Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 14 — statements on macroeconomic and fiscal outlook. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply in relation to the sittings of the Dáil today and tomorrow: Oral Questions shall not be taken; matters may not be raised under the provisions of Standing Orders 21(3) and 32; Private Members' business shall not be taken; there shall be no Order of Business tomorrow within the meaning of Standing Order 26; the proceedings on No. 14 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 4.45 p.m. tomorrow and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of the Taoiseach and of the leaders of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Sinn Féin, or a person nominated in his stead, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case; the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23(1) shall take place after the Leaders' statements for 60 minutes; the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions no later than 3.30 p.m. tomorrow for a period of 60 minutes; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.

There are two proposals to be put to the House today. Is a proposal for the arrangement in relation to the sittings of the Dáil today and tomorrow agreed?

It is not agreed. I want to raise briefly the matter of the speaking rights of Independent Members of the Oireachtas. I asked the Government and major political parties in the House why no provision is made in this very important debate for Independent Deputies to speak on the issue.

Deputy, I have a second proposal which might be more appropriate at that stage.

They are given a lousy 15 minutes, which is five minutes each.

What about the rest of us? We only get five minutes each.

At least you get it.

If any Independent Deputy wants to speak on the debate, if he or she speaks to the Whip, arrangements will be made. It is important that people can speak if they want to.

Is the proposal for the arrangements in relation to the sittings of the Dáil today and tomorrow agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 14, statements on macroeconomic and fiscal outlook, agreed? Agreed.

In Monday'sIrish Independent the Taoiseach seemed to cast doubt on the Government’s commitment to hold the three by-elections on the one date. The Taoiseach committed to the Donegal South-West by-election but did not refer to the other two. I ask him to confirm now that what the Government Whip said in response to the motion here will stand. If it gets that far, is it the intention of the Government to move the writs for the three by-elections and hold them on a date some time in the spring?

In respect of the fact that the Taoiseach's Department is the sponsoring Department for the Moriarty tribunal, can the Taoiseach indicate if any person in his Department had any function in the appointment of new counsel for the tribunal? Is he of the opinion that, with the reopening of the hearings of the tribunal and the possible court action in respect of the appointment, it may delay the Moriarty tribunal from coming to its findings for a considerable period of time?

The position of the Chief Whip outlined on the day is the position. In regard to the operation of the tribunal, the matter of appointments of people to it is a matter for it.

On that matter, it is my understanding — the Taoiseach can correct me if I am wrong — that the Department of the Taoiseach is responsible for the administrative budget of the Moriarty tribunal, which would include the costs of legal counsel for the tribunal. I would be surprised if——

Deputy Gilmore, could I dissuade you from going down this road? We are opening up a whole area which the Deputy could raise at other times, but maybe not now.

I would be surprised if the appointment was made without at least informing the Taoiseach and his Department or perhaps seeking their approval, at least for the cost of the appointment. Was the Department informed or was its approval sought? There were reports in newspapers at the weekend that property developers with NAMA-bound loans are enjoying multi-million euro benefits by exploiting a loophole that allows them to claim tax deductions on interest payments even if they are not making payments to their banks. Is this the case?

I wish the Deputy would pursue this matter in another way and perhaps bring it up directly with the line Minister.

With regard to the budget, has the Government given any consideration to closing off that loophole if it exists?

Before I call the Taoiseach I must state that the Chair has ruled on a number of occasions that issues currently before a tribunal are not a matter for the Dáil.

I did not raise an issue before a tribunal.

The Dáil must not attempt to have a parallel tribunal on any of these matters.

This is not an issue. It is a former ministerial colleague of his appearing to represent the tribunal and undermining any concept of——

We cannot have a parallel tribunal. We cannot be running the tribunal here and having it sitting somewhere else.

This is not about the tribunal.

I raised no issue which is before a tribunal.

Thirteen years.

I asked the Taoiseach a question in respect of the responsibility he and his Department have for the administrative cost of the tribunal, including the cost of the appointment of counsel. It is a perfectly in order question.

On that matter, the approval of a tribunal request to have someone appointed for the purpose of cross-examining that witness would of course be obtained from the Taoiseach's office and that was granted. However, the actual decision as to who is appointed by that tribunal is a matter for the tribunal.

They never told the Taoiseach.

The little elite.

I am not involved in that.

The conduct of this tribunal is increasingly more bizarre.

I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

I waive any questions I have; I believe we should get on with the business we have already agreed to address here today.

I thank the Deputy for his co-operation.

A number of Bills are before the House——

I ask the Deputy to be brief. I am most anxious to move on.

I would assist the Ceann Comhairle greatly if he did not interrupt me——

I told the Deputy before that the Chair does not interrupt, the Chair intervenes.

——because then I would be able to say exactly what I have in my mind.

The Taoiseach is muttering something. There are also mutterings from my right-hand side. The five minute man is on the right-hand side.

On the Order of Business and promised legislation, a number of Bills are before the House the introduction of which could alleviate the debt situation with which the Government is faced. Would it be possible to isolate those Bills and bring them forward as a matter of urgency with a view to the State availing of the benefits of their passage? An example is the legal costs Bill.

The legal costs Bill will be next year.

We will move on to statements on——

I did not hear that.

The legal costs Bill is next year.

What about the principle that I raised?

I ask the Deputy to advise me of the Bills he has in mind.

There is a principle involved.

The Deputy will have to postpone detailed debate on the matter until the Bill emerges on the floor.

That is what is wrong with this country; everything is postponed for far too long and the Ceann Comhairle knows this as well as I do.

Before we move on, everybody in the House welcomes the return of Deputy Ardagh in good health.

Deputies

Hear, hear.