Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
3. Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the arrangements in place in his office for providing special assistance to certain Independent Members of Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30249/10]
4. Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the arrangements in place within his Department for providing special assistance to certain Independent Members of the Dáil; if he will list those Members who benefit from this arrangement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32311/10]
5. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the nature of arrangements in place for his office to provide special assistance to those non-party Deputies who support the Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41383/10]
These are political agreements that my predecessor entered into as leader of the Fianna Fáil Party with individual Independent Deputies. On becoming leader of Fianna Fáil, I confirmed to the Deputies concerned that I would continue to implement those agreements.
The House is aware such arrangements have existed for more than 13 years. The agreements are confidential but they are, as always, based on the programme for Government, which incorporates the national development plan, approved Government programmes and annual Estimates for capital and current expenditure.
Deputy Enda Kenny: The Government made a deal with three Independent Deputies in 2007. To date, one of them has left the Government and two have been obliged to seek assurances from the Government on other serious matters. It seems as though the Government now is being held together by two Independent Members, based on the numbers in this House. One of the aforementioned Deputies is pursuing a massive development in County Tipperary that apparently requires the engine of a casino to drive it. I understand there is pressure on the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to publish a report that has been conducted into the position regarding gaming. The other Deputy appears to have a continued interest in ring roads around towns in County Kerry, which obviously are highly valuable and of much importance.
Deputy Enda Kenny: At a time when everything is on the table and when the Government is faced with making decisions on taking €6 billion or thereabouts out of the economy next year, when people nationwide are expected to make a contribution because of the litany of incompetence by the Government over the years, why is it still the position that a civil servant or civil servants, who are paid for by the taxpayer, are still in discussions about which no one knows anything with the Independent Deputies? If everything is on the table, is this also on the table?
The Taoiseach: I do not understand the question. The position is clear. In respect of the specific matter regarding the roads programme, that will be dealt with in the Estimate for the Department of Transport. As for issues relating to future policy on the licensing of gaming and so on, as the Deputy noted a report is being prepared by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform. He is considering that report in the normal course of events. I believe Deputy Kenny is doing an injustice to the Deputy concerned because he has not suggested this is an issue upon which he will decide his position regarding the budget. He will decide on that when he sees the budget, as can all other Deputies, including Deputy Healy-Rae. All these issues are matters that will be dealt with in the normal course of events in respect of the preparation of budgets and the putting of a budget to the House. Each Deputy will make up his or her mind on that basis.
If Independent Deputies liaise with my office, they deal with an official there. However, that is not the aforementioned official’s only duty, as he has other duties. I am sure Deputy Kenny has contacted my Department and office himself from time to time and has been dealt with in the normal way. This is the way it happens and there is no big deal about it.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Deputy Healy-Rae — good luck to him — on many occasions has shown a part of the headed paper on which his deal has been drafted and signed. Members spoke earlier during Leaders’ Questions about encrypted files. These deals with the Independent Members appear to be in encrypted in such a way that no one can find out anything about them. Has the Taoiseach appointed a public servant, paid for by the taxpayer, to liaise regularly with Independent Deputies who are keeping the Government in power? Does the Taoiseach understand that question?
The Taoiseach: Yes, there is a person in my office those Deputies who wish to inquire about something may ring. He also has other duties and does not sit there waiting to receive a telephone call from two Independent Deputies. If Independent Deputies wish to contact my office, there is a person with whom they deal. I am sure that if a Fine Gael Deputy is looking for Deputy Kenny through his office, there is a person with whom he or she will deal.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Were Deputy Lowry to ring the person in the Taoiseach’s office to state that he sought the publication of this document, what would happen then? Would that public servant then inform the Taoiseach that he has an Independent Deputy on the telephone inquiring about his deal?
The Taoiseach: That is not his job. It is one of many jobs he has. Incidentally, he also takes telephone calls from Fine Gael Deputies. He takes telephone calls from everyone. If Deputy Kenny wishes to contact my office and wishes to deal with that official——
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Both the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance have said on several occasions over the past couple of weeks that every area of public expenditure is now open to consideration and reconsideration, given the financial state the country is in. Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry have both been claiming publicly that they have an arrangement with the Government which commits the Government to expenditure over and above what would normally be the case. Deputy Healy-Rae, for example, was quoted in a newspaper as recently as last Friday stating that he expected the Government to provide several things for him in return for his continued support, including a road bypass and a hospital. He went on to state, presumably in the context of the forthcoming budget, that his son would be meeting the Minister for Finance shortly, along with Deputy Lowry.
There has been much talk about providing us all with information and everybody looking at the various options for what might be done with public expenditure and so on. We need to establish the following. First, is there an arrangement with the two Deputies for expenditure of a special nature? Second, is Deputy Healy-Rae’s son to meet the Minister for Finance to discuss, presumably, matters which might be contained in the budget and Estimates? Third, is it true that there are meetings between the Minister for Finance and Deputy Lowry in respect of these matters?
The Taoiseach: It is open to any Member of this House, including members of Deputy Gilmore’s party, who have taken up the opportunity, to speak to the Minister for Finance at any time and on any issue, diaries allowing. That is not a problem. It is called democracy. People can make whatever case they wish. At the end of the day, the Government has a responsibility to bring forward a budget which will meet our strategy of bringing our deficit down to 3% of GDP by 2014. Everyone in the House has priorities and issues they would like to discuss with the Government. The Government, and the Ministers who have line responsibility, will make the decisions in regard to these matters.
It is wrong to seek to convey the impression that this is anything other than the normal representations that people make in the normal way. They are based on political understandings, which have meant that those Deputies have supported the Government consistently over the period.
We have an overall job to do and a limited amount of resources with which to do it. We must make our decisions accordingly. The Government, the Opposition and individual Members of the House will make their decisions in regard to the budget when it is issued. We will deal with them on that basis.
The Taoiseach: I simply made the case that, for those Deputies, meeting the Minister for Finance is the same entitlement and right as people in Deputy Gilmore’s party who have sought and obtained meetings. It is the same process.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——that they are getting something by virtue of their support for the Government, that is not the case. The truthful position is that nothing is happening in Kerry South or in Tipperary South that would not have happened anyway and the only thing they have in return for their support is the right to write a letter to the Minister for Finance, the same as any of us could, or request a meeting with the Minister for Finance, as any Deputy can, and there is no special arrangement and no gifts of road bypasses, hospitals, casino legislation or anything of that kind that would not happen in the normal course of events. Is that the case?
The Taoiseach: I have made the point to the Deputy. He can make any absurd contention he wishes. I am simply saying those Deputies have political understandings with the Government. They support the Government and have arrangements in place. They have the same concern for the national interest as anyone else. They have the same issues to contend with in looking at their requirements and they understand what the overall Government position is. They will make their decisions as to whether their support for the Government will be available, based on the outcome of the budget and how they see it. That has happened before. That is the issue.
The Taoiseach: There is a political understanding with the Government. They entered into agreements. I said I would honour those agreements to the greatest extent I can, consistent with the overall budgetary strategy the Government must roll out in the interest of the country.
With regard to what people say or do in terms of local matters, Deputy Gilmore has not been supporting the Government but there is many a project in Dún Laoghaire for which he has claimed some credit himself even though he does not support the Government at all.
The Taoiseach: He has had many more opportunities than he cares to admit. Even if he claims it only happened on a few occasions, he was not behind the door himself in arriving to make sure people understand that Eamon was supportive of a project. One does not have to be a supporter of the Government to have that accusation levelled against one.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I thank the Taoiseach for his compliment about my diligence in carrying out my constituency duties. I am always happy to acknowledge the Government’s munificence, although I have not seen much of it of late.
The Taoiseach says there is a political agreement with Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry. That is fine. The agreement has never been spelt out or set out in the House. I do not know what is in the agreement. It could simply be that the two Deputies are enthralled by the brilliance of the Government and enthusiastically support it. Does the support of the two Deputies involve commitments of public expenditure that are above and beyond what would happen anyway?
I understood from the Taoiseach’s first answer that there was no such commitment and that the arrangement the Deputies had was the same as anyone else, namely, that they could talk to the Minister for Finance or whatever. In his last response, the Taoiseach seems to imply that there were such commitments. If so then in the current situation, where every area of public expenditure is under scrutiny, we should be told what they are. If there are no such commitments for public expenditure in the constituencies of the two Deputies we should, similarly, be told that. On the one hand the Taoiseach is saying they get no commitment other than what any Deputy, even an Opposition Deputy, might expect while on the other hand, he is half implying that there might be something more involved but he is not telling us whether there is or not.
The Taoiseach: It is very simple. Deputy Gilmore can try to confuse it all he likes. I go back to my primary reply. The Deputies support the Government. They have understandings and agreements with the Government.
The Taoiseach: Let me explain to the Deputy. The agreements are confidential between the Deputies and the Government — that is the agreement the Deputies have made — but they are based on the programme for Government. As the Deputy will know, there are certain issues of particular concern to the Deputies that we will try to accommodate but they will have to be done in the context of the overall programmes that are available. The Deputy mentioned Kenmare hospital. The project has gone through the planning and design process and approximately €1 million has been spent on it this year alone. That is a matter that is being proceeded with. It is supported by the Government and the Independent Deputies concerned. I am sure there are people in Deputy Gilmore’s constituency and party who support it also.
The Taoiseach: I am simply outlining to the Deputy the arrangements that exist, which he well knows as a practising politician. I explained to him that the arrangements between the Government and the Deputies concerned are confidential. We are proceeding along an understanding we have with those Deputies. The Deputies have clearly been supporting the Government on that basis. They are in a different position from Deputy Gilmore in that they support the Government.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It was hard to suppress a smile when I heard Deputy Kenny address the Taoiseach on the basis of asking whether he had received telephone calls from Independents stating that if he did not deliver on a certain matter, they would not be voting for him when the flip of the coin was that Deputy Kenny was making the calls saying, “If I deliver this, will you vote for me?”
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Taoiseach has a majority of three in this Chamber. That constitutes, in real terms, Deputies Harney, Healy-Rae and Lowry. I am sure many would say, “God help us,” but I would say, “God help the Taoiseach.” In spite of these circumstances, there are four vacant seats in this House. One by-election campaign is currently under way. It is the most tenuous position any Government has been in, certainly in my time as a Member of this House and for some time before.
Has the Green Party, including Deputy John Gormley, a role in the engagement with Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry in regard to the Government’s arrangement with them? Is it just a Fianna Fáil relationship? Will the Taoiseach clarify whether the leader of the Green Party has direct involvement with him in the relationship with the two Deputies?
With regard to the proposed casino development in County Tipperary, whose desirability or otherwise I will not address this morning, I have noted a couple of comments by Deputy Lowry. He has given vocal support for the project. He is quoted as having said he expects the Government to publish shortly “a report it commissioned on the gaming laws” and to issue “a policy statement indicating that enabling legislation will be introduced which would allow the casino to operate”. Is this the case?
Leaving aside the argument as to whether the casino proposal merits support across the board, has Deputy Lowry, in his role as a Government-supporting Independent, some special relationship with the Government in regard to the matter? He certainly has information that the Taoiseach has not shared in the Dáil Chamber heretofore. Would this include direct engagement with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform? Will the Taoiseach confirm that there is a policy statement in the offing to the effect that enabling legislation will be introduced, as Deputy Lowry claims? Whatever about the proposition in question, surely gaming laws should always be based solely on the public good and be mindful of the very serious gambling addictions that exist in Irish society.
The Taoiseach: As I stated, the question of updating legislation in this area been considered independently by the Department of Justice and Law Reform as a matter of course. It is 50 years since the legal framework was established. The important task is to ensure everything is done within the law and properly.
The Minister for Justice and Law Reform and his Department will consider the report — it is now completed — and make proposals to the Government in due course. That is the position. Obviously Deputies have views on these matters but it is ultimately a matter for the Government to bring forward its proposals. That is the way the matter will be dealt with in the normal course of events.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I referred to Deputy Gormley’s role vis-à-vis the support that is depended upon from Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry. Would the Taoiseach like to comment on that? One of his coalition colleagues from the Green Party is beside him. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Green Party, including Deputy Gormley, is privy to the arrangements with Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry and whether it has given its full support to whatever arrangements may be in place, and that this is the ongoing position?
The economic basis on which we are trying to implement the programme for Government applies to other arrangements also. This implies we must reach a 3% deficit target by the end of 2014 and bring forward a budgetary policy within that framework. All decisions that are taken are taken on that basis. That is consistently the case right across the board in terms of the programme for Government, between the parties in Government——
Deputy Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach stated the agreement is between the Government and Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry. Does that mean the document the good Deputy from Kerry South has been showing in part is actually a Government document?
The Taoiseach: It means one is confidential, between the two parties. It is open to the parties concerned to make it public if desired; it is not secret under any Act. It does not fall under the Official Secrets Act.
The Taoiseach: It is subject to the programme for Government; the same economic basis applies. The Deputy may ask 45 questions about it but the response is the same, namely, that we have a budgetary strategy in the context of which all decisions must be taken. It is a matter for Ministers to determine how to expend the moneys allocated to them. That is the position and it is no big deal.
The Taoiseach: One reason Deputy Healy-Rae continues to support the Government is that he is in agreement with the development also. Certain members of the Deputy’s party are in favour of it. What is his problem, therefore?
Deputy Noel J. Coonan: I am sure the Taoiseach will agree with me on one point, namely that Deputy Lowry is a very able politician. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether there would be no capital allocations for projects in north Tipperary, such as roads projects, infrastructural projects, schools building projects and repairs, if it were not for Deputy Lowry’s agreement and support of the Government? Where does the Taoiseach’s colleague, Deputy Hoctor, fit in? Deputy Lowry claims credit for every development in north Tipperary but claims no responsibility for any service removed.
Deputy Noel J. Coonan: Everyone welcomes the proposed “Tipperary Venue” project, which has massive potential. When the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, was perceived to be in trouble, Deputy Lowry stated he was the only person he would support as leader of Fianna Fáil. According to statements made locally, this was because the Taoiseach had given an assurance that the Gaming and Lotteries Act would be amended in order to facilitate the development of the project to which I refer. Will the Taoiseach either confirm or deny that he provided Deputy Lowry with such an assurance under the programme for Government?
The Taoiseach: As the Deputy is well aware, Deputy Lowry is a very able politician. Deputy Lowry offered his unconditional support for my leadership of the Government. He made an independent decision in that regard. There is no——
The Taoiseach: I have no difficulty in using language. Deputy Coonan also claims a great deal of credit for things that occur in north Tipperary. I read The Midland Tribune every week and the Deputy’s name is never absent from its pages.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Coonan tends to indicate his support for any agreement with anything that is happening — he also exerts pressure in respect of particular issues — and he is entitled to do so. Deputy Kenny does the same in County Mayo.
The Taoiseach: It is the people who support one who believe in one. Is that not what politics is all about? Let us cut out the nonsense. The idea that Opposition Deputies sit peevishly at home while Government announcements are made and that they have nothing to say about them or would not wish to indicate support for them or that they have not appeared at launches, etc. — as they are entitled to do — and informed their supporters that they are in favour of what is happening and that they have exerted pressure on the relevant Minister and his or her Department over a period of years is nonsense.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the Independent Members — Deputies Lowry, Healy-Rae and Finian McGrath — are still in receipt of €43,000 per annum in the form of the so-called party leaders’ allowance? If they do remain in receipt of it, then possibly €1 million or more has been allocated——
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: A great deal of money has been spent on these so-called party leaders. Is it the case that the allowances to which I refer are not subject to audit by the Standards in Public Office Commission? In other words, they are not audited in any way, shape or form. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cuffe, is sitting beside the Taoiseach.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Why are these so-called party leaders’ allowances not publicly audited? Political party funding cannot be spent for electoral purposes. However, we do not know how the allowances of €43,000 which are paid to the Independent Members to whom I refer are spent. We do not know what happens to a single euro of this money. Is there any intention to audit these allowances?
The Taoiseach: I understand that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is responsible for dealing with these matters. A number of members of the Deputy’s party serve on the commission. I cannot comment further other than to advise the Deputy to raise the matter at the relevant forum. This is not a matter for me to comment on.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Deputy Broughan’s question is in order. The difference between the party leaders’ allowance and the payments made to certain Independent Members — which are the subject of a question on the Order Paper — is that every cent paid out in respect of the former must be audited and accounted for. However, the Independent Members can put the money they are paid in their back pockets and then do what they like with it. There are no controls whatsoever in this regard. It is well recognised that this allowance is an election fund of €43,000 per year for each of the Independent Members to whom it is paid. When one multiplies €43,000 by five, one can see that it amounts to a huge election fund.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: ——because a parliamentary question to the Taoiseach in respect of this matter appears on the Order Paper. We are asking if there is any intention to apply the same audit procedures to the allowance to which Deputy Broughan refers as those which apply in respect of allowances paid to party leaders.
The Taoiseach: If a parliamentary question is tabled with suitable notice, then we will try to provide an answer. As far as I am aware — and I can only answer on the basis of the information available to me — the point I am making with regard to this being a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, in the first instance, is valid.
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