Wednesday, 30 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
 The Government intends to continue having meetings outside Dublin from time to time. The policy was introduced last year and meetings have been held in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, Knocknaheeney, County Cork, Faithlegg, County Waterford, Ballymascanlon, County Louth, and most recently in Muckross, County Kerry, two days ago. The public interest justifies the organisational effort behind the initiative and I intend that visits to other regional locations will continue from time to time, although no further meetings are planned at this stage. The costs arising to my Department from the meeting in Ballymascanlon have yet to be calculated, but will be about £3,500.
Mr. Noonan: Does the Taoiseach agree the project has not yet been successful? The meeting in Ballymascanlon was flagged as the beginning of progress in solving the health crisis. Now that the Government is facing its fifth year in office and the Minister for Health and Children has put 50 health service reviews in place, does the Taoiseach agree it is time to address the crisis in a realistic manner rather than merely taking the Cabinet on a tour of the country?
The Taoiseach: I do not agree with Deputy Noonan. We cannot hold Cabinet meetings in provincial locations every week or every month, but it is useful to do so when there are particular reasons, as there were in the case of Ballymascanlon. The people of that area were cut off from the rest of the country for three months and were enormously inconvenienced on behalf of the rest of us. The local community agreed that a Government meeting in their area would be an appropriate way of showing recognition. Killarney is the capital of the tourism industry and the efforts of the people to revitalise a difficult tourist season, after the crucial marketing month of March was lost, were recognised. The purpose of bringing meetings to these areas was to applaud the efforts of the people.
There will always be controversy regardless of the agenda of a Cabinet meeting, but the location of the meeting is irrelevant to what took place. Ballaghaderreen and Faithlegg were chosen as locations for Cabinet meetings as the headquarters of the BMW and southern and eastern regions are located there. It is good to have meetings in the regions as everything does not begin and end in Dublin.
Mr. Noonan: I have no problem with the Taoiseach's comments, in so far as they went. The Taoiseach has effectively confirmed that both meetings were public relations affairs, for justifiable reasons. Will he explain what happened in Ballymascanlon, including the fiasco that followed between the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance?
The Taoiseach: It certainly is. I do not think the locations chosen for the meetings were exercises in public relations, as we attempted to give recognition to a community and the work done by its people. It is good for the democratic system to be seen to have more of a human face than when it is hidden in Government Buildings and nobody knows when the Government meets. There is no harm in going to such areas to meet people who give their time to organisations and try to work in communities like Knocknaheeney, Faithlegg and the other places I mentioned. Deputies who are members of regional committees and groups are given an opportunity to raise issues with the Cabinet when it meets in their area, which is a good thing.
Mr. Quinn: I can understand the Government wanted to go to the Cooley peninsula to sympathise with the community there that had been isolated as a result of foot and mouth disease. It was an unfortunate location, however, in which to stick a knife into the back of the Minister for Health and Children. He had been set up to make a grandiose announcement, only to have the Minister for Finance slap him down, a response the Taoiseach must have expected. Was it deliberate, accidental, or as a result of indifference that the Government meeting in Killarney to celebrate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's birthday clashed with an important meeting of the Council of Ministers responsible for justice? Will the Taoiseach explain why Ireland was not represented by a Minister at the European meeting?
The Taoiseach: I am sure our ambassador represented us on the day. I assure the Deputy that it was a coincidence that the Cabinet meeting took place on the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue's birthday. Ministers attend Cabinet meetings in most circumstances unless they believe it is impossible to do so. It is obvious, therefore, that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had no difficulty with being represented by somebody else. He had a number of matters to bring to the Cabinet meeting so he had to attend, regardless of where it was held.
Mr. Noonan: Is it true to say that the Minister for Finance was the last victim of foot and mouth disease on the Cooley peninsula? Will the Taoiseach inform the House if he plans any more special Cabinet meetings to discuss the health service?
The Taoiseach: I think there will be a number of such meetings. We are endeavouring to build on the 1994 strategy and continue the development of the health service, which is necessary following the years of underfunding and neglect.  However, we should never talk down our health service.
Mr. Noonan: The Killarney meeting was flagged with much briefing from Government sources. Apart from photo calls, all that seems to have happened is that an additional £2 million was provided for marketing the tourism industry. That was nothing new as it had been flagged on a number of occasions previously. Was any other relevant decision taken in respect of this hard-pressed industry, which is probably facing losses of £0.5 billion due to foot and mouth disease? Has the Government ruled out any element of compensation by way of tax relief or otherwise for the tourism industry which has suffered so much and has seen the cancellation of bookings for the remainder of the season?
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation has outlined several initiatives in which he is directly involved, with Revenue and local authorities, to lighten the burden on the tourism industry. The additional money announced the other day was in response to a request from the Tourist Industry Federation for an additional marketing programme to run into the autumn. This required another £2 million on top of the £5 million which was given a few weeks ago and was additional to the original £57 million. Some £66 million has gone directly into marketing for tourism for this year.
Mr. Broughan: Hearing the Taoiseach talk about Cabinet meetings prompts me to ask whether any member of the Cabinet is keeping a diary in which at some stage in the future we will be able to read about the Ballymascanlon, Killarney, Ballaghadereen and various other meetings that have been held outside Dublin.
The Taoiseach: The Cabinet minutes will be available for inspection in 30 years' time. In regard to the meeting of the European Justice and Home Affairs Council, it was the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform who represented the Government.
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