Ceisteanna — Questions - Cabinet Sub-committees.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 619 No. 83

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  1.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   when the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus last met [14277/06]

  2.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   when the Cabinet sub-committee on drugs and social inclusion last met. [14285/06]

  3.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   when the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus last met and when the next meeting is due to be held. [16167/06]

  4.  Mr. Sargent  Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   when the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus last met. [16187/06]

  5.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   when the Cabinet sub-committee on drugs and social inclusion last met and when the next meeting is scheduled to be held. [17142/06]

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  On a point of order, who makes the decisions about grouping questions such as Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive? While some of the questions before the Taoiseach concern the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus, two ques[1271]tions concern the Cabinet sub-committee on drugs. What is the rationale behind grouping such diverse subjects together? Perhaps many people will be using drugs by the time Aer Lingus is sold off as planned by the Government. However, grouping these questions in this fashion makes no sense.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  On a related point——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The substance of questions cannot be discussed. Successive Chairs have often ruled that decisions regarding the grouping of questions are not made in the office of the Ceann Comhairle.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I welcome the raising of the question by Deputy Rabbitte. Both of my questions concerning Aer Lingus and the Cabinet sub-committee on drugs and social inclusion have been disallowed by the Ceann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  If the Deputy wishes to take the matter up with the Office of the Ceann Comhairle, it will be pleased to examine the matter.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Will the Ceann Comhairle explain to the House why questions which do not seek the minutes of any Cabinet sub-committee deliberations are disallowed?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Chair will not discuss decisions of the Ceann Comhairle on the floor of the House. These decisions are made for very valid reasons.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  These were broad questions which were valid.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  If the Deputy wishes to discuss them, I would be glad to do so but not on the floor of the House. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat so that we can proceed with questions to the Taoiseach. The Chair’s decisions are well founded. The Chair studies the questions submitted. I will not waste the time of the House discussing decisions about individual questions made in the Office of the Ceann Comhairle. The Deputy is welcome to come to the office to discuss them.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus last met on 9 December 2004. The work of the sub-committee is completed and there are no arrangements for it to meet again. Responsibility for this issue rests with the Minister for Transport. The Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion last met on Wednesday, 10 May 2006 and will next meet on Wednesday, 5 July 2006.

As I have outlined to the House on a number of occasions, Cabinet committees are an integral part of the Cabinet process. Questions as to the [1272]business conducted at Cabinet or Cabinet committee meetings have never been allowed in the House on the grounds that they are internal to Government. The reasons for this approach are founded on sound policy principles and the need to avoid infringing the constitutional protection of Cabinet confidentiality.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The possible connection between the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus and the Cabinet sub-committee on drugs and social inclusion is the Government’s severe addiction to neo-liberal capitalism and the privatisation of public assets, which it cannot appear to get out of its system. The fact that the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus has not met since 2004 speaks of a Government which has not examined seriously and in great detail the implications of privatising the national airline.

Why did this sub-committee not meet when critical decisions were being made and the future of 3,500 workers, their communities, airports and the national airline was being discussed? Where did the thorough discussions on the implications and seriousness of handing our national airline to the casino players on the international capitalist marketplace occur? On whether the Government should row back and change its policy of privatisation, where would such a decision and discussion happen if the Cabinet sub-committee has no plans to meet again?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I explained this a number of times last year. The Cabinet sub-committee had a particular job to bring presentations to the Cabinet and get agreement on what it brought forward. That work finished. All discussions since then have been carried out at full Cabinet meetings. The remaining decisions that have to be made will be made with the Ministers for Transport and Finance. They will bring forward their proposals to the Cabinet.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  If there was a necessity to put a Cabinet sub-committee in place, one would have thought it would at least be responsible for invigilating the implementation of the decisions arrived at in respect of an initial public offering.

Market conditions are changing before our eyes. We can monitor the impact of the Air Berlin sale. Is the Taoiseach saying the sub-committee will not be reconvened irrespective of the circumstances that might arise and disable the Government from proceeding as planned by the original sub-committee decision?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The sub-committee was doing an analysis to see what was the best way to move forward. At the time, we had meetings with officials and others, but all decisions since then have been made by the full Cabinet. I do not disagree with the Deputy that the period ahead is crucial. The decisions will be made by the full [1273]Cabinet based on the assessment of the Ministers for Finance and Transport.

If there was a requirement for the Cabinet sub-committee to have a lengthier meeting to deal with the issue, we could reconvene it. I do not think that will be the case because it is an important issue and the full Cabinet should deal with it. Often, we use the Cabinet sub-committee system to do preparatory work but when it comes to the decisions everyone is familiar with, the full Cabinet would take them.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Does the Taoiseach have information on the extent of the deficit in the pension scheme? What commitments——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That question does not arise on Cabinet sub-committees because it relates to what might have been discussed therein. The Deputy’s question is pertinent to the line Minister and I suggest he submit it accordingly.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  In light of difficulties in the Air Berlin flotation, does the Taoiseach consider it important that the sub-committee meets urgently? Those difficulties clearly demonstrate the power oil prices have in this sector.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  What is discussed in the sub-committee is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I am giving a reason. We are talking about the meeting of the sub-committee.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy’s question was on the dates on which it meets.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Indeed. Can an early date be arranged given the urgent issues unfolding? Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that this is an important matter? Will he acknowledge that the meeting should happen immediately because of the pension and worker issues yet to be resolved? Does the Taoiseach acknowledge the sub-committee should——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  We cannot go into the issues that might be discussed.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I am asking about a meeting.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I have ruled out other Members and cannot make special exceptions.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Will there be an early meeting and ongoing meetings? I suggest that the sub-committee metamorphose in due course into a sub-committee on peak oil because this issue will continue to have an impact on the aviation sector and related industries.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  There are other ways in which to raise the matter. It was raised by Deputy [1274]Rabbitte during Leaders’ Questions and dealt with.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I accept that all of these issues are very important, but they are now being dealt with by the full Cabinet. The Cabinet sub-committee is not in operation at this stage. Regular briefings on Aer Lingus are dealt with by the Cabinet.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  When did the Cabinet sub-committee meeting on drugs and social inclusion take place? Did it discuss the waiting lists for persons who need treatment? I will give the House a statistic. In Athlone, there was a waiting time of one year and seven months.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The question of what is discussed at the Cabinet sub-committee is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  If the Taoiseach is correct in saying the Cabinet will deal with the matter, will he consider scrapping the sub-committee instead of organising another meeting? If the Taoiseach will allow the sub-committee to reconvene, will he encourage its members to examine New Zealand’s renationalisation of an airline at its next meeting?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  What is discussed at a sub-committee meeting is not a matter for these questions.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I do not want to know what was discussed.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Due to Cabinet confidentiality, it would not be appropriate to discuss what might be discussed at a meeting.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Will the Taoiseach consider asking the sub-committee to examine that renationalisation after a disastrous privatisation?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  It does not arise at this stage. There are other ways to raise the matter.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Considering the heroin and cocaine crisis, has the Taoiseach encouraged the sub-committee on drugs to meet on a more frequent basis?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The sub-committee on the Aer Lingus matter has completed its work. It will only reconvene if it has a task. Currently, the important issues are being dealt with by the full Cabinet.

The Cabinet sub-committee on drugs and social inclusion meets monthly, more or less. The officials group working with the sub-committee meets at least monthly and often more frequently. There is a range of issues involved, not just drugs. That sub-committee has regular meetings.

[1275]Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Will the Taoiseach give the House an example of the inclusion issues other than drugs dealt with by the sub-committee? Can we expect new proposals in the area of that sub-committee’s drugs preoccupation, given the fact that notwithstanding best efforts, the situation in this city and in——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  We cannot discuss that issue. The Taoiseach will answer the appropriate question, but the second question is probably outside the remit of the Order of Business.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I am not asking the Taoiseach to discuss the substance of the sub-committee’s meetings. Can we expect new initiatives given the worsening drug crisis in many urban centres due to the arrival of crack cocaine?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  There is no need to make a statement. Strictly speaking, the Deputy’s question is for the line Minister.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I am not making a statement. I am framing a question. I am asking the Taoiseach——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy is framing a question appropriate to the line Minister. The submitted questions deal with the dates on which sub-committees meet, not the substance of their discussions. Due to Cabinet confidentiality, it cannot be discussed on the floor of the House.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  If the Taoiseach strictly observed the Ceann Comhairle’s rulings, all he would have to do in the House is stand up, say 11 May, 14 June, 25 October and sit down.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  And that it was raining.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Previously, the Chair has suggested that it would be better if these questions were answered by way of written answers. They take up much of the House’s time.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It has always been the practice that this exact framing of the question is a peg on which to ask some general questions of the Taoiseach rather than particular questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  No. That has never been the practice.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  It has always been the practice.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  It has been the practice in respect of interdepartmental questions but not Cabinet sub-committees.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I am asking a general question about the worsening drug situation in urban Ireland in particular.

[1276]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy is trying to make a point.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I am merely trying to ask the Taoiseach if the House can expect new measures or initiatives.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That is a question for the line Minister.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  To answer the first question, the sub-committee on social inclusion also deals with the issues of the Traveller community, educational disadvantage, the lone parent’s allowance and all issues concerning exclusion. They may not deal with such issues on a weekly basis, but they deal with them at each meeting.


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