It is proposed to take No. 12, statements on the report of the independent inquiry in the Department of Justice (resumed). It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil on its rising on Wednesday, 27 November 1996, shall adjourn until Tuesday, 3 December 1996.
Order of Business.
There is but one matter to put before the House, that is in respect of the proposal for next week's sitting of the Dáil. Is it satisfactory and agreed? Agreed.
In relation to the publication of the report of the commission on people with disabilities will the Minister state what legislative measures the Government has to deal with this report? The other day the Minister spoke at length about the plight of people with disabilities and the need to do something. That would be fine if he had been in the job for only two weeks but he has been in that position for practically four years. It is hollow to talk about the need to do something. Perhaps the Minister will say exactly what he is doing and what he might do in the short-term?
I would have thought the Leader of the Opposition who, at one stage, was party to the negotiations would have placed on record in the House the achievement by the same Minister for the implementation and completion of the divorce legislation which has taken this society such a long time to come to terms with. That has been one of his responsibilities which he has successfully carried out.
That was yesterday's business. It is finished.
During the time in which he so successfully conducted that major task, this commission was sitting. It has now completed its report which has over 400 recommendations. It is proper and right that everybody has a chance to look at those recommendations and the Government, in due course, will consider what priorities it wished to advance in terms of legislation if that is necessary.
Is the Minister committing the Government to bringing forward legislation for people with disabilities arising out of the report? The fact that the report was being prepared did not mean nothing could have been done on this matter for practically four years.
This should not lead to argument.
The Minister will recall that two years ago we were about to bring in legislation.
In view of the commitment of the Minister for Finance on Thursday last that all questions in relation to the inquiry in the Department of Justice would be answered fully in this House, will he say how I can get the Taoiseach to answer questions in relation to the two officeholders, for whom he is responsible and accountable in the Dáil, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions? As the Minister will be aware, the questions have been ruled out of order not because of the debate but because, as I have been told, the Taoiseach has no responsibility in these matters to the Dáil.
Are we not having a rehash of yesterday's proceedings? Is not the matter before the House this morning in respect of the continuation of the debate and questions thereon?
I am simply inquiring how I can get the Taoiseach, who is not here, to answer questions in relation to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General. This is a very reasonable request. We have been seeking answers to questions for two weeks, that is all we ask.
The Deputy should have stayed here yesterday evening.
Members will be able to ventilate their views on this subject when the debate resumes shortly.
On a point of information, on the basis that the Taoiseach said last week, and again this week, that he would answer any of these questions comprehensively, will there be a Taoiseach's Question Time next week?
A Cheann Comhairle, I am in your hands as is the whole House because the rules we have drawn up have to be administered fairly by you. However, within that constraint, I will repeat what I said last week, that we have made extensive time for a period of questions to follow the debate later today. Any question that is in order — the ruling of questions in order is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle's office not, as both the Deputies opposite know, a matter for the Deputies in question -will be answered by the Taoiseach in the normal way.
Will there be a Taoiseach's Question Time next week?
The Deputy possibly knows the Taoiseach will not be here next week.
I do not know, I read it in the newspaper.
I am surprised that a Deputy who has extensive ministerial experience, including that of a presidency — with the forthcoming European Summit a matter of three weeks away — is not aware that the Taoiseach will not be here next week. However, on the realisation that he is not aware——
I am not. The Taoiseach did not do me the courtesy of saying whether he would be here. I am not making an issue of this. I asked the question because the morning newspapers tell me the Taoiseach will not be here next week. There is no point in tabling questions, which I did, if he will not be here.
Question Time will be normal next week but the Taoiseach will not be here next Tuesday or Wednesday and the House should be so advised. If Deputies want to have questions specifically answered by the Taoiseach, as distinct from a Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, they should be aware of that.
The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister gave an assurance last week that all questions would be fully answered. The Minister may not be aware that the Taoiseach transferred all the questions I tabled to him and other questions have been ruled out of order. Since the Taoiseach will not be here next week, will the Minister for Finance confirm that I am correct in assuming the Minister for Justice will answer questions this evening in relation to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General?
I do not know how often I have to say this and in what way because I have great admiration for Deputy Harney's parliamentary skills. She is well able to pose questions and ensure she gets answers. I said in the House this time last week that the Minister for Justice, at the end of the series of statements, would have time to answer any questions posed by any Member ruled to be in order by the Ceann Comhairle. As both Deputies opposite know, it is the function of the Ceann Comhairle's office to decide what questions are in order and we have no control over that matter.
I thank the Minister for Finance, but a short while ago we handed a letter to the Minister for Justice containing seven questions. The reason we handed it to her was to ensure that she received it. It contains important questions to which we have been seeking answers for two weeks. We have also endeavoured to ask questions of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications now for two weeks. Martyn Turner portrayed it correctly this morning. The Minister should look at that cartoon because it says it all — we have here Minister "L".
I assume the legitimate questions we have put to the Minister for Justice will be responded to this evening when she answers questions. If we are not to get such responses then the Government is making a complete joke of this whole issue in this House.
Can the Minister for Finance, in the absence of the Taoiseach, give any good reason the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs should not answer these questions since under the Constitution he is the responsible person when the Taoiseach is not in the country?
Deputies opposite should be aware that the responsibilities of the European Presidency — on the basis of the present rota — which occur once every eight years, impose a workload on the entire administrative system not just on individual office holders.
Who is in charge? Is the Minister for Finance in charge?
I am endeavouring to answer a question the Deputy has put to me——
If the Deputy put in a full day here he would know.
Deputy Michael McDowell suggested, or perhaps attempted to infer, that the absence of either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs could be construed by some commentators and others as an unwillingness on the part of either of them to answer such questions.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs was here half an hour ago.
For reasons known to everybody in this House and outside, between now and the end of December there will be excessive constraints on their time but those constraints should not be construed as being used for the purpose of evading questions. I refute any such imputation.
I want to bring these questions to a conclusion because many are not relevant.
May I ask the Minister for Finance or the acting Government Whip——
Assistant Government Whip; the Deputy should not be so cheeky; he has been there himself. I would accept that from some of his inexperienced backbenchers.
He is acting Government Whip.
To clarify matters for the Opposition, will the Minister for Finance arrange that we be told the days on which we can have questions to the Taoiseach. I quite understand the Taoiseach commuting between capitals but can he afford me the courtesy of informing me, that is the point I am making. If there are to be other days between now and 15 December on which he will be absent, perhaps he would inform us; that is all we are asking.
May I respectfully submit that, in the main, these are matters that might be resolved at meetings of the Whips.
We were led to believe he was here.
Since the Minister for Finance has indicated to the House that questions will not be evaded, can he assure us that, following the debate this afternoon, this entire affair in respect of the improper composition of the Special Criminal Court will be referred to the Select Committee on Legislation and Security to allow it investigate the matter thus enabling all questions and documentation to be examined?
On promised legislation, when is it proposed to introduce legislation with regard to service charges since we hear many statements from Labour Party backbenchers who are in panic at the prospect of service charges being abolished?
The Deputy should table a question on that matter. I am calling Deputy Cowen.
A very important point was made in relation to another systems failure at the time the Taoiseach was responsible for the Attorney General's office. The Labour Party, in particular, were very anxious to ensure that was seen to be the case in the House at the time. Will the Minister for Finance say why the Government as a whole refused to accept an amendment? Given that the Taoiseach will not be here next week and we are endeavouring to deal with the Department of Justice difficulties as best we can, why will the Taoiseach not make himself available for questions in relation to the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions this evening? This would ensure that questions relating to the Department of Justice will be answered by the Minister for Justice and those in relation to the systems failures, in so far as they pertain to the responsibilities of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions——
We are having quite an amount of repetition.
I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, I have endeavoured to make the point as reasonably as I can. As a reasonable person, will the Minister for Finance agree in the interests of openness, transparency and accountability and of getting our business done, that since he will not be available next week, the Taoiseach should make himself available this afternoon to answer these legitimate questions which everybody inside and outside this House wants answered? Does he agree the Taoiseach should be here this afternoon?
For the reasons I have already outlined, the Taoiseach will have left the country by the time questions are being posed and answered this afternoon. Any question tabled to the Taoiseach, which is in order and deemed to be relevant to his responsibilities, will be answered by the Taoiseach at the earliest possible opportunity.
In view of the US veto blocking the re-election of Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary General of the United Nations, will the Government consider nominating the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs for that position?
I am calling Deputy Callely.
I presume the proposal by the Deputy is a clear recognition that the Fianna Fáil Party does not even have an aspiring candidate.
Will the Minister for Finance ensure that the requisite resources will be made available in 1997 to meet the needs of people with disabilities, particularly those with a mental handicap, at present denied appropriate facilities or not appropriately placed?
Is legislation promised in this area?
There is a commitment in the programme, A Government of Renewal.
That is a very vague document; they have forgotten about it.
The Government is considering the provision of resources, within the context of its Estimates for 1997. If the Deputy has a specific question on a particular issue he should table it.
Approximately 2,000 mentally handicapped people have been denied a service.
There is a number of areas to which money and resources can be allocated——
Will the resources be made available?
——to deal with mental handicap. If the Deputy wishes to get a precise answer he should table a precise question.
It will be transferred from one Department to another.
The Deputy asked a question and he should be good enough to listen to the reply.
I wish to clarify a point. Last week the Taoiseach and the Government gave a commitment to the House that comprehensive replies would be given to all the questions raised at the conclusion of the debate on the report of the inquiry in the Department of Justice. Will the Minister for Finance confirm that what was meant was that questions will be answered when they see fit to do so and will not be answered at the conclusion of the debate?
We have had enough of this matter.
The Executive is treating this Parliament with contempt in relation to this matter. Members of the House have rights which are not dependent on the whims of the Executive.
They can run but they cannot hide.
Some Opposition Deputies are again attempting on the Order of Business, when there is a relatively full attendance in the House, to suggest that the Government is in some way reluctant to answer relevant questions.
It is reluctant.
That is a fact.
As is normal practice, the same number of Deputies will not be present in this Chamber between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. this evening.
There will certainly not be many Labour Party Deputies present.
The Deputy asked a question and he should allow me to reply. I again state without equivocation that the Minister for Justice will answer all relevant questions deemed to be in order by the Chair and will give as much information as is allowed and permitted within the rules and procedures of the House.
And the Taoiseach will not.
As the Deputy knows, the Taoiseach will not be here.
He should be here. It is not good enough for him to answer questions in three weeks' time, and the Minister knows it.
Deputy Cowen has made his point.
In view of the urgent need to strengthen the powers of local authorities and health boards in relation to people who deal in drugs and engage in other anti-social behaviour, when can we expect to see the promised legislation on estate management?
I am informed by the Minister for the Environment that the estate management legislation will be available shortly.
Before I make my point, I wish to defend the real assistant Government Whip, Deputy Brian Fitzgerald. Obviously his Minister had a temporary lapse of memory when he referred to the Minister of State, Deputy Bernard Durkan, as the assistant Government Whip.
When the Government published its programme, A Government of Renewal, it made a commitment that noted public office holders such as the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Commissioner and others who could not be brought before the House to answer questions would be available to come before Dáil committees. The Minister for Justice has no responsibility in relation to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General, and, therefore, cannot answer questions on their activities or actions, while the Taoiseach has refused to answer questions even though he has responsibility. It is possible for the Minister for Finance to put it to the Government that the only way we can get answers from the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General, central figures in this issue, is by bringing them before a committee of the House.
I call Deputy McCreevy.
The Minister should answer the question.
Will the Minister do as I requested?
The Deputy made a statement.
My question is similar. Given that everyone is anxious to have the matter cleared up, does the Minister for Finance agree that the Attorney General should be brought before a committee of the House to answer relevant questions, as envisaged in the programme for Government and as has been done previously?
These matters can be dealt with during the debate which will ensue. I call Deputy McDowell to move the First Stage of his Bill.
Before doing so, I wish to remind you, a Cheann Comhairle, that yesterday the Taoiseach said the Minister for Justice would answer questions this evening on behalf of the entire Government.
That is what was said.
There is, therefore, no question of her not answering——
These points can be elaborated upon later during the debate.