Ceisteanna — Questions.

Cabinet Committees.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


1 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet sub-committees on which he sits; and the sub-committees and interdepartmental working groups on which his Department is represented. [16866/07]

Eamon Gilmore


2 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet sub-committees currently operating under the auspices of his Department; when each last met; and when the next meeting is planned. [20164/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together. Since it was appointed on 14 June 2007, the Government has established six Cabinet committees on which I sit. Details of these committees and the dates of their meetings, where appropriate, are as follows: the Cabinet committee on European affairs last met on 17 October 2007 and is due to meet again in December 2007; the Cabinet committee on health last met on 3 October 2007 and is due to meet again this week; the Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security last met on 12 September 2007 and is due to meet again later this month; the Cabinet committee on housing, infrastructure and public private partnerships last met on 10 October 2007 and is due to meet again in December; the Cabinet committee on social inclusion, children and integration last met on 24 October 2007 and no date has yet been set for the next meeting of the committee; and the Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation is due to meet later this month.

Cabinet committees are an integral part of the Cabinet process. Questions as to the business conducted at Cabinet or Cabinet committee meetings have never been allowed in the House on the grounds that they are internal to Government. The reasons for this approach are founded on sound policy principles and the need to avoid infringing the constitutional protection of Cabinet confidentiality.

As always, questions on particular policy issues should be put down to the relevant Ministers. I am circulating in the Official Report a list for the information of Deputies detailing the primary sub-committees and interdepartmental working groups on which my Department is represented.


Interdepartmental group

Sub-committees under interdepartmental groups (only applicable where shown)


inter-departmental co-ordinating committee on European affairs


senior officials group on European affairs


inter-departmental committee on Reform Treaty


external energy group


assistant secretary steering group on the review of the EU budget


inter-departmental co-ordinating committee on the Council of Europe


inter-departmental committee on the OECD


inter-departmental committee on development


high level group on the Asia strategy


inter-departmental working group on emergency planning

task force on emergency planning


freedom of information inter-departmental Working Group

freedom of information Civil Service users network


inter-departmental emergency response co-ordinating committee [nuclear]


inter-departmental committee on public health emergency planning


national security committee


senior officials group on health and related sub group

working group on long-term care


senior officials group on social inclusion

senior officials group on disability


dormant accounts — inter-departmental committees in respect of persons with a disability, economic and social disadvantage and educational disadvantage


high level group on Travellers


inter-departmental group on sustainable travel and transport action plan


inter-departmental group on drugs


high level group on activation


technical advisory group of the office of social inclusion


committee of the pilot project for the co-ordination of youth services in Waterford


ministerial task force on road safety


inter-departmental committee on science, technology and innovation


Lisbon Agenda national reform programme group


cross departmental Team, CDT, on housing, infrastructure and PPPs, HIPPPs

CDT sub-committee on legal issues


inter-departmental group on PPPs


inter-departmental group on implementation of national spatial strategy


Transport 21 monitoring group


cross departmental group on unique business identifier and central business registry


data strategy liaison group


senior officials group on climate change and energy security


inter-departmental committee on climate change


high level group on sustainable development


inter-departmental committee on implementation of the national women’s strategy


tax strategy group


e-strategy group of secretaries general


assistant secretaries implementation group, ASIG, on information society and related sub groups


national payments implementation programme advisory group


SAFE, standard authentication framework environment, steering group


ICT statistics liaison group


implementation group of secretaries general

change management network task force on customer service QCS research group QCS officers’ network high-level group on redress LINK editorial board


PMDS officers’ network


OECD high level steering group

OECD liaison group


inter-departmental group on the review of the economic regulatory environment


regulatory impact analysis, RIA, network


high level group on business regulation

I call Deputy Kenny.

It was Deputy Ó Caoláin's question.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He previously indicated to me that the Cabinet committee on health meets once a month. From the list of six committees the Taoiseach has outlined to us, can I take it that he is a member of the Cabinet committee on health? Does he attend these meetings every month and does the Cabinet committee on health receive reports from the HSE?

I appreciate very well the point made by the Taoiseach about Cabinet confidentiality and how this precludes him from going into detail. Can he give us some sense of the breadth of the deliberations of the Cabinet committee on health? For instance, with the current——

It is not possible for the Taoiseach to discuss with the House or to reply to any question dealing with matters discussed in the sub-committee because they impinge upon what is correctly described by Deputy Ó Caoláin as Cabinet confidentiality.

I have already acknowledged that.

There is no point in asking those questions.

I am mindful that a number of points must be addressed. I seek to establish the breadth of the deliberations of the committee. I have acknowledged that, under Cabinet confidentiality rules, the Taoiseach cannot respond in respect of detail. I take on board what the Ceann Comhairle has stated but I ask the Taoiseach to indicate the breadth of the deliberations of the Cabinet sub-committee on health rather than the specifics of any given matter. Are current issues such as the cancer scandal in Portlaoise? Is the wider policy approach, such as the implementation of the Teamwork and Hanly reports, addressed? Are matters such as the budget shortfall, which is the hook upon which the HSE is hanging the excuse for the embargo on staff recruitment, addressed by the committee in the presence of the Taoiseach?

I must repeat myself because it is important in terms of precedent. It is not possible for the Taoiseach to discuss those matters here. The question submitted relates to statistical matters, dates and times of meetings. This is all that is in order in terms of supplementary questions. The Taoiseach would be out of order and wrong to respond to anything else. Questions regarding the scope, content and the nature of the meetings cannot be asked or answered.

Taking on board what the Ceann Comhairle has stated, I hope the Taoiseach can imaginatively respond to this Deputy's questions. With regard to policy, matters regarding the health services are addressed by the Cabinet sub-committee on health. In addressing policy, does the sub-committee also address contradictions in policy?

Deputy Ó Caoláin must listen. This is my third interjection. I hate interjecting and it is not my policy to do so. Policy matters are matters for the line Minister and are not in order here.

What type of democratic system do we have?

Deputy Ó Caoláin should let me finish. He is impinging on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality, which is not allowed.

I do not intend to do so. With respect, I have prefaced my questioning by making it clear that I understand and appreciate that difficulty. However, we do not live in a dictatorship; this is a democracy. I am trying to establish something other than that the committee sits at all and that the Taoiseach is a member of it — big deal. Let us have some light shone on what the committee is about. It is important that the Taoiseach acknowledges its central role in the determination of Government health policy. That is a valid area for any Deputy to tease out with the Taoiseach. That is why he is here and I am here to ask questions.

In defining policy — I am not referring to specific aspects — where there are contradictions between its presentation by the HSE and by the Minister, are these matters addressed by the sub-committee on health? There are many examples, not least in the roll-out of radiotherapy centres. Professor Drumm wishes to see these in the hands of the public health system and the Minister wishes to see them in the hands of public private partnerships. Are issues such as this addressed by the Cabinet sub-committee? In recognising that there is a need to have a greater understanding of the role and work of the committee, will the Taoiseach shed some light on what he is at?

For the fourth time, it is not open to the Taoiseach to answer the questions posed by the Deputy. Under the principle of collective responsibility, health policy is a matter for the Minister for Health and Children. These are statistical questions. Questions relating to discussions that have been, are being or are due to be held may not be asked during Taoiseach's Question Time. That is a long-standing precedent of the House and I must enforce it. The only question the Taoiseach may answer is that relating to his own attendance.

I was going to make the point that it is open to the Deputy to table any of the other questions he posed to the Minister for Health and Children. In many cases I answer those questions in a different format during Leaders' Questions. However, because Cabinet committees are an extension of the Cabinet itself, I cannot answer them here.

The meetings to which the Deputy refers take place monthly and I attend them. All relevant issues are discussed at these meetings.

In light of the large amount of publicity it has received recently, has the Taoiseach attended a screening of Michael Moore's new film "Sicko"? The film throws some light on the health system in the United States. I recommend that the Taoiseach see it because it exposes some of the practices that obtain and the participants involved in the delivery of the so-called health service in the United States. Some of the companies featured in the film have been invited to operate private for-profit health facilities in this country. If the Taoiseach has already seen "Sicko", that is well and good. If not, I recommend that he do so.

In replies to questions I tabled on previous occasions, the Taoiseach referred to the high level interdepartmental committee on North-South matters and the North-South interdepartmental co-ordinating group. Are these entities continuing to operate as they did in the past or has their work been stepped up or moved into another realm of engagement since the restoration of the Executive north of the Border? Will the Taoiseach shed some light on what is happening with these two interdepartmental bodies?

The Taoiseach, in his earlier reply, could have given a little bit more information regarding the Cabinet committee on health or any of the other committees without in any way breaching confidentiality from a Cabinet point of view.

The Taoiseach could not have done so.

He could have done so.

No, he could not.

We shall have to agree to differ on that matter.

The Taoiseach may reply in respect of the interdepartmental groups.

The work of the interdepartmental groups is continuing. Work relating to the North-South bodies is moving from the previous agenda towards matters involving more economic co-operation. I refer in this regard to work involving the North-South Ministerial Council and the other relevant councils that are now thankfully meeting either weekly or a number of times each week. The work and input of my Department in respect of these bodies and in co-ordinating their activities is probably more intense now that all of them are up and running. My Department is also involved, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs, in setting the agenda for the British-Irish Council. It is hoped that we will soon be working on matters involving the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Assembly in Northern Ireland.

The level of activity relating to the North-South bodies, particularly the Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, is growing on a weekly basis. We are in the process of arranging meetings for 2008. It is likely that there will be three sets of meetings in 2008 if we cannot — as a result of the important meetings to take place in the United States — arrange to hold meetings before Christmas. The meetings will be held either just before or just after Christmas. The activity, agenda and workload relating to these are being progressed.

As the Deputy is aware, the all-island energy market came into effect last week and there are many other areas in respect of which there is cross-departmental co-operation. The bodies are up and running again and are very active.

Are all three Government parties represented on each Cabinet committee? The dates of meetings were quickly mentioned by the Taoiseach and I did not get them all noted. He indicated a date for the next meeting of the Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation. When did it last meet?

I understand from the Taoiseach that the Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security last met eight weeks ago on 12 September. How many meetings of this committee have been held since the Government was formed in June?

The formats of Cabinet committees differ. Some meet monthly, others quarterly and others every six weeks. The Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation meets quarterly. The Cabinet committee on health normally meets monthly as does the Cabinet committee on housing, infrastructure and public private partnerships. The Cabinet committee on social inclusion, children and integration meets every six weeks approximately. The Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security meets every two months. It is a new committee and the next meeting is due next week. It last met in mid-September.

The Taoiseach did not answer my question. I wanted to know when the Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation last met. I will put the question another way. Has it met since the Government was formed in June?

I will have to check. It normally meets quarterly.

I am surprised the Taoiseach does not have an answer to the question he was asked on the dates the committees met. I presume the Taoiseach knows whether this committee has met since the Government was formed in June. This is also true of the Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security. Am I to understand that in a country where we aspire to develop a new economy based on science and innovation the Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation has not met at all since the Government was formed in June? Has the Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security of a Government which professes to being committed to dealing effectively with climate change met only once since the Government was formed in June?

Items are discussed at Cabinet committee if they cannot be discussed by the Government. The climate change strategy and issues surrounding climate change have been discussed at most meetings of the Government. The committee will carry forward its work but because it involves a new committee and a new agenda which is set out in the programme for Government it has been discussed at the Cabinet table and not at committee.

The Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation is to ensure that science, technology, development and innovation are conducive to maintaining our competitiveness and to build on it. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, normally reports to the Government on these issues. When the Cabinet committee meets it is normally to bring a science adviser and officials before the committee. Issues relevant to the brief of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, are discussed at full Cabinet. It is not necessary to have Cabinet committee meetings unless we are bringing in individuals who would not attend meetings of the Cabinet and there probably was not one. I recall going to several meetings but I cannot be sure it was since the summer. Since no date is listed in the reply I imagine it was not. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, certainly reports on these issues, particularly with regard to companies, new initiatives and new involvements and this is a weekly occurrence.

I thank the Taoiseach for telling us the frequency with which the committees are supposed to meet. We are five months into the life of the Government. It is surprising, to say the least, that the Cabinet committee which deals with the area of science and technology, with its importance for our economy, has not met since the Government was formed in June. It seems to indicate that the foot is off the pedal as far as the agenda for science, technology and innovation in the economy is concerned.

I am perplexed as to why the climate change committee has met on only one occasion. I appreciate what the Taoiseach said in regard to the Cabinet regularly discussing the issue of climate change but in view of the priority the programme for Government appeared to give to the issue and the fact that we are to have carbon budgeting for the first time this year, it is incredible that the committee established to address issues of detail by a Government which is supposedly committed to dealing with climate change has met only once. Who is responsible for the convening of that committee?

Deputy Gilmore either misunderstands or seems to misunderstand. The fact that the issue is being dealt with by the Cabinet instead of a sub-committee means that it is taking up more time and is given a higher priority. Rather than being addressed in a sub-committee comprising four or five Ministers, the issue is being addressed by the full Cabinet. That is what has been happening in respect of climate change and it is likely that it will continue to be addressed that way until the end of the year, even though a meeting will be held shortly to discuss certain issues. The crucial point is that it is being dealt with by the full Cabinet.

A different type of committee is involved in the area of science, technology and innovation. The committee is more technical in nature and includes the director of science and other individuals. It is not necessary for it to meet the Cabinet on a more regular basis. When it is required to report, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, reports for it.

The fact that matters are discussed by the Cabinet shows they receive higher priority and preference and more time than they would receive if they were dealt with by sub-committee.

I was going to ask the Taoiseach whether any of the Cabinet sub-committees had dealt with the issue of ministerial pay but I suppose, under Cabinet confidentiality, we would be unable to find out.

That is also dealt with by the full Cabinet.

The sub-committee on innovation might have dealt with the issue.

It dealt with Deputy Kenny's party leader's allowance at the same time.

Alongside his pension.

I did not know that and I do not see it anyway ——

The Deputy is like me but it will help his party.

——unlike some predecessors from various parties.

Does the Taoiseach chair the six committees or are they chaired by individual Ministers? What is the role of the sub-committee once it arrives at a decision? Does the decision go to the Cabinet as a recommendation from the sub-committee? If, for example, the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure discusses a bridge across the Corrib and reaches agreement, is that taken as a motion or proposal that eventually goes before the Cabinet for adoption by the relevant Minister as part of the Government programme?

A sub-committee was established to deal with the issue of Aer Lingus. On 17 May, the Taoiseach indicated it had finished its work and was concluded. Has that Cabinet sub-committee been wound up or is it still in existence? Could it, for example, consider the rumpus over Shannon and the Heathrow slots? I have an interest in deciphering the distinction between the State and the Government, in view of the fact that the Department of Transport was notified of the Aer Lingus decision whereas the Minister was not. Under business law, all shareholders in major companies should be informed of decisions that are imminent.

I chair most of the major Cabinet sub-committees, although not all of them. There are others that I did not mention but I have mentioned the main ones.

There are other Cabinet committees which meet from time to time, including the Cabinet committee on Northern Ireland. The Cabinet committee on security also meets from time to time to get security briefings or to deal with issues relevant to Northern Ireland. Those I already mentioned are the main ones, dealing with infrastructure, health, social exclusion and European affairs. They meet on a monthly basis and they usually have very extensive agendas. They do not deal with day to day issues but issues relevant to the Departments and agencies under their aegis. If an issue was moved from the Cabinet table for more comprehensive discussion by the committee, obviously the committee would report back to the Cabinet. That is the usual procedure. A lot of the other committees deal with more time-consuming issues. We spend several hours per week at Cabinet meetings where we tease out and follow through on issues. The committee on Aer Lingus was centred around the privatisation issue. That was its function and that function was completed. As Deputy Kenny will know from experience, other issues of a current nature come up at the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Task Force on Active Citizenship.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


3 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the progress to date of the task force on active citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18793/07]

Enda Kenny


4 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent work of the task force on active citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18898/07]

Eamon Gilmore


5 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach his views on the recent report of the task force on active citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20165/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, together.

I was pleased to launch the report of the task force on active citizenship on 28 March last. The report was prepared following extensive consultation and research carried out by the task force since its establishment in April 2006. Copies of the report have been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

I believe that the task force stimulated a very worthwhile public debate about the nature of citizenship in a fast-changing country. It has produced an excellent report which includes recommendations to Government, as well as proposals for how individuals, community and voluntary organisations, the business sector and the media can each make a contribution.

The recommendations to Government come under the following thematic areas: participation in the democratic process, the public service and citizens, community engagement and promoting a sense of community, education for citizenship and ethnic and cultural diversity and the challenge of engaging newcomers and local civic participation. The report also makes recommendations about implementation and proposes some targets by which to monitor progress.

The Government has accepted the task force's recommendations in principle and agreed to establish a non-statutory active citizenship office as proposed in its report. The office is developing an implementation plan in consultation with several Departments and other relevant stakeholders. I am pleased that Ms Mary Davis has agreed to chair a steering group to oversee the work of the office.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the task force on producing a clear and concise report within a tight timeframe. It provides a sound basis for strengthening civic participation in Ireland over the next few years.

The Taoiseach will be aware that one of the major obstacles to encouraging greater voluntary and community effort, particularly in the provision of activities for young people, is the excessive premium cost of public liability insurance. Many once-thriving activities, particularly during the summer periods, outdoor and sporting activities for young people, especially out of school, have not continued due to the excessive cost. This is very demoralising for many communities and it stifles the active citizenship that we are all trying to encourage. Has the Taoiseach noted that the task force on active citizenship has examined this issue? Does he agree with the task force that continued efforts to reduce insurance costs and minimise litigation is absolutely essential?

The task force has also highlighted the work done by the national Irish community and voluntary fora in developing a group insurance scheme. This is open to membership for all community and voluntary fora throughout the country. Does the Taoiseach share my concern that there is an inadequate awareness of this initiative? Has he come across it in his role as a Deputy, quite apart from his role as Taoiseach, that local groups are simply not informed of the alternative of coming together under this umbrella group insurance scheme? Does the Taoiseach agree that a much more proactive promotional effort of the alternative means of funding public liability insurance would be a worthwhile initiative in helping to resurrect many fine community initiatives and to encourage people to overcome the difficulties public liability insurance has presented time and again? Will he act on the recommendation of the task force that the group insurance scheme open to members of all local community and voluntary fora should be widely promoted?

I accept what Deputy Ó Caoláin said that in times past, and perhaps at present, public liability costs and premiums regarding difficulties around claims in playgrounds, halls and parish halls and boards of management not making facilities available have created a lot of problems for organisations. Given the efforts over the past four or five years, thankfully premiums are substantially down in this area. However, they still create another level of administration for people who simply want to generate community activities.

I note the recommendation in the report. The task force came across this issue in its consultations. The point was made that where a group comes together, whether a group of local authorities, schools or organisations, it makes it far less difficult to get a group insurance scheme. It is a point with which the Deputy, Members and I would agree. If it could be done in areas, regions, schools or scout halls, it could make a huge impact.

The Deputy made a good suggestion in regard to highlighting what is possible with these group schemes. On a positive note, perhaps I will ask the office which is being set up arising out of the task force to find some way to communicate this to voluntary groups. I have seen examples of premiums being dramatically reduced where groups have pulled together, whether in regard to council playgrounds or otherwise, and where there has been enforcement of some health and safety issues. I will ask the office how that information can be promoted in the community and voluntary sector.

I welcome the Taoiseach's positive response to the questions. Again, I highlight the National Irish Community and Voluntary Forum as a means to address that need. I would welcome any initiative to promote awareness to overcome that difficulty.

My final question is on a related issue. The task force also highlighted the critical need for the system of Garda vetting of people involved in community and voluntary effort with young people to be speeded up. We are all very well aware that people, in good faith, volunteer their services to young people. The overwhelming majority are citizens of good standing with bona fide intent. There is an inordinate delay in having these clearance certificates, for the want of a better description, processed. Is the Taoiseach aware that it takes several months for this process to be completed in each case? It is a dissuasion. It can put people off and it is denying the community and voluntary sector the valued input of energetic people who have a very positive contribution to make in this area. Does the Taoiseach envisage taking any steps to have this matter addressed and the process expedited?

I accept that there can be delays in the vetting process. Full-time public servants get priority. Applicants for positions in the Garda, the Army, the teaching sector and the public service get precedence. Even then there can be delays in the system. Community activists are not given the same level of priority. Many of the delays which are encountered can be attributed to the lack of availability of records and people changing their addresses when they move. Members will be aware of the difficulties which arise. Gardaí are reluctant to sign off on the vetting process until they have completed what they consider to be a comprehensive check. Gardaí tend to hold off if they find that people have moved or changed address. I will raise the issue.

I have seen a number of examples of full-time staff encountering delays in this regard. Such difficulties have been raised in the House in the context of other positions and posts. As gardaí are aware of modern-day problems, they feel they have to do these comprehensive searches and cross-checks. I will raise the issue. While we want to help those who are anxious to get involved in the voluntary sector, we all believe there has to be adequate protection so there are no difficulties, particularly where children are involved. Workers in this sector often deal with very young children, or people who are 15 or 16 years of age. I will raise this issue with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In March of this year, the Taoiseach accepted the report of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship, which set out a number of ambitious and realisable targets. The report set a target, to be achieved by the end of this decade, of reaching 60% turn-out among voters between the ages of 18 and 24. Less than 50% of such voters have turned out in recent elections. The report also set a target of increasing the level of voter participation, estimated by the CSO to have been 75.5% at the 2002 general election, to at least 80% in all future general elections. The report recommended that areas where turn-out is particularly low should be specifically targeted. It is laudable that attempts are being made to achieve such ambitious targets.

The turn-out in the 1997 general election was 66%. The turn-out in the 1997 presidential election was 48%. The turn-out in the 1999 European and local elections, which were held on a Friday, was 51%. The turn-out in the 2001 referendum on the Nice treaty was 35%, but that increased to 50% for the second referendum on the treaty, which was held in 2002. When the local and European elections were held on a Friday in 2004, there was a 61% turn-out. It is obvious that my party got a good response on that occasion.

If the Taoiseach thinks the target set by the task force — a turn-out of 80% in all future general elections — is achievable and realistic, does that mean all such elections should be held on a Friday, a Saturday or a Sunday? I would support such a proposal in the interests of giving as many people as possible an opportunity to cast their votes. Many young people expressed concern, anxiety and criticism when it emerged that this year's general election was to be held during exam time. They felt they would not have an opportunity to vote on the day of the election. If the Taoiseach accepts that it is possible to increase voter participation and turn-out from 75% to 80%, as outlined in the document published last March, does he agree that the target is more likely to be achieved if general elections are held on a Friday, a Saturday or a Sunday? Perhaps he will comment on that matter.

We all agree that we should try to increase the level of voter participation. It is interesting to compare Ireland's record over the last few elections to that of other countries. Our figures are good, when compared to other countries, over the last three polls — the local elections of 2004, the referendum of the same year and the general election of 2007. A number of issues need to be considered in this regard. Like the authorities in other countries, we need to do as much as possible to improve the register of electors. The improvements in the register which were made in advance of this year's general election were quite significant and certainly helped. I have an open mind. It depends where one is, I suppose. A Saturday or Sunday election would be a disaster in a constituency like the constituency I represent. People leave the city in large numbers on Fridays, and the best of luck to them, but that is the reality. Many surveys have been carried out which show that people go here, there and everywhere — they are certainly not at their base. The opposite may be the case in rural Ireland but speaking about where I am in the heart of Dublin, it seems that they all come to Dublin at weekends. I suppose it is the world we live in.

I was in Dublin Airport the other night when people were coming back from the premiership matches and I thought I was in Heathrow Airport because of the football colours——

That was just the congestion.

It was only the congestion caused by the people returning from the premiership matches and the best of luck to them.

They all voted for change.


Whatever about suggesting 20 years ago that Friday, Saturday or Sunday should be considered, it would take a long time to convince me of that argument now. I am in favour of everything that can be done to improve participation in elections and to educate and explain the matter to people by means of civic education programmes. It is important that we do everything we can to achieve a democratic buy-in. The task force on active citizenship believes it is important to persuade people to care about the democratic system and their participation in it. The active citizenship office will work hard with the relevant Departments and agencies to follow up on these recommendations.

It would be very hard to compete with the Taoiseach if he is at Dublin Airport welcoming fans back from the premiership matches.

I was merely wishing my daughter bon voyage, no more than that.

Did the Taoiseach have words with Barry?

They are all Manchester United supporters.

They got a day off on Saturday.


The finding of the report that caught my eye was that just 54% of those who responded said they feel they can influence decisions to alter their local area. The recommendation of the task force was that an effort should be made to try to increase this number to 65% by 2010, which would be a desirable achievement. I question whether the problem is not so much the willingness of people to participate as active citizens as it is the opaque systems with which they must deal. I constantly meet people who are more than willing to participate in their local community and to become involved in issues. However, having gone to an oral hearing of An Bord Pleanála about an issue where the inspector agrees with them and writes up a report to that effect, it is then overturned by the board because it is pursuing some Government policy on infrastructure. If such people want to pursue some issue at local level they go to the local authority and local councillors but they cannot do anything about it because it is down to the county manager or some other unelected personage who makes the decisions.

Is part of the trick in getting more people involved as active citizens in their local communities not a case of changing the bureaucracy they must deal with? People who are busy in their lives and who go once around the track with regard to an issue and find they are getting nowhere, are unlikely to go around it again. Are there plans in place to approach this matter from a different angle, not just from the angle of encouraging people to participate, but from the angle of changing and reforming the local government structures in particular so that when people participate they receive a response?

There are many ways in which people can be encouraged to become involved. I share the Deputy's views on An Bord Pleanála's oral hearings. The engagement of local authorities is very important but in fairness to them they have moved into regional and local offices and decentralised their staff, and that has helped. The system is far better now than it was ten or 20 years ago when everything was centralised in centrally-located offices. The more local offices the better because residents' groups and civic action groups will be more inclined to engage with people who have a feel for and are working in their own communities and the more that happens, the better. Part of the problem over the years has been that we have handed over far more of our decision making to the expert bodies and expert groups on the basis that they are in a more independent position and it is the politically correct thing to do. Every time we do that, for all its laudable reasons, we are taking away our own involvement. I have raised this many times with colleagues and I have sat around the Cabinet table arguing about that but that is what we continue to do.

The main point is that the more civics education there is in our schools and colleges and the more enticement to people to volunteer to engage in community activities the better it is for society. I agree with the Deputy that where there is undue bureaucracy it militates against people playing an active role. I agree with the point that if one goes through something and one is not being listened to one will not become actively involved. For my own part, not a day goes by when I meet some of the statutory bodies and I ask them to advertise and promote what they do and ask people to give their views. The Internet makes it easier for people to do that. While some do it, others seem to ignore the point. The more we force and encourage people to do that the better and the more interest there will be from our local people.

The figures for involvement and participation here are not bad but they could be far better. Various community development plans are contained in the agreed programme for Government for which we have provided extra resources for the next five years. Some €300 million has been spent by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs directly on community activities. Given that much funding has been provided it is a matter of trying to co-ordinate the funds into organisations. I hope the active citizenship office and the work and commissions it has done can help to drive that forward.