Tuesday, 27 June 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
5. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet Handbook was last updated; the plans if any there are for further amendments to the handbook; the way in which compliance with the guidelines contained in the handbook is monitored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17208/00]
Two amendments to the handbook approved by the Government were published in 1999. Publication of an amendment approved this year is in hand. The Cabinet Handbook, which was published in 1998, was approved by Government to provide guidance for Ministers and to facilitate the dispatch of Government business. It is essentially a procedural guide for the conduct of Cabinet business. The application of the procedural guidelines, which solely concern the internal workings of the Government, is not, of course, a matter for which I am answerable to the House.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach have any plans to amend the provision in the Cabinet procedure instructions which requires the Minister proposing an appointment to a board, whether at home or abroad, to give two weeks' notice to colleagues to allow colleagues to make recommendations as to alternative names?
Mr. J. Bruton: Are there any proposals to revise the provision in the Cabinet Handbook which requires that Ministers should give two weeks' notice to colleagues of major board  appointments in light of the fact that that provision was completely ignored by both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance in the case of the appointment of Mr. O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank?
The Taoiseach: I have no proposal to change the procedures. In reply to Deputy Bruton's question, a central focus of the Cabinet Handbook procedure is to provide for adequate consultation of Ministers on issues to enable them to discharge their collective responsibility. In the instance the Deputy mentioned, that was done.
Mr. Quinn: Will the Taoiseach agree that the reason we have a Cabinet Handbook that describes the arrangements for Ministers in the conduct of business at meetings is to give tangible reality to the doctrine of collective responsibility that is enshrined in the Constitution, and that collective responsibility, by its very description and title, means that decisions are taken collectively and together, not in serial form where a Minister, perhaps the Minister for Finance, or perhaps the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste, serially picks off one Minister after another without anybody else hearing the question being posed and without any possibility of collective wisdom being allowed to offer its view?
Mr. Quinn: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I would caution your intellection, with due respect. I invite the Chair to look at the text of my question and see if I am asking a question about the procedure set out in the handbook. I am not referring to any particular individual decision. I am talking about a method of decision-making which is enshrined in the Constitution of this Republic which talks about collective responsibility. That cannot be done in the dark, in a confessional manner, with one Minister after the other. That is the point I am making. I am asking the Taoiseach whether he has a proposal to change the procedures that are set out in this handbook. That is the question on the Order Paper.
The Taoiseach: Let me make a few points. Deputy Quinn says he is not referring to any particular decision. The Cabinet Handbook incorporates the Cabinet procedures and is issued for the guidance of Ministers and to facilitate the dispatch of Government business. It is not a statutory or regulatory instrument. It is entirely a matter for Government as to how Cabinet business is conducted. That is how it has always operated. Neither is it uncommon for the Government to deal with issues which come before it even though all the Cabinet procedures may not have been complied with. That is the Government's choice and it is free to change the procedures as it sees fit. I replied earlier to a particular instance raised by Deputy Bruton and I said the focus of the procedures was to provide for adequate consultation by Ministers on issues to enable them discharge their collective responsibility, the exact point being made by Deputy Quinn. In the instance referred to by Deputy Bruton there was collective Cabinet responsibility.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that if a decision is to be taken by Government without a meeting, that is, an incorporeal decision, the procedure to be followed is that the Secretary General of the Government should telephone or contact each Minister individually, having furnished Ministers with the paper in advance, to get their assent, and that there is not a provision in Cabinet practice, for Ministers to contact other Ministers, that the Secretary General must be involved for it to be a valid incorporeal decision? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the procedure required for an incorporeal decision was not followed in the O'Flaherty case?
The Taoiseach: The thrust and intent of the Government's procedures is to ensure members of the Government are adequately consulted on proposals coming before the Government. At times that can be done at the Cabinet table and at times incorporeally if a decision is required. Other times there are consultations between Ministers or it is discussed afterwards.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I wish to be fair to Deputy Noonan, who has tabled a priority question to the Minister for Finance, and also to those who have a motion in their names on Private Members' time tonight. There are many opportunities to discuss individual cases.
Mr. Quinn: Does the fact that a question has been tabled prevent us from asking a supplementary question? The Taoiseach has answered a supplementary question posed by Deputy Bruton. Prior to that Deputy Bruton raised paragraph 2.21 of the relevant handbook, though in fairness to him he did not give the reference. Paragraph 2.20 of the same handbook specifically states that where an appointment is being made by the Government to a body to which the Government has nominating power, that a memorandum should be prepared and circulated one month in advance. Does the Government intend changing the method of decision making as set out by way of recommendation in the document, which is non-statutory but which constitutes the wisdom of successive Governments, wisdom which perhaps the current Administration wishes it possessed? It sets out a way of doing business which respects the Constitution. Since the method of appointment which the Taoiseach described did not adhere to the procedures in paragraph 2.20 or 2.21, does the Government have—
Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach said the Minister had consultations with different members of the Government, quite evidently not in line with the procedures set out in paragraph 2.20 or 2.21. My question, which is in order irrespective of other questions on the Order Paper, is, in light of the manifest breach of that procedure by the Government, does the Taoiseach have any proposals to change it? Is he wiser than previous Governments? Does he think the method he has adopted, the one to which he referred, is a better one and, if so, does he propose to incorporate it by way of amendment into the handbook?
The Taoiseach: I cannot speak about what happens at Cabinet. Neither am I answerable to the House for the application of Cabinet procedures. The Deputy is wrong in thinking that there was not full collective responsibility in respect of this decision.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that he is responsible to the House for ensuring Cabinet business is done on a collective basis and that one of the big difficulties faced by his party in government under its second last leader was the absence of the application of Cabinet collective responsibility?
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