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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 May 1996

Vol. 464 No. 7

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - EU Presidency.

Mary Harney


1 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach the consultancies, additional staff and companies that will be employed by his Department arising from Ireland's Presidency of the EU. [8612/96]

My Department is examining the possibility of employing a small number of staff on a temporary basis for the duration of the Presidency.

The Government is hosting an International Conference on Local Development in November 1996 as part of Ireland's Presidency of the EU and conference organising consultants will be employed for this event. The situation in regard to the use of other consultancies for the purposes of the Presidency will be kept under review.

What gaps does the Taoiseach envisage in his office that will not allow the existing staff to handle the Presidency? Are they in specialised areas?

The Presidency involves a heavier load of responsibility on the Government in terms of having to manage the entire European agenda on an intensive basis, including issues, for example, such as Mediterranean policy, which would not normally occupy a large amount of our time. However, when we hold the Presidency we have to be more expert on them than some of the Mediterranean countries. Obviously there is a requirement of that nature. Equally, there is an event management function that needs to be performed during the Presidency, by event I mean every Council of Ministers' meeting, every meeting of senior officials is an event, the logistics of which have to be arranged to ensure that problems of a practical or housekeeping nature do not prevent people from doing the political or administrative work that needs to be done. There are greater staff demands and political demands on the Government of the day during the Presidency than at any other time. The most appropriate way of dealing with that is by temporary appointments as much as possible.

I would have imagined that the Department of Foreign Affairs has a great deal of expertise in matters relating to the Mediterranean and other areas and they have already indicated they are taking on three extra staff. What staff does the Taoiseach intend to employ in his office for the duration of the Presidency and what will be the cost of the Presidency to the Exchequer?

There are two extra staff being taken on in the press office to deal with press related matters arising from the Presidency and they are being recruited from a panel which had been constituted for filling an earlier vacancy. Consideration is being given to the recruitment of some extra staff in the European affairs division of my Department. The Deputy may recognise that my Department has a very substantial European affairs function separate from, though complementary to, the functions performed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. These are particularly related to summit meetings and meetings that take place at prime ministerial and Head of Government level. There may be a requirement to have additional staff recruited for that purpose.

I presume the Deputy is not critical of the idea of recruiting extra staff for this purpose. It is quite obvious to anybody who thinks about it that the Presidency involves extra work and the implication of any suggestion that people should not be taken on for extra work would lead one to suggest that the people who are working in the years we do not hold the Presidency are not fully extended. As far as my Department is concerned that is not the case.

I understand from the Taoiseach's reply that his Department, not the Tánaiste and Department of Foreign Affairs is co-ordinating the work of the Presidency? I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that a very important matter in trying to deal with the Presidency is the relationship with Parliament. During the last time Ireland held the Presidency six years ago we recruited someone in Brussels and Strasbourg to develop the relationship with Parliament and I assume the Taoiseach is following that wise judgment?

I remember experiencing the hospitality of the gentleman in question when I was a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, but I am not sure I was supposed to. The same practice will be followed as previously in regard to the coordination of the Presidency and there is no change in the position. A large part of the work is co-ordinated in the normal course by the Department of Foreign Affairs but the overall management and objective setting for the Presidency is done by an inter-ministerial group, of which I am chairperson, which meets regularly and will meet frequently during the Presidency. Of course, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs is a very important participant in that.

We have not come to a decision on whether to appoint someone in Strasbourg, and I cannot say whether we will or not, but it is certainly an idea I will consider favourably. I agree it is very important for each Minister to spend a great deal of time preparing for his or her appearance before Parliament during the Presidency. Parliament is a great deal more powerful now in the scheme of things in Europe than it was during the last Irish Presidency. Arrangements that might have been good and sufficient then are not necessarily good and sufficient now. It is very important that appearances by Ministers before Parliament are treated with immense care and that immense preparation is put into them because the people who will question the Minister are experts in their field. They have no other responsibilities except to become experts in the field of questioning to which they will subject the Minister, whereas the Ministers have other responsibilities. It is very important to be very well prepared but whether that requires a resident person in Strasbourg or in Brussels or whether it can be handled in other ways is something I will consider carefully. However, the overall thrust of Deputy Ahern's question is valid.

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the contracts of those employed for the duration of the Presidency to deal with European and other matters which overlap with Iveagh House will contain similar gagging clauses to that which was insisted upon by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs in relation to Mr. Sean Donlon's appointment?

I do not know what the Deputy is talking about but I presume he does.

Did the Taoiseach ever read his contract?

It is very hard to have a question answered because a great number of questions were ruled out of order.

Let us not dwell unduly long on any question.

It is hard to have any question considered as nearly all of them have been ruled out of order. Some 18 of my questions yesterday and about the same number today, as well as some of Deputy Harney's, were ruled out of order.

That is a very bad bowling average.

It is. About 400 of my questions have been transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs in a four week period.

The Taoiseach answered some questions on the radio today that he did not answer here yesterday. Una O'Hagan did much better than we did.

The Deputy is not good at putting questions.

I asked the Taoiseach about Mr. Finlay yesterday and he did not answer my question.

I answered the Deputy's question very well yesterday.

The Taoiseach was afraid to stand up to the Labour Party yesterday.

The Deputy did not seem to like the answer she got.

The Taoiseach quoted the Minister of State, Deputy Burton.

She gave a very good answer. She was well able for the Deputy.

I was not here at that time. Why did the Taoiseach not give his views? He should stand up to the Labour Party sometime.

(Limerick East): Let us hear the leader of the Opposition without interruption.

I accept the Taoiseach's point that the Parliament has far more powers now. During the last Presidency the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister responsible for co-ordinating matters within the Taoiseach's Department, the former Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, spent a week a month in Parliament during the Presidency and we had a representative resident there. Given that Ireland will take over the Presidency in two months' time, the Taoiseach will have to tie down matters quickly having regard to the demands of parliamentary performance and associated committees, sub committees and delegations. At a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges later today we will support Minister Quinn's initiative to use Leinster House and its precincts for the ECOFIN Council. Will this House be used by other Ministers to hold meetings during the Presidency?

The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell, has been in the Parliament preparing for the parliamentary relations aspect of the Irish presidency. The remarks I made here about the necessity for very careful preparation derive almost entirely from briefs and reports prepared for me as a result of his work in the Parliament. Any time that needs to be spent in Parliament on behalf of the Government will be spent there by the Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell.

I welcome the Opposition's approach to the proposal of the Minister for Finance that this House might be used for a meeting of the European Council of Finance Ministers. I urge other Ministers to consider this facility, but other places are also suitable for meetings. They will take place in Dublin Castle which is custom made for the purpose. In the case of informal meetings and other events, we may wish to allow visitors from other parts of Europe see a range of attractions and interests in other parts of the country.

The Aquadome in Tralee.

The Taoiseach said he is chairing the co-ordinating committee dealing with the subjects that will receive priority during the Presidency. I raised with him on a number of occasions the priority that should be given to environmental matters. Will he indicate if he has had an opportunity to consider that matter and will he confirm that it will receive priority treatment during the Presidency?

The environment will receive priority during the Irish presidency. We will deal with the review of the fifth environment action programme, climate change——

Political change.

The ice age in Government.

——the implementation of the Rio agreements on biodiversity and drinking water quality. Those matters will be dealt with during the Presidency and I assure the Deputy that his well known green credentials will be fully represented by the Government. He can rest easy that his well known concern will be dealt with.

The Taoiseach said that the practices of the last Presidency would be followed. Can I take it that in order not to disrupt normal business the practice followed by a former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, during our Presidency in 1990 of having a meeting at 10 o'clock every Sunday morning will be adopted by the co-ordinating group of Ministers chaired by the Taoiseach?

I am informed that on that occasion those meetings took place in the then Taoiseach's residence in Kinsealy at 10 a.m.

They will be held in Dunboyne.

I am not certain if I can offer sufficiently salubrious quarters to those who might wish to meet me on that day of the week. If my modest quarters meet the requirements of the occasion, they will be available as they have been in the recent past for meetings that take place at the weekend. Irrespective of whether they are held on a Sunday morning or any other time of the week, we will have all the necessary meetings to ensure that proper co-ordination takes place. I compliment my predecessor on the efficient way in which he conducted the Presidency. When next I meet him at Fairyhouse I will consult him further on the matter.

That will not be until next April.

On the Taoiseach's last response, it is important that regular meetings take place, even if they are held on Sunday morning. I am strongly of the view that official meetings should not be held in a private residence. The Taoiseach should reconsider his suggestion of having official meetings at his residence. I know Dunboyne is a very attractive location, but official meetings should always be held in an official place.

I do not agree with the Deputy in practice. When I was in Opposition, I would have taken the view expressed by the Deputy, although I never stated it publicly. In practical terms it is convenient to have meetings of that kind in an informal setting. I expect the facilities of Government Buildings which are very good, thanks to the same predecessor, will be used more often than any other.

I would like the House to open at 8 o'clock in the morning, never mind Sunday morning.

Does the Deputy like getting up that early?