Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 4, statements on the pre-European Council meeting of 24 and 25 March 2011. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings in regard to No. 4 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of the Taoiseach and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes; the statements of other Members called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.
Deputy Micheál Martin: It is important that we have clear commitments from the Government in terms of how the House will deal with the Moriarty tribunal report. I ask that a comprehensive debate on the report be organised by the Whips and that the Dáil be convened next Monday for our exclusive consideration of the report and its conclusions. In addition, a facility should be agreed by the Whips whereby the six Members who sat at the Cabinet table at the time the decision was taken will answer questions in regard to the lead-up to that decision and their perspectives and roles in that regard.
The Taoiseach: I do not propose to recall the Dáil next Monday specifically for a debate on the Moriarty tribunal report. However, when the Whips meet this evening or tomorrow, we can make arrangements for the debate to take place during normal Dáil business next week. As Members know, there are proposals to have the Dáil sit on Fridays. I expect we can accommodate the debate the Deputy has called for so that everybody can have their say next week.
Deputy Micheál Martin: There are many issues in regard to this report of which the Taoiseach is well aware. It strikes me as odd that he is avoiding any serious consideration of the issue. Moreover, I am somewhat taken aback that he will not be in the House later for private notice questions on this matter. The Taoiseach and his people will have had time to go through the details of the report, much of which, as I said, he is already familiar with given that it took place in public session. He will be particularly aware of the issues pertaining to the pattern of Fine Gael fund-raising and the linkage thereof to the decision to grant this licence. There are many issues to discuss next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, including the outcome of Friday’s summit. The debate on the Moriarty tribunal report should take place next Monday.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I also ask the Taoiseach to clarify the readiness of those Members who sat around the Cabinet table at that time to answer questions in this House. Will the Taoiseach facilitate such an opportunity on behalf of himself and the colleagues in question?
Deputy Gerry Adams: The point I wished to make is that while I appreciate that the Taoiseach will be attending the European summit, there must be an urgent debate on this issue. I hope Deputy Martin will be as eager in seeking debate when other tribunals bring forward their reports in the future.
Deputy Gerry Adams: I am sure the Taoiseach was sincere in his remarks about narrowing the gap between the people and the Government. The findings of this report will be seen by citizens as a confirmation of their view about how corruption worked in this State. One way of proving it has stopped is to have a full, frank and open debate. Why wait until next Monday? I cannot bring to mind many other jurisdictions where the Government would not table a speedy debate on a report such as this. I ask the Taoiseach to do so.
Deputy Joe Higgins: I wish to speak, as I am entitled to do, about the Order of Business for next week. I am astounded at the lack of seriousness which the Taoiseach has demonstrated so far in dealing with the Moriarty tribunal report. Even humble backbenchers have been able to brief themselves in the last two hours on the very serious import of this report, but the Taoiseach breezes in here and says he does not have a clue. That is incredible given that he has an army of advisers.
Will the Taoiseach desist from minimising the gravity of the report? What arrangements does he propose next week to allow not just statements but a thorough opportunity to question the Ministers who were in situ at that time and to ensure they answer for what was a disastrous decision of that Government in privatising the second mobile telephone licence?
The Taoiseach: We have rules and regulations for the ordering and structuring of business. The Whips’ meeting will take place tomorrow at 5 p.m. and the arrangements to be made for next week’s business will be discussed there. Those who are seeking ample opportunity for discussion, contributions and questions about the report will be facilitated.
I reject Deputy Higgins’s comment that the Government will not treat this in any serious fashion. This report deals with the reputation of the Civil Service which has been of outstanding and critical importance to our State since its foundation. It deals with politicians, political parties and with how Government business is done. I also reject the imputation in Deputy Martin’s question that there is something to answer by those who sat around the Cabinet table as Ministers at the time. Obviously anyone who sat around that table will have no difficulty in making a contribution to this debate or in answering any questions. I am not here to defend any individual; I am here as elected Taoiseach and we will deal with this report with the seriousness and gravity it deserves. I make the point to Deputy Martin in respect of his comments about the culture of a company at the time, this party never had a tent in Galway and never shepherded people into it on a regular basis for contributions. For those who might say for public benefit that they are astounded, I take that with a grain of salt.
The Whips’ meeting will take place at 5 p.m. tomorrow and there will be ample opportunity for all Members to have read the 2,500 page report of the Moriarty tribunal and to make their views known in the House. We will see that happens and we will treat the report with the gravity it deserves. I remind Members that there are between four and six serious cases pending in the High Court or the Supreme Court in respect of this.
The Taoiseach: I am stating the fact that between four and six cases are pending in respect of matters dealt with by Moriarty; that is how serious the issue is. I am not suggesting anyone will hide behind that; I am merely making Deputy Martin aware of the fact.
Deputy Micheál Martin: There have been attempts to suppress this report. The report is being long-fingered. It is the intention to suppress this report, undermine its findings and the reputation of those involved. I hope the Government will not facilitate the continuance of that.
Deputy Peadar Tóibín: An tseachtain seo caite, gheall an Taoiseach go mbeadh díospóireacht ann maidir leis an phlean 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Cathain a bheidh an díospóireacht sin ann?  Ba mhaith liom freisin plé a dhéanamh ar an ghearradh siar sa chóras Gaelscolaíochta. Tá athrú ann mar gheall ar dlí a thug an sean-Rialtas isteach agus beidh brú uafásach ar dhaltaí sna Gaelscoileanna agus caithfear múinteoirí sna Gaelscoileanna a ligean as a bpost. Cathain a bheidh díospóireacht faoin ábhar sin ann?
Deputy Micheál Martin: There have been attempts made to do that. They were not made by the Taoiseach but he knows what I mean. I was not referring to the Taoiseach and he knows that. There have been numerous attempts to undermine the tribunal and its chairman.
The Taoiseach: On my way to the Cabinet meeting this morning, I was made aware of the publication of the report of the Moriarty tribunal. I am not sure what the Deputy is talking about when he says it is being suppressed.
The Taoiseach: Maidir leis an cheist a chur an Teachta Tóibín, labhair mé leis an Phríomh-Aoire faoin ábhar seo agus is dócha gur féidir seo a shocrú nuair a bheidh cruinniú ag na hAoirí. Is féidir nach mbeidh an díospóireacht ann an tseachtain seo chugainn ach tá súíl agam go mbeidh sí ann go luath. Tá fadhbanna ann agus tá deacrachtaí ag daltaí faoi chúrsaí Gaeilge, faoi chúrsaí Gaelscolaíochta agus deacreachtaí sna gnáth-scoileanna freisin.
Tá mé féin i bhfeighil an choiste Rialtais faoi chúrsaí Gaeilge. Bhí an t-iar Thaoiseach mar cheannaire ar an gcoiste sin agus bhí cúpla cruinniú ag an gcoiste. Tá suim faoi leith agam san ábhar seo agus cuirfidh mé an coiste Rialtais sin ar bun arís agus cuirfidh mé an tuarascáil a thiocfaidh as os comhair an Tí go luath.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: On the Order of Business for tomorrow, given the grave decision of the United Nations to authorise military action against Libya, and its ramifications for the unstable situation that is developing across north Africa and the Middle East, we should set aside some time to discuss that crisis in the same time allotted for statements on the earthquake and tsunami. We should set some of that time aside to discuss the UN decision to bomb Libya.
The Taoiseach: There has just been a question and answer session to the Tánaiste on the Libyan situation and the decision of the UN Security Council to operate a no-fly zone, taking whatever action needed to implement it and prevent the wilful slaughter of innocent civilians in Libya. I understand there will be an opportunity for statements on the matter on Thursday so the Deputy will be able to give his opinion there. The UN Security Council does not lightly make such resolutions and it is on that basis that leaders across the world are dealing with the unfolding and tragic events in Libya. The Deputy might not have been present when the Tánaiste answered questions today but he will have another opportunity to contribute on Thursday.
An Ceann Comhairle: Before I call anyone else on the Order of Business, I wish to make one thing clear: this is not a free for all question time. The Order of Business is about the taking of business that has been promised, including legislation promised either inside or outside the House, the making of secondary legislation or arrangements for sittings. In fairness, there are 135 Members who are not office holders and a debate is coming up that is limited to two hours. There are also three requests for private notice questions and I want to be fair to everyone. Unless a Member is within the rules set out in Standing Orders, I will not allow a free for all on the Order of Business on any day. I have tried to be fair to people but I ask Members not to abuse the little bit of latitude we give. I am trying to be fair to the entire House. People want to make speeches on the upcoming European Council meeting and I do not see why some Members can monopolise the time available to us. We have only two hours and I want to give time for the private notice questions. I will allow a question from one Deputy from each party and one from an Independent Member provided they stay within the terms of reference for the Order of Business.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The business for tomorrow has not yet been agreed so I suggest we take as a matter of urgent public interest tomorrow the debate on the Moriarty tribunal report. I understand the Taoiseach wishes to long-finger the matter, and I appreciate he has not the chance to read the report in full yet but outside this building, the report and its implications for the political class, not least a previous Government and the Taoiseach’s own party, are of immediate and substantial public interest. There can be no excuse for not clearing the decks tomorrow and as a priority allowing for the debate, with opportunities for questions and for former Ministers to make their positions clear, to answer to the House and the democratically elected representatives of the people. I ask that this matter be pursued.
Deputy Dara Calleary: The Minister, Deputy Reilly, stated at the weekend that he was dedicated to the breaking up of the VHI. When can we expect legislation on the reorganisation of the VHI to come before the House?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I will do so. I was within the rules earlier when I asked about the Order of Business. I welcome what the Taoiseach said in respect of making time available on Thursday for a debate on the situation in Libya. At what time will that debate take place?
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: The previous Dáil passed an important item of legislation, namely, the Multi-Unit Developments Act. The other part of the jigsaw in this regard involves the legislation relating to the Property Services Regulatory Authority, which will make life easier for those who live in apartments. Will the latter legislation be restored to the Order Paper?
Deputy Pearse Doherty: During the lifetime of the previous Dáil, of which I was a Member, one of the parties now in government produced legislation relating to the filling of casual vacancies for membership of this House. Will this be included in the legislative programme that is due to be published in the next couple of weeks? I wish to declare a conflict of interest in this regard. As the Taoiseach is aware, I was obliged to take the previous Administration to the High Court in order to secure a by-election for Donegal South-West. The new Government is continuing with its predecessor’s appeal to the Supreme Court in respect of this matter. Members of my legal team have been obliged to present themselves before that court on four different occasions. This is giving rise to a huge cost on the part of the Exchequer, which will ultimately be obliged to foot the bill relating to this matter.
Will a Bill relating to the filling of casual vacancies in this House within a certain period be included in the legislative programme? Perhaps the Taoiseach will indicate if the Government intends to withdraw the appeal to the Supreme Court in respect of a by-election which has already happened in respect of the 30th Dáil, which is no longer in existence.
The Taoiseach: In respect of Deputy McDonald’s question, I understand that the business for this week was agreed at the meeting of the Whips which took place last week. Tomorrow morning, Members will obviously have ample opportunity to oppose the business that has been agreed. However, I would like them to have ample time to read the 2,500 pages of the Moriarty tribunal report. There will be much media comment and speculation with regard to this matter. I do not propose to recall the Dáil on Monday. I do, however, propose to advise the Government Chief Whip that, at the meeting to be held at 5 p.m. tomorrow, he and his counterparts from the other parties reach agreement to the effect that an appropriate amount of time be set aside for a debate on the matter next week.
I must inform Deputy Dooley that the appointment of Ministers of State was already announced and confirmed in the House. The latter are setting about doing their work and performing their respective duties as diligently as possible. I intend to monitor their activities in that regard from time to time.
Deputy Tuffy inquired about legislation relating to the Property Services Regulatory Authority. This legislation has not yet been restored to the legislative list. However, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is examining the matter and will advise the House of the exact position in the near future.
In the context of the matter raised by Deputy Doherty, it is the principle at issue which is before the Supreme Court. In opposition, I made clear — as did my colleagues in the Labour Party — that a better system of filling casual vacancies to the Dáil must be forthcoming. We will certainly take action in respect of this matter and ensure that a timescale more appropriate than that which obtained in the case of Deputy Doherty — who endured a great deal to get here — will apply in the future. I am sure the Deputy is intent on remaining in the House for a long period.
The Taoiseach: The full legislative programme will be published in the next ten to 14 days. Ministers have been obliged to return to their Departments to try to discover which of the items of legislation that fell when the previous Government left office should be revised. The Ministers must also decide on the new legislation they wish to bring forward, either as a result of what is contained in the programme for Government or on foot of other issues which have arisen. Said legislation will appear on the Order Paper as quickly as possible.
Deputy Catherine Murphy: I wish to correct the record in respect of the meeting of the Whips in respect of the Order of Business for this week. No such meeting was held in respect of agreeing the Order of Business.
The Taoiseach: I apologise. The Order of Business was circulated. Obviously, people may not have agreed with what was circulated. Perhaps it was a case of poor circulation. The Deputy will have an opportunity to articulate her concerns in a strong manner at tomorrow’s meeting of the Whips.
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