Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 10, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement on social security between the Government of Ireland and the Government of Japan (back from committee); No. 11, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Finance Act 2004 (Section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2010; and No. 22, Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 10 and 11 shall be decided without debate; and Private Members’ business shall be No. 3 — Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Powers of Inquiry) Bill 2010 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, and the proceedings on Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 February 2010.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 10 and 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement on social security between the Government of Ireland and the Government of Japan (back from committee) and motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Finance Act 2004 (Section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2010, without debate, agreed to?
Deputy Enda Kenny: I object to the Order of Business in its current form. I propose an amendment to it, that the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 be suspended at 6.30 p.m. for the purpose of allowing the Minister for Defence to make a statement and to have a short period thereafter for question time. I propose also that, on the conclusion of the Adjournment debate, the Dáil would sit for a further 30 minutes to hear statements and questions in respect of the death of the Stability and Growth Pact and the regime that Europe now intends to put in place in respect of countries in serious financial difficulties.
Since 1964, some 11 Ministers have resigned from this House for one reason or another. I find it truly astonishing that two months after an issue in respect of a Cabinet Minister became public knowledge the Taoiseach did nothing about it. This is a matter of the most serious import. This is as much about the Taoiseach, his standards and what he oversees in his Cabinet as it is about anyone else. From that point of view, I find it completely unsatisfactory that in a situation where it is clear that a member of the Cabinet submitted a sworn affidavit that he subsequently said was false, he still continues in Cabinet——
Deputy Enda Kenny: I appreciate that, a Cheann Comhairle. This matter became public on 21 December. I asked the Taoiseach today if the communications unit had brought this matter to his attention and he said he could not recall that. In the intervening two months he has known about this matter but he has done nothing about it, except possibly to ask the Minister to make a statement this evening. It is unsatisfactory to have the Minister give a personal explanation, to which he is fully entitled, and as is his right, without having questions asked about the seriousness of what is involved. This is not just an ordinary citizen. This is a person who has been elected for many years as a diligent Deputy by his constituency and who was appointed by the Taoiseach to the Cabinet. He is the holder of a Cabinet seal of office. He has a serious issue to answer——
Deputy Enda Kenny: I object to the Order of Business being taken in this fashion. It is not satisfactory that a personal explanation can be considered sufficient in respect of a matter that is as serious and fundamentally important as this.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I understand from the replies given by the Taoiseach during Question Time that it is intended the Minister for Defence will make a statement later this evening on this issue. I also understand that it is not intended that there would be any opportunity for questions to be put to the Minister for Defence or for any statements to be made in response to his statement to the House. That is not an acceptable arrangement for dealing with this matter. For that reason, the Labour Party is opposed to the Order of Business the Taoiseach has put before us.
An Ceann Comhairle: Subsequent to the explanation, if Deputy Gilmore feels it is necessary to bring forward a motion to deal with the matter on the floor of the House, he is perfectly entitled to do it.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I am not talking about the statement, a Cheann Comhairle. I have not heard the statement and I do not intend to talk about it until I have heard it. What I am talking about is the Order of Business the Taoiseach has put before us for today. I am explaining to you why I am opposing the Order of Business the Taoiseach has put before us. The reason I am opposing it is because there is a precedent for dealing with statements from Ministers in these types of controversial circumstances. The precedent was established on 10 September 1997 when former Minister, Ray Burke, made a statement to the House.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: On that occasion the Government proposed a formula to the House. It was part of the Order of Business. The formula proposed was that a personal statement would be made by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, which would not exceed 20 minutes, “after which the Minister shall take questions”. Then there was a provision by which the questions would be brought to a conclusion.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The case I am making is that the Taoiseach should make a similar provision on today’s Order of Business. There should be a proposal that the Minister for Defence makes a statement and takes questions for a time. Perhaps, having heard all of that, we might not have any need for the motion the Ceann Comhairle is inviting us all to table about the Minister.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: We might not be disposed at all to table a motion about him but we would like to hear what he has to say and to have the opportunity of putting questions to him. The House should be given that opportunity but an arrangement whereby the Minister comes in at some hour later tonight, makes a statement and then disappears without question or comment from anybody is not an acceptable way of dealing with this matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: I have explained the procedure we will adopt in this regard. Having heard the statement this evening, if Members feel it is necessary to proceed with a substantive motion, the provision is there to do it and it will be facilitated.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am making no false accusation about anybody. I am recording what we know to be the case. A Cabinet Minister misled the High Court with a sworn affidavit falsely claiming that he did not make a grossly defamatory statement against an individual citizen who was then a candidate in the local government elections.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It is not an allegation. The Minister subsequently withdrew the affidavit and, indeed, admitted the defamation. He did this while a Cabinet Minister. This was not a case between two members of the public, as the Taoiseach would have——
An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy wishes to pursue this matter, he can table the motion to deal with it, subsequent to the statement this evening. That is the proper procedure for dealing with it and this is the procedure that will be before the House.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: This action was taken and performed by a sitting member of the Cabinet. Make no mistake about it. This is a serious matter and, as others have said, the facilitation of a statement alone is totally inadequate. The right of Members to properly question the Minister is something that should be upheld by the Taoiseach and insisted upon by the Ceann Comhairle. Furthermore, based on the facts that we know——
An Ceann Comhairle: There can only be one Fine Gael speaker on the proposal and the leader of the Deputy’s party has spoken. He will have ample opportunity at a later time to raise these matters. I am not allowing the Deputy.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Ceann Comhairle failed to inform the House about the personal explanation the Minister for Defence is about to embark on this evening. This is nothing short of a whitewash because the personal explanation to which the Ceann Comhairle refers, according to Standing Order 44(2), is “An explanation made under this Standing Order shall be brief, non-argumentative and strictly personal and shall not be such as would cause debate or give rise to further explanations”. That is a whitewash. I was in contact with the Ceann Comhairle’s office yesterday evening and this morning. The Ceann Comhairle is refusing to allow a debate on this issue.
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