No more sterile debates on forthcoming budget

June 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

When the House returns in the autumn after the summer recess – that is, if there is the same configuration in these Houses as there is at present and according to who is in Government – there will be a short period of three months or perhaps less, before the budget. We had many phoney debates in the House last year about the budget and about the proposals for cuts. The debate became quite sterile. I suggest to colleagues that this autumn we might take the debate to a higher level than perhaps was possible last year when there was a sense of crisis – not that there is not still a sense of crisis – to get beyond simply talking about budgetary measures and cuts and readjustments, necessary as those are, but look to the future of this country. In particular, we should look at the very important issue of investment. We should discuss investment in the economy, investment in infrastructure, investment in people and in ideas so that we can genuinely turn the economy around. This would ensure we would have an economy when we get through the more immediate pressing budgetary crisis.

My party has brought forward a very carefully considered proposal for a strategic investment bank to marshal investment, to marshal resources towards productive activity, to get away from this long hangover we are experiencing as a result of basing our entire future on the construction industry. We need to look at new ideas and ways to marshal available funds into that kind of productive activity in the future. Those of my colleagues who have suggested that my party has no policies or deals in soundbites, might look at this document. I suggest it could form the basis, along with proposals from other parties, for us to get away from this sterile, if necessary, debate about the budget and look to the future.

I noted another contribution today which is relevant to the discussion. In Britain there is a proposal for the establishment of a new green investment bank. This type of initiative will seek to marshal public and private sector funding, given that it is so difficult to get financing for projects, including green projects, to help make this kind of investment which will fund productive activity in the economy. I know the Green Party supports such measures.

I say that sincerely, but we must do more than talk about it. We need initiatives such as our proposal for a strategic investment bank or the green investment bank in the UK. Let us go beyond the immediate debate and brickbats about whether certain measures should be in the forthcoming budget, important as that should be, and have a real debate about the future of the economy.

Govt rejects Labour call to hold Dublin South by-election

June 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday in the Dáil, Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore put forward a motion seeking to move the writ for the Dublin South by-election.  The seat vacated originally by the death of Seamus Brennan in July 2008 had been filled by George Lee before his resignation.  Apart from Mr Lee’s relatively short tenure, the seat has been waiting to be filled for almost two years.

Speaking in the Dáil chamber, Eamon Gilmore highlighted that between 1997 and 2002, the government waited no longer than one year to hold a by-election.

“Various governments have, in the past, been tardy about calling particularly by –elections, but this is the first government to have adopted a policy that all by-elections should be delayed for as long as possible and I have no doubt that if they thought they would get away with it, they would delay them indefinitely.”

Responding on behalf of the government, Chief Whip John Curran stated that now was not the right time for the by-election.

“Along with significant the economic challenges the country faces, the Government and the House are in the middle of an extremely busy legislative programme.”

Deputy Gilmore pointed out to the Chief Whip that if the writ was moved, the by-election would be held during the Dáil recess and not affect the normal work of the Oireachtas. 

The Motion was defeated by 71 votes to 66.

More :: Click here to read Eamon Gilmore’s speech
More :: Click here to view the full debate including the government response
More :: ‘Chief whip says Dáil too busy for byelection’ (Irish Times)

Alex in the Media

June 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

On Saturday morning, I appeared on Newstalk’s Saturday Edition with Brendan O’Brien.  You can hear the programme again by visiting the Newstalk Media Player by clicking here.  Click on ‘Archives’, select ‘Saturday Edition’ and choose Part 2.

On Sunday morning, Sam Smyth invited me on to the panel on his Today FM show.  Also there were Mairead McGuinness MEP and Minister of State Conor Lenihan.  The show can be listened to again by clicking here.

On Sunday evening, I was on the panel for The Week in Politics on RTE1 along with Minister Mary Harney.  Topics included Fine Gael and the banking crisis.  Click here to view the programme again.

Labour selects Alex White to contest Dublin South By-Election

June 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Alex speaks at tonight's Selection Convention

A Labour Party Selection Convention held in Kielys of Mount Merrion this evening (Thursday) formally selected Senator Alex White to be the Party’s candidate in the Dublin South By Election Senator White was the only nominee.

Alex White was a candidate in Dublin South at the last general election, when Labour secured 6,384 votes (10.43%). He was subsequently elected to Seanad Eireann where he is currently Leader of the Labour Group. Alex is also the Labour Party Spokesperson on Children. He contested the Dublin South By Election in June 2009 securing more than 10,000 votes.

Senator White was previously a member of South Dublin County Council and was Deputy Mayor from July 2006 to July 2007.

Since 1994 he has been a practising barrister specialising in employment and labour law. He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and of the Kings Inns.

Between 1984 and 1994 Alex was a producer with RTE, where he worked in radio current affairs, and later as editor of the Gay Byrne Show.

Speaking this evening Senator White said that the refusal of Fianna Fail and the Greens to hold the by-elections in the three constituencies were there are currently vacancies was profoundly anti-democratic. “This is particularly inexcusable in the case of Dublin South where there has been a vacancy for a combined period of close to 18 months since July 2008. The people of Dublin South, Donegal South West and Waterford are entitled to the full level of representation provided for under the constitution and it is not acceptable that Fianna Fail and the Greens should use its voting majority in the Dail to prevent the by-elections from being held”.

“This is the government that has brought the country to the brink of economic ruin and that is presiding over record unemployment levels. The Live Register figures published last month represented the twelfth month in succession where they were in excess of 400,000. It has the lowest approval rating ever recorded by any government in the history of the state. This is a government that has lost all moral and political authority.

“The Labour Party would want to see a general election at the earliest possible date, in order to allow the people to pass verdict on this government. The government will attempt to hang on the very last minute, but in the meantime the very least they should go is give the people of Dublin South to fill the vacancy in Dail representation”

Saville Inquiry report is the ‘bookend at the end of the process’

June 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday was a deeply, searingly emotional event for the people directly involved in Bloody Sunday, the people of the city of Derry, the wider population of Northern Ireland, this country and the United Kingdom. It was an event of truly momentous importance, not just for what the Saville report states which is at the centre of it, but also for what it means at a very high level for the quality of democracy. We should not forget that for years on end many of us had bemoaned the fact that the British establishment was so protective and defensive, but given what it has now done, it behoves those of us who were so critical to acknowledge that Britain has found within itself the ability to acknowledge gross and grievous wrongdoing. That is what occurred yesterday. The statement of the British Prime Minister is extremely welcome in that context. I accept clichés are common in debates of this nature, but it genuinely is a milestone for democracy internationally because it shows that in a democracy there is and should always be available an independent judiciary and option to scrutinise, analyse and, if necessary, criticise the actions of the state.

One of the tests of a democracy is the availability of an independent facility in the system that can deliver this kind of report and analysis. It has taken many years to produce the report, about which many would be critical and sad. People will also be critical of the expense and very often the over-legalisation of the process. Despite the fact that we may be critical, including of tribunals in this country, of the time inquiries take and delays, we should never be tempted to throw out the really sacred, important democratic facility to call on an individual such as Lord Saville, an independent judge, to examine carefully, without fear or favour, the actions of the state and produce a report such as he has produced.

There are lessons for us to learn. Yesterday was about Derry and the events of Bloody Sunday which Senator Mark Dearey stated yesterday that he remembered. I am sure everybody in the Chamber remembers them. I remember being off school for the day of mourning. I regard the report as the bookend at the other end of the process that ensued. Yesterday was such an important day. There are lessons to be learned on the need for independent scrutiny. Let us not, when talking about the tribunals, be tempted to set aside this crucial facility in a democracy. Yesterday was genuinely a great day for democracy.

‘The more one reads these banking reports, the more serious and shocking they become’

June 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

I welcome the publication last week of the two reports into the banking system. We will have the opportunity to debate them in the Senate later but there is so much to discuss and so much material in these reports, it will not be possible for us to deal with them in one debate and it will be an issue to which we will have to return in the coming days, weeks and months.

There is much talk in the Houses today about confidence in political leaders and so on. The most important issue of confidence in Ireland today is the confidence people have in their future in the country – the confidence citizens have that this country can genuinely turn itself, or be turned, around – and that there will be a future for their children. Yesterday we saw further reports on unemployment figures which show Ireland is now 3% above the EU average.

Notwithstanding Professor Honohan was not asked to look at Government policy, contained within his report is a devastating critique of Government policy in the period under review. I accept he dealt with banking management, the prudential system and the regulatory regime but there is a devastating critique of Government policy. The more one reads these reports, the more serious and shocking they become. They contain a devastating critique of economic policy, budgetary policy and macro-economic policy over the period in question. When historians come to write the history of the past 20 years, these reports will be central documents on which they will rely, in particular Professor Honohan’s report.

I was somewhat sceptical, as we in this House have become, in regard to whether the process proposed by the Government was the correct one. Professor Honohan should be congratulated on the clarity and depth of the analysis he gave. However, we now need clear terms of reference in order that the Houses of the Oireachtas and, through them, the people can be involved in a really rigorous, open and transparent examination and analysis of what has occurred and why this country and economy have arrived at this shocking state of affairs.

11 years after Labour Bill on Whistleblower Protection, we still wait

June 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

One of the most frustrating things about debates on transparency and the need for new legislation and measures to deal with whistleblowing and related matters is the extent to which people give the impression that there has only been a recent discovery or realisation of the necessity for such measures. Senator Dan Boyle hopes there will not be another general election before something is done about this, but there have already been two general elections and we are well into the third Oireachtas since this issue was raised for public debate in 1999 by Deputy Pat Rabbitte who published a Bill that year to deal with this issue.

It is fully 11 years since this matter was first raised for public debate. It is simply not good enough for anyone, be they a Minister, supporter of the Government or otherwise, to imply that these matters are now coming forward for public consideration and concern and must be addressed in the light of what has happened recently. We knew about these issues many years ago. There is little use in people saying that now we have seen the dreadful things that have occurred which we never thought would happen – the subtext being that they never thought there would be a problem – but on which we have been proven wrong, we must do something about it. It is simply not good enough to give the people that excuse.

The Minister of State referred to the conclusion of the Company Law Review Group. Bluntly, the company law review group is wrong. When we are considering its report and when we are pointing out, as the Minister of State did, the fact that this group of eminent individuals came to this conclusion, we should bluntly state that the conclusion was wrong. Had these matters been considered in the depth and with the realism with which they should have been considered, the group would have come to a different conclusion. Mr. Paul Appleby and Mr. Michael Halpenny, the representative of the ICTU, were the two lone members of the group who maintained the view that it was necessary to bring forward a report that proposed robust whistleblower protection and legislation. When considering the balance sheet of what has occurred, I believe the best way for the Minister of State to view that group’s report is to conclude that it was wrong. We must do something different from what it recommended. « Read the rest of this entry »

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