No. 2 on the agenda is the election of a Vice Chairman. May I have nominations for the position?
Election of Vice Chairman.
I propose Deputy Rory O'Hanlon.
I second that proposal.
I really deplore this, although I have nothing against Deputy O'Hanlon. He and I are old friends and colleagues. This morning when I bumped into him I said: "I am delighted we are going to be working together". However, to have the Chairman and Vice Chairman from the same party is a farce. It is not a good idea, although I have nothing whatever against Deputy O'Hanlon who has had a most distinguished career in the service of the country. Were he to have been the Fianna Fáil nomination for Chairman I would have been quite happy but a smash and grab raid for both positions in this way is not a good beginning. It is deplorable, and I say that as one of the people who brought about the instigation of this committee and is its longest continually serving member. I am the only person to have been a member of this committee from the beginning without a break. We have an excellent group of people and its strength, as has been said, is in the fact that it is independent. I am sorry but I will not agree to the proposal.
Are there any other nominations?
In light of what my good friend and colleague, Senator Norris, said, my understanding is that negotiations have taken place, which have included Independents and other political groupings, and there has been agreement on the issue. We may look on ourselves as a committee specific to the Department of Foreign Affairs but Senator Norris's point is clearly answered in the broader sense by the agreement that has been made among the groupings. I put that on the record to balance what has been said.
I thank the Senator. We must proceed with the nominations. Are there any other nominations?
If he is prepared to accept, and I am not sure he is, we would be graced by Deputy Michael D. Higgins being elected as Vice Chairman. Will anybody second the nomination?
Nobody would have any objection to the nomination of Deputy Higgins but Senator Norris is going off on a tangent, all by himself, contrary to what has been agreed by all the political groupings. I am not sure if Deputy Higgins will agree and wonder if he is being put in an embarrassing situation.
The Irish people should know that this is a political fix.
Senator Norris called the situation a farce but what he is doing is a farce.
It is not a farce.
Does the Senator wish to nominate Deputy Michael D. Higgins?
I do but it requires that he agree. I wish to reply to what Senator Callely said. It is time people knew that these matters are decided behind closed doors, which is what Senator Callely said.
They are not decided behind closed doors but by agreement.
Why do we call it an election? Why do we not be honest about it and just call it a nomination? If we are nominating people that is fine.
I will say something to be of assistance to the committee and defend a fundamental principle. Senator Callely has said there have been meetings and negotiations among the Whips. I understand they were protracted and began with what the Government was offering. The parties in Opposition, including Independents, are asked to adjust themselves to that fact. That may well be the case but we are the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, a committee independent of any consultations among the Whips.
Senator Norris raises a fundamental point. It is a matter of principle and we are entitled to air it here. It would be very wrong if we did not. I agree with him that it is a very bad idea for the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs to come from the party of which the Executive is composed. I have laid out my own thinking on this matter, as members know, and irrespective of who is in Government, I am in favour of a committee that enjoys autonomy. I do not think the committee will be able to deliver on that, though I hope I am proved wrong. It will have no right to summon witnesses or to require a Minister's presence. I would support any Chairman or Vice Chairman who wanted a strong committee.
Senator Norris's point is very important. We must consider all committees, not just this one. In the Danish Parliament the committee has the right to initiate legislation but we are very far from that. We discuss very little legislation but do we have the right to amend agreements which come before us? Senator Norris makes a very reasonable point because there is a principle involved. I could not care less what the Whips have agreed and I defend Senator Norris's right to say it is a bad idea that the Chairman and Vice Chairman come not only from the Government side but from the same party. This is no reflection on Deputy O'Hanlon, and he knows the enormous respect I have for him, which is why I have not mentioned his name in the context of the discussion. I will not delay proceedings because it is perfectly clear that I would not have the support to be elected Vice Chairman. However, I wish it to be put on record that I was available to be Chairman of this committee, and to be Vice Chairman. I would have been honoured to serve having probably had, apart from Senator Norris, the most experience in foreign affairs.
If the Government is able to take both positions then that is a fact of life with which we must live but we are not required to say we applaud it. We are certainly free to say we disapprove of it. I thank Senator Norris for his nomination but it is clear that, in the absence of widespread acclamation or a massive conversion to principle, I would not be elected.
Can the clerk to the committee tell us if this was the case in the last Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs? I do not believe it was, nor am I sure if it has ever happened before. Has it ever happened before that both Chairman and Vice Chairman have come from the same party? I believe it is a new development.
Yes, it was the case last time. There were two sub-committees and between the convenors and the Whips it was worked out who would chair them. We will arrange those sub-committees as soon as possible. As there are no other nominations I declare Deputy Rory O'Hanlon elected as Vice Chairman. I congratulate the Deputy and look forward to working closely with him.
I wish Deputy O'Hanlon well and he will bring to the position a distinguished record in public service, having represented Ireland abroad in different fora. I wish him health and happiness in the position.
I fully endorse what Deputy Higgins says.
On behalf of Fine Gael, which has five members on this committee, I congratulate the Chairman on his selection, or election, or appointment or whatever we want to call it. I also congratulate Deputy O'Hanlon. I have every confidence both will do a good and fair job and we will co-operate to the best of our ability to ensure this committee fulfils its terms of reference and addresses the many issues of concern to members.
I take on board the points made by Deputy Higgins and Senator Norris. Deputy Higgins is a former lecturer of mine and nobody would rather Deputy Higgins was Chairman of the committee more than me. There are eminent individuals on this side of the room who would have also made a fine Chairman. However, we are pragmatists and will not get bogged down.
Principled pragmatists like the Green Party.
I congratulate the Chairman on his election and thank colleagues for electing me as Vice Chairman. I have no doubt the Chairman will always be available but, in the event he is not, I look forward to taking the Chair and acting in accordance with the very high traditions set by my illustrious predecessors, the Chairman included. I fully appreciate the feelings of Deputy Michael D. Higgins and Deputy Norris.
Deputy O'Hanlon is reducing me to the position of a Deputy. I am a Senator.
I am sorry. I should have said Senator Norris and Deputy Higgins. I appreciate their feelings and they are absolutely correct to express them at this meeting. Neither Deputy Woods nor I would interpret their comments as personal. I thank everybody for their support.
We have a number of other items on the agenda. It is a short agenda involving the arrangement of convenors and other things. As they are matters of a housekeeping nature I propose to deal with them in private session.