Wednesday, 18 September 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate
[Deputy Micheál Martin: ] On the question of why he will not take part in a televised debate, I would put it to the Taoiseach that he owes more to the Irish people. In any modern democracy, it is the least that one can expect of leaders of political parties or those who put forward substantive fundamental reform of the Constitution. The Seanad has important constitutional functions. We would not be going to the people with this referendum if it did not.
An Ceann Comhairle: A question please.
Deputy Micheál Martin: It is incredible in a modern democracy that the Taoiseach put forward a proposal to fundamentally alter the Constitution and yet is not prepared to take part in one of the basic elements of democracy, which is to debate and argue the merits or demerits. The Taoiseach may give a glib smart reply today but that does not really answer the substantive point I am making to him, that is, the obligation on a leader of Government to come out openly into the public domain on the national airwaves and argue the merits or demerits of a particular proposal.
Deputy Regina Doherty: Why did Deputy Martin's party not do so?
An Ceann Comhairle: Would Deputy Doherty please adhere to the rulings of the Chair?
Deputy Finian McGrath: The Independents are trying to reform it and the Government blocked it.
Deputy Micheál Martin: That is all I asked the Taoiseach. If it was defeated, would the Taoiseach - yes or no - facilitate the reform of the Seanad because he is not giving the people the option? If the people vote him down, will the Taoiseach then facilitate it?
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Martin is over time.
Deputy Micheál Martin: It is an important point.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Martin will not walk me down that avenue.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Sorry?
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: The Taoiseach is not answering the question.
Deputy Finian McGrath: The Taoiseach should deal with the cost issue, that the Government is making up the figures.
The Taoiseach: The people are being asked a very straightforward question, which is part of the process of changing the way politics should be run in this country which Deputy Martin and his party failed to deal with over the years. We are now, as part of a process of reducing the number of elected councillors with the elimination of town councils-----
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Is that supposed to be good?
Deputy Niall Collins: A power grab.
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: A dictatorship.
The Taoiseach: -----and by the amalgamation of a number of county councils and by a changing of the relevant electoral areas for those councils, and by reducing the numbers in the Dáil, admittedly by a small number, providing an opportunity to abolish Seanad Éireann and transform this House into what it should be - a Chamber where the elected representatives of the people can hold the Executive to account.
Deputy Micheál Martin: A Chamber of guillotines.
The Taoiseach: That is why the changes that are happening here will engage with the Irish people in a way that was never done before, except in the most recent cases of the legislation dealing with the loss of life during pregnancy.
Deputy Micheál Martin: It is not; it is very easy to debate.
Deputy Simon Harris: Deputy Martin should debate that one.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The Taoiseach was 34 years supporting the Seanad.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Let us debate it.
Deputy Niall Collins: The Taoiseach is like Big Bird over there with yellow feathers.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The Taoiseach should debate with me. All I am asking him is to debate it.
Deputy Barry Cowen: There is only one minute left.
Deputy Barry Cowen: The time is up; the debate is over.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Will the Taoiseach debate?
Deputy Sean Fleming: Is that a "yes" or "no"? Will the Taoiseach debate it?
Deputy Niall Collins: The Taoiseach is chickening out of a debate.
The Taoiseach: The people know their politics.
Deputy Niall Collins: Big Bird.
The Taoiseach: The people know the value or otherwise of Seanad Éireann and they also understand that it is in this Chamber that the Government of the day must be held to account and that we will see to it that that is allowable for the changes that are taking place in terms of legislation, analysis, etc.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Let us debate it.
The Taoiseach: That is why, if Deputy Martin thinks about it, one does not have written questions or questions to Ministers from the Seanad. It is not the body to hold this place to account. That is another reason why.
Deputy Micheál Martin: That is wrong. Ministers went before the Seanad a couple of times with amendments. Ministers are accountable to everyone. Of course, they are. The Taoiseach should know the Constitution.
An Ceann Comhairle: Would the Deputies please adhere to the Chair? We are away over time.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: The Taoiseach can railroad matters through. He has a much bigger majority.
The Taoiseach: I hope that the people give a resounding answer to abolish it and let us get on with our business here of making this place truly democratic and truly answerable to the people of the country through the elected representatives of this and all other parties.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Ar dtús baire, cuirim fáilte ar ais roimh na Teachtaí go léir. Roimh tosú, b'fhéidir go nguífidh sibh lá breithe sona dár gcara, an Teachta Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, atá ag ceiliúradh breith lá tábhachtach inniu. Ar aon nós, tá súil agam go bhfuil an Taoiseach agus na Teachtaí ar fad réidh don téarma atá romhainn. Tá an Taoiseach agus an Rialtas ag cur buiséid le chéilé, ach níl seans ar bith ann go mbeidh daoine in ann glacadh le droch buiséad eile.
The Taoiseach knows that working lower and middle-income families and communities out there just cannot bear another heavy budget. The Taoiseach has spoken about a tough budget. Does the Government intend, like an austerity junkie, to continue with this programme and the €3.1 billion target? It is not just about how much the Government will take out of the economy. It is also about who pays for it and what the Government does with the money which is accumulated.
It is clear that the Government's previous budgets have failed the fairness test. The Government refuses point blank to equality proof its policies to identify the human costs of these policies on citizens and it has cut child benefit and carer's allowance. The Government has even cut allowances for those with disabilities. It has miserably failed those families and households who are in mortgage distress.
This budget is an opportunity to lessen that burden. Will the Taoiseach take the opportunity now to confirm that the vulnerable will be protected? Would he give a commitment that the Government will not go for a €3.1 billion adjustment? Will he confirm, for example, that class sizes will not be increased and front-line health care services will not be slashed, or that those on social welfare will not be targeted? Tús maith, leath na hoibre. Anois, is féidir leis an Taoiseach a fhreagra a thabhairt.
The Taoiseach: Ba mhaith liom fáilte thar n-ais a chur roimh an Teachta Adams. Níl a fhios agam ar mhiste leis go mbeadh lá saoire náisiúnta ann le lá breithe an Teachta Ó Caoláin a cheiliúradh, ach ní dóigh liom gur é sin atá i gceist. Tá súil agam go mbeidh lá breá ag an Teachta agus go n-éireoidh leis féin agus lena chlann an lá a cheiliúradh.
The question Deputy Adams raises about the budget is obviously one about which there will be a great deal of discussion. Everybody knows it has been difficult over the past period of years to make changes and take decisions that are very difficult in the interest of getting the country and its economy back on track and allow for a position where we can get our people back to work. As I have stated already, it is not possible and I do not intend to speculate on the final decision that the Government will take here simply because all of the information in respect of tax, income and growth projections, and the figures from the CSO in respect of the national accounts provided for the Minister for Finance, are on their way. In the next short period, we will see all of that detail made available to Government so that it can make its collective decision in respect of the budget for 2014.
While this has been very difficult for a great number of people, there are signs of confidence in particular sectors. I am happy to note that, having come from a background where we lost 250,000 in a three-year period, job creation is now running at 3,000 net new jobs per month or just over 600 per week in the private sector which is a start. It is heartening to note that the live register has now reduced for 14 consecutive months and is heading in the right direction. Government is about making decisions that can build on that momentum. It is difficult for a great number of people, but I want Deputy Adams to understand, as we all do, that the Government will do its utmost to be as fair as possible in the difficult choices that it must make.
I will not speculate on the extent of any adjustment to be made until the Minister for Finance is in possession of all the financial details - income tax receipts, etc. - and brings those to Government where there will be a collective decision taken about budget 2014.
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