Taoiseach has sought to abuse his constitutional prerogative

January 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

From yesterday’s Order of Business in the Seanad…

The other night a lady asked me whether I believed Fianna Fáil’s vote of confidence in the Taoiseach was part of an elaborate manoeuvre for the public. That people would be positioned in a particular way and look like they were resigning when they were not. I told her I did not believe even Fianna Fáil would engage in such an activity and that, in my experience, members of the party did not resign from public office unless they had to or were forced to do so. However, I am beginning to wonder. This is a shambles of unbelievable proportions and it is relevant to Seanad business, given that we will expect Ministers who attend the Chamber to deal with legislation in the coming weeks to show a certain amount of experience and application to the job.

Let us consider what has occurred within the Government. First, Green Party Ministers stated they were leaving. We must take them at their word that they will be gone by the end of March. The Minister for Foreign Affairs then resigned because he did not have confidence in the Taoiseach. Yesterday four more Ministers retired or deserted, depending on which word one wants to use. Another Minister retired this morning. Apart from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, this leaves seven members of the Government. Of these, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, has been throwing shapes in the past week or ten days as to his intentions, where he wants to be and what he believes should occur. It is difficult to believe he gave anything like a full-blooded endorsement to the Taoiseach. The Minister for Finance has been accused by members of his own party, not the Opposition, of engaging in the black arts in respect of what he believed about the Taoiseach and whether he should remain in office. By the time we get to the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport we are down to the last two or three Ministers who have given the Taoiseach the impression that they will stick with it. The Government is a complete shambles and falling apart in front of our eyes.

For the purposes of procedure, I will put my comments in the form of questions. Does the Leader agree that what the Taoiseach has done amounts to a gross abuse of his important and solemn prerogative under the Constitution to appoint members of the Government? He stands accused of abusing this prerogative for naked political and electoral gain. He can chuckle away all he wants, as he did in the Lower House yesterday. Clearly, that is what he intended to do and what he is doing. It is a disgrace that he should be allowed to do so by Fianna Fáil or anyone else.

Summer recess shows current govt is part of the problem

September 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

With regard to people’s confidence in the future, unfortunately we must record the fact that whatever about the mood in this House and the mood in Leinster House, there is a really palpable mood of despondency and fear throughout the country and that has not changed since we were here last. If anything, it has got worse. We have a responsibility to address this. The principal responsibility lies with the Government but I accept that the Opposition and the people involved in public life have a great responsibility also. The difficulty for the Government – particularly during the summer when there were many examples – is that most people have now taken the view that the Government, far from being able to produce a solution or be part of the solution, is itself part of the problem.

I refer to the question of engagement with people. It is reported in the newspapers today that the Taoiseach stated the Irish Government is trying its best – I do not have the exact words to hand but he is quoted in this morning’s newspaper – to persuade people on the international front that we are doing the right thing. I can understand the Taoiseach attempting to do this but when is he going to start persuading and addressing the issue of the confidence and the belief in this country on the part of the people of this country? Again and again in the spring, Members opposite referred in the House to The Wall Street Journal and various other newspapers in America which they thought were praising Government policy. I do not see them bringing in copies of The Wall Street Journal or some other publications that have been commenting recently on the deterioration in the economic situation here.

On this question of confidence, I agree that the Irish Government should be engaging with the people. There is a serious failure on the part of the Government and in particular, on the Taoiseach’s part. I do not want to hear again another reference to turning the corners. What does the phrase, “turning the corner” mean? The Irish people are able to put up with bad news and they are able to put up with the truth. They are able to put up with honesty and they do not get that from the Government. They get this happy, clappy sort of soft-soaping where everything is fine and we are turning the corner. How many times have we turned the corner? We are going around a roundabout at the moment and that is the sort of corner we are turning. The first time this phrase was used was a year ago and the Minister for Finance is still saying it. The Government should level with the people. Let us have facts and honesty and the first place we should have it is in this House, today and tonight, about Anglo Irish Bank. I refer to the ludicrous scenario whereby tonight, the House will be asked to extend the guarantee but we will only be told the story about Anglo tomorrow.

What sort of nonsense is that and what way is that to treat the Parliament and the people of Ireland? The Government should level with the people. Let us have the facts. We can take it and the people of Ireland can take it. It would be much better for the Minister for Finance and the Government and Taoiseach to level with people and give the facts to the people of Ireland, however negative are those facts, so that people can then be part of this great confidence-building exercise which we all want them to engage with.

Alex on Newstalk

September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday morning, I was part of the panel for The Dunphy Show on Newstalk.  Other panelists were Minister of State, Conor Lenihan, editor of the Star newspaper, Ger Colleran and the editor of thejournal.ie Jennifer O’Connell.

Up for discussion were the events of the week including the fallout from the Taoiseach’s Morning Ireland interview.

You can listen to the show in full on the Newstalk website by clicking here, or by downloading the podcast from iTunes.

Taoiseach forgets he’s in the driving seat

November 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

I am afraid it is not credible to say that by his statement at the weekend the Taoiseach has got himself into the driving seat. The Taoiseach has been in the driving seat for 18 months in this country.

Prior to that, he was in the seat beside the driver as he was in the Department of Finance for an extended period. I am not prepared to go along with the notion that the Taoiseach now has credibility on public sector reform. He just does not have that credibility. There is a cabinet sub-committee that is supposed to be meeting on this issue for the last year and a half, but the Taoiseach could not even answer the question yesterday on whether that committee had met. I understood from his response that it has not met. It is no use saying the Taoiseach has now put himself into the driving seat. The Taoiseach has had every opportunity for 18 months and more to address these issues, but he has failed to do so, along with his Government.

It is perfectly legitimate for people to criticise the public service and to call for reform, as I have. The problem is that the debate has become suffused with anecdote, prejudice and worse. Everybody has their story about the public service and what should happen. However, the Government gets to do more than what we get to do, which is to come in here and call for things to happen. It is ludicrous for RTE to report the Taoiseach as “calling” for public service reform. That is what we do in here. We call for things but unfortunately we have little or no power to deliver them. The Taoiseach does not get to call for things. He gets to do things. That is why he is the Taoiseach.

We should forget about calling for things and expressing wishes. Let us have a balanced review of the problems that exist and of the issues in the public service that require reform. That can be done in a relatively short period. Let us then have some action on the issue. People who are marching on the streets are being told they are the problem, but they are not the problem. Cuts do not amount to reform. If people are serious about reform, let us have a balanced assessment on what needs to be done and then let us have some action.

More :: Cowen calls for ‘fundamental reform’: RTE

Taoiseach’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach to budget cuts

October 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

I never received an answer to my question to the Leader of the Seanad some weeks ago as to when and why the decision was made to move from a policy of securing savings of €4 billion in public spending through a combination of €2.5 billion in spending cuts and €1.5 billion in taxation measures to a position where the entire €4 billion is apparently to be achieved by way of cuts alone. Reports in today’s newspapers say the Taoiseach has put forward another version of his “my way or the highway” approach to the debate on the forthcoming budget with an indication that what he envisages will occur come hell or high water.

Will the Leader facilitate a debate on the fundamental issues associated with the desirability and advisability of instituting such radical spending cuts? The question is whether our economy will be able to withstand such deep cuts in public services and the associated impact for the entire economy. No other country in the OECD is engaging in these types of radical cuts as a matter of policy in the midst of a severe recession. The conventional wisdom has always been that governments should wait until the economy shows some signs of improvement before engaging in such draconian reductions in public spending. The Government apparently shared this view earlier in the year but it seems there has been a change of mind in the interim. No explanation has been given in this House or elsewhere as to whether such a decision was made and, if so, why or when it was taken. When I put this question to the Leader on a previous occasion he replied that we must wait to see what is done in the budget.

There must be a debate on how increases in taxation can contribute to making up the required saving of €4 billion in public expenditure. Why was the Commission on Taxation tasked with setting out the various options in this regard if its findings were to be jettisoned?

I am not saying that anybody in the Labour Party or elsewhere would feel particularly comfortable standing up and advocating tax increases. Nobody likes to do that, but it is part of the picture and we have to deal with the balance between cuts and taxation measures. It is simply not good enough to spend money and effort on these reports during a serious recession and do nothing. There is a need for serious public debate in places like this House. I second the proposal on the Order of Business that we have a debate here in advance of the budget on what ought to occur.

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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Tax revenue down due to collapse in ‘holy grail’ of construction

July 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

Tax revenue down due to collapse of \'holy grail\' of constructionA debate on the economy needs to be based on the facts. We can see clearly what the facts are. While we may differ in our opinions, we must have some level of shared understanding of the facts. I am less than hopeful in that regard when I hear some of the statements made in the Seanad and elsewhere as to what the facts really are.

What the Taoiseach said yesterday shows that he is persisting in the sham and untruth that our economic difficulties at the moment are wholly based on the international situation. He again said in the Dáil yesterday that tax revenues were down because of the international situation. Tax revenues are not down because of the international situation. Tax revenue is down and will continue to be down because of the collapse in the holy grail of the construction industry into which so much trust was placed by his colleagues and him in recent years. That is not an opinion; it is a fact. I raised this matter last week and some colleagues on the government side described it as an idiotic idea. It is not an idiotic idea because it is factual to point to the reality that our economic difficulties are almost wholly domestically generated.

We had a difficulty during the Lisbon treaty referendum campaign, when certain Ministers and others said they had not read the treaty. I ask Ministers and Members of this House to read the documentation available to them before the debate next week. I ask them to read the ESRI medium-term review, which makes clear that these difficulties are domestically generated. They are not based on what is happening internationally. If colleagues read the information first, we can then have the facts-led debate.

More :: Returns expected to show tax shortfall of at least €1.5bn (The Irish Times)

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