Tuesday, 6 February 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. B. Ahern: Will the Taoiseach arrange for the Minister for Social Welfare to apologise for misleading the House regarding the recruitment of staff to posts which he clearly stated here were not advertised? It subsequently transpired from what Deputy Joe Walsh stated that they were advertised in the Democratic Left newspaper. It has been the time honoured practice of previous leaders of Fine Gael, such as Deputy Garret FitzGerald, and members of the Fianna Fáil Party to apologise for making misleading statements to the House.
Mr. B. Ahern: Since raising the matter last week I discovered in the precedents of the House that there is no way other than on the Order of Business of raising the issue of a Minister knowingly or in error misleading the House. If the Minister did not intend to mislead the House he can make a statement of apology in the normal way, but if he is hiding something the Taoiseach must deal with the matter.
Mr. B. Ahern: The order is that it be taken in Government time, but I understand from the Government Whip that is unlikely. It can be easily dealt with by the Taoiseach or the Minister for Social Welfare in the time honoured way. Senior people were employed by the Government at a cost to the taxpayer and the House was misled in regard to their recruitment. I understand from the Ceann Comhairle's office that this is the proper way for the Leader of the Opposition to raise such a matter. As it was the Taoiseach who introduced the standards of transparency, honesty and integrity and the Ethics in Public Office  Bill, surely he cannot stand over this action.
The Taoiseach: I draw the Deputy's attention to pages 201 and 202 of today's Order Paper which contain an extensive list of questions on the topic to which Deputy Ahern refers. I suggest he read the replies to those questions.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: On page 7 of the internal telephone directory Mr. John Gallagher is listed as an administrator at extension 3566 in 224 Kildare House. Was he employed on taxpayers' money as a result of the advertisement in the Democratic Left Forum newspaper? This is the greatest scandal that has arisen in the House for some time.
Miss Harney: If we did not have a copy of the Democratic Left newspaper, which was obviously circulated by a person who did not get the job — it is not  often something is leaked from that party — we would not have known that these positions were advertised. If a Fine Gael member or a junior Minister were involved I am sure the Taoiseach would have intervened by now.
Miss Harney: It is important that the record is corrected. We should not have to table parliamentary questions for written reply or write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in respect of the matter.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy knows that there is a longstanding tradition regarding the word “deliberately”. I must ask her to withdraw the word “deliberately”. In accordance with a longstanding tradition of the House a Member does not accuse another Member of deliberately misleading the House.
Miss Harney: If I could hear from the Minister for Social Welfare I might be prepared to do that. It is over two weeks since this matter was raised in the House. If I had not seen a copy of the Forum newsletter circulated to Democratic Left members and supporters, I would not have known that these positions had been advertised.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The matter is not in order now. I will clarify the matter once again. There is a motion on the Order Paper and I am also informed the matter is to be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Those are the avenues available.
Mr. J. Walsh: Last week I attempted to get clarification and a correction in this House in regard to a false response to a parliamentary question. I have been a Member for some considerable time and this is the first occasion I have ever come across a situation such as this. This is deliberate, there is no other word to use, and the Taoiseach is standing over this matter. Are there no limits to the depths to which the standards of this House can descend? Members are entitled to truthful answers in the House and we are not getting them.
Mr. J. Walsh: Last week the Chair advised me to table a motion on this matter if I wished to have the record corrected. That motion is on today's Order Paper and it states: “That Dáil Éireann, mindful of the statement made by the Minister for Social Welfare in the House on Tuesday, 23 January 1996, in answer to a Dáil priority question, calls on the Minister to retract his erroneous statement and correct the record of the House”. Is it too much to ask for the  truth to be given to parliamentary questions in this House?
Mr. O'Dea: I am more than disappointed that the Taoiseach has persisted in his silence. I want to ask him a simple question. In view of the fact that we have had a signature, which was not really a signature, on a letter, bank notes which were not really bank notes and now an advertisement which is not really an advertisement, when will the Taoiseach put a stop to this charade?
Mr. Martin: On promised legislative reform and particularly Dáil reform, which is part of the Programme for Government, will the Taoiseach indicate if he will provide in such reforms a facility whereby Opposition Members of the House can have various matters, such as the misleading reply given by the Minister for Social Welfare to Deputy Joe Walsh in the House recently, clarified immediately? That would be preferable to the charade at the moment where we must wait weeks for the matter to go before a particular committee, where answers are buried and where an attempt is made to defer giving truthful answers. A total of £200,000 of public money——
Mr. D. Wallace: Will the Taoiseach indicate if there are controls in place, official or unofficial, to ensure fair and equitable distribution of funds? I raise this matter in light of the allocation of more than 40 per cent of local development grants by the Minister of State at the Taoiseach's Department, Deputy Gay Mitchell, to his own constituency when there are many worthwhile projects in other areas of the country. In Cork, 35 projects were set up but only two of those were——
Mr. Cowen: On a point of order, will the Chair advise me on the procedure for the correction of a misleading statement given to the House? Is it by way of a subsequent parliamentary question being put down, as indicated by the Taoiseach in his reply to the Leader of the Opposition, or does it require, on precedent, a statement from the offending Member of the House?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: As I already indicated this week and last week, that matter can be initiated by way of motion on the Order Paper, as has been done, or by referring the matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The matter has already been clarified.
Mr. Cowen: Will the Chair confirm  that it is not in order, on the basis of precedence of this House, to rectify a misleading statement to the House by way of an obligation being put on the Opposition to table a subsequent question which may glean the correct answer? Will the Chair confirm that that is not the procedure of the House and that a misleading statement, as the Chair has indicated——
Mr. Cowen: I am grateful to the Chair but I want to confirm one particular point. The Taoiseach, as the Leader of the House, indicated that because subsequent parliamentary questions have been tabled on this matter, that is in some way a means by which we can rectify a misleading statement. Will the Chair agree that is not the case? It is not in order for us to pursue the matter on that basis. There is an obligation on the person who has given the misleading statement to come before the House and apologise.
Mr. J. Walsh: I am putting it to the Chair that we have seen the Taoiseach's inability to stand up to the Minister for Social Welfare. We know that happens in the Cabinet but it is not acceptable  on the floor of the House. How can we get truthful answers? It is a matter for the Chair to ensure that standards are maintained in this House.
Mr. J. Walsh: What course is open to me to get the truth in reply to questions? This was a priority question, not a matter which arose during a debate in the House. There was a deliberate misleading of this House and I want to know what will be done in this case.
Dr. McDaid: On occasions the Taoiseach becomes intoxicated in the exuberance of his own verbosity, but when we touched a sensitive chord here today he seemed to push the shut down button. Will the Taoiseach indicate if an investigation will be carried out in regard to the matter raised by Deputy Dan Wallace?
Mr. Cullen: In the light of the way the Taoiseach dealt with the difficulties which surrounded the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, and the then Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, are we to understand that different standards now apply to Democratic Left as far as the Taoiseach is concerned and that——
The Taoiseach: The Deputy's party is provided with time each week to debate its own Private Members' motions. This  is one of those motions and if it wishes to put down that motion, it may do so. Comprehensive answers to the questions tabled by Opposition Members on the matters on which they have been spending so much time in the past few minutes will be provided by means of written replies by the Minister for Social Welfare which will be available to all interested Deputies a few minutes after the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Mr. D. Ahern: ——during Private Members' time than this motion. I again invite him to provide Government time to debate this issue if the Minister is not man enough to come into the House and admit that he made a mistake and misled us.
Mr. D. Ahern: At least our members were men enought to admit they were wrong or that they misled the House. The Minister for Social Welfare was quick enough to criticise us when he was in Opposition and he should be man enough to admit he misled the House.
Mr. B. Ahern: We are devoting much time to what should be a minor issue. The Government is stonewalling on the issue and adopting a never explain, never apologise attitude. I said at the start that the Minister for Social Welfare may have unintentionally — I gave him the benefit of the doubt — or knowingly misled the House. The tradition has always been that when it is pointed out that a Member made an error and gave wrong information he makes a short statement in the House. I ask the Minister for Social Welfare or the Taoiseach to give us an answer to our question.
Mr. O'Malley: If it was all right by the Taoiseach and the Government for a Minister to tell an untruth last week then the logical conclusion is that it will  be all right if a Minister tells an untruth next week.
Dr. Woods: I appeal to the Taoiseach to recognise that he is undermining a fundamental principle of the House and that this has very wide ramifications. If the Minister for Social Welfare inadvertently misled the House — and it was certainly misled——
Dr. Woods: ——then how can the Opposition believe anything Ministers may say in future? This is a fundamental issue and there is an onus on the Taoiseach to ensure that this matter is settled without delay.
Mr. J. Walsh: On Question No. 35, which is appropriate to the Order of Business — no other matter has been as appropriate this year — we are endeavouring to wring the truth from the Minister for Social Welfare.
Dr. Woods: May I ask the Taoiseach if any progress has been made on the legislation which will be necessary following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Keegan case on which the Government has promised to take action? This would involve an amendment——
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: I seek your advice as head of the Civil Service Appointments Commission. Am I correct in saying that all applicants to the Department of Social Welfare will have to apply to the Democratic Left office which seems to be the new personnel office?
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