Seanad Éireann - Volume 175 - 10 March, 2004

Appointments to Semi-State Bodies: Motion.

  Mr. Ross: I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to reform the practice of making political appointments to semi-State bodies.

This motion addresses the issue of political appointments to semi-State bodies. The Minister has had responsibility for certain such bodies in [1728]the past and will know they are very peculiar creatures. For the purposes of this debate, they have two relevant characteristics which I would like to point out. The first is that, although they are on the whole called commercial semi-State bodies, they are not exclusively commercially driven. The second is that the majority of board members are appointed by the Minister in charge of the relevant Department. This evening I ask whether those people are appointed on merit or because of loyalty to a political party. I am glad that the Minister is here as he has some experience of this. I recall going through a Bill with him in this House some years ago and him assuring us that the relevant body would not, when set up, provide an appointment for someone associated with a political party. Subsequently, a Mr. Jim Lacey was appointed chairman of the board, a man not unknown to Fianna Fáil.

  Mr. Parlon: He was an independent financial man.

  Mr. Ross: The Minister can claim or disclaim him as he chooses, but he was to be seen at Fianna Fáil fundraisers to beat the band, and the Minister knows that as well as me.

  Mr. Parlon: Everyone likes to be with us.

  Mr. Ross: That is true, and Fianna Fáil likes to appoint such people in response; that is what they did. I am sorry, but there were others.

  Mr. Parlon: The Senator’s own party was not so bad either.

  Mr. Ross: I will come to that.

  Acting Chairman: Senator Ross, we should not bring personalities into this.

  Mr. Ross: I am not doing so at all.

  Mr. Leyden: One has to do so.

  Acting Chairman: One may not comment about people, either adversely or favourably.

  Mr. Ross: Anyone watching the recent “Prime Time” programme on television will have seen, to his great credit, Mr. Hugh Byrne, an ex-Minister for Fianna Fáil in the last Government. He turned up as chairmen of Bord Iascaigh Mhara on a very nice salary and with very nice perks. It was quite obviously a consolation prize for loss of office. However, Mr. Byrne let the cat out of the bag. He let it be known on that programme that there was of course cronyism in Irish politics, that positions on semi-State companies were used as rewards for political loyalty and that many of those on the boards were not qualified. I know that it was ungrateful of him to say such things to his employers and political masters, but it was true. No doubt Mr. [1729]Byrne can say goodbye to his political career, but he no doubt had that sussed by the time he made his comments.

I thank Senator Leyden for his interruption. He is absolutely right that all parties have practised that. The abuse of semi-State bodies and State agencies has existed since the State began. It is the oldest game in town.

  Dr. Mansergh: It happened before the State began.

  Mr. Ross: Senator Mansergh will no doubt also get such a position when he loses his seat. He should not worry, for he will be well looked after. The Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, has looked after lesser people than the Senator. He would even secure such an appointment on the basis of some talent.

  Dr. Mansergh: The Senator should not presume that I will be losing anything.

  Mr. Ross: All parties have engaged in this practice.

  Mr. Leyden: And Independent Newspapers.

  Acting Chairman: Allow Senator Ross to continue without interruption.

  Mr. Ross: One need only look at VHI. One could hardly wander down its corridors without bumping into a Fine Gael trustee, because they were on the board. The system is abused by Labour, the Progressive Democrats and everyone, but it is time it ended because semi-State bodies and the political process suffer. There is deep public cynicism about the practice, and that is proper. Under the last coalition Government, as the Minister, Deputy Ahern, said in the Dáil the other day, there was the three-two-one rule, where three seats went to Fine Gael on a semi-State board, two to Labour, and one to the Democratic Left. Piety from this side will be difficult to take.

However, we had a motion here about a year ago from Fine Gael, whose members are now converts to the cause I espouse tonight. That was greatly to their credit, as it was difficult for them. They came out against the prison visitors abuse. They came out and said that it must end as it was given only on the basis of mileage. No doubt, when Fine Gael and Labour get into Government, that abuse will end. It will be difficult as it has been ruthlessly used by all parties to promote their friends and relations and give them a small income as a consolation for loss of office or as a reward for work they did for the party.

This is not a practice of which we should be proud. I will not go into the excesses of the Labour Party in 1993 in any great detail.

  Mr. Leyden: Why not?

[1730]  Mr. Ross: I do not have sufficient time, but I may touch on the matter in my summing up. The Labour Party was as culpable as the Fianna Fáil Party at that time, promoting their friends and relations to jobs, and also creating jobs for them which are now a constant embarrassment and which cost the party the 1997 general election. That was a high price to pay, but ultimately people were waiting for the Labour Party and took it out on this point. Such behaviour may bring short-term political gain but creates long-term political loss.

Some of the boards are worse than others, and some of the practices on some of the boards are worse than others. Aer Lingus has traditionally been given as a perk to people who have shown immense loyalty to a party. It is of course not coincidental that they receive free first-class travel around the world for themselves and their spouses. That is one of the perks of office and it is well known that friends of the Taoiseach have appeared on the Aer Lingus board. For a long time Aer Rianta looked to some extent like a meeting of a Fianna Fáil national executive, with Mr. Noel Hanlon and Mr. Dermot O’Leary, who both have very strong Fianna Fáil credentials, Mr. Tadhg O’Donoghue and others sitting there and no doubt deciding the future of Aer Rianta on the basis not only of their great skills, which were in doubt, but their loyalty to the Government.

We must ask whether taxpayers’ money is being used for the reward of political loyalty or the good of taxpayers and the companies about which we are talking. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that it is being used as a reward for political loyalty. The evidence for that is very clear. Let us examine what happens to those companies when they come from the semi-State sector into the IPOs as with Eircom. As the Leader is well aware, in that case several members of that board were removed very skilfully. One rather stubbornly and stupidly refused to go and made something of a fool of himself by doing so. It was necessary to remove a large number of those board members from the semi-State body because no investors from the commercial sector would have confidence in them. Where that happened, they appointed people in whom it was perceived the commercial sector would have more confidence. The Leader did the same when she was Minister, when she appointed Mr. Tom Mulcahy, which was a fine appointment.

  Ms O’Rourke: He was independent. I appointed him to get Aer Lingus out of a hole.

  Mr. Ross: He was a fine appointment as chairman of Aer Lingus. However, the reason for these changes in the Aer Lingus board is not unrelated to the fact that boards must have a commercial ethos when they are to be sold. One cannot afford to appoint patently political people if the company is to be sold off. In order to get a company into the private sector, board members [1731]must be appointed on pure merit, not on political-merit grounds.

The universities are a subject dear to my heart. As a result of the Universities Bill, political appointments are now made to their boards. One political appointment is made to the University of Dublin board and that appointment was made by the previous Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods. However, despite incredible promises made here during the passage of the Universities Bill and despite the Bill stating that there must be consultation with the provost, that appointment was made without any consultation with Trinity College Dublin or the University of Dublin. The appointment was made by the Minister willy-nilly and the university was informed of it. Apart from anything else, that was a breach of the law. It was also a blatant political appointment of someone who was not unlinked with the political party of the then Minister Deputy Woods, and indeed his constituency.

  Ms O’Rourke: What was his name?

  Mr. Ross: I have been asked not to name people.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We cannot name people who cannot be here to defend themselves.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Senator named somebody else.

  Mr. Ross: I know and that is the reason I will not name anyone else. I have been asked not to name any more although I would be happy to.

  Mr. Leyden: Has the Senator a quota?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Allow Senator Ross to continue without interruption please. I have asked Senator Ross not to name people who cannot be here to defend themselves.

  Mr. Ross: I come to the issue of signing out information about these people. It is extraordinarily difficult to elicit information from the relevant Department and annual reports about them. If I, or any Member asks for documentation about them, we will get some fig-leaf type documents listing their qualifications. One piece of information not given out is that they are members of a political party to which they have given great service throughout their lives. For example, if we went through the list of the Aer Rianta board members, we would think none of them had ever been in politics, yet some of them have spent their lives therein. If we went through An Post annual reports we would see the same. The one thing these board members are ashamed of is that they have been involved in political activity. Why should they be ashamed?

  Ms O’Rourke: Exactly.

[1732]  Mr. Ross: They never tell anybody about it. Why are they so ashamed? Why do they not say outright that they are Fianna Fáil activists, as happens in the case of An Post for instance? This information is hidden from the public because these people are primarily appointed because of their loyalty to the party. However, they do not want people to think that. These people keep popping up on different types of boards.

Some people say the payment for being a member of a board is too little. They ask why anybody would do the work for such pay and say that people only do it as a public service. What is wrong with €10,000 per year? I know €380 million was a pittance, Senator Mansergh, but €10,000 a year is not a pittance to many people. It is a lot of money and well worth picking up. If it is worth picking up expenses as a prison visitor, it is worth picking up €10,000 a year. Some people pick up several €10,000 sums a year, all of whom were, coincidentally, appointed by Ministers. The same people cannot get a job or appointment in the private sector but they keep popping up on semi-State bodies. Why is this?

  Mr. Leyden: That is untrue and very unfair.

  Mr. Ross: This is an abuse to which we must put an end. I hope Fine Gael and the Labour Party will pledge this evening that if they return to power——

  Mr. Leyden: The Senator should not hold his breath.

  Mr. Ross: ——they will set up a commission, accept a verdict of the Civil Service Commission or agree to set up a system whereby public hearings will be held to examine what qualifications these people have. Everybody who is selected for a semi-State body, and I do not suggest that being a member of a political party should bar a person from membership of a board——

  Ms O’Rourke: That is actually what the Senator suggests.

  Mr. Ross: Not at all. This is the sort of misrepresentation I expect to hear from the other side of the House. That is not what I suggest. I suggest board members should come before hearings of, perhaps, this House and the Dáil, or of suitable independent bodies and answer questions so that we have transparency in these appointments.

  Ms O’Rourke: I would be in favour of that.

  Mr. Ross: The Government has some neck in proposing its amendment. It has some neck to congratulate itself on corporate governance. This Government is as bad as any other although there have been one or two changes recently in preparation for possible IPOs. The Government is as bad or worse as any other in promoting its [1733]friends and relations to positions of influence on semi-State bodies. To come in this evening and say how wonderfully it has done in terms of corporate governance is brass-neck hypocrisy. We must see people of talent appointed to semi-State bodies, not political hacks and cronies.

  Mr. Norris: I second the motion and compliment Senator Ross on proposing it a second time. I also seconded the first proposal but on that occasion it did not come to a full discussion in the House.

I lament the Government amendment. I remind the Government side that Senator Ross’s earlier motion, which I was happy and proud to sign, was far stronger. Now he is calling for reform but, apparently, the Government sees no case at all for reform. That is worrying. The Government side goes into this paean of praise for the current defective situation. I will prove the current situation is defective and that the Leader knows this and acted to remedy it during the Eircom flotation. That is clear from the record and no question about it.

When we prate about openness, transparency and accountability, and then move in a manner which obfuscates the situation and removes these from public life, we have cause to worry. There is no doubt that some good appointments are made. However, there is a question of perception. I will place the perception of a fine columnist before the House. On 19 January 2002 he wrote in an article:

Wanted: Someone to attend a working lunch once every five weeks. Remuneration €13,000 a year, plus expenses. Free personal use of company services available. No experience required. Party activists, preferably male, need only apply. (In fact, don’t ask us; we’ll ask you.)

  Ms O’Rourke: What newspaper was that in?

  Mr. Norris: It was in The Irish Times. This perception of cronyism is clearly true in certain circumstances. I will give an example but will remove the name, although it has been supplied to me. A member of the Fianna Fáil ruling executive, whose expertise was in cranes rather than planes, is a perfect example of a political appointee whose fortunes as regards State directorships swing with those of his party. He was appointed to the board of Aer Lingus in October 1992, under a Fianna Fáil Government, and was later made chairman of CIE by the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Cowen, in 1994. A year later he was controversially dropped from the post when the rainbow coalition came into power. However, in November 1997 when Fianna Fáil returned to power he was reappointed. That is what happens. It is swings and roundabouts.

There is also a suspicion that the planting of these people on boards creates a kind of Trojan horse situation which leaves behind a permanent Government — a spy in the cab syndrome. In the [1734]case of Aer Lingus, six non-executive directors on the board were prominent Fianna Fáil activists. One person whom I will not name was appointed to the Seanad for three weeks so that he could avail of car parking privileges for life.

There is a problem which has been recognised in the neighbouring island where, unlike us, they have moved to address the situation. They instituted the office of a commissioner for public appointments in order to ensure the most appropriate people with the best skill mix are appointed and that the public does not suspect them of being appointed merely on the basis of their political background. In a recent report of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee entitled, Governing By Appointment; Opening Up The Patronage State, it was stated:

The creation of the post of Commissioner for Public Appointments, combined with independent assessment in every department, has brought greater integrity to these processes. Overall, there has been both considerable improvement in public appointments system in recent years.

It goes on to make further recommendations. That is the parliamentary system on which we model ourselves. It has seen fit to take action precisely because of the kind of thing Senator Ross has so clearly laid before the House; the fundraisers, party activists, party advisers, former Ministers, failed candidates and friends of these people who are all stuffed on to these boards.

Senator Ross referred to Trinity College, or Dublin University, to give it its correct title.

  Ms O’Rourke: That is what he called it.

  Mr. Norris: I accept the justification for having an externally appointed member of the college board because of the large amounts of taxpayers’ money involved. The taxpayer is entitled to have somebody there to report back. That is a principle I can support, but it must be done in an open, transparent and clear way. If universities become independent then such appointments should no longer be made.

As a former academic I have experience of the views of the other universities about the persons and qualifications of those persons who are stuck onto their boards. They do not greatly care for the way in which it is done, nor do they greatly respect the people involved.

  Ms White: Snobbery.

  Mr. Norris: I will address another issue, which I am sure my colleague, Senator Henry, will also look at, and which must be put on the record of the House. It concerns the board of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and the problems in regard to it, about which we had many debates in the House. Let us look at what happened in terms of political appointees in that case. It was exposed [1735]in a series of articles, most notably by Fintan O’Toole, within the past week. A learned and excellent professor whom I will not name but who, unusually in these circumstances, was a woman, was appointed head of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Board. In this most critical and sensitive area she rapidly came up against the difficulty of appointments of a political nature by the Government. She contacted the Minister and pointed out the serious skills deficiencies in the board which were not being made up by those who were being appointed politically. She identified gaps in skills and competencies and she made attempts to meet the Minister to discuss the matter. A couple of meetings were arranged but were cancelled at the last minute. She never got to meet him. I quote from one of the letters written by her to the Minister. It states:

We were informed of the appointments you made which gave the board a competency profile as follows: seven medical consultants; one employee of your Department; one building society marketing executive; one retired hotelier; one university registrar; one hospital manager. You will observe that, inter alia, we have no audit, finance, HR, legal, pensions, transfusion medicine, pharmaceutical grade manufacturing, blood user or strategy expertise. I am concerned at these gaps.

They were never made up. We dealt with the consequences of the incompetence of that board in the House and its dereliction of duty. What did we then do? We stuffed it with all these dummies. That is a serious thing to have done. It is unconscionable that this should happen. Senator Ross is 100% right in terms of the motion he tabled.

I wish to refer to a Member of the House, a good friend of mine and somebody whose career I respect, Senator O’Rourke. The public perception, as exemplified in a newspaper article, was that a flurry of appointments was made by her prior to her leaving the Department. It is not just the Leader, it is part of the system. I would prefer if her reputation was protected from it, but let us face the truth.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Norris should wait to hear what I have to say.

  Mr. Norris: Governments of every hue engage in this last minute practice. When an election is lost, its prime objective is to place its own people onto boards before it goes out of office. It is a scandal and it brings government into disrepute.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Norris described a group of individuals as “dummies”.

  Ms White: The Senator should apologise.

  Mr. Norris: I will not be told what to do by Senator White.

[1736]  Ms White: It was very rude.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to reflect on it.

  Mr. Norris: People who did not have the required expertise were appointed to the board and serious gaps were left, which is a disgrace.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Does the Senator withdraw his remark?

  Mr. Norris: Yes, certainly. Ba mhaith liom a rá leis an Seanadóir de Faoite go n-aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile.

  Ms O’Rourke: She is no dummy.

  Mr. Finucane: Senator Leyden should watch out or he will be sent back to the Curragh detention centre. He was on the prison visiting committee for a few years.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Allow Senator Mansergh to speak without interruption.

  Dr. Mansergh: I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:

“acknowledges and endorses the commitment of the Government to good governance in State-sponsored Bodies, including its approach to the appointment of board members to such bodies.”

I declare an interest, in that when the Leader was Minister, she appointed me to the philatelic advisory committee of An Post, which had no remuneration of any kind attached to it. I would like to think she did so——

  Ms O’Rourke: I did it because of the Senator’s knowledge.

  Dr. Mansergh: ——because of the contribution she felt I could make rather than because of any party affiliation.

This motion was tabled by the three Independent Senators from Trinity College, plus Senator Fergal Quinn. Without casting any aspersions on the movers of the motion or attributing to them any——

  Mr. Norris: Cast away.

  Dr. Mansergh: ——nostalgia for the old order, the historian in me cannot——

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Allow Senator Mansergh to speak without interruption.

  Dr. Mansergh: The historian in me cannot help but observe the irony that a century or two ago, Trinity College proved to have the overwhelming number of placemen, apart from those who were brought from across the water. As the Duke of [1737]Wellington once observed when he was young, every gentleman in Ireland had his price.

  Mr. Ross: They still do.

  Dr. Mansergh: As Shakespeare observed: “Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.” We now have the reign of virtue and sea-green incorruptibility from Trinity, which is probably a very good thing.

  Mr. Ross: On a point of order, is Senator Mansergh reading from The Spirit of the Nation?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That is not a point of order.

  Dr. Mansergh: If carefully looked at, the motion refers to reforming——

  Mr. Norris: Irish university is something——

  Dr. Mansergh: Does the Senator have any manners at all?

  Mr. Norris: None whatever.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Allow Senator Mansergh to speak without interruption.

  Dr. Mansergh: College lout.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Mansergh should continue. He is inviting trouble.

  Dr. Mansergh: One sometimes hears reservations expressed about democracy in this State. There is a feeling that people ought to have a stake in the country or that the best people, however defined, have to be appointed. I am glad to say we have an egalitarian democracy and people from all walks of life and different levels of expertise can represent us on these bodies. I am very proud, as I believe most of us are, of the semi-State sector. It played a crucial part in the economic development of the country at a time when the private sector was deeply conservative and quite unable to carry forward the development of the country. Many of those involved came from the old order. If one considers companies such as the ESB, Aer Lingus and the Great Southern chain, which was mentioned this morning, RTE——

  Mr. Norris: Train.

  Dr. Mansergh: Yes, some of the train services are very good also, although I accept that not all of them are. The vast majority of the organisations I mentioned made a major contribution to the economic life of the country and still do. One should judge governance by its results.

Prisons were mentioned. There is a great prison reform programme in place, which will involve the building of new prisons. I dare say that the [1738]prison visiting committees have something to do with that.

  Mr. Leyden: Hear, hear.

  Dr. Mansergh: Ministers make nominations from many different sources. Some appointments they make are on the recommendation of particular bodies or sectors. Therefore, all appointments are not at Ministers’ discretion.

It is important that appointees to boards broadly share the objectives of the Government and are of like mind with it. The Leader, when she was a Minister, had some difficulties with one semi-State company, whose staff had a very different political philosophy and wanted to run a particular public enterprise in a very different way from her, which would have led to constant confrontation with unions, etc.

In some cases, Ministers appoint a civil servant. One can have excellent professional qualifications and nonetheless be a supporter of a political party. Equally, one will find examples of people of merit from other parties who are kept on even though their party is not in power. I noticed recently that the Minister for Agriculture and Food appointed Alan Dukes, a very distinguished person, to head a body looking into the future of agriculture. I am sure he receives some remuneration for this and I am all in favour of that. The idea that one cannot have independence of mind because one has a party affiliation is open to question. The reward in question is very small. Consider the way directors of private companies reward themselves——

  Mr. Ross: Hear, hear.

  Dr. Mansergh: ——with bonuses and dividends.

  Mr. Ross: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

  Dr. Mansergh: You were referring to people getting remuneration——

  Mr. Ross: Absolutely.

  Dr. Mansergh: ——which is barely equivalent to the minimum wage.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Mansergh should speak through the Chair.

  Dr. Mansergh: I will address the Chair. These people do not belong to any golden circle. In many cases, public sector governance compares remarkably well to private sector governance and, to be fair to Senator Ross, he sometimes makes this point in his Sunday Independent column. He is not uncritical of the private sector in that regard.

Of course political affiliation should not be the sole or the main criterion.

[1739]  Mr. Norris: What a concession.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Mansergh, without interruption.

  Dr. Mansergh: We all know many people who are constantly lobbying for State appointments and who are unsuccessful. One must have and should have qualifications. If there are examples in which this is not the case, attention should be drawn to them.

On higher education, I had a meeting with some heads of universities recently and they told me the problem was not with the political appointees, because they actually made a good contribution, but with some of the vested interests within the university. This motion is extraordinarily simplistic. We should thank most of those who give good public service. They work for bodies for remarkably little reward and, in nine cases out of ten, do so out of a sense of public service.

  Ms White: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Cummins: I would like to share my time with Senator Bannon.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed?

  Mr. Leyden: No.

  Mr. Norris: No.

  Mr. Cummins: Yes.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed?

  Ms O’Rourke: It has nothing to do with Senators Cummins or Bannon but I have to leave. I will return.

  Mr. Cummins: May I commence now? It is wonderful to see such passion on the Fianna Fáil benches——

  Mr. Ross: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Cummins: ——regarding a motion that only asks for reform of a system.

  Mr. Ross: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Cummins: There is no doubt that political patronage flourishes in Fianna Fáil, as it has always done. The Progressive Democrats are not too far behind in this regard. As Senator Ross has stated, Fine Gael and Labour indulged in this practice when in Government——

  Mr. Leyden: And Democratic Left.

  Mr. Cummins: ——but not in such a blatant manner as this Government and its predecessor. Regardless of whether appointments to port authorities, semi-State bodies, prison visiting committees or other bodies are in question, the [1740]age of dishing out jobs for the boys and girls is alive and well. On a recent “Prime Time” programme on RTE a former Fianna Fáil Minister of State said the bottom line was whether a person was “one of theirs” before he or she could be appointed to any political board. So much for ability, knowledge and job experience. So much for accountability and transparency. There is nothing but blatant cronyism and political patronage for party hacks who toe the line for the Minister. Senator Mansergh has just said that one must have people who will do this.

A token independent-minded person may be appointed from time to time but the party grip on many of these bodies will be maintained, as has been stated. Surely it is time to take stock and call a halt to these practices. Picking the best and most qualified person should surely be the prerequisite for any appointment rather than ascertaining whether the appointee is a member of Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats.

I was looking at letters recently and when I saw a letter from the Taoiseach asking the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider the wife of a Fianna Fáil public representative when making an appointment to a committee, I noted that the practice is being condoned and encouraged from the very top in Fianna Fáil. My party obtained copies of further letters under the Freedom of Information Act indicating that the Ministers for Finance and Foreign Affairs, and other Ministers and Ministers of State, are not slow in making representations on behalf of party activists who wish to be appointed to State bodies and committees.

The Progressive Democrats are also quick off the mark in this respect. Letters on file from the programme manager for the Tánaiste indicate the same amount of representations are made on behalf of members of that party.

  Mr. Leyden: Very transparent.

  Mr. Cummins: The system of political patronage is certainly thriving under this Government, be it in semi-State bodies or in any committee under any Minister.

  Mr. Leyden: Was any of them appointed?

  Mr. Cummins: Senator Leyden can go to the Curragh detention centre, where he applied for a place on a visiting committee. That is also on file. He wanted to be reappointed. I am not suggesting——

  Mr. Minihan: The Senator should not forget Deputy O’Keeffe’s letter about the prison visiting committees when he is listing his letters.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Allow Senator Cummins to continue without interruption.

[1741]  Mr. Cummins: ——that any member of a political party or any supporter of a political party be debarred from membership of these boards or committees but I am looking for greater transparency in the system such that the most qualified people, irrespective of their political affiliations, would be appointed to the various boards and committees. This is not what pertains at present and it is about time some attempt was made to bring credibility back to the appointment process and to the body politic.

  Mr. Bannon: I thank Senator Cummins for sharing time. This Government has made over 600 appointments to State boards since its re-election. Fianna Fáil and PD supporters are very conspicuous on prison visiting committees, harbour boards, semi-State companies, regulatory agencies and national advisory boards. I was shocked when it first came to my notice within the last fortnight that in some parts of the country the Progressive Democrats is offering the carrot of appointment to boards to attract candidates into that party.

  Senators: Shame.

  Mr. Norris: It is disgraceful.

  Mr. Bannon: This is the party that claimed to be the watchdog of society. Where is politics when this can happen? Cronyism has been a feature of the political scene for far too long. The blatant preferment of party members or supporters of Government will not come to an end.

  Mr. Minihan: Senator Bannon should drop the script and substantiate what he said.

  Mr. Cummins: Senator Minihan cannot listen to the truth.

  Mr. Bannon: The largest number of people——

  Mr. Minihan: The Senator should list the people he is mentioning.

  Mr. Bannon: The largest number of political appointments by a member of the Government has been made by the Minister for Health and Children in Senator Minihan’s constituency. The Minister has 54 agencies under his Department’s remit. This is followed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform whose numerous appointments have been primarily to prison visiting committees. I have concrete evidence that a prominent Fianna Fáil county councillor made representations to the Taoiseach on behalf of his wife with regard to her re-appointment to a visiting committee of a Dublin training unit. Another prominent politician, a Member of this House, having lost her seat in the last general election appointed new members to the boards of major semi-State bodies——

[1742]  Mr. Leyden: Her husband actually.

  Mr. Bannon: ——including Aer Lingus, CIE, An Post, An Bord Gais——

  Mr. Norris: Gosh.

  Mr. Bannon: ——as well as to the ESB on the day prior to the announcement of the new Cabinet. When Paddy Cooney, a member of my party, who held several ministerial positions made such appointments he did so on the basis of the most experienced and knowledgeable candidates rather than on political affiliations.

  Mr. Leyden: Judges. I remember a few of them.

  Mr. Bannon: I know it well from my constituency because several people were disappointed at the time.

  Mr. Leyden: He appointed a judge there, a good Fine Gael man.

  Mr. Bannon: Following Fine Gael’s criticism of the system of political appointees in the run-up to the last general election it is now more than time that these appointments both are, and are seen to be, transparent. The creation of an appointments commission is long overdue.

  Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Bannon: The setting up of an independent commission to vet or ratify political appointed directors to State boards is imperative. Apart from the impartiality appointments it is important that all potential directors are aware and capable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of their intended positions. I compliment the Independent Senators on tabling this motion. We are rowing in behind it because we, and the general public, believe we have to reclaim the respect of the people.

  Mr. Leyden: The Senator will be a long time waiting for that.

  Mr. Bannon: We will not achieve that by doing what Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have been up to since the last general election when they appointed over 600 people to boards. This is shameful and disgraceful and it is time it stopped.

  Mr. Cummins: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Minihan: One clear message from this evening’s debate is that whereas we are all aware of the demise of Fine Gael the party has obviously only now realised this and is looking for changes to the system. It has been so grief-stricken at not being in Government and seeing no prospect of returning there that it is trying to change the systems of governance.

[1743]  Mr. Finucane: The Senator should check with his 3% supporters.

  Mr. Minihan: Senator Bannon is much better when he speaks from the heart rather than from a script given to him. At least we get some entertainment out of that. In reciting the list he had I am amazed that he overlooked several key points, including the infamous letter from one of his colleagues in the Dáil vis-à-vis prison visiting committees. Not alone did this person want someone appointed, but the person wanted the appointment to be made to a prison some distance away. I fail to see when he reads these lists with an innuendo——

  Mr. Norris: It is a pity the Progressive Democrats were not in the jail.

  Mr. Bannon: We are not going down the road the Progressive Democrats went down with Fianna Fáil.

  Mr. Minihan: Senator Bannon made a statement about the Progressive Democrats but he has not substantiated it.

  Mr. Bannon: I can substantiate it.

  Mr. Minihan: The Senator should substantiate it then.

  Mr. Cummins: Senator Minihan knows it himself.

  Mr. Minihan: I am quite willing to share my time with Senator Bannon.

  Mr. Cummins: The Senator knows it and the Minister of State knows it.

  Mr. Bannon: Senator Minihan should ask the Minister of State. He has the envelopes in his pocket.

  Mr. Minihan: Senator Bannon also failed to acknowledge the appointment of a former Member of this House, Maurice Manning, to the Human Rights Commission, and the appointment of Alan Dukes to the Agricultural Review Group.

  Mr. Bannon: Those appointments were made on ability.

  Mr. Minihan: He also failed to mention the appointment of Mairead McGuinness who is now seeking the Fine Gael nomination as a candidate for the European elections.

  Mr. Cummins: That is quality following the right people.

  Mr. Finucane: We swiped her from under the nose of the Progressive Democrats anyway.

[1744]  Mr. Minihan: That shows that Government works.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Allow Senator Minihan speak without interruption.

  Mr. Minihan: By their own admission the Fine Gael Senators have said we were putting quality people into quality jobs.

  Mr. Cummins: The Government appointed a few independent people.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Cummins should allow Senator Minihan make his case.

  Mr. Cummins: The Leas-Chathaoirleach should not let Senator Minihan be so confrontational. He is inviting a response now.

  Mr. Minihan: Senator Cummins can dish it out, now he has to take it as well.

  Mr. Cummins: We are well able to take it.

  Mr. Minihan: I know it is but an idle dream for Fine Gael to sit on this side of the House but the party should not give up on it.

  Mr. Bannon: Senator Minihan should remember the traffic appointments, under an arrangement with Fianna Fáil before he goes any further.

  Mr. Finucane: The Senator does not go around the country looking at potholes as we did for the citizens.

  Mr. Minihan: No, because I did my job as a councillor and I filled all my potholes.

  Mr. Finucane: He is no different from those people we are talking about.

  Mr. B. Hayes: On a point of order, it is normal that a maiden speech is heard in silence.

  Mr. Minihan: A maiden speech. Senator Brian Hayes is obviously deaf as well as blind.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I have asked other speakers not to name people who are not here to defend themselves and I am asking Senator Minihan to do the same.

  Mr. Minihan: Who have I named?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator named three people a couple of minutes ago.

  Mr. Minihan: Did the Chair say “to defend themselves”?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: They are not in the House to defend themselves. I have asked other speakers, including Senator Ross, not to name [1745]people so I am asking Senator Minihan to do the same.

  Mr. Minihan: I have not engaged in a character assassination of anybody. I have complimented appointments made of people who were suitably qualified.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I have made the point that people are not to be named whether with favour or disfavour.

  Mr. Minihan: I have said nothing against which people would want to defend themselves. This motion does some disservice to the body politic and to all of us as politicians. We must realise that we are elected.

  Mr. Bannon: Not all of us.

  Mr. Norris: We are elected.

  Mr. Bannon: Senator Minihan was selected.

  Mr. Minihan: We are elected. The Opposition Senators had their opportunity in the Seanad reform process to change that system had they wished. The Executive is elected to govern and if we continue to erode the body politic by handing over executive functions to a computerised system we do it a disservice.

  Mr. Norris: Electronic voting.

  Mr. Minihan: I fully accept the points made about the suitability, knowledge and expertise of people being appointed to State boards and I suggest to the Opposition Members and the Independent Members who put down this motion that there is ample opportunity for them to challenge any such appointment, to raise the matter and to ask the Government to account for such an appointment. However, we also must be conscious that there is an onus on Government to appoint suitably qualified people and this debate is a disservice to most of the eminently qualified people sitting on State boards and providing a service to the State.

  Ms White: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Minihan: We must be very careful. If we had a system whereby suitable people could apply to put themselves through a process of assessment and interview with regard to their suitability for a post which is additional to their professions, we would be very short of suitable applicants for State boards.

  Mr. Bannon: That is not how the system works. It would be a job through Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

  Mr. Minihan: Be it in business or appointing directors to companies, there is a system whereby people apply according to their knowledge, [1746]experience and suitability. People approach them and ask if they would serve on the boards of various companies. That is how it should be vis-à-vis an executive authority, that is the Government, making the same types of approaches, and that is how it must be. If we go down the route that some people here are predicting for no reason other than to engage in political play-acting——

  Mr. Cummins: This is not play-acting.

  Mr. Minihan: ——we will reduce the quality of people serving on State boards. I believe that efforts are made to make sure that people have the knowledge and experience and are suitably qualified. Should people be appointed who do not meet those criteria? Senators can and should question such appointments.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: You have one minute left.

  Mr. Minihan: What about all the interruptions?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I cannot account for that.

  Mr. Norris: Most of them were the Senator’s own.

  Mr. Minihan: Senators made points about prison visiting committees. It is not long since we debated a Fine Gael motion and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, clearly outlined the changes he was making in selections for those committees. I challenge the other side of the House on this matter. The Minister has made changes and he has not subscribed to the Fine Gael notion of appointing a friend of that party to a prison that is far away.

  Mr. Cummins: We will judge him on his deeds.

  Mr. Minihan: I thank those people from business and commercial enterprise who have made themselves available to serve in the interest of the country on State boards. We owe them a dept of gratitude. The motion is a disservice to the many decent people who serve on State boards. We should all be careful about what we say about them. For that reason I am happy to support the amendment tabled by the Government side.

  Mr. Ryan: While I support the motion, there is a certain irony about Senator Ross getting excited about semi-State bodies. If he had his way there would be no such bodies, as he would have them all privatised in the first place. I presume there must be a printing error on the Order Paper as the names of only four of the five Independent Members appear under the motion.

  Mr. Leyden: It is not an error.

[1747]  Mr. Ryan: The name of the champion of all that is good and best in Irish politics in the backbenches behind me is missing from a motion about this matter. I have to assume it is a printing error if all of the Members of the Independent group did not support this clearly reasonable motion.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I cannot adjudicate on the matter.

  Mr. Ross: Is the Senator speaking about Senator O’Toole?

  Mr. Norris: I enjoy Senator Ryan’s heavy sarcasm. It is refreshing.

  Mr. Ross: He is not in the same constituency as Senator Ryan or is he?

  Mr. Ryan: It has nothing to do with that.

  Mr. Ross: Of course not.

  Mr. Ryan: I have no reason to be wary of any of the people in my constituency. However, it is a bit much that a significant part of one of the speeches proposing this motion again comes to the defence of the college of the holy and undivided, which has a capacity for preciousness which exceeds anything. I remind those from that college that if it had not been for Éamon de Valera, it would have collapsed in the 1930s and would no longer be heard of.

  Mr. Norris: Were it not for Queen Elizabeth, it would not have been founded.

  Mr. Ryan: They would want to be extremely wary of striking poses about the behaviour of others.

  Mr. Leyden: The Senator is a closet Fianna Fáil man.

  Mr. Cummins: God forbid

  Mr. Norris: Senator Ryan is showing his roots.

  Mr. Ross: On which shoulder is the chip today?

  Mr. Ryan: All of my chips are on the left shoulder.

  Mr. Ross: That is a bogus shoulder.

  Mr. Ryan: It is a complete red herring to talk about this in terms of party affiliation.

  Mr. Norris: Why is the Senator doing so?

  Mr. Ryan: The real issue is the appointment of incompetent and poorly qualified people to many boards. While many good people serve on boards, there is no way to evaluate people’s capacity to contribute to any board. The fact that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform [1748]has finally reformed that most appalling of systems, the appointments to prison visiting committees, is not worthy of congratulation. It should have been done 40 years ago. There are all kinds of bodies to which people seek appointment.

Notwithstanding my reservations, this is the most innocuous of motions, which is why I cannot understand why it has not been signed by all the Independent Senators. It calls for Seanad Éireann “to reform the practice”. Does anybody really believe it could not be done better with a degree of transparency, openness and evaluation? Even if the credentials of prospective members had to be looked at and they were required to outline their knowledge and expertise to some body of the Houses of the Oireachtas, they would not have to do so. I know of cases of appointments to State bodies that are in the gift of a Minister, where the first that people heard was on receipt of a letter asking them to serve. In one instance, because of place of residence, the person concerned could accumulate at least €40,000 or €50,000 a year in travel expenses alone. If I were to mention the name, Members would wonder what expertise the individual had.

Not only should a person’s political affiliations not inhibit his or her membership, but in the case of my party and given its world view, many State bodies should make it a requirement that people with sympathies with my party are appointed to their boards to ensure that some of the daftness of the so-called private enterprise ethos in this country was dealt with. It follows, therefore, that boards need to contain members who have a view of the world that conforms with the Government’s. I have no problem with this, provided they can do the job properly, their perks are not excessive, their roles are clear and they are governed by the proper rules of corporate governance. All of this could be done under the motion.

However this Government, dominated by Fianna Fáil, has a brass neck asking us to accept an amendment which “acknowledges and endorses a commitment to good governance in semi-State bodies” even as in the other House it is dismantling the Local Appointments Commission to ensure its cronies can be appointed on a town by town, locality by locality basis bypassing the well established objective system of the Local Appointments Commission. It cannot explain why it is taking apart this system that worked. However, we know why. It will allow it to do even more.

The Progressive Democrats show great naivety in believing it could reform a party whose only raison d’être is patronage. If Fianna Fáil were ever out of Government for successive terms of office, the party would fall apart as it has no raison d’être other than the provision and dispensing of patronage on a grand scale.

  Mr. Leyden: The country would fall apart.

[1749]  Mr. Ryan: The most successful period in the county’s history was when Senator Leyden’s party was out of Government more than it was in it, in the 20-year period from 1981 to 2001.

  Mr. Leyden: Was that when the national debt doubled?

  Mr. Ryan: About 40 years ago that party forgot why it had been established. It spent the next ten years reminiscing about why it had been founded and 30 years ago it decided it had only one objective, which was to get into power. It determined that the best way to get into and stay in power was to provide patronage. It decided not to establish an agency to look after emigrants, as there is no point in providing patronage abroad. They do not have votes and, if they had, they would not vote for Fianna Fáil. Why would Fianna Fáil bother with an agency to look after emigrants? Why would it be interested in an agency whose work would be abroad? What is significant here is not a perfectly harmless motion, which I support and will vote for, but an amendment which pretends that the raison d’êttre of the biggest political party in this State is obtaining and maintaining the levers of patronage.

  Mr. Parlon: I am very pleased to have the opportunity to support the counter motion before the House this evening that Seanad Éireann acknowledges and endorses the commitment of the Government to good corporate governance in State-sponsored bodies, including its approach to the appointment of board members to such bodies. It allows me the opportunity to clarify a number of apparent misconceptions and to set the record straight about the Government’s commitment to best practice in the area of corporate governance. While I have enjoyed a number of the contributions, which have been entertaining, they have been wide of the mark in terms of accuracy.

6 o’clock

First, I would like to tackle what appears to be a sub-text of the motion submitted by Senators Ross, Norris and Henry, namely that the appointments made by Government to positions of director of our various State-sponsored bodies have been, somehow or other, less than fully suitable for the job. I vigorously contest any such assertion. When members of the Government consider the options for the filling of vacancies to the boards of State-sponsored bodies, they have as their first concern the need to ensure that these positions are filled by people of proven ability who have something positive and relevant to contribute.

  Mr. Ross: Like money to the party.

  Mr. Parlon: Any fair and balanced examination of the appointments which have been made to the various bodies within the semi-State sector over recent years will bear out what I say. In terms of [1750]quality and suitability, the board membership of the State-sponsored sector will stand comparison with its private sector counterpart any day.

Board members receive a fair and reasonable fee for their work. Consideration of financial gain is not a motivation for the people who allow their names to go forward for nomination. While cynics may seek out other agendas, I am satisfied that participation on the boards of our State bodies is generally actuated by a significant public service ethic. Generally speaking, those who become members of State boards wish to put their talents and experience at the disposal of their community.

Corporate governance comprises the systems and procedures by which enterprises are directed and controlled. The issue of corporate governance internationally, and here in Ireland, is something which has dominated the business pages for a number of years and has occasionally spilled over onto the front pages, generally for all the wrong reasons. The strong and effective corporate governance of our State-sponsored bodies is something to which this Government is fully committed. Our State bodies are very important and immensely valuable national assets. As proxy for the taxpayer, the Government has a duty to ensure that the very highest standards prevail in the management and development of these assets.

The overall context for the Government’s policy in the issue of corporate governance in State bodies should be formally put on the record. While such bodies are very much part of the public sector and are publicly accountable, they have been established at one remove from Government control so that they may have the freedom and the room to manoeuvre that is necessary to carry out their functions effectively. The Government’s approach to the issue of corporate governance strikes the right balance between the public accountability inherent in the public ownership of State bodies and the need to allow them the appropriate level of freedom, commercial and otherwise, to realise their full potential.

Looking first at commercial State-sponsored bodies, we expect such entities to contribute meaningfully to the broad national strategy in the sectors within which they operate. While so doing, the Government also expects them to add shareholder value. The environment within which commercial State bodies operate has seen some very significant developments in recent years. It is not so long ago that these bodies operated in relatively comfortable, protected environments where domestic competition simply was not an issue. Thankfully, those days are fast disappearing. Among the factors driving change have been the following.

First, the national and European competition policy which has resulted in market liberalisation. In this area, Ireland has been at the vanguard of change, as witnessed by our decision to move [1751]ahead of the posse on the opening up of the electricity and gas markets.

Second, market liberalisation which has resulted in the need for new independent regulatory regimes in the main business sectors involved. Regulators play a crucial role in levelling the playing field in sectors where a dominant player — generally a commercial State-sponsored body or an enterprise which once held that status — has acquired an entrenched position. The Government has a taken a determined line in ensuring that these regulators are given the necessary powers to carry out this function effectively.

Third, there has been a growing awareness of the impact, both actual and potential, which the commercial State-sponsored bodies have on the economy generally in terms of the prices they charge and the quality of the services they provide. In an open economy such as ours, which is heavily reliant on direct inward investment, the economic impact of our State bodies should not be underestimated.

Fourth, the Government has made it increasingly clear that enhanced shareholder value is expected from each of our commercial State-sponsored bodies.

While their functions are rather different from those of their commercial counterparts, non-commercial State bodies have a key role to play in implementing Government policy in a wide variety of areas — regulatory, administrative, research, promotional, advisory and so on. The necessity for good governance is no less important in the non-commercial sector than in the larger commercial area.

The Government sees it as the responsibility of the boards of State bodies, whether in the commercial or non-commercial sectors, to give leadership and strategic direction; to define control mechanisms to safeguard public resources; to supervise the overall management of the bodies’ activities; and to report on stewardship and performance.

The Government expects the boards of State-sponsored bodies to take their responsibilities seriously and realise they are carrying out an important public duty on behalf of the Irish people. These words have been supported by actions. I would like now to put on the record of the House some of the developments which have been initiated by the Government in this regard.

In October 2001, the Minister for Finance issued the code of practice for the governance of State bodies to his colleague Ministers for promulgation within the various State-sponsored bodies under their aegis. The purpose of the code is to provide a governance framework within which the internal management and internal and external reporting relationships of State bodies is to occur. This code was formally approved by the Government which had decided that it should be binding on all State-sponsored bodies. The code of practice replaced the earlier guidelines issued [1752]in 1992, adherence to which had not been obligatory, and reflected the greatly changed environment that had emerged during the intervening years. The code consolidates the various initiatives, both within the Irish public sector and more generally, which had been taken between 1992 and 2001 to enhance corporate governance.

The framework within which boards must operate is effectively set by the code. It sets out clearly the Government’s expectations in this regard. It also provides board members with an invaluable instrument against which to measure their actions. Anyone who would like to see this document in full can do so by logging onto the Department of Finance’s website where all of the Department’s publications are available to the general public. The code of practice is far-reaching in its scope. It deals with the following matters: the need for appropriate codes of conduct; internal audit; procurement; disposal of assets; establishment of subsidiaries and acquisitions; diversification of activities; investment appraisal; remuneration and directors’ fees; reporting arrangements; strategic and corporate planning; tax compliance; a framework code for best practice for corporate governance in State bodies; and quality customer service.

Extensive though this list may seem, it cannot deal with all situations which may arise. Directors and employees of State-sponsored bodies and their subsidiaries are advised in the code that it is primarily their responsibility to ensure that all of their activities, whether covered specifically or otherwise in the code, are governed by the ethical and other considerations implicit in the code.

An accusation which has sometimes been levelled against Government reports and publications is that they may be very good in their own terms and say all the right things but, once published, are left on the shelf to gather dust. I can guarantee the House that the State-sponsored bodies code is, and will remain, 100% dust-free. Ever since its initial roll-out, concerted efforts have been made to ensure that it was fully understood and applied.

Early on, the Minister for Finance gave his full support to the on-board initiative of the Institute of Public Administration which also had a significant input from the Belfast-based Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. The on-board guide, which is available to all State-sponsored bodies provides detailed practical guidance on the application of the code of practice. Subsequently, conferences and half-day briefing sessions for the boards of a number of individual State bodies have been organised by the institute to explore with directors the full implications of the code of practice. Training in corporate governance remains the responsibility of the various bodies, and it is their decision as to whether they avail of the facilities of the IPA or some other body or provide any necessary training themselves.

[1753]In addition to the on-board initiative, the Department of Finance has given priority to making officials available to address the boards of a variety of State-sponsored bodies as well as various representative groupings. This process has proved to be greatly beneficial as it not alone clarifies fully the Government’s intentions on the working through of its policies on good corporate governance, it also opens up a two-way dialogue on issues of shared concern in that area. In addition, the Department deals with ongoing queries from other Departments and State bodies on aspects of the code of practice.

As part of its policy of ensuring the code continues to address key issues in the area of corporate governance in the best possible way, the Department of Finance is seeking feedback from boards and parent Departments on experience to date. Should any necessary revisions or updating emerge, these will be addressed. To ensure that boards do not lose sight of the Government’s requirements, each chairperson is obliged to include a confirmation in the context of the report to his or her parent Minister on the annual report and accounts that the code of practice has been adopted by the body and is being complied with.

I will now deal with the reforms to the Companies Acts that the Government has promoted in order to enhance corporate governance in Ireland overall. Company law applies across the board to the private sector and to those of our State-sponsored bodies which have company status. In recent years there have been a number of well documented cases where the precepts of company law were not adhered to and where those responsible had not been called to account. The cost of this misbehaviour has been borne by consumers, other businesses and the State. As a result of its concern with these disclosures, the Government decided to enhance the resources and legal instruments available to the State to supervise and enforce adherence to the requirements of company law. Accordingly, the Government brought forward the Company Law Enforcement Bill which was enacted in 2001 and in November of that year it established the office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Largely as a result of this initiative and the tremendous work done by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the fiduciary duties and obligations of company directors under common law and statute law are now better understood than ever before.

The Companies Acts provide for two types of criminal offence, namely, summary and indictable offences. The maximum penalty on conviction of an indictable offence under the Companies Acts is €12,700 and/or five years imprisonment. Considerably higher sanctions are provided for in respect of certain offences, such as insider dealing. Under the provisions of the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001, the Director of Corporate Enforcement also has discretion to impose an administrative fine rather than [1754]initiating a summary prosecution. The director may also apply to the courts seeking the disqualification of any person guilty of two or more offences of failing to keep proper books of accounts or guilty of three or more defaults under the Companies Acts. I reiterate that this regime applies as much to public sector companies it does to their private sector counterparts.

Membership of the board of a State body is not a sinecure, it is a demanding role. The developments in the area of company law to which I have referred and which bring with them significant new responsibilities for all directors, together with the stringent requirements imposed by the Government under the code of practice, mean that there is a high degree of accountability associated with board membership. This is as it should be.

The Government has a commendable track record of commitment to the strengthening of the corporate governance of our State bodies. The evidence is there for all to see. I am pleased to recommend the amendment to the motion to the House.

  Dr. Henry: I am the last of the terrible trio from Trinity. Senator Ryan may think we are precious but most people think we are very valuable.

I listened with great interest to the Minister of State who said the Government sees it as the responsibility of the boards of State bodies whether in the commercial or non-commercial sectors to give leadership and strategic direction, define control mechanisms to safeguard public resources, supervise the overall management of the bodies’ activities and report on stewardship and performance. That does not really mean toeing the line. A Senator on the opposite side of the House stated that board members are expected to toe the line and that is why there is an element of political appointment involved.

Huge responsibilities are placed on people who agree to serve on semi-State boards or public bodies. I referred to a matter on yesterday’s Order of Business and stated that I would return to it when the occasion arose. I refer to the revelations in an article by Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times yesterday about the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. There have been terrible difficulties with that service for over ten years and, as the Minister of State is aware, the IBTS is still not out of trouble. There continues to be problems between the unit in Cork and the central unit in Dublin. In late 1999, despite having good staff, the board still had grave problems in encouraging the public to believe that it was doing a good job. It was a great stroke of luck that Professor Patricia Barker from Dublin City University agreed to take up the chair of the IBTS. She resigned in August 2001 and has never spoken about the matter. No one knew, therefore, why she had done so. However, it emerged in the article to which I refer that she had not been supported by the Minister for [1755]Health and Children in respect of the expertise required among members of the board. She wrote to the Minister — she received no reply — to the effect that there were serious gaps in the board regarding skills and competencies.

Professor Barker asked to meet the Minister in March 2000 but this meeting never took place. Instead, in September of that year the Minister appointed people to the board none of whom, while I am sure they are honourable and excellent, possessed the skills Professor Barker felt were required. For example, she sought people with competency in the areas of audit, finance, human resources, legal, pensions, transfusion medicine, pharmaceutical grade manufacturing and blood user or strategy expertise. She stated she was extremely concerned about the gaps she had identified. The Minister appointed to the board seven medical consultants. As a medical consultant, I can confirm to the House that I would not have expertise in any of the other areas outlined by the professor. Medical consultants are always being upbraided for their lack of broad knowledge.

The Minister also appointed to the board one building society marketing executive, a retired hotelier, a university registrar, a hospital manager and a person from the Department of Health and Children. I am sure these are all excellent people but in view of the fact that the Irish Blood Transfusion Service was in such a mess, one would have thought it would have been advisable for the Minister to be guided by the professor. I am sure there are plenty of members of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats who possess the type of expertise required. The situation was not helped by the fact that many of those appointed were from Munster. I cannot understand how, from the entire country, the Minister could not find people with the competencies sought by the chairperson of the IBTS.

Senator Minihan made a good point when he stated that we cannot question appointments in terms of the knowledge and suitability of those involved. It is particularly awkward to do so when such people have already been appointed. Perhaps it would be better if a list was drawn up and people with adequate knowledge could be asked who on it would be suitable to fill appointments to particular boards. It is extremely awkward to object to people on an individual basis.

This is a good example of where competency exists — I am sure it can be found in Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats — in terms of getting suitable people. At the time in question the board was in dire trouble and people were appointed to it whom the chairperson felt could not do the job. The Minister was correct in what he said about what is required from members of boards who must shoulder huge responsibilities. How many other boards have experienced difficulties similar to those I have outlined about [1756]which the relevant chairperson did not object strongly enough? The answer is that we do not know. Changes must be made.

I was appointed to Comhairle na nOspidéal by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour Ministers and I received no payment or even expenses. People who serve on that board are heavily out of pocket because they give up work all the time. I am sure the same is true of those who serve on other boards. We must move away from the idea of toeing the line because these boards have major responsibilities. I would place the Irish Blood Transfusion Service ahead of commercially sensitive boards in terms of importance because it has the lives on people in its hands.

I recently read a report from the 1950s on the treatment of mentally handicapped people in Ireland.

A member of that commission, Mrs. Kingsville Moore, produced a minority report which two other board members supported. In it she said that she felt single sex institutions should not be in charge of such people. It would have done a great deal of good if someone had taken notice of her, when we see the sad cases of sexual and physical abuse arising from these institutions. Far from being put there to toe the line, we need people on boards with some independence of spirit and with the required expertise, knowledge and competence. I have given a very serious example of a board where this has not happened and we owe Fintan O’ Toole a debt for having published that article.

  Mr. Leyden: I welcome the Minister and thank him for his excellent contribution outlining the exact position on appointments to State boards. I would like to point out that Senator Henry was appointed to Comhairle na nOspidéal by a Fianna Fáil Government and a Fine Gael coalition Government.

I second the amendment to the motion. There is a great case to be made for suitable persons to be appointed to boards. I strongly support gender balance in appointments to boards. The same may not apply to the private sector with which Senator Ross would be more familiar.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should address his remarks through the Chair.

  Mr. Leyden: I mentioned that Senator Ross would have some involvement in the private sector. Quite a number of private sector companies have appointed people to their boards, but there is a golden circle as far as that is concerned.

  Mr. Ross: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Leyden: Senator Ross has not mentioned that when AIB lost $700 million in the US not one of its appointees had the grace to resign.

  Mr. Ross: Precisely. I have been saying it for two years.

[1757]  Mr. Leyden: I note with interest that not all the Independent Senators have contributed to the motion. Senator O’Toole is obviously not supporting the motion in the name of the other Senators.

  Mr. B. Hayes: There is time yet.

  Mr. Ross: That is absolute nonsense. There is no indication of that.

  Mr. Leyden: I am worried about that. I also note that Senator Quinn was appointed chairman of An Post by a Fianna Fáil single party Government in 1980 or thereabouts.

  Mr. Ross: Those were the days.

  Mr. Leyden: He served with great distinction. This was a political appointment of a non- political person. I was Minister of State in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1982 and Senator Quinn was the acting chairman of An Post. He waited patiently until the telecommunications Bill passed through this House in the 1983-84 period. He has placed his name on this motion as he has been converted on the road to Damascus. He was an excellent chairman but then we appointed a wonderful businessman in Michael Smurfit. He took time out to become chairman of Telecom Éireann as it then was. He served with great distinction and brought great progress in that area of telecommunications because of his expertise.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Quinn was head of the St. Patrick’s day committee.

  Mr. Leyden: We in Fianna Fáil have a great record in this area. For example, we appointed former Senator Maurice Manning as President of the Human Rights Commission. This is an indication of the standards we adopt when we are making appointments. We also appointed Richard Burke as Commissioner in Brussels in 1982.

  An Cathaoirleach: I must point out to Senator Leyden that that was not a State sponsored body. He must confine his remarks to the motion.

  Mr. Leyden: It was even bigger and better paid than any semi-State body appointment. On recent appointments, Alan Dukes, a decent man, was one of the best leaders Fine Gael ever had and was wrongly kicked out.

  An Cathaoirleach: He was not appointed to a State sponsored body either.

  Mr. Leyden: Not yet, but we are working on it. He has a wonderful view of agriculture and was a well chosen appointment. Senator Ross may also make himself available for appointment in due course. I might send a letter of recommendation to some Minister because I think he would be a [1758]wonderful appointment and I hope he would serve.

  Mr. Ross: I am not anticipating departing from the House and Members of the House are not actually allowed to serve on such boards.

  Mr. Leyden: There is no barrier to appointing the Senator to a visitors’ committee in a jail.

  Mr. Ross: As Senator Leyden well knows.

  Mr. Leyden: I served with distinction and did not seek reappointment. It is very sobering for politicians to spend time visiting jails. An interesting appointment was also made by a Fine Gael Government when former Taoiseach Dr. Garret FitzGerald was appointed to serve in RTE. This was a wonderful appointment and he had no hesitations in taking the job.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has one minute remaining.

  Mr. Leyden: I am sorry to hear that as I could outline a litany of such appointments.

The people we appoint are people of quality and ability. That they may have some distant connection with the longest ruling party in Ireland, the most successful in Europe and one of the most successful in the world, should be no barrier to appointment. I was a former Minister but I did not get many appointments between 1992 to 2003.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Senator had the prison visiting committee.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Leyden’s time is up.

  Mr. Leyden: I have a lot of information here about Senator Ross who has been appointed to a number of boards on which he served with great distinction. I congratulate him on all of these good appointments.

When Deputy Michael Noonan was Minister for Health in 1997 he appointed members to all the health boards and Deputy Brian Cowen later sacked them all and reappointed people like me to the Western Health Board. He made a very good decision. When he gets his hand on the tiller, the poacher becomes the gamekeeper.

There should be a website listing all the people who are prepared to serve on semi-State bodies and this process should be out in the open.

  Mr. B. Hayes: It is always a joy to follow the former Minister who was responsible for laying rat poison at the Department of Health for the 16 months he was there. Senator Leyden did a good job and caught many rats.

  Mr. Ross: He did not catch enough rats.

  Mr. B. Hayes: I support the motion but I do so not as an angel coming down from on high [1759]suggesting none of this happened during Fine Gael’s time in office, because it did. Such appointments are made regardless of who is in government. The difference is that Fianna Fáil is in government more often than Fine Gael. Self-deprecation is always a good thing when commencing one’s contribution.

  Mr. Leyden: It is good for the soul.

  Mr. B. Hayes: It is important we move this debate to a higher plain than that of cat calling on each side. We can all provide examples of where this has happened in the past.

What I find reprehensible is the notion that appointments made by a Minister are in some way connected to a person’s affiliation to a party. Fine Gael raised the issue of prison visiting committees last year. Despite Senator Minihan’s suggestion, there has not been wholesale reform in this area. The view remains that appointments to prison visiting committees are based on party political affiliation. I have in my possession three letters from former Ministers.

  Mr. Leyden: Deputy Jim O’Keeffe.

  Mr. B. Hayes: All the letters were sent to former Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, suggesting appointments on the basis of the person’s support for Fianna Fáil at the time. One letter from Minister of State, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, referred to one of “our prison visiting committees”, not the State’s visiting committees. He suggested the appointment of a particular person based on his having spent a considerable period in prison. That is fair enough. Another letter from Minister of State Deputy O’Dea seeks the appointment of two colleagues from his party, both of whom he states were unsuccessful candidates in the recent local election and whom he is anxious to keep actively involved in the party.

  Mr. Minihan: Does Senator Hayes have a copy of Deputy O’Keeffe’s letter with him? We could get it copied for him.

  Mr. B. Hayes: I will give the letters to Senator Minihan.

  Ms O’Rourke: Does the Senator have a copy of Deputy O’Keeffe’s letter to former Minister, Nora Owen?

  Mr. B. Hayes: The Senator has 25 minutes to produce them.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Hayes, without interruption, please.

  Mr. Minihan: This is the Senator’s maiden speech.

[1760]  Mr. B. Hayes: We must address the notion that appointments to the semi-State sector are not totally above board. A broadcaster, not far from here, has a very good record in terms of appointing those whose mother or father were prominent broadcasters. The son or daughter turns up as a novice reporter. I could give many other examples of people in semi-State organisations who are particularly good at getting their sons and daughters appointed to such jobs. I could also give the example of a Sunday newspaper——

  Mr. O’Toole: Do not embarrass them.

  Mr. B. Hayes: ——which has given jobs to sons and daughters of its well-known columnists. The notion that lifting people into jobs is unique to the political establishment——

  An Cathaoirleach: Appointments made by newspapers is not the business of this House. We are speaking on appointments to semi-State bodies.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Churchill once said there are 100,000 contradictions in a good man’s life and when asked about the life of a bad man, he said, “far too many to count.”

  Ms O’Rourke: What about a woman?

  Mr. B. Hayes: The issue of lifting people into jobs is much broader than political appointments. It is prevalent in the semi-State sector and is particularly prevalent in private companies in this State.

We all know how the current system works. If there are five appointments to be made, Fianna Fáil will get four and the Progressive Democrats will get one. Backbench Deputies and Senators will then be asked to suggest a suitable person for appointment by the Minister to a particular semi-State company. Such appointees may be eminent people, with vast experience in industry or the public sector and so on. I have no problem in that regard. However, I have a problem with the clandestine manner in which these appointments are made. I believe we should move to a new system, which I will briefly outline.

Parliamentary committees should scrutinise appointments to particular semi-State bodies. I passionately believe that the Government has the right to make such appointments. The Government and Minister with responsibility in that area should make the appointment proposal to a relevant committee of the House and that committee should then put the person through his or her paces. Most people would prefer to answer questions from colleagues in public on a cross-party basis in the committee system because it would show their real worth. People are afraid to be associated with one party or the other and are afraid to serve because they may be tarnished. The advantage of having appointments endorsed by committees of the Houses is that it would ensure appointees, in terms of their expertise and [1761]knowledge, are publicly vetted. We should move towards such a system. I am not suggesting all appointments should follow such procedure but it should apply to appointments in the semi-State sector. There is much merit in the proposal.

Whenever one government leaves office and another is elected there is a flood of appointments. We should apply a moratorium so that Ministers do not have the power to make appointments until a new Dáil is formed. Frequently, many such appointments are made for the wrong reasons. I support the motion because we need reform. However, we not only need reform in politics, we need reform in the semi-State sector and in private companies. We should be more honest about that. Unfortunately the culture in this country of lifting people into jobs is endemic.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ross’s motion is interesting, as is the Government’s amendment, in that it calls for good governance, something for which Members on all sides are striving. I accept the Cathaoirleach’s ruling that we not mention people by name in this Chamber.

I am unique in this House in that during my term of office as Minister a number of appointments in the semi-State sector came within my remit. Interestingly, I re-appointed a Labour Party appointed chairman of a particular semi-State company. He was an excellent chairman and I faced a little ire when I re-appointed him.

  Mr. B. Hayes: From within the Senator’s own party.

  Ms O’Rourke: I also re-appointed two other Labour Party appointees having made inquiries as to their suitability. I was satisfied they were familiar with their duties and performed them excellently. I had no difficulty re-appointing them. I appointed a well known person for his strong political activities in Fine Gael to the board of our transport company. I made that appointment in my own home town. One can imagine the comments made in that regard.

  Mr. Bannon: Was it prior to an election?

  Ms O’Rourke: No, it was half way through my last term in office.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator O’Rourke, please without interruption.

  Ms O’Rourke: I assume I am permitted to mention a company but not a person.

  Mr. O’Toole: On a point of order, one is not allowed to criticise a person in this House. I do not think there is any rule regarding mentioning a person’s name.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Cathaoirleach has ruled on that matter.

[1762]  An Cathaoirleach: I have already accepted the naming of persons earlier.

  Ms O’Rourke: I thought the Cathaoirleach had ruled that we could not mention people by name. I thank Senator O’Toole for his intervention.

As regards the appointment of Tom Mulcahy as Chairman of Aer Lingus, I never asked him what were his politics or if he ever voted. I never knew that. He has turned out to be a marvellous chairman of a company which was in great difficulty and which needed a strong hand and a good mind. He has made a great success of it.

We are all groping towards changes but I strongly refute the notion that because one is a member of any political party, one cannot serve on a State board. That knocks the bottom out of everything. We are trying to encourage people to get involved in politics and have a stake in life but to exclude someone who is a member of a political party is wrong.

Equally, I would say the chairman of the ESB, Tadhg O’Donoghue, is the best chairman of any semi-state company in Europe. If he were still in his job——

  An Cathaoirleach: Sorry, Senator——

  Ms O’Rourke: I thought the Cathaoirleach said I could mention them.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator can mention them but cannot refer to their performance, if she knows what I mean.

  Ms O’Rourke: Well he is very good. If he were doing the same job for PricewaterhouseCoopers he could earn €1,000 an hour. He is the chairman of the board of ESB and is the best that could be got in the entire country but is he to hide all that under a bushel because he is in Fianna Fáil?

  Mr. Leyden: Exactly.

  Ms O’Rourke: That would be extraordinary.

I saw the “Prime Time” programme last week, which was delightful and in which Senator Ross had a hand in progressing. I noticed that the gentleman of whom I spoke, the chairman of the ESB, was more than able for the interviewer, Donogh Diamond.

I am glad to have the opportunity to explain that to be a member of a political party is not a sin. I regard it rather as a badge of honour and people in any party should be prepared to indicate their affiliation. There is some merit in eventually looking at a committee system, be it of this House or the other House, which would review this area but would anyone come forward who would wish to be stripped down verbally?

  Mr. B. Hayes: They might welcome it.

  Mr. P. Burke: It would not be a house of love.

[1763]  Ms O’Rourke: I will give way to allow others contribute.

  Mr. O’Toole: I am delighted to contribute to the debate on the motion. I do not support the motion, but not because the system should not be reformed. It can and should be reformed, but it is too narrow and it is having a go at decent people who do an extraordinarily good job for little thanks.

  Ms O’Rourke: Fair dues to the Senator.

  Mr. O’Toole: I am not prepared to add to the abuse that is heaped on the directors of semi-State companies.

  Mr. Leyden: Well done.

  Mr. O’Toole: I am well aware that the proposer of the motion has an equal view of worker-directors on semi-State companies in that they have no business coping with the major decisions on the running of a company. At least Senator Ross is consistent in that view, although I do not support it. That is an important point to be made.

I would like to see this area reformed along the lines outlined by Senator Hayes, and I considered tabling an amendment to the motion during the week to that effect. However, I do not like what happens in the United States. The way in which this should be done is that a name should be put forward — it need not necessarily be put in the public ether — and there should be a committee system, not of decision making but of affirmation that this person has the appropriate level of suitability, experience, expertise, knowledge or whatever to do the job. A person’s membership of a political party, and I am not a member of any political party, should not be a reason that person might not be considered.

I agree that those of us in this House, and I have done it every time I got the opportunity, should put forward the names of suitable people in political life to get involved in a wider area. I would like to see movement in that direction.

I have seen various appointments being made over the years, some good and some bad. They were not good or bad because they were political appointments. Colm McCarthy, who was nominated by Governments from both sides of the House over the years, was a person who could do the job. A former leader of Fine Gael was nominated by the current Government to an important position in agriculture. I see nothing wrong with that. Another former leader of Fine Gael has been nominated to a position by the Minister for Education and Science.

  Ms O’Rourke: And to Europe.

  Mr. O’Toole: That is healthy. It is an indication of grown-up politics, which is important and something we should applaud. When they discharge those responsibilities with distinction it [1764]reflects well on political life and public representation.

Senator Hayes touched on a very valid point which has been abused by all parties, namely the interregnum appointments. No party is clean on that one. I remember the appointments made in 1977 by the outgoing coalition Government, and I have seen it done by other Governments. Decisions that are made in those areas are always problematic and should not be allowed. We should have a very clear view on that because it is not appropriate.

We should make a distinction between chairpersons and other members of boards. Where a person has been appointed chairperson of a major semi-State company, as listed on Schedule A, he or she should speak to the appropriate committee of these Houses. I trust the committees of these Houses to take a clear view of what is best for the national interest and it should not be followed along political lines.

Senator Ross is correct. The problem is the lack of process. We discussed during the week the proposal in the Garda Bill that the Government will have the power to appoint people from the rank of superintendent upwards. There is nothing wrong with that in itself but it is wrong if there is no process by which we can examine these appointments and have confidence in them. What is happening here is just too loose.

I have spoken to Ministers. I know Ministers who have delayed the appointment of people to boards because they cannot find suitable persons and it has nothing to do with their political colour. That is a problem. I do not welcome what is happening in the United Kingdom where they advertise for board members and people apply for the jobs. The people who apply for those jobs are those I would tend not to want on the boards in the first place. That is the difficulty.

Between the two positions where appointments are made privately by a Minister to one where it is done publicly and transparently, people of real merit with a certain sense of humility or modesty may not be prepared to put their names forward. The balance is somewhere in between but there should be a process. That is the real issue. Somebody should question the reason a person was appointed and the reason should be that he or she fulfilled the necessary criteria and that is the basis on which they were nominated.

I do not support the motion but Senator Ross has touched on an issue of some importance. It is time Governments took this matter in hand. I do not believe what I or the proposer have said is the answer. Nor do I believe what Senator Hayes said is the answer but a process is required which should be used in all cases and on which the Minister would have the final decision. We should not just have political people or people with no political views. We elect the Government to govern. It has a policy and it is important that its views are reflected in the appointments it makes. I do not have a difficulty with that but it [1765]should have a process. I congratulate the proposer on putting down the motion.

  Ms White: I welcome the Minister. I will speak from my own personal experience having been a member of State boards and a chairwoman of a board. I am not boasting but I was appointed to six boards by——

  Mr. P. Burke: Six boards.

  Ms White: Yes, six boards. I was appointed originally by former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, then by former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, then the current Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, and the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh. I have done my best. I have done better on some than others.

  Ms O’Rourke: What boards was the Senator on?

  Ms White: I was on the Higher Education Authority, the boards of the National Museum of Ireland and the National College of Art and Design, Bord Bia and chairwoman of Gaisce, the President’s Award.

  Mr. Bannon: Where did the Senator perform best?

  Ms White: My proudest achievement is as chairwomen of Gaisce, the President’s Award, for which, Senator Ross should be pleased to know, I received no stipend for three years, no travelling expenses and no gift of any kind. I was asked by President McAleese to try to get Gaisce, the President’s Award, into Northern Ireland. I achieved this, not on my own, but shoulder to shoulder with the Departments of the Taoiseach, Education and Science and Foreign Affairs trusting me and letting me get on with it, while giving me full support. I got my train fare to Belfast, but that was it.

  Mr. B. Hayes: There was no return ticket.

  An Cathaoirleach: Order, please. Senator White will speak without interruption.

  Ms White: It was a pleasure to do so. I apologise for saying that as I do not like to boast. I was brought up to be humble. As we know the workforce currently comprises nearly 49% of women. In the early 1990s, the Government decided there should be a 40-60 ratio of women to men on State boards. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Dea, is vigilant as regards ensuring this is happening. Currently women make up 35% of State boards. This is being driven by the Government. Every six months the Cabinet assesses whether the State boards are delivering on this 40-60 target. So we are getting there.

The crunch of what I have to say concerns “jobs for the boys”, rather than the political [1766]appointments as highlighted by the three Senators who proposed the motion. A study commissioned by the Irish chapter of the International Women’s Forum, supported by AIB, entitled “Women in Corporate Governance in Ireland”, did quantitative and qualitative research into women in Irish private companies. The report, published only a month ago, finds that men hold 96% of the board seats in Ireland’s top private companies. Only 5% of women sit on the boards of private companies; in the semi-State area it is 35%. The reasons given by the private sector boards include lack of business experience by women, exclusion from networks and male unease about having women on board.

  Mr. Leyden: Independent Newspapers.

  Ms White: I am talking about private sector companies. When those boards with no women directors were asked whether they intended to appoint any women in the future a fascinating 30% gave a straight “No”.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator said she wanted to share time with Senator Moylan. There will be no time left.

  Mr. Ross: I would like to give Senator White a minute of my time.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Chair will decide that.

  Mr. Norris: The House will decide. The Cathaoirleach must not exceed his powers.

  Ms White: In this survey-——

  An Cathaoirleach: The Chair has decided.

  Ms White: ——the divergence of views between male CEOs and women directors is remarkable. Some 42% of the male bosses believe too few women are qualified to sit on boards while only 21% of the women directors agree with them.

We have to face facts. The private sector was pretty wobbly on its feet for many years. As Senator Ross has inferred, one of the main drivers of the Celtic tiger was the inward investment. Our own private sector is only now getting to be robust. It was not strong. It did not alleviate our massive unemployment and we had to look abroad for inward investment. Private industry in Ireland is no great shakes, but it is now shaping up well. Senator Leyden mentioned Michael Smurfit. I am a great supporter of his. Senator Norris referred to qualifications. As far as I am aware, Michael Smurfit has just got his leaving certificate.


  An Cathaoirleach: Senators should not refer to people’s educational qualifications.

  Ms White: He got an honorary doctorate. The bottom line is that appointments to private [1767]companies in Ireland are made on the golf course, where the male bastion——

  An Cathaoirleach: The House is debating appointments to the boards of semi-State bodies.

  Ms White: It is in the golf network where they know one another——

  An Cathaoirleach: The debate is on semi-State bodies, not private bodies. I would like to inform Senator Norris that it is not I but Standing Orders that decides who will speak. Senator Ross to reply, please.

  Mr. Ross: I welcome the liveliness of the debate. I would like to thank Senators Norris, Quinn and Henry, Fine Gael and the Labour Party for their support for this. I am somewhat puzzled by Senator O’Toole’s lack of support, but he is a law unto himself. This is particularly true as regards this motion, because last year I had a motion on the Order Paper, which stated: “Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to end the practice of making political appointments to semi-State bodies.” There were four signatures on that, Senators Ross, Norris, Henry and O’Toole.

  Mr. O’Toole: I have learned so much in the meantime.

  Mr. Ross: Peculiarly, Senator O’Toole is in favour of ending this practice, but he is not in favour of reforming it.

  Mr. Leyden: When Senator Ross gets an appointment he will change his mind too.

  Mr. Bannon: Has Senator Leyden information we do not have?

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ross will be heard without interruption.

  Mr. Ross: I predict that puzzle will be resolved in due course. I thank those who have contributed, particularly from the other side, but I have had difficulties with some of the arguments they have put forward. One was put by the [1768]Leader of the House and I am sure it is a misconception on her part when she says there is no reason that members of political parties should not sit on State bodies.

  Ms O’Rourke: Yes.

  Mr. Ross: I could not agree with her more. Nobody ever said that. We simply said that this should not be an overriding consideration and that the primary consideration should be merit. The evidence we produced tonight and which has been shown time and again is loyalty to a political party. A pool of people exists who are loyal to a particular party and particularly to this Government——

  Mr. Leyden: Fine Gael in Wicklow.

7 o’clock

  Mr. Ross: ——and appointments are made from it. An important point was touched on articulately by Senator White. I apologise to no one for my criticism of the private sector — it is disgraceful in its appointments of directorships. What Senator White said is correct. Positions of power, particularly in the banks, CRH and other public companies are held by a small club of people in the best-paid positions. They swap them around among one another in a way that is completely unfair, to the small shareholders at least. No one will disagree with that, but it is dishonest to come out with that argument on this side of the House as though it were relevant to this debate, which is about appointments to semi-State bodies and agencies. No one has answered the question I asked about Dublin City University, which was the only one to which I wanted a reply from the Minister. How come the one political appointment that was made there was in breach of the legislation, which said that the provost should have been consulted? He was not, and a political person attached to the Minister for Education and Science, whom I know I am not allowed to name, was shoved down the throat of Dublin City University in the absence of the consultation specified in the Bill.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 20.

    Bohan, Eddie.

    Brady, Cyprian.

    Brennan, Michael.

    Callanan, Peter.

    Daly, Brendan.

    Dardis, John.

    Dooley, Timmy.

    Feeney, Geraldine.

    Glynn, Camillus.

    Hanafin, John.

    Kenneally, Brendan.

    Kett, Tony.

    Kitt, Michael P.

    Leyden, Terry.

    Lydon, Donal J.

    MacSharry, Marc.

    Minihan, John.

    Moylan, Pat.

    O’Rourke, Mary.

    Ormonde, Ann.

    Phelan, Kieran.

    Walsh, Jim.

    White, Mary M.

    Wilson, Diarmuid.


    Bannon, James.

    Bradford, Paul.

    Browne, Fergal.

    Burke, Paddy.

    Burke, Ulick.

    Cummins, Maurice.

    Feighan, Frank.

    Finucane, Michael.

    Hayes, Brian.

    Henry, Mary.

    McCarthy, Michael.

    McDowell, Derek.

    McHugh, Joe.

    Norris, David.

    O’Meara, Kathleen.

    O’Toole, Joe.

    Phelan, John.

    Ross, Shane.

    Ryan, Brendan.

    Terry, Sheila.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Norris and Ross.

Amendment declared carried.

[1770]Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

  An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

  Ms O’Rourke: Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 7.15 p.m. and resumed at 7.25 p.m.