Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Appointment of New Oireachtas Committee.

Wednesday, 6 February 1991

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 404 No. 7

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  2.  Mr. Quinn  Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey   if, in view of the many commitments in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to various Government Departments in consultation with the social partners which will require the consent of the Oireachtas, he will consider the establishment of an Economic and Social Affairs Committee of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  As I indicated to the House last Thursday in reply to a query from the Deputy on the Order of Business, I do not see the need for such a committee. The many provisions in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress which, as the Deputy says, require the consent of the Oireachtas can be dealt with in accordance with the legislative and financial procedures of the House.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Would the Taoiseach not agree that many of the 66 specific items that are referred to in the programme requiring the direct and indirect involvement of the Oireachtas involve negotiation in which the social partners present, on occasion, conflicting points of view, and that an open forum such as a committee of the Oireachtas, which is subject to democratic scrutiny including the press, is the right place for such negotiations to take place? In view of the widespread support for the idea of social partnership would the Taoiseach not give it some democratic underpinning by establishing such a committee.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I appreciate what the Deputy is getting at. On the other hand Deputies did express some concern about the democratic process and the fact that these important social and economic issues should not be taken away from the [1749] ambit of the House. Therefore I think to set up a special committee just to deal with the programme might be tending to isolate it from the normal democratic and parliamentary procedures here in the House. Everything in the programme will in some shape or form have to come before this House either by way of financial provision or by way of legislation and it will be an ongoing process for some considerable time. I think it is better to leave it that way.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Would the Taoiseach agree that legislation promised specifically in the programme and which is part of the programme's contract will ultimately involve the House and that such legislation will, as it has in the past, involve detailed negotiation tantamount to Committee Stage involvement of the social partners? Would the Taoiseach also agree that such involvement would be entirely outside the ambit of this House and that that is, in effect, as we saw in the Industrial Relations Bill, a negation of the real function of this House? It is precisely that kind of measure that should come under the ambit of this House. Would the Taoiseach not therefore agree that in matters such as that there is a very central role for such a committee?

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I would agree that legislation is the fundamental responsibility of this House and of nobody else. However, as the Deputy knows, in the case of long legislation the Minister in charge of the legislation enters into discussions and negotiations with vocational groups of all kinds. That does not affect the quality of the legislation. Nor indeed does it affect the validity of the input of this House into the legislation and that is the way it will be done on this occasion.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I have one further supplementary.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I want to bring in Deputy John Bruton who has been offering. Deputy Quinn.

[1750]Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Is the Taoiseach not aware that in the context of the Industrial Relations Bill detailed discussions took place behind closed doors on the text of the Bill on Committee Stage, and when pressed by Members from all three parties on this side of the House the Minister proclaimed his impotence on the grounds that these things had already been negotiated and were tantamount to being agreed? That is fundamentally undemocratic and the Taoiseach is undermining the basis of the social partnership if he does not open it up to democratic scrutiny.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  It is being opened up to democratic scrutiny.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Not in detail.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  It is my intention to have a full, detailed debate——

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  A “take it or leave it”.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  On the programme as such, first, all aspects of the programme and then, as I said, the component elements of the programme must come here in some shape or form for a full democratic discussion and decision.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Would the Taoiseach agree that if we are to have, as is desirable, a consensus approach to economic matters over a ten year time frame, there must be a means found of involving all the parties in this House, in the sense that no one party has a lease on office for ten years? Is the Taoiseach aware that in most European countries, Scandinavia for example, where consensus economic policies are successfully pursued, there exists a procedure for involving parliament prior to decisions being written in stone? Is the Taoiseach further aware that it is undesirable and not actually democratic to present this House with a fait accompli which has to be voted through by a whipped Government majority——

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  A single vote.

[1751]Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  ——and that does not involve any constructive involvement of the democratically elected representatives? In view of these considerations would the Taoiseach agree to examine the former Fine Gael proposal on this matter which advocated an economic accord for 1992 and suggested, in January 1989, the establishment of exactly the type of committee envisaged by Deputy Quinn in his question which I most heartily welcome?

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I think the Deputy is misunderstanding, or perhaps misdirecting his attention here. There are countless occasions on which a Government, as the Executive, negotiate with different persons, bodies, agencies and then bring the result of that negotiation here for confirmation. Let us take for example the case where the Government would negotiate a treaty with another country — that is negotiated by the Government in detail with some foreign power, some other country or other administration and then when those negotiations are completed, the document or the treaty is brought here for discussion, debate and confirmation or otherwise. There is nothing undemocratic about that. It is the normal procedure. I think the function of this House contrary to what Deputies are saying, would be negated to some extent if there was political involvement in the original negotiations and discussions because political parties having participated in those original discussions and negotiations would then be prevented from having full scale discussion in this House and possible opposition to what was decided. In any event the practicalities are——

Deputies J. Bruton, Rabbitte and Quinn rose.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I would dissuade Members from thinking they may discuss this matter in detail, they may not.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I think we are demonstrating the need for the committee.

[1752]The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  The process of getting all the social partners and the Government to hammer out an agreement is complicated enough. If political parties had been brought in at the negotiating stage, with all the conflicting ideologies that exist within the parties of this House, ranging from the extreme left of The Workers' Party to the extreme conservatism of the Fine Gael Party, we would never have got an agreement.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That is rubbish.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Information on Jim Mitchell  Zoom on Jim Mitchell  The extreme conceit of the Taoiseach.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Sir.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Order. I have dwelt rather over-long on this question.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  It is a very important question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  It is. All the questions on this Order Paper are equally important to the Chair as I am sure Members will agree. I want to bring this question to finality very quickly. I will call the three Deputies who are offering if they will be very brief. I call Deputy Bruton.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Would the Taoiseach not agree that comparing a concordat for ten years in regard to all economic and social matters, which is a very general issue, with a treaty with another country on a very narrow issue is to completely confuse the question? Would he not agree also that what we are talking about here is binding the entire legislative output of this House into a concordat in which this House has had no part?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Brevity please.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Would the Taoiseach not agree that that is fundamentally unhealthy as far as democracy is concerned and places the social partners as well as the Opposition parties in this House in an invidious position?

[1753]The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  It would be, if it were true, but of course it is not true. First, the amount of legislation which will be involved in implementing the programme will be minimal compared with the general corpus of legislation which will be enacted over the next few years. Second, the Deputies are basically — Deputy Bruton may not wish to acknowledge this — endeavouring to upset the firmly established process whereby we have established consensus between the social partners and the Government.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Information on Jim Mitchell  Zoom on Jim Mitchell  Rubbish.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  No, Sir.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  The Government are the executive authority and must carry out all these discussions and negotiations. It is, of course, always subject to the final authority of this House and that is the way we are proceeding on this occasion.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I now call Deputy Pat Rabbitte for a brief question and then a final question from Deputy Ruairí Quinn.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  My first point is the same as Deputy Bruton's point which is to ask the Taoiseach if he would agree that comparing a domestic economic agreement with an international relations agreement with another country is patently absurd? Does the Taoiseach agree that since we are talking about a national long term strategy as well as a medium term strategy, this agreement is not the property of any one Government and that, therefore, it is necessary to involve, in a more formal structured way the parties in this House? May I specifically ask the Taoiseach whether he agrees that the central review committee needs revision so as to allow for the more public appraisal of progress and for us to participate in monitoring the progress of the various objectives and targets under this agreement?

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  All these arguments would sound much more convincing to [1754] me if I did not recall that on the occasion when we succeeded, as a major departure, in bringing forward the first programme, it was treated with scathing criticism and opposition from all parties on the other side of the House.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Not by The Workers' Party, we supported it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  It was derided by all sides.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That is the most appalling and inaccurate statement made in this House this year. Does the Taoiseach forget the position taken by this party where we allowed his Government to function for two years in the national interest?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Order. Deputy Bruton is intervening in an unruly manner. He must desist.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Has the Taoiseach's memory got so defective that he has failed to remember that?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Deputy Bruton must resume his seat.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That is an appalling statement by the Taoiseach. It does not have a scintilla of truth.

A Deputy:  Mr. P.J. Mara should clarify that point.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Taoiseach does not remember his friends and he does not remember any one in this House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  There is no need for disorder of this kind, Deputy Bruton.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  The simulated outrage of Deputy Bruton does not impress me when I distinctly remember listening to what Deputy Michael Noonan, the spokesman for his party, said on those benches at the time.

[1755]Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  You have a very poor memory.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I have a very good memory and I will quote for the Deputy.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Taoiseach has a very bad history so far as memory is concerned.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  A final question please from Deputy Quinn.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  With your permission, Sir, may I bring this issue back to the specific question on today's Order Paper and my reference to the agreement which I hope will be endorsed on 18 February. In so far as there are commitments, and we are not challenging the executive right of the Government to enter into——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I have asked for brevity.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I had to get back to the centre ground after that outburst.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  A kind of coalition.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Would the Taoiseach not agree that in relation to this question, there is a specific commitment by the Government on behalf of the Oireachtas which anticipates the consent and the approval of the Oireachtas to 66 separate matters of legislation and administration, and that, in respect of that particular set of promises, a committee would be the most effective and democratic way——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  We are having a big element of repetition.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Taoiseach unfortunately has broadened his reply and I would like to bring him back to the specific matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  The Deputy has made his point effectively.

[1756]The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I do not agree and I think the outburst by Deputy Bruton reenforces my argument about political involvement in the early stages of these discussions. I see Deputy Quinn's difficulty. I understand it and I appreciate it.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is the untruth of the Taoiseach that is of concern to me.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Let us be careful about the usage of the word “untruth”.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I know it is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks but the Deputy is learning some of the bad ones.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Taoiseach hijacked the country between 1982 and 1987 and he now has the gall to come in and talk about honesty in politics.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  The new ringmasters of the Fine Gael Party are making Deputy Bruton dance a very peculiar tune for the benefit of the television cameras.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Taoiseach might be dancing offstage very soon if some of the friends behind him have their say.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I suggest that despite this new outburst of vulgarity and guffawing that has been imposed upon you, you would get back to the good old Fine Gael good mannered behaviour in this House.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  We will return to this.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  We will proceed. The next questions we come to deal with are questions nominated for priority for which 15 minutes only are provided under the Standing Orders of this House.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn): Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  Before dealing with the questions I think I should refer to the fact that these are the first questions that Deputy Jim Mitchell and Deputy Brendan Howlin have addressed to the Minister for the [1757] Environment as spokespersons for their various parties.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  And the first questions you nearly did not answer.

Mr. Flynn: Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  I would like to wish them luck in their assignments, not of course that I am going to make their life any easier but I will try to have a good relationship with them.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Information on Jim Mitchell  Zoom on Jim Mitchell  I thank the Minister for his kind wishes and I congratulate him on surviving the treachery from his own benches.


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