Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 9 Jul 1947

Vol. 34 No. 3

Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 1947 (Certified Money Bill) —Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The emoluments and allowances of the President are governed by the Presidential Establishment Act, 1938, Section 1 (1) of which provides for the payment to the President of emoluments and allowances at the rate of £10,000 a year. Of this sum £5,000 is specified in the section as being the President's personal remuneration. This Bill proposes that the emoluments and allowances of the President be raised to £11,500, his personal allowance, however, being retained at £5,000. The increase proposed represents 30 per cent. of that portion of his income which is allocated to the expenses of his office. This increase is obviously necessary on account of the increase in cost since 1938 of maintaining staff and other necessary expenditure connected with the Presidential Office.

I should like to put very briefly the reasons why we oppose this particular Bill. It is necessary to have an office of this character, and it is necessary to make suitable provision for it, but the present Minister and his Party, when in opposition, showered abuse on the office of Governor-General and even went so far as to show discourtesy to the holder of that office. That legacy they have left us to some extent hangs like a cloud over certain of our institutions.

The provision in the Constitution for the selection and election of a practising politician for the office hurts, I also think, the office itself. I agree that the holder should be regarded with respect and should not be criticised, and anything I have to say on this occasion is not to be taken as reflecting upon him in any way.

I submit that it is not sound to bring in this Bill with other political measures, such as the Bills proposing to increase the allowances to Ministers, Deputies and Senators. The cost of living bears very harshly upon everybody and particularly upon the salaried classes, the white-collared workers who used to do entertaining in their own modest fashion. These people have had less in the way of increases to meet the increased cost of living than any other class of the community and the Minister, in the Finance Bill, was enabled to make certain concessions to them. We think that this Bill could be left over until the situation has improved, even if it meant a certain curtailment in entertainment. For that reason, we think the Bill should not be proceeded with now.

It was quite obvious that Senator Hayes was labouring under very severe difficulties when making his speech against this Bill. He could not find it in his heart to oppose it as he might like to. He tries to bolster some kind of case by saying that the present Minister, when in opposition, showered abuse upon the occupant of a somewhat similar position.

No, I did not say that; I was more accurate than that.

The Senator is generally pretty accurate as to what he means.

I did not mean that and I did not say it.

There was no such position when the present Minister was in opposition. The person who was then in what Senator Hayes would like to suggest was the same position was the representative of another country.

That is entirely foolish, as well as being inaccurate.

The man who now occupies the position of President is the representative of the Irish people. He is head of the State and it comes very badly from a man to whom I might refer as the Leader of the Opposition to make such a statement as he has made.

I understand from Senator Quirke that the case for this Bill is based on the contention he has now advanced, that the occupant of the office to which this Bill relates is the representative of the Irish people. Surely, that is not the issue? The real issue is whether the sum allowed to the occupant of the office to provide entertainment is adequate. If it is not adequate the President has a very easy remedy in his hands. He can curtail his expenditure on entertainment to a figure that will not exceed £5,000 a year. That is surely obvious. What we are being asked to do here is to agree that he ought to maintain a standard of expenditure on entertainment at the rate of £6,000 a year, and that at a time when we are unable to get advances in the very meagre allowances given to other people, not to provide entertainment but to keep them alive.

I do not want to bring in any of the cheap stuff that could be brought in on a Bill of this kind; it is very easy to be cheap about it. At the same time, it is desirable to be realistic and I consider that if we are in a position where we cannot afford to increase the allowances to old age pensioners, we ought to be chary before agreeing to a proposal to increase a sum, not by way of salary but by way of allowance for entertainment. If the case were made that the salary which is paid to the President is insufficient—as has been done in the case of the judges and as will be done later in the case of Ministers—I think we ought to meet that case on its merits. We ought to consider whether or not £5,000 a year is a sufficient salary for the President.

The only thing we are concerned with is the suggestion that a figure of £5,000 a year is not sufficient to provide entertainment. I wonder whether giving entertainment on a lavish scale is of very much value to the country? I am pretty certain that the President, like any other sensible man, dislikes personally having to provide entertainment on many occasions on which it is provided. He would be happier if he were left to lead his own life without being called upon to spend large sums of money on entertaining people for whom probably he has no regard whatever. So far as I am concerned, I want to say that I consider an allowance of £5,000 a year for entertainment purposes excessive. I said that in 1937 when I was a member of the committee that inquired into these questions, when we did not know who the President would be, so that there can be no suggestion that there is anything personal about it. Before any election took place, I expressed the view at that committee that we should aim at a very much more simple form of office both for the President, Ministers and other public officials. I still think that a figure of £5,000 is excessive. I certainly cannot consent to having that figure increased to £6,000 a year.

I think the principal function of the President is to entertain and to represent the nation in as worthy a manner as possible in that dignified capacity and I think that the sum of £5,000 or £6,000 a year is not an excessive amount to be spent for that very worthy object. After all, the President meets all kinds of distinguished people who visit this country and it would give a very poor impression of our national character and our hospitality if either the President could not entertain or if he must do so on such a scale of stinginess as an inadequate allowance would permit. The whole argument which Senators have used against this Bill reminds me of the passage about the box of alabaster ointment. There were those on that occasion who considered that the box of ointment should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor although it could not have done very much to relieve the hungry. I think the same kind of argument is applicable to this occasion. The poor we shall have always with us but I suggest the question of the provision to be made to relieve poverty is in no way connected with the matter now before the House. We have our obligations to the poor and our obligations to the President and I should hesitate to do anything that would in any way tend to lessen the dignity of the high office of President, who represents the nation.

There is only one other matter to which I should like to refer. There are a number of thistles growing in a field not far from the house in which the President lives. It would be a good example to the nation in every sense of the word if these thistles were cut and if the cost of that operation cannot be met out of the moneys now provided I think it should be raised in some other way.

I intend to support this Bill. The way this question presents itself to me is that when the President provides entertainment, although he is entertaining as President, he is entertaining on behalf of the whole nation. I feel that the allowance is not more than he should have to do that in a proper manner. A large number of foreign visitors are here now and many more will be coming here in future. I should not like it to be felt that they were not entertained, not in luxury, because that is impossible at present, but adequately entertained. I think the President should be provided with adequate funds for that purpose.

I sympathise with Senator Hayes having to make some show of opposition to this measure because, when the Bill which fixed the salary and allowances of the President at £10,000 a year was going through the Seanad, Senator Hayes, speaking on the 1st July, 1938, as reported in Volume 21 of the Official Report, column 483, said:

"I approve entirely of the provisions of this Bill and the Second Reading."

His colleague, Senator Douglas, also approved of the Bill and equally supported it. Speaking, as reported in column 492 of the same volume, Senator Douglas said:

"I am not at all certain that it will not be found necessary to spend a larger amount on the office than is here provided."

If £5,000 was felt to be a proper sum to give the President as an allowance for expenses in 1938, I do not think the Government can be accused of over-generosity in increasing that amount by 30 per cent. at the present time. After all, no one who keeps a domestic staff will deny that the cost of keeping a staff or keeping an establishment has not gone up by at least 30 per cent. since 1938. I do not see what case can be made against giving the President this additional 30 per cent. on that part of his emoluments which is to be devoted to the upkeep of his establishment. We are not increasing the personal salary of the President. It still remains at £5,000 a year.

The President could, of course, carry out certain of his Presidential functions on a very much lesser sum. If the sole and only function given to him, were to sign Bills or to refuse to sign them before the Supreme Court adjudicated on the matter, or certain other formal functions of that kind, he could live in a couple of rooms and carry on on a very modest salary indeed. But the Committee that considered the matter in 1938, the Government, the Dáil and the Seanad, all agreed that it was necessary in the interests of our people that the Head of the State, the President, should be given £10,000 in salary and emoluments. That sum if translated into present-day figures would have to be increased very substantially indeed in order to have the same purchasing power. We have given certain allowances to various public officials and while we decided not to attempt fully to compensate them for the increase in the cost of living since before the war, we did, even in the case of the highest salaried public servants, give a certain addition which compensates in some measure for the increase in the cost of living since 1939.

Senator Hayes was very short of an argument when he fell back on the fact that I objected to the representative of a foreign king in the park calling himself the Head of the Irish people. I am proud of that fact. He was very short of another argument when he spoke about the President having been a practicising politician before he was elected. The President is proud of the fact that he played a prominent part in the politics of this country.

He offered himself for election by the Irish people on the part he played in securing the freedom of his country. In any event, Senator Hayes, during the Presidential election, supported another practising politician, who did not succeed in securing election. I think we would be unwise in the interests of our own people, in asking the President to curtail the entertainment which he gives at Árus an Uachtaráin. I think the President is fulfilling a very valuable function, both as regards our internal affairs and by the external contacts which he makes. I hope that the Seanad will agree that the allowance for expenses should be increased by 30 per cent., as we propose.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 16th July.