Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 2, the European Parliament Elections Bill, 1996, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 10, statements on Shaping our Future: A Strategy for Enterprise in Ireland in the 21st Century, resumed; and statements concerning the Special Criminal Court following the announcement of matters on the Adjournment under Standing Order 21. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the statements concerning the Special Criminal Court, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 4.45 p.m. today and the following arrangements shall apply: statements which shall be confined to the Minister for Justice and to the main spokespersons for the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats Party shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; following statements the Minister for Justice shall take questions.

Is the proposal for dealing with statements on the Special Criminal Court satisfactory?

I acknowledge that the Taoiseach's office communicated with me this morning about the statements and I appreciate that. I am satisfied we will have an opportunity to debate that matter. As I understand it, only the Minister for Justice will be involved in the statements. In view of the saga that took place overnight it seems the Government lacks commitment to the criminal justice system and that there is no co-ordination on this matter. There is a serious breakdown in communications.

There is now an attempt to debate the matter.

I understand a decision was made by the Cabinet, over which the Taoiseach presides, to allow the judge involved to delist. Once such a decision is made the Minister for Justice informs the relevant judge or at least the head of the court.

There is a clear attempt to discuss the matter which is before the House today.

I cannot ask the Taoiseach a question on it later. We are talking about cases which affect the security of the State.

The Deputy may not anticipate debate now on a matter that is about to come before the House.

The Taoiseach will not be here for the debate. The Special Criminal Court operated for four months with a judge who was not entitled to be there even though a decision was made by the Cabinet on the matter.

This matter will come before the House today by way of statement and question and answer, and it is disorderly to raise it now.

If I ask a question perhaps the Taoiseach will answer it.

There is provision that questions may be asked on this subject later.

The Taoiseach will not be here to answer the questions. Since the Special Criminal Court is an important court why was the decision, made by the Cabinet, not communicated to the judge, the court or the head of the court?

In accordance with an agreement reached with the Deputy's party, the Minister for Justice will report to the House on that matter this afternoon. The Deputy's party agreed to the procedure we are following in preparing and presenting to the House a timely and full report on this serious matter. There is no delay in presenting the report, it will be presented this afternoon. Deputy Ahern who may or may not speak in the debate will certainly have an opportunity to put the questions he has raised to the Minister who will answer them on behalf of the Government. That is a reasonable approach.

What is the Taoiseach's position?

Will the Taoiseach be here?

This is a serious matter, it is acknowledged as being serious and treated as such. Everybody should treat it in a responsible and serious fashion.

This is a Mickey Mouse Government.

What is going on among the Opposition?

(Interruptions).

Deputy Ahern should await statements on this matter when questions may also be asked.

I agree with the Taoiseach. It is a serious matter. If the Taoiseach will not be here when the Minister for Justice makes her statement, is it procedure that when the Cabinet decided on delisting it was the job of the Minister for Justice to inform the court?

This is not Question Time and provision has been made for debate and questions later. I will not let a coach and four be run through the rules of this House.

They are changing the rules of the State.

The rules of the House can be changed. I will not be put in this invidious position of laying down the rules of the House and having them flouted.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The criminal justice system is also a joke.

Deputy O'Donoghue is offering but he should not refer to this matter as it is provided for later.

I have a simple question for the Taoiseach.

This is not Question Time.

I realise that. When did the Taoiseach become aware of this fiasco?

I am proceeding to the business of the House proper.

On a point of order relating to statements on the Special Criminal Court, I consulted Deputy Dermot Ahern, the Fianna Fáil Chief Whip and Deputy O'Donnell, the Progressive Democrats Chief Whip. I put the arrangements for the statements and question and answer session to them and having consulted their parties, both agreed to those arrangements without reservation.

(Interruptions.)

The Minister of State is correct but that does not prevent us from asking the Taoiseach or any member of the Government about this débâcle. It is an absolute disgrace. We agree to the statements as a bare minimum.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Two bites at the cherry.

Let us await the opportunity to discuss this later.

We are happy there will be statements this afternoon but they are on maladministration in the Department of Justice, not about the Special Criminal Court. In view of the Government's statement last year that it was considering the report of Mrs. Justice Denham recommending the appointment of an independent commission to administer our court system, has the Government concluded its deliberations on this? Will a commission, independent of the Department of Justice, be established to administer the courts?

Before the Taoiseach replies, is the proposal for dealing with statements on the Special Criminal Court agreed? Agreed.

The Government has accepted in principle the recommendations for court reform presented by the committee chaired by Mrs. Justice Denham. A further report has been commissioned by that committee which is necessary to fill in the details on how those recommendations will be implemented in practice. That report is awaited and court reform is being treated as a high priority. It should not be suggested that there is an inference of responsibility in the courts in this matter. I answered the Deputy's question but there is no connection between what we are to explain later through the Minister for Justice on behalf of the Government and the issues in the excellent report of Mrs. Justice Denham.

In the Programme for Government there is a commitment to amend the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924. As that legislation has not been brought before the House is it still the position that a Minister is responsible for all the activities in his or her Department and must be accountable for those to the House and the people?

The Deputy should be aware that the Ministers and Secretaries Bill is before the House. Proposals are being put by the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs which are being considered.

The Taoiseach is thinking of the Compellability of Witnesses Bill, 1996. The Ministers and Secretaries Bill has not been published.

I am sorry. I was mistaken. That Bill is at an advanced stage of preparation. The heads of the Bill have been approved and it is being drafted. I answered questions in the House on this a week or two ago when I indicated it is our intention to present the Bill as quickly as possible. It is a high priority and I hope it is enacted in the first half of next year.

Is it not the case that under the Ministers and Secretaries Act a Minister is responsible for actions of those in the Department?

This may not continue.

I ask the Taoiseach to reflect back to two years ago when he was in Opposition. As head of Government he now presides over this terrible shambles. Does he — and in particular the Minister for Justice — not take responsibility for this shambles?

I thought we were having a matter relevant to the Order of Business but we are not.

I agree to the statements this afternoon but when the Minister for Justice is dealing with this matter she might also deal with the Duncan case which is still outstanding. That is the case of the criminal justice system losing important warrants from this jurisdiction and the UK in a shredder. We still await the report of the investigation into that and it should be included in today's debate.

These matters can be raised during the debate.

Under the proposed Ministers and Secretaries legislation, will the Taoiseach clarify if a Minister for Justice, for example, would be responsible for the fiasco last night? If so, would the Minister's position be untenable?

Later. I am proceeding to Item No. 2.

Deputy O'Donoghue is trying hard.

We should have transparency and openness.

The Chair kindly allowed me to raise the commitment inA Government of Renewal on the Order of Business yesterday to people with a disability. The Taoiseach concurred with me and indicated I should table a question. I had one on the Order Paper yesterday.

In relation to the crisis relating to people with a mental handicap, is the Taoiseach satisfied with the funding of 21 places for 414 people without residential placement? This is a vulnerable group of people.

If the Deputy is not satisfied with the Minister's reply he has many remedies open to him. My office will facilitate him in pursuing the matter but not now.

I was asked to table a question when I raised this on the Order Paper yesterday. I have not received a satisfactory answer and I will be guided by your office. There are 400 people without placement.

The Deputy should communicate with my office.

On a separate matter, yesterday I asked the Minister for Education questions on the correspondence between her Department and Westmeath vocational education committee on a matter of considerable public interest. Her reply was that it would not be appropriate to publish that correspondence or to make it available to me or any other Member.

If the Freedom of Information Bill was published I would have access to that type of information.

The Deputy must raise that matter in another way.

Publish it and go before the Committee of Public Accounts.

(Interruptions.)

Deputy Martin is making a habit of ignoring the Chair. I will not tolerate it.

Publish it.

The Department of Education is up to its neck in it.

(Interruptions.)

Will the 1997 Estimates be published before the Christmas recess?

I do not know. They will be published as soon as possible but I cannot give a precise date.

When will the promised litter pollution Bill be published?

We expect the Bill to be ready this month or early next month.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach in a statement, which I only saw when I read the debate, implied I had not declared an interest to the House. I ask the Taoiseach to withdraw that inference and acknowledge that is not the case.

I have not scrutinised interests but if I misrepresented the Deputy's position it was in making the point that it was important in the debate on defamation to draw attention to the fact that he does interesting work for the Independent Newspaper Group. He would have a certain sympathy for the interests of the group. That was the point which I was drawing to attention. I do not suggest any impropriety on the part of Deputy Michael McDowell and was not doing so yesterday. I reminded him of the necessity to note these matters.

Does the Taoiseach withdraw the inference?

The inference was unworthy of the Taoiseach.

There was not the slightest suggestion of impropriety in relation to this matter. I would of course withdraw it ——

I remind the Taoiseach that the person who writes the Drapier column each week should declare an interest.

For years I have wondered who wrote the Drapier column. I am grateful that I have at last found a journalist who is prepared to disclose his sources.

In reply to Deputy Lenihan yesterday, the Taoiseach said two finance Bills would be published in 1997. I assume the first Bill will be the statutory one published within a fixed number of days after the budget. When will the second Bill be published?

The second is the consolidation Bill. I do not have a date for it, but there will be two Bills next year.

I would like your assistance, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Deputy was called twice this morning and he did not say anything relevant on either occasion. Perhaps he will now be relevant.

He is always relevant.

I tabled a question to the Taoiseach on the role of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which I thought was legitimate. I asked him if he was satisfied with charges being brought in relation to certain road traffic offences. The question was transferred to the Minister for Justice. I was under the impression that it was appropriate to the Taoiseach. Does he transfer all difficult questions to the Minister for Justice?

Of course he does.

I am glad I have no function in that matter.

The Minister for Justice is well qualified to answer any questions transferred to her.

Equal opportunities.