordable housing element.

Practical steps can be taken in the coming months that will address the 130,000 people on the social housing waiting lists. The homeless crisis and the rental market are the major problems. The directive principles of social policy enshrined in Article 45 set out the rules and general guidance for the Oireachtas in setting out laws. However, the rights included in Article 45 are non-cognisable by the courts. A citizen cannot take the Government to court for breaches as they are for guidance only. This article would be subject to judicial review. This may transfer too much power into the hands of the courts rather than the democratically elected representatives. We all want to ensure that people have homes, but we need to ensure we have it properly thought out before we enact legislation. The proposed amendment refers to residents rather than citizens, which is the term used in other articles of the Constitution. It should be clarified as to whether this broadens out the right to housing above the other rights in the Constitution.

The Constitution Review Group report in 1996 advocated amending Article 40.3.1° to restrict wide-ranging judicial interpretation and to list out explicitly the fundamental rights contained in the Constitution. Enshrining housing rights without amending Article 40.3.1° may lead to a further extension of judicial power as the creative approach to the Constitution enables the Judiciary to widen its influence over areas currently considered the remit of day-to-day political life.

We all know people need a home, not a house. We are here to represent the people. People need a home to ensure that they and their family have stability. We need, however, to ensure we do the right thing. Fianna Fáil wants the committee to examine the proposals. I am a member of that committee and I can guarantee that I will give this a high priority.

I was one of the people who participated as a guest speaker at the Constitutional Convention in Malahide when all of this started. When I got there, all of the dice were already heavily loaded in favour of this being the outcome of the convention. Papers had been put before the delegates by people who were interested in social and economic rights being put into the Constitution. Even though I did my best to point out some of the difficulties, it was a one-way street as far as the so-called debate was concerned. It was not a considered debate. It was an emotional one-way street.

The point is that to include in the Constitution, "that the State shall progressively realise [economic, social and cultural] rights, subject to maximum available resources and that this duty is cognisable by the Courts" presupposes a lot of things. What are the maximum available resources at any given stage? Who decides that the Abbey Theatre should get €2 million to provide an extension and that such money should not be spent on a particular service in a hospital in Waterford? Who makes such decisions? What possible function could the Judiciary have in becoming involved in such matters? These are matters of judgment, but not of judgment by the courts or the judges in the courts. As Members of the Oireachtas, we are elected by the people of our democracy to make judgments on such matters. It is a difficult for anyone to choose whether to spend €2 million on the Abbey Theatre or on the provision of a service in a hospital in Waterford. Politicians have to make such choices around the Cabinet table, in the lobbies of Dáil Éireann and - to some extent - in this House. If we decide to extend statutory rights to welfare and housing, etc., in a particular way, a cost will be attached to that policy and resources will have to be marshalled to finance it.

The inclusion in the Constitution of vague-minded and, in my view, dishonest language of this nature would achieve absolutely nothing other than the politicisation of the Judiciary. I have spent most of my life practising before Irish judges. Our Constitution gives them massive power to look at and reverse any act of the Executive under the rubric of judicial review. They even have the power to annul Acts of the Oireachtas by reference to the Constitution. These immensely strong powers are given to Irish High Court judges sitting alone, subject to the right of appeal. The British judiciary does not have these powers. The American judiciary has them to some extent. We have accorded our Judiciary immense powers under our Constitution. When Éamon de Valera was drafting the Constitution in 1937, he distinguished between the areas of public life and vindication of rights which should be justiciable on the one hand, and those which should be matters for judgment by the Oireachtas, on the other hand. He and the draftsmen of the 1937 Constitution saw a need to draw a particular line between those two areas. That is why Article 45 of the Constitution sets out directive principles of social policy for the guidance of the Oireachtas and states that those principles "shall not be cognisable by any Court". Éamon de Valera understood the separation of powers issue that lies at the bottom of this issue.

Having appeared before judges in every type of court, including the Special Criminal Court, the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, I know that the courts are not suitable for deciding on the allocation of resources. They can decide that a particular pensioner is entitled to have a Social Welfare Act operated in a particular way because the Oireachtas has set up the Act and has provided the resources to do it. In certain circumstances, the courts can inform the State that an Act says that some particular pension must be provided to an individual, and instruct the State to get the resources to facilitate this, on the basis of the law of the land that has been put in place. It has never been the case that the Judiciary has been accorded the right to say to the State, "You may not do X or Y and you may not diminish the budget here or there because we believe resources are available to enable you to carry out this function".

I agree entirely with what has been said to date. While I have no objection to this proposal being considered by a committee, I believe it is half-thought-out and ill-thought-out. It strikes at the heart of the constitutional order. The political class in this country has one vice. It is a virus which I have had myself. I refer to its capacity to play down the role of democratic politicians and to play up the role of Joe Duffy, the media, the courts and everybody else for the purposes of diminishing its own function in our democracy. That is the beginning of the end of the set of values that underlie our Constitution. Politicians should not see themselves as anything other than the judges of the issues to which this proposed amendment relates. Politicians should insist on taking responsibility for solving the housing crisis, for example, because such issues are matters for resolution in this House and not under any circumstances down in the Four Courts.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the eighth report of the Constitutional Convention. I note and acknowledge the contributions of colleagues in this House. I look forward to listening to more contributions. I also acknowledge the contributions of citizens and colleagues who participated in the convention under the chairmanship of Mr. Tom Arnold. As we all know, the convention operated on the basis of openness, fairness, equality, efficiency and collegiality. However, I was interested to hear Senator McDowell say in his contribution that he feels the convention was an emotional one-way street. It is important for us to challenge different views, perspectives and recommendations, regardless of whether they are emotional or are coming from the perspective of social responsibility. I share many of the concerns outlined by Senator McDowell and I will elaborate on them later in this speech.

It was important that the Constitutional Convention deliberated on, debated and discussed the topics before it, following public consultation and with the support of various professionals and experts in the relevant fields. The convention identified the topic of economic, social and cultural rights. All politicians agree that we need to work in the best interests of citizens to deliver services that are as equal as possible in areas like health, education and housing. I note that the convention has made various recommendations in that respect. Having been a Member of the Oireachtas for over ten years, I would argue that the Executive - the democratically-elected Government of the day - is responsible for introducing Estimates that make provision for the services of the State to be made available in as coherent and sustainable a way as possible. It is eminently appropriate for the convention's recommendations to be referred to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform so they can be considered and debated properly by our Oireachtas colleagues, who are mandated by the State and under the Constitution to analyse, scrutinise and make recommendations.

It is appropriate at this time for the House to acknowledge the substantial State investments in areas like housing, health and education that were announced in yesterday's budget. The total commitment in housing alone is over €6 billion. This will facilitate the delivery of over 99,000 housing solutions under various programmes, including the direct build and housing assistance payment schemes, between now and 2021. Other new programmes have been introduced to deliver housing solutions, including the provision of social and affordable housing. Regardless of the emotions that exist - it is right that we have emotion in public debate - it is important that we do not prioritise any one cohort of citizens over another. Housing is needed across the board by all citizens. A homeless person has a legitimate right to a house, but so does a family that is working hard to keep a roof over its head while struggling to pay the mortgage. Our priority must be all citizens. We should not prioritise one group over another.

I welcome yesterday's announcement of increased expenditure on education. An additional €554 million is being allocated, bringing the total spend on education to over €10 billion. For the first time, we will have the lowest class size ratio of one teacher to 26 pupils. I think that is a welcome development.

I welcome the fact that over 1,300 more teachers will be employed for various schools. These are the real equality and delivery decisions that the Government and Oireachtas must make.

It is important to recognise and acknowledge the constitutional role of the Executive or the Government of the day to present the Estimates for each individual Department. I was a member of the recent Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services and during that time I felt that we bordered on setting a dangerous precedent. I am referring to the fact that an Oireachtas joint committee tried to set the Estimates for the Government of the day. Such a development is dangerous as it undermines the democratic authority of the Government of the day. It is important that Oireachtas joint committees scrutinise, make recommendations, deliberate and debate but it is not their job, or that of constitutional conventions however they are compiled, to set Estimates and approve budgets. It is important that we acknowledge that as politicians in the national Parliament.

One could apply the same principle from the bottom up, and even as far as local authorities, where it is the job of local elected representatives or local councillors to pass local authority budgets. Such work is not and should not be the job of agencies, NGOs or other groups. Yes, they play an important role in the public debate and advocacy and they inform and educate policymakers. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it is the job of an elected member, whether it is a councillor, Deputy or Minister, and the latter has a responsibility to pass national budgets. It is their democratic function. We need to be careful not to undermine such a democratic function.

I welcome the fact that we will recommend the referral of the recommendations for further scrutiny to an Oireachtas joint committee. There will be a further opportunity for colleagues to scrutinise the recommendations made by the Oireachtas joint committee and we will then allow Ministers to consider the recommendations.

Glaoim ar an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh. Tá sé nóiméad aige.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

(a) a Special Committee be appointed to form the Joint Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) Rights;

(b) the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, copies of which were laid before Seanad Éireann on 30th March 2014, including its recommendations in relation to the right to housing, be referred to the Special Joint Committee, which shall review the report and consider the implications arising in terms of balance of rights, good governance (including the separation of powers) and resource prioritisation;

(c) that an appropriate opportunity be provided, in due course, for Seanad Éireann to consider the report of the Special Committee;

(d) the Committee shall not exceed 6 members of Seanad Éireann;

(e) four shall constitute a quorum of the Joint Committee;

(f) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order 80, the Committee shall elect one of its members to be Chairman, who shall have only one vote;

(g) the Cathaoirleach shall announce the names of the members appointed under paragraph (d) for the information of the Dáil on the first sitting day following their appointment; and

(h) the Joint Committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 71.

Tréaslaím leis an obair atá curtha i gcrích ag Tionól na Saoránach leis an tuairisc seo a chur le chéile. Taispeánann sé go bhfuil an pobal féin i bhfad chun tosaigh ar an Rialtas agus ar na húdaráis sa gcaoi is go ndíríonn siad ar na cearta daonna a bhaineann le tithíocht, teanga, cultúir agus go leor eile nach iad. I dtuairim Shinn Féin, ní chóir go mbeadh an coiste airgeadais á bhreithniú. Is cúis leis an gcoiste seo féachaint ar chúrsaí airgeadais le súil ar chiste an Stáit. Tá muid ag plé anseo, áfach, le ceart bunúsacha an duine, nach féidir luach a chur orthu. Mar sin, ba chóir coiste speisialta ar leith a bhunú a bheadh in ann na finnéithe agus na saineolaithe cuí a ghairm chuige chomh maith le foireann taighde agus riarachán feiliúnach don ábhar a phléifear ann.

We welcome the fact this report is finally being discussed. We want to see social, economic and cultural rights enshrined in the Constitution. We note that there has been a particular emphasis placed on the right to the housing recommendation made by the convention. However, Sinn Féin feels it is inappropriate for the report to be discussed solely by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. We believe such a move would bring a disproportionate focus on resource allocation, rather than a wider debate on people's rights.

The finance committee naturally has an eye on balancing the books for the State. We have no problem with the finance committee being among a number of committees considering the matter. However, that is not the approach the Government and Fianna Fáil have proposed. Sinn Féin calls for a special committee to consider the report as the measure will allow a better balance of skills and perspectives to consider the eighth report in an appropriately wide context. This committee could call upon staff, witnesses and experts suited to the myriad of areas covered by the report.

The finance committee has already considered housing at the level of institutions, lending institutions and housing co-operatives. All of this has been done in the overall budgetary context. We need a rights-based context as we trawl through the report.

The finance committee is also one of the busiest committees in these Houses. It already has quarterly engagements with the pillar banks and it has a programme of work set out for the months ahead. There is no way the committee can dedicate the time needed to consider the many recommendations contained in the report. Too much work has been put into the Constitutional Convention to see it wasted by hasty consideration by an unsuitable committee.

I agree with many of the points that have been raised. The fundamental issue that we are discussing here is where is the best place in these Houses to make sure that we have the debate that Senator McDowell has called for so that he would get an opportunity to raise his issues. We must also ensure that we get a balance of witnesses in these Houses to discuss his issues. We believe that the finance committee is already overburdened. We have seen great examples in this House where Senators have had an option to debate issues such as mental health and bring in witnesses to discuss the different ramifications. Today's report is very broad and covers all of the different rights. The convention was heavily in favour of rights related to housing, social security, essential health care, the rights of people with disabilities, linguistic and cultural rights and rights covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. My party and I believe that it would be a fundamental mistake to consider the report merely from economic or financial perspectives. Even though we respect the will and right of the convention to come forward with proposals, the role of this Parliament should not be diluted when it comes to discussing these issues.

Members of these Houses have been elected by the people to discuss issues of extreme importance. A sub-committee is considering how the eighth amendment to the Constitution can be dealt with. These changes are equally important and equally as fundamental and that is why we need to consider the report.

The report states that to some degree in Ireland: "ESC rights are protected generally by means of legislation, including employment law, housing law, social security and social assistance (social welfare) law." It continued:

Legislation can be easily amended, or administrative practices changed, to reduce or remove particular ESC rights. With legislative protection of ESC rights, in times of perceived crisis, the ESC rights of particularly vulnerable people, the elderly, disabled people, single parents and children growing up in poverty, can be subject to reduction or withdrawal.

That is why I would like to hear from witnesses acting on behalf of groups such as the disabled, single parents and children growing up in poverty. Some of the biggest critics of the budgetary decisions that were made yesterday were people who represent people with a disability, and dealt with issues around housing and lone and single parents, etc.

Let us consider economic rights. People in direct provision have made a case for the right to work. The economic rights in the Constitution show that individuals have a right, for example, to join and participate in a trade union but there is no obligation on the State or employers to recognise trade unions.

As I have stated here on many occasions, people who work in the hospitality sector are discouraged from joining unions. There are major issues and abuses of rights of people who work in the hospitality sector. That is one of the reasons Sinn Féin has called for the 9% VAT rate not to be left as it is because many hotels and businesses are making a handsome profit that is not being passed on to workers. This is not just a purely economic area.

In terms of social rights, there are issues with social security and social assistance payments. The report states:

Certain social assistance payments exist that could be viewed as protecting the family, including one parent family payment, family income supplement and child benefit. Irish housing law provides a system for determining who is entitled to social housing, although there is not enough social housing to meet overall need. Irish law provides for tenant and landlord protections in terms of their mutual rights and obligations.

The report is far broader than just financial issues that would arise at a finance committee. We need a joint committee that will go into detail about these issues, invite witnesses to attend and allow Members from both Houses of the Oireachtas to tease out the issues. I call on all Senators who favour democracy and debate to support the amendment that we have brought forward.

Finally, I call Senator Grace O'Sullivan and she has six minutes.

I welcome today's discussion on the report and the conclusions of same. The aim of the Constitutional Convention is to discuss issues in depth, examine different points of view and make new conclusions, which is exactly the kind of involved direct democracy that my party is so keen to see so much more of in the Irish political system.

As a point of clarification, is the Senator formally seconding the amendment?

I formally second the amendment.

I thank the Senator. The amendment must be seconded. Ar aghaidh leat.

The conclusion of the report is very welcome. The directive principles of the social policy in the Irish Constitution are some of the most positive and engaging elements of the document.

It is my belief that their better realisation by Irish Governments would go far in creating a fairer and more equal Republic that the founders of the State envisaged in the Proclamation of 1916.

I hope, should the recommendations be sent to either committee, that the discussion might be expanded to include another aspect that I believe has a place in the Constitution, the protection of the right to a healthy environment. According to a paper released this week by Dr. Roderic O'Gorman of DCU, 148 of the 196 national constitutions now in place contain some form of environmentalism. Ireland is one of only 48 countries with no such provisions. This is in part likely due to the age of the Constitution, written as it was at a time before environmentalism and ecology were part of the political and economic vocabulary. The only time the natural environment gets mentioned is with regard to natural resources and even then the approach is an entirely extractive one that emphasises only the natural environment as something to be exploited. Dr. O'Gorman's paper outlines the emergence of the international trend towards constitutional guarantees and the different ways it can be expressed, from the right to a healthy environment to rights for the environment itself as an inherent good. If we are to consider changes to the Constitution to expand and solidify the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens, environmental rights are a core part of all three areas and must be included in the discussion.

I also concur with the Sinn Féin counter motion. I believe that this report would be better served by consideration by a committee which would consider it in a wider context than merely fiscal. Either way, I look forward to engaging with the discussion as it proceeds through the Oireachtas.

The report is being referred to the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. It is not being referred to the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. However, there is nothing to stop that committee engaging other committees in the discussions. Certainly, there is nothing preventing this House or the other House having a debate on this. The House sets its own business.

We in the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government should have a meeting on it.

Allow the Minister of State conclude.

There is no reason the committee cannot do that but the Government has to make a formal decision that the report goes for formal consideration. The discussion can happen at any stage. Today's is only a short debate on a short motion. There is nothing preventing the House having a debate on this and having a greater say on it.

I would disagree with Senator Ó Clochartaigh. The Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach is not a narrow committee. It has a wide-ranging reach and covers all issues.

Overburdened is what I was saying.

It is an important part. I agree with Senator McDowell that a lot of our work as politicians is about the prioritisation of funding and budgetary decisions. That is key. It is not always about law. A lot of our work is around how we spend taxpayers' money and how we collect it. I agree that that is an important decision and that it should be kept with politicians. That is a personal view. The committee can thrash this out but I have to agree that it is our job and it is what we are elected to do. We represent people to do that. The committee can decide that. A report will come back to both Houses and we will tease that out as well.

It is the right committee because the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is not only about budgets. It is also about reforming the provision of services through all the Departments and it has a role in that. Now that we are entering into better economic times, it should have a greater role in the reform of services and deliverability across the various Departments. This is where it belongs.

I compliment Senator Coffey. I agree with the Senator that the budget yesterday rightly reflects increased resources in key areas of health, education and housing, as well as other areas. Those are the three important basics. When one is down to basic rights, those are key - education, health and housing. We are responding to that with increased resources. For the first time, the education budget has exceeded €10 billion, which is an important milestone in this country. We need to keep adding to that in the years ahead as well. I am glad the Senator mentioned it today as well rather than focus only on housing.

I have dealt with that. As the House will be aware, the Government will not agree with the amendment but I will let the House itself vote on that.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 20.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Gavan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony..
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the motion be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 6.

  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony; Níl, Senators Paul Gavan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.