Recently, when speaking in the Dáil, the new Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD addressed the issue of reforming the Gardai. She spoke about the need to be vigilant about reform – about the need for constant questioning. Though she was speaking about the Gardai and the Department of Justice, I think the following extract says something that holds relevance for our entire political system:
“But time passed and systems failed. That’s the truth of it. And that’s a truth that should inform our thinking from now on. We must never be seduced into believing that a once-in-a-lifetime radical reform is enough. More to the point, we must understand that major reforms carry their own inbuilt danger: the assumption that, because of the scale of change, we won’t need to be vigilant from that point on. If there’s a single overarching lesson we – and all the organs of the state related to justice – must learn, it is that major reform never removes the need for constant questioning, constant attention to detail, constant reaching for what is better, constant review, rather than what will “just do.’”
Statement in the Dáil by Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald TD, on the report by Sean Guerin SC in to actions taken by An Garda Siochana pertaining to certain allegations, 15 May 2014.
To read the full speech go here.
On 23 May you will be asked to vote in two elections:
- for the person you want to represent Dublin in the European Parliament;
- and for the people you want to represent you and our area on Dublin City Council.
Both elections are of considerable significance given the new powers devolved to DCC as well as the increased role of the European Parliament in our affairs.
But are you registered to vote in these elections?
Go to checktheregister.ie to find out. You may have moved house recently but not moved your vote.
Once you have checked the registered you can get the relevant forms, where necessary here.
This is you last opportunity as the voting register closes on Tuesday 6 May.
Be sure that you can have your say on election day.
Do you think the sale of alcohol should be banned on Good Friday? Or is it time to break this outdated law? Or do you even care that much?
The ban of alcohol sales on Good Friday is something of an anachronism in today’s Ireland.
With that in mind, Young Fine Gael have launched a campaign to ‘break the ban’. I think their arguments are sound, but why not take a look for yourself below.
There’s also a cool infographic here.
“We are calling on the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter T.D., to ‘Break the Ban’ on alcohol sales on Good Friday as we believe the legislation is outdated, inconsistent and anti-business…
“Legislation has to reflect the Ireland we live in today, not a century ago. There was a time when it was considered a social taboo to order meat on a Friday but Ireland has come a long way since then…
“Currently, exemptions allow the sale of alcohol in some cultural institutions or to members of the public engaging in travel by air, rail or ferry. Hotels may serve alcohol only with a meal but then why not restaurants? Serving beverages with a meal is an essential part of any restaurants business, as a consequence of this law, many restaurants will close their doors on Good Friday. This legislation is outdated, inconsistent and anti-enterprise. We should allow people of religious faith to follow this tradition of Good Friday if they wish, but not allow this day to become known as Bad Friday for struggling businesses”.
To read my latest newsletter, click here.
Inside you can read about:
- The PAC: Public Spending Watchdog
- Creating Jobs
- More NAMA oversight needed
- The coming banking inquiry
- Tax Transparency
- School enrolment policy change
- In Brief: Ranelagh Gardens clean-up; Terenure 2030; the new Oireachtas App for Iphone & more…
- Transport Improvements in Dublin Bay South
- Ireland to host Rugby World Cup?
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.