I find the situation of the Opposition seeking to "up" what the Government are offering rather unusual from my fairly considerable experience during the years when the Government of the day were usually very chary about making any move to raise these allowances because of the almost certain taking advantage of that situation by the then Opposition. They would be glad to get the increased allowances but they would come into the House and kick up a row that it should not be done and point to all the people who were much worse off and were not being attended to by the Government.
Today I see a reversal of roles as we have known them on a few occasions in the past. I am intrigued as to what the outcome of this debate will be. Around the House this evening, since the Second Reading commenced, I was asked by a fellow Deputy what I thought about this, whether I would vote against it or support it, and without waiting for a reply I was told that if there was to be any division on this the Minister for Finance would withdraw it. I do not know how well based that suggestion is but certainly if there is any shred of truth in this alleged attitude I would say it is a sad reflection on the Government. It would incline me to the belief that it would be better if this matter had not been brought before the House at all—that it should have been left in abeyance as the Devlin Report in this connection was left in abeyance for some considerable time. The Devlin recommendations were not acted on and various explanations for this have been given.
Whether one is inclined to accept the explanations is a matter for one's own judgment. When the Devlin Report was further examined and reported on, and again not acted on, perhaps again the explanation is evident, that it did not come through until last December and that there was not much opportunity to do anything about it. At the same time, I have no doubt that the Government at that time at any of their various Cabinet meetings between December and the dissolution of the Dáil could have made a public declaration of their intent. They did not do this.
Perhaps it is, as Deputy O'Connell has just said, that the then Government were rather chary about deciding publicly what they intended to do about the revised edition of Devlin as handed down to them in December, knowing in the back of their minds, or perhaps even in the forefront of their minds, that an election was not far away. This, in my estimation, is not a bad reason for being rather reticent about making a decision on it at that time. I have not a doubt in the world that had the decision been declared at that time by the then Government, and events following as they did—the general election—it would have been part and parcel of the platform of the now National Coalition to decry the proposals.
These explanations, as I have said, are as one takes them and as one works them out for oneself. I do not think they are very important at this time except that the delay in implementing any of the recommendations has brought about a situation wherein the time since the last revision is now approximately five years and in these times of very rapid inflation and high rising living costs there seems to be too long a gap between one revision and the next.
Thinking on those lines, one naturally has to ask himself whether the basis as agreed in 1968 was a proper basis and a fair one. Perhaps at the time we felt it was and perhaps it is, but I cannot help going back a considerable time beyond that period and recalling the arguments made in my early years in this House—if not publicly at least privately or semiprivately—that the best people were attracted to this House not by the amount they were paid for their services to it but by their wish to give those services to the public. I must say that 20 years ago I was rather cynical about that approach and I continued to be cynical for a number of years afterwards until the time arrived when the allowances arranged here by agreement in the Dáil had come up to a reasonably decent standard. Mainly the argument had been changed around in the years from the early fifties to the sixties, that we would get the people best suited to the House and the people who had most to give only if we were prepared to give the kind of reward that such people by their ability could command in other walks of life. I felt that this was a fairly good argument and an argument that sounded better than the one I had been fed on for quite a number of years after I came into the House, which is as far back as 1948. In those days the allowance was £624 a year. The allowance was not taxable but I suppose there would not be anything to tax. The allowance was talked about in those days to the same extent as the proposed allowance of £3,400 will be talked about today. It was talked about by the public in the same sort of terms as they will apply to the figure announced by the Minister and proposed in the Bill.
There was no postage allowance in those days. A Deputy paid his own postage. The standing joke was that if you did not write any letters you got more for being here than did those who did write letters.
The position has changed to some extent. A Deputy whose constituency is not within local call distance can make trunk calls to a particular number in his constituency free of charge. That concession is restricted to one specific number. Those who come from distant and scattered constituencies realise that this concession is nothing like what would be needed for a Deputy to keep in touch with his constituency while he is in Dublin. A Deputy should not be restricted to one particular number. He should be allowed to make trunk calls to any number in his constituency.
These things are part of the developing trend in allowances for Members of the Dáil. Over the years a subsistence allowance has been granted in respect of expenses necessarily incurred in this city during Dáil sessions.
I am not at all sure that we are dealing with the most important aspect for Deputies in dealing with the allowances. For quite a long time I have had the conviction that the question of pensions for the families, the widows and dependants of Members of the House is of far greater importance than the immediate day to day value of the allowances. I would much prefer that the allowance should remain as it was up to 1st July and that the money proposed to be devoted to increasing the allowances would be directed towards pensions for the dependants, children and widows of Members of the House.
There is a very unusual situation in regard to Deputies' pensions. When a Deputy retires or is defeated—it happens ultimately in one way or the other—his pension is tied to the allowance obtaining at the time of his departure from the House. I cannot understand the attitude to Parliamentary allowances of many Members of the House, not only in the Opposition benches but in the Government benches in particular who over the past 16 years, while Fianna Fáil were in office, made such a song and dance, and rightly so, about parity of pensions and pensions being related to today's costs and who acclaimed the upgrading of pensions for various public servants. Why the two attitudes? Why, on the one hand, the attitude towards the Public Service and the support for the upgrading of Public Service pensions and parity for State pensioners and, on the other hand, the ignoring of the same principle in so far as Members of the Dáil are concerned?
I repeat that I would much prefer that any money now proposed to be given by way of increase in allowances would be directed towards improving the position of those who have served in the House, either during our time or before it and giving them pensions related to the allowances obtaining in the House as of now rather than to those operating when these people retired from the House.
I would suggest that the Minister should give very serious consideration to the dependants, the families, the widows of Members of the House who have given many years in its service. If this did not meet with the fullest approval of the House, it certainly would meet with the approval of those who are trying to subsist on what is being dispended to them on foot of pensions earned by their late breadwinners.
Apart from the question of choice of direction in which the money involved might be expended, I am not sure that the proposed increases are fully justified. In my earliest years here the argument was made that if you held out sufficient money you might attract the wrong type rather than the right type. I did not agree with that argument then. In the interim we have switched to the other direction. If we proceed to increase the allowances to a point at which they are more attractive than the allowances have been in the past, we will attract the wrong type again, if we attracted them in the past, which I doubt. I do not think it is true to say that you will not get the right people or the best people unless they can get as much by way of Parliamentary allowances and perks of one kind and another as they can command outside. I do not think that is the way it can be measured. I do not think any allowance could be measured against the time the public representative has to give and the manner of life involved for a Deputy as a result of his being in this House. You cannot equate the two things. One cannot be measured against the other in terms of so much a day, so much an hour, so much a week, so much a year.
The Minister should consider whether the scales we are aiming at now and the pattern being set vis-à-vis other scales are worthwhile, are necessary or good, or whether they will improve the membership of this House. I doubt it, not just now, for I have doubted it for some considerable time back. Since the increase to £2,500 I have often wondered whether the £2,500 was the attraction or whether this House was an attraction for its own sake and for the sake of the contribution Members could make here.
That is something very difficult to measure. I am inclined to believe that the allowances could well be left as they are and that the pensions of Members should be examined thoroughly and perhaps improved considerably. I think it is fairly well accepted by all of us that, even if we depart from this House, through defeats at elections or through other circumstances, and even if we ourselves have not fared well over the years in this House by way of allowances, we need not worry as long as the dependants we may leave behind are reasonably cared for, but they are not reasonably provided for in any of the enactments we have passed here over the years. It might be better to make improvements in that direction rather than increase the allowances, which may or may not help to attract into this House people of better calibre than they may have attracted up to now. In the days when the allowances were quite niggardly or, one might say scandalously low, we had a calibre of men we do not have here today. Without reflecting on any individual Deputy, I would say that, in my humble estimation and recollection, the men who were here then were in no way inferior to those we have now, but were superior. In those days there were no perks like free postage and phone calls; nor was there any subsistence allowance, and the travelling allowance did not provide adequate transport for them in those days.
The last speaker said the amount given to Deputies does not compare favourably even with what is being received by employees in the public service, and I quite agree. Deputy O'Connell instanced the case of a very able man who would like to be a Deputy and, perhaps he has a lot to contribute to the House—but who could not consider it because the amount he was receiving in his present employment was so much above what he would possibly get here. I am inclined to agree with the suggestion from the Opposition benches that he should be left where he is if that is what motivates him. The worth of a Deputy or Senator cannot be evaluated in hourly or weekly rates. While recognising the desirability of giving a fair recompense for the services rendered by public representatives, we must not make the allowance too high lest we attract those whose sole concern is the allowance for its own sake and who, in many instances, would not get anything like it in any other walk of life, rather than attract the people who want to be Members of this House because it is here things can be done or at least attempted to be done, if not brought to a conclusion.
There has also been mention of allowances for the Opposition. I agree with Deputy O'Connell that good Government must have a good Opposition. Any faults this Government may find with the last Government can be truly brought to their own door. If we had bad Government in the recent past we had worse Opposition. I have said this when in Government as well as since leaving Government. I am between the two at the moment, and I say now with no less belief and no less emphasis that a Government is only as good as its Opposition. We have been suffering noticeably from bad Opposition for the past 12 or 13 years.
If additional allowances to the Opposition can help—and perhaps they can—to provide better research facilities for them, which is very necessary if we are to contribute to discussions and debate knowingly and fully all the matters that are brought before this House by Ministers who are fully briefed in all those things, I would agree with Deputy O'Connell that this is something worthy of consideration.
The same Deputy was good enough to mention the two Independents in the House, that is Deputy Joe Sheridan and myself. If he had not, I would have done so anyhow for the simple reason that if the Opposition find it difficult to compete with the members of the Government as a result of not having the research staff necessary to inform them properly, then what chance is there for a member of a small party or an Independent in this House? When we are elected here we are all equal; at least that is the concept during the elections, although during the life of any Government it is not the practice. Therefore, Deputies who are members of small parties or on their own as Independents do not count for anything except right here in the Chamber where they are given equal rights with everybody else in the House in so far as contributions— when they contribute and when they are called—are concerned. This is the only place from one election to the next where the very small groups of Independents have any equality whatever. They have no back-up. They have no research facilities. They do not and cannot have any allowance to provide these facilities. In so far as the secretarial assistance necessary for their constituency work is concerned, the lack of numbers makes it much more difficult and much more costly for each of them, than where the party is large and where there are many contributing and matters can be organised on a much more attractive basis.
I am not making any plea for any allowance in this regard, but some thought is necessary about the back-up which should be provided, not through funding of the parties but rather as a right of Deputies. This may well have to come, even if it has to come through the aegis of the Civil Service in some manner or other. The Minister should have this in mind. It would be of great value not only to the larger parties but particularly to the smaller parties and to the isolated Independents who are not even acquainted of what is intended by way of business from one hour to the next unless they happen to be present personally when a decision is made on a day like today.
I merely instance this, not as a carping point but as a mere statement of fact. For personal reasons, I could not be here yesterday. I had some questions on the Order Paper. I telephoned the House and asked to have them postponed until today. I travelled 180 miles to be here in time for Question Time. I arrived at 2.45 p.m. and found that Question Time had started at 1.30 p.m. I was told that the parties had agreed at some hour this morning that questions should start at 1.30 p.m. It is not just good enough that the standard practice can be so readily changed merely to accommodate a situation which, apparently, was due to lack of business or lack of people to go on with business today. Apparently, the fact that even one Deputy should be left without any knowledge of what was proposed to be done was ignored. That happened against a pattern which has been set for many years.
I raise this matter so that some thought may be given to such changes of arrangements in the future in so far as Independents are concerned. There should be some method whereby they are at least informed as soon as the Whips of the major parties have agreed on a particular Order of Business or order of procedure. At least some attempt should be made to inform the Deputies who do not belong to any of the parties and who have no say in the matter and are totally ignorant of the arrangements arrived at which may concern them very much. Matters may be of great concern to them or to their constituents or constituencies. Probably this matter could be rectified. We do not want an up-to-the-minute service, but something could be done about the position of the Independents in order to keep them informed about what is happening in the House.
I am sure that if the vote of a Deputy who happens to be an Independent was needed by the Opposition or by the Government to carry the day for one or the other there would be no problem in regard to contacting either one or both of us, whether it was the middle of the day or the middle of the night. I am asking for some consideration in regard to the general ordering of procedure here, recognising fully that the Government and the main Opposition party will determine business as they themselves think fit. It should not be forgotten at any stage that no Deputy, whether he is a Member of the front bench of the Government or of the Opposition, or a backbencher of either of the major groups in this House, has any prior right over any other Deputy, even an Independent.
We are all here by virtue of the votes at the last election, or at any election. We are all here according to that vote, and according to our being declared elected. I am not aware in any way of any law or any part of our Constitution where the right is diminished merely because of the fact that we do not belong to one power group or the other. The right is the right of membership of this House and even if convention over the years seems to have eroded the rights of individuals or small groups this should be looked at again. I do not think it is correct that once a Deputy is in here, unless he belongs to one side or the other, he does not have any say whatever, nor is he informed about what the House intend to proceed to do. We are all elected by our constituents.
If, as seems likely by the Government's offering here and the Opposition's bid to improve the offer, that somewhere along the line there will be increases, I would suggest to the Minister that we reconsider what has now emerged in this Bill, that is, that in future we adopt the procedure of discussing the matter and enacting it by way of an order and not by legislation. I do not think that an order would suffice. The legislative procedure is not a bad one. Even if it would be handier to do such business by order and even if the matter might get less publicity if done by order, and less misunderstanding as a result of some of the publicity which is so unclear, as somebody has said already, that it will appear to the public in many cases as if this was the second big increase in the last 12 months, whereas it has been the same one which has been bandied around for a considerable time, the legislative procedure is better than procedure by order. Unless we find a completely new system of operation we should not abandon what we now do in open debate here and substitute the placing of an order before the House which, if not rejected within 21 days, comes into effect. There is a sort of "back-door" way of doing a job like this. If we are to have recourse to the House at all, let us have it in the manner in which we now have it rather than in this other left-handed type of manner.
If there is to be an increase, and if the basis of that increase is justified —which I am sure it is because I have no doubt that the Minister feels it is fully justified—can anybody enlighten me how it comes that the amount which has been recommended and passed for the judiciary and for the higher civil servants, after deliberation both by Devlin and by the conference, seems to be correct while the proposals in regard to the Members of this House are incorrect? If it is justified, why is it not being paid from the date originally proposed? If it is not justified in the case of Deputies, Senators and Members of the Oireachtas generally, is there any justification why there should be retrospection to January, 1972, for two categories who were included in the overall considerations together with Members of this House? An explanation is certainly called for there. Indeed, there is reason to doubt the wisdom of the Minister and the Government who can find that all of what is proposed for the judiciary is correct in the proposals put before them, and also for the higher civil servants, but is wrong so far as the Members of the House of the Oireachtas are concerned. It would be interesting to know how this was arrived at. I do not for a moment take the reason that was originally given, which has been given again today, that 1st July is the date because it cannot be given to Members of this House before the social welfare increases are given to the social welfare classes. I do not think that even impresses the social welfare classes and certainly it does not get very far through so far as Members of this House on all sides are concerned. It is not an argument. It never was a reason and the sooner a proper reason as to why this present position came about is given by the Minister the better for all concerned.
I referred earlier to the unusual situation of the Government coming in and putting their heads on the block and the Opposition coming and saying there should be more. This is certainly a milestone in the history of the House because it has always been the other way around. The Government propose and the Opposition oppose and decry the Government for giving anything. At the same time they are very willing to support the taking of it when it comes to the actual take. This unusual situation has perhaps been explained by the attitude of the Front Bench spokesman on the Opposition side who are all for the national pay agreement being maintained in all its aspects. I suppose there is a certain amount of good reasoning in their paralleling the refusal of the Government to face up to the full terms of the recommendation with the refusal of an employer outside to do likewise when an award is made to his employees. It sounds good sense and I am sure it was intended as good sense, but when listening to it one wonders if it is merely used as good argument.
The House is entitled to a very full explanation from the Minister why he differentiated between the judiciary, the higher civil servants and the Members of this House in his departure from the recommendations handed down to him. We would also like to hear from him his own and the Government's—I suppose he has to talk for the Government when he is talking in the House as Minister for Finance—mind whether the allowances proposed to be paid are too high, too low or just right. Perhaps consideration should be given to retaining at a lower level the allowances in this House than that which might be obtained in something parallel— it is very hard to parallel what a Member of this House does outside —outside this House. The Government should try and establish, if they can, the level at which the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas would be compensated for their work on behalf of the public by their membership of either House. At the same time, however, they should keep in mind that if Members of the Oireachtas were to be compensated to the fullest degree for the time they give this would "raise the ante" to such a degree that undoubtedly the attraction to those who might not be the best material for this House would increase. I believe the correct level is somewhere in between but it is a level at which we could arrive only after very careful consideration.
I feel our remuneration is high enough at the moment. After many years of near beggary for Members of this House, as it was in the early years after the House came into being —of course, this was the extreme on the other side—we should be very careful we do not err on the other end and go to too high a figure. I believe somewhere between the two, the high and the low, the ideal and proper figure lies. There is no yardstick we can properly use and there is no parallel we can draw from outside to give us a clear guide as there might be in other occupations. It requires a great deal of thought. Before the matter is finally decided, perhaps thought could be given to my suggestion that the moneys saved by not proceeding with this offer at the moment could best be applied to the benefit of the pensions of Members of both Houses, their widows and their dependants, and that we consider also the question of providing proper research and backup facilities through the Civil Service for the Members of the Opposition so that they might contribute more to the workings of this House and the good Government of this country. I feel this would be the best that we might do in the circumstances.