Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 3 Feb 2009

Vol. 673 No. 2

Dublin South By-Election: Motion.

I move:

That the Ceann Comhairle direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy which has occurred in the membership of the present Dáil consequent on the death of Deputy Séamus Brennan, a Member for the constituency of Dublin South.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Seamus Brennan was one of the most respected and admired members of this House, who served with distinction in a wide range of portfolios at both senior and junior ministerial level. He was the subject of exceptionally warm and genuinely expressed tributes from all sides of the House following his death.

However, it is seven months since Mr. Brennan's death and it is long past the time the by-election should have been held. The normal procedure is that the party which held the seat where the vacancy has occurred gets the opportunity to move the writ. I had expected that Fianna Fáil would move the writ when the Dáil resumed after the summer recess. That would have allowed the by-election to be held towards the end of October. The Labour Party held off from moving the writ to give Fianna Fáil a reasonable opportunity to do so.

I have, on several occasions, raised the matter of the by-election on the Order of Business with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and, on some occasions, my inquiry has been treated as some sort of a joke. The standard response I have received on each occasion has been that the matter had not yet been considered by the Government. It is time it was considered by the Government. I read in the newspapers that it is the Government's intention to hold the by-election in conjunction with the local and European elections that will be held in early June. If the Government gets its way, it will mean the seat will have been left vacant for almost a year, which is not acceptable. There is no justification for leaving the seat vacant for such a long time.

In Britain by-elections are held within a matter of weeks of the vacancy occurring in the House of Commons. The practice in the early decades of Dáil Éireann was to hold by-elections within a few weeks. For example, in 1927 the then justice Minister, Kevin O'Higgins, was assassinated on 10 July but the consequent by-election was held on 24 August. Even in recent decades normal practice has been that a by-election is held within a few months of the vacancy occurring. Two vacancies occurred during the lifetime of the last Dáil and the by-elections were held within approximately three months. John Bruton and Charlie McCreevy both resigned as Deputies in November 2005, and the writs for the by-elections in Meath and Kildare North were moved in the Dáil by the Government Chief Whip on 15 February 2006.

During the 28th Dáil, which sat between 1997 and 2002, there were six vacancies. On no occasion was the by election deferred for as long as a year. In the case of Theresa Ahern, the by-election was held within eight months. The other vacancies in the lifetime of that Dáil were Michael Ferris, two months; Pat Upton, eight months; Hugh Coveney, six months; Ray Burke, four months; and Jim Kemmy, five months. The pattern is similar for the 27th Dáil. The by-election following the death of Brian Lenihan senior was held within four months. In the case of Neil Blayney it was also four months; Johnny Fox, three months; and Pat Cox, three months. When the Labour Deputy for Cork North-Central, Gerry O'Sullivan, died in October 1994, the by-election was held within a month. One must to go back to the early 1990s to find a by-election postponed for more than a year.

The people of Dublin South are entitled to the full level of representation in the Dáil provided for under the Constitution. The Constituency Commission has determined that the people of Dublin South should be represented by five Deputies. It is not acceptable that the Government should deny them that level of representation to which they are entitled by refusing to hold the by-election. Furthermore, if the Government believes it has the confidence of the people regarding its performance in office so far and particularly in regard to its handling of the economy, then surely it should put this to the test by holding the Dublin South by-election as early as possible.

I anticipate the argument from the Government along the lines that the last thing the country needs at this difficult economic times is a by-election. The fact that the country is experiencing serious economic difficulties is no reason to suspend normal democratic procedures. By-elections have been held previously during times of economic difficulty. Even during the period of the Emergency, while a number of by-elections were deferred, others went ahead. By postponing the by-election for such a long period, the Government is suggesting Deputies do not matter, elections do not matter and democracy does not matter. That is the wrong message to send out at this or any other time.

We all know the reason the Government parties are reluctant to have the by-election in Dublin South. They fear the judgment of the people on a Government that has led this country into an unprecedented economic crisis, that has presided over a record increase in the numbers out of work and that has danced to the tune of the bankers and developers. The prospect of a politically embarrassing result for Fianna Fáil and the Green Party is not sufficient justification for depriving the people of Dublin South of their full level of representation. I take with a grain of salt commitments that the Government parties want the by-election to be held on the same day as the local and European elections. I suspect they would like this by-election to be deferred indefinitely. I am sure that as June approaches other reasons will be put forward as to why it should be deferred further.

It should not be possible for a Government to use its majority in this House to prevent a by-election being held. It is time to consider an amendment to Standing Orders to provide that where a vacancy occurs in the membership of the House, a writ would automatically issue after a specified period, say three or four months, unless a motion is passed that the writ be issued at an earlier date. This is an important motion. The way each Deputy votes on it will be an indication of the extent to which he or she values and respects our political process and our democratic system.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a gabháil le Pártaí an Lucht Oibre as am a thabhairt dom chun labhairt.

Sinn Féin has consistently called on the Government to move the writ for the Dublin South by-election. Our representative in the constituency, Shaun Tracey, has consistently said the Government's current problems should not be an impediment to the democratic entitlements of the people of Dublin South. The people of that constituency have been under-represented for almost six months since the sad passing of Séamus Brennan. We in Sinn Féin agree time should be given to mourn the passing of a Member of the House before preparations begin on the process to replace that Member. However, we feel very strongly that the current unwritten arrangements, whereby the party to which the deceased member belonged has complete discretion in deciding when the by-election takes place, are wrong and definite parameters need to be set, taking into account the sensitivities surrounding a death. However, there should be an appropriate timeframe of three or four months.

The people of Dublin South are not without need for proper representation. Unemployment continues to increase in line with the national average, many new home owners are facing home repossessions and the provision of social housing is at crisis point in many parts of the constituency. Many issues that need to be addressed in that constituency are not being addressed adequately because the area is not fully represented as the people in the area are entitled to be under the Constitution. I support the motion.

I support the motion tabled by my colleagues in the Labour Party that the writ for the Dublin South by-election should be moved. Dublin South has been without one of its political representatives for the past seven months and this political deficit should be redressed and in the few minutes available Deputy Mitchell and I will try to point out why. The people in Dublin South should be given the opportunity to judge the record of the Government which dates back to 2007. At the time of that general election when former Deputy Brennan was elected there were indications that the economy was heading for a soft landing. We now know how hard it is impacting on low and middle-income people. More people are on the live register than when Fianna Fáil took office in 1997. One person loses a job every three minutes. The economy is the second worst performing in the EU with a forecasted contraction rate of almost 5%. The national debt will be doubled in one year and Government borrowing is at unsustainable levels and becoming more expensive. International finance agencies are speaking publicly about downgrading or reviewing the credit standing of Ireland's economy.

Today the Government got an opportunity to take some action. As a result of the deteriorating situation I am sure the Government felt it had no option but to take some very difficult decisions that will affect the take-home pay of every public sector worker. The country and its institutions require wholesale reform if our economic competitiveness is to be restored so that Ireland can again become a friendly place to do business. A portion of money that has been earmarked for the recapitalisation of institutions should be directed at growth, development and small businesses.

Former Deputy Seamus Brennan was a reformer. In the time he was here he genuinely tried to change things for the better but was often held back by his own Taoiseach and leader from getting into any conflict with vested interests. As Minister for Transport, he tried to reform the Dublin bus market but was thwarted. The failure of the Fianna Fáil Party to reform any aspect of State services has held the country back. Our economy has suffered and our competitiveness has deteriorated to become one of the worst in Europe. Delay, inaction, weakness and inequality are all hallmarks of the Government. That the Taoiseach has invested so much time and effort into social partnership and failed to deliver an agreement is an indication of the lack of foresight in dealing with the economic and social consequences of the fallout from inaction over many years.

The Government's response to the financial crisis has been to introduce unfair taxes on the lower and middle-income groups. The Lenihan levy and now the tax on public sector workers target all workers regardless of their income. It is time that the opportunity afforded by the untimely passing of former Deputy Brennan is given to the country to engage in a public debate on how we can get ourselves out of this appalling financial and economic mess. It is time for a referendum on Government performance. As Deputy Gilmore has said, if the Government is confident it is taking the right steps and adopting the right policy let it be put to the test in Dublin South and also in Dublin Central.

The opportunity of providing a referendum is not just an opportunity to pass judgment on the Government performance but of equal importance is that Dublin South should have a full complement of five Deputies to represent the constituency. Regrettably a vacancy has arisen owing to the untimely death of former Deputy Brennan.

I support the call for a by-election for Dublin South. As has been stated by my colleagues former Deputy Brennan was a highly respected Member of the House who was extremely well liked and very popular in Dublin South. He was an active Deputy in the constituency and nationally a great reformer. He is sadly missed and mourned still in the constituency even by those who never voted for him because he commanded such great respect. We all accept it would have been unseemly to rush to replace him in the Dáil. However, it is seven months since he died and it is now time to have a by-election to replace him. I believe he would have wanted this. He would not have wanted a vacuum created in the constituency — a vacuum for his own party which he represented over many years in the Dáil. Given his devotion to his party he would not want to see the people he represented go unrepresented.

Some newspaper reports have suggested that the by-election would take place in June in tandem with the local and European Parliament elections. It would be unthinkable to leave it until June which would be a delay of almost 12 months. In any event it would distort the outcome of the election. Having so many issues to discuss at one time is not fair to the people of Dublin South, as it would distort the vote, particularly if there was also a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

Notwithstanding the excellent representation from the existing Deputies in my constituency, including in particular the two Fine Gael Deputies, there is a demand on the ground for a by-election. There was an understanding that it would be put off for a certain amount of time. However, the people now feel underrepresented and consequently disadvantaged. These are difficult and very uncertain times. There has never been a time when full Dáil representation — not just for the constituency — was needed more. In any event it is the entitlement of the people of Dublin South to have five representatives.

While it is understandable that the Government might be reluctant to put to the test its record of handling the economic mess in which we find ourselves, the prospect of failure or even contemplating failure should not influence the march of democracy. There is a demand from the people of Dublin South and the Fianna Fáil voters in Dublin South to have former Deputy Brennan's seat filled now. As my colleague has said, this is an opportunity for the Government to seek a mandate and let us see what the people have to say. I support the motion.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Government on this motion. I know that the Labour Party and Deputy Gilmore in particular have been raising this issue for a considerable period and I welcome the opportunity to outline the Government's position on it.

The issue of filling the vacancy in Dublin South has been kept under consideration by the Government since the passing of our former colleague, Seamus Brennan, who died on 9 July 2008. Following this consideration we will be opposing the Labour Party call to move the writ for the by-election in Dublin South. While I accept and the Government accepts many of the arguments that have been made by the Deputies opposite, I do not agree with the motion. While we fully acknowledge the right of our citizens to have full and proper representation here in the Dáil, I do not accept the contention made on a number of occasions that the Government is acting in an undemocratic fashion by not setting a date for the by-election in Dublin South — a contention made again this evening.

There is a precedent for by-elections not being held within a set period after the death or departure of a colleague from the House. It was during the first coalition Government of the 27th Dáil in 1993 and 1994 that the seats of two departed Members of this House were left vacant for more than 12 months. This fact was curiously omitted in the litany that Deputy Gilmore recited to the House. In this context the Government believes that the setting of the by-election to fill the seat of our late colleague, Seamus Brennan, should be for a date which takes account of the state of the public finances. This is more important than ever in this particularly difficult economic climate.

Taking into account the upcoming local and European Parliament elections scheduled to take place this June, I would like to confirm that the Government intends to run the by-election for Dublin South on the same day. We will move the writ accordingly for that purpose. On a day such as this, when stark economic decisions have had to be taken, Deputies from all sides will understand the sense in minimising the cost to the Exchequer in running elections. The Government believes this is the prudent approach. We do this while fully accepting the right of the people of Dublin South to full and proper representation. I would refute any suggestion that the Government is motivated in any way to the contrary. Among those who serve that constituency is the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who sits in front of me and who serves the constituency extremely well.

As the Minister of State with responsibility for active citizenship, I have a particular interest in achieving the highest voter turnout possible. In order to achieve this, it is important that we make voting easier and more convenient for more people. By holding the Dublin South by-election and local and European polls on the same day the Government is helping to promote voter participation while minimising the cost to the taxpayer. Fianna Fáil and the Government look forward to the opportunity to contest this by-election and any other elections we have to contest on that day. I hope the Deputies will agree that this is both a worthwhile and a correct approach.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 74.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel J.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.


  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Áine.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Browne, John.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conlon, Margaret.
  • Connick, Seán.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Flynn, Beverley.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Hanlon, Rory.
  • O’Keeffe, Edward.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • O’Sullivan, Christy.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • White, Mary Alexandra.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan.
Question declared lost.