Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Vol. 708 No. 1

Issue of Writ: Donegal South-West By-election

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 election to the European Parliament of Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, a member for the constituency of Donegal South-West.

Former Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher was elected to the European Parliament in June 2009, almost one year ago, and consequently resigned his Dáil seat as required. He was a Government candidate, so the Government was in a position to provide for the eventuality of his election to the European Parliament by planning a by-election within a reasonable timeframe. Almost a year has passed and there is no indication that the Government intends to restore full representation to the people of Donegal South-West. The refusal to hold the by-election is unsurprisingly political — particularly in view of the disastrous nature and massive unpopularity of this Government — and democratically unacceptable.

Sinn Féin last moved the writ for this by-election in July of last year. In the interim, the Government has made no movement to fill the vacancy. Since the seat became vacant, unemployment in Donegal has risen from 19,895 to 21,075 — an increase of 3,180. Some 4,697 young people in Donegal under the age of 25 are out of work. A total of 336 jobs have been lost in the local authority alone since July 2008. The fishing sector is on its knees and there has been a 30% decline in overseas visitors since 1999.

The infrastructure deficit in the constituency is massive: there is no railway link, little access to broadband, local and regional roads are in a state of disrepair, and it is not connected to the national gas grid. Public transport is inadequate at best. Community hospitals are under threat of closure due to the current HSE review on long-term residential care. Schools are in desperate need of both repair and new buildings. This year alone, 78,000 home-help hours have been cut across County Donegal.

Taking these various issues into account, there is a clear indication that, now more than ever, Donegal needs and deserves full representation. The Fianna Fail-Green Party Government has failed the people of Donegal South-West. It has failed to implement a job creation and retention strategy for the county, which is haemorrhaging jobs left, right and centre.

Our system is flawed in that Government can obstruct the process of calling a by-election for selfish political purposes. This should change and a constitutional obligation for a by-election to be held within a set period after a vacancy arises should be put in place. The holding of by-elections should not be determined on the basis of what is politically expedient for the party or parties in office at any given time.

In 1986, Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP, said it was "morally and democratically wrong" for the then Fine Gael-Labour Government to oppose the holding of a by-election in Donegal South-West. The by-election for Donegal South-West should be called without delay. The Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Science, who represents the constituency in question, was present in the Chamber until this motion was moved but has now left. I call on the Government to set the date for this by-election and to recognise that by-elections must be also held in two other constituencies elsewhere in the jurisdiction. Holding these by-elections is imperative and no other course of action will suffice.

As one of the two remaining Deputies representing Donegal South-West, I have no difficulty supporting the motion. I am sure my party will also support it.

I agree that there is a democratic deficit in Donegal. It has been almost a year since Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP, was elected to the European Parliament. In terms of area, Donegal South-West is one of the largest three-seat constituencies in this country. It stretches from Creeslough in the north to Bundoran in the south, a distance of 105 miles by road. The constituency runs along the Atlantic coast through Cloghaneely, Gweedore and The Rosses and stretches east to the borders of counties Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry. It also includes half a dozen inhabited islands, namely, Tory Island, Arainn Mhór, Gola Island, Inishbofin, Rutland Island and Owey Island.

As already stated, this large constituency is now represented by two remaining Deputies, namely, the Tánaiste and me. The Tánaiste is an extremely busy lady and is obliged to fulfil her governmental responsibilities throughout the country. This means that I am obliged to spend a great deal of time catering for the needs of the people of Donegal South-West. I enjoy every minute of this work and I like meeting the people who live in the area. Last weekend I travelled around the constituency a total of three times. I will repeat that exercise next weekend and the following weekend.

As Deputy Ó Caoláin stated, Donegal has suffered greatly in recent years. He also referred to comments made by Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP, in 1986 when Fianna Fáil moved the writ for a by-election in Donegal South-West. At that time, Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP, painted a dismal picture of the state of Donegal's economy and indicated that 12,500 people were unemployed. Today, some 23,000 people in the country are unemployed. That is enough said. I will not embarrass the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, by repeating anything else that was said in 1986.

Donegal has suffered a great deal. Its industrial base has been decimated and its traditional indigenous industries — fishing, agriculture and tourism — are in crisis.

The Tánaiste and I represent almost 70,000 people in Donegal South-West. The constitutional guidelines stated that individual Deputies should represent only between 20,000 and 30,000 constituents. We are, therefore, in contravention of the guidelines to which I refer. As a result, I am of the view that the current position is open to challenge in the courts.

We should not be seeking a by-election for Donegal South-West, we should be seeking a general election.

That is correct.

The Government is paralysed and is doing nothing. The country is in an awful state. It is not possible to fly into Ireland because of the clouds of volcanic ash overhead. People cannot leave the country because they cannot obtain passports. We are prisoners in our own land. At least the Greeks can enter and leave their country. We cannot go anywhere. If it is not possible to hold a general election, then the Government should at least allow the by-election for Donegal South-West to proceed. My party's candidate, Councillor Barry O'Neill, is ready to run and will win.

I support the motion. I echo what Deputy McGinley stated in respect of the need for democratic representation. The Deputy referred to the massive size of the constituency of Donegal South-West. The Minister of State could probably traverse his constituency on a bicycle. I speak to Deputy McGinley a great deal and I know he visits St. Johnston one weekend, Creeslough the next and thereafter he travels to Gweedore, Ballyshannon and elsewhere. It takes a massive effort to cover the entire constituency of Donegal South-West. Deputy McGinley's workload has probably doubled in recent times but there is no better man to shoulder such a burden. The Deputy is working hard in his constituency. However, the people who live there are of the view that two Deputies are not sufficient to represent them in Dáil Éireann.

Deputy McGinley and I engaged in some sampling in Donegal town the weekend before last. We went out and met the people and from listening to their views we are aware that there is a demand for the by-election to be held. They are asking what the Government has to fear by holding the by-election. What do the Government and the Fianna Fáil Deputies in Donegal have to fear? Deputy McGinley referred to our candidate, Councillor Barry O'Neill. Is he the man that those opposite fear?

The Government does not appear to want to hold this by-election. The third seat in Donegal South-West has been vacant for 11 months. This matter must be addressed. I again wish to indicate my support for the motion. I hope the Government will see sense in respect of holding the by-election.

I will probably receive a telephone call from my Donegal-born parish priest in respect of this matter.

Yes, that will be the case.

It is good to see the Acting Chairman back in the Chamber following his experience at a recent sporting event.

Given that Fianna Fáil does not have the confidence to hold its annual Ard-Fheis, it would be surprising if it agreed to hold a by-election in any constituency. This is what Members are debating this evening. The issue of a motion to contest the by-election in County Donegal ultimately is a motion of confidence by the present Government. Its determination not to allow this by-election to proceed is a reflection of its confidence in Government, and not simply its confidence in its ability to hold or to retain a seat in that county.

The Labour Party supports, welcomes and will back the Fine Gael motion this evening.

The Sinn Féin motion.

I apologise. The Sinn Féin motion.

Deputy Lynch, without interruption.

The Labour Party will back this motion. This is the second time this motion has come before the House. It came before the House last July. Perhaps legitimate concerns could have been raised at that time because had the by-election been called, it would have been held at the beginning of August in the middle of the holiday season. However, a year has passed since the call to issue the writ was made last July and there is no excuse for what the Government is doing at present. In fact, there was no excuse for its failure to hold the by-election on the day of the second Lisbon treaty referendum. Consequently, Members are witnessing deliberate prevarication by the Government to defer and to put off the inevitable giving of a day to the public in County Donegal on which they can determine who will represent them.

The issue of by-elections to this House in recent years and in particular during the lifetime of this Government is creating a dangerous precedent. Counties Donegal and Waterford and the constituency of Dublin South are without representatives in this House. I can understand the Government's position to some extent because by its own reckoning, it will not win any of the seats in question and were the three by-elections to be called, the country would enter general election territory. Perhaps this is the only reason for deferment of all the by-elections on an ongoing basis. It has been indicated that an election will be held to choose a mayor of Dublin sometime in the early autumn. In his response, the Minister of State might commit the Government to holding the aforementioned three by-elections on the same day, if such an election is to take place.

However, I believe none of the three by-elections will take place. Moreover, I believe the Government will try to stymie the election of a mayor of Dublin because of the consequences arising from the three by-elections coming into play on the same day. Similarly, other matters, such as referendums on children's rights and so on will be put on the back burner as the Government does everything within its power to hang on to power and to ensure that such elections will not take place.

I will conclude by noting that European elections are held every five years. This is predictable and they coincide with the local elections. It is almost inevitable that one outcome of these elections is that one or more Members of this House will be elected to the European Parliament. It is about time to put in place legislation or a Standing Order on this issue. I note this is not a constitutional issue and does not require constitutional change. Consequently, Standing Orders of the House should be adapted to set out a predetermined time following the vacancy of a seat arising. It is evident that this will happen again following the next European Parliament elections. This was predicted before the last such elections and ultimately, a code of conduct is required to ensure that unless exceptional circumstances have arisen, no more than three to five months should elapse before filling a seat.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on behalf of the Government and I thank the previous speakers for their contributions.

The Minister of State should leave down the script and tell the House the by-election will be held.

However, the Government does not believe this to be either the right or the appropriate time to hold this electoral contest. I hope to set out some of its reasoning for this decision. As Members are aware, over the past two years this country has experienced one of the most turbulent economic periods in its history. This has occurred primarily due to a deep international recession, which has significantly affected people in the constituency of Donegal South-West and elsewhere. During the past two years, the Government has been working hard to ensure that Ireland and the Irish people will be able to come through this difficult period. In this House, Members have passed some of the most important legislation in the history of the State. Following a period of real difficulty and uncertainty, I am glad to note that such decisions and legislation are beginning to show signs of a turnaround in the country's fortunes. While I do not believe for a minute that the road back to recovery is complete, the actions of the Government have helped to place us firmly in the right direction. Today, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs indicated that the economic plan being implemented by the Government is bold and credible. He continued by noting that the Irish economy is recovering. This follows previous comments in an edition last week of the Financial Times, which stated that the country had a credible recovery plan. Moreover, today’s Exchequer returns also bear this out.

It is in this context that the Government does not believe it now would be in the best interests of either the people or of Donegal for the Government and the political parties to take their eyes off the recovery of the economy to focus their attention on running electoral contests.

The Minister of State should give Members a break.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

The Government does not disrespect the democratic rights of the people of Donegal as has been claimed by some Members on the benches opposite.

It is called fear and is spelled F-E-A-R.

In fact, the opposite is the case.

It is in the people's interest not to give them their say.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

As was mentioned previously, the Government is proud to represent the people of County Donegal in strong numbers in the Dáil, Seanad and European Parliament, led by the Tánaiste.

To whom is the Minister of State selling this?

The Government is working hard to bring the people of County Donegal through the recession. Its primary focus is to protect existing jobs and to create job opportunities for those who are without work at present. It also is committed to building on its strong record of delivery in County Donegal over more than a decade, particularly in respect of the roll-out of new infrastructure and improved services. At a national level and despite the difficult economic position, the Government has continued to invest in building a new high-quality road network to link Donegal through the North to Dublin.

Tell Jim McDaid to use it, he might turn up once in a while?

When built, this will help visitors in County Donegal and the entire north west to create new employment opportunities and to open up the area for new investment possibilities.

I listened to some of the deficits outlined in respect of infrastructure and opportunities in County Donegal. I will outline some of the investments made by the Government. Substantial improvements in its road network and completion of significant upgrading to primary and secondary routes, coupled with completion of substantial town bypass projects have been key to improving access to the county. More than €228 million has been invested in the county's non-national road works since 2004, which has led to many smaller local road projects being undertaken. Investment in and ongoing support for flights at Donegal Airport by the Government has ensured the viability of air links to west Donegal, which is essential to attract investment to that part of the county. The work of Údarás na Gaeltachta, strongly supported by the Government, has seen new jobs created in Gaeltacht areas and in Gweedore Business Park in particular. The IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the county enterprise boards also have been key in support of business projects in the county and in job creation.

The Government will keep under review the moving of the writ for Donegal South-West.

The Minister of State should shock Members and hold the by-election.

In the meantime, however, the Government will continue its work to help the people of County Donegal and Ireland to come through this recession stronger and to ensure that the people of County Donegal will benefit fully from the expected growth in our economy.

With such a proud record, the Government should have no fear of a by-election.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá 76 76; Níl 76.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Bannon, James.
  • Behan, Joe.
  • 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.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • O’Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Sherlock, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.


  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Áine.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Browne, John.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conlon, Margaret.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Flynn, Beverley.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Hanlon, Rory.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Edward.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • O’Sullivan, Christy.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • White, Mary Alexandra.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies John Curran and John Cregan.

There is an equality of votes. Therefore, pursuant to Article 15.11.2° of the Constitution, I must exercise my casting vote. I vote against the question in this case, the result of the vote now being: Tá, 76; Níl, 77.

Question declared lost.