Ceisteanna — Questions.

Corporate Procurement Plans.

Enda Kenny

Question:

1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if there is a corporate procurement plan in place in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3563/08]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

2 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the corporate procurement procedures operating within his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4660/08]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

3 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the procedures for corporate procurement in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15226/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

There is a corporate procurement plan in place in my Department. This plan was put in place to implement the requirements of the national procurement policy framework and it reflects my Department's commitment to effective and efficient resource allocation and service provision as prescribed by the Public Service Management Act 1997 and the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993.

Procurement of goods and services by my Department is carried out under procedures set out in Department of Finance public procurement guidelines and EU procurement rules. These procedures are designed to ensure that competitive processes are in place to select the providers of goods and services which represent best value to the Department, taking account of a number of important criteria including cost and suitability for purpose.

Procedures in place, which may vary according to the nature and amount of the procurement involved, include the appropriate use of processes to specify requirements; select an appropriate competitive process whether by seeking quotations, advertising, use of central purchasing facilities and centrally negotiated framework agreements or more formal tender processes; evaluation of alternatives according to pre-set criteria; agreement of contracts; and monitoring of service delivery.

Am I wrong in assuming that most Departments and State agencies seem to have been entirely independent operations in the way they purchase goods and materials to service the Departments? The Taoiseach has been in the Department of Finance for a number of years and he knows the bills that crossed his table. Would it be a good idea to have a single public buying office, under the Department of Finance, which would attract larger tenders and, therefore attract economies of scale across a vast range of materials, goods and services to be provided? For example, IT services could then be contracted out to other Departments and State agencies rather than the State entering into the famous PPARS business with the health boards where entirely separate operations took place. Surely collaborative purchasing arrangements in the interests of the taxpayer would attract very large tenders, economies of scale and greater accountability and transparency in the purchase of materials and goods and give a better return all round. Is there merit in having a single State purchasing body, operated under the Department of Finance, for all Departments — which, as the Taoiseach said, would cut out the series of independent republics which do their own thing, buy their own wares, make their own tenders, advertise their wares and so on — which should be in the interests of the taxpayer?

This is an area I will have a look at in the context of the reform of public services. It is important that procurement plans or procurement policy are not structured in such a way as to cause delay by requiring people away from the organisation to do the procuring when those in front line management positions are in a position to identify prospective suppliers. They would have built up a relationship with them because of the work they do and the type of engagement in which they are involved and would be quoted tenders far quicker than going through a centralised system. Deputy Kenny made the point that related activities, whether at local government level or elsewhere, could be grouped to allow greater streamlining of the requirements of various individual councils for certain materials, in terms of road making and so on and that be tendered for in group manner. In an effort to get better value for money it seems to me that has merit and it should be part of the agenda of reform that we are talking about undertaking as soon as the task force reports in the summer.

I thank the Taoiseach for that reply. I know from his previous experience that he sees the proposal has merit. It can be complex enough to put it into operation. Collaborative purchase agreements, known as electronic reverse auctions, are available through a central database and a network of procurement officers having specialist training for procurement officers. For example, many Departments buy in legal services and tender for these. A network of panels of legal firms which have an expertise in particular areas of legal requirements would be helpful. I thank the Taoiseach for his reply in that regard. I hope he will follow it through and push this to become a reality. Hundreds of millions of euro could be saved over a period by a single public purchasing office, operated through the Department of Finance, and answerable to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach.It would streamline the process, provide greater efficiency, cost effectiveness, transparency and accountability and, as a result, would be in the public interest.

As I indicated, effective and efficient procurement policy procedures and practices can have a significant impact on the accountability and value for money aspects of the purchase of goods and services by the State. The potential for real savings from more effective procurement policies is significant. Achieving savings is important as it frees up resources which can be redirected to the provision of services within organisations. Developments internationally suggest better outcomes may be possible by moving beyond pure compliance with existing rules towards improved procurement policies and practices. While some efforts have been made in this direction, scope for further development exists.

The main aim is to achieve value for money, while having regard to probity and accountability. While price is very important in determining value for money outcomes in procurement and for certain categories of purchases, in particular, it is not the only variable that needs to be considered. Value for money also encompasses non-cost factors. When making purchases of goods or services, consideration must be given to whether they are fit for the purpose for which they are intended, the goods or services are of sufficient quality and the level of service or support provided meets requirements. I accept this is an area for further consideration.

I have one question on procurement by way of public private partnership. Is the use of such partnerships being reconsidered, particularly given the comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General in drawing attention to the fact that the rates of interest being applied for PPPs are in excess of what the Government would normally pay? In circumstances in which interest rates are increasing, will the use of public private partnerships and their value for money be reconsidered?

No. The use of public private partnerships is appropriate in certain but not all circumstances. PPPs are also a good vehicle by which we can encourage private sector investment to work with public sector investment to provide much needed infrastructure. Within the system of evaluation of public private partnerships, the use of a public sector benchmark ensures an assessment of the options is made on a value for money basis. In some cases, a PPP is not appropriate and in some cases it is appropriate.

With the increase in directly funded capital programmes, one cannot assume, in the overall budgetary context, that further publicly provided moneys will be available to the same extent as they are currently available through the PPP process. Private sector input provides a greater capacity to move a number of projects forward. PPPs are working exceptionally well in the roads area, for example, in terms of hard infrastructure. As is clear from the budget figures, in overall terms the vast majority of investment is made exclusively through public Exchequer funding. Various evaluations have been made and lessons can be learned but public private partnerships are a necessary part of the overall approach. To return to Leaders' Questions, there is no single exclusive way of doing things. A number of approaches need to be applied to try to deliver the outcomes we seek.

Given the downturn in the economy, particularly its impact on manufacturing jobs, is there scope in Departments for procurement to take place with a particular focus on Irish manufactured goods and Irish provided services? Have European Union regulations closed off the potential to adopt or employ imaginative approaches to procurement by Departments and local authorities or is a protocol in place in Departments which gears consideration in the first instance to the Irish manufacturing sector? I do not have to emphasise the importance of this sector at this time with so many jobs being lost at various locations throughout the State. Is there a policy framework in place or under consideration which can help in that regard, given that the State is a significant spender on behalf of the citizenry, controls the Exchequer purse and can make a significant impact on the sale of indigenous goods and services provided by Irish workers or workers employed here?

In that respect, have measures been considered in the area of tendering which would take on board Irish best practice in terms of labour laws and health and safety considerations? In terms of specific procurement projects, is the Taoiseach aware, from his former portfolio as Minister for Finance, of whether Departments have considered applying to the provision of goods and services the very highest standards of labour law and health and safety considerations?

It has been a matter of considerable concern to me that large sectors — I am not sure if I said something humorous——

We are allowed to smile in the House.

It is good to see we can elicit the odd smile. It has been suggested time and again in the health sector that meat products procured for use in hospital and other health settings are not of Irish or EU origin or meet the necessary stringent traceability requirements. This practice is reflected in other sectors, not least in catering. The Taoiseach must also be aware of such concerns and while I cannot evidence the practice to him, there is great concern. This is the reason I raise, in particular, the whole issue of labour law and health and safety standards and wonder what approach the Government can adopt on the back of these to help the further development of accessing goods and services here.

I do not believe it is possible to restrict access to the competitive tendering systems in place based on the location of a business. At a certain level of procurement expenditure, one is required to place a notice in the Official Journal of the European Communities and bring the tender to the attention of all competitors within the European wide system. This is good because it ensures our suppliers are competitive and recognise in which areas they have to compete with companies from other parts of Europe. The bottom line is that the Government must secure best value from taxpayers' money.

It would be great if every tender issued was taken up on a competitive basis by an Irish firm. I have received representations from people who have examined the procurement of a service provided to the health sector by a non-Irish entity and found it was not as good as the service provided by previous suppliers for many years in terms of having people on site and providing after-sales services and maintenance contracts. A wider perspective was taken when the contract came up again.

As I indicated, it is not simply a matter of accepting the cheapest tender as wider issues must be taken into account. Sometimes people learn the hard way, through experience, that the lowest tender does not necessarily deliver the best outcome. I have seen this in the provision of sanitary services in my home area where the lowest tender secured the contract but the delivery of the contract was full of problems and caused great inconvenience for a long time. It may well have cost the local authority more than if it had gone elsewhere, which can happen.

The main thrust of the Deputy's question was whether there was any way one could limit tenders to Irish manufacturers. It depends on the size of the contract and whether one would have to notify people outside the country. That is the criterion. The size of the contract determines what clicks into the EU Journal advertisement requirement under EU competition law.

As I said, it requires people who study these tenders and make decisions on them to recognise that there are sometimes after-sales issues and after-tender maintenance requirements that need to be factored in. I am always of the view that if there is very little in the difference, one should give it to an Irish firm, although that must be legal and appropriate. I am sure such judgments are made by people at various times.

I am not aware that any problem exists in the food and catering area in terms of the meat being used, whether in the health sector or elsewhere. I have not come across people who have indicated that there is a problem there. Beef from outside the EU is eaten in this country. Local farmers and organisations have a view about that but it is part of the ebb and flow of trade and trade agreements. As happened in the past, basic standards were not met and a temporary ban was brought to bear. These issues are monitored all the time.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply and for indicating a willingness to look at what can be done to secure best outcomes from an Irish perspective. Will he look at Irish labour law issues in regard to the procurement of materials and services and at health and safety issues? To be more specific, there are instances of substantial concern in regard to the procurement of produce by a number of State agencies, including the HSE and our hospitals network. There is a question mark over poultry. In many cases, restaurants can tell one the farm on which poultry is produced but I warrant that is not the case with our health service and this creates great concern. There are also real concerns in the catering sector.

I do not expect we will get the answers to everything here but will the Taoiseach indicate a willingness to explore these matters because it is about more than securing greater opportunity for Irish suppliers? There is a concern in terms of labour law and health and safety among people of disparate opinion with whom I have discussed these matters.

In fairness to public service procurers, people want to deal with reputable organisations and firms based on the quality of their product and the fact that they can provide it at short notice and the way those seeking the product want it. I do not believe one can place conditions in terms of what trade union is represented and so on. One is dealing with the procurement of a product which must be safe, competitively priced and meet requirements. If people meet those conditions, they are entitled to tender.

People in other capacities have responsibilities to ensure matters are properly handled in terms of our employment law and so on. If one brought that into the procurement process, one would complicate it which could cause delay and additional cost by the time one sorted it out. There is a need to avoid bringing in responsibilities other than those about which we are talking, that is, getting value for money for products which are safe for people to use or for whatever purpose they are sought. There is the wider supervisory role of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in regard to labour law matters. The labour inspectorate deals with that issue and it should not be brought into the tendering process.

Independent Members.

Enda Kenny

Question:

4 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the arrangements in place in his Department for providing assistance to certain Independent Members of Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3564/08]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

5 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the arrangements in place within his Department to provide assistance to certain Independent Members of Dáil Éireann; the persons who benefit from this arrangement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4658/08]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

6 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department tasked with providing special assistance to the Independent Deputies who support the Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4983/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.

These are political agreements that my predecessor entered into as Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party with individual Independent Deputies. I have confirmed to the Deputies concerned that I intend to continue to implement those agreements. As the Deputies will be aware, such arrangements have existed for almost 11 years. The agreements are confidential but they are, as always, based on the programme for Government which incorporates the national development plan, approved Government programmes and annual Estimates for capital and current expenditure.

I intend to continue the practice whereby a staff member in my office assists the Chief Whip's office in its work in liaising with these Deputies. This official will meet with these Deputies on a regular basis and arrange to keep them briefed on issues as they arise. I confirm there is no additional cost to the taxpayer in dealing with these Deputies. The official dealing with the Deputies is an Assistant Principal and he assists the Chief Whip in this matter.

It was not a very exhaustive reply. I note the Taoiseach now refers to the previous Taoiseach as his predecessor.

A respectful reference.

I understand that. Those elected to the House will make a case for their constituencies. The agreements reached with the former Taoiseach, as leader of Fianna Fáil, amounted to millions for Kerry and international agreements with Deputy Finian McGrath range from Cuba to Burma, although I am not sure as they have not been published.

It does not cover Burma.

Another Deputy said she had an arrangement with the former Taoiseach which was good for everybody but he confirmed there was no such agreement. The Taoiseach said it would not cost anything to keep the service between the Independent Members and the Government alive which is fair enough because there is a person liaising on that basis. However, does it mean that if an issue arises in the constituency of an Independent Member, such as a factory closure, it receives particular attention, a particular response or special treatment through the Government liaison person as opposed to that received by the constituency of a Government backbencher or someone else? Is that the sort of relationship that exists? Is there any special treatment for these Members because they happen to be Independents? As the Taoiseach knows, he is not dependent on them and can make up the numbers with Fianna Fáil, the remnants of the Progressive Democrats and those Green Party men from the other side.

I suppose the Taoiseach will not tell me what is in these deals, if anything. Is it a case of what Deputy Bertie Ahern said in that they are references to the programme for Government but that they apply to the individual constituencies? That is drawing a very fine line between saying they are not going to get anything very much and that there is a reference to the programme for Government.

If these deals exist, do they still stand? Is there anything exceptional in them for those constituencies concerned given that the Government faces economic challenges with difficulties in many areas? Do these deals provide anything over and above what Government Deputies will get? Is the Taoiseach prepared to publish them?

Is it not peculiar that these deals were done with the former leader of Fianna Fáil, who happened to be the Taoiseach, and that nobody is entitled to find out about them? The Freedom of Information Act will not provide us with any information. The Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, does not know what deal Deputy Finian McGrath has reached. In the old days, when Deputy Carey was a humble Deputy, I used say to him: "Bide your time, your hour will come". Now he has a seat at the Cabinet table. However, the Minister of State does not know what deal Deputy Finian McGrath has made, if any.

I have put it on the record.

Perhaps the Taoiseach, in his new-found openness and directness will tell us the story.

The situation is very simple. The Independent Deputies who support this Government came to a political agreement with my predecessor, which I confirmed before I became Taoiseach. I thank them for their support. In fairness to the Deputies concerned, they just want to be kept informed on those areas of policy in which they have a particular interest, on which they have indicated they seek progress and on which their support is based. I will do all I can to ensure that, as with other parts of the programme for Government, I can implement that.

With regard to what the arrangement would be if there was a closure of a factory in the constituency, I would hope that all Deputies representing that constituency would be dealt with equitably. They all represent the people of the area and would be dealt with by me or any Minister in the same respectful way as anybody with a genuine concern about an issue that arises. Nobody here seeks anything over and above the normal courtesies or the normal, mature political relationship one would expect from people who have made a commitment to support the Government. In the context of implementing its programme, the Government understands that many of the commitments consistent with its implementation are dealt with in an appropriate way in recognition of the arrangements.

The nearest I got to finding out what was in the south Kerry deal was the picture at the top of the page, but I understand from what Deputy Healy-Rae said that it included millions of euro. A Deputy from my constituency had some kind of arrangement as an Independent Deputy, but is no longer independent. What is the status of that arrangement? Has it been subsumed back into the normal Fianna Fáil arrangement or treatment for party Deputies? I like the Taoiseach's remark that if something goes wrong in a constituency, all Deputies in the constituency will be treated in the same manner.

That is in terms of their interaction with the Government. Supporters of the Government would, of course, be——

I hope the Taoiseach will apply that when it happens.

On the matter of the Independent Deputy, the Deputy can be assured Deputy Beverley Flynn will continue to give very effective representation to the people of Mayo. The one guarantee we have for the next four years is that she will deliver far more than those who are in Opposition.

We shall see about that shortly. That was not her line last year.

The position is that the Taoiseach is following the practice of his predecessor and stating the agreements made with the Independent Deputies who support the Government will not be published and the status of the agreements is that they were agreements between the Fianna Fáil Party, or Fianna Fáil leader at the time, and the Independent Deputies.

Has the content of the agreements made between Fianna Fáil and the Independent Deputies been made known to the other two parties in government? Second, have the contents of the agreements been approved by Government, in so far as they involve any public expenditure or commitment to public policy? Third, is there anything in the agreements which is not in the programme for Government? Fourth, if these are political agreements between Fianna Fáil and Independent Deputies which will not be published, why are they not being serviced by an officer of Fianna Fáil and paid for by the Fianna Fáil Party rather than being serviced by a civil servant and paid for by the taxpayer?

The interaction of the Deputies is with my office and staff, who deal with all internal issues, the same as with any other Member. There is a specific contact person for those Deputies through my office, which is an arrangement of convenience for them and me in ensuring the lines of communication are open and effective. The people concerned do their general work but provide a specific contact point. There is no more in it than that, which is appropriate and sensible.

The agreements, which are confidential, are based on the programme for Government. That programme incorporates the national development plan and the approved Government programmes in the annual Estimates for capital and current expenditure. No programme for Government indicates every individual agreement. It goes through the various sectors of Government activity and indicates in broad terms the direction of Government policy as agreed by the parties in government.

In terms of implementation and moving forward on issues, there is obviously interaction between the Deputies and individual Ministers. Deputies continue to make their representations and cases as would any other Deputies. Deputies in the Opposition have the same facility. The situation is there are issues that must be progressed. These issues are consistent with the programme for Government and, in that sense, are not outside the programme. I will not breach the confidentiality of the agreements, but if Deputies want to have an indication of the broad thrust of Government policy, it is available in the programme for Government. Individual decisions by Ministers in progressing those programmes and policy directions, are a matter for their discretion. Sometimes Ministers can make decisions on their own, but other decisions require Government approval. The normal procedures and evaluations are observed. The political agreements are exactly that and we must proceed on that basis.

I want to pursue the distinction between political agreements and agreements relating to public policy and expenditure. It is obvious whatever kind of political sell-out Deputy Finian McGrath did with Fianna Fáil will not be made public unless Fianna Fáil or Deputy McGrath makes it public.

Like Guantanamo, Cuba and all those places.

There are approximately 1,000 copies of that.

Any matter relating to public expenditure or policy is public business and should be made public. I understand what the Taoiseach has said, that the officer in his Department deals with the Independent Deputies on the basis of public policy. The matters about which they deal should be made public. That is not political, but public policy and expenditure. It is also clear from what the Taoiseach has said that there is nothing in the agreements which go beyond the programme for Government and that is fine. However, if one of the Independent Deputies makes a claim that he or she has agreed something with the Government, such as that there is something in the agreement which is not, as far as the Taoiseach, his people or his blind Ministers are concerned, contained in the programme for Government, or if one sends around literature in his or her constituency or makes an announcement or declaration that he or she has agreed something with the Government that has not been agreed, what is the procedure by which it will be brought to the attention of the Deputy concerned that he or she is incorrect? Do the Taoiseach's people or the liaison officer contact the Independent Deputy and inform him or her that he or she has overstepped the mark and that such was never agreed?

Let us take for example Deputy Finian McGrath, since he happens to be here.

Not looking at anyone else.

Since this time last year when he signed up to his agreement, Deputy McGrath has said a number of things about his agreement and the commitments he received. Has he said anything publicly that is incorrect?

I would not think so. Obviously, he knows what is in his agreement, just as I do. I am not like Deputy Gilmore, probably because I have a different background to him, and do not keep tabs on political opponents with quite the degree of detail he does. In the old days that was a much tighter marking job than we in Fianna Fáil would ever bother to operate.

(Interruptions).

We did not have Politburos to answer to so I do not know what degree of detail Deputy Gilmore was asked to supply to ensure he was marking his opposite number as tightly as that. We just go for the ball and let it off. I understand what Deputy Gilmore is doing. He is creating a bit of mischief trying to upset the people who support the Government and suggesting they have no deal. They have a very clearly agreed level of support for the Government based on the legitimate delivery on issues they have agreed with my predecessor and which I have confirmed I will do my utmost to deal with on their behalf in an honourable way on the basis that a deal was made. That is my very clear position. The programme for Government is not comprehensive on every issue, as Deputy Gilmore knows. If it were, it would be a very large body of work and that would not be very sensible. We adapt our position to circumstances, we understand the issues and we are mature politicians. There is liaison between us. There is contact, I am available to discuss issues of concern at any time and I will do all I can to honour the spirit and letter of the deals that have been made.

Is the Taoiseach satisfied the Independent Deputies will stay bought?

It is an agreement.

Is the Taoiseach seeking a refund?

I do not accept that. Again, Deputy Gilmore is being provocative, so much so that Deputy Finian McGrath returned to his seat. Independent Deputies are not part of the party system in the House. They had an opportunity to speak to those who sought to form a Government to ensure they could find a base by which they could give a level of consistent support while dealing with some of their priorities which are not solely constituency priorities but also wider issues in which they have an interest. We hope we have been able to accommodate the basis of an agreement upon which we can go forward. If Deputy Gilmore ever gets the opportunity I am sure he will try to leverage a few benefits for Dún Laoghaire, if he is able to handle them.

Deputy Finian McGrath saw the light.

I will allow a quick supplementary question as we are running out of time.

I ask Deputy Finian McGrath not to leave because I would like him to hear what I have to say. No Independent Deputy worthy of the name would allow himself or herself to be whipped for voting purposes by any Government. No Independent Deputies support this Government, only former Independent Deputies, and that includes former Independent Deputy Finian McGrath, who is present in this Chamber. That is the reality and there is no point messing about or fudging the matter. Every one of those former Independent Deputies who vote consistently with Government endorse all this Government's policies, including its decimation of the health services.

The Deputy may not use Question Time to make statements.

He always does.

Has there been any renegotiation of the arrangements between former Independent Deputy Finian McGrath and others and this Government on the hand-over of the helm to the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen? Have any of the elements that were allegedly agreed to by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, been reconsidered? Given that civil servants in the Taoiseach's and every other Department are public servants paid for by the public purse, should not every Deputy, irrespective of his or her voting position or party in this House have a right of access and hearing and be treated equally by each of them?

Thankfully we have a public service that has upheld that tradition consistently since the foundation of the State even when some were trying to subvert it, and that tradition will continue. Deputy Ó Caoláin's party has decided to be oppositionist and that is its privilege——

Sinn Féin votes on everything on merit.

Does it? It just happens to be opposed to the Government all the time. I suppose that is just a coincidence. I apologise, I thought Sinn Féin had a strategy but it just makes it up as it goes along. Sinn Féin made a decision to be oppositionist. Before the last election many of the party's spokespeople said what the party would do if it got a certain number of seats, how many people it would talk to and that it would join a Government and do a lot of things. It worked out that Sinn Féin was not in the play. The party should not criticise other people who have——

We are not afraid of the responsibility——

I know that. Deputy Ó Caoláin should let me answer the question because I listened in silence to his long question.

The Taoiseach is using his position for posturing for his party political broadcasts on behalf of Fianna Fáil.

I am answering the question. Deputy Ó Caoláin is posturing.

The curtain is well drawn back in front of the Taoiseach. He refuses to answer questions.

Deputy Ó Caoláin should allow the Taoiseach to answer the question.

Is Deputy Ó Caoláin finished? I will answer the question as I see it.

All the Taoiseach will do is take up the position of the master of mutter whom he has succeeded.

Deputy Ó Caoláin will not be called "Mr. Short Question" around here.

Will the Taoiseach give us a substantial answer?

I am giving Deputy Ó Caoláin the answer but he does not like it. He cannot shout people down because they do not agree with him. That might have worked at one time.

Deputy Ó Caoláin's veil slipped last time.

I will answer the question when Deputy Ó Caoláin is finished shouting. Other people make other political choices. Three Deputies have made the choice that they want to support the broad thrust of Government policy on the basis of coming to an agreement to do things for their constituents. They are entitled to do that. Deputy Ó Caoláin might not agree with it but he does not have to carry on as if he is superior to anybody else. He is not superior. He has made a political choice. He talked down to the three Deputies, said they had sold out, were not proper Deputies and were wrong to support the Government. They made a choice and can live with it. Deputy Ó Caoláin must live with his choice because he does not have as many in his parliamentary party as he thought he would. It is not always onwards and upwards for his party.

On a point of order——

I hope it is a point of order because we must move on.

I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to remove the term "former Independent Deputy".

The artist formerly known as Deputy Finian McGrath.

That is not a point of order.

I am an Independent Deputy who made an agreement with the Government and I stick by that agreement. Many of the people attacking me today are the same people who telephoned me within 24 hours of my election dying to do a deal. Deputy Gilmore was one of the first out of the traps and Deputy Bruton was second. They should not con their people. The bottom line is I am delivering for Dublin North-Central.

(Interruptions).

Given the degree to which Deputy Finian McGrath has become excited by this subject now and in the past, and given last week's appeals by Deputy Healy-Rae for assistance for pothole repairs in the Ceann Comhairle's former constituency, I ask the Taoiseach to tell the House if there is a written agreement signed by both parties in each case and whether there is a template or specifics in each case. I do not want to know the specific detail of the agreements entered into with each individual Independent Deputy.

Deputy Durkan's leader wants to speak.

I know. Has the Taoiseach reviewed any of these agreements in the past two or three weeks?

Every Deputy is elected by the people through the ballot box and they all have the same status when they sign the register. These deals were private deals done with the leader of Fianna Fáil as distinct from the Taoiseach. Did the Taoiseach see them? When he assumed the high office of Taoiseach did the Secretary General come in to him gingerly with a bundle of files from the safe, like the secret of Fatima——

Life is not that complicated.

——and tell him these were the secret deals done with the leader of Fianna Fáil and give them to him so he could peruse them carefully to see if there is anything in them that is not in public policy? If they were private deals done with the leader of Fianna Fáil, has the Taoiseach seen them as leader of the party while he happens to be Taoiseach?

The deals are obviously not working very well because in 12 years Cromane pier, a new bridge for Barraduff and Kenmare hospital have not been delivered, all of which were promised as part of the deal with the Government.

I call the Taoiseach. This is becoming a bit like "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine".

These were agreements reached with the former leader of Fianna Fáil and confirmed by the then leader elect of Fianna Fáil. Of course I have read the documents.

Riveting stuff.