Dáil Éireann - Volume 407 - 18 April, 1991

Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. N. Treacy): Provision is being made in this Bill to increase the amount of the emoluments and expenses of the President, other than salary, and to enable any future increases to be effected by Government Order.

Article 12.11.2º of the Constitution requires that the emoluments and allowances payable to the President shall be determined by law.

The existing legislation consists of the Presidential Establishment Act, 1938, as amended by the Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Act, 1973. Under section 1 of the 1938 Act, as amended in 1973, the emoluments and allowances of the President consist of personal remuneration at a rate equal to the rate of remuneration of the Chief Justice plus 10 per cent, and an additional sum of £15,000. This Bill is only concerned with this latter amount.

What is proposed is to increase the [379] figure of £15,000, which is largely spent on official entertainment, to a more realistic level in today's terms. Careful consideration has been given to what would constitute a fair and equitable amount at this stage, allowing for developments that have taken place since the figure was originally fixed in 1973. We are satisfied that a figure of £100,000 is fully justified and this is being provided for.

Also, in order to avoid the necessity of amending legislation should further increases be considered appropriate in the future, provision is being made to enable the amount to be increased by Government Order in future. Such a procedure is now well established. It applies, for instance, in relation to adjusting the remuneration of Members of this House, of Ministers and of the Judiciary and in relation to the allowances payable under law to leaders of qualified political parties.

The Bill also provides for the payment of a pension to the widower of a deceased President or of a former President. Under existing legislation, this benefit is only payable to widows. The extension of pension cover to the spouse of a female President is in line with developments in public sector spouses' pension schemes in recent years, including the Houses of the Oireachtas (Members) scheme which was amended on these lines in 1986.

I commend this Bill to the House for approval.

Mr. G. Mitchell: The Fine Gael Party will not be opposing this Bill. We welcome it. It is time that the President had a proper allowance to carry out her functions, although the Constitution refers to “his” functions. We must realise that this is amending legislation which will amend existing Presidential establishment legislation. If the President is to have the amount for expenses increased, which of course this House will no doubt agree, we have to be prepared to ask — and this is no criticism of the President whom we all wish well in office — for a greater degree of accountability on [380] spending in Áras an Uachtaráin. That is not a reflection on any person who holds the Office of President but this House does not have the right to review the role and duties of the President. However, through the Committee of Public Accounts this House has the right to examine the accounting officer for the Vote for the President's Establishment, who at present is the Secretary of the Department of Finance, on the value for money of the expenditure.

Under the Presidential Establishment Act, 1938 a person can be appointed to the post of secretary to the President on the approval of the Government. I understand that additional staff have been appointed to the Office of President, which I do not object to in the slightest. Indeed, it is long overdue. However, an explanation should be given to this House on the role, duties and status of staff in Áras an Uachtaráin. In that regard it would be a good idea if the Secretary of the Department of Finance was to cease acting as accounting officer for the President's Establishment and that the President's Secretary was appointed accounting officer. This can be done under statute by the Minister for Finance. Far from making the President accountable to Parliament, this measure would strengthen the President's hand. At present Aras an Uachtaráin have to account to the Department of Finance who, in turn, account to the House via the Committee of Public Accounts.

Therefore there is the involvement of both the Executive and the Parliament in reviewing the role of the President in terms of spending. The President is not answerable to either House, except in certain circumstances set down in the Constitution, or amenable to any court. We are talking here, not about the role of the President but about emoluments and allowances. Like everything else in this area, money spent in Aras an Uachtaráin should be accounted for in a proper manner.

I am not one of those people who is concerned so much — and I have said this as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts — about the cost of [381] Government spending as about its value. We should realise that the Presidency is a valuable institution. Incidentally, I was glad to hear the Minister mention in his introductory remarks that he is considering addressing other issues which will include the question of the remuneration of Members of the House. I might mention in passing that it is time we made it clear that we have had enough bally-ragging from the media with regard to the payments and allowances to Members of this House. Like priests, most of us have taken a vow of poverty since being elected to this House. I want to say this quite clearly — and I hope the press will take note — I am paid less than half of what is paid to every witness who appears before the Committee of Public Accounts. I have to fight for my job every couple of years. I have been elected to this House five times. I have not yet been a Member for ten years. It is time we stopped this nonsense. Members of this House, the President and the Judiciary are entitled to be paid properly without cheap shots from journalists who are better paid and who have better working conditions than us. It is time we stopped apologising for our existence. We are entitled to be paid properly. I work for the few bob I receive in this House. I work in my constituency, in this House and as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. I have no objection whatsoever to a Head of State being properly remunerated.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have to say that the matter before us this morning refers to the Presidential Establishment only.

Mr. Quinn: The Chair might be a candidate yet.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Now that Government Buildings have been given an uplift and the President is being better catered for, the Houses of the Oireachtas might expect that their Members be afforded better facilities such as proper office accommodation. In passing may I say that Leinster House is the worst equipped head office in this city.

[382] The President has fixed constitutional powers. More power is assigned to the courts than to the President as constitutional guarantor. However, the President does have important powers, many of which have not been used, some of which may evolve in time. First, if the Dáil and the Government wish to restrict the time the Seanad may spend considering a Bill the consent of the President is needed under Article 24.1 of the Constitution. Second, if the Seanad wishes to challenge a decision of the Ceann Comhairle on his certification of a Money Bill, it needs the agreement of the President before being able to appoint a Committee of Privileges to rule on the matter under Article 22.2 of the Constitution. Third, a majority of the Members of Seanad Éireann, or not less than one-third of the Members of Dáil Éireann, may, by joint petition addressed to the President, request the President to decline to sign and promulgate as law any Bill, except a Bill to amend the Constitution, on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought be ascertained.

Three other important powers are exercisable on the President's initiative. The fourth power is that he may convene a meeting of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas — the Constitution says “he” although, of course, we should now be referring to the President as “she” — a power which is presumably intended to cover circumstances in which the Government are unable or unwilling to convene such a meeting. Fifth, the President has the right, instead of signing a Bill into law, to refer it to the Supreme Court for a decision on its constitutionality under Article 26 of the Constitution. The President may exercise that power like all the others so far mentioned only after consultation with the Council of State. But the President has a sixth power: the right to refuse a dissolution of the Dáil to a Taoiseach who has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann.

Other powers can be conferred on the President by Act of the Oireachtas. Since [383] we are increasing the allowance of the President in this manner we should consider conferring additional powers on the President, by law. This was done under the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948, which repealed the External Relations Act, 1936, when all executive powers in connection with external affairs were assigned to the President acting on the advice of the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but it is clear to me that he is straying considerably from the Bill before us which has to do with the Presidential Establishment and emoluments thereof. At this stage I want to remind the House that it is a long-standing convention here that the President be regarded as outside and above debate in the House. Debate on a Bill of this kind relating to emoluments and expenses of the President should be conducted objectively without alluding to the occupant of the office. I would ask Members to bear that in mind. The powers, duties and responsibilities of the President are matters for another day.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I will show that I am speaking to the Bill before the House which amends the Presidential Establishment Act, 1938, and the Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Act, 1973, copies of both of which I have in front of me. I will show that I have not alluded to the present President in any personal way except to extend to her some kind wishes and make some complimentary comments. Seeing that we are increasing the amount available to the President I am arguing that, in so doing, we should confer on her by law — which we are entitled to do — extra or additional powers which was done in 1948 under the Republic of Ireland Act.

An Ceann Comhairle: I feel sure the Deputy will have regard to the sentiments I have expressed, which are those of all of my predecessors in respect of such matters.

[384] Mr. G. Mitchell: Despite all the fears expressed in the course of the 1937 Constitution debate that the President would become an alternative source of power to the Government — an office some Deputies thought the late President de Valera was creating for himself for that purpose — it has to be said that that fear was held without foundation. Presidents of Ireland, all of whom have served this country with dignity, nonetheless have been what might be described as political Trappists, silent on any matter that could be perceived as being political. Unlike most European Heads of State, who are either monarchs or elected Presidents by Parliament, Ireland has a popularly directly elected President albeit one who gains office through a very restrictive nomination procedure.

Nine years from the 21st century it is time for reform. It is time to give the President a new role. The current President is relatively young and has the unique advantage of being one of the few female elected heads of State in the world. These additional assets, unique to the Presidency so far, could be put to work in a special way to the benefit of the country without putting the President in conflict either with the Executive or the Houses of the Oireachtas. If she is willing and able, let us give her the tools with which to do the job.

The Constitution provides for a Presidential Commission consisting of the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann and the Chief Justice. The Presidential Commission acts in place of the President when the President is incapable of acting or is out of the country. Could not this commission, by agreement of this House and the Seanad, the President and the Chief Justice, be asked to review the role of the President to see what additional powers might properly and profitably be conferred on the President? Such a commission could receive submissions from the Houses of the Oireachtas and the public and report within a relatively short period. Among the powers which could be conferred on the President, and which [385] the Fine Gael Party would submit should be conferred on the President are that the President should be invited to make an annual address to the Members of the Dáil and Seanad, an address which should be televised to the nation——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is straying considerably from the rather limited Bill before us. I would ask him to please have due regard for the admonitions I have already conveyed to him and to the House generally. The matters to which he refers are extraneous. This is a very limited Bill concerning expenses. The functions, the obligations or the personalisation of the position of President should not arise.

Mr. G. Mitchell: The Bill which is being amended refers to the President's allowances, salary and pension and that of his widow or her widower. I suggest — and I am nearly at the end of my contribution — since we are nine years off the 21st century and since we have a new President, irrespective of who the person is, and since we are substantially increasing from £15,000 to £100,000 the amount which is available, and which I support, it might be appropriate to consider or at least to put on the record — since we do not often get the opportunity — that we might confer by law, which we are entitled to do under the Constitution, additional powers on the President.

The President could chair an overseas development commission; the President could be given a consultative role in the making of judicial appointments; the President could be chairperson of a permanent judicial commission and president of an environmental council. There are lots of jobs the President could be given. I would like to see the President given the job of appointing commissions, such as the electoral commission so that we would all know there was an honest broker and we would not have anybody in this House suggesting that there was any favouritism, no matter who was in Government. I will finish on this point since I do not want to be in conflict with the Chair. There are additional jobs [386] which could be conferred on the President.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am grateful to the Deputy for that consideration because in the opinion of the Chair he has strayed quite considerably from the rather limited Bill before us this morning. I would hope that is sufficient for him to have said.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Since we are talking about the role of the President I recommend that those additional powers be at least considered and perhaps the commission I suggested could be established to look at this.

In relation to expenditure, we are entitled to know the cost of the Presidency. The difficulty we have with this Bill is that it is a Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Bill, but the cost of the Presidency is not entirely covered by the Presidential Establishment Vote. That is only one element of the cost of the Presidency because costs are borne on the Army Vote, the Office of Public Works Vote, the Taoiseach's Vote, the Foreign Affairs Vote, the Finance Vote, the Department of Justice Vote and perhaps others where entertainment and travel are involved. It is fair to say that the figure which was recently presented to the Committee of Public Accounts was just £1 million. That is very good value for money in terms of the role the President plays as guarantor in the Constitution.

It would be a good thing if, when this money we are voting here today is accounted for, that a note be put on the account showing the amount expended in other Votes so that when the Vote comes before the House — having been audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General in due course — it will show the actual cost of the Presidency. People are entitled to know that and we should not be afraid to look at the value of the Presidency and not its cost.

I have made a number of suggestions today including the suggestion that we might consider appointing somebody from the President's Office, perhaps the Secretary to the President, as the [387] Accounting Officer instead of the Secretary at the Department of Finance for the reasons given. If we are going to do the job properly let us sweep away the cobwebs, let us give the Presidential Establishment proper standing and let it be properly funded; let us not be afraid to do this.

We will be supporting this legislation. I would like to say in conclusion — and I am sure I will be joined by the rest of the House — that I wish the President every success in her term of office.

Mr. Quinn: I am particularly pleased to be able to welcome this Bill to the House. I would like to put on record my party's appreciation of the fact that the Government responded so generously and so promptly in their busy legislative programme to a need that was recognised by many people could have been put on the long finger. It would be discourteous and ungracious of people on this side of the House, who had some role to play in having the current incumbent of that office elected, not to recognise the political realities and to extend our appreciation to the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat Government in this regard. I mean those comments sincerely and generously.

A Cheann Comhairle, you have drawn our attention to the fact that this is amending legislation and confines itself primarily to additional expenditure. I concur with some of the comments and observations made by Deputy Mitchell. The nature of the Irish Presidency, while it is clearly set out in a law, has evolved, and will continue to evolve, as much by the style of the occupancy and the activities that are undertaken by the present President as well as by previous Presidents. Just as we have seen the Supreme Court within our Constitution evolve organically within the framework of law that it is constituted upon, I believe also that the Irish Presidency will evolve and is evolving. The recent direct election initiated a debate that brought about that evolution.

The additional resources which this Bill [388] intends to provide are an essential component of that evolution and I, therefore, welcome the fact that this amount of money is being made available. In relative terms, given the task that the Office of the Presidency has to undertake and having regard to the frequency of demand, there are probably two to three visits every day to Áras an Uachtaráin. One only has to look at the newspapers to see the amount of activity being undertaken by the Office of the Presidency to recognise that over a period of 360-odd days the amount of money involved is not a dramatically large sum.

I particularly welcome the fact that the Office of Áras an Uachtaráin, the third House of the Oireachtas, took the initiative of extending an invitation to all the Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I hope that that initiative — which in my time in this House, since 1977, never happened before — would become an annual event and that the hospitality and the generosity of the Office of the Presidency would be extended to Members of this House in the manner that was initiated on 19 March.

I should like to say to the Minister of State responsible that there is a major job to be done on the building of Áras an Uachtaráin. The concept of the Presidency is a fundamental republican one. When one reads the history of the debates one sees that the reason the drafter of the Constitution wanted our President to be directly elected by popular vote rather than indirectly from the Houses of the Oireachtas—as is the case in countries like Italy or the Republic of Germany—was to make a very clear philosophical political statement, that the representative source of power and authority came directly from the people and was vested in the representative of the people by the personage of the President of the Republic of Ireland.

The thinking behind de Valera's drafting of the Constitution in the thirties was to contrast it in a very fundamental way with that of the monarchy in Britain, which was obviously the country from which we were disengaging at that time. An extension of that representative role [389] of the Presidency would be the consolidation of the building of Áras an Uachtaráin and developing it in a manner that would enable a regular flow of visitors to go to Áras an Uachtaráin, independent of the President being present.

I have in mind the idea that has been informally discussed, that there would be a presidential museum or a history of the evolution of the Presidency where, independent of the timetable of the President, it would be possible for members of the public on a regular basis to visit Áras an Uachtaráin and tour the building. As part and parcel of that tour they would be able to see in an appropriate form the history of the evolution of this State politically and the precise history of the Presidency, including previous incumbents.

I am making those careful remarks to the Minister because I believe this is an appropriate task for the Office of Public Works and the Department of Finance to contemplate. The work done in recent times in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin Castle or the College of Science next door is of a quality that has been recognised by many people. We do not have very many major public buildings and we should invest in them a degree of attention and care which reflects the sovereignty of this independent Republic. That sovereignty and independence in its manifestation will become even more important as we move closer to some form of European integration and political unity.

I would concur again with Deputy Mitchell in relation to the value for money as represented by the Presidential Establishment and the fact that there is a wide range of jobs and tasks that can be undertaken by the Presidency. We have seen some evidence of that already in the volume of activity that is reported daily in the newspapers by the present incumbent of that office. I do not think it is appropriate here to talk about giving extra legislative powers to the Office of the Presidency; we are talking about making extra resources available.

I agree with the proposal in the Bill that the sum of money should be increased to [390] £100,000 and that any subsequent increases should be brought about by way of Government order rather than additional legislation. I would suggest that, in consultation with the Office of Public Works, the Presidency and the Department of Finance, Áras an Uachtaráin, which is a large establishment and an old building, needs to be looked at. The possibility of a properly structured Presidential facility to which ordinary citizens could visit should be considered. We have to underpin and underwrite on a continuous basis the political education of our citizens. We should give them access to the institutions of the State so that they can take pride in them and we should make them available to the public in a manner that has not been done in the past.

The Presidency is the third House of the Oireachtas. It is an institution which, quite frankly, has been substantially strengthened as a result of the electoral process of last November. While it gives me and my party some pleasure to have been an active participant in that process, the outcome for everybody in the State, after such a long lapse between elections, has been to improve the health of our democracy. It is most unlikely that there will not be an election for the Office of Presidency having regard to the experience of last year. In that context and against that background, the additional resources which are being made available in this Bill — I presume it will be passed — should be consolidated with the development of the sort of proposal to which I have already referred so that citizens will be able to visit Áras an Uachtaráin. I would like to indicate quite clearly that we welcome the introduction of this Bill and compliment the Government for bringing it forward so quickly.

Mr. Rabbitte: The Worker's Party will be supporting this Bill. We think it is appropriate that resources consistent with the dimension and importance of the role of President should be updated in the manner suggested. I, too, would like to compliment the Government for responding to an undertaking given by [391] the Taoiseach in the immediate wake of the recent presidential election to bring forward a measure such as this. If we see the Presidency as a resource, and a very important resource both domestically and internationally, it is clear that the stipened allocated, as amended in 1973, is hopelessly out of date. Therefore, the measure before us today is both desirable and necessary.

Most people would agree that the evolution of the office as referred to by Deputy Quinn is now a fact of life. Both the role and the Office of Presidency has changed utterly and is unlikely to revert to the more restrictive parameters we have known. The Ireland of the nineties is clearly not the same as the Ireland of the thirties. Whereas all previous holders of the office performed the functions with integrity and dignity, it is fair to say that the office was somewhat remote from the people.

The evolution of the office has very broad, indeed unprecedented public support. The recent opinion poll showing an approval rate of about 75 per cent bears out that what we are doing in this House today has the support of an unprecedented majority of the Irish people. Therefore this is the kind of active, working, relevant Presidency that they would like to see, that they greatly admire, respect and take pride in. Perhaps the absence of elections for the office for so many years caused its importance and significance to fade somewhat from the public eye, but it certainly has been elevated to a stature that the Irish people require. If the resource that is Áras an Uachtaráin is to be thrown open to the people in so far as possible, it is necessary that this House vote sufficient moneys for the performance of those duties.

Deputy Quinn referred to the invitation to the Members of this House to visit Áras an Uachtaráin. That was a very interesting experience for all of us. I was quite surprised to find that Members of the Oireachtas, who have been very long serving Members indeed, had never been invited to Áras an Uachtaráin. One [392] Member told me that although he had served for 32 years he had never, in all that time, had the opportunity of accepting such an invitation. My understanding is that such an invitation, for example, will issue to this House at least once in the lifetime of every Dáil, which we would all agree is a desirable and very positive development. Similarly, it is widely known that it is the intention of the present incumbent in reciprocating civic receptions held in her honour to do so in the only feasible manner, by inviting local authority members or whatever to Áras an Uachtaráin, since it is clearly not possible to invite everybody they represent. There are costs involved in an active working role for the President and I commend the Government for bringing forward this measure.

The second section merely deals with a requirement to introduce equality to the legislation in terms of the benefit that could be availed of by a widow of the President up to now. It requires that the same benefit should be conferred on the widower. This reminds me of the time, many years ago, when I was a trade union official and had the honour, in retrospect — although I considered it an honour then too — to progress the very case taken by the present incumbent of the Presidency when she challenged this measure before the Employment Equality Agency and the Labour Court in respect of the scheme which operated in this House leading, ultimately, to the amending legislation of 1986. It is extraordinary to think that, a short number of years ago, widowers of this House did not have the same rights as those conferred by the widows and orphans scheme which applies to Members of the Oireachtas. Some 13 or 14 years later, I am very proud to have a small hand once again in ensuring that that measure of equality is introduced to the legislation.

I accept your strictures, a Cheann Comharile, in terms of the comments you made earlier about remarks we would all like to make at another time concerning the possible broadening of the legislative scope of the Presidency. We had an [393] opportunity not too long ago to discuss that matter in the House and the kind of commission to which Deputy Mitchell referred was put down by way of amendment by my party during the debate at that time.

With regard to the plea which Deputy Quinn made to the Office of Public Works in respect of the building itself, my colleague, Deputy Mac Giolla told me that it may be possible to look at some 25 acres of land adjacent to Dublin Zoo. It is not an area in which I have any expertise but I am advised that if, for example, making that additional land available could be contemplated for Dublin Zoo, it would make a considerable contribution to enhancing the quality of life of a great many people in Dublin who visit the Zoo; it would also enable Dublin Zoo to tackle many of their present problems.

It is also appropriate that measures built into the legislation now will make the updating of this kind of stipend unnecessary in terms of legislation like this in future. Perhaps there should have been a subsection relating it to the cost of living on a yearly basis as, for example, the arrangement regarding the President's salary and the relationship with the Chief Justice.

It is the unequivocal view of the people that the measure we are enacting today has their support. It is evident that the media focus which has been consistently on the work of the new President is welcomed by the people. The use of the offices to the bounds which the Constitution permits is something which all citizens of the State appreciate and hope will continue. The recent visit of the President to London was an historic one as it was the first time a President had visited Britain. This kind of pushing out the frontiers of the office is what the people approve of and which they have grown to expect and we should be happy to buttress it financially in this House.

Fuair mé teachtaireacht ón bpobal seo agus mé ag dul timpeall. Teastaíonn Uachtarán uainn gur féidir linn bheith bródúil aisti, ach níos mó ná sin, gur féidir linn bheith bródúil lena chéile toisc gur [394] Éireannaigh sinn agus go bhfuil traidisiún agus cultúr álainn againn.

That is the spirit in which this House should agree the legislation. It is true that the people now take great pride — and always have—in their Presidency. I hope that there will be agreement in this House on this measure and, like Deputy Gay Mitchell and Deputy Quinn, I should like to extend my best wishes to the President for continued success in her office.

Mrs. Fennell: Like other speakers, I researched and prepared a fairly lengthy contribution based on the fact that it is the first time we have been able to talk about the momentous event in November last year and its outcome. However, I will respect the position of the Chair and the confines of the debate.

I am pleased that we, so quickly and in a non-contentious way, are amending the moneys voted to the President's Establishment. The money allocated for previous Presidents for entertainment purposes was set in 1973 and I have the greatest sympathy for the man and his wife who have just left that office. I question how he could have played the role in entertaining on the meagre amount that was given to him.

I also question why that was not recognised and why the former President did not identify the problem, did not pursue it and get satisfaction. Indeed, I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the former President Hillery and his wife as he carried out his duties with decorum and honour. I sincerely regret we did not have a debate in this House or commendation for the role he played. I know that many people — including myself — have a great deal of respect for him and he should be told that Ireland appreciated his role during his time in office.

Up to now we had always presumed that in the event of an office holder dying the benefactor was always a woman. In this Bill we now recognise that the President's husband is entitled to the protection of pension legislation the same as everybody else. I would point out to the [395] Minister of State that, as Deputy Rabbitte said, we have changed the situation in regard to TDs and Senators but I do not think we have changed the situation relating to Ministers and Ministers of State. I remember my husband, who works in this area, saying to me when I was a Minister of State that if anything happened to me he would not be covered under our legislation. When I mentioned this I got the most bizarre response that if I was killed there would be a huge emotional upheaval and something would be rushed through the Dáil. I wonder if anything has changed since then, because there are women Ministers in the Deputy's own party and they and their husbands are entitled to protection in the event of anything happening to them. I hope this House and the public are sufficiently mature to realise that we need amendments in this area. Why are we so afraid to make such changes? If such equality legislation exists for Deputies and Senators, and now for the President, we should have it at every level. I would ask the Minister of State to check that to see whether something has been done in the Finance Bill that I am not aware of.

I am pleased that there is a section which allows for the review of the emoluments for the President. In my opinion £100,000 is really nothing when one considers the events with which the President is at present associated and her potential for developing the style of Presidency she intends. That £100,000 is very little. Dare I say it should be twice that if she is to perform as effectively as I know she would want to?

The style of Presidency we now see has had wonderful effects. Opinion polls have shown how pleased the Irish people are with the type of Presidency that President Robinson has now developed. This is very good for the country and for morale abroad. The image of a Head of State is very important. There is a certain amount of diplomatic excitement attached to the visit of a Head of State. We all know how people perk up and inquire about the country this person represents. [396] When President Robinson was elected it caused a stir throughout the world. I am quite sure she will be a wonderful ambassador for Ireland worldwide. She has had many invitations to travel. This was an unprecedented election. As people abroad saw it, we had a liberal feminist President elected in what they perceived, because of the kind of publicity we got in relation to ridiculous family planning legislation and so on, as a country where the status of women was very low indeed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If Deputy Fennell had listened to the Ceann Comhairle she would have heard him advise that particularising regarding the personality, outlook or characteristics of the President, is not in order in this debate. The Deputy will appreciate that if it were it would lead to confrontation in so far as every Deputy would have his or her own views. The Deputy can appreciate that it would not be desirable for the high office of the Presidency or the holder of it. I would ask her to endure whatever impediment she feels that imposes on her.

Mr. Quinn: We had that debate last autumn, Sir.

Mrs. Fennell: I will, of course, respect the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's ruling on this. I will confine myself to the effects. This legislation is a spin-off from the election, so I will talk about that for my final remarks.

This election has considerable effects out there in Irish society and I am glad that we are amending this aspect right away. It points up the need for action in other areas of Irish society where there is a noticeable lack of interest in the fact that we have a woman President. I speak of those clubs whose doors are closed to our first citizen. It is an insult to our President and to every woman in Ireland that there are so many golf and other sporting clubs who would ban her as a member because of her gender.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy [397] Fennell, I am afraid that you cannot presume to interpret how the President would react to anything like that. It would not be proper that anybody here would be so presumptuous as to indicate how the President now, in her capacity as President, would react to anything. That is a matter which the Deputy will appreciate is entirely for her own articulation.

Mrs. Fennell: We will quietly presume, but we will not talk about it. However, I will talk about the insult to Irish women and to many Irish men that their President is being banned on the basis of gender. Is that all right? I am again dealing with the effects of this Presidency because we cannot ignore them. These clubs have sexual apartheid rules, and the worrying thing is that there are so many judges and lawyers and heads of industry in these clubs.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Fennell is an experienced Member of this House. What she has to say should relate to the legislation before the House. There will be another day for pursuit of these matters to which the Deputy refers, but she cannot use a piece of legislation to articulate on matters that are not provided for in the legislation.

Mrs. Fennell: I have spoken about the importance of recognising the equality aspect in regard to pensions of people holding public office. The implementation of equality legislation is important for all and particularly for judges in the Supreme Court who would be members of a club like Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club. Of the five Supreme Court judges, all but one is a member and I would not think it would be appropriate——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Unless the Deputy can indicate to me where in the proposed legislation there should be amendments to provide for that she feels is absent, she is not entitled to pursue that point. Deputy Fennell must accept that.

Mrs. Fennell: I am talking about——

[398] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Under the Presidential (Amendment) Bill there could not be any provision for judges or anybody other than the Presidential Establishment.

Mrs. Fennell: I reluctantly defer to your ruling. It is time Supreme Court judges, if they are implementing the law, questioned the clubs of which they are members.

I want to take issue with some of the comments made by my colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell. The Chair will probably rule me out of order again on this point. Deputy Mitchell suggested that there should be quasi-political rules for the President. This would make some sense if a President wanted to set up a commission but I would be terrified that a President would get involved in quasi-political or party political issues. Every issue in this country is party political. I do not believe this is always in the best interests of people, whatever their role or status. Unless it was being changed for very good reasons I would absolutely oppose any change in the role of our President. Our President has to be independent and has to be seen to be independent. We know that this is the type of Presidency Irish people want. If the Presidency has to be about anything it has to be about giving Irish people the type of Presidency they want in this Republic. We should be vigilant in ensuring that the needs of the Presidency, as they are defined and are being developed by the present President, are protected. For example, we should ensure that a President does not have to work on a budget of only £15,000 a year.

I should like the Minister of State to say in his reply what role Ministers and Ministers of State have to play. This will be of concern to me when I am a Minister of State. I should like to take this opportunity of wishing the President and her family well in the future. They have a long road ahead of them and I am sure they will have to cope with many difficulties. I commend them on the job they are doing at present, and I support the Bill.

[399] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I thank the Deputy for being amenable to the dictates of the Chair.

Mrs. Barnes: It is a pleasure to be here this morning to speak on this Bill. Even though it is a short Bill I commend the Government on their prompt and positive response to the real needs of the Presidency. The Office of President has been enhanced and has received international recognition since President Robinson's inauguration. I hasten to add that this is not a reflection on previous Presidents. The election of President Robinson has been an incredible break-through not just for the women of Ireland but for all the people of the country. As the Minister and Deputy Quinn will be aware, the positive international response to the election of President Robinson has enhanced the position of this State in the world.

I should like to put on the record my admiration of the democratic way in which the Presidential election was held, the way in which the views of the electorate were manifested during that time and the dignified way in which all the political candidates in the election behaved. The election of President Mary Robinson was welcomed by all political parties. People from other countries, particularly democratic countries, have told me that they regarded the election of President Mary Robinson as a model in a democratic sense. Women throughout the world regard President Mary Robinson not just as a role model for Irish women but as a role model for women everywhere. We are almost unique in the world in having elected, by public mandate, a woman President. Her excellent qualities were recognised from the very beginning and we can justifiably be proud of her.

The election of President Mary Robinson has been a matter of great national pride and celebration, particularly for women. It has also been a celebration of our democratic system in that it has given recognition to the different branches in [400] our public life. Since her election President Robinson has enhanced and broadened the office of the President in so far as she has consistently kept it above party politics. Like Deputy Nuala Fennell, I believe this is crucial and very important. She has ensured that she is the type of President envisaged by our Constitution, that is a President for all the people and not just a President for certain groupings. She has brought home to all of us the pride we should have in this young fledgling State. We should ensure that the structures which have been set up under our Constitution are maintained with dignity.

We are living in changing times. The election of President Mary Robinson is an indication of the incredible changes which are taking place not just in Ireland but throughout the world. If in the future we see an extended role for the Presidency I hope there will be all-party agreement on the introduction of such changes. Perhaps the powers of and the restrictions on public representatives could also be considered at that stage. We should always keep an open mind on how we can best serve the people who have elected us. The Presidential election raised questions about the powers, responsibilities and dignity not just of the President, which was the pivotal debate, but of all public representatives. The people of this country are well served by hard working public representatives. This is something of which we should be proud.

What I saw emerging from the Presidential election, particularly from the model offered by the President, was a renewal of pride in our structures and of our willingness to look at them to see how they can be developed in the future. I welcome the good relationship, the trust and confidence at work between the Government and the President as that is where most of the communication at public representative level must lie. This Bill is an indication of our pride in and support for the Presidency.

I would remind the Houses of the Oireachtas that a power of the President relates to her right to address both [401] Houses of the Oireachtas after consultation with and advice from her Council of State, perhaps on special occasions. As Deputy Fennell said, the Presidency would not in this way interfere with the work of the House. We should perhaps come together with the President to look at how we should chart the future. This would be of tremendous interest to the public particularly now that both Houses can be broadcast publicly. This is a time of public communication, of opening up structures to the public. The broadcasting facilities in the Dáil might be put to good use if all of us came together giving the President the pleasure and the privilege of addressing us. I do not intend to comment on the activities of the President or to advise or insist on what she should do, but I am very much aware of public interest in these Houses particularly when we are highlighting special occasions.

As our future is opening up in Europe in the nineties, we have global communications. Perhaps one of the reasons we had such international interest in the Presidential election here and in the fact that Mary Robinson was elected President was due to the global communications now open to us. I was amazed at the level of reporting, of articles and of broadcasting there was about Ireland during that period and after the election. It bodes well for the future. This is a time of celebration for women and for men. It is a good reflection on our democracy and structures. I wish the President and her family many productive years, and happiness and success and I congratulate her on representing us so well. I look forward to taking part in future discussions vis-á-vis our Presidency and the other structures of our State.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. N. Treacy): I thank all the Deputies who contributed so warmly to this debate. I thank them for their generous comments about the Bill and the President. It is indicative of the magnanimity of the Taoiseach as Head of the [402] Government, that he responded immediately to the suggestion that there was need to increase the allowances for the Office of the President, so that the President could fulfil her role to the maximum interests of the country. It also shows the positive attitude of the Government to this need. We are grateful for the co-operation of the House and we were delighted to be able to respond so quickly with this Bill.

Deputy Mitchell referred to accountability and asked whether the Secretary to the President should be the Accounting Officer for the Vote for the Presidential Establishment rather than the Secretary of the Department of Finance. This matter does not arise under this Bill. Nevertheless, I will refer the matter to the Minister for Finance. It is something we would have to be very careful about. I assure Deputy Mitchell that under the Interpretation Act the word “he” encompasses all genders within the Constitution and within all Acts. It includes all persons irrespective of gender, class or creed.

Mrs. Barnes: We hope to change that too.

Mr. N. Treacy: The Deputy need not have any worries. The other costs pertaining to the Office of President which was referred to by Deputy Mitchell did not arise under this Bill. The same applies to Deputy Quinn's suggestion about the Áras building, and Deputy Rabbitte's comments about land for the Zoo. I concur and thank Deputy Quinn for his warm comments, particularly about the Office of Public Works. I will pass them on to the chairman of the commissioners. With regard to the Áras building, it is a very beautiful and architecturally important building and I will pass the Deputy's comments to the chairman of the Commissioners of Public Works.

We have been very fortunate that over the years all the holders of the Office of President have performed to a very high standard and with great dignity. Like Deputy Fennell I, too, pay a warm tribute to the former President, Dr. Hillery and [403] his wife Maeve. Like his predecessors, he was a very warm and outstanding President. We wish them both well in the years ahead.

Deputy Fennell raised a query whether spouses of female Ministers were covered for pensions under existing legislation. As of now they are not but we propose to rectify that as a result of the recommendations in the Gleeson Commission report which recommended that this anomaly be corrected. The legislation covering this is in the course of preparation and we hope to rectify the matter reasonably soon.

While Deputy Fennell meandered into areas outside the realms of the Bill, I am sure she is pleased with the recent decision taken by Bord Fáilte as investment co-ordinators of structural funding——

Mrs. Fennell: Yes.

Mr. N. Treacy: ——in that they have made it clear to golf clubs that unless full membership is made available to women these clubs will not even be considered for grant aid.

I sincerely congratulate Deputy Monica Barnes on her appointment by the President to the Council of State. It is both an honour and an acknowledgement of her as a person. I wish both her and the Council every success during their term of office. I thank the House, the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for their very positive management of this Second Stage debate. I am sure we will have co-operation in ensuring that this Bill becomes law very quickly.

Question put and agreed to.