Seanad Éireann - Volume 128 - 03 May, 1991

Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 1990 [ Certified Money Bill ]: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Finance (Mr. A. Reynolds): This Bill provides for an increase in the amount of the emoluments and expenses of the President, other than salary, and enables any future increases to be effected by Government order. It also provides for the payment of a pension to the widower of a deceased President or of a former President. These provisions received a very warm welcome in the Dáil and I expect that they will be given a similar reception in this House. The Bill complies with the provisions in the Constitution under which it is prescribed in Article 12.11.2º that the President shall receive such emoluments and allowances as may be determined by law.

The existing legislation consists of the Presidential Establishment Act of 1938 as amended by the Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Act of 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.

It is proposed to increase the figure of £15,000, which is largely spent on official entertainment, to a more realistic level in terms of today's values. Having given [1485] careful consideration to what would constitute a fair and equitable amount at this stage and allowing for developments that have taken place since the figure was fixed 18 years ago, we are satisfied that a figure of £100,000 is fully justified. This is, therefore, the figure 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 both Houses of the Oireachtas, of Ministers and of the Judiciary.

As regards the superannuation provisions in the Bill, under existing legislation only widows benefit at present. The extension of pension cover to the spouse of a female President is in line with the 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 for the approval of the Seanad.

Mr. Manning: I welcome the Minister to the House. As he knows, he is always welcome here. The purpose of this Bill is clear and we support it. It is clear that in the last election the people decided in favour of a more active style of Presidency. In that election all three candidates advocated such a change. The differences were largely of degree rather than of principle and, like any change of this sort, it must be paid for. The sums involved are not huge and the benefits to the public from a more active Presidency may well be considerable. One wonders why it has taken so long to do the decent thing by the President of the day. Certainly one must have a certain sympathy with President Hillery on the very parsimonious manner in which he was treated by previous successive Governments.

Following last year's election it is clear [1486] that the Presidency can never be the same again. The election campaign was characterised by the second real debate on the nature and meaning of the Presidency and it clearly emerged from that public debate that something different was both on offer and was what the public wanted. The only previous national debate that I can remember on the role and nature of the Presidency took place in the 1966 election when two contrasting styles were on offer. There was the traditional style as established by President Doughlas Hyde, as continued by President Seán T. O'Kelly, and as personified by President Éamon de Valera but which was confronted by a different, more active style of Presidency as personified in the candidacy of Mr. T.F. O'Higgins. On that occasion the traditional style won, but only just. I remember in that particular election — I could lay claim to have been one of the inventors of opinion polling in this country — that I with Mr. Vincent Browne, who may be known to Members of the House, and another person, decided to go to O'Connell Street and there we stopped 100 people and asked them how they were voting. We came up with a majority for Mr. O'Higgins. We then went to The Irish Times who said it could not possibly happen. The Irish Independent gave us £5 and printed our findings as an opinion poll. In Dublin Mr. O'Higgins won the election and Mr. de Valera won in other parts of the country. On that occasion the traditional style won but only just. It is perhaps ironic that two of Mr. de Valera's immediate successors President Ó Dálaigh and President Childers, moved closer to the type of Presidency advocated in Mr. O'Higgins campaign. President Hillery consciously opted for a low key approach, but it was none the worst for that. President Hillery was a good President who worked hard and history will judge him well. His approach was different but nonetheless effective.

An Cathaoirleach: I want to interrupt the Senator. I have great respect for you and the manner in which you consistently make your contributions but I would like [1487] to remind the House at this stage that it is not intended during this Second Stage or at any time in discussing this Bill, that we discuss former Presidents, their offices and particularly the election campaigns surrounding their appointment. I want to remind Members that the Bill does not deal with any of these areas. I respect the commitment, sincerity and co-operation that I have always got from Senator Maurice Manning.

Mr. Manning: I will try to stay within the very strict parameters you are laying down. It is now clear and it is relevant to the Bill that there is a new approach but in some ways I think there are certain dangers to that approach because of the way the Presidency is defined in the Constitution. We are the only country which gives very limited presidential powers but which prescribes direct election for President by the people. Other constitutional republics — the most obvious example is Germany — have Presidents with powers similar to ours but without direct election. The President in Germany is elected by an electoral college. That is quite deliberate and emphasises the formal and largely non-discretional powers of the President. We, on the other hand, give the President a popular mandate but no real powers. That is a position which can and will be frustrating for a President who wants to make a major impact.

The present position depends on the goodwill and common sense of the Taoiseach and the President of the day. In the present evolving situation where the role of the President is not fully clear and where there is a popular endorsement for a more visible and more active Presidency, it might be worthwhile at this stage, at the beginning of a new Presidency, if informal guidelines were laid down to ensure that the President is given powers within certain agreed parameters. The President should not have to keep looking over her shoulder to what may or may not be done. I make this proposal briefly but seriously.

We are at a new phase in the evolution of the Presidency. All parties want to see [1488] it work but the ground rules are unclear. The constitutional position is restrictive and the precedents as sanctified by past practice are restrictive in the extreme. The present position has great potential for confrontation or at least for friction, and now is the time to sort it out. It could be done by an informal all-party committee putting forward proposals as to the guidelines within which the President can safely operate to ensure that there is agreement and clarity on the whole matter. That would free the Presidency and would make for greater clarity and certainty.

The Bill provides for the regularising of the pension requirements, and that is certainly welcome. I am glad that future increases will not require a debate of this sort; they will be in accordance with the normal cost of living increases and they will be required to be laid before the Houses but not necessarily in legislation.

I welcome this Bill. It comes at an important stage in the evolution of the Presidency, a Presidency which will not be the same again. The Bill provides for the payment of some of the changes which are required, but more is needed. I would ask that some attention be given to the powers and functions of the President and that, to a certain extent, they be made a little more certain. Now is the time to do that.

I have no difficulty with the Bill. It is timely and long overdue and I support it.

Mr. Fallon: I would like to speak very briefly on this important Bill. This side of the House agree totally with what the Government are doing but why does this Bill, introduced in 1938 and amended in 1973, have to be brought before the House? I would have thought this matter could be dealt with under the Estimates, but apparently that is not the case. However I welcome the fact that the President is receiving the much higher allowance of £100,000, which is fully justified, and which is in keeping with today's values. The entertainment allowance of £15,000 was paltry and had to be amended. Such a small sum for official entertainment was absolutely ludicrous. [1489] The figure of £100,000 is much more realistic. There was clearly a need to increase the allowance of the Office of the President so that the President can fulfil her role in the best interests of the nation.

I want to briefly dwell on past Presidents who performed excellently over the years. We can justly be proud of all of them. I wish Dr. Hillery and his wife a very happy and enjoyable retirement.

Returning to the Bill, I welcome the fact that in future the allowance can be increased without bringing in legislation. Increases will have to be made in line with inflation, and that will be done by Government order. Obviously that is welcome and appropriate. The President is the first citizen and deserves an allowance appropriate to the office. I would like to congratulate the Taoiseach and the Government for responding in a magnificent way to the request for the increased allowance. As I have said, we can be proud of all Presidents who have carried out their duties and constitutional roles, with a very clear distinction between their role and the political system. Certainly I have no difficulty supporting this Bill. The Government have responded in a magnanimous way to the request. I wish the President and her family every happiness and success.

Dr. Upton: Like the previous speakers I too welcome this Bill. It would be ungrateful of me not to acknowledge the generosity of the present Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government in bringing forward this Bill. The recent presidential campaign must have been bruising for them, and it is generous of them to have come forward with what is effectively a very non-controversial Bill.

The proposed measures and increases are needed so that the Presidency can continue to evolve, as indeed have many other aspects of Irish institutions over the years, particularly the Supreme Court. It is important that the Presidency evolve and to do that extra money is needed. Many of the previous incumbents have behaved very well and have done this country an extremely valuable service in [1490] the way they have conducted themselves. It is surprising that they should have done such a good job given the very small amount of money which was available to them. All the previous incumbents served this country very well in their different ways.

I accept it is outside the scope of the Bill, but I would like to pay special tribute to former President Hillery who will go down in history in a very favourable way. He will be appreciated to a far greater extent as history unfolds than he was while in office.

I welcome the evolution which is taking place and I welcome the money which is being provided to allow that to happen. It will allow the President to represent the various elements of the nation to encourage minority groups and the various people who help and work for these groups and to encourage and help the old and see that they are properly represented. It will also allow for more visitors to Áras an Uachtaráin, and that is very desirable. It is a great pity that so few Irish people have ever been to Áras an Uachtaráin. It is no great surprise that most politicians until quite recently, were never within the walls of Aras an Uachtaráin. It is very good that that is beginning to change.

I welcome this. It is a worthwhile Bill. It is a very sensible development.

Miss Keogh: I welcome the Minister to the House. I was quite sorry that Senator Manning was cut short. I was hoping for another few footnotes to history.

An Cathaoirleach: That is what I was afraid of.

Miss Keogh: I, too, welcome this Bill to the House. I congratulate the Minister and the Government for bringing it forward so promptly. As our now President said during the presidential campaign, it is vital that Aras an Uachtaráin should be used as a resource for the people as part of the whole democratic process.

I was delighted — as I know many of my colleagues both in the Seanad and the Dáil were — to be invited to Aras an [1491] Uachtaráin. For some Members it was the first time they have ever been inside the building. It is terrific that such visits are now possible. Obviously if something is to be used as a resource the necessary finances should be made available. A sum of £100,000 is not an unreasonable amount. I know from the many business functions I have to organise how quickly the money disappears I hope that the increased amount in this instance will be sufficient. I am glad we will not have to go through this process again if the amount is to be increased. I agree with Senator Manning on how we should broaden the scope of the position of President but I know that is not the subject for a debate here today.

In relation to the superannuation provisions in the Bill, I am very glad that the legislation has been extended in this way, on the same lines as the scheme which was amended for the Members of the Oireachtas in 1986. I do not think there is any need for us to go into any length on this very short Bill. I am happy to support it and to join other Members of the House in congratulating and wishing former President Hillery joy in his retirement. I am looking forward to going to the type of ceremonies that I was at this morning — the commemoration at Arbour Hill — presided over by President Mary Robinson.

Mr. Neville: I, too, welcome the Minister. It is timely that this Bill should be introduced when the people are looking towards the presidency for an expanded and a more positive role as the Head of State. Like Senator Keogh, I have just come from the 75th anniversary commemorations at Arbour Hill. One could only be proud of the dignified way the President carried out her functions and duties on behalf of the people. I join in the wishes to President Hillery in his retirement. I welcome all aspects of the Bill, including the regularising of the pension requirements of the presidential family.

I also welcome the fact that in future we will not have to bring a Bill to this [1492] House or wait 18 years to update the expenses which are necessary in carrying out the function at its proper level. Again I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister in bringing it to the House.

Professor Conroy: I join in supporting this necessary, timely and particularly non-partisan Bill. It is very appropriate that the Government, any Government — whatever their particular political denomination — should appreciate that as the President is the first citizen, appropriate arrangements, as those outlined in this Bill, should be made for that person. It is also appropriate that the Government have overcome any partisan or parochial feelings in regard to this measure. The Bill is long overdue and is a necessary measure. It is the kind of measure that the Government of the day should always be prepared to take on board.

The Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Bill relates to the original Bill of 1938 and the 1973 amendment. I, too, would like to join in the tribute to the various Presidents of this country, each and every one of whom has carried out this duties — or hers as they now are — in a manner befitting this country, in a very non-partisan and dignified manner. The only thing that has worried me slightly in the debate is this suggestion of traditional and non-traditional. I believe that good traditions have been established and I have no doubt that if Mr. O'Higgins had been elected President he, too, would have been very cognisant of the traditions which have been so well established, and that he would have added to those traditions. I would be very sad — and I am quite sure it will not happen, no matter what may or may not have been said during the presidential election campaign — if there was a deviation from this. The President is the President for all the people of Ireland and there are great and noble traditions established which I am sure will be maintained by this President and by future Presidents. I would be very sad if these were in any sense to be interpreted in a populist or trivial manner. Indeed there may be good arguments for some greater [1493] involvement of the Presidency but we must be very careful because the President is in a very specific position as first citizen of this country. Two previous Presidents have not been referred to who also added to the traditions, one was Erskine Childers, who was an outstanding President and very much a President of all the people. I would also like to add a perhaps more activist — in the best sense of the word — President, Cearbhall O Dálaigh who set an exceptionally high standard of politics and constitutionalism in this country in the very noble and correct attitude he took in being prepared to resign from that Presidential position when he considered that was the line he should take. Due tribute should be paid to him as well as to the others, tribute with which one is very happy to concur. We are discussing an additional sum which is traditionally spent on official entertainment. This is long overdue. It is necessary that the President, as first citizen, should be in a position to provide at least modest entertainment. The sum of £100,000 allocated may be a substantial sum in itself but it is still an extraordinarily meagre sum compared with the norm for other Heads of State. Nonetheless, I welcome it. It is necessary and appropriate and it will enable the occupant to carry out her duties or his duties as the case may be in the future in an appropriate manner. I would be very sorry to see any change from the great traditions which were established in the past and which, I am sure, President Robinson will maintain.

Mr. Norris: I should also like to support this Bill. It is important that we recognise the dignity and significance of the Office of President. Like other speakers, I recognise that dignity and the splendid way in which it has been upheld by all office holders since the beginning of the State. Although there is a political campaign leading up to the Presidential election, it is noticeable, once the President has been elected, that that is entirely put aside and all the citizens of [1494] this country, including the defeated candidates, have always generously, magnanimously and appropriately taken the first available opportunity to indicate their loyalty and support to the first citizen of this land. This is an important factor in our democracy.

In order to function in the adequate way we wish a President to function in this country there has to be some degree of reasonable remuneration and a proper allowance for expenses and entertainment. I noted what Senator Conroy said in regard to other Heads of State. If we look at our nearest neighbour, for example, the amounts made available for the maintenance of the Queen's household are astronomically greater, even with this increase, than what we allow to our President. I welcome the increase but taken in context — I was very glad to hear Senator Conroy make this point, not in a niggling or parsimonious way or to begrudge the intentions of the Bill — it is not as enormous an increase as one might imagine. It is nearly 20 years since this allowance was established at the very small sum of £15,000. I am not very good at analysing economic indicators, and I certainly would not attempt to do so in the presence of the Minister for Finance who would easily humble me in this matter but a house which was priced at £15,000 in 1973 is very likely to be worth about £100,000 now. Therefore, this is not a very large increase. It seems to me that we are really going back to the situation as it was in 1973. I should like to ask the Minister if it is intended that this sum should be indexed in any way because, if not, it will mean that we will have to come back and review it again. It cannot remain at this figure indefinitely because events will speedily overtake it. I have no intention of putting down an amendment or being difficult but I wonder if there is a mechanism in the Bill for maintaining a continous review of the Presidential income.

As I have said, it is important that there should be an allowance to the President for entertainment. I have often reached into the recesses of my Joycean memory to find an analogy and, of [1495] course, there is one. There is a discussion on the office of Lord Mayor in one of Joyce's books where one of the characters remarks on how the mighty have fallen and how this State had declined and one of them said, “You know, his Worship sent out for a pound of chops the other day from the Mansion House”, to which his colleague responded “Gob flaithiúlach entertainment mar dhea”. I think that even in those days at the turn of the century people were aware of the necessity of maintaining the dignity of the Office of President by providing sufficient moneys so that the first citizen of the land could entertain not just our own citizens but also visitors from abroad on whom it is important that we make a good impression. I do not think we need to be extravagant — in these days of famine and poverty it would not be appropriate that we would maintain an extravagant and provocative household — but there should be appropriate entertainment.

I should like to place on the record of the House, if it is appropriate — I am sure you will guide me Sir, if it is not — my appreciation, which I think is a fairly general appreciation, of the invitation to Aras an Uachtaráin issued by President Robinson to all Members of the Oireachtas some weeks ago. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves on that very pleasant and informal occasion. It was the first time I had been in Aras an Uachtaráin and I gather that it was also the first time many members of this House and of the other House had had the opportunity to see the residence which is, in a sense, the centre of the Irish family. The President is the sort of titular head of the Irish family. This was a very good precedent.

Regrettably my colleague, Senator O'Toole, is unable to be here to take part in this debate, a fact which he very much regrets, but he asked me to place it on record of the House that, as a trade unionist and as somebody who represented the then Senator Mary Robinson at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, he would advise her not to accept the first offer and would be very [1496] happy to represent her in any ensuing negotiations.

Mr. Fallon: She can refuse to sign the Bill.

Mr. Norris: That is a very good point and I am very grateful to the Leader of the House for having made it. She could, of course, refuse to sign the Bill which I would imagine would cause a certain constitutional crux. However, in the event, Senator O'Toole is making himself available to advise her.

I hope also, though it may be outside the scope of this Bill, that some consideration will be given to the proper maintenance of Aras an Uachtaráin. It is a very beautiful residence, some of the wonderful ceilings there were taken from Mespil House. The general building is well maintained but some of the out buildings could do with a lick of paint, if I can put it that way.

President Robinson has, very judiciously, already found a way of expressing the feeling of the people through the use of her Office in a way which is non-contentious and which has increased the general support which we all gave her. I should like to put on the record two instances of this, of which I think we were all very glad. The first is that quite properly and informally President Robinson met with the Dalai Lama. This was remarked upon very favourably in all the newspapers which said that President Robinson by her action had saved the conscience of Ireland from shame. That was a very appropriate use of the Office of President. The second, with which I think everyone in the country would agree, is that by her presence at a particular meeting and by her well chosen words she helped to direct our attention, not away from the Kurds, but towards the fact that there is the possibility of a really catastrophic famine occurring again in Ethiopia. In this non-partisan, non-political and non-party way the President can operate as a kind of conscience for the Irish people.

I very much welcome the Bill which is most appropriate. I also greatly welcome [1497] a sentence towards the end of the Minister's speech in which he referred to the extension of pension to cover the spouse of a female President. He said this was in line with developments in public sector spouses pension schemes in recent years. This is very much to be welcomed because the absence of such arrangements is a very clear indication of discrimination based on gender alone. In a way the election of a woman to the highest Office in this land has helped to illustrate some of these discriminations of which we may not always have been as fully aware as we ought to. I very much welcome the fact that the President's spouse may receive a widower's pension in an eventually so unfortunate that I hesitate even to contemplate it.

As I have said, this is a very good indicator of the way in which this country is becoming much more equal, with regard being given to the rights of all its citizens. A number of prevous speakers referred to the 75th anniversary of Easter Week 1916. Of course, the Proclamation of 1916 speaks very movingly of the need to cherish all the citizens of the nation equally. It is quite clear from the necessity of including this provision that until now the highest citizen of the State was not always cherished equally if she happened to be a woman.

For all these reasons it is important to give a resounding welcome to this Bill. I congratulate the Government on their foresight in introducing the Bill because it has clearly underlined the fact that the Office of President is non-partisan, non-party political and that it is in the interests of the Government that that Office of President should function as efficiently and as appropriately as possible. I have the greatest respect for the political acumen of the Taoiseach and the other members of the Government and I have no doubt they will find in President Robinson a very important resource as an ambassador of this State representing us at home and abroad. I look forward to the development of this co-operative relationship between Government and [1498] Presidency as outlined under our Constitution.

Mr. Mooney: I will have to read up on Joyce having listened to the eloquent contribution of Senator Norris. In the context of what the Senator said, I could not help but think of the quotation concerning the Lord Mayor of Dublin at the turn of the century that the Vice-Regal Lodge, as the Áras was then known, must have had echoes of history rebounding around it. I mention this in the context of increasing numbers of visitors to the Áras in the years ahead.

In the aftermath of the Presidential election many people held their breath and wondered what the Government would do and how they would react to what was seen as a new political situation — the loss of the Presidency, as it was put, by Fianna Fáil. The critics have been answered in this legislation which is an act of graciousness by the Government especially in the light of the defeat, in that they saw fit to ensure that the current incumbent of the office and future incumbents would be suitably remunerated for the increased demands on the Office of the President to entertain visiting dignatories and citizens who will visit the Áras in increasing numbers.

I welcome the increase. I hope the precedent set by the Government will be followed by successive Governments so as to permit the Office of the President to project a positive image of Ireland and engender a pride in the office at home. One does not live by bread alone, and while a sum of £15,000 might have been acceptable in 1973 when the Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Act was passed, in the ensuing years it should have been updated. That is a criticism of successive Administrations since 1973. A sum of £15,000 in 1973 in the context of the average weekly or yearly wage was quite acceptable but inflation in the late seventies and into the eighties made the sum trivial.

As we are addressing only the increase in the sum of £15,000 it is a rather restrictive debate but, like other speakers, I will stay within the parameters. This increase [1499] is an indication of the maturity of the Government especially, in that despite criticisms more money is being given to what would seem to be an irrelevant office. We have a strange love-hate relationship with our political leaders and politicians. The hate aspect is on occasions fostered by certain radio chat shows which seem to allow free rein to a variety of cranks and begrudgers to air views that do little to enhance the image of this country. I am thinking specifically in the context of this increase, about the money that is justifiably spent on improving Government Buildings not just for the present incumbent but for successive Taoisigh and for the nation. I am amazed we have an element here that would even voice criticism of the President receiving money to entertain in the narrow sense when it is vital that the Office of the President is seen to be free from financial impediments in order that the President may develop closer relations with the people who elected her. It is vitally important that the President continues along the road on which she has started and with her commitment to opening the Áras to more citizens. That should be encouraged by all sides of the House and all shades of public opinion.

I listened to some of the speakers refer with pride to the recent invitation graciously extended by the President to Members of this House. I regret that I was unable to avail of the invitation as I was out of the country. I hope another invitation will be forthcoming some time during the current tenure of this House, when I can avail of it. When my father was a Member of this House he was in the Áras once when President Kennedy visited here and there was an official garden party held by President de Valera to which representatives of the Oireachtas were invited. My father spoke about that visit with great pride. Because of my lifelong interest in the Community Games I know that President Hillery on several occasions during his tenure of office invited young representatives of the Community Games movement to the Áras and they spoke with great pride of [1500] their visit to the House, which Senator Norris said is central to the life of Ireland. I encourage the President to continue on that road so that more and more of our citizens will visit the Áras.

By increasing the allowance to £100,000, which is not a huge sum, we address the difficulties any President would face in attempting to balance the budget while doing the sort of things our President has suggested. In that spirit I enthusiastically welcome this legislation. I compliment the Government and the Minister for Finance who has introduced this Bill into the House for taking the initiative with this legislation at this early stage in the tenure of the current President. The point made by other speakers, about reviewing the entertainment allowance on an ongoing basis to ensure that we do not have to have another similar debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas should be taken on board.

Pól Ó Foighil: Ba mhaith liom Bille Theaghlachas an Uachtaráin a mholadh. Ceapaim go bhfuil a raibh le rá ráite ag chuile dhuine romhainn agus nach bhfuil i gceist ach ár dea-mhéin agus ár mbeannacht a chur leis an reachtaíocht seo. Luíonn sé le réasún, ar ndóigh, go dtabharfaimis lántacaíocht don Uachtarán nuair atá sé nó sí tofa. Sa chás seo tá Máire Mhic Róbín againn mar Uachtarán na hÉireann agus tá sé de dhualgas orainn sa saol poiblí agus, go deimhin sa saol príobháideach, iomlán dílseachta a thabhairt di in a cuid oibre. Is maith an rud go bhfuil sé tagtha chun cinn chomh sciobtha sin agus caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil buíochas tuillte ag an Aire Airgeadais gur thug se chun tosaigh é chomh tapa sin tar éis don Uachtarán dul i mbun a cuid dualgas. Taispeánann sé freisin go raibh gá lena leithéid a dhéanamh, agus ag cur airgid an lae inniu i gcomparáid le hairgead 20 bliain shin is cinnte nach bhfuil caiteachas rialtais de £100,000 ag dul thar fóir ar aon bhealach maidir leis an bpost áirithe sin. Tá fáth eile ann go gcuirim fáilte roimh an mBille leasaithe seo, go bhfuil scóip ann rud mar seo a dhéanamh amach anseo le hOrdú Rialtais agus nach [1501] mbeadh aon ghá le leasú. Is céim mhór chun tosaigh é sin i gcúrsaí reachtaíochta na tíre, dar liomsa. Freisin, ba mhaith liom go speisialta comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Uachtarán, Máire Mhic Róibín, mar, go bhfios domsa, ar go leor bealaí, is duine í atá tar éis uaschéim a thabhairt don Ghaeilge, agus do mhuintir na Gaeltachta ach go háirithe. Mar is eol don Teach, Tháinig an tUachtarán chugainn sa Spidéal i gcaitheamh na Cásca ar feadh seachtaine, agus chaith sí an t-am sin go díograiseach le híomhá na Gaeilge mar theanga labhartha a chur chun cinn. Bhí sí le feiceáil go sonrach ag caint le gnáthmhuintir na Gaeltachta, ag siúl bóithre na Gaeltachta, ag labhairt le mná tí sna siopaí, ag dul ar Aifreann, agus bhí sí ar nós gnáthdhuine i measc a pobail féin. Ba í an Ghaeilge an teanga a labhair sí féin agus, go deimhin, rinne a clann an-iarracht an tseachtain sin. Tá an oiread déanta ag an Uachtarán maidir leis an gcuairt sin ar an nGaeltacht chomh luath sin ina saol poiblí agus a rinneadh le cúpla scór bliain roimhe sin. Chuir sí ina luí orainn go raibh áit don Ghaeilge sa saol poiblí. Dúirt sí le linn a hinsealbhaithe go ndéanfadh sí iarracht Gaeilge a labhairt, cé nach raibh mórán cleachtaidh aici le blianta. Rinne sí é sin agus rinne sí go maith é. Cuirfidh an caiteachas ar a cumas a hiliomad dualgas a chomhlíonadh agus tá mé cinnte go mbainfidh sí féin agus a foireann an leas ceart as an maoiniú seo. Tá an tAire Airgeadais le moladh, mar a dúirt mé cheana, as an mBille seo a chur faoinár mbráid chomh sciobtha sin. Tá an tUachtarán le moladh as iomhá mná na hÉireann agus iomhá lucht na Gaeilge a láidriú de bharr a bhfuil curtha i gcrích aici ó toghadh ina hUachtarán í. Ba mhaith an rud, agus an toghchán thart, go ndéanfaimis dearmad ar an bpolaitíocht agus na páirtithe polaitíochta agus na cúiseanna gur éirigh léi bheith ina hUachtarán, agus go dtabharfaimis di an dílseacht atá dlite di, agus an cúnamh agus an comhoibriú is gá le go mbeadh sí ina hUachtarán maith folláin, agus ina heiseamláir dúinn uilig. Mar sin fáiltím go speisialta roimh an mBille seo agus guím chuile rath ar an Uachtarán.

[1502] Mr. Dardis: I join with other Members in welcoming the Minister to the House. It is a measure of the importance the Government attach to this legislation that he is present in the House this afternoon. I congratulate both him and the Government for introducing the legislation which I consider to be very important. I can think of very few occasions since I became a Member of the House when all the political parties were in agreement, which is the case on this legislation and when tributes were paid to the President on her election to office. That is a measure of the loyalty of the Oireachtas to our first citizen and of the affection in which she is held.

The election carried with it many messages which were discussed when the President was elected. It would be inappropriate on this occasion to discuss them again except to say that her election represented a landmark that will go down in history and it will assume even greater importance with the passage of time. Since her election all of us have been impressed by her diligence, to which Senator Ó Foighil referred, the dignity with which she has carried out her many and varied duties, and by the way in which she has conducted herself. Not only has she won the affection of the Members of this and the other House but she has won also the affection and support of the country. This is to be applauded.

In the course of your address, a Chathaoirligh, you mentioned that there is an element of begrudgery abroad. I share those views. Some people may begrudge giving our first citizen more money to carry out her duties as we would wish but I can think of a Joycean expression which would tell the begrudgers where to go. However I do not think this would be regarded as parliamentary. We must provide our first citizen with the necessary funds to allow him or her to carry out the duties of the office. The President represents the public face of Ireland to the world. There is a need to ensure that those invited to Áras an Uachtaráin or Government Buildings [1503] will take away with them an abiding image of the country. In that respect it is extremely important that the President creates the best possible image of this country.

In the past few weeks I received a letter from some friends in England who would have no interest in or little knowledge of Irish politics but they referred in glowing terms to the President. If she can get her message across and create such a positive image for the average English citizen she is doing an extremely effective job. She must be given any money necessary to carry out her functions. In that respect I agree with Senator Conroy that more money than this might be required. It is, as has been said, a significant sum in its own right but in relation to the duties involved it is not a particularly big sum. I join with the other Members who paid tribute to past Presidents, and in particular to Dr. Hillery. As time passed his stature and image imporved and I am sure he has been vindicated in all the things he did. I join with other Members in wishing him a healthy, long and fruitful retirement and send our good wishes to his wife as well.

I had the privilege on one occasion to visit President Ó Dálaigh in Áras an Uachtaráin and it is a memory I will always remember and cherish. I remember his very open and charming manner. It is desirable that as many groups as possible representative of our citizens visit Áras an Úachtaráin because in some way it helps to copperfasten democracy that our citizens can feel they are participating fully in the institutions of the State. Reference has been made to the visit which Members of the Oireachtas paid to the Áras and that too was something to be remembered with pleasure. We were all impressed by the charm and dignity with which the President received us. It is quite appropriate that Members of the Oireachtas visit Áras an Uachtaráin and at least see the residence of our first citizen and meet her socially. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges earlier this year introduced new regulations — if that is the correct [1504] word — as to who might or might not come to speak to us. I realise that the President has rights under the Constitution, but perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will look at that and consider it. It would be quite useful if the President could come to this House to address us.

The Bill includes a provision for the widow of a President. Yesterday we spent a considerable time on other legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, discussing whether we should have “chairperson” or “chairman”. It appears that in much of our legislation we have ignored the role of women. I hope that omission can be rectified in legislation which comes through both Houses of the Oireachtas in future.

I join with the other Members in wholeheartedly welcoming this Bill, in congratulating the Government for introducing it and in wishing our President well in her term of office.

Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister to the House, and I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 1990. I think we all agree with its provisions. It is only fitting and correct that a sufficient amount be made available for the Presidential Establishment and in today's terms even £100,000 is not a large sum, but the Government are to be commended for improving a situation where nothing had been done for 18 years. That delay was at least a slight indictment on successive Administrations. The allocations should be index linked subject to review.

It is very important for the country, for us as Oireachtas Members and for the people in general, that we have a President of whom we can be proud and, I, for one, wish the present incumbent every success in her tenure. As previous speakers have said, the election is over and she is President now. She represents us all and it is important that we support her because she is representing the country.

I support what Senator Dardis said and what you said, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, about a certain begrudging attitude which [1505] seems to emerge when politicians, former office holders or, as we saw recently, members of the Judiciary are given increases in remuneration. It is unfortunate that a small forum seem to suggest there is something totally wrong with such provision. I would support what you said, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, about the development and improvement of Government buildings being something that we can as a country be proud of and when visiting Prime Ministers or Ministers, as the case may be, come here they will recognise that this country is making progress. Other countries have their palaces and distinguished buildings and why should it be different for this country? The begrudging attitude I have mentioned is expressed by a small minority but unfortunately it receives undue publicity when there is general agreement that the President must be fully supported in her most demanding role. Everyone here supports what has been said about continuing development and promotion in the Office. I also support the provision for a surviving spouse.

I support this Bill.

Mr. E. Ryan: I too welcome the Bill before the House and congratulate the Government on taking action. There is no doubt that the Government could have dragged their heels on this issue, but the Taoiseach and the Minister indicated almost immediately after the campaign that they would consider increasing the amount of money which the President gets for entertainment. One thing that emerged very clearly out of the last Presidential campaign was that maybe not so much that people wanted to see the role of the President changed, but they definitely wanted a more active President who would be seen throughout the community, who would use the office and the Áras in a more active way and would visit people around the country — groups, resident associations, etc. — as often as possible. There is no doubt that whoever had won the election, whether it was President Robinson or any other candidate, would have done that. One has to congratulate President Robinson [1506] because she was the one who identified that as very important. She led the field on that issue and the other candidates supported that idea in their campaign. The criticism one heard during the campaign was that past Presidents were very quite. At £15,000 a year no wonder they were quite; it is not even £300 per week. It would be very difficult to do much entertaining in the Áras on that kind of money. This Bill is long overdue when one considers that the Lord Mayor of Dublin has expenses in excess of £20,000 a year and also receives various donations from private companies which help to offset the cost of entertainment. It is amazing that former Presidents have entertained at all in view of the small amount of money they received.

I am delighted that the Government have taken action regarding future increases. I agree with Senator Norris that some form of index-linking should be examined so that the amount does not fall to a derisory sum in years to come.

Several speakers have mentioned begrudgery. One hears some rather sad remarks about the work carried out on Government Buildings. The money was well spent and this will be appreciated in time. The building looks extremely well. Yesterday I spoke to some councillors who had brought a visiting group of 30 English councillors to Government Buildings. All were very impressed and congratulated their hosts on the ambiance of the place.

Another Senator spoke of the effect of President Robinson's election on English visitors. Some visitors from Thailand recently told me that they very rarely heard anything about Ireland but the election of our first woman President was reported in their newspapers. When I spoke about Jack charlton and the Irish football team they looked blankly at me and said they had heard nothing about that subject. They had, however, heard a lot about Mrs. Robinson. I congratulate the Government and welcome the Bill.

Éamon Ó Cuív: Is deas an rud é an tAire sinsearach a fheiceáil ag teacht [1507] chugainn le Bille mar seo. Is dócha go bhfuil an-tábhacht le ról na hUachtaránachta agus is rud é sin a pléadh i gcaitheamh an toghcháin. Ar ndóigh, ní ceart dúinn dearmad a dhéanamh gur ball den Oireachats í an tUachtarán agus, mar sin, in éineacht le dhá Theach an Oireachtais déanann sé sin suas iomlán an Oireachtas. Tá Trí ról, dar liomsa, ag Uachtarán ar bith sa tír seo, a ról idirnáisiúnta, agus, ar ndóigh, tá sé sin thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh deis ag an Uachtarán fáilte chuí a chur roimh státairí agus daoine tábhachtacha eile a thiocfaidh anall thar sáile chugainn ó thráth go céile. An dara ról atá ag an Uachtarán ná an ról náisiúnta ar ócáidí a ghlacadh an tUachtarán páirt lárnach iontu. An tríú ról ná an bhaint a bhíonn ag an Uachtarán le cúrsaí pobail, agus luadh cuid díobh sin: an bhaint a bhí riamh anonn ag an Uachtarán le Cumann Croise Deirge na hÉireann agus le go leor gníomhaíochtaí eile mar sin.

It is proper in a Republic that everything should suit in style and scale the type of society we have. It is also important on a national and international level that our President, who is the Head of State and performs a fundamental constitutional role, should be able to entertain and fulfil his or her duties in an adequate way. It seems ludicrous when one looks at the total expenditure by the State that to date total expenses allowed per annum amounted to £15,000. It seems ridiculous that the Head of State, the representative of all the Irish people, had less to spend on entertainment than the mayor of our capital city. It is right that this should be changed. At times people do not understand the type of entertainment involved. On occasion we have entertained here foreign presidents, royalty and even the Pope. It is proper that the President as the Head of our nation should have adequate resources to fill that role. I welcome the change in the system which obviates the necessity to come back to the Oireachtas to sanction increases as inflation eats away at the amount sanctioned. This makes basic [1508] sense because a year might come when, due to particular circumstances, special allowances might be needed. Since all expenditure is covered anyway in the Vote it seems ridiculous to have a dual vote in relation to a minor sum of money in a total budget in the region of £7 billion.

It is time all pension provisions became reversible and non-sex orientated and that spouses of office holders should automatically be entitled in all cases to the same rights. This is a simple but fundamental change which goes with the type of society we are trying to create. Mention was made of the right of the President to address the Oireachtas. Uair amháin riamh, de réir mar a thuigimse, baineadh úsáid as an ról sin, agus sin sa bhliain 1969, agus cé nach gcreidim gur cheart é a dhéanamh go rómhinic, ceapaim ó thráth go céile, ar mhórócáidí náisiúnta, go mb'fhéidir nár dhrochrud ar bith é go mbainfí leas as an fhoráil sin sa Bhunreacht. Molaim an Bille Seo.

Minister for Finance (Mr. A. Reynolds): I thank Senators who have contributed to the debate and unanimously welcomed the Bill. It is a clear demonstration of the Government's goodwill that this matter is being addressed immediately after the election of a new President. I agree with many of the comments made, especially the tributes paid to past holders of the office of President and the dignified manner in which they carried out their duties on behalf of citizens. I join in wishing the new President every success in her new role. It is a role which has attracted quite a lot of international attention. I had the same experience that Deputy Ryan and others mentioned.

Senator Norris asked if it would be necessary to refer every increase to these Houses for approval. It is not. Provision is made in the Bill for an order to be laid before the House. The question of indexation was also raised. Indexation could be too restrictive since it might be desirable to give a greater increase. Indexation would tie one's hands.

[1509] It is true that the amount provided was extremely low at £15,000. Eighteen years ago that sum also covered staff costs but such costs were transferred in 1979 to the Estimate for the Office of Public Works. One can imagine how little was available for entertainment when staff costs were payable from the allowance. Allowing for inflation that £15,000 would equal approximately £88,500 in today's terms. When one looks at the figure for staff costs in 1979 — that is taking the staff costs separately — in today's terms it would be something near £100,000 as well. I say that just for the information of Senators. I agree with the last point made by Senator Ó Cuív, that where we find provisions that are discriminatory on the basis of sex, they should be removed from the various Acts in which they appear. We will certainly undertake their removal in any legislation pertaining to my Department.

I thank Senators for welcoming the Bill and their unanimous endorsement of its contents.

Question put and agreed to.