Wednesday, 7 May 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): It is proposed to take the report from the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs on the Electoral Bill, 1994; No. 9, Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill, 1997 — Financial Resolution; No. 1, Universities Bill, 1996 — Amendments from the Seanad; No. 26, Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill, 1997 — Committee and Remaining Stages and No. 27, Licensing (Combating Drug Abuse) Bill, 1997 — Committee and Remaining Stages. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 12 midnight; (2) No. 9 shall be decided without debate; (3) the proceedings on No. 1, if  not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 5.30 p.m. today and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments thereto, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Education; (4) the Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 26 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment; (5) the Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 27 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 11.45 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice; and (6) Private Members' Business shall also take place tomorrow.Private Members' Business shall be No. 60 — Motion No. 23 re. Cork city and the south west.
Miss Harney: In view of the fact that the Minister for Finance is taking the Order of Business, and in the interests of openness and accountability, will the Minister publish the correspondence the received from the European Commission in relation to water charges? There will be a debate on this matter this evening and in the interests of having an informed debate, I ask the Minister to publish the correspondence he received from the Commission.
Miss Harney: I am not prepared to agree unless the Minister for Finance gives an assurance, in the interests of openness, accountability and transparency and so that we can have an informed debate this evening, that he will publish the correspondence from the Commission.
Mr. Quinn: This is the first knowledge I have had of such a question. I will not unilaterally give an undertaking in the House because of the precedent attending to such a decision. I will consider the matter and get back to the Deputy. If  the Deputy was serious instead of being political about this matter, she could have contacted me any time today and I would have had time to consider it.
Miss Harney: Given that the Government said the hallmark of its term of office would be openness, transparency and accountability, the least we can expect in the context of the debate this evening is to know the Commission's view on this matter. I know the Government wants Minister Burton re-elected but her seat is not worth a couple of hundred million pounds.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 26 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 27 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business tomorrow agreed? Agreed.
Mr. B. Ahern: The programme for Government included an undertaking to examine the possibility of dividing the two roles currently exercised by the Attorney General, legal adviser to the Government and the upholder of the public interest. It also includes an undertaking to ensure that holders of high office of the State are more accountable to the Legislature. The Government has decided, either through the Attorney General or the Chief State Solicitor, that the Chief State Solicitor will not appear before a meeting of the Select Committee on Social Affairs two and a half hours from now, despite the fact that the committee unanimously agreed to this last week. I understand from newspaper reports and letters that the Attorney General, or the Chief State Solicitor who reports to the Attorney General, took this decision having regard to the principle of lawyer-client confidentiality, if such principle exists in this context.
 In the light of this dilemma, which I am sure the Minister disapproves of based on what is contained in the programme for Government, will he, on behalf of the Government, waive the confidentiality rule? It is the Government's privilege to waive the confidentiality rule and, if that is done in the next two and a half hours, we will be in a position to proceed with what the committee unanimously agreed to last week, namely, that the Chief State Solicitor should come before the committee to explain the legal strategy in the McCole case. I am sure all sides of the House agree with this request because it was unanimously agreed last week in committee.
Mr. Quinn: I will consider the matter. The leader of the Opposition will agree that I cannot unilaterally agree to waive such a matter on behalf of the Government without Government consideration. I understand, however, that the Attorney General is sending a comprehensive and detailed letter to the committee mentioned by the Deputy which should clarify the point. The Deputy has raised issues with regard to the programme for Government which are in order. My understanding is that the group of experts examining the position of legal officers has not yet recommended how to proceed in relation to that commitment in the programme for Government. On the question of confidentiality, I will talk to the Attorney General but I understand his letter is comprehensive and will answer the questions and concerns of the committee.
Mr. B. Ahern: I welcome the Minister's comment that he will consult the Attorney General after the Order of Business, but since I cannot attend that meeting I emphasise to him that the legal advice given to this side of the House — we checked this with a number of legal representatives during the day since this issue was raised on national radio and in one of the newspapers this morning — is that the principle of lawyer-client confidentiality does not exist in this case. Even if it did exist, it would be a matter for the Government to waive that rule. It is not a matter for the Attorney General. I am sure the Attorney General will have advised the Government on developing this strategy. I do not know what is in the letter from the Attorney General. I know from my colleagues who are on the committee that the only letter they received so far was from the Chief State Solicitor setting out the case. I am sure the Attorney General advised the Government that it has the right to waive the confidentiality rule.
This is a very important matter. The Bridget McCole case was a terrible indictment of the State for what it did to the individual on her deathbed. It needs to be addressed and all parties in this House unanimously agreed that this procedure be followed. If we are to have any role in democracy in this House, this matter has to be addressed before 7 p.m. this evening. I trust that  the Government will see that this matter is rectified before then.
Miss Harney: I agree with what Deputy Ahern has said. It is fair to say in the case of the late Mrs. Bridget McCole that no Irish citizen was ever treated so badly by the Government of her own country. The Government has to accept political responsibility for the legal strategy because Minister Howlin made it clear that the Cabinet made a decision in relation to that matter. Given that that is the case and that the Government can waive the confidentiality rule, I ask the Minister for Finance to agree to Deputy Ahern's request.
Mr. Cowen: I do not wish to debate it either, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I want to put on record confirmation of the commitment given on 26 March last by the Taoiseach to me on the Order of Business that any questions would be answered fully. The Chair will recall that this commitment was given in the aftermath of the debate we had which excluded question No. 5 in the McCole letter, which was not under consideration by the tribunal.The Taoiseach confirmed it was the commitment of his Government that all questions would be answered and that it would be open to Members to table further questions on the matter which would be answered in full and in detail. That matter is now being taken up by the Select Committee on Social Affairs. In that respect, having listened to the quotations by the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Ahern——
Mr. Cowen: I am not seeking to do that. I am putting a point to the Minister for Finance who is taking the Order of Business. Having heard what the Leader of the Opposition had to say in terms of the commitment given by this Government to be open and transparent and fully accountable, will he confirm that in addition to the waiving of privilege for State officials to attend this committee, if the committee so requests, and it has requested, Government Ministers will be in a position to come to us to explain their state of knowledge of the legal strategy in the McCole case which was excluded from the tribunal's consideration?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I want to stop the Deputy there. Does the Minister wish to comment on what the Deputy has raised? If not, I am leaving that issue and moving on to matters appropriate to the Order of Business.
Mr. Power: It is important that we should congratulate some of our sporting heroes who brought great honour to this country over the weekend. I refer to Michael Kinnane who won the 2,000 Guineas and Ken Doherty who won the World Snooker Crown in Sheffield.
On another matter, I would like the guidance of the Chair. The Minister for Defence misled the House last week in reply to a question I put to him. How can I have that matter redressed? It is very serious. I put the facts before him in the House last week and he denied them. I have the evidence now, but unfortunately the Minister is not in the House today.
Mr. M. Ahern: What is the present position regarding licensing of multichannel systems given that over the weekend many signals were turned off throughout the country, particularly in north Galway where people in eight towns lost signal? If these people have to wait until the autumn for licences to be issued, they will have no multichannel television service. Are there proposals to bring forward legislation for the new multichannel television system?
Mr. Quinn: Regulations were promised. I gather this has been debated extensively in the House. My information is that the Minister with responsibility in this area, Deputy Dukes, will be bringing forward regulations in the autumn to deal with the matter.
Mr. M. McDowell: Is it intended to introduce legislation to change the arrangements in respect of transport for life for retired officeholders? Is there any substance in the suggestion that representations have been made to some officeholders that they will have transport for life in the near future?
Mr. Quinn: There is no proposal to change the State cars or their occupants after the election. If the Deputies are referring to any proposed or possible Government decision, I can assure them the Government has not, to my knowledge, discussed such an issue. If the Deputy has a specific question on the matter I invite her to put down a question and we will try to answer it in the normal way.
Dr. Woods: Now that the Minister for Finance has reached the end of the rainbow and is clearing out the crock of gold along with his desk, will he arrange to raise the cap on charitable lotteries or make up for the huge losses they incurred during the last year? This could be done very quickly by way of regulation or legislation.
Mr. Martin: The report of the higher review body on the upgrading of regional technical colleges to the status of institutes of technology is published today. The Minister said on a number of occasions this would necessitate laying before the House a ministerial order for the colleges involved. When will a ministerial order for Waterford college be laid before the House? How many ministerial orders will be laid before the House during the next ten days? Will the Minister issue a statement to the House on this crucial issue facing every regional college? He should make a statement of his intent in regard to the type and number of ministerial orders that will be laid before the House.
Mr. Quinn: There are regulations relating to it. I understand the order in respect of Waterford was signed today. The report is under consideration and when the Minister has completed her consideration, further orders may be brought before the House.
Mr. Martin: The Tánaiste and the Minister gave a commitment to the people of Cork about their college at a private meeting of the Labour Party conference in Cork. Is that commitment being honoured today or will it be honoured before the election?
Mr. Martin: An á la carte menu is being pursued by the Government. This group was set up to establish objective criteria by which colleges could be upgraded, free from political handouts and patronage, and it is important that happens. Will ministerial orders be laid before the House on the overall position before the termination of this Dáil?
Mr. J. Walsh: In view of the commitment in the programme for Government and Partnership 2000 regarding the prudent management of the national finances and the use of taxpayers' money, is the Minister concerned about the narcissistic tendencies of some of his colleagues in Government and the exorbitant cost of photographic sessions?
Mr. J. Walsh: Will he advise, in particular, his left wing colleagues to use more modest photographic sessions in the future, particularly the Minister for Social Welfare who spent £19,000 to varnish his halo?
Miss de Valera: When does the Government intend to take the Fianna Fáil Heritage and Cultural Events (Televisual Access Protection) Bill, 1997, given the advent of the new broadcasting directive which will demand legislative amendments to guarantee the public free television access to major sporting events?
Mr. McCreevy: In view of the crisis in North Korea and given the Minister for Social Welfare's extensive travel to that part of the world, does the Government intend to send him there once again on a stopover en route to Moscow?
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