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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Jan 1995

Vol. 448 No. 1

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Minister of State's Status and Role.

Mary Harney


2 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach the status and role of the newly appointed Minister of State to the Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1147/95]

The Minister of State to the Government attends Government meetings in the same way as the Government Chief Whip. He receives all Government papers and participates in discussions at Cabinet. Like the Government Chief Whip and the Attorney General, he is not entitled to vote should an occasion arise where that would be necessary. However, as this Government is committed to conducting its business on the basis of consensus, the fact that the Minister of State does not have a vote at Cabinet does not have any real significance.

The Government will, as the need arises, request Minister of State Rabbitte to involve himself in specific matters of importance. A recent example would be the role which he played in the negotiations in the Packard dispute — where his knowledge of industrial relations and the situation at local level in Tallaght was invaluable to the Cabinet in their discussions on that matter.

Minister of State Rabbitte is, of course, also Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, with special responsibility for commerce, science and technology and consumer affairs.

Is the Taoiseach suggesting Deputy Rabbitte will be the industrial relations or personnel officer of the Government? His role in Packard Electric was based, as I understand it, on the fact that he is Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment. What is Deputy Rabbitte's level of remuneration? Will he be entitled to appoint programme managers? Does he have the same speaking rights as other Cabinet Ministers? Is he bound by the Cabinet confidentiality rule, as are other Cabinet members?

The answer to the last and second last questions is yes. Deputy Rabbitte is remunerated on the same basis as a Minister of State and he will be appointing a programme manager.

What about his transport arrangements?

A car will be provided for him in the same way as for the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and Government Chief Whip.

Will the Taoiseach be explicit about that matter? The Minister of State has the full State car service although he is on the salary of a Minister of State, is that the position?

A full State car?

May I ask the Taoiseach if the relevant Minister has a delegation order and does it include the insurance industry?

I will check that for the Deputy. I do not have the precise information on Deputy Rabbitte's delegation within the Department of Enterprise and Employment. The question concerns his appointment as Minister of State to the Government. For the interest of the historians in the House, this is not the first occasion on which a Minister of State or Parliamentary Secretary to the Government as a whole rather than to an individual Department was appointed. Former Deputy Jack Lynch was appointed Minister of State to the Government in the period 1951-54 and former Deputy Dr. John O'Donovan was appointed to a similar position in the 1954-57 Government.

It is apparent from what the Taoiseach has said that the only difference between the post of the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte and that of a Cabinet Minister is that he is not entitled to vote at Cabinet but that there will be no reason to vote because you will be so happy together. Is that what the Taoiseach said?

The aim of the Government — this matter was discussed in some detail before forming the Government — is to avoid votes at the Cabinet table. We will be working on the basis of consensus but that does not mean there will not be significant disagreements from time to time within the Government and we will seek to work out those disagreements on the basis of consensus. The Deputy will recollect that the practice of pushing matters to a vote has not had happy consequences for her party in recent times.

That is not the point. To all intents and purposes the Taoiseach has breached the Constitution — he can frown all he wants — in that he has appointed an extra member of Cabinet, and the only difference with Deputy Rabbitte's position is that he is not entitled to vote.

Let us proceed by questions please.

Deputy Rabbitte receives Cabinet papers for every item, he speaks on every item and he is obviously very busy on every item, therefore he is de facto another member of Cabinet.

I am glad the Deputy has put this question to me because if I have breached the Constitution in appointing Deputy Rabbitte as Minister of State to the Government, the author of the Constitution and former leader of the Deputy's party, Eamon de Valera, also breached it in appointing a former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, to be Parliamentary Secretary to the Government with the same status as has Deputy Rabbitte——

He had not the same status.

——in terms of access to papers and so on. I am happy to be guided in terms of the interpretation of the Constitution, at least on this matter, by former Deputy de Valera.

There are 16 members of Cabinet.

I would remind the Taoiseach I was not around in 1951 to raise the issue of the precedent to which he referred. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the duties that have been assigned to Deputy Rabbitte can be carried out by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton? Why is Deputy Rabbitte required to attend Cabinet meetings and why is it necessary that he have a State car to attend those meetings?

There is nothing mysterious about this. Deputy Rabbitte is a member of Democratic Left, one of three parties in the Government, and it is extremely useful to have both Deputy Rabbitte, Minister of State to the Government, and Deputy De Rossa, Minister for Social Welfare, present at Cabinet meetings. As a result Democratic Left as a party has the means of fully understanding and participating in all Government business. Deputy Harney has been threatening me with all sorts of quotations of what I said, but I have quotations from her here which I will spare her blushes by not reading——

Not Ministers——

——in which she advocated something along these lines to ensure that smaller parties would have at least two people at the Cabinet table.

Not true — two Cabinet Ministers.

Two Cabinet Ministers.

I am surprised Deputy Harney does not wish to encourage me to give a very good hearing at the Cabinet table to a very good Deputy from her constituency.

A number of Deputies are offering——

On a point of order——

Please do not waste any further time, Deputy.

The Deputy lost that one.

I want to facilitate as many Members as possible. I call Deputy Tom Kitt.

The Taoiseach is not treating this issue seriously.

Why has the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte a programme manager when the Minister for Enterprise and Employment already has one? That Department is already represented at programme manager level in every sense of the word. Will the Taoiseach address that specific question? Surely there is duplication in that Department.

I am more than happy to answer. The programme managers are there to assist the Government in implementing a political programme agreed between Democratic Left, the Labour Party and Fine Gael. Deputy Rabbitte participates at Cabinet as Minister of State to the Government — he is responsible with all other Ministers for decisions taken there — and also represents his own party. To assist his party in working with the other parties in Government to have our agreed joint programme implemented, it is entirely appropriate that Deputy Rabbitte should have a programme manager. He is not a full member of the Cabinet——

It looks remarkably like it.

——and I have outlined exactly how he works. He has access to all papers and at all the Cabinet meetings at which I have been present he has participated in a very constructive way in all discussions. The political and economic perspective he has brought to the Cabinet discussions is valuable and useful to the Cabinet and I welcome his presence there.

Given that he has emphasised Deputy Rabbitte's valuable contribution to the Cabinet during the Packard crises, his background and local knowledge, can I take it that from time to time in the future as issues arise the Taoiseach may consider inviting other Ministers of State to attend at Cabinet meetings? Is that a practice we may see during the lifetime of the Government?

Yes, as happened during the lifetime of previous Governments.

If Deputy Rabbitte is doing the full job of a Minister, reading all the papers and contributing at Cabinet level, why has he, as a skilled union negotiator, not been able to negotiate a proper salary for himself?

He is working.

In this context, why is he being paid below the going rate for the job? Why has he been given a car but only a half salary? Will the Taoiseach agree it is a scandal for a member of a left wing party to undercut his colleagues in Government, especially as they all had to take a major reduction in salary recently?

He is not in it for the money.

He likes his work.

I will refer the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte to Deputy McDowell for appropriate legal representation in regard to the denial of his human rights.

He could not afford his fees.

Why is he not getting a full fee?

Deputy Noel Dempsey has been offering for some time. I will then call Deputy Brennan. If Deputy Harney wishes to ask a final question I will be glad to facilitate her.

Given that we are talking about employment conditions for members of the Government, I want to put in a plug for the poor Government Chief Whip whom I think should be paid a ministerial salary. Given his remarks about the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte's programme manager, will the Taoiseach say what exactly the Minister for Social Welfare's programme manager is doing?

It is a separate matter.

Members will recall that prior to Christmas, the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte made some outrageous statements in the House which he has not withdrawn nor has he apologised to the House or the people whom he offended——

There should be no reference to matters of that type now, Deputy.

Did the Taoiseach ask the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte to come before the House and withdraw those scandalous statements before he took up his job as a Minister of State? It was all right when he was an Opposition Deputy with no responsibilities——

Let us not personalise this issue too much.

Deputy Dempsey is referring to statements made by the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte which are the subject of investigation by a committee of this House.

He refused to answer.

Given that the members of that committee——

He refused to respond.

——are acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in assessing all of that evidence, it is not at all appropriate for any Member to come in here and attempt to prejudice its findings by making comments of the type Deputy Dempsey has made.

On a point of order——

Those comments surprise me and they are unworthy of him.

On a point of order, I understand that the Minister of State has refused to submit a statement or to attend at the committee.

That is a separate matter, Deputy.

That is a matter for the committee to deal with and the Deputy should not attempt to deal with it across the floor of the House.

Will you ask him to withdraw it?

No, I will not. It is a matter for the committee to deal with——

It is a matter for the Taoiseach.

——and the Deputy should know that this matter is before the committee.

It is not.

If the Deputy is in any way familiar with the proceedings of the committee he will be aware of the concern expressed by it about statements by individual Members in the media and elsewhere about matters being investigated by it.

He will not go before the committee.

Deputy Dempsey is compounding that situation by his attempted references to the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte.

He will not go before the committee. The Taoiseach is not listening.

I urge the Deputy to desist, and he might consider withdrawing what he has said.

I will not desist. He should go before the committee.

I call Deputy Seamus Brennan. We have not yet dealt with two questions and I am moving on shortly to the next question.

Does the Taoiseach recall telling the people of Cork in his party's Cork by-election leaflet that there were too many programme managers and that the gravy train should stop now? Having regard to this appointment, is he now telling the House that whenever there is a political problem State funds will be used to make additional appointments to solve that problem or that Deputy Rabbitte's appointment is somehow in the national interest and necessary for the running of Government? Which is it?

I must express my pleasure at Deputy Brennan's concern about the use of State funds. I understand he was paid State funds as a Minister of State to reorganise, rather unsuccessfully as it happens, the Fianna Fáil Party.

More sleaze. Answer the question.

That is not true.

If the Deputy says that the allegation made is untrue I am sure that will be accepted by the Taoiseach.

It is not true. My work for the party was totally on a party basis. That allegation is not true.

I accept that. My understanding is that the former Minister of State was paid a full salary for a full time job as a Minister of State, which would not have left him any time to be involved in party organisation.

That is different——

If the Deputy says my remark is untrue I will withdraw it.

The Deputy walked right into it.

Is the Taoiseach saying that the appointment of Deputy Rabbitte as Minister of State is a political appointment to solve a political problem and that it is not in the national interest?

We are having repetition.

The appointment of the programme managers in this case will prove to be extremely effective in ensuring that the detailed legislative commitments in the Programme for Government will be fully implemented. That is what the system will be used for, as it was used successfully by the previous Government?

Will the Taoiseach tell me — he has not done so already — the duties the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte will carry out on behalf of the Government?

Shop steward in Government.

I will read the reply again for the Deputy. The Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte will participate in all Government meetings, receive all Government papers, assess them——

He will be another Cabinet Minister.

A Deputy

What about Cabinet confidentiality?

——and present his comments on them. He will contribute to the Cabinet discussions in that capacity and will also undertake such special responsibilities as the Government may ask him to undertake from time to time, as he did in the case of the Packard dispute where he was able to provide a particularly valuable insight to the Government in its regular reviews of that very difficult issue——

A Deputy

That is Minister Bruton's job.

——which I am glad to say was successfully solved thanks to the work of the Minister Deputy Bruton and the Minister of State Deputy Rabbitte.


Let us not forget about the Minister Deputy Bruton.