Legislation to Appoint New Clerk of the Dail

14-05 John Speaking 2

[Speaking in the Seanad during Second Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 4) Bill]

I am not really a politician. What I do here comprises approximately 45% of my life. I still think of my day job as the big job. However, I revere democracy and the process of democracy. One does not have to read the newspapers to learn how gruesome all the alternatives are and how much democracy can be under threat in so many parts of the world. It is in this regard that I found myself in an awkward set of circumstances, somewhat similar to that experienced by Senator Byrne and, I suspect, other individuals on this side of the House. I do not want to stop an election but I will not support this Bill. The Bill will pass and mine will be a protest vote. I will outline why I must oppose it. First, we hear that the original legislation that requires amending has been around since 1947. Perhaps a little lesson is to be learned regarding the alacrity with which we spot deficiencies in our legislation if we are now considering legislation that was passed when Truman was US President, Pope Pius XII was Pope and Stalin was still in the big office beside Red Square. Things need to move a little faster.

I do not believe my vote or that of anybody else is blocking the election. The people who are blocking it are those who have not appointed a clerk to the Dáil for the past year.

This could be fixed on picking up the telephone. No disrespect whatsoever to the office of the Clerk of the Dáil but I strongly suspect the problem has not been finding a suitably qualified person. I do not believe it is a case of finding someone uniquely qualified. It is impossible to escape two conclusions, one being that the problem has not been fixed because of a manifestation of some kind of power struggle between official officers of our democracy – not including the Minister – or those who represent the highest levels of government and those who represent the Chair of the Dáil. There is a somewhat less savoury interpretation, which is that because so many of these jobs sadly become a manifestation of political patronage, there is no concordance regarding the one or two people earmarked for the job. I have real difficulty in understanding why this matter should be regarded as an emergency today and why it could not have been fixed earlier. I am not an obsessive, nerdish follower of the arcane processes of parliamentary procedure. I looked up today the date on which the last incumbent resigned and saw July. I believed movement was pretty quick until I saw the date was July 2013, a year ago. It was all over the newspapers that this was happening a year ago. Why is it becoming such an issue today? The Minister has been given the thankless job of representing a policy that clearly has been in place but which is wrong. It is just not the way this should happen. The job should have been filled a long time ago.

I have a very specific question that the Minister probably cannot answer today. What level of expense is involved in passing a legislative measure, rather than just appointing the person last year?

There is also an opportunity cost associated with passing legislation because other legislative measures will not be passed or will be delayed or will not be drafted because the expertise of the people who draft and scrutinise legislation must be used in drafting this legislation. I know from experience that a Bill we tried to pass two years ago on something as simple as banning smoking in cars where children were present which we had hoped would be in place to stop children being exposed to cigarette smoke during their summer holidays in 2012 was delayed for two years because we were told the people who drafted Bills were desperately over-worked and understaffed. I will seek a division to make a tetchy protest “No” vote on this issue. The message must be conveyed that this is an illustration of something that is wrong with the political process.

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