Leaders' Questions.

Will the Taoiseach ask for the resignations of the Ministers for Defence and Transport in view of the shambles they have allowed to happen at Shannon? A major American airline has decided that one of our key airports is not safe. That airline has been providing jobs and security to the Shannon area for decades. That business has been radically cut because its planes are not safe in our hands.

The prime responsibility of any Government is the safety of its citizens and visitors. Shannon is a key strategic airport, yet recent weeks have seen three breaches of security there, the daubing of a plane, two violent attacks and yesterday an RTE reporter wandering unhindered into a restricted area. The short-term implication of this is that people and the economy of Shannon will suffer. The long-term implication is that the world may well decide that no plane, freight or passenger, is safe at one of our major airports. This is nationally damaging and internationally humiliating.

Jobs and the economy of Shannon have been damaged, American planes have been attacked, one of our main airports is unsafe and business that has been ours for decades has been lost. In view of this appalling incompetence and this outright shambles, will the Taoiseach ask for the resignations of the Ministers for Defence and Transport?

I am glad to note, if one stays around here long enough, how things change. There was enormous concern about planes landing in Shannon for refuelling during recent weeks.

There still is.

There is genuine concern.

When I made the point time and again that this was important business to the country and to the economy of Shannon, it was almost a matter of derision in this House.

Not for Fine Gael.


Only the leader of the party is entitled to ask a question.

I am glad to note that that position has changed. The Government has always sought to strike a balance in the approach to security issues generally, not only in relation to Shannon Airport. That balance involves allowing legitimate and peaceful protest in a democracy while at the same time ensuring the protection of citizens and property. Since the attack in Shannon last September, the Government stepped up security there and at all times the Government will make decisions on security based on the best advice available.

For a number of weeks there was what the Government considered a peaceful protest, which was watched by the security interests, both the Garda and Aer Rianta staff. They did not believe those people would move to violent actions, as they have. As soon as that happened, there was a review of security last week, which led to a step up in Garda activity. Following the event the other morning, we decided to take further action. The Garda Commissioner met the security chiefs and prompt action was taken by the Minister for Defence within a matter of 12 hours to bring in members of the Southern Command to take the necessary action to protect the planes. I spoke to the American special envoy, as did the Ministers. We have done everything we can to reassure people that the situation is secure.

In reply to Deputy Kenny's question concerning one of the carriers making a statement, I endeavoured to check the position. I do not have evidence that this decision was linked to a security position. The carrier informed Aer Rianta that its next 17 flights would move to other locations for a period. It did not link that decision to security.

What does the Taoiseach think about that decision?

The American Chief of Command for Europe, General Wall, said yesterday that he was quite happy to continue to use Shannon.

We are not.


The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

Deputy Gormley should not speak on this issue because he refused to con demn this position. I will not be lectured to by him on this issue.

Deputy Gormley is not entitled to speak at this stage.

We will continue to take all the necessary actions we can to safeguard security.

The Taoiseach did not answer my question. An airport should be totally secure. Three weeks ago it became clear that Shannon would become a centre for protest and a target for protesters and-or terrorists, and the Government did nothing. There was the daubing of a plane and hammer attacks on planes and the Government did nothing. An RTE reporter wandered into a restricted area unhindered and the Government sent in the Army.

The Taoiseach acts as if this is proper security in the national interest. Is it not perfectly obvious that it is a gross embarrassment, as outlined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and a gross indictment of the competency of Ministers to allow a situation like this to arise? The reassurances the Taoiseach has given the House today have resulted, in part, in World Airlines withdrawing its business from Shannon, with which it has had business for decades. Does the Taoiseach not understand that leadership is about preventing failure and not bolting the door when another airline has pulled out?

I do not believe that Deputy Kenny is asking me to make decisions on a day by day or case by case basis on who assists the civil power. It is not a call that I make. I do not come in and decide in the morning that the Army should move into Shannon. That is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. It is an aid to civil power.

There was a belief we were dealing with a peaceful protest. As soon as violent actions took place – admittedly there was one on 4 September – the Government discussed the matter within a few hours of the event happening last Tuesday week. There was a meeting between the relevant Ministers. The Garda was asked to step up its security, which it did. There is an enormous perimeter in Shannon. When there was a further attack this week, the Garda Commissioner went to check the position and he asked for the Army to come in. We immediately acted and will continue to properly act to safeguard the security of planes and all people in Shannon.

I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Is the Taoiseach concerned about the damage the planes will do in Iraq when they drop bombs?

No, he is not, nor is the Tánaiste who believes that Iraq has nuclear capacity.

Deputy Higgins should allow Deputy Rabbitte to put his question to the Taoiseach.

I want to return to the deal between the congregations of religious and the State in respect of child abuse. The Taoiseach dodged the pertinent questions yesterday. He told me on 29 January that the information was in the Library, but most of the information is not there. It is generally accepted that the agreement is a bad one for the taxpayer and a good one for the religious congregations.

The net point on which I want to focus is the indemnity which exposes the taxpayer to what the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, thought last night would be €500 million, but which the Progressive Democrats say is many times more than that figure.

I draw the attention of the Taoiseach to the speech of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, last night. He said:

Subsequent to the discussions at official level terminating in October 2001, I understand that the then Minister for Education and Science had further contact with the religious congregations as a result of which he informed Government on 30 January 2002 that he had reached agreement in principle on the amount of the contribution and on an indemnity.

If the official discussions had terminated in October, who authorised the Minister for Education and Science to reopen discussions and conclude an indemnity? Was the then Attorney General, Deputy McDowell, at his desk when the agreement was signed off by Government in the dog days of the interregnum and two days before the new Government took office and the former Minister, Deputy Woods, went out of office? Was the Attorney General involved?

The Attorney General was up poles.

Was the Attorney General going up poles about a project that he condemned in extravagant language, namely, the Bertie Bowl, because of the exposure of taxpayers to its cost, whereas a project for which he had direct responsibility and that cost the taxpayer much more was being apparently signed off—

The Deputy should conclude.

–with or without his knowledge? Will the Taoiseach address the question of the involvement of the Department of Finance and of the Attorney General? Were they given the opportunity—

Deputy Rabbitte should resume his seat.

–to comment on the extent of the State's exposure?

Deputy Rabbitte has asked me a question about the legal indemnity and I will answer it, but I wish to repeat what I stated yesterday. When I made the statement on behalf of the Government on 14 May 1999, I said that the Government's approach to this issue was to do the best for the victims in terms of redressing the wrong done to them. That was our purpose at all times and all the decisions we made along the way were to try to address an issue that had been ongoing for many decades and in which people had suffered abuse and received no compensation, redress or apology. That was what was involved.

As regards the legal indemnity which Deputy Rabbitte queried, it was given to the congregations and covers only those cases that could be heard by the redress board but where the victim has opted instead for the court hearing. Cases must be commenced within six years of the date of the indemnity, which was June 2002. I put that date on the record yesterday. The Department of Education and Science is of the view that the overwhelming majority of cases will go to the redress board rather than the courts. In the event that a congregation decides to contest a court case, the case falls outside the indemnity and the costs will fall to be met in accordance with the court's decisions.

The details of the legal indemnity took several months of discussions between lawyers representing the congregations and officials of the Department of Education and Science and of the Attorney General's Office. Discussions on this matter continued from early 2001 to October 2001. They broke down at that stage. As the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, said last night, officials of the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Finance and the Attorney General's Office were involved up to October 2001. The discussions then broke down.

The former Minister, Deputy Woods, on behalf of the Cabinet, continued to try to get the discussions back on track. The meetings did not pick up again until March 2002 and, at that stage, the Department of Education and Science had its own legal representative working with Mr. Cox's office, which represented CORI, and the discussions continued.

When it came to the final stage, the Department of Finance and the Attorney General's Office were involved. Again it was done properly. It was driven by the then Minister for Education and Science because the institutions were his responsibility. We were trying to deal with enormous problems caused when the State asked religious institutions to care for children, a limited number of whom were, unfortunately, abused. That is why the State has an obligation to try to resolve the matter.

The Taoiseach answered many questions I did not ask. We are all in favour of early awards to the victims and acknowledge that the religious institutions have finite resources.

It is not true for the Taoiseach to say that discussions resumed in March 2002. The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, told the House last night that the then Minister, Deputy Woods, informed Government on 30 January 2002 that he had reached agreement in principle on the amount of a contribution and on an indemnity. Why was the State so exposed?

Did the memorandum that went to Government include the usual observation of Cabinet procedures, namely, advice from the Department of Finance and the Attorney General? Those are the net questions.

I could ask where were the apostles of fiscal rectitude, the Ministers, Deputies Harney and McCreevy? How did they allow the State to be so exposed? Why was it not allocated on the basis of a percentage liability, whatever that may be, such as 50% each to the State and Church? Whatever would happen, the liability would be 50:50. Instead there is a cap on the liability of the religious congregations of about €40 million. For some reason land valued at about €40 million that had been transferred to the State way in advance of this and is not concerned with restitution has also been included. I do not understand why that was included. Was the Attorney General involved?

The memorandum brought to Government in June 2002 was a Government memorandum and was dealt with in the proper way. As I stated, these discussions continued for a long time. There was no rushed deal. The negotiations with CORI on the extent of the contribution had commenced at the end of 2000 and concluded in early 2002. The drafting of the legal documents took time.

The view of the agreement with CORI was that a contribution had to be meaningful but should not be so high as to destabilise the congregations and the schools to which they still make a huge contribution. We were not operating on the basis that the congregation should pay everything and that we would bankrupt them.

We should remember what happened. The State through the decades put pressure on these congregations to accept children into their care. As a result, the State has an obligation when things go wrong to try to assist them.

The agreement with the congregations is €41 million in cash, €77 million in property transfers and €10 million in counselling. The State can refuse to accept any property offered and seek alternative purposes when it relates to land.

Is the Taoiseach aware that, just before the previous general election, the then Minister for Education and Science published a partial list of schools with partial information leading many to believe that essential works on their schools would be carried out either last year or certainly by this year? The current Minister has published the real list. Is the Taoiseach aware of the anger and sense of betrayal that is the reality for pupils, teachers, parents and boards of management who recognise that their schools' needs will not be addressed in the current year? The information as presented would give rise to concern for hundreds of schools that the programme for refurbishment or new building projects may not be completed in a short number of years.

Many of these schools are in a deplorable state. What does the Taoiseach propose to say to teachers who try to teach pupils who are trying to learn in what I can only describe as damp, dilapidated, rat-infested and often overcrowded school conditions at both primary and post-primary level?

As the Taoiseach knows, third level students will be staging a demonstration today in this city. Is it the Government's intention to reintroduce fees at third level and replace them with loans? Does the Taoiseach recognise that little improvement has taken place in the proportion of pupils attending third level colleges in this jurisdiction from the more deprived and less supported disadvantaged areas of this jurisdiction? What action does the Government now propose to take to address these very pressing issues?

This year €343 million will be invested in primary and post-primary infrastructure. In his announcement last week, the Minister confirmed he would reallocate €20 million in funding from third level capital to the primary schools building programme in order to maintain the increased level of investment. There is a slight reduction in the capital programme this year compared to last year. However, it is about 170% more than five years ago. Almost €500 million will to into second and third level education.

What has that got to do with it?

Some 149 large-scale building projects will be funded this year in addition to the 420 schools that will benefit from grants towards smaller projects. The stages of development are: planning; development; design; tender; and construction. About a year ago I was asked to publish the stage of development at which all schemes were, so that those working hard in various committees throughout the country, those involved in fundraising and members of boards of management would have a clear picture of what we are doing. We have now done that and I am glad Deputy Ó Caoláin has given me the opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Education and Science on this excellent work.

The Taoiseach talks about clarity, but there is no clarity as a result of the response he has just given me. No amount of word play will dismiss the fact that people have to teach in absolutely unacceptable conditions and our students, the children of this jurisdiction, are being forced to attend classes in most unsuitable circumstances. Unless we are prepared to invest in education for the future of our youth, which is one of the most important resources we have, we will reap a very sorry result. Will the Taoiseach reconsider the schools building programme in the current year? The Government is duty bound to increase the level of support and ensure that a greater number of schools are dealt with in the current year—

Your minute has concluded.

–and the rest signposted with guarantees for address in at least the next 12 to 24 months. The Taoiseach has not answered the question in relation to—

Your time has concluded.

–the reintroduction of third level fees and the responsibilityvis-à-vis students accessing third level. That is his responsibility.

On third level fees, the Minister has already made it clear that he is examining the position of access to education to try to make sure we can give a higher proportion of people, particularly from disadvantaged areas, the opportunity for third level education. For 2003, the education Estimate on the current side is €5.1 billion, which represents an increase of €290 million, 6% over the Estimate for last year. The capital programme will continue and the level of investment provided in the current Estimate will maintain existing services. We will not be able to build at the level at which we built in recent years – I have already given the figures.

There is also increased provision for a number of other areas in education including resource teachers, special needs teachers, school retention initiatives generally and adult literacy. The Minister has clearly given priority to helping the less well off by putting money into education for the disadvantaged. Deputy Ó Caoláin will also be pleased to see that €508 million, which is a large amount of money, is being put into the capital programme. Over coming years we will continue to try to assist those schools that cannot be dealt with this year.