Order of Business.

It is proposed to take the Report from the Select Committee on Legislation and Security on the Freedom of Information Bill from the Seanad.

Freedom of information — that is a laugh.

We will also take No. 12, motion re. the revised Estimates for the Public Service, No. 13 — the Credit Union Bill, 1996, No. 3 — the Employment Equality Bill — amendments from the Seanad, No. 27 — the Equal Status Bill, 1997, Report and Final Stages. Notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, it is proposed to decide No. 12 without debate and any division demanded should be taken forthwith; No. 13 should be decided without debate; No. 52 — Private Members' Business — the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1996, Second Stage (resumed) shall, notwithstanding the resolution of the Dáil on 19 March 1997, be taken at the conclusion of the proceedings on No. 13; the proceedings on the Second Stage thereof, shall be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes; the proceedings on No. 3, if not concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided on by one question which will be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments thereto, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Equality and Law Reform; the Report and Final Stages of No. 27 will be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 2.15 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Equality and Law Reform.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Are the proposals for dealing with No. 12 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 13 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 52 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 3 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 27 agreed? Agreed.

Will the Taoiseach join me in sending our sympathy and good wishes to the community in Wilmslow for the disruption and damage caused by this morning's bombs? I am sure the Taoiseach and the House will agree that these criminal acts have to be repudiated in the strongest terms. They are politically futile and only delay any possibility of the commencement of inclusive talks.

I strongly agree. The IRA attack in Wilmslow is a truly appalling event. It represents an expression of a politically bankrupt strategy. Those who engage in these actions do not put themselves at risk of physical harm. They put others at risk. This cowardly strategy of sneaky violence by the IRA has completely failed. It has done nothing but divide the Irish people more deeply than was the case when the campaign started. It also renders more difficult political progress in dealing with the genuine grievances of the nationalist community. This latest attack is to be strongly condemned. I hope it will be the last such attack and that at last sense will surface within the republican movement and there will be a ceasefire and all inclusive talks.

I join the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil in deploring the bomb that exploded this morning near Manchester. Probably it was too much to expect that the IRA would leave its evil ways behind during the British general election. However, we must make it clear to Sinn Féin and the IRA that they will not bomb their way to the talks table.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that people at the highest level in the United States Government were becoming impatient with the IRA. Most people on this island are completely fed up with the IRA. I call on Sinn Féin to put its faith in the democratic, political process, abandon violence in all its forms and not return to murder and mayhem as a means of achieving its political ends. While we are all very thankful that nobody was killed or injured this morning, that does not take from this awful evil act. We must make it clear this is not the way to achieve anything.

On another matter, will the Taoiseach say which of his Ministers, the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan or the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, he is disowning this morning. The Minister for the Environment said on the RTÉ "Liveline" programme yesterday that the legal strategy in the late Brigid McCole case was a collective decision of Government whereas continuously in this House — on at least five or six occasions of which I am aware — the Minister for Health stated that the Government had no knowledge of this matter, that it was an issue with which he dealt. The Government cannot have it both ways, one or other Minister is wrong and I should like to know who the Taoiseach believes is telling the truth.

(Interruptions.)

May I have a reply from the Taoiseach?

Do the women of Ireland not deserve an answer?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Let us hear the Member in possession, please.

The Taoiseach's silence says it all.

I am happy to answer; if this question is in order I will answer it.

It appears the Taoiseach answers questions when he chooses. The Taoiseach was absent on business last week and yesterday, and was not here for the Order of Business for the past four sitting days. Since he made a very strong point, when Leader of Fine Gael in Opposition in relation to the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry, and was very critical that the previous Government did not allow any time for questions after that report had been debated in this House, can he tell me why his Government provided no time yesterday for questions at the end of the debate on the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board? Does he accept there are many unanswered questions in relation to parliamentary responsibility that must be answered? This issue will not go away until we have been given an opportunity to ask questions. When I raised this matter with the Tánaiste last week he assured me the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan would answer questions yesterday but all the questions on hepatitis C were ruled out of order, as were all the Adjournment debates we sought. When will Members be given an opportunity to put questions to the present and former Ministers for Health about their mishandling of this whole issue?

The Minister for Health, in replying to the debate yesterday on the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board on behalf of the Government endeavoured to answer all of the questions raised. His reply was comprehensive. It is open to Members to table further questions on the matter which will be answered in detail.

(Interruptions.)

Any questions that are in order will be answered fully. Obviously questions would have been ruled out while the debate was continuing but the same questions probably would be in order after the debate had concluded. As far as the Government's involvement in the matter is concerned, clearly there were three defendants in the case in question, the Blood Transfusion Service Board, the National Drugs Advisory Board and the State. As far as the Blood Transfusion Service Board and the National Drugs Advisory Board are concerned, they had separate boards, separate legal teams and separate insurance in regard to liability and pursued independent legal decisions and strategy on the basis of their advice and authority. State boards of all kinds daily take decisions on legal cases being taken against them, not the subject of directions, authorisation or decision by Government. It would be impossible for the State board system to function in any useful way if decisions about acceptance or otherwise of liability by a State board were to be referred to the Cabinet for decision. They were not referred to the Cabinet for decision in this matter.

Answer the question.

So far as the Minister for Health is concerned, he kept us informed in a general way of the situation as it developed. The Government does not make firm decisions on these matters. The Government received formal legal advice that the State, as distinct from the BTSB, did not have a liability in this matter. That is obviously legal advice which when received by any Government, from the point of view of accountability for public funds, it must take due account. It is not possible for the Government — as Deputies who are aware of the constraints on public finances will know — to ignore legal advice about liability in regard to taxpayers' funds. When the advice was given as to the State's liability in this matter it had to be taken seriously, as it was, in any discussions we had on this matter.

I have listened carefully to what the Taoiseach has said. In other words the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is correct and the speech which attacked the legal team of the late Brigid McCole was drafted by the Attorney General. Is that correct?

The statement by the Minister, Deputy Noonan.

The Deputy is proceeding in such a way that he seems more concerned with personalities than the issue.

We want the facts.

The Government acted in this matter in accordance with legal advice as any Government defending the appropriate interests of the taxpayer would have to do.

The Attorney General was a member of the Government and sat at the Cabinet table.

At the time this discussion was taking place — I hope Members will appreciate and understand this — the Government's priority was to set up a non-adversarial system for the quickest dispensement of compensation to the victims. We did not want to get involved, as a priority, in legal cases in an adversarial setting but rather to ensure, through the establishment of a non-adversarial tribunal, that compensation would be paid to the women as quickly as possible. That was our priority. This problem existed for some time but this Government established a tribunal of compensation to ensure, without the requirement of being engaged in adversarial fault-finding, there would be quick compensation for the victims. The issue of fault and liability is a separate matter. Our first priority in all of this——

A Deputy

The Government did not show much concern for the victims.

——was to ensure there would be a speedy and effective way of compensating the victims as their concerns come first.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The party leaders raised this issue in passing and the Taoiseach opted to comment. We cannot and will not debate this matter on the Order of Business. This is the wrong forum for such a debate.

Will the Taoiseach answer one question? In his statement yesterday, which I believe is the truth, the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, indicated for the first time there was collective Cabinet responsibility for what happened in October. Since the Taoiseach is responsible to the House for the Attorney General, was it the Attorney General, under the Taoiseach's control, who drafted the statement for the Minister, Deputy Noonan, on 16 October 1996 which attacked the legal team of the late Brigid McCole?

I advise the Deputy — who I would have expected would not need advice on this matter — that the Government is collectively responsible for all its acts. Everything any Minister does, whether on the authorisation of a Cabinet decision or not, is something for which he is collectively responsible with all his colleagues. There is no resiling from collective responsibility in this Government nor will there be.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I am not calling other Deputies on this issue. We are not going to make a farce out of the Order of Business. The party leaders were allowed raise the matter in passing, the Taoiseach commented and it is over so far as the Order of Business is concerned.

We are interested in the facts of this case despite the efforts to portray it otherwise. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, will you advise me on the options open to me as a Member where a Minister clearly misleads the House — as the Minister, Deputy Noonan, did on 16 October 1996 in relation to governmental involvement in the legal strategy — to make that Minister and the Government accountable?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I am concerned that the term "clearly misleads the House" is something——

What is wrong? Unequivocally?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

No, Deputy. Any such imputation should be made by way of substantive motion.

That being the case, I put to you on notice, Sir, that I will be putting down a substantive motion that we adjourn the proceedings of this House as and from today until such time as the Taoiseach explains why the Government voted down that aspect of the terms of reference of the tribunal which ensured his Ministers were not cross-examined in relation to this matter. Will he confirm if political pressure was brought to bear on the BTSB at that stage since it has not been denied by the BTSB? The article in the Sunday Business Post in relation to that matter was put in by the Labour acolytes to try to save the face of the Tánaiste and the Labour Party.

(Interruptions.)

Those are the facts. When will the Taoiseach face his responsibilities? We in this House have a right to know what is going on in relation to how this matter is being handled.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Deputy Cowen is entitled to put down a substantive motion and that is the way to proceed on this issue.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I have no problem in answering the Deputy's questions. Indeed I could answer his questions for a long time and would be happy to do so.

The Taoiseach has not answered one question.

The Deputy does not need to become so aggressive.

If my tone is politically incorrect that is the Taoiseach's problem. Will the Taoiseach address the substance of the argument?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

A Member is on his feet.

The Deputy asked two questions which I would like to answer to the best of my ability. The Deputy is free to table as many questions as he wishes on this matter to the relevant Ministers who will answer all those questions——

The Taoiseach will not volunteer the information.

——and act in a collectively responsible way in the answering of those questions. To answer the first question posed by the Deputy, no pressure was put on the BTSB by the Government in regard to the legal decisions it took in regard to the strategy it would follow in the matter.

That is not what the Tánaiste said.

The Deputy's second question, which is interesting from the point of view of everyone concerned, is why the tribunal's terms of reference did not include an examination of how the legal case was conducted on the part of the various State bodies and the State.

I know the argument.

The answer, quite simply, is the tribunal is an instrument of Parliament, an instrument of the Oireachtas. I have strong legal advice that the Oireachtas cannot attempt to deal with the issue of how a court case is handled or to make findings on the way a court case is handled.

That represents a breach of the separation of powers between the Houses of the Oireachtas and the courts.

That is rubbish.

Deputies

Rubbish.

There was no court case; it was settled out of court.

It is not appropriate for the Houses of the Oireachtas to attempt to second guess how a litigant conducts a case of its behalf in the courts.

We are not asking the Taoiseach to second guess. We are asking about the Taoiseach's knowledge at the time.

If that were to happen we would undermine one of the fundamental liberties of this State——

That is nonsense. It is a cover up all the way.

I have never heard such rubbish.

——which is the independence of the courts system from political interference. Deputy Cowen, Deputy Michael McDowell and other Deputies who have legal training should understand that one of the fundamental principles of the liberty of this State——

The Taoiseach is taking liberties with the truth.

The Taoiseach should not misrepresent us.

——is that the courts and the conduct of litigants before the courts are independent of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Politicians do not have the right to interfere with the liberty of any individuals with regard to how they pursue their case before the courts. It would be a breach——

——of a fundamental principle if we were to interfere through a tribunal with the way in which people conduct their cases. This is an important political point and it is significant that both Opposition parties fail to understand that. They are not concerned so much with the rights of individuals but with politicising the issue——

The Government's conduct of court proceedings is a matter for which the Taoiseach is responsible.

——in a way that does no service to the people concerned and certainly does no service to the reputations of the Deputies pursuing this course.

Deputy Cowen rose.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Deputy Cowen is not being called.

The Taoiseach is misrepresenting my position. I want to know what he knew and when.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

We are not proceeding any further with this debate.

The Taoiseach is responsible to this House.

I am responsible to this House. I have and will continue to come here for many years to come as the head of this Government to be accountable to the House. I have nothing to fear in terms of accountability in this House.

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach is a failure; he is failing in his duties.

The trouble facing the Opposition at present is that it knows I come before the House to answer questions and I am not afraid to answer them.

The Taoiseach refused to answer questions last week.

I will deal with the Deputies opposite for as long as they continue to put questions to me.

The Taoiseach is more interested in——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Deputy Ahern has not been called. There has been an impromptu debate on this for the past 20 minutes which is totally out of order.

The Taoiseach is misrepresenting my position.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I will not hear any further comment on the matter.

I want to know what he knew and when he knew it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I have given the Deputy more than a little latitude.

The people are entitled to know what he knew and when he knew it. It has nothing to do with a breach of liberties.

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Does Deputy O'Donnell wish to contribute something relevant to the Order of Business?

It is relevant.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

If the Deputy proposes to continue with this issue I will not permit it.

It is a separate but related matter. With regard to legal responsibility for legal strategy and the settling of cases, will the Taoiseach permit the Minister for Justice to explain how she, on behalf of this Administration, paid a settlement to a journalist who was suing the State because his telephone was tapped? Will he allow the Minister explain how this deal was struck in settlement of legal proceedings and how hush money was paid to silence this journalist and keep the issue from public knowledge?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Deputy can pursue that matter by way of parliamentary question.

Ask Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn.

Ask Paddy Cooney.

We are talking about taxpayers' money.

The second paragraph of the programme for Government reads:

"Government, too, belongs to the people. But the relationship between Government and the people has been damaged by a lack of openness. That relationship must be renewed, so that the people of Ireland have total confidence in Government and in a political system which is fully inclusive".

If those words are to mean anything, can the Taoiseach answer Deputy Bertie Ahern's question about the extent to which the Attorney General was involved in drafting the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan's, reply——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

That matter has already been dealt with.

He wrote every line of it.

I put it to the Taoiseach that the attack on the McCole family and their legal team was drafted by Mr. Dermot Gleeson, the Attorney General. Is his answer "yes" or "no"?

It was a disgrace.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

We will not go down that road again. I presume Deputy McDaid is offering something relevant to the Order of Business.

Does the Minister stand over those words?

Is it logical for Ministers to claim in post-tribunal interviews that they have been exonerated when the tribunal has been fixed in such a way——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Deputy may ask the Taoiseach that question by way of parliamentary question.

When this episode is written about in ten years' time, it will be seen as one of the most rotten episodes——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Deputy McDaid must resume his seat.

Can I ask the Taoiseach——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Deputy may not.

The BTSB did not——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

This departure from the proprieties of the Order of Business has lasted too long. Deputy McDaid will resume his seat.

This is the last day we can ask about this.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Deputy McDaid will resume his seat. I will not allow the Order of Business to be treated as a farce.

The BTSB——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Deputy McDaid will have to be asked a final question which I am loath to ask him. Deputy McDaid must resume his seat. I call Deputy Michael Ahern.

Last week a paid official of Fine Gael head office visited Youghal with two Government Deputies. He said it was Government policy not to give money to Waterworld in Youghal until after the July review. The following day the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, announced the commitment by the Minister for Tourism and Trade, Deputy Kenny, of £1.7 million for Ballybunion.

Election slush funds.

When will the Government introduce legislation to authorise paid officials of Fine Gael head office to tell people about Government policy? Why is the Government——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I thought the Deputy was going to deal with something relevant.

It is taxpayers' money.

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Deputy has had more than a little latitude. He must resume his seat or leave the House.

Before we break for Easter——

The show is over.

The Deputy will be back to where he started, on the Opposition benches.

——can the Leas-Cheann Comhairle remind me if Fianna Fáil was ever in Government? Its members are behaving like Rip van Winkles.

We are responsible for the plague that swept through Europe 800 years ago.

Shut up, you loudmouth.

On legislation, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

No Deputy. I am moving on.

Section 100 of the Programme for Government refers to education.

That is scrapped now.

I hope it is not scrapped although what I have to say suggests it has been. There was a priority for granting special consideration for the needs of schools enrolling children with handicaps or severe learning difficulties. Can the Taoiseach intervene in the decision to remove the only classroom assistant in a school in Donegal——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Deputy may table a question on that matter.

——in which there are 12 children with learning difficulties——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

If the Deputy does not resume her seat other Deputies will be deprived of being called.

Given the Taoiseach's espousal of the deflector television beaming system and his promise at the by-election in Cork North Central that he would give South Coast Community Television a temporary licence immediately on entering office——

The Deputy should not say too much about that. His record is not great. He should ask Deputy Burke about it.

What about Deputy Jim Mitchell?

Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications ——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is the Deputy asking a question on promised legislation?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Will the Deputy come to the point? There are other Deputies offering who will be deprived of a contribution.

There is always Deputy Michael D. Higgins's satellite.

Obviously the Taoiseach has been deflected from the issue. Will the he make the consultant's report available to Members given that he promised to do so two weeks ago?

That matter is being dealt with by the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications who has received the report. I have already indicated to the Deputy that the Minister is actively examining the issue.

Reading the newspapers this morning, we can see the Government has done a welcome U-turn on its policy on the film industry. I am glad the Government is following the direction of Fianna Fáil on this issue.

Deputy de Valera is a fine and gracious film critic.

The Taoiseach recognised his mistake and made amends.

As the Taoiseach promised that the Greyhound Industry Bill would come before the House and that this is the last day of the current session, could he perhaps print it tomorrow? Could he do a time of 29.20 on it?

As the Deputy knows, that legislation has received high priority from me, the Tánaiste, Deputy Davern, Deputy Cowen and everyone in this House.

And the Taoiseach's first cousin.

I regret there has been a slight delay with the legislation because of a legal problem.

The Tánaiste has kicked again.

This dog is well placed in No. 1 trap and has a good sight of the first bend.

He wants an outside box.

It will come in record time.

The dog is three-legged.

It has always been the practice on the last day of session that the Taoiseach states when the House will resume. Last week the matter was included in an order related to other business. Will the Taoiseach confirm what date the House will come back? Is it coming back?

The Taoiseach should be honest.

As Deputy Bertie Ahern knows, I was not here last week but in the United States. I am glad this matter was dealt with on my behalf and the House agreed we would return on 8 April. I look forward to seeing the Deputies then and welcoming them back to an industrious summer term.

We will not be coming back.

It is interesting to hear Fianna Fáil wondering about what date the Dáil is to resume. It is worried about the cost of billboards if they have to be up until next November.