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All by-elections should proceed immediately – Ó Caoláin

4 November, 2010 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Speaking in the Dáil today on the motion to move the writ for the Donegal South West by-election Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said he believes the motive behind the Government’s decision to appeal yesterday’s High Court decision is to delay further the by-elections that are due in Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal North East.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“We have a situation, with four by-elections now pending, where the Government’s majority of three is less than the number of vacant Dáil seats.

“We can now dispense with the Government claim that they could not hold the by-election because it would have distracted them from the economy.

“That’s nonsense. Is democracy and giving the people their rightful say a distraction? That’s an insult to the people.

“The Government should have held this by-election within a few months of the vacancy, in autumn 2009. It could have held it in early 2010, in spring 2010, in summer 2010. But no. It chose to delay and delay.

“It could have held the by-election when Pearse Doherty first took the case. Again, no. It decided to fight the case all the way using taxpayers’ money.
“So let there be no nonsense about this being a distraction or a drain on Government at a crucial time. This by-election could have been out of the way long ago.

“This Government has no mandate for what it has done – the bank bailout, NAMA, the savage cuts, the doomed budgetary approach that is going to further depress the economy. It has been desperately trying to avoid any chance for the people to deliver their verdict.

“The Government claims to want to appeal this case in order to clarify the issues. That is nonsense. The issues could not be clearer. The judgement is crystal clear.

“The reality is that the Government wants to appeal this in order to forestall citizens in Waterford and Dublin South from taking the same course as Senator Pearse Doherty.

“The Government should proceed now, not only with the Donegal South-West by-election, but with those in Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal North-East.” ENDS


Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s contribution follows:

As soon as the High Court issued its judgement yesterday the Sinn Féin Deputies tabled this motion for the Ceann Comhairle to direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue his writ for the Donegal South-West by-election.

A Government doing its democratic duty and abiding by the High Court direction would have indicated straight away that it would not oppose the motion and would allow the by-election to proceed.

Let me quote some of Justice Kearns judgement:

“This applicant’s case relates to the effects of delay on his right to be represented by the number of members laid down by law, and the right to equality of political representation.”

And,

“I conclude ..... that by well settled principles of constitutional and statutory construction, section 39(2) of the Electoral Act 1992 is to be construed as incorporating a requirement that the discretion reserved thereunder be exercised within a reasonable time.”

The justice stated that while he did not propose to make a declaration that the Government is obliged to set down and support the motion for the issue of the writ or at least not impede or oppose such a motion “I would hope, however, that any clarification provided by this judgement would have that effect.”

The judge went further. He said that the court might in another case following on from this one take a more serious view “if any Government was seen by the courts to be acting in clear disregard of the applicant’s constitutional rights in continually refusing over an unreasonable period of time to move the writ for a by-election”. The judge said the court could intervene in such a case.

So little confidence has the Green Party in their Fianna Fáil partners in Government that they lost no time in rushing to the media yesterday to state that the Donegal South-West by-election should be held as soon as possible.

The Greens may now present themselves as the watchdogs who got Fianna Fail to abide by the court decision. But what does that say about Fianna Fail and what does it say about the Greens who failed to press for the holding of the by-elections and actually voted against the moving of the writs on three occasions?

We have a situation, with four by-elections now pending, where the Government’s majority of three is less than the number of vacant Dáil seats.

We can now dispense with the Government claim that they could not hold the by-election because it would have distracted them from the economy.

That’s nonsense. Is democracy and giving the people their rightful say a distraction? That’s an insult to the people.

The Government should have held this by-election within a few months of the vacancy, in autumn 2009. It could have held it in early 2010, in spring 2010, in summer 2010. But no. It chose to delay and delay.

It could have held the by-election when Pearse Doherty first took the case. Again, no. It decided to fight the case all the way using taxpayers’ money.

So let there be no nonsense about this being a distraction or a drain on Government at a crucial time. This by-election could have been out of the way long ago.

This Government has no mandate for what it has done – the bank bailout, NAMA, the savage cuts, the doomed budgetary approach that is going to further depress the economy. It has been desperately trying to avoid any chance for the people to deliver their verdict.

Senator Pearse Doherty deserves congratulation for taking this case as a representative citizen of County Donegal.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, chaired by a member Fianna Fáil, in July 2010, recommended a change in the law so that Dáil vacancies must be filled within six months. Let me quote it:
Filling of Casual Vacancies in Dáil Éireann
Recommendation 18
That whenever a casual vacancy occurs in the membership of Dáil Éireann, legislation would require that a by-election be held to fill the vacancy within six months of the vacancy occurring.

In 1996 the Constitution Review Group proposed a change to Article 16.7 of the Constitution so as to require the holding of a by-election within 90 days of the vacancy occurring.

Instead of wasting more taxpayers’ money in an appeal to the Supreme Court the Government should implement the recommendations of these reports.

The Government claims to want to appeal this case in order to clarify the issues. That is nonsense. The issues could not be clearer. The judgement is crystal clear.

The reality is that the Government wants to appeal this in order to forestall citizens in Waterford and Dublin South from taking the same course as Senator Pearse Doherty.

The Government should proceed now, not only with the Donegal South-West by-election, but with those in Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal North-East.

This is not about a Government limping to get across the finish line of a Budget vote on 7 December.

This is about the future of Ireland in the next five, ten, fifteen and 20 years. This is about the future of our children.

A Government with no mandate is about to impose not only a savage Budget but also a four-year budgetary plan – an attempt to tie the hands of a future Government and rigidly set our economic direction. And all before the people have the chance to give their verdict in a General Election.

What a tragedy that the Government has been facilitated in this by the so-called main Opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, who have joined the Consensus for Cuts and signed up for a deficit reduction of 3% by 2014 regardless of the consequences.

Savage cuts have not turned the economy around in the last three years and they will not do it in the next four.

We need a programme of economic stimulus, revenue saving and raising to address the deficit, the protection of people on low to middle incomes, the safeguarding of social supports and the preservation of essential public services.

Instead the Government is set on a path of destruction – destruction of the income of low to middle income families, demolition of essential public services like health and education, removal of social supports and the deepening of the recession.

No county in Ireland has experienced more emigration than Donegal, both historically and in our own time.

Recently, when we in Sinn Féin spoke of making the wealthy pay their fair share in taxation, the Minister for Finance spoke of people “fleeing the jurisdiction”.

The Minister and this Government care little for the young people forced to leave this jurisdiction and wholly and solely because of the destruction this Government has inflicted on our economy, resulting in 450,000 people on the dole and a renewed exodus of young Irish men and women.

I am reminded of what Peadar O’Donnell said when he challenged De Valera on the rate of emigration. De Valera asked him would there not be people emigrating if O’Donnell was in power and O’Donnell replied yes but they would be different people.

I don’t necessarily want the members of this Government to emigrate - well, maybe some of them might like to consider it – but I do want and the overwhelming number of people want them to get the hell out of office as the people will demonstrate in the General Election when it occurs.

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