Wednesday, 17 May 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. 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 questions 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.
An Ceann Comhairle: 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: 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: 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: 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 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 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.
An Ceann Comhairle: 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: 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.
Mr. 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——
Mr. 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.
The Taoiseach: 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: 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.
Aengus Ó 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?
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.
Mr. 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——
Mr. 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: 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.
The Taoiseach: 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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