It is proposed to take No. 7, the Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill, 1996 (Seanad) — Second Stage (Resumed). Private Members' Business shall be No. 29, motion 14 re hepatitis C.
Order of Business.
There is nothing to put to the House.
The Opposition would like to force the Government, either by agreement or by way of a vote — that is now ruled out as the Chair has said there is nothing to be put to the House — to take the Progressive Democrats Private Members' motion this afternoon and defer the other business until tomorrow. The only opportunity for this House to get the facts about the scandal that has been perpetrated against the women involved in this cover-up——
The Deputy was in Government at the time.
——is to have a debate in the House. In addition to all the other comments he has made on this issue, the Minister stated last night that, in the case of Mrs. McCole, lodging money in court was some advantage. The Minister will be aware that the purpose of lodging money in court is to force a negotiated settlement. That is what the Blood Transfusion Service Board was doing; it was trying to force the woman concerned, who was on her deathbed, into a position where she would have no opportunity of getting her due reward. This matter should be fully debated in the House. It is a shame, it is a scandal, it is a cover-up and we should have an opportunity of debating it. If the matter cannot be put to the House I want to propose an amendment to the motion that Private Members' time be taken now.
The Order of Business is the prerogative of the Taoiseach.
I note from an amendment to the motion we will move this evening that the Government intends to establish a tribunal of inquiry. I also note from the wording of the amendment that the tribunal will merely inquire into one part of the scandal, namely, the contamination of the blood supply. I want to ask the Taoiseach if it will also inquire into the political scandal, the contamination of political standards, up to 20 September? Will the terms of reference of the inquiry cover everything that happened up to 20 September or will it stop in 1993?
We should not anticipate to night's debate.
It is important, before the Private Members' debate begins, that we know the nature of the tribunal of inquiry the Government intends to establish because there has been a change in the Government's attitude since last night. We are entitled to know the nature of the inquiry.
The Deputy will have every opportunity to debate that matter in the substantive motion that will be before the House this evening and tomorrow evening. The Deputy cannot debate the matter now.
The Government used every technicality to stop this case going ahead, including the Statute of Limitations. It used every technicality to stop this dying woman having her day in court. We are entitled to have an inquiry into those matters. I want the Taoiseach to tell me the period the inquiry will cover.
That will be dealt with this evening.
We need to know before we move our motion.
We cannot debate this issue now. We are on the Order of Business and we must not anticipate what will happen later today.
It is important that we know as the Minister will brief the journalists at 5 o'clock. He said things on television last night that he will not say in this House. This House is accountable to the people and our job in Opposition is to make the Government accountable. It is perfectly in order to ask the Taoiseach the terms of reference of the tribunal of inquiry and, in particular, what period it will cover.
I cannot and will not call the Taoiseach on the issue. It is not a matter for the Order of Business. I ask the Deputy to desist. She has had quite a deal of latitude on the issue.
It is a disgrace that a Taoiseach who promised that the hallmark of his Government would be openness, transparency and accountability will not even answer my question.
I am abiding by the ruling of the Chair as to what is relevant.
It was the Taoiseach who said he would be accountable in this House, that the Government would be as transparent as a pane of glass.
Will the Taoiseach inform the House why the State's legal team was the only legal team in the High Court this morning not to offer condolences to the McCole family? Who instructed them not to do so?
We should leave this issue until later in the day.
Will the two Deputies opposite insist that the inquiry cover the very simple question as to why it was not until Deputy Michael Noonan became Minister for Health that any action was taken?
What about his predecessor?
Regarding the remarks of Deputy Dukes and others about Fianna Fáil making this a political issue, this matter did not come into the public arena until 1994. The Minister has had this day in the sun. He is a compassionate and sincere man, but he is unfortunate in that this has landed on his desk. It is the manner in which he is dealing with it that is contentious.
Does the Taoiseach believe that three hours is adequate to debate this issue? We believe it is not and ask the Taoiseach to extend it.
I have no problem with providing additional time or with debating this matter and being fully accountable. It is important that the facts regarding events that occurred before this Government came to office — while the parties opposite were in office — are established. That is why the Government is setting up an inquiry. It is important to make the point that the material facts were facts that arose while Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in Government. I am not attributing blame, nor am I making the exaggerated statements being made by Deputies Ahern, Harney and other members of their parties about the parties opposite, because that would not be warranted.
What about the party sitting beside the Taoiseach which was also in Government?
The Government will be moving an amendment to the Private Members' motion tonight to indicate its intention of having an inquiry to establish the facts. I would like to make it clear to Members of this House that the place where political accountability is established is in this House and nowhere else.
We should not, nor can we ever, delegate to some other body outside the House the responsibility for establishing political accountability.
Has the Taoiseach ever heard of the beef tribunal?
On every occasion where matters of political accountability arose, this Government has shown it is prepared to take its responsibilities seriously and to answer questions fully and openly in this House. When Fianna Fáil was in office and we had the report of the beef tribunal before the House it would not allow a single question from any Opposition member on that hugely expensive report.
Accountability my eye.
That party is now crying for accountability. There was no accountability by Fianna Fáil to this House when it had the opportunity. Rather than pursuing this matter in the political way in which it is doing——
All we are asking for is more time.
——it would be better if Fianna Fáil were to allow the matter to be dealt with in a compassionate and serious way. When the facts are available the House can draw whatever conclusions are appropriate on that basis.
The facts only became known during the course of this case on discovery of documents. On 15 occasions in this House Deputies Geoghegan-Quinn, O'Donnell and others sought to have the facts put before the House and the Minister refused.
We cannot proceed with this now.
When will the motion be moved to establish the tribunal in this House and what period will it cover?
The motion will be moved next week. We will have a debate this week in Private Members' time which will last three hours. The issues will be debated fully. I have no doubt that members from the Deputy's party and other parties, including the Minister, will speak in great detail, and any other points that were raised on the Order of Business will be dealt with fully by the Minister. Next week we will have a motion to establish the tribunal. That will involve a further debate on the issue. It is important, that having been done, that the tribunal of inquiry be allowed to get the facts——
What period will it cover?
——in regard to all those matters that were referred to in the pleadings in the court case. The detail of the terms of reference of the tribunal will be made available next week for debate here in this House. It will be debated and Members will be able to put forward their own views and table amendments if they wish. I repeat that the matter of political accountability is a matter not for a judge but for this House. This Government is accountable to the House and is willing to be accountable to it in a way that in the wake of the beef tribunal Fianna Fáil was unwilling to be.
I will not hear any further discussion on this issue. It has developed into a debate. Has Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn something to raise relevant to the Order of Business?
It is relevant to the Order of Business in view of the tfact that the Taoiseach has announced that the motion will come before the House next week. In the light of that statement, will the Taoiseach and the Government consider standing down the scheme of compensation which now exists until such time as the tribunal of inquiry has reported?
Certainly not. It is very important that this Government has put in place a non-costly system of compensation——
Without all the facts before it.
——to enable the women who have been injured by events that occurred in the 1980s and earlier to get compensation quickly and without the necessity of massive legal costs. It is important that that compensation scheme, initiated by the Minister for Health, Deputy Michael Noonan — something not done for other injuries done to other people but was rightly done in this case — should continue. I strongly reject the suggestion from Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn that this scheme of compensation should be suspended. It would mean that the women who are processing claims before the tribunal at the moment would not be able to get their money. That would not be right, and this was not a very well thought out suggestion on the part of the Deputy.
The Minister said it does not have all the facts. It is being asked to make decisions without the facts.
Is the Taoiseach open to having discussions with the two Opposition leaders in relation to the terms of reference of this tribunal? Will he accept it is important that there is all-party agreement in this House in relation to those terms of reference?
The matter of the tribunal's terms of reference will be brought before the House in the normal way. I will, of course, be willing to consider that suggestion, but the matter of political responsibility is a matter for this House. We have had recent examples of enormously wasteful exercises where this House attempted to use methods other than those of this House to establish political accountability. This is the place — nowhere else — where people, without the aid of legal advice, establish political accountability. I have no problem, as I have shown here since this Government came into office, in answering questions for as long as is necessary to satisfy every reasonable questioner whenever a difficult issue arises. On this matter we will answer questions in the same way as we answered in regard to recent allegations about the Attorney General's office. There was a marked contrast between the way in which we handled those matters where we answered questions until there was literally no Opposition questioners left to ask them and the way in which Deputy Dermot Ahern's party when the beef tribunal report was produced here, at enormous expense, would not allow a single question to be asked of the Ministers involved. That was not political accountability in this House, the place where we need political accountability. The Government is accountable to this House and will ensure there is political accountability by it to the House in this matter as in every other.
It is important also that the facts should be found in a fashion that is fair to all, that allows all who have a contribution to make to the finding of those facts to make that contribution in a fair and open way. That is why we are making the proposal we are making and I hope it is accepted in that light and that the Opposition parties do not try to overload that fact finding exercise with some political——
With some awkward questions.
——witchhunt that is substantially irrelevant. If there is political witchhunting to be done do it here in this House.
Order please. There are a number of Deputies offering. I want to facilitate them but only on matters relevant to the Order of Business.
Is the Taoiseach aware that as a result of making the lodgment further pressure was put on Mrs. McCole and that had it not exceeded the amount of the award——
That particular matter will arise again tonight.
——those legal costs would have left her with nothing?
Those questions can and will be answered.
On another matter of accountability to the House about which the Taoiseach obviously feels strongly, why is it that his Government refuses to take questions on the upcoming CIE strike? I tabled a Private Notice Question and I have been informed the Government has no responsibility for the matter. Will the Taoiseach tell us he has some responsibility for public transport in the city and in the country and accept our Private Notice Questions?
I refer the Deputy to the Transport Act, 1940, which establishe CIE as a statutorily independent body——
And the Taoiseach has no responsibility.
——for which the Government is not, on a day to day basis, responsible for its activities. That legislation was introduced when Mr. de Valera was Taoiseach and the Deputy's party was in office and it was perfectly reasonable legislation. There is no point in establishing semi-State bodies and then saying every time they face a difficulty that the Minister, not the board, is responsible for their day to day operations. Deputy Brennan who has been Minister for Transport knows very well that when he was Minister for Transport he did not offer explanations or give answers on a day to day basis for the operations of CIE. He was perfectly right to do so because that is in accordance with the law.
May I ask the Taoiseach if he is refusing——
You may not, Deputy. Deputy Brennan would have been advised by the Ceann Comhairle's office regarding his Private Notice Question. This is not the time to proceed with it.
On question after question from this side of the House in regard to State agencies under all Departments, increasingly the Government tells us it is not responsible for the agencies. Why is the Government not responsible for policy matters, such as the stoppage of public transport next week?
The Deputy should take a course in public administration. The Deputy should know very well that there never has been in all the time that he and I have been in this House — and if one were to add our two periods in this House together length by length there would still be a situation that when a semi-State body was established, the Minister was not responsible to answer to the House for the day to day operations of that body. That goes back to the ESB Act of 1926. I am surprised that Deputy Brennan, who is an educated man, does not know the law in regard to semi-State bodies.
In other words, it is not the Taoiseach's problem.
On promised legislation——
Hundreds of men are to be made redundant and the Labour Party does not care.
I will hear only that which is relevant to the Order of Business and I am proceeding quite promptly to the Business of the House proper.
A semi-State company is firing 800 workers.
On promised legislation, I welcome the Government's U-turn this week in accepting the amendment which Fianna Fáil tabled for tonight on the provision of a judicial inquiry to establish the facts——
Doubtless, the Deputy will have an opportunity to speak on the motion this evening. That should be adequate. I will hear Deputy Bertie Ahern on a final matter and I will then proceed to the Business of the House.
Deputy Woods rose.
Deputy Woods, I am on my feet. Resume your seat forthwith or else.
The Taoiseach was not here last week to hear——
Deputy Woods, you are defying the Chair. You may not do that with impunity.
Under the transport legislation to which the Taoiseach referred earlier is it not the case that the industrial relations problem in CIE is based on the fact that its borrowings are up to the ceiling?
This is not Question Time.
This is a policy matter.
I am proceeding to item No. 7.
So the Government will not talk to or meet CIE.