1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the Sullivan review of the Office of the Attorney General of June 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37172/10]
Vol. 723 No. 1
1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the Sullivan review of the Office of the Attorney General of June 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37172/10]
The Attorney General has informed me that all of the recommendations of the Sullivan Report have been fully implemented.
What is the position with regard to the legislation required to place the Children First guidelines on a statutory footing? The Taoiseach will be aware that said legislation relates to the use of soft information. Is he in a position to outline the position in this regard? I understand the legislation could have been enacted this year if priority had been accorded to it.
The supplementary information in my possession relates to the Sullivan report, which arose as a result of a review chaired by Mr. Eddie Sullivan, the then Secretary General of the Department of Finance, the purpose of which was to identify any aspects of the organisational structure, systems, procedures or staffing arrangements within the Office of the Attorney General that may require to be amended to ensure that the information and notification deficit which occurred in the office in respect of the handling of the CC case does not recur. It was, therefore, an organisational review and that is the supplementary information available to me in respect of it.
Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate the current state of play regarding the referendum on children's rights? The purpose of such a referendum would be to give constitutional recognition to the rights of children and set out the constitutional standard that is required to ensure the State, its agencies and the courts will be in a position to provide children with the protection to which they are properly entitled. At this late stage in 2010, is the Taoiseach in a position to provide an indication with regard to the timeframe relating to the holding of the referendum to which I refer?
That is a separate issue. However, as stated on previous occasions, the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, is working on the matter in question and will revert to the Cabinet in respect of it in due course. The Cabinet will be then in a position to consider the options and perhaps return to the Members who have shown an interest in this matter in order to outline — based on both the best advice that would be available from the Attorney General at that point and departmental observations — what might be the best way forward.
Does the Taoiseach expect the legislation which arose on foot of the A case, to which the Sullivan report related, will be brought forward by the Government prior to the general election? In the past, various referenda were held on the same day as general elections. A general election is to take place some time in the new year. Is it intended that the referendum on children's rights will take place on the same day as the general election?
I could not give that commitment until such time as the important work which is being undertaken at present is completed and considered by the Government and probably the House. I could not, therefore, indicate whether that would be the case at this point.
The Sullivan report related to the CC case which, in turn, related to statutory rape. The report noted that all the relevant parties accepted that the CC case had met the criterion of being an important and sensitive case such as to warrant reference to the Attorney General in accordance with office policy and protocols. In particular, it identified several milestones in the evolution of the case about which the Attorney General ought to have been informed or consulted. In reality, the Attorney General was consulted only about the first of these, namely, the nomination of counsel.
The Sullivan report instances the various relevant procedures and protocols in force, the policies that existed to ensure that staff were aware of the requirement to refer the case to the Attorney General and the existing office co-ordination arrangements which provided further mechanisms to assist in observance requirements. The report found, however, that the reason the Attorney General was not notified or consulted on the remaining milestones was the result of administrative error. In noting that no perfect system could be designed to deal with such administrative errors, the report concluded that the initiatives already under way as a result of an earlier review, the new measures proposed and the recommendations arising from the Sullivan review, would further enhance the operation of the office and reduce the risk of such an event recurring. The report set out 19 measures designed to further minimise the risk of recurrence. These included enhanced risk assessment procedures, various enhancements to IT systems and new management procedures.
The original question specifically relates to the actions taken to date and, as already stated, all the recommendations contained in the Sullivan report have been fully implemented. What I have outlined is all the information I have in respect of the matter.
In the interests of obtaining clarity in respect of the work on the Attorney General regarding the recommendations from the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, will the Taoiseach indicate if the Attorney General has concluded his consideration of the proposed wording and of the submissions from each of the potentially affected Departments to which the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs had referred the wording for assessment? What is the current status of the Attorney General's work in respect of the preparation for the expected referendum on children's rights, which hopefully will take place in 2011?
In the interests of establishing greater understanding of and confidence in the work of the Attorney General, will the Taoiseach indicate if there is a body of work in respect of which confidentiality is not a core requirement and with regard to which the advice of the Attorney General could, in certain circumstances, be shared with Members in this Chamber? If there were a way to share information in the way to which I refer, this would allow for some degree of appreciation regarding the approach being taken and the advice being offered.
As already stated, I do not have in my possession any papers relating to that specific matter, which does not come within the purview of the original question. It was not anticipated that supplementary questions of this nature would arise. However, there are some issues which I brought to the attention of the House in reply to supplementary questions posed on a previous occasion. This matter is being pursued by the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, who will revert to the Government in respect of it in due course. The Minister of State is affording this matter priority.
This is a complex area and I respect the fact that the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children did a substantial amount of work in respect of it. The committee brought forward a lengthy and detailed suggested wording and, as the Deputy will be aware, in terms of constitutional matters all words count and everything must be considered.
I assure the House that if this was not as complex as it is, I am sure we could have made headway a little more quickly. Everyone who was on the committee spent considerable time and effort putting his or her thoughts together on it. However, the Government must consider all of its implications. When work is completed in that area and considered by Government, I would envisage that we would have to come back to the House to discuss it further.
On the role of the Attorney General, is there any situation that the Taoiseach could envisage where the Attorney General's advices to Government could be shared across the House? I am not seeking to be vexatious with this. It is only just to have an understanding of the approach and advices given. Are there situations that the Taoiseach could envisage where the confidentiality issue is not absolutely paramount?
I understand the imperative here for the independence of the Attorney General as legal adviser to the Government to be unimpaired and unconstrained. At the end of the day, it is a matter for Government to decide on what is the best outcome and then to come to the House armed with whatever arguments it requires to put its proposal and to explain its position.
It is important that the Attorney General, as a constitutional officer, discharges his or her functions on the basis of pointing out if there are constitutional issues that need to be addressed in a proposal before it would be put. Otherwise one is leaving it open with that knowledge to constitutional challenge subsequently and, possibly, it having to be withdrawn or amended subsequently.
It is a matter of some importance, as one would expect where an insertion or deletion of a constitutional provision is being envisaged, that all aspects of the matter are very carefully considered and that at the end of the day the Government comes with what it believes to be a proposal which meets with the constitutional requirements while implementing the change it seeks to bring about subject to the agreement of the people.
2 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Taoiseach the reasons the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change did not meet as planned on 6 October 2010; when this committee is to meet next. [38721/10]
The planning meeting of the Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security did not take place on 6 October to allow work to continue at official level on a number of issues, which were subsequently brought before a full meeting of the Government. The next meeting of the Cabinet committee has not yet been scheduled.
It would be incorrect to correlate the number of meetings of the Cabinet committee with the Government's commitment to tackling and addressing the climate change and energy security issues. The Government has been meeting frequently and full consideration has been given to climate change and energy security issues where appropriate.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government retains lead responsibility for climate change policy, with cross-departmental issues co-ordinated through the senior officials group on climate change and energy security chaired by my Department.
I am satisfied that significant progress is being achieved and that the issues are receiving the appropriate level of attention. Any specific questions on climate change issues should be put down to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, or other Minister if appropriate.
What is the point in having a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change? It does not meet, nothing is happening, there is no Bill and there are no results. At this stage the Taoiseach might consider abandoning the project of having a Cabinet sub-committee dealing with climate change but never meeting.
I ask the Taoiseach to explain what the hell is going on. When we had a debate in this House on climate change we were promised, and, indeed, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government subsequently tweeted that day, that heads of the Bill would be published on the following Tuesday, 13 November. All we got was a tweet; we did not get heads of the Bill. Would the Taoiseach tell us exactly why the heads of the Bill did not materialise? Is it true, as has been said, that the Taoiseach's Department is holding up this legislation?
While he is replying, would he also indicate, because I have been trying to find out and it seems the Taoiseach is only person who might answer this, who is responsible for the programme for Government commitment to ensure a climate change impact assessment is taken into account for all Cabinet decision making? When I put down a parliamentary question to any Minister, or even the Taoiseach, I am told that I will not get a reply because it impinges on the principles of Cabinet confidentiality. The Government has a commitment in the programme for Government but it will not tell us anything about it because the Government is protected by the bulwark of Cabinet confidentiality. That is not proper Government. Maybe the Taoiseach would answer the question of who is supposed to be doing this and how is it being done.
Does the Taoiseach tweet?
No, like yourself.
It is important before the Taoiseach replies to state on this matter that the line Minister has responsibility for any legislation. Is the Taoiseach prepared to take it in a general way?
Absolutely, I would likely to be as helpful as possible at all times.
What has come over the Taoiseach?
What has come over the Taoiseach at all?
I looked over at Deputy Jim O'Keeffe and I said, "What a wonderful day."
I thought bare-knuckled boxing was outlawed.
Much progress has been made on the climate change Bill. I am not a person who is holding up the Bill. I hope I have been helpful in ensuring that we have been able to come forward with a good Bill. This type of legislation will be unprecedented in an Irish context and it is therefore essential to ensure that the drafting process is comprehensive. I am satisfied that significant progress is being achieved and I would expect that the Bill should be published shortly. Much work and discussion has gone into it. Far from holding it up, I have been using my good offices to try to resolve matters and bring matters forward, as, I think, Deputy McManus would expect me to in my position.
On the question of impact assessment, that is a matter that has to be considered.
By whom exactly?
Nobody seems to be responsible.
Where there is an impact on climate change in respect of an issue, it can be considered by Cabinet. Line Departments, as Deputy McManus will be aware, make their observations on every proposal that comes to Government.
The important point, from our point of view, is that in respect of the Bill itself much progress has been made and I would be hopeful that the Bill would be published shortly.
I thank the Taoiseach for his answer. He clearly stated he is not responsible for holding up the legislation——
Neither is anyone else.
I would be grateful if he would indicate who exactly is responsible for holding up the legislation.
There is no-one responsible for holding it up.
Is the Taoiseach stating then that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, was misleading the public? He made a very clear statement on the web. He stated, in his twitter, that heads of the Bill would be published on Tuesday, 13 November. He did it under pressure and we all understand political pressure, but that does not excuse a clear statement that was issued for the public. Many welcomed it and took him at his word. Is the Taoiseach now saying that we should not take the Minister at his word?
It might be better pursue this with the line Minister.
It seems that one can say anything. If one is a Minister, one can say what one likes but it does not have to be true. Maybe the Taoiseach would reply on who is holding up the legislation and on why the Minister, Deputy Gormley, made a commitment to the public which turns out to be untrue.
A significant aspect of that question should be directed to the line Minister.
I have given some information for which the Deputy is welcome. There is merely a bit of political point scoring going on now. The relevant point is that at the end of the day all Ministers are proceeding as quickly as they can with the legislation. The Minister is committed to this legislation and the Government is anxious to ensure that we proceed correctly and get this legislation done. As I stated, it is an unprecedented piece of legislation in an Irish context. It is not a question of merely drafting up sections 1, 2 and 3, as Deputy McManus will appreciate based on the work in which the committee of which she is a member has been involved.
We delivered the goods. We did what we had to do.
Deputy McManus is just doing a bit of point scoring now. I have given the information, which is what Question Time is about. If she wants to ask a question of Deputy Gormley and try to score a point on some date perhaps she should put it directly.
We will move on——
A brief supplementary——
We have spent much time on this and it is——
I wish to ask a brief supplementary because I did not ask it subsequently, and I should have. The Taoiseach stated the Cabinet must consider the climate change impact assessment of Cabinet decisions. Has it done so?
Questions on Cabinet deliberations are——
I think the Taoiseach might——
The Taoiseach wants to give information.
——and it is not appropriate to ask supplementary questions about it so we will move on.
The issue is as I have given it. I am sure Deputy McManus is aware of Cabinet procedures and the circulation of memoranda to Departments for observations. These issues are mentioned in the line Department's observations where they are relevant and they are taken into account in the decision-making process.
Will the Taoiseach indicate the membership of the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change? Will he confirm that the Minister for Transport is a member? In this context, will the Taoiseach agree there is a critical need to support current and projected public transport arrangements, not only to cater to the public need but also in recognition that every effort must be made to reduce the dependence on private cars and private vehicles which are contributing significantly to the climate change challenge that we face today? Does the Taoiseach care to indicate whether this is a consideration with regard to the upcoming tsunami of cuts that the Government has indicated for 2011?
The Deputy should submit a parliamentary question to the line Minister on these matters.
My question is reasonable given the context. The Taoiseach may wish to respond.
Membership of the Cabinet sub-committee comprises of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Transport, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Minister for Finance and myself.
Is the Minister for Transport a member?
Yes, I mentioned the Minister for Transport. I hope I have mentioned all of the members.
To answer Deputy Ó Caoláin's question, I do not have detailed information that would be accurate to give to him. A question to the line Minister might be best. I do not have it as it was not contemplated.
3 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if his sanction was sought for the recent appointment by the Moriarty tribunal of a new counsel to the tribunal; the basis on which any sanction was given; the number of senior counsel and junior counsel allocated to the tribunal; the implications for the costs incurred by his Department of the appointment of the new counsel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40182/10]
4 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the costs which accrued to his Department during October in respect of the Moriarty tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41187/10]
5 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he approved or sanctioned the appointment of a new counsel for the Moriarty tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41188/10]
6 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Taoiseach the estimated cost to his Department of the tribunal chaired by Mr. Justice Moriarty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41610/10]
7 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the costs accrued by his Department arising from the Moriarty tribunal at the latest date for which figures are available; if any estimate is available of the estimated final cost to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42572/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 7, inclusive, together.
Earlier this year, in view of the long-term absence of Mr. John Coughlan, senior counsel, the sole member of the tribunal, Mr. Justice Moriarty, sought sanction to appoint a senior counsel to replace him. In the event, the judge did not proceed on this basis.
Instead, Mr. Justice Moriarty sought and received sanction to appoint a senior counsel solely to undertake the examination of Mr. Michael Andersen. This work has now been completed and the engagement of the senior counsel by the tribunal has ceased. In addition, a junior counsel was appointed to the tribunal's legal team to do the ongoing work of Mr. Coughlan.
While sanction for these appointments was sought from my Department, neither I nor my Department was involved in the selection or approval of the individuals concerned. As is the normal practice, that is a matter for the tribunal. A brief fee for the senior counsel in respect of the examination of Mr. Andersen was sanctioned, along with a daily rate for the actual examination, other than the first day. However, no invoice has been received in the Department and it is understood that the tribunal has not yet finalised terms with the senior counsel, within the sanctioned rates. In view of this, I do not propose to disclose the sanctioned rates but I can confirm that they are considerably below those applying to the tribunal's own senior counsel.
As no invoice has been received in the Department, I cannot yet give the House details of the costs arising from the engagement of the senior counsel. However, the costs involved will be more than offset by the significant savings that have accrued from the long-term absence of Mr. Coughlan.
The fee of the newly appointed junior counsel, engaged to do Mr. Coughlan's work on an ongoing basis, is €1,050per diem. This is considerably below the rate which applied to Mr. Coughlan. There are currently two senior counsel and three junior counsel on the tribunal’s legal team. The appointment of a junior counsel to replace Mr. Coughlan reduced the number of senior counsel from three to two. Total expenditure by my Department from the establishment of the Moriarty tribunal in 1997 to end-October 2010 was €40.8 million. Expenditure in October 2010 was €162,642.
The sole member of the tribunal, Mr. Justice Moriarty, has not yet addressed third party costs. Until this is done, we cannot estimate the overall cost of the tribunal with any accuracy. The tribunal secretariat has on many occasions over the years told my Department that any attempt by the tribunal to quantify third party costs would lead to conclusions being drawn and suppositions being made, which could infringe on the rights of witnesses and impinge on the independence of the tribunal.
As Deputies will be aware, the Comptroller and Auditor General's special report on tribunals of inquiry, in attempting to establish some estimate of the overall cost of the Moriarty tribunal, gave various ranges for third party costs, but stressed that the figures were subject to many caveats and contingencies.
Does the Taoiseach know why it was necessary to appoint an additional senior counsel to conduct the last module of the public hearings when the tribunal already had other counsel available to it? There had not been public hearings for a while and this public hearing had been signalled for some time. I do not understand why, if other counsel were available to the tribunal, it was necessary to appoint an additional senior counsel.
I understand the public hearings have now concluded. In July 2008, the Minister for Finance introduced the initial set of measures for cost savings for the Exchequer and one of the commitments he gave was that once public hearings of tribunals were concluded counsel would not be paid after that date. Will the Taoiseach confirm this is now the position in respect of the Moriarty tribunal?
Has the Department of the Taoiseach made any inquiry or examined the number of days for which counsel claimed payment in the Moriarty tribunal? Is it true that some counsel have claimed more than 300 working days in a particular year? Given that the normal working year is approximately 250 days, will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Department has examined the number of days for which counsel claimed up to €2,500 per day for work on the tribunal?
There is a danger in questions on this matter that we will get into a parallel discussion about the workings of the tribunal. Many of these matters are the responsibility of the chairman of the tribunal.
That was a profound announcement made by the Ceann Comhairle.
With regard to legal resources approved for the tribunal, earlier in the year Mr. Justice Moriarty sought additional resources in view of the long-term unavailability of Mr. Coughlan. Initially, he sought and was given sanction for the tribunal to engage a senior counsel on an ongoing basis to assist it in completing its work. Sanction was also obtained for the engagement of an outside firm of solicitors with regard to separate legal proceedings against the tribunal. The judge subsequently sought and obtained sanction for a senior counsel to be engaged solely for the purpose of examining Mr. Anderson on behalf of the tribunal and for a junior counsel to do Mr. Coughlan's work on an ongoing basis. A decision as to who will cross-examine is a matter for the tribunal itself. We are not involved in selecting or approving who it will be. It was the chairman's view and we acceded to it.
I can confirm that the fees for the tribunal's legal team were reduced last year and this year. Fees were reduced by 8% from 1 March 2009. Fees were further reduced by 15%, except for one lower level fee which was reduced by 6.5%. It is true that claims have been made for large numbers of days, but it should be noted that all claims for legal fees for a tribunal's legal team are certified, both by the tribunal's registrar and by the sole member, before being sent to my Department for processing. For the most part, these claims related to expenses incurred several years ago. The focus now should be on the tribunal finishing its work. While the costs of the tribunal are met from the Vote of my Department, the administration of the tribunal is carried out by its own staff in order to fully respect the independence of the tribunal. Administrative expenditure relating to the tribunal is certified by the registrar of the tribunal and this certified information is then transmitted by the tribunal to my Department for payment.
There is no doubt that tribunals are an expensive way of carrying out investigations and it was for that reason we brought forward the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill which is currently before the House. With regard to the length of time the Moriarty tribunal is taking, I should point out that it has published the first part of its report. Also, in a letter to the Clerk of the Dáil in May, Mr. Justice Moriarty pointed out that were new circumstances outside the tribunal's control, such as legal challenges, which have delayed its work. He indicated that he would comment more fully on this matter in his final report.
The Taoiseach has repeatedly refused to identify the barristers who he claimed in a previous response to a parliamentary question I put to him had threatened to walk. He indicated the threat was made in the event the Government was to proceed by enforcing the reduced fees that had been signalled a considerable time ago. In the context of at least two of the barristers having earlier this year clocked up to €8.5 million between them in fees through the Moriarty tribunal, will the Taoiseach not take this opportunity to identify who these barristers were? Will he explain to the House — something he has refused to do in the past — why they were not faced down if they threatened to walk away as indicated?
I have listened to the Taoiseach's detailed reply. Is he in a position now to guesstimate when we will see a conclusion to this long protracted process? While he has indicated he is not in a position to give an estimated final figure, are there any projections on the anticipated overall cost of tribunal over the decade and a half of legal consideration on this issue?
I do not recall the context in which I made the comments the Deputy ascribes to me. It may have been in the context of a supplementary reply where I was probably making the more general point that if the Government interfered with the tribunal in some way, the political charge would be that we were seeking to undermine it or trying to influence the outcome, because, unfortunately, there was a very partisan political atmosphere around the tribunal, even though it was a tribunal that was selected by everyone in the House at the time. As a result of the setting up of this tribunal, which is, if one likes, a "child of the Parliament", the Government is not in a position to dictate how it proceeds. There are rules and procedures and we have brought in new legislation to supercede the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 to look into matters of urgent public importance. We all agree the tribunal has taken a considerable length of time, partly because of the length of legal challenges, to a point that it is difficult to see it as being the most effective way of investigating such matters. There must be some other way of doing it. The Commissions of Investigations Act has proven to be a good method of investigation. It ensures there is a full investigative process, while ensuring it does not take as long as the tribunals have proven to take for various reasons.
It was probably in that context that I made my previous points to the Deputy. I do not have any personal knowledge of anyone not being prepared to serve on the basis of the remuneration they were being offered nor do I have files or correspondence on that. I do not deal with the tribunal personally and have only met the chairman of the tribunal, at his request, on one occasion since I became Taoiseach. I am anxious to ensure that the independence of the tribunal is respected and that there is no misinterpretation of any involvement I may have with it. It is the unanimous view that we would like to see the final report of the tribunal brought to the House as quickly as possible. We have had the cross-examination of Mr. Andersen and must now await and see what impact that has on the final conclusions.
It is on the record of the House that the Government feared that certain barristers would be driven away if the Government was to press acceptance of the reduced fees the previous Taoiseach announced during the 29th Dáil, but surely with hindsight that should have been pressed. Everyone welcomed the reduced fees at the time, yet for the Moriarty tribunal people were not only able to continue on the increased fees but because of a mistake were able to exact even greater returns for their services. If this is not correctable in the current situation, I hope the Taoiseach agrees it is a lesson that needs to be learned for the future so that we never see such a repetition of both the Government and State backing down because of the threat of removal of services by any legal opinion, adviser or person employed to carry out a particular service. This situation was most unfortunate.
I take it from what the Taoiseach has said that he is not in a position to indicate a potential conclusion date or projected overall costs. Surely that is something the Government should have sought and established by this point.
The costs to end-October are of the order of €40.8 million, but third party costs have not yet been addressed. Therefore, the ultimate cost of the tribunal is not yet clear. The indications we have had from correspondence, which I brought to the notice of the House on a previous occasion when we discussed this matter, was that the chairman felt that the cross-examination of Mr. Andersen would be important. That cross-examination has now been completed and I understand the tribunal is now moving to finalise the report. Two weeks were spent taking evidence from Mr. Andersen and Mr. Justice Moriarty has since indicated to my Department that before the final stages of the tribunal's report can be mapped out, he must consider Mr. Andersen's evidence, both as a body of material in itself and in the context of the substantial volume of earlier evidence concerning the GSM-2 process. That is the current position and we hope the matter will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.
8 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for the December meeting of the European Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41189/10]
9 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the EU summit in December; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42570/10]
10 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he has yet received an agenda for the EU summit in December; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42571/10]
11 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone conversation with the President of the European Commission on Friday 12 November; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43747/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 11, inclusive, together.
I have received an agenda for the December European Council. Discussions at the Council will focus on economic policy, including the question of limited treaty change necessary to give effect to the question of a permanent crisis mechanism; progress in the Council on the Commission's legislative proposals on enhanced economic governance; and how to ensure that spending at European level can contribute to consolidation efforts by member states. The European Council will be also informed of ongoing work on the evaluation of the European Union's relations with its strategic partners.
My priority at the Council, on behalf of the Government, will be to ensure an outcome to the negotiations that successfully secures Ireland's interests. As agreed in October, Europe needs a crisis mechanism to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area as a whole. It is intended that at the European Council we will agree both on the outline of the mechanism and on an amendment to the treaty.
As the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy's team is currently consulting member states on a bilateral basis to pave the way for the December meeting, it is too early to say what will be the exact nature of any proposals. We will have to carefully examine whatever emerges from the process but it is clear that the European Council is looking for very limited change. When we have a proposal, we will have to assess carefully any implications for our Constitution and what steps are necessary to enable Ireland to ratify changes.
I received a telephone call from the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, on Friday 12 November. We discussed the statement made that morning by the finance Ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK clarifying issues relating to private sector involvement in any future permanent crisis mechanism, including making it clear that any such involvement could come into effect only after mid-2013 and would have no impact whatsoever on the current arrangements.
Does the Taoiseach expect negotiations with the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission to be concluded by the date of the December Council meeting? Has the Attorney General or the Cabinet formed an opinion about the changes to the fiscal mechanism proposed by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel? Does the Government take a view on how this can be achieved? In recognising that rules and regulations are needed, the Irish people on their second attempt gave the European Union and its institutions the Lisbon treaty, which allows the institutions to get on with their business. I would be concerned if a major change requiring a further referendum were proposed. The people signed up to allowing the EU to do its business by means of the Lisbon treaty. Has the Attorney General advised the Cabinet on the extent of change that might be necessary and whether it would be sufficiently limited that it would not warrant another referendum?
We will have to examine carefully whatever emerges from the process. It is clear that the European Council is seeking very limited change. We do not have a proposal before us at present. We have engaged in bilateral contacts with the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, who continues to assess the situation. We will have to carefully assess what steps are necessary to enable Ireland to ratify any change should such a proposal emerge. Until specific proposals arise, it would be idle and unwise for me to speculate further.
I appreciate that a proposal has not yet been made but, in developing the proposal which I understand the Taoiseach will present at the December summit, has the President, Mr. Van Rompuy, or his cabinet made contact with the Government to explore what sort of amendment might be made and whether a constitutional referendum would be required?
Mr. Van Rompuy has not made personal contact with me on the matter. He continues to consider it but until a proposal emerges and is circulated, we are not in a position to speculate. I have emphasised at previous Council meetings the importance of considering any proposal that emerges. I am not in a position to suggest to anyone the means of ratification that should be applied by the Irish people until such time as a proposal is examined by our legal advisers.
What is the scheduled date for the December meeting?
I think it is 16 December but I will have to confirm that.
I understand that is likely to be the date on which the Dáil rises for the Christmas recess.
If we are still here.
I did not set the date for the European Council meeting.
When will this House have an opportunity to debate the issues arising at the meeting? It is traditional that we take statements on European Council meetings and the import of the matter announced by the Taoiseach today will require to be addressed by the House. When will that be facilitated and will it be debated by the 30th Dáil?
I certainly hope so.
He might well hope so.
I assure the Deputy that I look forward to seeing him in 2011——
I thank the Taoiseach.
——in whatever capacity.
On the canvass trail.
I hope things go well for him.
That could apply to all of us.
He will be in Offaly canvassing
I always knew there was a sense of humour up there on the backbenches.
It takes a while to find it.
Clearly, we will have to take advice once a proposal is brought forward. It will be a matter for the House to discuss on its return. I expect that statements on the European Council can be taken after Christmas as we deal with the various legislative enactments, I hope, pertaining to the budget that will be passed on 7 December.
To what extent has the Taoiseach given his opinion to his EU colleagues in regard to the wisdom of a referendum on European issues? Has he taken into consideration the timing of any such referendum and the extent of support that could be relied upon in the foreseeable future?
The question of whether a referendum is required can be determined only when a specific proposal is put to us. It is not the case that a referendum is automatically required in respect of any proposed amendment. It depends on compliance with the constitutional position, based on case law and the established principles set out in various important cases which indicated the position of the Supreme Court, the only court that can authoritatively interpret the Constitution. It is idle to speculate on the matter other than to note there is no automatic requirement. Certain matters will have to be considered and it is best to wait for a proposal before taking legal advice from the Attorney General.