Last month’s proceedings in Leinster House tended to focus on the practical impact of the Government’s financial decisions and European Union policy which is binding on Ireland.
The debate over the future of the Seanad also continued with suggestions put forward on how make it more a more effective chamber.
At leaders’ questions on 5 March, Micheál Martin accused the Government of adopting “a very cynical divide and conquer strategy” as Croke Park II allowed for different pay rates between professions.
“Everybody has got a contribution to make,” Enda Kenny replied. “Those who earn most and those who have most will make the biggest contribution.”
The next day, Alan Shatter and Niall Collins clashed over Garda numbers. The current establishment stands at just under 13,400 and the Minister stated that his objective was “to ensure garda numbers will not fall below 13,000”.
Collins, Fianna Fáil’s Justice Spokesman, pointed to the Irish Independent’s claim that the Garda budget could only pay for 12,000 officers. Shatter said that he had negotiated an extra €90 million and accused Fianna Fáil of failing to properly budget for garda pay. On 13 March, Gerry Adams pressed the Taoiseach on comments he made when in opposition i.e. that “an annual recurring residential property tax on the family home, is unfair.” Kenny disagreed, adding that 65 per cent of the property tax revenue will be retained by the local authorities and will therefore go to local public services. “This is a fair tax, whereby those who have the most will pay the most,” he remarked.
Updating the House on CAP reform, Simon Coveney said that the initial agreement on the EU budget was “generally positive from a CAP perspective” by incurring a cut of 3 per cent, compared to 7 per cent for the overall budget.
“We must retain our focus on what we want to achieve in the end game,” Éamon Ó Cuív reminded the Minister. “It is vital that we give a higher priority than is given in popular discourse to price stability and guaranteeing primary producers will receive a fair share of the price paid by consumers.”
Coveney then presented his department’s initial investigation into the horsemeat labelling scandal. The report found no evidence of adulteration in Ireland but concluded that Silvercrest had not respected customer specifications, QK Cold Stores knowingly withheld information and ABB failed to maintain proper oversight of Silvercrest. B&F Meats was involved in the mislabelling of horsemeat but claims that no fraudulent intent was involved.
“We have a right to expect better from the Irish food industry,” Coveney stated. “The companies have let themselves down as well as risking reputational damage to the Irish food sector as a whole.”
On 20 March, Billy Kelleher called on Health Minister James Reilly to publish his proposals on the new hospital groups. Reilly replied that he would “shortly submit this report to government for consideration and decision” and that it needed to be considered “closely” as it was the largest change in hospitals since the foundation of the State.
Seanad Éireann considered Senator John Crown’s Bill on electoral reform on the evening of 6 March. Crown sought to extend the franchise of the upper chamber to the general electorate and Irish citizens living outside the State, as an alternative to abolition.
“This Seanad, despite the sincerity and diligence of most of its members, has, sadly, been largely ineffectual,” he said candidly. “The lack of impact is a near inevitable consequence of the way its members are elected.” After listening to the debate, he decided not to bring the Bill to a vote as some supporters wanted to change it through “backroom deals”. However, he may re-introduce the legislation in the near future.
Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly, meanwhile, sought to increase the chamber’s powers by introducing his EU Scrutiny and Transparency in Government Bill, to ensure scrutiny of EU directives (and “statutory instruments which are of public interest”) before they come into law.
During the month, Finance Minister Michael Noonan expressed the House’s congratulations on Pope Francis I’s elevation and wished him a “very long and successful reign in that very high office.”
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett also expressed his sympathies to the family of Dr John O’Connell, who served as Ceann Comhairle in 1981 and 1982 and passed away at the age of 86. Barrett recalled an extensive political and medical career which included founding the Irish Medical Times and holding office as Minister for Health, TD, Senator and MEP. O’Connell “most importantly represented his constituents with dedication” between 1965 and 1993.
Members’ thoughts were also very much with the family of the late Shane McEntee. The Meath East by-election, to fill the vacancy left by his loss, was taking place at the time of going to press.
Presidency’s parliamentary role
As part of the Irish EU presidency, the Oireachtas is running eight conferences on the major challenges facing Europe.
Each one brings together the chairs of parliamentary committees from the member of states and their counterparts in the European Parliament.
Four events have been held to date and another four will be held over the coming months, on the following themes: employment, enterprise, innovation and social affairs
(28-29 April); energy and the environment (12-13 May); communications, education and transport (16-17 June); and European affairs (23-25 June). Dublin Castle is the venue and full information is available at www.parleu2013.ie