Ceisteanna — Questions.

Government-Church Dialogue.

Michael D. Higgins


1 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the details of the new open dialogue announced recently between the Government and the churches and faith communities; the issues that will be discussed in this dialogue; when the discussions will begin; the churches that will be involved; if it is envisaged that a final report will be produced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30104/04]

Enda Kenny


2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the arrangements for dialogue between the Government and the main churches; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32016/04]

Trevor Sargent


3 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the issues to be addressed in the new open dialogue announced between the Government and the churches and faith communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32446/04]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


4 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the arrangements for proposed open dialogue between the Government and churches and faith communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33289/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

During the course of an address delivered in Rome during ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, announced that the Government considered it would be of value to institute open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches and non-confessional organisations on the same lines as those provided for at European level in the draft European constitution. Accordingly, my Department will make contact with the churches and faith communities to invite them to participate in exploring how such a dialogue might be established and what its scope might be. When their views have been received, the Government will give further consideration to the matter and will decide at that point whether and, if so, in what way to proceed with the dialogue.

Clearly, the churches and faith communities make a very important contribution to the life of this country, not least through the participation of church representatives and church-based organisations, for example, in the National Forum on Europe and through social partnership. Any future structured dialogue which may be put in place will, of course, have to be open, inclusive and transparent and fully in accordance with the provisions of Article 44 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which guarantees freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion.

I envisage that any such dialogue would in principle be capable of addressing any matter of mutual interest or concern. I do not envisage, however, that it would displace the existing and ongoing consultation and dialogue between churches and church-based organisations and the various civil authorities in matters of their functional responsibility.

Will the Taoiseach be a little more specific? I think the British census of 2001 showed that there were 170 different groups who considered themselves to be religious groups. Is the invitation being made to denominations, organisations or those who are, in the words of Jacques Delors, of ethical disposition? Will the Taoiseach explain how this relates to the Delors initiative for a soul of Europe, an initiative which I understand has been wound up?

Will the Taoiseach comment on the issues and areas that would be part of this dialogue? Will they include for example the economy, issues of war and quality of life? An excellent conference on understanding Islam took place at the Chester Beatty Library recently. In what way does this dialogue relate to the United Nations consideration of a dialogue between civilisations? Is the purpose of this dialogue to engage with those who, for example, believe in secularism or pluralism, or is it to be seen as a force opposed to secularism?

The views being sought on the proposed structured dialogue are those of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Religious Society of Friends, the Salvation Army, the Unitarian Church, the Lutheran Church of Ireland, the Moravian Church, the Baptist Church, the Orthodox Church, which is the Coptic, Greek, Romanian and Russian Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Jewish community, the Islamic Foundation of Ireland, the Baha'i Faith, the Buddhist centres and the Association of Irish Humanists. We are happy to engage with other churches and faith communities that may wish to be involved — I hope there are not 130 of them.

The figure I mentioned is 170, though that includes the Occultists.

Would atheists qualify?

Clearly we are seeking a wide range of views. Deputy Michael D. Higgins is aware that this dialogue is taking place throughout Europe. A number of countries have moved ahead of the Irish position, particularly France, though this has nothing to do with Romano Prodi's statement about the role of religion in Europe. There are different arrangements with different churches in many European countries. An example can be seen in the concordats between the Holy See and governments of many countries. Some of these concordats have been of long duration. A recent example greatly talked about in Europe this year and last year is the establishment of the structured dialogue with all the churches in France, involving committees representing Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities. We intend to consider such examples. A number of countries have studied this dialogue in France.

There are two reasons the process has made good progress this year. Article 152 of the draft European constitution treaty recognises the identity and specific contribution of the churches as well as the philosophical and non-confessional organisations and commits the European Union to maintaining open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations. This is seen as an issue that complements the preamble to and long debate on the European Convention. It is now being looked at as a way of building on the work done and acknowledging the inspiration drawn from Europe's cultural, religious and humanist heritage. This is an area in which a number of countries have concentrated on and developed.

The second reason is that while there has been contact in this country with a number of churches, through the years, and this will not affect relations with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, educational bodies etc., there is now a large number of churches with growing congregations with which we have no structured dialogue apart from meetings on anad hoc basis. There is no formal structured dialogue with most of the churches I have read out to the House, quite apart from those which may not be on this list. The emphasis is on building such a relationship for the future.

The Delors initiative, which included seminars on the soul of Europe, was aimed at seeking to understand the nature of European citizenship. It included, for example, the humanists. It included another category, which I believe was called "those of ethical disposition". The entire thrust of it was to enable people to make a critique from a spiritual basis of what was seen, for example, to be an excess of materialism within the economic thinking of Europe. My reason for this question is to know whether this initiative is a broad dialogue in the character of the Delors consideration of a Europe that is not simply materialist but spiritual as well. My example about the humanists was made in the context of drawing on the Greek tradition which I believe might have been expressed in an extreme fashion, philosophically, in recent times.

Is it a broad consideration or a dialogue between the State as an organisation and these other civil bodies? Is the Taoiseach involving himself in a philosophical journey towards understanding what it means to be European, to include non-material and non-economic aspects, or is he reviving something that is in the spirit of a concordat? Concordats, as I understand it, were really treaties between the Vatican——

The Holy See.

——and other countries. We are hardly talking about an alternative treaty, are we? Are we to listen to, as it were, clerical organisational comments on State policy or are we talking about a joint initiative towards understanding the relationship between Christianity and Islam? Does the Taoiseach agree that an opportunity was missed during the Irish Presidency for having that as a consideration?

The Humanist Association of Ireland is one of the organisations involved. As regards what I have said about the European context, member countries are starting to do this. Such thinking was revived during the debate on the European constitution, prior to the Irish Presidency when it was at the Convention stage. It was agreed that there should be association and dialogue with the churches. As I said in my reply, we have not agreed an administrative basis on how this is to work before we seek the views of the people involved, which we will do.

As for the Deputy's questions on issues, all issues from all groups that share mutual interests and concerns may in principle be covered by such a dialogue. I do not envisage that this process will displace the existing well-established lines of communication between churches. There are times when the churches collectively give their views on issues either to my Department or other Departments. They tend to do this collectively, mainly the Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches. Many of the others have no means or structure of communication.

It is to give them that basis of dialogue and we will see if there is an interest. I assume there will be, from what I hear. We will then see how best we can structure it.

When does the Taoiseach see it all starting?

We either have written to these organisations and churches, or are about to do so. It will happen from now.

When the Taoiseach speaks of dialogue between the churches, organisations and the Government, is he referring to the Cabinet? The Taoiseach and the Ministers are obviously very busy with a whole programme of meetings. I want to put forward an idea to the Taoiseach and I know the Ceann Comhairle will not rule me out of order. In respect of civic and moral issues, perhaps the Government should consider a greater use of the Presidency in the dialogue. A full-time officer of the State could be appointed to liaise with the President, who is in communication with the churches on a more regular basis on matters of civic and moral concern. That officer would have reflections of the Council of State made available to him and the Cabinet could be very well briefed on a whole range of civic and moral issues. The advantage is that these issues would be reflected upon through the President, the Council of State and the churches. Conducting these moral and civic issues through a permanent officer of the State might save time for the Government and give it a detailed analysis of those issues that might be of concern.

At this stage, it is open as to how we can deal with this. My Department is inviting the churches and faith communities to participate in exploring how such dialogue might be established and what its scope might be.

The Taoiseach should throw it out as an idea.

There is merit in having someone who is co-ordinating it on an ongoing basis, otherwise it will not work. Traditionally, there would have been contact with what we consider to be the churches, but that list of churches is very different to what it was ten years ago. Therefore, it has to be co-ordinated in some way. I do not want this to be seen as a replacement for what works very well in education, health and other areas. The role of the President and the Council of State could be developed where it is appropriate. At this stage, we should wait for the response of the different organisations. It is a very formal relationship in other countries and I do not wish to go back to concordats, which are very regimented. We should find a format on the basis of mutual concern. Concordats only occur with the Holy See, so that would create an instant difficulty with the other churches. As part of the exploration, we will look at the Deputy's suggestion.

The Taoiseach stated that he has written to the organisations. What role does his Department have in this? Although there was an announcement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Taoiseach's Department was also to have a specific involvement. How often do these dialogues take place? Is there any plan to facilitate them?

I am not sure which non-confessional organisations are involved. Could the Taoiseach give a few examples? I am familiar with some of the churches and some of the philosophical organisations, but I have little familiarity with non-confessional organisations. Perhaps the Taoiseach would give a few examples.

How will this dialogue work alongside a provision in the Good Friday Agreement which provided for a civic forum? Will that civic forum be established in parallel with this or will this be an aspect or widening of the civic forum? Where stands the civic forum in the context of this dialogue, both North and South? Is this dialogue all-island based, given that many of the churches are organised on an all-island basis, or will it have a regional basis?

This has nothing to do with the proposal on the civic forum. That stands alone and should not be seen otherwise. Many of these churches, such as the Unitarian Church, the Lutheran Church, the Moravian Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhist centres and the Humanist Association of Ireland, which is a broad organisation, are examples that come within the category. My Department has traditionally, since the foundation of the State——

Which is non-confessional?

I understand some of these are, although I do not know which. My Department has traditionally dealt with the broader issues that applied across Departments with regard to the churches. They can obviously deal directly with Departments. It has been the practice that the leaders of the churches would call annually or biannually at the Department of the Taoiseach.

How the dialogue will be structured is undecided. Deputy Kenny suggested that it could be structured in a different way. My Department's task is to co-ordinate the dialogue. We have not come to a decision on how it will ultimately be set up. We have to see what type of dialogue is envisaged and which churches will be interested in it. All that work will take place as soon as we receive submissions from the churches.

I welcome the proposed dialogue between the Government and the various religious bodies. I represent a constituency which has a great diversity of Christian faiths and, in recent years, other faiths. There is a great spirit of common purpose for the good of the community and that has been demonstrated through the most difficult years in our recent history. I presume the list of proposed churches mentioned by the Taoiseach is not definitive and is open to addition. There are a number of Pentecostalist churches, including the Elim Pentecostalist Church which was founded in my home town many decades ago. I note the Taoiseach did not include a reference to the Free Presbyterians, lest anybody accuses me of leaving them out and, God forbid, that the Taoiseach might.

I never would.

That is the second time I heard "God forbid" today.

With regard to the proposed dialogue, will the Taoiseach outline a prospective timeframe for when he expects progress to be made towards this objective? How soon does he expect direct contact responses and the initiation of the process? Will it proceed in 2005? Will the Taoiseach provide an occasional report to the House on progress in this regard?

The principle of structured dialogue with the churches, as I explained previously, applies at European level and it is equally valid that it be applicable at national level. It would be an anomaly if such recognition and dialogue occurred in one important area at European level but not at home. We are dealing with a more diverse range of churches and faith communities than in the past. The multicultural reality requires a new system and a different response from the civil authority, while continuing to respect the rights of the churches we have continually dealt with. The number of churches involved is open. It will be a matter for churches to decide individually if they wish to participate. We will consider how other countries, which I am told are doing well, operate such systems. The French have put much effort into it recently. We have put in place arrangements to allow representatives of various churches and associations to give their views and will encourage them to do so. The announcement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been referred to in most church publications.

In principle, all issues of mutual interest and concern are on the agenda to be considered in any dialogue. We will see if we can create a process as long as it does not change anything which has been established and is working very well. This is an opportunity for enhanced dialogue on questions of the status of churches and their role in society generally on the one hand and on their views on social policy and other issues on the other. The agenda is open and the process is not an effort to confine it. We will try to do this quickly and I hope to have the process up and running during 2005.

First, we must await the response of the churches to see if they are interested. There is not much point in doing a great deal of work if they are not. I understand there is interest from the traditional churches which represent the larger part of the population and from newer churches which feel they have no dialogue beyond the meetings they can arrange on anad hoc basis. The initial consultation will commence in the new year after which we will correspond with all the organisations to see what views come forward. I have no doubt that will happen very quickly and that we will finalise the arrangements as soon as possible. We can then decide how it is best placed.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


5 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he has received the report of Mr. Justice Barron on the bombings of 1972 and 1973; the action it is proposed to take on foot of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30926/04]

Trevor Sargent


6 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the Barron report into the bombings and killings in 1972 and 1973 in Dublin, Cavan and Donegal. [30930/04]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


7 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the action he proposes to take on foot of the interim report on the report of the independent commission of inquiry into the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31169/04]

Enda Kenny


8 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the cost to his Department of the recent report of the Barron inquiry in relation to the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32015/04]

Pat Rabbitte


9 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he has received the report of Mr. Justice Barron into a number of bombings and killings in 1972 and 1973; the action he intends to take arising from the report; if he has received information regarding when Mr. Justice Barron will report on the outstanding items within his remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32121/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive, together.

The report of Mr. Justice Henry Barron's independent commission of inquiry into the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973 was referred to the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for its consideration on 17 November. The sub-committee will report to the House within three months on any further necessary action.

Costs met by my Department in respect of the Barron inquiry for this year amount to €351,462.95. The expenditure includes the cost of work on the report on the 1972 and 1973 bombings, the report on the murder of Seamus Ludlow, which I have received from Mr. Justice Barron and expect will be referred to the Oireachtas shortly, and the report on the Dundalk bombing which I expect to receive from Mr. Justice Barron in the early part of next year.

The Taoiseach will recall that a commission of investigation into the Garda investigation of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and missing files in this jurisdiction has been promised on foot of the first Barron report. Will the Taoiseach advise the House when the terms of reference of the commission be published and come before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval? Will the investigation be open and public and will there be hearings? When will the British Government establish in its jurisdiction the inquiry called for by the Oireachtas commission?

Is the Taoiseach aware that the second Barron report makes a very significant statement on the bombing in Belturbet in County Cavan on 28 December 1972 in which two young people, Geraldine O'Reilly of Belturbet and Patrick Stanley of Clara in County Offaly, were killed? Is the Taoiseach aware the report names a Fermanagh loyalist as the prime suspect and advises that in 1975 gardaí requested the RUC to question the named individual about the bombing? Mr. Justice Barron had to conclude in his report that he is not aware of the result, if any, of that request. As Mr. Justice Barron is very critical of the complete failure of the British authorities to co-operate with his inquiry, has the Taoiseach raised this aspect of the second Barron report with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair? Has he demanded the co-operation of the British Government and all its various arms within the North of Ireland on that and all the other aspects of Mr. Justice Barron's first and second reports?

Deputy Ó Caoláin has raised a number of questions. The Government has now passed the proposals in regard to the commission. It will undertake a thorough investigation of the issues identified by the Oireachtas committee as appropriate for further investigation. They were as follows: why the Garda investigation into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings was wound down in 1974; why the Garda did not follow up on the various leads; the information that the white van with an English registration plate was parked outside the Department of Posts & Telegraphs in Portland Row was later seen parked in the deep sea area of the B & I ferry in Dublin; the subsequent contact made with a British army officer on a ferry boat leaving the port; the information relating to a man who stayed in the Four Courts Hotel between 15 and 17 May 1974; his contacts with the UVF; the information concerning a British army corporal allegedly sighted in Dublin at the time of the bombings; and the exact documentation — departmental and Garda intelligence and any other documentation of relevance that is accounted for; the reasons explaining the missing documentation; whether it can be located; and whether the systems currently in place are adequate to prevent a recurrence. The terms of reference will be discussed with the commission when appointed and I expect the commission would consult with the interested parties. That is the first part. I have met the families of the victims of the 1974 bombings and their legal representatives. I have given them the information and the data and I said that the commission, when it is set up, should talk to their representatives about any concerns they have. They have also given to my officials suggestions about some of the workings that will be done.

Regarding the response of the British to the other matters in the Oireachtas report, which was raised here during a previous Question Time and on which there was also some discussion from Parliament to Parliament, I do not have a response.

Regarding the other bombings which were the subject of the second report, I have met the relatives of the two deceased from both the Pettigo and the Cavan bombings, and the families from Clara. That report is now with the committee. The third report, the Seamus Ludlow report, is now with the Government. That will go through a process in the Attorney General's office and will then be published. I do not think there will be any changes to it. We are awaiting the fourth report.

Regarding Mr. Justice Barron's comments on the 1972 and 1973 bombings, we raised that issue with the Prime Minister in his office in Sedgefield some weeks ago. We also put our concerns in writing to the British on 17 November. These matters are now in their system and I hope we will get some responses to that, but not at this stage.

Does the Taoiseach intend to do anything about the apparent time lag between February 2003, when Mr. Justice Barron wrote to Mr. Paul Murphy, the Northern Secretary, seeking information about the 1972 and 1973 bombing and the reply a year later that appears to state the British Government has not yet been able to begin a further major and time-consuming search? Has there been any discussion about that matter in the context of bilateral meetings between the two governments? Can the Taoiseach offer any explanation as to the reason, a year later, such a reply is given which appears to suggest that nothing has been done in the course of that year? Does the Taoiseach find that acceptable?

Finally, in mid-November the Taoiseach indicated that preparatory work was under way establishing a commission of investigation into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Where stands that preparatory work? Has the Taoiseach had discussions with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on seeking tenders for legal staff and the rules and procedures under which the staff are to operate?

I understand the Justice for the Forgotten group is exploring the possibility of taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights. Has the Government a position on that matter? Have discussions taken place with the group on it?

With regard to the lack of British co-operation with Mr. Justice Barron's investigation of the 1972 and 1973 bombings, I have written to the Prime Minister on that matter. We have also raised the matter with the British Government as has the joint committee.

I raised the question of the 1974 bombings when I met the Prime Minister some weeks ago in Sedgefield. While we have not received a reply, we must bear in mind what the Secretary of State said when he replied to the joint committee. He said the relevant information covered by the British authorities had been shared with Judge Barron's inquiry, and he had personally ensured that the information had been provided in the fullest possible manner consistent with his responsibilities to protect national security and the lives of individuals.

This House and the joint committee considered Mr. Justice Barron's report in great detail and the recommendations of the committee were accepted by the Government. I commend the joint committee on the way it did its work. I do not know what the British will ultimately do. We have asked them to deal with their aspects of the inquiry and we must await an answer. A committee of the House is also awaiting that answer.

The Government has made a decision to appoint a commission of investigation. The Attorney General is making the necessary arrangements for the appointment of a chairperson and staff. That Government decision is in place and will come before the House for approval. The commission should be in place early in the new year.

There has been communication between my officials, the office of the Attorney General and the legal representatives of Justice for the Forgotten. We have co-operated with them and helped them with funding and with other aspects. I do not know about funding a case at the European Court of Human Rights but in all other areas to date we have assisted the group financially.

Aer Lingus.

Enda Kenny


10 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet sub-committee examining the future of Aer Lingus that have taken place. [30935/04]

Pat Rabbitte


11 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee examining the future of Aer Lingus last met and when the next meeting is planned. [32122/04]

Trevor Sargent


12 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings there have been of the Cabinet sub-committee examining the future of Aer Lingus. [32414/04]

Róisín Shortall


13 Ms Shortall asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus has met. [32528/04]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


14 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the composition of the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus; and the number of meetings of the Sub-Committee that have taken place. [33092/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on Aer Lingus has met on three occasions, with the most recent meeting having taken place on 9 December.

I understand from newspaper reports — one cannot believe many of these — that the Cabinet was to make a decision today.

That does not arise under these questions. These are very specific statistical questions.


They refer exclusively to the number of meetings which have taken place. They are statistical questions.

May we talk about the decibel level at the meetings?

Members may not discuss policy under these questions.

Did the Minister for Transport brief the Cabinet sub-committee on the Aer Lingus question?

That is still not in order under these questions. They are very narrow. The Chair has no control over these matters.

Can the Taoiseach tell the House if he has made a decision on Aer Lingus yet?

That does not arise under these questions. We will hear a brief question from each of the Deputies. I do not see how supplementary questions can arise from the questions submitted.

The Taoiseach does not mind. He is a very helpful chap. He answers questions that were not asked.

This is ridiculous.

The Taoiseach has indicated that he will take questions.

It is a convention of this House for as long as I have been a Member and as long as I have been watching it that one constructs a question that is a peg on which to hang supplementary questions about the substantive issue. If we can only find one way to table a question about the future of Aer Lingus, which is put on the Order Paper, and the Ceann Comhairle tells the leader of Fine Gael and presumably the rest of us that we cannot ask a question except on the number of times the sub-committee met, it makes a complete farce of the proceedings.

The Ceann Comhairle might as well close the door and lock it.

The Deputy has been here a long time and he knows the Standing Order. Questions on the substantive issue are a matter for the line Minister.

This is a question about the Cabinet sub-committee.

Yes, and it is specific. The Deputy's question is to ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee examining the future of Aer Lingus last met and when the next meeting is planned. That is purely a statistical question. The Chair does not have a choice in this matter.

It raises further questions.

What happens at the meetings is the Taoiseach's business.

No, there is a long-standing precedent in the House, and statistical questions are——

It is not a statistical question.

We have the same issue with the Minister of State when he answers questions on the Central Statistics Office.

I do not give a damn how many times the Cabinet sub-committee met. I want to know what went on, whether decisions have been made, whether the Minister has brought recommendations——

It is not in order. The Deputy is well aware of Cabinet confidentiality.

Surely I am in order to ask the Taoiseach if the Minister for Transport has brought proposals for consideration.

The Deputy is not in order under this set of questions. He has other ways to raise the matter.

The Minister will not answer. I am asking whether the Cabinet sub-committee considered at its last meeting a report from the Minister for Transport on the future of Aer Lingus.

That does not arise in reply to these five questions.

It does, it is mentioned in a question.

It is not in order and the Chair has consistently ruled it out of order. My predecessors ruled such questions out of order.

If the decision has been made, thousands of people will be affected. The Ceann Comhairle should allow the Taoiseach to reply to the question and tell us what is going on.

The Chair will not introduce a new precedent at this stage. The precedent of the House has been that such questions are statistical.

It is not long since the former Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan did the same and the Ceann Comhairle's predecessor allowed him to construct many questions on statistics.

Since then Leaders' Questions have been introduced to allow the leaders to ask questions.

I will ask the question. Has the Cabinet sub-committee concluded its business? Has the Cabinet made a decision on this?

How many more times will the sub-committee meet?

This is critical for thousands of workers and for the economy. Three senior executives are leaving the company and the chairman will leave next year.

The Deputy has gone well outside the range of these questions.

The Ceann Comhairle is ruling these supplementary questions out because of fractions and percentages

The Chair intends to hold the line on these questions. They are statistical questions and the Chair will not allow a policy debate.

The Chair is being extremely tough in the closing week of the session.

The Chair is consistent and the Chair has ruled on this matter similarly for the past seven years. My predecessors ruled in exactly the same way.

The Government does not want to stamp down on the flow of information. The Chair should invite the Taoiseach to elaborate on the statistics. If the Government Chief Whip was able to speak about the M50 and feeder roads earlier — what he stated in a newspaper article today was not correct — surely the Taoiseach can comment on the future of Aer Lingus.

We are coming to the end of Question Time. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

The Chair's ruling is unfortunate and is not——

If the Deputy is not satisfied with the Standing Order and the manner in which questions are answered on Cabinet responsibility and confidentiality, he will have to find a way to amend it. The Chair is implementing the Standing Order.

The clock is ticking on Taoiseach's questions.

With all due respect, the Chair could record a CD for Christmas on that theme but that would not help the common-sense conduct of business in this House.

There are rules in the House and the Deputy is aware of them. There are other ways for him to raise this issue. It is a policy matter for the line Minister.

How many times has the sub-committee met? Does the Taoiseach expect that the next meeting of the sub-committee in respect of Aer Lingus will be the final meeting? When does he expect the sub-committee otherwise to finish its work? Is the sub-committee seized of a report on this matter from the Minister concerned?

The sub-committee met three times. Its work will be completed shortly, probably early after Christmas if not prior to it. The Minister will report back then and have consultations with the social partners. It is close to the end of its remit.

That concludes Taoiseach's questions as it is now after 3.15 p.m.

There were two other questions that were not included.

The Chair has no control over the length of the replies.

The Chair has control. He keeps telling us that he only has control over questions. He did not exercise control.

I tabled a valid question that was not replied to by the Taoiseach. It was overlooked.