Ceisteanna — Questions - Agreements with Members

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 721 No. 3

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  1.  Deputy Enda Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen   the nature of the agreement between the Government and Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30247/10]

  2.  Deputy Enda Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen   the nature of the agreement between the Government and Deputy Michael Lowry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30248/10]

  3.  Deputy Enda Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen   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  Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen   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  Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen   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]

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

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: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on 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 [494]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 Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Surely Deputy Kenny would not begrudge him that?

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  If the Taoiseach does not understand the question I will ask it of him again.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I do of course.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Then answer it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

[495]Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Yes, but not about holding a Government to ransom and stating that unless——

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  No one is holding the Government to ransom.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  ——it delivers something, the Deputy concerned will vote against it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  That has never been suggested to me.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  While that might not have been suggested to the Taoiseach, I am sure the message was given to him quite clearly.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  No, it was not. That is Deputy Kenny’s version of events.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  When will the Government publish the document from the Minister for Justice and Law Reform on changes in the legislation pertaining to gaming and casinos?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  That is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Law Reform. He is considering the matter.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Has the Taoiseach no control over the Minister for Justice and Law Reform?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  Whenever the Minister for Justice and Law Reform brings the matter before the Government, I am sure it will be considered.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on 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?

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  All day.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  Deputy, this country has issues to discuss and there is no point in getting into a cartoon sketch.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The point is that the Taoiseach has appointed a public servant, paid for by the taxpayer, to take telephone calls as part of his or her duties——

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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 Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Of course. I do occasionally——

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  ——I will give him his name and telephone number. He is a very efficient and effective person.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  ——and I have been received with great courtesy.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  However, I do not telephone the Taoiseach about a secret deal done in 2007. Will the Taoiseach publish that deal?

[496]The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I have explained in my reply. There are political agreements in place.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Deputy Healy-Rae has been going around showing bits of a sheet of paper and saying, “This is the deal I have with the Government”. Is the Taoiseach prepared to publish that?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I have explained to the Deputy. It is confidential between the Deputy and the Government.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  And these agreements are based on the programme for Government.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  They are secret deals.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  If Deputy Kenny is in a similar election situation some time he will probably do the same thing, if that unlikely event ever occurs.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  We will have a clear majority and no need for secret deals.

Deputy Terence Flanagan: Information on Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  The Taoiseach should publish them.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Taoiseach, I will give you a shout about that this afternoon..

  11 o’clock

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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 understand[497]ings, 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.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  I hear what the Taoiseach is saying. The facilities available to Deputies Healy-Rae and Lowry are no different from the facility available to any Deputy.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  That is fair enough. May I follow that through? When Deputy Healy-Rae or Deputy Lowry suggest to their constituents in Kerry South or Tipperary South——

Deputy Dan Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Tipperary North.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The Government is buying their votes.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  I have not had much opportunity to do so of late.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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 [498]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: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  What are they?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Was that in the agreement or would it have happened anyway?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

If, unfortunately, the Deputy has a problem with that, so be it. The Independents in question support the Government and have a basis for so doing. That is the basis on which we deal with them.

[499]Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  What is the cost, if any?

Deputy Liz McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  What is the price?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  We must move on. I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on 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?”

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  We might be more——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  It was an enjoyable little moment. The flip of the coin is always the reality in here.

Deputy Dan Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  What is he talking about?

Deputy Deirdre Clune: Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  Cryptic.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

[500]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: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on 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 Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  As I outlined in my reply, the arrangements in place are confidential between the Deputies concerned and the Government. The issue is that it is based on the programme for Government.

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 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Therefore, Deputy Gormley does know the detail and has approved it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  As I stated, the agreements are based on the programme for Government. The concerns being articulated by Deputies from time to time within their constituencies are well known.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  That does not answer the question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  It does.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  No.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  No.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  It does not. Therefore, does it mean it is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, if the Government——

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  No.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  It does not. Therefore, it is secret.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  It is confidential.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  What is the difference between “confidential” and “secret”?

[501]The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  In being confidential, it does refer to the expenditure of public moneys, which should be subject to freedom of information legislation and scrutiny.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  With a view to achieving clarity, does that mean the €1 million spent on a hospital in Kenmare would be spent in the normal course of events as part of the Government’s programme?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  The Government is supportive of a development in Kenmare hospital.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Sure. Would it be carried out in any case?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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 Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  My question was on whether the development would occur even without the bit of paper.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  Members of the Labour Party are in favour of it.

Deputy Noel J. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel 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.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  We are spending an inordinate amount of time on this. Has the Deputy a question?

Deputy Noel J. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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——

Deputy Noel J. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  So there is no commitment.

[502]The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  In fairness, Deputy Lowry does not operate on that basis. There was no prior discussion with me on these matters.

Deputy Noel J. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  I am not making this up.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I accept that. However, the fact is that——

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  The Taoiseach should be careful with regard to the language he intends to use.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The blocks of cheese have not yet been mentioned.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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.

Deputy Noel J. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  What has Deputy Lowry delivered that Deputy Hoctor has not?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  Why would Deputy Kenny not do the same?

Deputy Noel J. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  What about Deputy Hoctor?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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 Noel J. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  Is Deputy Lowry claiming credit for everything also nonsense?

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  How else would politicians survive if they did not behave in the way to which I refer?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  The Minister of State, Deputy Connick, recently visited my constituency but he never informed me that he intended to do so.

Deputy Seán Connick: Information on Sean Connick  Zoom on Sean Connick  What a shock.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I could reprimand the Minister of State but I understand the Deputy’s party leader also visited his constituency and did not inform him of his intention to do so.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  That is not true.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on 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——

[503]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  It might be best to pursue this matter by means of another avenue. Perhaps the Deputy could table a separate parliamentary question in respect of it.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on 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.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  The Deputy should pursue this matter in another way. He should submit a separate parliamentary question in respect of it.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  There is a question on the Order Paper which relates to this matter.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on 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: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on 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.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  As a long-standing Member of the House, Deputy Stagg is aware that there are so many other ways in which this matter can be pursued.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  This is the correct time to seek the information——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  The Deputy should not be seeking specific detail.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on 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.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  The Deputy should put that question at the appropriate time.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  A question was not tabled to me in respect of this matter. Deputy Broughan has posed a supplementary question.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Questions Nos. 3 and 4 refer to the provision of special assistance to certain Independent Members.

[504]The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  Question No. 3 is in the name of Deputy Kenny and refers to whether there is a specific official who liaises with the Members involved.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The question is the question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  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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