I would first like to congratulate Senator Boyle on the introduction of this Bill in the Dáil in 2007. It should be noted that this Bill is identical, bar the date, to the one introduced by the Green Party and supported by all members of that party in the Dáil debate. On this side of the House, therefore, those of us supporting it are expecting a certain consistency from them. I am sure it is fair enough that they will go through the lobbies in support of this Bill and we await the vote at 7.30 p.m. to see whether they do. Senator Boyle is a very inspired and enlightened Member of the Oireachtas. It would be unusual if he were to vote against a Bill in this House which he had proposed in the Dáil. No, he would not do it. Consistency is obviously the hallmark of the Green Party. Whatever else it has not got, it has that, and we can expect principle to prevail over practice.
I now come to the reason the Bill is topical. A European Commissioner is about to be appointed and it is fascinating to see the speculation on that appointment. The speculation surrounds people such as Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Eoin Ryan, to some extent Pat Cox and other people who are part of what is called the Fianna Fáil family. That, I believe, is very unfortunate, and it is an indication of the way Irish politics has worked in the area of public appointments for a very long time that the Government should think only in terms of appointing people of its tribe, or family, to whom it owes loyalty. This is an indictment of the types of appointments that have been made in this particular area for many years. It does not mean that they are not qualified for the job, but that they are not necessarily the best qualified.
One of the most noticeable characteristics in the debate about who is to get this "plum political appointment" is that when it is made, it will be without accountability to anybody about anything. If Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Pat Cox or whoever gets it, that decision will never have to be ratified by anybody except a Minister and the Cabinet. That is very unfortunate and the Bill seeks to address that issue. It proposes, in effect, that the Minister should have a final say in making the proposals, but let us have the reasons and the criteria set out by an Act of the Oireachtas so we can see that we get the right people, or people at least who are qualified.
It is necessary that the public as well as Members of this House should see that public appointments are accountable and that people who are given these roles are suitable for those positions. The best way of doing that, I suspect, is in this Bill, which is proposed by Senator Boyle. There would be a questions and answers session with joint committees of the Oireachtas looking at and approving or disapproving appointments so that not only political partyhacks are proposed. I point to a couple of the reasons given by Senator Boyle in the last Dáil. Nobody could have put it better than Senator Boyle when he said: "The prime motivation behind the introduction of the Bill is that public appointments must be seen as being other than a reward for political service, [That is absolutely right and that is the point of the Bill] compensation for those who have been disappointed politically and an exercise of jobs for the boys." That is what he called, in effect, what is going on at the moment. He called it "jobs for the boys" and said it must not be seen as that. He is absolutely right and that is the purpose of this Bill.
Senator Boyle continued:
If we can make this type of change with this legislation, the other types of necessary political reform, which form part of my party's programme for Government and which we are prepared to implement with the co-operation of others and put to the electorate for ratification, then this is a process that could help clean up Irish politics once and for all.
One can hear the rhetoric as he said it in the Dáil that day, and no doubt he will repeat that here this evening in his contribution.
His colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said: "the system, as applied by the parties opposite is clearly flawed and corrupt, or certainly corruptible." I would not go that far. I believe he is being over-zealous and somewhat extreme in this regard. I hope when Senator Boyle comes in he will pull back somewhat from the position adopted by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and not brand us all with that extreme brush. I do not believe it is necessarily corrupt. He is wrong about that. It can be seen to be corrupt from time to time, and certainly there is too much patronage. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, added that such favours in terms of public appointments were practices that we need to stop. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, went on to say very enthusiastic words about the Bill and similarly derogatory and extremely insulting words about the system as it exists at the moment. I hope we will get the support of the Green Party.
It is not the first time a Bill of this sort has been introduced, I gather, even in this session. I believe Deputy Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael introduced one in the Dáil along similar lines. The principle behind that again was one of transparency to demand that people see that politicians are not nominating what they call their cronies to positions of great influence which also happen to be well paid. At no time is this more topical than at the moment. Every Member of this House will be familiar with the situation with the board of FÁS. That board is a very funny creature. While the appointments were made by the Minister, there were automatic rights to become members of that board available to representatives of the employers and the unions. That has been abolished, but the substitute, which came before us last week, is a system of direct political appointments. If ever a State agency needed political appointments that were subject to the sorts of checks contained in this Bill, FÁS is one. It is not acceptable for FÁS to be a possible outlet for naked political patronage after what has happened there, but that is what will happen without a Bill of this sort.
In the past few weeks I have been investigating the issue of CIE. One of the most staggering things about CIE is that the annual report names the directors, but that is all that happens. There is not a single fact in CIE's annual report about any of the directors. All it gives is their names and initials. How in the name of God are we to find out about them? I do not want to name names because I do not want to embarrass any individuals. I suggest that some of them are appointed for blatantly political reasons and no other reason. Most non-executive members of the boards of CIE and Iarnród Éireann have very little knowledge of railways. There are people on the CIE board who have a large knowledge of politics and a particularly close knowledge of Fianna Fáil politics. What is so untransparent is that there is nothing anywhere to tell us anything about them, so there is no accountability at all. As I looked at the names of the members of the CIE board, I rang up various people to find out who they were. Some people knew these guys or girls but did not know they were on the CIE board and were very surprised to hear it. They were slipped onto the board without any great public announcement and without any knowledge whatsoever.
The Bill should be considered because the abuses going on at the moment must be abolished. This is one way for doing so. I will go into the details later on. The need for public scrutiny is vital. The method does not matter all that much. What is proposed by Senator Boyle and me is that the Minister would have the final say. However, there would be an open competition with the positions advertised. Candidates should go before a public service appointments unit and then an Oireachtas joint committee which would either support or not support them. That Oireachtas joint committee should also have certain powers of abolition. It is vital that the principle be established forever that Ministers can no longer use their power of patronage to appoint people who are blatantly only qualified for State bodies because of their political colour.