Govt needs new approach on all-party ‘co-operation’

February 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Last night, Fine Gael used their Private Members Time in the Seanad to put forward a motion relating to banking in Ireland. Naturally, the Government side put forward their own amendment. Below is my contribution to the debate. Click here to view Labour’s proposals on the dealing with the banking crisis.

I am glad to have the opportunity to support the Fine Gael motion. I have noticed repeatedly on Private Members’ business and across the board that Senators on the Government side of the House frequently complain about the Opposition’s refusal to be positive and co-operative. Senator Boyle got particularly exercised in this regard this evening in his contribution. Senator Hanafin mentioned this too, but was somewhat less exercised on the issue.

I find it difficult to take the frustration of the Government side seriously because the Fine Gael motion is very reasonable. I cannot see how any reasonable person, including Members on the Government side, can argue with the motion. However, the Government side proposes to delete the Fine Gael motion and substitute its own for it. This goes to the heart of the issue of co-operation and Opposition politics. If Senators Boyle, Hanafin and others are serious about wanting co-operation, why do they wish to delete the Fine Gael motion and replace it with their own?

I can understand that some aspects of the Fine Gael motion might give some pause to the Government side of the House. It might find it difficult to agree to phraseology that calls on the Government to take more decisive action to restore the reputation of the Irish banking system. I understand too it might find it difficult to accept one or two other aspects of the motion, and if I was on that side of the House, I might want to amend or vary those aspects. However, I see no reason for the Government side to strike down the basic thrust of the Fine Gael motion.

The motion recognises that the reckless and incompetent management, regulation and oversight of the domestic Irish banking system has damaged domestic and international confidence, that the Irish economy cannot recover from the deepening economic depression without a functioning banking system that enjoys the trust of depositors and everybody else and the public perception that the resolution of the banking crisis is being manipulated in the interests of powerful and wealthy elites. Perhaps the Government spotted itself in that phrase, but it does not necessarily refer to the Government.

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Are we heading towards our own ‘Day of Reckoning’?

February 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

I previously called for a debate in the Seanad on the incredible disparity between prices here and those in the North and Great Britain. I and others asked for this debate to be arranged a couple of weeks ago but there is no sign of it. Surely it is a very urgent issue, sufficiently urgent to have the Minister in the House to explain what action, if any, is being taken by her to address the question of price disparities. It appears none is being taken.

I have no problem with having a debate on intellectual property rights this afternoon but, for the life of me, I do not know precisely why we are having it and what it is about. I am in favour of a debate, but there are urgent issues that require to be dealt with today and tomorrow, including the issue of prices, and we are not debating them. Not only is the economy grinding to a halt, but the political system is doing so also. We are not allowing debates on issues about which the people on the streets are talking.

With regard to prices, consider what has been happening in recent months. I think it was in the autumn that the question arose in the Dáil, when the Taoiseach had a famous Paul Gogarty moment and said to the Tánaiste that she should bring in certain people and speak to them. Then the Director of Consumer Affairs expressed certain views on the issue of prices, after which there was a Forfás report. Most incredibly, the Tánaiste is not taking action or addressing the issue but, as she stated on the radio this morning, she is asking the Competition Authority to conduct an investigation.

When will a Minister make a decision on an urgent question facing the people? Will the Government ever make a decision? As somebody said yesterday, will it constantly off-load and subcontract decisions on serious issues facing us all? We cannot talk about tax because the Commission on Taxation must deal with it, and we might deal with it in next year’s budget.

We cannot talk about prices because this or that body is being asked to investigate them. From what I can see, the political, parliamentary and government systems are grinding to a halt.

Barack Obama said one thing of considerable substance last night, which applies to us here. He said that a day of reckoning had arrived in the American economy in regard to decisions that had been put off there for many years, which people were now having to face up to making. The day of reckoning has arrived for the people of this country, for those who have lost their jobs and for those involved in the real economy. Sooner or later the day of reckoning will arrive for the people who made the decisions and those responsible for indecision over a period of ten or eleven years who have us where we are today.

Alex on The Late Debate

February 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

I appeared on last night’s edition of The Late Debate with Fergal Keane. The other panellists were Sean Connick TD, John Lee of the Mail on Sunday and RTE’s David Murphy.

Topics included the current state of the Banking sector and the news that TDs and Senator will be taking a pay cut. You can listen to the show in full by clicking here.

If Minister comes to the Seanad, we’ll need answers

February 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

We keep returning to the issues of accountability and the role of the Houses and the committees. These Houses are not providing any real forum for accountability, and that is the problem. There is fury and outrage and there must be an opportunity for the Minister to come to the House to answer questions. However, Ministers regularly come to the Seanad. The Leader can agree to invite the Minister to the House next week or the week after, be it Deputy Mansergh or Deputy Brian Lenihan, if he has the time, but it will not make any difference because we do not get any answers.

What is the point? I do not say we should not invite them but what is the point?

Senator O’Toole said the committee is not a Star Chamber. Nobody expects it to be a Star Chamber, but people are crying out for accountability and for questions to be answered. They are not being answered anywhere else so why can they not be answered in the Parliament of the people? If the Minister comes to the House, can it be on the basis of a real expectation that he can give answers to questions?

I recall the Minister for Finance being in the House last September, on that long dark night of the soul we experienced. I recall asking him what exactly had happened on the day the Government extended the guarantee. We never got an answer as to what happened in the room that night. Does anybody, apart from the Minister and those who were present, know what happened that night? It has never been revealed to the public. What precisely was said by the bankers and their advisers to persuade the State effectively to commit the deeds of the State, as others have described it, in a guarantee to the banks? What was the reason for this? It might have been the right thing to do, although I believe it was not and many commentators are coming around to that view. I might be wrong but we will never be able to assess that or work out who is right and who is wrong until we are told why. I mean something more than the bland statement the Minister constantly makes about the system and the worries about it, with this and that bank having systemic importance, and all of this kind of stuff that we can get through. What was said and what was going to happen if the decision was not made? As somebody asked this morning in the Seanad, what was said in the immediate lead-up to the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank? What was the trigger reason that was done on the occasion when it was done?

We cannot have any debate, whether in a committee, here, in the public press or anywhere else if we are not being given the information. What is the basis upon which these decisions are being made? None of that has been provided here in the other House or in the committee, and we need to wake up to that fact because we are only fooling ourselves.

In relation to that, in the newspapers today there is a report of the Minister wanting to revisit the question of TDs’ and Senators’ expenses, allowances and otherwise. This is a sensitive topic for my colleagues in the House but look at what is happening. People are losing their jobs. There are people in this building, public servants, who are having the State delve into their pay in respect of their pensions. Are we seriously going to maintain the position that as Members of these House we ought not to sacrifice something as well? Is there anybody in this House who will take that view? If so, he or she should stand up and say so because this is a very serious situation.

There should be transparency, but it looks as if there needs to be more than just transparency, there needs to be a significant reduction in these matters. Personally, I support any suggestion that has been made, whether it is from the Green Party or from the Minister, that there should be moves on this and it should be done soon.

We are where the Government brought us

February 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Yesterday there was an all-day debate on the latest Government proposals on the Economy. I had a chance to speak and below is a transcript of what I said.

I begin by making a technical point. The Seanad is, of course, not being asked to vote on the measures introduced by the Government this week. I understand the Seanad’s constitutional position in respect of financial matters. It gives a slightly different focus to our debate. We are responding to the statement made by the Minister of State at the beginning of the debate. The advantage of that is that it gives us an opportunity to make more general remarks and give a more general account of where we are coming from on these issues. It is important to remind ourselves that we are not being asked to vote for or against the Government’s measures, which were passed by the other House a couple of hours ago.

I do not disagree with Senator Brady’s remarks, which are fresh in my mind, about the importance of not wallowing in a sense of blame. I agree that we will not make much progress on the grave issues before the House by wallowing in the past or immersing ourselves in petty finger-pointing. Having said that, it would be absurd to suggest that there is no room in this debate for an analysis or assessment of how we got here. I often hear Senators on the Government side using the phrase, “We are where we are.” I even heard Senator O’Toole use it today. That, and nothing more than that, is supposed to be the basis for discussion. It is suggested that we should confine ourselves to proposing how we should get ourselves out of where we are. I would amend the phrase slightly – “We are where the Government brought us.” That is where we are, and it should be the starting point. If we do not honestly analyse what has occurred, I do not think we can hope to achieve the public or social solidarity that will be needed to address these issues in the future. When one asks people to make sacrifices, one needs to have their support and confidence. If one is entirely silent on what has happened, that is not possible. People are not stupid. They are discussing among themselves how we got to where we are. The Government has to be clear on that.

I noticed a marginal reference in the Minister of State’s speech to mistakes having been made. It is like the first cuckoo in that it is the first acknowledgment of mistakes I have spotted in a Government speech over recent weeks. I may be wrong in that respect. The Minister of State touched on the construction issue in that section of his speech. The relevant section lasts just four or five words, but at least it is there. It is necessary. Perhaps the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, made some similar remarks in the other House last week. I am not entirely sure. The Government cannot expect people to come together in any serious way to support its decisions, or at least give it some space when making them, if it is not straight and honest about what has occurred.

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Ericsson job losses shocking news for workers and Dublin South

February 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

The announcement by the telecoms firm Ericsson that it is to lay off 300 workers at its plant in Clonskeagh is terrible personal news for the employees concerned and yet more bad news for the Irish economy

I am calling on the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ask the industrial development agencies to give priority to the search for a replacement enterprise for this area.

This is the latest instalment in what has seemed like an endless saga of bad news on the jobs front this week.

Because of the huge increase in the numbers on the live register those who are to be laid off will face huge difficulties in finding alternative employment.

The reality for the economy is that the loss of 300 more jobs will mean additional expenditure of €3.465m in direct social welfare payments and the loss of almost €2.4m in taxation.

It is not the problems in the public finances that are causing the job losses. It is the rate of job losses that is contributing to the huge hole in public finances.

If the job losses continue at their current rate not only will our economic crisis worsen, but it will lead to significant social problems.

The government has to treat the jobs crisis with the seriousness it deserves. The emphasis has to change from cutting services to promoting economic growth and job creation.

If the Taoiseach’s statement contains nothing of substance, then he must travel to the Phoenix Park

February 3, 2009 § Leave a comment

How can the Seanad take itself seriously, or how it can have any self respect if there is no debate following the Taoiseach’s remarks at 4 p.m? I have appealed to the Leader to answer that question. Apparently the Leader will suggest that it is not entirely clear whether that statement will contain any substance. This is even more worrying. If the Taoiseach’s statement contains nothing of substance, then he must get into his car and travel to the Phoenix Park. That is the only place for him if he has nothing to say to the people this afternoon. There has been months and months of inaction, despite the worsening news regarding the public finances, job losses, failure to put forward proposals and so on. It amazes me that after so many months of inaction, the Government could turn around at dead of night in the middle of a blizzard and table proposals at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. and expect to resolve such massive issues. This constitutes taking people less than seriously in this entire discussion.

Members of the main party on the Government side always have prided themselves on being in touch with the people. Consequently, I presume they know what people are saying at present, which has gone far beyond people simply complaining about this or that decision by the Government. People are saying there is no Government, that no one is in charge and no one is making decisions. This is an extremely serious moment for Ireland, which I do not underestimate. I certainly do not make light of it. It may surprise some Members on the Government benches that Members of the Opposition do not seek to grasp this opportunity to engage in political point scoring of the nature that could be seen from the parties on the Government benches when they were in opposition. This is a highly serious moment for our country and a debate is required in this House this afternoon. Even if no Minister is available, Members should have the debate anyway, as Ministers have not contributed greatly to this debate in the last couple of weeks.

The Government as a whole should engage to some extent with the Opposition parties. The latter merely seek some information and as Opposition parties do not seek necessarily to be making the decisions because that is a matter for the Government. However, some information should be provided to and there should be some engagement with, the Opposition parties. Moreover, there should be a little respect for the institutions of this House.

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