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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Dec 1981

Vol. 331 No. 11

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Deputies' Representations.


asked the Minister for Education if he or his Minister of State gave instructions to their officials to refer all representations and inquiries from Deputies to them before any reply or information is furnished; and, if so, why.

Neither the Minister of State nor I issued any such instructions.

Is the Minister aware that on seeking information from his Department in September I was informed that the Minister had issued instructions to the effect that Deputies could not receive information from his Department unless they referred to the Minister's office.

I was not aware that Deputy Brady had specifically been given that information but that would be normal information. I imagine when whoever it was the Deputy was speaking to referred to "the Minister" he was referring to a previous Minister.

I should like to reassure the Minister that I made deeper inquiries and was informed that this Minister had given those instructions. That type of instruction shows utter contempt for Members of this House and should not be tolerated. I hope the Minister will withdraw that instruction.

I wish to make it clear, as I said in my reply, that neither the Minister of State nor I issued any such instructions. However, as a practice of long standing the normal procedure is that letters or representations in any form from Deputies in their capacity as such in general are replied to from the office of the Minister of State or from the office of the Minister for Education. That practice continued over the period in office of several previous Ministers.

No Deputy has had such experience or difficulty since 1977 and I should like to ask the Minister if he is aware that a similar instruction was given in 1974 by the Minister at that time? That was a matter that led to a debate here. It is regrettable that the Minister should seek to repeat that situation.

I would find it difficult to accept the first part of the Deputy's contention because from 1977 on four different Deputies tabled Parliamentary Questions to the previous Minister in this regard. The reply given by my predecessor was that the practice had obtained since before the date on which he had assumed office but that he was satisfied that it was the most appropriate practice to adopt in all the circumstances. While the practice is being continued for the time being I am examining the situation in order to ascertain whether it is in the best interest of all concerned.

Is the Minister aware that the Department indicated to Deputies and Senators during the term of office of the previous administration that the Minister had given instructions that all inquiries, whether verbal or by telephone, should be directed to the Minister's office? Has that practice been continued?

As I have said, the practice was one that was followed by my predecessor and by his predecessors. I am not sure as to how far back it goes but I am examining the whole situation now.

Is the Minister prepared to state that no such instruction was given specifically by his immediate predecessor?

Would the Minister agree——

We must move on to the next question.

By way of a final supplementary, would the Minister give an assurance that the instruction given will be withdrawn in the interest of Deputies seeking information on behalf of their constituents, a role for which we were elected solely? It is disgraceful that a Deputy should not be permitted to obtain information in the interest of his constituents.

I have explained already that it is not a question of my withdrawing any instruction. I did not give any such instruction but I am examining a practice of long standing whereby all queries or representations are answered from the office either of the Minister or of the Minister of State. Regarding the question posed by Deputy Wilson, on 28 May 1980 in answer to Dáil questions, he said that the normal procedure is that letters or representations in any form from Dáil Deputies are in general replied to either by the office of the Minister or the office of the Minister of State irrespective of whether the queries were addressed to the Department or to the Minister. In November 1980 the Deputy gave the same reply except to add that he was satisfied that the practice was the most satisfactory to adopt in all the circumstances, and he went on to say that he did not consider the rights of Deputies to be infringed by the procedure and that, therefore, he did not propose to change it.

There was no specific instruction.

I am calling Question No. 9.

The Minister has not answered my question.

We have moved on to the next question.

On a point of order, the Minister has not answered my question.

The Chair is not responsible for that.