I do not intend getting involved in a row with the Chair. The report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges suggests that Deputies should refrain from making allegations or discussing matters on which the committee has not had an opportunity to report to the Dáil. We discussed this in detail and from my experience in this House, if a Deputy from any party rises to make a contribution he or she cannot be stopped from doing so, irrespective of the aspiration of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to which I would always adhere. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges an all-party committee, was discussing a sensitive issue. However, when matters are public knowledge it should be legitimate to raise them in the House.
There is a great deal of concern among the public about the level of fees paid to "consultants". I think it was Mr. Mark Kililea, MEP, who said that an expert or a consultant was someone in a pinstripe suit 50 miles from home, who carried a briefcase and who would know all the answers. It seems extraordinary that the level of fees paid to some consultants in one week is equivalent to three years social welfare for someone else having equal voting strength in our democracy. The level of those fees is set by the Government. The Taoiseach promised on 13 occasions that the ethics in Government Bill would be introduced and dealt with at an early date but there is still no sign of it. That must have a bearing on the public's attitude to the manner in which the Government conducts its business.
On 17 April theSunday Business Post observed that, since coming into office, four Labour Ministers had made 200 appointments to the public service. Though it was emphasised in the article that there was no hint of impropriety so far as the appointments were concerned, it does show how broad the field is for those in Government to act in that way. Many of the consultants involved, from the highest earners to those we do not hear about; merely have their names inscribed on reports that are left lying on shelves in various parts of the country. Whereas business people, for instance, must be familiar with the detail of the expenditure in respect of their businesses, we, with one of the highest taxed populations in western Europe, are spending vast sums annually on consultants and other persons without ever hearing whether the return represents value for money or whether the objectives set out in the terms of reference are adhered to.
Deputy Gay Mitchell reminded us last evening that in the early 1980s fees totalling £9 million were paid for the design of our prisons which have not been built. Today, the Taoiseach, the leader of the Government with the biggest majority in the history of the State, is applauding himself for having a prison sited in Castlerea in his constituency. A few years ago there would have been pickets outside the Dáil if anyone had decided on the building of a prison west of the Shannon. The Government allocates £3 million for the maintenance of the 3,000 miles of county roads in Mayo, roads that are traversed by legitimate taxpayers who pay £6 million annually in road tax but who have to contend daily with unimaginable horrors in gaining access to their houses, villages and towns while conducting their business. It is worth contrasting their plight with what happened in the early 1980s when three times the annual amount allocated to a county was equivalent to that aid to consultants to design prison projects which were not proceeded with.
In the case of public moneys spent on consultants' and other professional fees we should know why a report was commissioned, what was its outcome and to whom the fees were paid. At local authority level the auditor produces an annual report which can be examined by the public. Such reports are complex and it may be difficult to extract information from them. The same position applies in the case of vocational education committees. The Committee of Public Accounts has been traditionally the public watchdog in terms of the investigation and inspection of public expenditure. We hear constantly from the Government about the necessity for efficiency. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment and representatives of agencies under his aegis are continually saying that if one is to manufacture quality goods and export them at competitive prices in a highly competitive marketplace, one must run an efficient business capable of keeping up with both national and international trends. The Government can hand out not only £50, £100 or the widow's mite as it were, but hundreds of millions of pounds on an annual basis in fees to consultants and various other professionals.
In Government one may be removed from reality. The Mercedes is waiting at the gate, the door opens automatically as the Minister approaches. There is never a question of his having to find parking space and walk for up to half a mile to a public meeting as the rest of us have to do. Spin doctors supply the scripts, indicating which points should be emphasised and which sections are for the information of the Minister only. Public funds are being used to have Ministers massaged politically and mentally so that they might feel good.
I recall an occasion when my good friend, Deputy Lenihan, having lost his ministry, boarded a bus in Kildare Street without knowing where it was going. That was because of his having been ferried for so long by State car. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Walsh, should never lose sight of the way ordinary folk perceive what is happening in Government. The perception is that there is a small golden circle who are there for the touch, that the tentacles of Government are spreading into the slimline, leanburn professionals. In many cases these professionals remain anonymous and a minority of them become parasites when engaged to complete a project. They appear out of the wings when there is mention of a report being commissioned offering themselves as experts in the area in question. Later, whatever information they produce will, when fed into a computer, translate into ECUs in Brussels so that there is a take for the professionals who must be paid for their work. There is concern generally about the level of fees in many of those cases.
The motion in the name of Deputy Gay Mitchell was not tabled for political reasons or because he has a fraternal relation contesting a forthcoming election. We made this clear some time ago. This motion appeared on the Order Paper of the Dáil about 12 months ago and we made it clear on a number of occasions since that it would be moved at an appropriate time. This is an appropriate time and I commend Deputy Mitchell's motion to the House.