Bill on Oireachtas costs a 'sneaky move'

Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 00:00

Opposition TDs have accused the Government of sneaking in legislation on the eve of Christmas to stop full scrutiny and debate on the €324 million cost of running Leinster House over the next three years.

In scathing criticism of the way the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill was being handled, Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Seán Fleming described it as “slapdash” and a “shambolic way to run any organisation”.

He said there was now a Minister for Public Expenditure “but we are still here on the last hour of the last sitting day of the year to address the situation where there is no budget for January 1st, 2013.”

The €324 million or €108 million a year “is a mammoth amount of money after the Government inflicted a lot of pain on people in the budget through cuts to the respite care grant and child benefit”. Yet the 10 per cent cut from €360 million in the Oireachtas budget was “not on that scale at all”.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald described the introduction of the Bill on the last day of the Dáil year as a “sneaky move”.

‘Heavy blows’

She claimed the Government wanted to “deal the heavy blows to the citizens” with cutbacks and charges, and to “hive off” the issue of the cost of the Oireachtas and the pay and allowances to politicians and advisers because “it does not want those matters to enter into the broad discussion of the budgetary position”.

However, Minister of State Alex White rejected as “nonsensical” any suggestion the Government was engaging in “sneaky behaviour”.

Standing in for Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin, Mr White said “this is a working day in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are working today, doing the people’s business until eight o’clock tonight. There is nothing sneaky about any of the business we do, today or any other day.”

Introducing the legislation, Mr White said the Houses of the Oireachtas commission, which has responsibility for the operation of the Dáil and Seanad, had introduced a 10 per cent reduction in staff levels, mirroring the recruitment moratorium in the Civil Service.

He insisted the commission was “committed to ensuring funds are only designated to essential expenditure”, and said the reduced figure included cuts in members’ allowances announced in the budget.

Lack of debate

However, highlighting the lack of debate on the operation of the Oireachtas, Mr Fleming said they should be discussing the programme of work with designated commitments for each portion of spending.

But there was “none of that”. There was “just a request for €324 million so we can go away for Christmas and resume again on January 1st. That is what this Bill is about, and it is no way to do business.”

Ms McDonald highlighted the salaries of Cabinet members. She said Ministers get a salary of €170,000, which needed to be cut. She submitted amendments to the Bill, which were disallowed, that the pay of “the Taoiseach and Ministers should not exceed €100,000 in circumstances of emergency and hardship”.

She said the “combined saving from capping pay for the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers at €100,000, capping salaries of TDs at €75,000, and capping salaries of Senators at €60,000 would be €4.3 million”, the withdrawal of allowances would save €754,879, and capping special advisers’ salaries at €81,000 would save €494,481.