Written Answers - Departmental Correspondence

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 711 No. 1

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  253.  Deputy Michael D’Arcy  Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy   asked the Minister for Health and Children  Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney   the reason parliamentary questions addressed to the Health Service Executive are being returned with the response that they cannot be answered due to the ongoing industrial dispute, when parliamentary questions are being responded to from other Departments including the Department of Social Protection, which are also operating a work-to-rule; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23269/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Responding to the information needs of the Oireachtas is a priority for my Department and I very much regret that in recent months it has not been possible to provide a substantive response to many Parliamentary Questions due to industrial action. Where Parliamentary Questions have been submitted which concern policy issues which are exclusively the responsibility of my Department, every effort has been made to answer those questions in full. However, a large number of questions submitted to my Department concern operational issues which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. Staff of the Executive were instructed by their union, IMPACT, that from the beginning of March, they were not to cooperate with any political representations including Parliamentary Questions and Freedom of Information requests. It has not therefore been possible for either my Department or the Executive to provide substantive answers to a large number of Parliamentary Questions and this is likely to be the case until the industrial action has been resolved in full. I am not in a position to comment on how other Government Departments have been affected by industrial action. All Parliamentary Questions affected by the action have been answered by my Department to the effect that the industrial dispute has prevented the supply of substantive answers, and Deputies have been consistently advised to raise the question again, upon resolution of industrial action, should the matter remain of ongoing concern. This approach was designed to prevent a backlog of questions building up, particularly as a significant proportion of the questions related to cases where the information being sought by the Deputy through the Parliamentary process might, in the circumstances, be obtained by alternative means. The Department of Health and Children will handle in the region of 6,000 Parliamentary Questions this year, approximately half of which will be referred to the Health Service Executive, either for the provision of information to the Department or for direct reply to the Deputy. A considerable proportion of these will concern personal enquiries on behalf of individuals seeking services from the HSE. In such cases, the information can also be obtained by addressing the enquiry directly to the relevant service area of the Executive, and where members of the public do so on their own behalf, their enquiries are not affected [219]by the current dispute. I fully appreciate the frustration of Deputies who are currently unable to obtain information through the usual Parliamentary channels. While alternative access is available for individual cases, Deputies may wish to resubmit, on resolution of the dispute, any questions in respect of wider service, operational and policy issues that have not been answered and are still a cause of concern. My Department and the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive will, when the current industrial action is resolved, continue to assist Deputies as before.

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