Tuesday, 28 February 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
24. Mr. B. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance the obligations, if any, of programme managers and advisers in relation to official secrecy; and the action, if any, he proposes to take in relation to the leaking of the budget proposals. [3178/95]
47. Miss Harney asked the Minister for Finance if he has carried out an investigation into the extensive leaks surrounding the details of the 1995 budget; and the measures, if any, he proposes to take to ensure that there will not be a recurrence. [3217/95]
49. Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance if the former Minister of State, Deputy Phil Hogan, was the only Minister for State to have confidential budgetary information before the budget. [3964/95]
56. Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement to Dáil Éireann, setting out the factual position with regard to previous investigations into budget leaks in recent years. [3963/95]
62. Mr. Hilliard asked the Minister for Finance the reason Deputy Phil Hogan, former Minister of State, believed it was customary to issue budget details to the Fine Gael press office; the person who gave Deputy Hogan such information; when it was given to Deputy Hogan: and whether Deputy Hogan checked these matters with the Taoiseach or other Minister. [3965/95]
67. Mr. Hilliard asked the Minister for Finance when precisely former Minister of State, Deputy Phil Hogan, authorised the giving of confidential budget information to the Fine Gael press office; when the document was delivered to this office; the person who delivered the document; and the person to whom it was delivered. [3775/95]
In accordance with the statement made by the Taoiseach to this House on Wednesday, 15 February, the Secretary of my Department is co-ordinating an investigation into the leaking of budget material in the run-up to the 1995 budget.
The investigation will be carried out by the heads of those Departments or Offices with access to substantial information on the contents of the budget. The investigation will cover all those who received relevant information  within that Department or office and will deal, inter alia, with the action taken to keep the information confidential. The heads of Departments or Offices will also consider what additional procedures could be instituted to minimise the internal distribution of budget information in future.
The head of each Department or Office will furnish a report on these issues to the Secretary of the Department of Finance. He will co-ordinate the reports and present a composite report to Government within two months. The Government will take whatever action it deems necessary at that time.
In regard to the question of the obligations of programme managers and special advisers in relation to official secrecy, I can confirm that, where these officials are appointed from outside the Civil Service, they are appointed on a contract basis to temporary, unestablished positions in the Civil Service. As such, they are governed by the normal Civil Service regulations regarding official secrecy and integrity and are subject to the Official Secrets Act, 1963.
Regarding the question of the Ministers of State and programme managers who were aware of the contents of the 1995 budget before 8 February 1995, as far as I am aware, Deputy Phil Hogan, in his capacity as a member of the Cabinet budget and economic sub-committee, along with a number of programme managers and special advisers would have been aware of some or all of the contents of the budget prior to 8 February in their capacity as members of an informal tax strategy group.
Finally, in regard to the factual position about previous investigations into  budget leaks in recent years, as I indicated in my statement to this House on 15 February last, a limited investigation did take place in the Department of Finance and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners following the 1990 budget. This consisted of the officials most closely involved being asked whether they could shed any light on the source of the leaks. No breach of budget security in my Department or in the Revenue Commissioners was found as a result of this inquiry. No investigation took place in the years 1991 to 1994.
Dr. O'Hanlon: Does the Minister consider it is desirable that programme managers who have come from outside the Civil Service should be in possession of this very sensitive information? Will he indicate which programme managers, in the course of what we saw as their duties, were in possession of that information on the days preceding the budget?
Mr. Quinn: It is desirable that programme managers come from outside the Civil Service. Indeed, the former Deputy, Dr. Martin O'Donoghue, was perhaps the first such person to be so described and he was actively involved in sensitive financial affairs in the Government under the former Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch. I believe it is essential for programme managers to participate in that way.
Mr. D. Ahern: Is the Minister for Finance aware that under the present procedures for Government Ministers there are provisions for a Garda investigation into leaks of confidential matters arising from the Cabinet's deliberations? As the Taoiseach was reluctant to answer this question when I asked it on an earlier occasion, will the Minister indicate the Government's views on this and if it  will initiate a Garda investigation in this regard?
Mr. Quinn: No decision has been made in respect of that, but I imagine — and I offer an opinion as no decisions has been made — that until such time as a report from the Secretary of the Department of Finance becomes available a decision as to whether to request help from the Garda along the lines to which the Deputy referred will not be taken.
Mr. T. Kitt: In the event of programme managers or advisers being found guilty of breaching the Official Secrets Act, will it lead to their dismissal or what action will ensue? Given that the information arrived at the party press office, will the Minister indicate if an investigation will include those involved at party press office level?
Mr. Quinn: I do not want to anticipate the inquiry's recommendations or findings, but the Government takes a serious view on the question of leaks in so far as they have occurred, including leaks from party offices.
Mr. M. McDowell: Regarding the matters and investigations the Minister described so far, will he indicate the position in relation to the Department of Social Welfare? Has any official of that Department been suspended? The Taoiseach indicated that an inquiry was being carried out as to whom that official might or might not have imparted information. Can the Minister cast further light on that issue?
Mr. Cullen: When the Taoiseach received the offer of resignation from the former Minister, Deputy Hogan, did he consult the Minister for Finance regarding the action he might take and, if so, did the Minister offer any support to Deputy Hogan given that there had been substantial leaks in advance in regard to what Deputy Hogan was found guilty? Does he not consider that Deputy Hogan took responsibility for all the sins in respect of everything that happened before the budget and that it was grossly unfair that some members of other parties within the Cabinet should not have acted likewise?
Mrs. O'Rourke: I will forego a reply to that question. I note the Minister's endorsement of the recruitment of outsiders as programme managers, on an earlier occasion the Taoiseach reiterated that view and that he had been converted to it. Was it a programme manager who gave the Minister the advice to call people suffering from alcoholism “duds”?
Mr. Molloy: Will the Minister accept that Members are entitled to know the outcome of the inquiry that will be carried out in his Department into these events? Will he accept that the structure he announced, that the Secretary of the Department shall report merely to the Cabinet, is unsatisfactory? Given that the inquiry will be carried out possibly into the activities of members of the Cabinet and people who work closely with them, will the Minister accept that in the interests of openness and accountability the Government has responsibility to publish the findings of the inquiry so that Members and the public will know who was responsible and what action will be taken?
Mr. Quinn: However, having regard to this issue and the seriousness with which it is judged, it may well be the  case that the Government might consider publishing the report when it is received, but that decision will have to be taken by the Government.
Mr. Hilliard: I did not ask that question.I asked the number of specialists within the Department of Finance, together with the Secretary, who are carrying out this inquiry. Can the Minister give that information to the House?
In regard to the question of the obligations of programme managers and special advisers in relation to official secrecy, I can confirm that, where these officials are appointed from outside the Civil Service, they are appointed on a contract basis to temporary, unestablished position in the Civil Service. As such, they are governed by the normal Civil Service regulations regarding official secrecy and integrity and are subject to the Official Secrets Act, 1963.
Mr. McCreevy: I am interested in this issue. I wonder whether the Minister is correct — I am not saying he is misleading the House. As the Minister is aware if a civil servant is found to be in breach of the Official Secrets Act he or she is prosecuted in the courts. Even if it does not go that far and they are found guilty of some other misdemeanour, a recommendation for their dismissal would go before the Government under the Acts governing the appointment of civil servants.Am I right in assuming that that procedure would be followed in the case of a special adviser or programme manager from outside the Civil Service? I suggest the Minister may be incorrect because I do not think he has outlined the procedure that would be followed. I would be happy to accept it if the Minister says so, but somehow I think he is incorrect.
Mr. Quinn: If an unestablished temporary civil servant, such as a programme manager or special adviser, was found to be in gross breach of a particular regulation such as the Official Secrets Act and his or her dismissal was sought, or he or she was obliged to resign, the procedures as I understand them — I can get confirmation for the Deputy — which would be followed, one of which he would have been familiar with, would be that a recommendation would come from the Department  of Finance from the line Department. The Cabinet would not formally make a decision because it would seem to me that the person would be gone at that stage. The tenure of a permanent civil servant is more secure than that of a temporary unestablished civil servant.
Mr. Molloy: As the Minister responsible for the public service, can the Minister say if a public servant can be suspended without the Minister being aware of the suspension? Will the Minister confirm or deny that a social welfare official has, in fact, been suspended?
Mr. Quinn: I am aware of the people who are carrying out the investigation. The Deputy asked how many were carrying out the investigation. I am not sure of the number or whether they are involved full-time or part-time. If the Deputy wants the precise number, and the extent of their involvement, I can get that information.
Mr. Molloy: In view of the nature of this inquiry, the sensitivities involved, and the possibility of colleagues of the Minister being involved in the leaks, does the Minister consider it satisfactory that he informs the House that the final decision in regard to publication of the report would be made by the Cabinet? Will the Minister accept that the public would be sceptical about this in the event of the report being embarrassing for any party in Government or for an individual in the Government, and if the Government reserves the right to decide whether the public should be told?
Mr. Quinn: Deputy Molloy has had more Cabinet experience that any Member present and knows precisely the rights and privileges of collective Cabinet responsibility in these matters. The question of leaks, on something as central to Government activity as the budget, is a matter for all Government members and not for an individual Minister. Until such time as we receive a copy of the report, with its recommendations it would be imprudent and unwise for any Minister, including the Minister for Finance, to give a unilateral commitment that it would be published. That decision under our system of Government rightly belongs exclusively to the Cabinet.
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