Merge Oireachtas houses, says McCarthy

 

McCARTHY REPORT chairman Colm McCarthy has urged politicians to consider a single-chamber Oireachtas to reduce costs.

He said he was very conscious that there was currently “an anti-politics mood”, and a proposal to abolish the Dáil would probably get through in a referendum. “You have to stand back . . . We have raised the question of the Seanad.”

But, he said, “we did not baldly recommend that it should be scrapped . . .We think that politicians in Government, and Opposition, should have a think about a single-chamber parliament.”

In its report the review group says that in order to realise substantive savings in expenditure within the Houses of the Oireachtas, it would be necessary to bring about major structural changes with considerable political, legislative and constitutional implications.

It adds: “These potential changes centre on possible reductions in the number of public representatives and/or a move to a unicameral parliament.

“These measures could realise additional savings of the order of €28 million a year.

“The group is not making a specific recommendation in this area. Some of these possible changes would require constitutional amendments.”

Mr McCarthy said that reducing the number of TDs by 10 or so would not save as much as people thought.

He added that €120 million or €130 million annually was the total cost of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission out of an overall public spending total of €60 billion.

“But there is a demonstration effect involved, and we felt we ought to look at it,” he said.

“What really saves money in the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission . . . if people want to do it, is to go for a single-chamber parliament,” he added.

He said that “moving to a single-chamber parliament, from memory, would save one-fifth of the total cost of the Houses of the Oireachtas”.

He said that there had to be between 20,000 and 30,000 people for every TD, adding that the existing figure of 166 was towards the lower end of what would be permissible on that constitutional formula.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week, Mr McCarthy said that it had taken 10 years to get out of the last public finance crisis in the 1980s. “That was a mistake we made in the 1980s for all sorts of reasons, and my hope is that we get stuck in and try and get out of it in three or four years.”

He said that it was difficult to know when the IMF would move in, if corrective measures were not taken.

The Government, he added, was borrowing nearly €400 million a week. This had to be reduced, and there was a risk that the Government would find difficulty borrowing if it was not done.

Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton said the report had shown the scale of waste which clearly had to be addressed.

He said vulnerable people should not become soft targets. “There are changes in social welfare which we have to accept,” he added. There was a growing consensus, said Mr Bruton, that they could not avoid looking at pay.

“Upper levels in the public service are overpaid, including, I would say, myself,” he added.

There would also have to be a hard look at pensions, he said.

Labour’s Ruairí Quinn said a minister should be appointed with responsibility for public service reform.