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Archive for March, 2004

Civil Registration Bill and Church of Ireland

Speaking on the Civil Registration Bill, I commented on its provisions for registering marriages. The Bill creates the possibility that the marriage ceremonies of some minority religions would be in conflict with legislation. For example, in the Church of Ireland, people do not make a positive affirmation that there is a reason they should not be married. This Bill, if it is not amended, might conflict with that. Using this example, I pointed out that churches “might end up having to jettison its own liturgy. [The Church of Ireland has] found itself in a great deal of difficulty as a result of this Bill”

The Church of Ireland ceremony dates from the 12th century, and it has not been found particularly faulty. It would be difficult not just for liturgical reasons. The Church of Ireland has only just issued a new prayer book, and it would be extremely inconvenient and costly, to say the very least, to have to reprint it.

There is an issue of conflict between church and State law here, albeit a small church. I ask the government to look at this very sympathetically, particularly on Committee Stage.

Cronies and Hacks in Semi-State Appointments

Speaking during Private Members’ time in the Seanad, I launched an attack on political cronyism and the system of government appointments to semi-state bodies.

Political parties continually place their political friends with no relevant expertise on the boards of State agencies. Where are the representatives of enterprise on the board of FÁS? Where are the management gurus on the board of An Post?

Suddenly, members of state boards are removed when the company is prepared for sale, as in the case of Eircom. They are good enough for the state sector, but cannot cut the mustard in the commercial world.

Aer Rianta, An Post, and RTÉ are among the worst cases. Prison visiting committees are riddled with political loyalists.

Even universities are not immune. The Board of Trinity College Dublin and the Senate of the National University of Ireland are now afflicted with political nominees. Many of these have political affiliations more obvious than their expertise for the job. A Fianna Fail ex-Junior Minister, and a PD ex-Senator sit on the Senate of N.U.I. How will this improve our universities? Seanad Eireann is not the only Senate populated by political hacks!

The Independent Electronic Voting Commission

An independent commisson has been introduced to look into the issue of electronic voting. While I am opposed to its introduction, we must be careful in what we say about the commission. I have no problem with it. It is the Opposition which, by saying that commission members are of the highest integrity, puts itself in a difficult position. If Fianna Fáil had appointed (as is sometimes its wont – and that of all parties) political hacks, there would be blue murder. However, when it appoints people of absolute integrity, we criticise the Government and say the appointees are compromised. We cannot have it both ways.

This commission is made up of those of the highest integrity. We should accept what they have to say, and a commitment in that regard should come from the Government because commission members are patently non-political.

Discounting the National Airline

The Aer Lingus Bill was recently introduced in the Seanad. Obviously the main thrust of the Bill is the privatisation of Aer Lingus. There is a reluctance to spell that out in such brutal terms in the Minister’s speech, but I welcome the fact that Aer Lingus should be privatised.

However, I have difficulties with the Minister of State’s statement that he is aware of concerns about strategic issues in the context of the State exiting from ownership of Aer Lingus. These concerns relate to the Aer Lingus brand, slots at Heathrow, and the commitment of any new owners of Aer Lingus to regional development in Ireland.

If the Minister of State sends out those signals while trying to sell Aer Lingus, the Government will find it difficult to get a decent price for the company. If the Government is telling prospective buyers they must fly into Cork, Shannon and other airports, few will be interested. These issues of strategic interest will put off buyers.

Regional development is a broad ship, which means the airline will have to fly to places designated by the Government. The government will find it difficult to get competing buyers or get value if it does that. It will find that it is selling Aer Lingus at a discount because other airlines will not have demanded such stringent conditions on the sale.