1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when he will publish details of his proposal to reduce the permanent rather than political staffing of his Department. [6666/11]
Vol. 730 No. 3
1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when he will publish details of his proposal to reduce the permanent rather than political staffing of his Department. [6666/11]
2 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the progress made in the restructuring of his Department including reduction in staff numbers for the entire Department rather than reassignments within the Department. [7685/11]
3 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the changes if any he has made or expects to make in spending allocations within his Department. [7686/11]
4 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if it is his intention to make any promotions to the Civil Service staff in his Department from outside the current ranks of the Civil Service during 2011 and which promotions are involved. [7689/11]
5 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the total estimated annual expenditure savings to his Department as a result of changes which he has implemented since his appointment. [7693/11]
6 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the units in his Department which he intends either cancelling or transferring to other Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8192/11]
7 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans for restructuring of staffing in his Department. [8367/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.
A new post of second Secretary General is being created in my Department which will support two important new mechanisms which are being established, namely, support for the Government economic management council and a new role in European Union co-ordination. This new approach in respect of EU co-ordination will support the Tánaiste and me, as appropriate. The new second Secretary General will also co-ordinate support for the Tánaiste in his engagement with whole-of-government issues, including Cabinet committee structures.
In addition, the post of Secretary General of my Department and Secretary General to the Government is due to become vacant in the near future and an appointment will be made shortly. The Government will decide in due course on the filling of these posts, for which expressions of interest have been invited from across the Civil Service in line with established practice.
Over the coming weeks staff dealing with public service reform in my Department will transfer to the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. While the precise details of the move and the number of support staff that will be required to transfer are being finalised, I expect that approximately 25 staff will transfer.
My Department's Estimate provision for 2011 is €24.816 million. This will be reduced as a result of the transfer of sections and posts in my Department which have been engaged in work which now comes within the responsibility of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I expect this transfer of functions will give rise to a whole year reduction in my Department's Estimate of approximately €2 million.
Will the Taoiseach indicate the reasons he has not opened up the positions to which he alluded, namely, Secretary General to the Government and the new position of Secretary General to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? Only a number of weeks ago it was clearly stated that the former position would be publicly advertised. Likewise, the new position, the creation of which I support, marks a return to the position which obtained two or three years ago when there were two Secretaries General in the Department of the Taoiseach. Why have the two positions in question not been opened up to public advertisement given the very strong play the Taoiseach made before, during and since the general election that all senior positions within the public service and Civil Service would be open to applicants outside the Civil Service? A specific promise was recently made in regard to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
As seven questions have been grouped, including six of mine, I would appreciate the opportunity to ask a number of supplementary questions pertaining to different aspects of those questions. However, that is the central question for now.
The Secretary General posts in the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance do not come within the ambit of the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, but are matters for decision by the Government directly, as are the posts of the Secretary General to the President, the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners. All suitable officers at a senior level in the Civil Service are considered for such appointments but it has been the practice to invite expressions of interest. In doing so, the opportunity was taken to include the posts of Secretary General to my Department and Secretary General to the Government, where a vacancy is due to arise in a few months. Expressions of interest received by yesterday evening are being compiled and the filling of the posts will be considered by the Government in the near future.
I understand the positions are not covered by TLAC and I am not asking about established practice because the Taoiseach promised to break from established practice in filling positions of this kind. He specifically said he would open these positions to applications from outside the public service and Civil Service. Why has he decided not to do that?
While we have revised the structure of TLAC, these posts are not subject to TLAC and are outside it as they are appointed directly by Government.
That is not the point.
They are sensitive positions, all with responsibility attached to them. Given the numbers involved, we should wait to study the list of expressions of interest and how that should be considered. These are fundamentally important positions for any Government. That is the way it is.
I know they are important positions. It was the Taoiseach who made the promise that people from outside would be invited to apply for these positions. Despite this, he has decided on this occasion not to open up these positions to outside people. Why has the Taoiseach taken this decision given it was he who made the commitment? I know all about established practice and TLAC. Why did the Taoiseach change his mind from a position he held not so long ago in regard to inviting in people from outside? I am not just talking about the Secretary General to the Government, the appointment of a new second Secretary General to the Department of the Taoiseach or in regard to the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, headed by the Minister, Deputy Howlin. Only weeks ago, a specific commitment was made that this would require external expertise and that such expertise would be brought in. That clearly has not materialised and I want to know why.
As I said, with regard to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Government has agreed to change the structure of TLAC. It is part of the Government's programme that there be the opportunity for people from outside the existing public service to bring in expertise, competence and management skills, which is already happening. The appointments of Secretaries General to the Government and to the Departments of Finance and the Taoiseach have never come within TLAC. All I have sought at present are expressions of interest. The closing period was yesterday and I have not even seen the range, the list or the numbers of those who have expressed interest in these positions. I will report progress to the House as I discuss this with the Government.
Tá mé buíoch don Taoiseach as an bhfreagra a thug sé, ach sílim nach bhfuil sé soiléir nó nach bhfuil difear mór idir an slí ina bhfuil an Taoiseach ag dul ar aghaidh agus an tslí in ar dhéileáil Fianna Fáil le ceisteanna mar seo.
Does the Taoiseach agree that any restructuring of staffing in his Department must be about making it more efficient and transparent, about savings in Government spending, and about the delivery of services for the benefit of citizens? Have any savings been made in a monetary sense? For example, in the case of money spent on advisers since the Taoiseach came into power, have there been savings in comparison with the position taken by the last Government on this issue?
If the Deputy goes back on the record of what we discussed in this House in recent weeks he will find that the Government has made decisions about reducing the numbers of advisers to Government and to Ministers of State and reducing staff numbers in private offices and private constituency offices. I pointed out in my reply to Deputy Martin that the transfer of staff from the existing Department of the Taoiseach to the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will result in a saving of some €2 million in the Vote of the Department of the Taoiseach this year.
All these changes have not yet been finalised but, when they are, they will be put on the public record in this House. I expect there will be considerable overall savings in the context of the Vote for the Department of the Taoiseach and for all other Departments when the full range of appointments is completed. The Government has made decisions in respect of reductions of pay elements, in respect of State cars and other perks and in respect of Ministers of State no longer being allowed special advisers.
The point is that transferring staff from the Department of the Taoiseach to another Department does not in itself offer a saving to the taxpayer.
That is true, but the creation of a new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform already signifies the decision by Government to have a serious and comprehensive analysis of how public moneys are spent. The people being transferred from the Department of the Taoiseach to a specific unit within the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will see to it that there is a proper analysis of how public moneys are being spent. When the final range of appointments is made to Ministers — both to their private offices and constituency offices — we will see the full extent of the savings, and that information will be brought to the House. These appointments must be approved by the Taoiseach, but not all of them have come before me as yet.
My Question No. 1 asks when the Taoiseach will publish details of his proposal to reduce the permanent rather than the political staffing of his Department. Some months ago he made a commitment to reduce the staffing of the Department of the Taoiseach by one third. I have seen no evidence of that. I am not talking about transferring staff to another Department but rather the Taoiseach's specific commitment to reduce the permanent staff of his Department by one third. Will he indicate when he intends to publish details of this? Does he anticipate being in a position to reduce the permanent staffing of the Department of the Taoiseach by one third?
Staffing will reduce with the transfer out to the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I consider it very important that the driving force in respect of European Union co-ordination, which is becoming increasingly important, should be driven by the Department of the Taoiseach. There is a very small number of staff in the Department currently involved in this work, and we will relate that to personnel who are currently working in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I have had discussions with the Tánaiste and the Secretary General of that Department to co-ordinate our work in the area of European affairs. Ireland will hold the European Presidency in 2013 and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs will work with the Tánaiste, with me and with all Departments in making preparations for that. When all of the adjustments have been made, both out of the Department and working with the Department, we will publish all the details.
Given what the Taoiseach has just stated on the need for enhanced capacity within the Department of the Taoiseach from the European perspective, was it not unwise to commit some months ago to a reduction by one third of the Department's permanent staff?
I want to sort out a range of problems faced by this country and neither the Deputy nor I is interested in Punch and Judy politics.
That does not answer the question.
I call Deputy Higgins.
What about the examination of your appointments?
Many staff in the Department of the Taoiseach are members of the Civil and Public Services Union, which organises the lowest-paid workers in the public service. Does the Taoiseach understand the anger of those members of his staff who at their conference rejected the Croke Park agreement because it simply consolidates savage pay cuts, slashes jobs in the public service and therefore worsens service to the public? What is the Taoiseach's attitude to the bullying of successive Labour Party Ministers in the past week——
Where is the question?
Quiet please. Through the Chair, please.
Is there a new Ceann Comhairle?
I heard noises offstage there, a Cheann Comhairle.
Deputy, please proceed with the question. Thank you.
What is the Taoiseach's attitude to the Labour Party Ministers' bullying the lowest-paid and middle-paid public servants, including those in his Department, and threatening them with further pay cuts? I ask the Taoiseach to acknowledge that staff within his Department start out with extremely low annual wages in the low twenty thousands of euro. As a matter of interest, when the Taoiseach who is in receipt of €200,000 per year passes those staff in the corridors——
When the Deputy is ready, does he have a question?
——does he avert his gaze in embarrassment that he demands further cuts from them while rescuing European banks?
That is a broad-ranging question from the Deputy. I called together all the staff of my Department recently. I am very proud of the work they do and I spoke to them about the work in which the Government is involved. I do not accept the Deputy's wild assertion that Labour Party Ministers have been bullying Civil Service unions or any other trade union.
This involves dealing with reality. As the Deputy is aware, the Croke Park agreement was put through this House and contains within it the potential to bring about that transformation of the public services sought by the Deputy and everyone else so that they are delivered efficiently and professionally by highly motivated staff. As a union, the CPSU is entitled to its view. I listened to its reports the other day and I understand that a ballot is sought. While the Government already has stated clearly that it does not desire a further cut to public pay, Deputy Higgins as a well-read Member is aware of the contents of the agreement and the memorandum of understanding signed off with the IMF and the European Union in respect of this country. This is the reason it is absolutely necessary that the Croke Park agreement now be accelerated and that public service managers and the implementation forum become drivers instead of simply monitors.
It is to save the skins of European speculators.
It is very important in the sense of allowing public servants to do their duty as they wish to in a streamlined and efficient operation that delivers the services the public expects. The public service unions want this to be delivered and I intend to work with them in the interests of ensuring that the agreement is implemented in full as quickly as possible. The Labour Party Ministers and others have pointed out the reality of the consequences of not being able to do that.
It is to save the European banks.
Was Deputy Higgins not over there saving them for a good while?
8 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when the next North-South Ministerial Council will take place; and if he will be attending. [7502/11]
9 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans for carrying out a second review of the North-South implementation bodies and areas for co-operation following a commitment made in the programme for Government. [7503/11]
10 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had concerning the commitment to cross-Border road links. [7688/11]
11 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise directly with the British Prime Minister the need for the British Government to accede to the unanimous request of Dáil Éireann in July 2008 for all files and other information in relation to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974 and other atrocities inquired into by Justice Barron to be opened to independent, international scrutiny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7777/11]
12 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans regarding expanding the role of cross-Border implementation bodies. [8193/11]
13 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach when he will next meet with the British Prime Minister. [8290/11]
14 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the British Prime Minister consults with him regarding the economic policies of the British Government as they impact on Northern Ireland. [8291/11]
15 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach his plans to discuss outstanding issues from the Barron report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. [8323/11]
16 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has a co-ordinating role in regards to meetings between members of the Cabinet and their counterparts in the Northern Executive to ensure a cohesive and streamlined approach to North-South relations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8366/11]
17 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron; the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8423/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 17, inclusive, together.
As the Head of Government, I wish to see——
A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order——
——North-South relations continue to advance and levels of economic co-operation increase.
On a point of order, the Taoiseach has included a question in respect of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings which has little to do with cross-Border matters and which deserves a separate answer.
That is not a point of order. It is a matter for the Taoiseach as to whether he groups questions.
It is important.
I will allow the Deputy adequate time to ask supplementary questions.
A number of the questions refer to the North-South Ministerial Council, parliamentary forums, cross-Border activities and so on.
As Head of the Government, I wish to see North-South relations continue to advance and levels of economic co-operation increase, to ensure peace and stability on this island and with a view to accelerating economic recovery to our mutual benefit. I am also acutely aware of the political importance of all of the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement, including not only the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, but also the North-South Ministerial Council, the North-South bodies and the British-Irish Council.
As set out in the Good Friday Agreement, relevant Ministers and officials from North and South work together through the North-South Ministerial Council on agreed areas of co-operation. The next plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council is scheduled to take place on 10 June. I look forward to chairing the meeting, which will take place here in the South at a location yet to be decided. I expect that we will have discussions around the economic situation North and South and that we will give consideration to a range of areas of North South co-operation. I see the June plenary meeting as an important opportunity to make quick progress on a range of outstanding issues and opportunities, with new Administrations in place both here and in Belfast.
As I have said before in this House and as set out in the programme for Government, this Government is fully committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement, which have brought about transformational change on this island. Under the St. Andrews Agreement, it was agreed that the Northern Ireland Executive and Irish Government, under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council, would appoint a review group. That group was asked to examine the efficiency and value for money of existing North-South implementation bodies and also to look at the case for additional bodies and areas of co-operation within the North-South Ministerial Council where mutual benefit would be derived.
Relevant Ministers in both jurisdictions have been consulted on all aspects of the St. Andrews Agreement review. I understand that this process is now near completion and that the review group is to prepare a report for consideration by the North-South Ministerial Council at its plenary meeting in June. I hope that the process will be brought to a conclusion at that stage and that further progress can be made.
In that context, I also hope to see progress on the establishment of the North-South consultative forum. As the Deputy knows, proposals on this were previously made to the Northern Ireland Executive. Three successful consultative conferences involving social partners and other groups from civil society from across the island were facilitated by the previous Government.
Another outstanding commitment under the St. Andrews Agreement on which I would like to see movement is the establishment of the North-South parliamentary forum. While its establishment is a matter for agreement between both the Oireachtas and the Assembly, I hope that there will be progress on this after the Assembly elections in May. I have written formally to the Ceann Comhairle about this and I know that he is very supportive of the proposal.
The Government continues to be supportive of the A5 north-west gateway to Aughnacloy and the A8 Belfast to Larne road projects. Roads are long-term investments but will pay dividends in terms of the contribution to the economy of the North and the north west and the mutual benefits that will accrue to the island as a whole. As I said to the First and deputy First Ministers when we met in Washington last month, I am also open to looking at ways of delivering this project more effectively but to the same high quality.
The future prosperity of the Northern Ireland economy is a matter of concern to everyone in this part of the island as well. The UK Treasury has published a consultation document, entitled "Rebalancing the Northern Ireland Economy", which sets out the major challenges facing the Northern economy. I took the opportunity to discuss this with the British Prime Minister yesterday and I assured him that we shared the objective of helping the Northern Ireland Executive to rebalance the Northern economy, as well of developing the all-island economy.
In the meeting in Downing Street, I held a wide-ranging discussion with the Prime Minister. The issues we discussed included the strength of the bilateral relationship between Britain and Ireland, which will be reflected in the forthcoming visit by Queen Elizabeth, the economic challenges we both face and a number of issues of common concern at EU level. The Prime Minister was very supportive of the action being taken by the Government, both at home and internationally, to deal with our economic problems. We had a useful exchange on the current situation in the European Union and how we could work together to ensure that EU policies and action support economic growth and recovery across the Union. I expressed my appreciation for the loan which Britain was providing for Ireland and the manner in which the Prime Minister and his colleagues had dealt with the matter. I did not engage in a detailed discussion about the interest rate, as that matter is being dealt with by eurozone finance Ministers.
With regard to Northern Ireland, we discussed recent political developments, notably the successful completion of the first ever full term power sharing government, security co-operation and opportunities for all-island economic co-operation. We both expressed admiration for the leadership shown by all sections of society in the aftermath of the terrible murder of Constable Ronan Kerr and especially the powerful statement made by his mother, Nuala. We agreed on the importance of maintaining and enhancing the historic progress made in policing in Northern Ireland and the need to continue to work together to ensure we did not slip back, notwithstanding the recent ending of the special 50-50 recruitment provisions introduced after the Patten report.
With regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the question of obtaining access to information held by the British Government on the bombings has been pursued for many years by successive Governments and with the support of Members on all sides of the House. There was a significant and lengthy inquiry by two very eminent judges, Judge Hamilton and Judge Barron; a thorough examination by an Oireachtas committee and a full commission of investigation conducted by Mr. Patrick MacEntee. In 2008 the House passed an all-party motion on the matter which was transmitted to the House of Commons. The issue arose again in a broader discussion yesterday with the Prime Minister when we both acknowledged that there were a great number of sensitive issues relating to the past that needed to be sensitively considered without getting into endless, open-ended inquiries. There are many other acts of violence in respect of which victims on all sides wish to have more information on what happened to their loved ones. The Pat Finucane case also arose in that context and I understand the British Government is continuing to consider how that matter might be resolved.
I regard the taking of such a large grouping of questions as unacceptable. There should be more common sense in taking questions. I do not mind questions being grouped where there is strong coherence or similarity in dealing with issues, but taking Questions Nos. 8 to 17, inclusive, together is an extraordinary action which almost brings the process into disrepute. The topics dealt with include cross-Border links, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the meeting with the British Prime Minister and a variety of other separate matters. I would like the Taoiseach to take on board what I am saying about the need to adopt more common sense in the grouping of questions tabled by so many Members.
That said, I welcome the Taoiseach's comments on the North-South Ministerial Council which will take place here. He indicated some time ago that if he were to become Taoiseach, he would conduct a second review of the North-South Implementation Bodies, but given what he has now said, that will be unnecessary. We are nearing completion of the first review which has dragged on for too long. There are issues and sensitivities concerning some of the North-South Implementation Bodies, as there are various traditions and political parties in the North. Will the Taoiseach consider an extension of the current bodies or the creation of new ones as part of the review and consideration by the North-South Ministerial Council? In areas such as food safety, for example, there is a clear rational case to be made for having an all-island food safety promotion body. As far as I can gather, three are in operation. Likewise, in the general area of public health I suggest there is significant room for adopting an all-island approach and in a number of related areas. Has the Taoiseach had any meetings regarding a commitment to cross-Border road links with groups in the North and the British Prime Minister?
The Deputy raises an interesting point about the grouping of questions. When I took my first Question Time here as Taoiseach I made the point that in the discussions we are to have on how we do business in the House we should look at this. The only common denominator among this set of questions is that they are all about Northern Ireland matters. In previous times, during Taoiseach's questions, there have been groupings such as European Union matters lumped in with the Far East and everything else. I remember exceptionally long replies being given by different taoisigh over the years. That is something we should look at. I do not mind if the Deputy wishes to take each of the questions individually, but they will overlap, as the Deputy will understand, because they relate to Northern Ireland.
The report on the implementation bodies will be finished, I hope, by May, and will be considered by the North-South Ministerial Council in June. Arising from that, the question of new bodies might become relevant. I did not have meetings about roads with any group, although this is an important issue. As I said in my reply, the Government is committed to continuing the support it has shown previously with regard to the A8 and A5 roads.
Deputies will also be aware that the Minister for Health has confirmed our continuing support in respect of facilities to be provided at Altnagelvin hospital. I have made the point on many occasions over the years that cross-Border issues such as education, health, the agricultural economy and research and innovation affect both the economy and social and civil society. With regard to the paper on transforming the Northern Ireland economy, as Deputies will be aware, there are issues which are of interest to us, and we are prepared to work on the development of an all-island economy. Some things will be acceptable and some will not, but they are matters for discussion among the politicians.
Did the Taoiseach discuss with the British Prime Minister the impact of that Government's economic policies on Northern Ireland, particularly the impact of cuts in education, social services and health on marginalised communities? Given the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland, there is a need to ensure economic and social progress in order to underpin the political progress that has been made. The edifice that has been created will require sustained supports, particularly for those who do not have a chance to complete second-level education or will not have the opportunity to go on to third level. Various social and health indices show significant disparities between Northern Ireland and the rest of this island, as well as the rest of Europe. There is a requirement to make this clear to the British Prime Minister at every available opportunity. This is something we have discussed in the past with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The British Government must take account of the impact of its broader policies on the daily lives of people in marginalised communities in Northern Ireland.
Finally, could the Taoiseach indicate the position he took with the British Prime Minister on the Pat Finucane case?
The Deputy will be aware that the Tánaiste met with the Secretary of State yesterday to discuss a number of matters of mutual interest. I did not have the opportunity of discussing with the Prime Minister in any great detail the implications of the withdrawal of services in particular areas across the North, but I did make points about security and the importance of keeping all communities active and motivated, which are related topics. I also visited Cricklewood Homeless Concern and the Safe Start Foundation, which are feeling the impact of the withdrawal of funding from local authorities in the UK on the voluntary services they provide, mainly to Irish emigrants, some of whom emigrated in the 1950s and are now in need of assistance. In that regard, we referred to the Secretary of State's proposal on a reduction of the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland. Obviously, this is a matter that will require the attention of the elected representatives of the Assembly as to how it might be implemented — if it is to be implemented. We also discussed how important it is for the new Assembly, whoever may be elected, to get down to detail on how to transform the economy of Northern Ireland to where we want it to be. The Deputy will be aware over the years of the extent to which the public service and its working numbers impact on the Northern Ireland economy. The document already produced about transforming that economy has implications in that regard. Matters are somewhat on hold, therefore, until the Assembly elections are out of the way and the new Assembly and Executive are put in place, when these issues will become of particular priority.
As to the conclusion of my meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, we both agreed that in circumstances where there is need to make a direct call about an issue regarding Northern Ireland or any other matter of mutual interest, we should do so.
What about the Pat Finucane case?
The Prime Minister raised that matter. I reminded him of the expressions of interest adopted unanimously by this House. As I noted in my reply, I understand the British Government is working continuously to see how this might best be resolved. In addition, I met Mrs. Finucane in Washington and discussed the issue with her.
With the Taoiseach's indulgence, I return to Questions Nos. 11 and 17, as separate matters. Regarding the other issues, a great deal of important work can be done in terms of the implementation bodies, the Council of Ministers and all the areas of agreement. The only policy position the Government can hold is to expand and build on these. The stance from thinking Unionists, particularly those in the civic and business sector, is to be part of all of that. I commend a recent memorandum of understanding between Louth County Council and the Newry and Mourne Council. This is a joined up approach to tourism and all other matters of mutual interest in that region. Will the Taoiseach encourage such initiatives?
Cuirfidh mé ceist eile faoi cheantair mar sin. An mbeidh an Taoiseach ag cur chun cinn réigiúin na Teorann a neartíonn cúrsaí sóisialta, cultúrtha, turasóireachta agus na ceangail eacnamaíochta idir na ceantair agus an pobal i bhfoisceacht na Teorann? Ar ábhar eile, will the Taoiseach reaffirm the commitment of the last Government to the new satellite radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital which will treat people from the entire north-western region?
Aontaím gur cóir go mbeadh forbairt tras-Teorann ann idir na réigiúin. Nuair a bhí mé mar cheannaire ar an Fhreasúra, bhí coiste speisialta bunaithe againn faoi chinnireacht an Teachta Seosamh Mac Aodh i nDún an nGall agus bhí cúpla cruinniú idir sinn fhéin agus cuid d'oifigigh poiblí ón Tuaisceart i leith ábhair faoi leith.
It is important that the impact of whatever economic policies are pursued be relevant to the Border and cross-Border communities. When we get out of this set of economic difficulties everybody wants to see a situation in which all regions can rise economically and people can have opportunities for work and employment without being diverted by those who would seek to subvert our democracy.
In respect of the radiotherapy facilities at Altnagelvin, on 23 March the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy James Reilly, wrote to the relevant Minister, Mr. Michael McGimpsey MLA, and confirmed that this Government would continue to support the provision of facilities at that hospital. He further confirmed that since approximately one third of the patients who receive radiotherapy there may be from the South, we would contribute broadly that range of support for the facilities at Altnagelvin.
I put Question No. 11 to the Taoiseach before he went to meet the British Prime Minister and it is a direct question: to ask the Taoiseach if he will raise directly with the British Prime Minister the need for the British Government to accede to the unanimous request of Dáil Éireann in July 2008 for all files and other information in respect of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. From listening to his answer, I can only deduce that he did not put this directly to the British Prime Minister, that he did not raise directly a question I raised here previously about 50:50 recruitment in the PSNI or that he did not deal directly with the important question of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
The British Government has consciously and deliberately resisted the demands of the victims, the 34 people who were killed and others who were injured, for a long time. It is actively resisting the outpouring from this institution, this Parliament, from the commission of inquiry established by the Government and from the sub-committee which concluded that since we are dealing with acts of international terrorism in which the British security forces colluded, the British Government cannot legitimately refuse to co-operate with investigations or attempts to get to the truth.
I understand and appreciate the point made by the Taoiseach to the effect that there are many other victims of violence and conflict who are also looking for truth. Sinn Féin has put forward proposals about trying to get the truth which I would be pleased to discuss with anyone. However, in this case it is a direct issue. The Taoiseach met the British Prime Minister. He represents us, the people of this State and those who were victims on that day. Did the Taoiseach ask the question directly? If he did, will he inform us of the British Prime Minister's reply?
The Taoiseach's account of the history of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings serves to avoid the essential issue, that is, the outstanding matters which remain in respect of this case and what the Taoiseach has done to discuss them. We are all aware, as Deputy Adams has stated, that the outstanding issues include the fact that the British Government refused to co-operate with Mr. Justice Barron and with requests of this House and successive Governments to allow independent, international access to original documents held in respect of the atrocities carried out.
Does the Taoiseach not believe he has a responsibility to these families who have suffered now for 37 years and who have sought answers to questions about the horrendous events which took place, the anniversary of which coincides with the visit of the Queen? Does the Taoiseach not consider it a lost opportunity that he did not appear to press the issue when he met Mr. Cameron? Crucially, what does the Taoiseach propose to do concretely with regard to this issue?
I did not travel to London to raise deliberately that specific question, no more than I travelled to London to raise specifically the question of a reduction in the interest rate of the loan given by Britain, as some people seem to believe. I cannot put it more powerfully than Nuala Kerr in respect of the killing of her son on the importance of the conviction and the courage of young Catholic men and women who wish to join the PSNI and that his death should not prevent or hinder them or provide an obstacle to their so doing. I am aware of the conclusions of the Patten report in respect of the 50:50 arrangement. The Tánaiste referred to this in discussions with the Secretary of State yesterday and I have raised the matter previously on other occasions. We must be cognisant of this issue in the context of proper and effective policing and the way in which the PSNI has been able to deliver to date.
I had direct contact with a small number of the families who lost loved ones in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings on Friday 17 May 1974, when 33 civilians and an unborn child died and 258 people were injured as a consequence of the four explosions. We have had the report of the Barron commission of inquiry and the commission of investigation undertaken by Mr. Patrick McEntee. In July 2008, there was a unanimous all-party motion in respect of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which urged the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to allow access by an independent international judicial figure to all original documents held by the British Government relating to the atrocities that occurred in this jurisdiction, and which were inquired into by Justice Barron, for the purposes of assessing said documents with the aim of assisting in the resolution of these crimes. In the context of these issues, I raised the matter yesterday and there is agreement that we should take all cases, which are all sensitive, personal and real, but we do not want a plethora of open ended investigations and tribunals and committees going on. Against that background, I referred specifically to the issue of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
On the visit of the Queen, I told the Prime Minister that I had heard reports that there may well be some minor protests but I want to make clear that these are not by Justice for the Forgotten, which has confirmed to me that the group has no intention of protesting when the Queen visits.
Going by the list from the Ceann Comhairle, I must now call Deputy Joe Higgins.
The Ceann Comhairle said he would give me some leeway on this issue and I am sure Deputy Higgins will give way for a few seconds.
The Deputy must be brief as we must move on to questions to the Minister for Defence.
The Taoiseach did not ask the British Prime Minister to hand the files over; that is all we can take from his response. He said there may be minor protests. Justice for the Forgotten has made it clear it will not organise a protest during the visit by the Queen of England, that it will organise a day of commemoration for those killed on that day. Is the Taoiseach aware that funding for Justice for the Forgotten, the only victims' group in the State, has been cut? Not only does the Taoiseach not raise the case, this is how the group is treated. The group, however, has made it clear that it wants those files.
Does the Taoiseach understand my amazement that he told us he discussed the narrow issue of security with the British Prime Minister but not the devastating consequences of the cuts to social programmes and public services? Do the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister not understand that the social deprivation and misery in many working class areas in the North will be worsened considerably by these draconian cuts? That is grist to the mill for dissident republican and loyalist groups to mislead again alienated youth into the culs-de-sac, as happened in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Taoiseach said this power-sharing Assembly has lasted a term and he is proud of that. What is the point of a power-sharing Assembly which meekly implements, be it under Sinn Féin, SDLP, DUP or UUP, a range of savage cuts in the interests of British banks and big business that will result in desperate consequences for the working class, in the same way the Taoiseach is implementing IMF-EU cuts here at the expense of our people?
I find it astonishing that Deputy Higgins would decry the right of the people of Northern Ireland to have a democratically elected Assembly, the first in very many years that has served its full term in a period where peace and stability have been brought to both communities. It is astonishing that the Deputy should decry the value of what he referred to as a "power-sharing arrangement" and which deals with the communities on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland.
I fully understand the difficulties with which those on both sides of the divide who live in deprived and vulnerable areas are being obliged to contend. I remind the Deputy that a number of years have passed since I travelled to Northern Ireland to meet 13 commanders of the loyalist community in such a deprived area in order to express to them — along with a number of other public representatives from different parties — the value, for the areas they represented, of participating in democratic politics in the context of the services and opportunities that could be provided to young people in order that, unlike their predecessors, they might not become involved in violence, criminal activities and so on.
From that point of view, Deputy Higgins should be very understanding with regard to the value of the Northern Ireland Assembly. When I discussed the question of deprived areas with the British Prime Minister yesterday, we both agreed that we would like the next Assembly continue to deal, in peaceful circumstances, with the reality of people's everyday lives, with the responsibility of transforming the economy of Northern Ireland and with voting on and dispensing with the budget relating to the services which must be provided for the people of the North.
Billions in cuts. That is the reality.
We will continue to support the development of the all-island economy where it impacts to the benefit of both jurisdictions, namely, the Twenty-six Counties and Northern Ireland. I am flabbergasted that someone such as the Deputy should decry the value of a democratic body such as the Assembly, which has brought peace and stability to Northern Ireland. With few exceptions, the people of this island decry the events which resulted in the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr.