How can consulting the electorate be a ‘distraction’?

From today’s Order of Business in the Seanad…

We have a caretaker Government, a significant portion of which has essentially handed in its notice and is operating on the basis that the Dáil and Seanad will be dissolved early in the new year, although how early is not clear. We know the Finance Bill was enacted on 3 April this year. Does the Leader or the Deputy Leader have any view on what was meant by the reference to financial measures? It could take us until April to deal with all of the financial measures.

I reiterate that it is a matter for the Government to introduce and pass the budget. The Constitution is clear on the issue. In circumstances in which we have only a caretaker Government it is not reasonable or appropriate to suggest the Opposition parties should act as some kind of surrogate Government when it comes to the single most important job of a Government, which is to introduce a budget.

There is much talk about whether an election would constitute a distraction. I take offence at the notion that consulting the people would be inappropriate. How could consulting them at this grave time be a distraction?

I believe in parliamentary democracy in which people are given a mandate to make decisions. They do not consult because the system does not allow them to consult at every hand’s turn for everything done in Parliament; it is necessary to repose trust in parliamentarians. However, at a time as grave as this, was it ever more necessary, appropriate and desirable that the people be consulted on what should be done?

I constantly say the Government does not have a mandate to do what it is doing, but the Opposition does not have a mandate anymore than the Government does to introduce proposed budgetary measures. Senator O’Toole says the budget should be put through, but it is not an undifferentiated thing as if we just had a quick vote on it. It will include measures that will affect ordinary citizens, including cuts in welfare and other changes. It is not just a question of getting over the line; it will include a host of measures that will need to be considered and which will affect ordinary citizens. In a sense, they are the ones who should be in the driving seat, not on every individual measure, but at a time as grave as this, what is the problem?

I know people are concerned about delay and I do not underestimate the gravity of the international situation and the implications of a delay, as others mentioned. I do not believe a delay would be particularly desirable, but when everything is balanced and knowing that there will be difficulties for whatever Government is in place in coming weeks and, by extension, the country, it is vital that the people who elect Members to the other House which needs to make a decision on the budget, be consulted at this time.