Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinQuestion:
1 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the facilities or supports available to staff within his Department to meet their child care needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26485/05]
Vol. 610 No. 4
1 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the facilities or supports available to staff within his Department to meet their child care needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26485/05]
2 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the facilities or provisions available within his Department for the child care needs of his Department’s staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30212/05]
3 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the facilities made available within his Department to cater for the child care needs of departmental staff. [32460/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
Members of staff within my Department are supported as far as it is practicable to meet their child care needs. Staff members are offered a wide variety of family friendly arrangements taking in to account the organisational needs of the Department.
I do not know if one should express surprise or thank the Taoiseach for the brevity of his reply. Does he agree the child care supports offered to some civil servants are fair compared with those offered to other workers, especially those in the private sector and lower paid workers generally? Is the Taoiseach aware that one of the real difficulties is that entitlements, to which he alluded briefly, exist not as statutory rights but as the result of long, hard negotiations and agreement? For many people the option of parental leave is not a real option because it is not provided for in law. Surveys have indicated that a mere 20% of workers who could exercise the right to take parental leave——
The Deputy is outside the scope of the question which relates specifically to the Taoiseach's Department.
I know that but in the context of his Department, is the Taoiseach aware that 20% of workers——
It does not arise on this question. The Chair has ruled on this matter and the Deputy must confine himself to the question before the House.
If the Ceann Comhairle will allow me to finish the sentence, it will become apparent——
The Deputy has been granted a fair amount of latitude.
I never get latitude. I never seek it and if I were ever granted any, I would be gobsmacked. Only one in five workers can avail——
It does not arise on this question.
If I am allowed, I ask the Taoiseach if the same figures apply in his Department. If there are reflective statistics for his Department of the figures I have outlined for the State experience, does he agree a right in law to parental leave is required?
That does not arise out of this question. If the Deputy read his question, he would see that. I ask him to confine himself to the question before the House.
This is a good Second Stage speech.
I view child care as other than crèche facilities that have been mooted for this institution for a long time. Child care is a much more comprehensive issue than the mere provision of a room and guardianship.
The Deputy is correct and that is why he should submit a question to the appropriate Minister.
I am trying to establish, if the Chair would allow a Member of this House to do so, whether the Taoiseach agrees, from his experience in his Department, that we need statutory provisions and not just the options exercised out of long negotiations and agreement.
The Chair will implement the Standing Orders and there will be no special treatment for Deputy Ó Caoláin. I ask him to resume his seat and allow the Taoiseach to respond to the question.
Will the Taoiseach reply to my valid questions, which are exactly to what Question No. 1 refers?
The Taoiseach will reply with regard to his own Department. I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to resume his seat.
Legislation governs maternity leave and it is continually under review. Over the past six social partnership programmes there have been improvements and changes. In my Department a number of initiatives are in place to support the needs of a diverse workforce, including work sharing options, flexitime, career breaks, paternity leave, term leave, special leave for domestic circumstances, adoptive leave and maternity leave. The last exists as a right and by regulation but leave is often taken for other purposes.
Does the Taoiseach agree that leave to which workers are legally entitled would be the answer?
I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to allow the Taoiseach to reply.
Some of the issues raised by the Deputy already exist in legislation. The child care measures in my Department include term leave, for example, which quite a substantial number of people take. It allows them to take either eight, ten or 13 weeks' unpaid leave from June until the end of August to match their working arrangements with their children's summer holidays. A range of options are available across Departments and they assist and greatly help parents.
In the overall child care area, the Deputy knows that facilities are in place for people both within and outside the public service. I do not want to answer for the private sector because that is not my Department but a range of initiatives are available for people to use.
With regard to child care and the Taoiseach's Department, have his staff indicated any interest in or must they apply for the use of crèche facilities that are coming on stream in Kildare House? Is that a facility that will be available to the Taoiseach's Department and what is the expected completion date?
Are details available of staff in flexitime, part-time or work sharing arrangements in the interests of child care? Will the Taoiseach provide the House with those figures now or obtain that information? It would be interesting to compare his Department with other areas of the Civil Service.
The Taoiseach mentioned, in reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin, that leave of eight, ten or 13 weeks is allowed to tie in with school holidays. Is there any other leave facility staff can take which might appear to be a career break but is in effect parental leave? For example, is taking a year off for child rearing among the child care facilities available within his Department?
I remind the Deputy that his question should only apply to the Taoiseach's Department.
Absolutely. I am strictly confining my question to the Taoiseach's Department.
Deputy Sargent should note that the first part of his question relates to facilities in the House and is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas which has responsibility for the crèche.
I asked about the crèche as it might apply to the Taoiseach's Department.
A crèche for the backbenchers.
The facility will only be available to staff in the Houses. There are some crèches in the public service, in Revenue and some other Departments, that are open to staff and there is a number of private crèches that people can use.
A total of 35 staff across all grades in my Department, up to and including principal officer, avail of work sharing. That is quite a high number out of a total of not much more than 200 people. That obviously helps staff with young children. The type of work sharing options available to staff include four-day weeks, three-and-a half-day weeks, three-day weeks, two-and-a-half-day weeks, two-day weeks, split weeks, mornings-only, evenings-only, week-on and week-off, and so forth. The system is extremely helpful and flexible for staff. The split week is by far the most popular option with staff. The other options are only availed of by one or two individuals, but the split week is very popular. The next most popular option is the four-day week. Those two options cover the majority of the work sharing arrangements.
As Deputy Sargent has said, the term time option is very helpful for people with small, schoolgoing children in the four to seven or five to eight age groups. It allows people to take leave for at least a sizeable part of the summer break, which works fairly well, without totally disrupting the Department. It works for people who are in an EU section or a section that is not as busy in July and August as it is during the rest of the year. It is helpful and useful to people.
I note the range of options that members of staff in the Taoiseach's Department may exercise, but what is the policy? Is there a structured policy for all workers in his Department? Do they know what it is and is it the same for every employee irrespective of rank? What does it consist of in concrete terms? The reply did not give any details?
Is the Deputy asking about a policy for child care?
Yes. If a parent is taken on by the Department what is he or she told by the head of personnel is available in terms of child care facilities? I do not refer to work sharing.
There is no crèche in my Department and there are no arrangements for people to bring children. I have given details of how we try to accommodate staff but there is no facility for staff to arrive at work with their children and ask the secretary to look after them.
The Taoiseach might second the Minister for Defence as he enjoys playing with toys.
Or the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely.
4 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair in London on 11 October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28596/05]
5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in London on 11 October 2005 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28674/05]
6 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts and meetings with the Northern Ireland political parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28675/05]
7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with representatives of the SDLP on 6 October 2005. [28733/05]
8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with representatives of the Alliance Party on 13 October 2005. [28734/05]
9 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair on 11 October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28735/05]
10 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters and conclusions reached at his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [29000/05]
11 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he has received the latest report of the Independent Monitoring Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30008/05]
12 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the leadership of the Alliance Party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30012/05]
13 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his 11 October 2005 meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30213/05]
14 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent contacts or meetings with the Northern Ireland political parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30214/05]
15 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach his views on the International Monitoring Commission’s latest report. [30215/05]
16 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if he will give an update on the peace process. [30218/05]
17 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if the arrangements for his forthcoming visit to Belfast have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31339/05]
18 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the peace talks in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31340/05]
19 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his views on the recent report of the International Monitoring Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31493/05]
20 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach his initiative to invite MPs from Northern Ireland to address a committee of the whole Dáil, at least every six months and commencing in early 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32452/05]
21 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the position regarding recent talks with Unionist representatives. [32453/05]
22 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the reason there is no real movement on talks in Northern Ireland. [32454/05]
23 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if he will reconsider bringing back an independent arbitrator to resolve the deadlock in Northern Ireland. [32455/05]
24 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Progressive Unionist Party. [32465/05]
25 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the response he has received from party leaders in Dáil Éireann to his letter of 26 October 2005 in regard to the Seventh Report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and a possible role for MPs from Northern Ireland in the work of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32737/05]
26 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his visit to Northern Ireland on 3 November 2005. [33157/05]
27 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent official visit to Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34047/05]
28 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach his views on developments, including his letter of 26 October 2005 to party leaders in Dáil Éireann, regarding the possible role for MPs from Northern Ireland in the work of the Houses of the Oireachtas. [34048/05]
29 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Progressive Unionist Party. [34049/05]
30 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party on 18 November 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35421/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 30, inclusive, together.
I met Prime Minister Blair in London on 11 October. The meeting offered an early opportunity to review political developments particularly in the aftermath of the decommissioning of their weapons by the IRA at the end of September. Both Governments remain determined to maintain positive momentum in the process and to bring about the restoration of the devolved institutions at the earliest possible date.
The Governments received the latest report of the Independent Monitoring Commission on 14 October and it was published on 19 October. The report focused primarily on the period March to August 2005. Five months of that six month period were prior to the IRA statement but I welcome the IMC's conclusion that the initial signs following the IRA statement are encouraging.
The IMC's initial findings, taken together with the IRA statement of 28 July and the subsequent act of final decommissioning on 26 September, clearly offer the potential for a huge transformation in the situation in Northern Ireland and a return to partnership politics and devolved government. The IMC's next report is due in January 2006. We hope this will continue to show that all IRA activities have ceased.
I continue to maintain contact with all the political parties in Northern Ireland. I met Mark Durkan and other SDLP representatives on 6 October, David Forde and other Alliance Party representatives on 13 October, David Ervine and other PUP representatives on 26 October and Sir Reg Empey and other UUP representatives on 9 November. The meetings focused on recent political developments, including the prospects for restoration of devolved government.
I met Dr. Ian Paisley and a delegation from the DUP on 18 November. We had a comprehensive exchange of views on current issues in the peace process and on how we could make progress in the coming months. We also discussed areas of common ground and ways we could work together in the future. I attach considerable importance to ensuring an open and frank relationship with the DUP. I believe the relationship between the DUP and the Government has developed positively over the past two years.
Contacts of this nature between the Governments and the political parties, including recently those involving the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, a second round of which will take place this week, are the best means to make progress in the process.
The question of further outside mediation does not arise. The issues are clear and it is a matter for everyone to now play their part in bringing all of them to an early, lasting and stable conclusion.
On the issue of Oireachtas participation for Northern Ireland MPs, Deputies will be aware that the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution felt that it could be particularly valuable from time to time to have the expertise and experience of Northern Ireland MPs in Dáil deliberations with regard to Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. I have always been clear in my support for this proposal and my wish to see it carried forward. I wrote to all Dáil party leaders on this matter on 26 October and I will reflect on their replies and how best this issue can be advanced. Ultimately the question is a matter for this House and that is why I have written to party leaders seeking their views.
I have advised the House on several occasions that the Government would, in the appropriate circumstances, address the so-called on-the-runs issue. The Governments' intentions regarding OTRs were referred to as far back as Weston Park in July 2001. For a number of reasons, it was not possible to advance this issue in the intervening period but both Governments have now published their proposals on the matter and the approach envisaged in our respective jurisdictions. The number of persons likely to avail of the scheme in our jurisdiction is small. The scheme will not apply to persons in relation to offences connected with the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Garda Ben O'Sullivan.
I visited Belfast on Thursday, 3 November, where my engagements included a visit to the Somme Heritage Centre in Newtownards, a visit to the Christian Brothers Club on the Antrim Road, a meeting with New Lodge community representatives, a visit to the 174 Trust in north Belfast and a visit to a Cross Community Peace Project at Poleglass in west Belfast. I also addressed at lunch a meeting of the members of the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland. My address focused on two main themes. I spoke about the real potential for the island economy and for North-South co-operation in a wide range of areas, to the mutual benefit of both parts of this island. I also made clear that the constitutional issue was settled by people when they voted for the Good Friday Agreement and that the onus is now on all concerned to work towards the implementation of the Agreement in all its dimensions. That is our objective, one that is fully reflected in the recent motion which this House adopted.
Is the Taoiseach aware that over the past fortnight 50 nationalists were visited by the PSNI and advised that their names and personal details are on files now in the hands of unionist paramilitaries? Is he aware that this follows the removal of a dossier 16 months ago from a section of the PSNI complex in Castlereagh which contained the names and personal details of 400 nationalists? Is he aware that the Sinn Féin President, Mr. Gerry Adams, was one of those visited and advised that his life is in danger? Is he aware that, despite the denials by the PSNI at the time and since, 28 members of the Royal Irish Regiment were removed from their duties in Castlereagh and redeployed to other duties as a result of the documents being taken?
Did the Taoiseach raise any of these matters with the British Prime Minister at the meeting of 11 October? If not, and if it was the case that the full information was not available at the time, will he advise the House that he will address this matter with the British Prime Minister when the opportunity next presents itself? Given that the information released referred to 400 citizens, does he believe each of them should be advised immediately of the situation now applying to their personal security? Will he establish if all of these people are domiciled north of the Border or are any of them living in this jurisdiction?
What further action does he propose to take in regard to such outstanding examples of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and elements within the broad police service within the North of Ireland that still maintains from its days as the RUC? This matter needs to be taken on board. Will the Taoiseach reflect that there was a period of more than 15 months of denial that this information had fallen into the hands of unionist paramilitaries yet, over that same period, the UDA issued statement after statement confirming that it had the information in its possession? There are real questions to be answered here. What chance has the Taoiseach had to discuss the issue with the British Prime Minister and what further action does he propose to take on the matter?
A Cheann Chomhairle, I would appreciate if you would accord me the opportunity to ask a further question later.
I am aware of the reports and the information, although I have not seen the full aspects of it yet. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, previous Ministers and I continually raise with the British through the Secretariat and the Secretary of State matters of collusion and names being passed to individuals, and we will continue to do that.
The practice of informing people about these issues is correct. When the PSNI believes there is a threat based on security information on personal security issues, people should be made aware of it. It is a fact that much of the information is coming from people in the Unionist and loyalist community who also believe information on them was held as a result of police collusion. The issue no longer comes from just one side, people from the loyalist and Unionist community have raised it in a number of high profile cases and have sought meetings with our officials and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This demonstrates that it did happen and people now know that it happened. We will continue to highlight and raise the issue with the Secretary of State and the British Prime Minister.
From all that is happening, the PSNI is far more open, helpful, constructive and engaged in these issues and has made a real attempt to eliminate co-operation of this untoward nature that happened in the past. It is to the credit of the PSNI that it did that. We will raise these issues as we did in the past.
The Taoiseach wrote to party leaders on notepaper with the Taoiseach's heading on it about the proposal to allow speaking rights to members of Sinn Féin not elected to this House in a Dáil committee. He did not make it clear that he was writing as the leader of Fianna Fáil as distinct from the Leader of the Government in his capacity as Taoiseach. In view of the response he received from Fine Gael and other parties, including his Government partners, the Progressive Democrats, can I assume that the Taoiseach's proposal has been withdrawn?
I wish to raise the issue of Community Restorative Justice, an organisation funded by the entrepreneur Chuck Feeney. The money allocated to it is running out and claims have been made to the British Government. In the Mourne Observer of 28 January 2004, a Sinn Féin public representative stated that this organisation was working well in Downpatrick and that Sinn Féin intended to set up similar initiatives throughout south Down to offer a viable alternative to the PSNI, which had proved ineffective and unacceptable to many communities. Community Restorative Justice’s links to Sinn Féin are clear.
I took careful note of the remarks of Ms Eileen Calder of the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre concerning a serious case in Northern Ireland where a woman was raped, then intimidated to the point that it was perfectly clear that she should not attempt to report this and that if she did report it, other things might happen. Other instances of intimidation including threats from the IRA against individuals were brought by representatives of Community Restorative Justice. This is appalling. In another case, Eileen Calder described how a woman who was raped was brought face to face with the rapist in a room, which the victim described as worse than the rape itself.
Has the Deputy a question?
Has the Taoiseach discussed this with the British Prime Minister? What is the Government's view on funding for Community Restorative Justice? Does the Taoiseach share the forthright views of Eileen Calder of the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre? She stood side by side with Sinn Féin representatives in campaigning on women's, equality and rights issues in Northern Ireland because she felt she had to speak out strongly about this. What are the Taoiseach's and the Government's views on Community Restorative Justice? Is he concerned that a group with clear links to the IRA and the provisional movement is funded as an alternative to the PSNI, which he has described as making real progress?
On the first question, I have always made clear, in the context of restored confidence and trust in the peace process, that I would make proposals for Oireachtas participation by all Northern MPs and I made it clear that would include all sides. They complement other proposals, including that for a North-South parliamentary forum. For too long, we have not paid enough attention to Northern Ireland issues, and the need to understand each other and work together is highly commendable. My proposals are in line with the recommendations of an all-party committee report endorsed by the House at the time and again in May 2003, and they are also consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.
I have written to party leaders and I am aware several parties have reservations and queries about the proposals. When an opportunity arises to consider their responses in detail, which I appreciate, we should agree a way to discuss these issues with a view to developing an all-party consensus. In my recent contacts with Northern Ireland parties, I set out the rationale for this proposal and I assured them that I do not intend it to become a divisive issue. I do not want to move to a situation where Oireachtas Members and committees can talk to parliamentarians from everywhere in the world with the exception of Northern Ireland. That would be regrettable and, therefore, we must find an adequate way to address this, which I believe we can.
The second question is about the best way to resolve all the issues relating to restorative justice, community policing, the difficulties of people getting involved in this scheme who might have links to former paramilitaries and undermining what is normally a good idea. Restorative justice and community policing is basically a good system, but it is difficult to operate a system like this without proper policing. The solution to getting on top of this is to get the PSNI accepted and agreed by all parties and functioning as it wants to do. The PSNI is making good progress. A total of 114 of the 175 recommendations in the Patten report have been implemented. The report by Mr. Al Hutchinson, the Policing Oversight Commissioner, in September shows how well the force is doing. However, the best way forward is to properly resolve the policing issue. Whatever grows out of that, as in any other area, can be useful. The use of restorative justice and community policing without normality in or shared policing is open to danger.
We have discussed this issue with the British Government, which is supportive of the concept of such policing on the basis that it helps people and communities to work together. The British Government, like us, has heard about how this system can be wrongly used, but the best way to address it is to deal with the policing issue because until that is resolved, it will be difficult to have a system with which people will be happy.
Will the Taoiseach comment on the proposals which are tantamount to an amnesty for the so-called on-the-runs? Does the Taoiseach know how many such individuals are likely to be affected in this jurisdiction and how many will be affected in Northern Ireland or in the UK as a result of the legislation brought in by the British Government?
Will the Taoiseach explain the difference in approach in this jurisdiction compared to that in Britain, where legislation has been published? As I understand it, the Taoiseach is saying there will not be any such legislation in this jurisdiction. Is he satisfied that no legislation will be necessary? Does he agree the reason legislation will not be advanced is that it would be very difficult constitutionally to bring forward legislation which would exclude additional persons wanted in connection with the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, and that as a result the Taoiseach and Government are going for the option of a presidential pardon? Does the Taoiseach believe that is constitutionally firm? I presume he acknowledges that as a result of the British Government decision, the people involved will be let free on licence only, whereas a presidential pardon in this country would essentially be a once-off, with no going back on it.
Where does the Taoiseach stand on the recommendations of the SDLP? They make clear for example that the so-called on-the-run applicants for an amnesty would have to present at a trial and that there would have to be a decision in terms of their innocence or guilt. Even where no prison sentence would be imposed, they would have to present at a trial. The SDLP recommends that this process should not last longer than six months to a year. They say the process ought to be accompanied by victim impact statements, that the trials ought to be conducted in open court, that releases should be granted only on the basis of licence, and that the entire process would be for offences committed prior to the Good Friday Agreement.
Does the Taoiseach see merit in the SDLP proposals, or is it still his opinion and that of the Government that they can proceed to have people guilty of terrorist offences released on presidential pardon without any legislative basis for such releases?
In dealing with matters related to Northern Ireland I have repeatedly told the House that in particular circumstances the issue of the so-called on-the-runs would have to be addressed. It is now four and a half years since we completed the deliberations on that issue in Weston Park, where we first decided it should be resolved. That issue had been an over-hang all the way from May 1998, so three years later in Weston Park we set out what would happen. We published the resulting documents in the joint declaration of 2003, two and a half years ago. There is nothing new in all of this.
The cases we are dealing with involve people wanted in connection with offences committed prior to the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 who, if they had been serving sentences at the time of the Agreement, would have been released early under the terms of the Agreement, and the principle is the same. Last week the UK published its legislation. In this regard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, set out the approach we would take in this jurisdiction. The UK legislation will deal with the establishment of a tribunal to deal with these cases. In our case we will establish an eligibility body and advise the President to use her powers under Article 13.6 of the Constitution. There are different approaches that reflect our different legal and constitutional frameworks. Essentially, the net effect will be same. While the approaches reflect our different legal and constitutional frameworks the same category of people will not face imprisonment. We are satisfied that the pre-trial pardon can be granted in such cases. In fact, there would be great difficulties under our Constitution were we to adopt any other approach to dealing with this issue. The power of pardon cannot be delegated under the Constitution. It is vested solely in the President to be exercised on the advice of the Government.
I am advised that even if that were not the position the provisions of the Constitution dealing with the trial of offences would stand in the way of setting up the type of tribunal for which the UK has opted. I accept that some people, as a matter of principle, are opposed to addressing the issue of on-the-runs but if it is accepted it has to be dealt with. In that case what we have proposed is the most practical way of dealing with what the security forces here understand is a very small number of cases that are likely to arise. I do not know the number in the UK and I am not sure if the UK knows the number.
Would there be half a dozen cases here?
Yes, I think that is the number we are talking about. If it arises, we are talking about very low numbers. Some of these may have left about 30 years ago and have resettled in various parts of the world. How many of these will reappear? The scheme does not cover the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. There are a few of those but they are not covered by the scheme, they are excluded, the same as the prison release.
Last week the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, gave details of how he proposes to operate the scheme in this jurisdiction. It may be worth repeating that here. An eligibility body will be established to deal with these cases. Qualifying persons will generally cover persons who, before 10 April 1998, committed offences in connection with the situation in Northern Ireland, once these persons are not affiliated to or support organisations which do not maintain a complete unequivocal ceasefire. Obviously people who had been involved with the splinter groups would not be eligible. The eligibility body will determine whether a person is a qualifying person and shall notify the Minister who in turn will submit cases to Government with a view to recommending that the President use her powers under Article 16.
It is intended that the scheme in this jurisdiction will operate in tandem with the operation of the provisions in the UK which has to await the enactment of legislation. That will take some months. I understand Prime Minister Blair made some announcement about this today. It will take some time before the scheme comes into operation. It will be a matter for the eligibility body to determine whether a person is eligible under the scheme. The criteria for eligibility mirrors the criteria that applied in determining whether persons were to be released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, that the offence was committed in connection with the situation in Northern Ireland and that the person in question is not affiliated to and does not support organisations which do not maintain a complete and unequivocal ceasefire.
Whatever about people being eligible in theory to apply under the scheme, in practice there is no reason to believe that people who were involved in some of the outrages are likely to come forward to avail of the scheme. On the other hand, it would obviously be invidious even if the issue was never likely to arise. The scheme applies only to members of the Provisional IRA. I emphasise that the operation of the scheme will not affect the search to find the truth in regard to some of the outrages that happened over the years, such as the Dublin-Monaghan bombing, the Omagh bombing and others. I think that answers the Deputy's question.
I must call time now. I will not be able to call three Deputies who submitted questions. We have run out of time for questions to the Taoiseach.
The Ceann Comhairle will allow one brief question at least.
It is 3.15 p.m. and I am obliged to move on to priority questions to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children. When the Chair groups a large number of questions, I suggest that Deputies should confine themselves to questions before the House. We lost time——
Is the Ceann Comhairle including the Taoiseach in his remarks?
The Chair is moving on to questions to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.
We were five minutes late in starting. This is very unfair. I have more important things to do.