The following opinion piece appeared in the Sunday Business Post (26th January 2014):
In trying to identify the most meaningful way to reform our political system and parliament, we must seek out solutions that recognise human nature and adapt to it, rather than ignore it.
“Everything has changed”, Albert Einstein once said, “except our way of thinking.”
We are still going through a financial crisis of such significance for this country that at its zenith it threatened the identity, if not the very existence of the state. It dramatically refocused people’s attention on our political culture and heralded a demand from people for ‘new politics’ and better politicians.
And yet today’s TD, almost six years on from the onset of the political and economic crisis, is still expected by the citizen to assist with the local, to attend to the pot hole or the medical card when asked (and he or she is frequently asked). And with every hour spent sitting in the Dáil chamber observing debate on legislation say, and not attending to their constituents’ needs, that TD’s chances of re-election diminish.
Read more here.
To access your Tax Transparency Calculator, click here.
In advance of the 2014 Budget announcement from the government, I have launched a ‘Tax Transparency Calculator.’
This is about showing people how their taxes are spent by the government each year, in simple euros and cents. You can enter basic details as to salary, marital status, number of children etc, and the calculator will calculate your annual tax payments and then break this down indicatively according to what government departments spend.
For example, you can see how many euros of your taxes are spent on things like primary education, roads, the Gardai, paying off interest on the national debt – even the cost to you personally of the Oireachtas.
With the significant correction to the national finances – and particularly as we move towards balanced budgets – it is important to inform people in as much detail as possible, but also in an understandable way, of the difficult spending choices facing the government and the country.
Once we have a calculator for income taxes, the next logical move would be to provide something similar for VAT payments, excise, local property taxes and business rates.
Other organisations like publicpolicy.ie have produced something similar, but what makes this different is that it has two components, one that calculates the taxes that you pay, and the second component which then breaks this down in euros and cents. But, having the Department provide such a tool could make it far more detailed but would also lend greater credibility and authority to the figures provided. And that’s what I’m asking for in conjunction with Budget 2014.
This is something I proposed last November with the Tax Transparency Bill 2012, which received all party support at second stage to move to committee stage. This hasn’t happened yet, but in fact the Minister doesn’t need to wait for approval of all of the elements of that Bill. The Minister can proceed immediately with publishing a Tax Transparency calculator on the Department’s website. It’s not complicated and all of the information is already there – this is just about packaging it in a way that is easy to access.
President Obama already provides a similar calculator on the WhiteHouse website and the UK is moving to introduce something similar next year. By publishing a Tax Transparency calculator on my own website I hope to show to the government how easy it would be for the Department to do something similar.
The Tax Transparency Calculator can be found here.
To watch my second stage speech as well as a video of the debate last November, including the response from Minister Noonan, click here.
For the details of the Bill and memorandum, click here.
The breakdown of figures produced by the calculator is an approximation and has been calculated based on figures (gross voted) provided by the Department of Finance, in conjunction with information contained on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s website http://per.gov.ie/databank.
This summer I was invited to the MacGill Summer School to give a speech on the need for Dáil reform as viewed from the backbenches (you might recall I published a pamphlet on this subject earlier in the year – click here).
Following on from the Public Accounts Committee’s recent examination of the 2012 Accounts for the National Asset Management Agency and the various issues that arose in the course of that committee meeting, I requested that a sub-committee of the PAC be established specifically for the purposes of overseeing the activities of NAMA in greater detail. I secured agreement for this proposal yesterday.
I have already stated at the committee that we should invite NAMA in to the PAC on a more regular basis given the scope of their work and its importance to our national recovery. Considering that the PAC is the only named committee in NAMA’s establishing legislation, and that the committee has special responsibilities (and powers) in this regard, I believe it is important to establish a dedicated oversight mechanism that would function in tandem with the committee’s regular and on-going work programme. The necessity of such a dedicated mechanism is increased in light of the establishment by NAMA of a second special purpose vehicle to manage the former IBRC loan book.
The sub-committee will meet at the end of each quarter, to review any significant events during that quarter, and if deemed necessary, will then request NAMA to appear in front of the full PAC in a special sitting additional to the weekly committee schedule. This process will run parallel to the PAC’s existing annual examination of NAMA, which will now become, at a minimum, a biannual arrangement as a matter of standing practice.
Many of you will know that I am interested in the ethical investment of public funds. Currently the National Pension Reserve Fund has invested circa 10 million euro – money invested on behalf of all of us – in companies that manufacture or test nuclear weapons. I have published a bill that would stop this: click here to find out more.
Last week, IKV Pax Christi published ‘Don’t Bank on the Bomb’, a report detailing how 298 private and public financial institutions from around the world invest almost $314 billion into 27 companies involved in the production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons. People may be interested to see how some of our financial institutions are helping to finance companies involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
To find out more about the report, see here.
To read the report itself, including an interview with me (Page 6), click here.
A note following the outcome of the referendum on Saturday
The outcome wasn’t what I had hoped for. I completely respect the decision, but you probably know from previous posts that my vision for a new, reformed parliament contains one parliamentary chamber with an independent committee system that holds the government of the day to account.
In March I produced a pamphlet containing 30 simple reforms that could radically change Dáil Éireann (Reforming Dáil Éireann: A view from the backbenches, read it here). In that document I also warned that the autumn Seanad campaign risked failure if we didn’t move urgently to implement fundamental Dáil reform. Over the course of the campaign this became very clear to me – people wanted to see our credentials on Dáil reform first, before contemplating removal of the Seanad.
We have to rebuild with the people the trust that previous politicians and governments have lost, but we do that in deeds, not words.
My belief is that the referendum was lost, not because of one particular campaign message or because of the absence of the Taoiseach from a televised debate, but because the government has not yet proven its credentials on meaningful Dáil reform.
Dáil reform is then, in my opinion, far more important and urgent a task than reforming the Seanad. I think it would be a mistake if we focussed on Seanad reform to the delay or exclusion of Dáil reform. In fact, many of the needed Dáil reforms that have been put forward by myself and others would then flow naturally to the Seanad.
For example, if we loosened the whip in Dáil committees, this would impact upon the Seanad also as senators sit on these committees. If we established the principle that the Dáil should order its own affairs (i.e. schedule business, decide on the length of debates, timing of votes, guillotines etc.) then this could also easily be replicated in the Seanad. It’s not rocket science and it requires nothing more than political will on the part of the government.
There are many proposals like this that could be adopted almost immediately and which would play a strong part in the process of moving more power from the executive to the parliament. As I have quoted here before, Article 28.4.1 of our constitution states that “the Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann”.
The time to infuse that statement with its true meaning is now.
Tomorrow there is an important decision facing us – the Government is giving people the opportunity to have their say on its programme for reform.
Reforming our parliamentary system was one of my key motivations in standing for election for Dáil Éireann. It is still my motivation today. Many people have asked me why I support abolition of the Seanad when I am such a strong proponent of reform.
Over the course of this campaign I’ve had the opportunity to take part in a number of debates. One debate was held in Trinity College and if you’d like to know why I’m voting Yes, you can read my contribution in that debate here (video to follow).
Have you read my booklet on Dáil reform (30 small changes that could radically reform our parliament)? – Click here to read.
If you’re still looking for more information you can read Fine Gael’s detailed document on abolition here.
On Friday you will also have an opportunity to vote to establish a Court of Appeal. Voting Yes will modernise our courts system and bring us in line with international best practice. At the moment there are over 600 cases awaiting hearing in the Supreme Court – it could take up to four years for all these cases to be dealt with under the present system. Establishing a Court of Appeal will ensure a more efficient and fair court system, allowing cases to be heard within a reasonable timeframe. Such a system will bring greater certainty to both individuals and businesses who have become involved in legal proceedings. Listen to Minister Shatter explain the importance of a Court of Appeal here and here.
To read my latest newsletter click here.
Inside you can read about:
- Cutting spending & creating jobs
- Working for change
- Fine Gael in Government
- New money for enterprise & jobs – New visa schemes bring in €10.5 million of additional investment
- Investing €100 million in school building projects – St. Mary’s Belmont Avenue; Griffith Barracks Multi-D; New school in D4/D2
- Flood defences – latest update
- In brief – Directly Elected Mayor for Dublin; Crowdfunding; Harold’s Cross Autism Resources Therapy and Support (HxARTS) & more…
- Expanding Dublinbikes
- Your community – your children – your schools
Today the Government launched its campaign to abolish the Seanad. To read the Fine Gael booklet outlining our reasons for supporting this referendum, please click here.
Vote YES on Friday 4th October.
The experience of recent decades has exposed many serious weaknesses of politics in Ireland. The political system did not effectively protect citizens from major economic risks, nor did it deliver modern, effective or accountable government.
The result was insufficient questioning of the foundations on which Ireland’s apparent success was being built. Necessary reforms were long fingered. Political theatre dominated over substance. True accountability was lost.
One of the key mandates sought and obtained from the people in the last General Election was to create a New Politics by undertaking far reaching reform. Huge changes are now underway to remedy the defects. This government is determined that substantial legal and institutional change must be delivered so we can never have a repeat of the catastrophic experience which our citizens are now suffering. Many of these changes have already been implemented or are underway, providing better oversight on Government action, and dealing with regulatory failures, conflicts ofinterest and poor transparency.
Reform of the Oireachtas must go much further. Politics must rationalise its operations, by
dropping elements that don’t deliver effectively and embracing new activities that do. Just as every family and every business has had to adjust – to make sacrifices, and to concentrate on core needs - so politics must do the same.
Ireland has 33% more politicians than the average in other European countries of our size.
Abolishing the Seanad, an institution that costs €20million per year, will bring us into line with international norms.
More and more countries have moved to abolish second chambers as a part of a range of coherent measures to deliver modern, accountable and effective government. No other European country of our size has two chambers. Second chambers do not offer the vital checks and balances, which citizens need in the political system.
The Irish Seanad is particularly ineffectual. From its inception in 1937 it was designed to have exceptionally limited powers. Its most significant power is to delay legislation – and it has not exercised this power since 1964. Its electoral system was rigged so that existing politicians and the government dominated the selection of its membership. It gave privileges to certain groups in society which no longer fits with a modern pluralist citizen democracy.
Preserving the Seanad, an ineffective chamber elected by just 1% of the people, is not compatible with efficient and accountable management of the nation’s affairs. The search for a role and for legitimacy has persisted fruitlessly through 10 reports during its 75 year existence.
It is time to end this pointless search for a purpose for a chamber that has long outlived its role. Instead we must make the Chamber elected by all of the people into an effective modern Parliament.
Reforming Dáil Éireann: a view from the backbenches – click here to read.
Yesterday I circulated internally to my Fine Gael colleagues a draft pamphlet containing ideas for reform of our parliament.
The short document is meant as a constructive contribution towards further reforming the Dáil in to an effective parliament and check and balance on government policy and activity.
None of the reforms require any constitutional or legislative changes to be enacted, only political will on the part of its members – my colleagues and I. The government brought forward a first set of reforms in September 2011 and intends to bring forward more.
The ideas in my pamphlet are proposed as part of that process of devising a further suite of reforms. They are not all exclusively mine and many build on work already done in this area by Fine Gael, stretching back as far as the early 1980s. Changes proposed then still have not been implemented.
The document, as well as other proposals, will be debated shortly at a meeting of Fine Gael TDs and Senators, as agreed at our weekly meeting yesterday evening.
Given that the pamphlet is now, in part, in the public domain, I am publishing it here in full to give people a proper understanding of what is proposed. It is not a perfect piece of work, but I believe the proposals contained therein do merit debate and I am determined to see further, meaningful reforms enacted.