Ceisteanna — Questions (Resumed)

Ministerial Staff

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

1 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has any advisers or consultants on health within his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27361/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of special advisers he has appointed since his election as Taoiseach; and the salary paid to each advisor. [28190/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

3 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a breakdown of the individual responsibilities of the special advisers employed in his Department. [28191/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

4 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the advisers on health he has within his Department. [28545/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

5 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has put in place in his Department any expertise in relation to health policy. [31045/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

There are five special advisers in my Department, four of whom are special advisers to me and one of whom is special adviser to the Government Chief Whip. I do not have a dedicated adviser-consultant on health in my Department. A specialist adviser on health was appointed to the Minister for Health and Children of the previous Government but was based in the Department of the Taoiseach and his salary was paid from that Vote.

The primary function of special advisers is to help achieve the Government's objectives and secure implementation of the programme for Government. Under the supervision of my chief of staff, the special advisers working in my Department provide briefings and advice on a wide range of policy matters as well as performing such other functions as I may direct from time to time. They also liaise with other special advisers in other Departments so that I remain informed on developments across Government.

I am circulating in the Official Report a table showing the salary of each special adviser. The total salary cost of the five special advisers is approximately €576,000, which is 47% less than the €l.l million total salary cost of the seven special advisers appointed to the Department of the Taoiseach by the previous Administration.

The names and salaries of the special advisers appointed in the Department of the Taoiseach since 9 March 2011 are contained in the following table:

Name and Grade

Annual Salary

Mark Kennelly, Chief of Staff

€168,000

Andrew McDowell, Special Adviser

€168,000

Paul O’Brien, Special Adviser

€80,051

Angela Flanagan, Special Adviser

€80,051

Mark O’Doherty, Special Adviser to Chief Whip

€80,051

My question is specific to the issue of health. Today, 344 people are on hospital trolleys throughout the country. Communities from Roscommon to west Cork to Blanchardstown to Loughlinstown to Tipperary to Galway are outraged because the Government's health policy is in tatters. We have lost 1,000 nurses in the past two years and 6,000 health workers. The number of bed closures climbed to 2,317 in the past few weeks. It is a disaster. Our health service is being massacred. The Taoiseach's Government promised the most ambitious reform programme ever in health care and that there would be no closures of accident and emergency services unless better, and what were seen to be better, services were put in their place.

The Taoiseach needs some advice about what is going on in our health service because lives are at stake. Communities are terrified by the dismantling of their local health, accident and emergency and ambulance services. People have come from Bantry today to protest outside the House about what is happening in west Cork. Who is advising the Taoiseach or is he taking any specific advice on how we will deal with the catastrophe in our accident and emergency and health services throughout the country?

The Deputy's question was specific. He asked if I had any advisers or consultants on health within my Department and if I would make a statement on the matter. I have made a statement on the matter. I have no specific special advisers or consultants in my Department dealing with health. I chair the Cabinet sub-committee on health, which is due to meet again shortly. It will meet every month for the next six months and then review the position. In the past, the Cabinet sub-committee met once every quarter.

I would point out, however, that in a number of hospitals where there was a consistently high and unfortunate number of trolleys over the past years. This has been seriously reduced because of increased competence being put into manage the hospitals. The Minister for Health, who is my chief adviser on health matters, has put together a package for new competency measures to be put in place in respect of the Mid-Western Regional Hospital and University Hospital Galway where, as the Deputy knows, there have been serious overruns in the past.

There is not a simple answer. It takes some time to change that structure but that is where the focus and priority of the Minister lies. We will keep the Deputy updated as decisions are made on this.

The Deputy will also be aware of the special delivery unit which the Minister set up to analyse why these backlogs occur in hospitals in the first place, whether it is due to a virus, a winter vomiting bug, holiday arrangements for cover and so on. These are all areas which have been set out in the programme for Government. The Minister has been clear that we want the very best facilities for, and the very best attention given, to patients in the first instance and facilities to be made available to people working on the frontline to service that. As the Deputy pointed out on a number of occasions in the past, we cannot stand over a situation where independent medical advice indicated that in some cases, safety requirements are not up to standard.

I have three questions. Ba mhaith liom cúpla nóiméad a ghlacadh orthu.

The Taoiseach said he had no health advisers, and it shows. I refer to this notion that it is a winter vomiting bug and so on. It is not winter yet. It is a lack of capacity and a deliberate running down of the public element of our health service.

I was in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda this morning. The Taoiseach may know that last week, a patient who had been on a trolley for five days was found to have TB. Other patients are now being screened for this dangerous disease.

I understand the Cabinet sub-committee on health has met only once and did not meet over the summer. My question on this issue is — with the Ceann Comhairle's permission, I would like to come back in on the other questions — does the Taoiseach accept that overcrowding in our hospitals is dangerous to staff and patients alike? Is there not a need for an urgent response from the Government?

I was in Blanchardstown hospital on Saturday with an Teachta Mary Lou McDonald, an Teachta Richard Boyd Barrett and others. Funding for that hospital has been cut by 20%. Should the Government not put in the extra resources which the health service and the public element of our health service require?

I remind Deputies that this is Question Time. If they could avoid statements, it would be helpful in order to get through the questions.

I could not but agree with the statement that overcrowding in hospital wards is not a good situation.

I did not say it was not a good situation. I said it was a dangerous situation.

As I said, I do not agree it is a good situation, and nobody would. The question was if we are in a position to deliver the best quality health service for the patients who get into the system with the facilities for those who provide that attention. This needs to be done in a streamlined manner so that we do not have this backup and the situation we have had over the years where there are all these trolleys in hospitals. Everybody here has visited hospitals on numerous occasions.

The Deputy mentioned Blanchardstown hospital. There has been enormous public investment in state-of-the-art facilities there. The hospital is central to the delivery of a quality health service. The Minister for Health and his colleagues have been there in the recent past. I do not have the details before me in respect of what is happening at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital today but I am sure if the Deputy raises this as a Topical Issue matter, the Ceann Comhairle might consider it in due course.

I know precisely what is happening in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. As I said, I was there this morning.

I think I selected Deputy Adams for a Topical Issue today.

I am really pleased with that. Go raibh míle maith agat. Is tusa an Ceann Comhairle is fearr sa domhain. Coming back to this issue, one of the anomalies in this State is that the hospital in Blanchardstown is called Connolly Hospital. James Connolly would turn in his grave if he saw the way our patients are being treated. That hospital does not even have an MRI scanner.

In regard to the five point plan, I agree with the sentiment that patients should have full access to proper health care but patients are not getting it. It is unacceptable that so many citizens are on hospital floors, on hospital trolleys and on chairs in hospital corridors.

The Taoiseach has not answered the following question, which has been raised a number of times. My friend, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, has also raised it. There are a number of special advisers in the Taoiseach's Department earning a salary of €168,000 which is almost five times the average industrial wage. I believe the Taoiseach is a decent man but I do not know how he can square that. There are 500,000 people on the dole and 150,000 young people have emigrated but the Taoiseach's Department is in clear breach of the guidelines set down by the Department of Finance. Is that social solidarity? Did the Taoiseach request that the salary cap be breached for these individuals?

I want to assure Deputy Adams that this Government is focused on providing the best level of service that we can for patients and the best level of facilities for people who work in the health service. One of the most modern endoscopy units in the country is in Connolly Hospital.

Deputy Adams was not there.

James Connolly would, I am quite sure, be delighted to know about that unit. The further expansion of the MRI facilities will come. The Deputy understands — he does not live in fantasy land either — that we do not have an endless, bottomless pit of money to provide all of these things now.

Except for the bankers.

Remember this — we would not be in this situation but for bankers and the carry on of an incompetent Government. Be that as it may——

Is that a confession?

We have nothing to confess.

——Sinn Féin's Ministers in Northern Ireland do not appear to have any difficulty with imposing serious austerity in health and other areas right across the board.

Deputy Adams should examine his party's record.

He talks about two different Irelands. We actually have two different Irelands. Sinn Féin is an all-island party, but it has a different view up North from the one it has down here. It does not seem to have any difficulty in agreeing to pretty serious cutbacks in Northern Ireland, but it hums and haws about everything that happens down here when the Government is in a bailout situation, we are not in control of our economic destiny and we must cut our cloth according to our measure.

That is lame. The Taoiseach needs to try a bit harder.

The Sinn Féin Deputies do not like the truth.

Deputy Adams talks about decisions in respect of advisers. I am not at all happy — how could I be? — about the numbers who are unemployed. That is why, through the Departments of Social Protection, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Finance, we want to put a real emphasis on job opportunities, getting people off the dole and providing up-skilling and retraining opportunities for them so that they can understand and appreciate the dignity of being able to go to work and contribute to their local economies, country and their own well being.

On the one hand, we must deal with the requirements of the memorandum of understanding to get down to 8.6%. In dealing with that challenge, we will put whatever resources we have into providing some sense of confidence in our indigenous economy — small businesses and medium-sized enterprises — to give people opportunities to get off the dole.

The Taoiseach is not answering the question.

In 2009, the cost of seven advisers in the Department of the Taoiseach was €1.085 million. It is now €576,000. Call them what one wills, in my Department there are three of the people in question at the lowest level of the public service scale that applies to them.

They are in breach of the Department of Finance's stipulations.

Two of the others are in excess of that level. This reflects the positions they held previously when they worked within the Fine Gael Party. As I pointed out to the Deputy last week, one of the persons working for a Minister was on a private sector salary of €200,000 and is now on a salary of €129,000 or €130,000 in respect of his or her public duties.

It is important that, when people cover a range of Departments and governmental issues, the Minister of the day has at his or her access people of competence who can inform him or her accurately as to what the situation actually is. The cost is very much reduced from what it was.

It is still in breach of the Department of Finance's guidelines.

In Question No. 5, I asked the Taoiseach whether he had put in place in his Department rather than just in his office any expertise on health policy. I find it incredible that the answer is "No". Given that the Department of the Taoiseach through the Taoiseach chairs the Cabinet sub-committee on health, it is unacceptable that there is no health expertise within the broader Department to inform the Taoiseach's work as chair of that sub-committee and to bring certain perspectives to its work.

The Taoiseach's fundamental difficulty is that he made commitments on health that could not be realised. In recent months, he has broken hospital after hospital. Roscommon is the classic example, but there are examples in Sligo, the orthopaedic hospital in Mallow and the many others in respect of which he made cast iron guarantees through letters and commitments in advance of the election. He has needed to resile from all of them.

At the macro level in terms of the advice and expertise required, the programme for Government contains two fundamental commitments. First, the move to a not-for-profit trust with insurers for every local hospital. This would be a retrograde step. Insurers would deal with hospitals directly to control costs. The Taoiseach mentioned Ennis and Galway. I understand that tenders have been sought for private outside contractors to manage those hospitals. He needs to spell this situation out further. We need a more comprehensive debate, as it is a specific change.

Second, a pathway to universal hospital care insurance was committed to in the programme. I note the word "pathway" has been introduced for the first time. It was never used prior to the election.

Could we have a question, please?

It is a comprehensive and complex issue. The new wording suggests the Government is resiling from its commitment in terms of the timeline and a genuine commitment to the proposal's implementation. It suggests that the Department requires some level of expertise on health to enable the Taoiseach to chair the health sub-committee and to allow these issues to be discussed, if that is his desire.

I can deal with that for the Deputy. Obviously, the special advisers who formerly worked for the party and are now in the Department of the Taoiseach are well able to cover a range of sectors. The economic adviser is up to date with every element of every Department and its budget.

I chair the Cabinet committee on health. It is going to meet next on 10 November. It includes the Tánaiste, the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Children and Youth Affairs and the Ministers of State with responsibility for primary care and disability, equality, mental health and older people. The chairman and CEO of the HSE also attend, as do senior officials from the relevant Departments. Rather than having an extra bill placed on the public sector and taking in someone to the Department of the Taoiseach, as applied on the last occasion, I deal directly with my own special advisers but also with the Cabinet sub-committee on health. For years, that committee met once per quarter. I was not happy about that and I have informed it that we will meet once per month for the next six months.

It has only met once in the past seven months.

Yes, but the next meeting is on 10 November. To be fair, I accepted the suggestions that came from Deputies about the necessity for a committee on health. I have an interaction with the Minister for Health and his two Ministers of State, who have specific responsibilities, on a regular basis. I do not need to ask for another special adviser to be put into the Department of the Taoiseach to cover health——

I did not say "special adviser".

——when we have access to the people who run it directly. I do not have consultants on health in the Department of the Taoiseach. I do not have a special adviser on health in the Department of the Taoiseach. The people who are there are well able to get the information I need at any time. We discuss all of these matters at the committee on health and will again on 10 November.

I wish to ask a brief supplementary question.

On a point of order——

We are moving on to Question No. 6 in the name of Deputy Boyd Barrett.

I wanted to ask a supplementary question. I did not get a chance.

We have spent 20 minutes on this issue.

I want to ask a supplementary question.

On a point of order, are we not allowed to ask supplementary questions?

I am entitled to a supplementary question.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked his supplementary question.

On a point of order——

There is no point of order.

Am I entitled to ask——

I did not get a supplementary.

Will Deputy Boyd Barrett resume his seat, please? I have called Question No. 6.

But I did not get to ask a supplementary question.

On a point of order——

Will Deputy Boyd Barrett resume his seat, please?

It is normal practice that I get a supplementary.

The Deputy asked a simple question of the Taoiseach as to whether he had advisers or consultants on health within his Department. He has answered the question. Will the Taoiseach move on, please?

I am entitled to ask a supplementary.

It is not ice cream.

Will the Deputy please resume his seat? This is Question Time. It is not a debate on health.

On a point of order——

We do not want a debate, but we are entitled to ask supplementary questions under Standing Orders.

I would like to ask a supplementary question on——

Does Deputy Boyd Barrett want his next question answered?

I just want to know whether I am entitled to ask a supplementary question.

No, the Deputy is not allowed to ask a supplementary question——

——if it has been answered. Will the Taoiseach please move on?

The Taoiseach was completely silent.

I would like an opportunity to return to this issue at a later stage.

I am entitled to ask a supplementary question.

Members are entitled to ask supplementary questions.

Am I not entitled to a supplementary?

No, you are not.

Departmental Agencies

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the State agencies for which he has responsibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27362/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

7 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to reform the National Economic and Social Council. [29505/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

8 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will provide information on the process of dialogue with the trade unions, the employers and the lead social partners which he aims to commence in November 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29506/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, together.

The National Economic and Social Development Office, NESDO, is the only State agency under the aegis of my Department. The NESDO was established under the NESDO Act of 2006 and is the body corporate for the National Economic and Social Council, NESC. The role of the NESDO is to advise me on all strategic matters relevant to economic and social development in the State. The role of the NESC is to report to me on strategic issues relating to the efficient development of the economy and the achievement of social justice. The council also provides a forum for engagement between the Government and the social partners. The NESC has made a major contribution to Irish public policy over almost 40 years. I have high regard for the quality and rigour of its reports and analysis, based not just on excellent research but on the quality of the deliberation among its members. Successive Governments have recognised that and that Ireland's development requires the support and contribution of a wide range of groups — economic, social and environmental. I believe the council has the potential to continue to make an important contribution in the time ahead. In that regard I have asked it to focus on more immediate and shorter term issues where the experience and insights of members will be valuable, have more frequent shorter reports and reflect the varying or individual views of its members.

In addition, following the dissolution of Comhar, its sustainable development role will be integrated into the work of the council. In this way sustainable development can be integrated into research and action on the significant national challenges we are facing.

I believe that the NESC has an important role to play as the vehicle for engagement on economic, social and environmental issues. I also believe in the importance of social dialogue. In responding to parliamentary questions in this House on 11 October, I confirmed my intention to meet with social partner organisations as part of a wider process of ongoing social dialogue. The exact details and schedule of these meetings have not yet been finalised. I look forward to future contacts with those partners as part of the Government's efforts to ensure economic and social recovery. In addition the Tánaiste and I will attend a plenary session of the council each year.

I mentioned that NESDO is the corporate body for the NESC. The changes to the NESDO over the last year or so, such as the dissolution of two constituent bodies, mean that we must look again at the legislation to make sure we have the proper governance arrangements in place and to make sure that it properly reflects the role I envisage for the NESC. My Department is doing this at the moment.

I did not hear the beginning of the Taoiseach's response.

That is because the Deputy was talking.

Yes, because I was trying to ask a supplementary question on the earlier matter which I thought I was entitled to ask.

Does the Deputy want to ask a question?

Will the Deputy please proceed then?

There are other Deputies in this Chamber who have questions.

I understand that but I understood I was entitled to ask a supplementary question.

No. The Deputy is not entitled to ask a supplementary question. In case he is has any misunderstanding of the position, he asks a question and if he gets a reply to the question, that is it. If he asks a straight question and the answer is given to him, he is not entitled to ask a supplementary question.

Is it not up to me to decide whether——

No. It is not up to the Deputy, it is up to me——

——I am happy with the answer?

——because I have to chair this session. It is not a question of our having a debate at Question Time; the Deputy asks a question and he gets an answer.

I was not asking for a debate; I was asking for a supplementary.

Does the Deputy want to ask a supplementary question?

The Deputy is making headway now that he has obeyed the Ceann Comhairle.

Will the Deputy please proceed?

I am deeply frustrated that I cannot ask a supplementary.

We have 25 minutes remaining for these questions and I ask the Deputy to proceed.

As I did not hear the beginning of the Taoiseach's answer, could he clarify if the National Economic and Social Council is the only State agency for which his Department is responsible? If that is the agency for which his Department is responsible, why was a question I put down to him some time ago asking him to comment on a report produced by the council passed to the Minister for Finance for reply? If we ask the Taoiseach questions about an agency for which his Department is responsible, he should have to answer those questions instead of batting them off to another Department for reply.

In respect of what the Taoiseach said about social dialogue, while I take on board his comments about not wanting to incur further costs for his Department or the taxpayer generally in terms of special advisers, might it not be an idea in some areas, particularly important ones such as health where there is a crisis, to have representatives of the INMO and of doctors and nurses on his subcommittee along with representatives from the HSE who might tell him that the reason there is a crisis in our hospitals is because the Government is massacring staff in terms of the number of staff and the budgets?

The Deputy asked a question in regard to State agencies. Will the Deputy please stick to the question?

The answer to the Deputy's question is as follows. The Deputy asked me if the National Economic and Social Development Office——

——is the only State agency under the aegis of my Department. The answer to that question is, "Yes". The Deputy also mentioned the importance of having people on the NESC who reflect particular sectors. For instance, under the community and voluntary pillar nominees there are representatives from Social Justice Ireland, INOU, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the NYCI. The membership of the National Economic and Social Council covers a broad range of sectors and personnel of particular ability. As I said in my reply, the latter half of which I hope the Deputy heard, I value their individual presentations and encourage them to state their views when we meet, to have shorter reports and to reflect on the more short-term problems that the country faces in terms of this economy and social justice.

In respect of the report on the NESC that the Deputy mentioned, that deals with the broader details of the economy and the Department of Finance would have a particular interest in that.

Tá dhá cheist i mo ainm.

That is correct.

The Taoiseach spoke about short-term projects and ongoing social dialogue which I can only interpret as part of his clear statement previously that he wants to move away decisively from social partnership. He did not tell us how that process will be structured. Will the community and voluntary sectors be involved?

B'fhéidir go bhfuil mé mícheart faoi seo. Is cuimhin liom gur chur NESC moltaí chun cinn fá choinne cruthú oibre agus cothú fás eacnamaíochta. Ar mhol NESC gur chóir banc straitéiseach Rialtais a bhunú? Níl mé cinnte gur tharla sé sin, ach tá mé á úsáid mar chás. Cad a tharla leis na moltaí a cuireadh chun cinn?

An féidir leis an Teachta an cheist sin a chur arís? Níor chuala mé é go soiléir.

Gabh mo leithscéal. Is cuimhin liom — b'fhéidir go bhfuil mé mícheart — gur chur NESC moltaí chun cinn i dtaobh obair a chruthú, fás eacnamaíochta a chothú agus banc straitéiseach Rialtais nó Government strategic bank a bhunú. Ar tharla sé sin? Má tharla, cad a rinneadh leis na moltaí?

Tá a fhios agam gur chur NESC tuarascáil ar fáil faoi chúrsaí traenála agus buntáiste oibre do dhaoine atá ar chúrsaí leasa shóisialaigh. Tá na moltaí sin á phlé ag an Aire. Tá an cheart ag NESC an tuarascáil sin a chur ar fáil.

The NESC, for instance, covers the trade union pillar nominees, the business and employer organisation pillar nominees, the agriculture and farming organisation nominees, the community and the voluntary pillar nominees, the environmental pillar, and the Government and independent nominees from the ESRI, NUIG, Queen's University, Trinity College Dublin, Maynooth College and so on. The NESC reports are important and are considered by individual Ministers and Departments where they are relevant. I value the expressions of interest and proposals they put forward. It is not possible to adopt all of them but they are all valuable and I consider their work to be very useful.

The Taoiseach spoke two or three times about valuing the individual contributions. I can only deduce from that that he does not value the reports the NESC has put forward. If he moves away from social partnership, which I believe is his intention, how would the alternative process be structured?

I mentioned the quality of the debate among members, which is important. I also mentioned that the reports should reflect the varying individual views of the members and therefore when they meet us as a council I do not expect them to have all of that distilled into a few paragraphs stating that this is the considered view. If there are varying views within the council it is important to hear that. It is an opportunity for the different representative pillars on the council to give their view and ask that it be taken into account. There is a spectrum of views which is important for Ministers and myself to be able to acknowledge but politics is about making decisions on those views.

The answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes". They do excellent research and I value the deliberation that they have as a group dynamic, but I also respect the reflected individual views of the members.

In terms of the structure of the dialogue with the trade union movement, about which we asked some time back as well, it is not clear what that will be. The Tánaiste mentioned that there would be a structured dialogue with the social partners generally. I think the Taoiseach's position has been of a more informal kind of engagement. In the context of the dialogue to begin in November, will the Croke Park agreement be up for renegotiation or is it envisaged that it would be covered by that dialogue?

The Tánaiste set out the views here, with which I agree, to SIPTU on 5 October last. While the engagement with the social partners was a well-established part of the process of government over a number of years, we intend to initiate a process of dialogue and engagement with those who represented the social partners. I cannot give Deputy Martin the dates now, but I think I myself have arranged three meetings with IBEC, ICTU and the IFA over the next couple of weeks. I addressed the IBEC president's dinner on 22 June last and I met representatives of IBEC on 20 July last. The Tánaiste and I will attend at a plenary session once a year.

When we met both IBEC and the trade unions we made it perfectly clear that the lines of contact and connection to Government are very open. We are not going into the sort of structure that applied there for a long number of years but there is no blockage, to put it that way, on those who were in the social partnerships making contact with Government. That is an important part of the dialogue.

Deputy Martin asked will the Croke Park agreement be up for assessment. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is dealing with that and is in discussions on a regular basis about getting the full implementation of the Croke Park agreement, which, as Deputy Martin will be aware, is a central part of the troika agreement. That has been a challenging position for all concerned and the Minister is very active on that.

State Awards

Derek Keating

Question:

9 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Taoiseach if he will consider a national civil award similar to the British OBE, the French Presidential Award, Orde national du Mérite, the New Zealand Order of Merit or the USA Congressional Gold Medal, the purpose of such an award would be for those persons who in any field of endeavour have rendered service to the Republic or the nation through distinguished works or talents or performed outstanding deeds in the national interest; his views that we have much to be proud of in our country and there are many unrecognised patriots in society today; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there are only two State awards, the Scott Medal and the Fire Service Bravery Medal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28194/11]

The issue of a State honours system has been discussed many times in the past but there has never been all-party support to sustain its development. Such support would be required if consideration of an honours system were to proceed.

While I would have no objections to all-party consideration of this matter, the timing of any such consideration would, of course, have to take cognisance of other political priorities at this time.

For the information of Deputy Keating, I remember that I, as a Minister of State many years ago, implemented the concept of the Gaisce awards, which are the presidential awards for young people. Personally, I do not favour the conferral of formal titles on people. Deputy Keating will be aware that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has introduced a new recognition system for Irish people of the diaspora for outstanding contributions and it might be worth having a discussion about this in that context.

Personally, I do not want to see a situation where there are lords, and titles and all of that conferred by the State. As there are the People of the Year awards, the Entrepreneur of the Year awards and other systems, perhaps it might be appropriate if all of the Members were to agree on some form of recognition, be it by an award of the Uachtarántach, as an expansion, if you like, of the Gaisce awards, but I would not want to proceed on that road unless there was all-party consensus.

I thank the Taoiseach for his positive response to this proposal.

I wondered at one stage how would we ever reward persons such as former President Bill Clinton and Mr. John Hume, who have made such a significant contribution to the lasting peace in Ireland, persons in business such as Mr. J. P. McManus, Mr. Michael O'Leary and persons in sport. In Ballyfermot, I grew up with the expression ringing in my year, "Run like Ronnie". Of course, we have been renowned for our successful sportspersons over the years: Ms Katie Taylor in recent times, Ms Sonia O'Sullivan, Mr. Johnny Giles and, indeed, Mr. Mick O'Dwyer. We have been very successful.

The Taoiseach recently had the pleasure of presenting the Person of the Year award to Ms Joan Freeman, another person who has dedicated her life to a wonderful cause of saving the lives of those who are most at risk of suicide but this, of course, is a commercial award. Notwithstanding the fact that I would agree with the Taoiseach in so far as we do not want titles such as "lord", at the same time I favour some civic opportunity to acknowledge those who have made a substantial and significant contribution to supporting the people of this country in so many ways.

The Tánaiste, at the global forum, announced that the Government would shortly introduce a new system of recognition for sustained and distinguished service to Ireland or Irish communities abroad by individual members of the diaspora and he presented the first of those to former President Bill Clinton.

For the information of the Deputies, this question of a State honours system was discussed on many occasions in the past. In 1999, then Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, initiated consultations with other party leaders about an honours system. The record shows that the overwhelming majority of the Fine Gael Front Bench, of which the Ceann Comhairle was a member, stated that it should not be pursued further. In October 2007, then Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, again wrote to the party leaders and no agreement was reached.

There is no point in proceeding with this unless Members are agreeable that there should be some form of recognition of outstanding contribution by Irish persons for whatever one chooses to specify. If one wants to term it an expansion of the presidential Gaisce for young people or whatever, only on the basis of agreement could we consider this further, but it would not be "lord" or a title of that nature.

To lighten the mood, the Taoiseach might recall that the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, mistakenly named me as a baron.

He was not mistaken at all. Deputy Adams is one.

What is the full title of that?

I thought the Taoiseach might be pleased to know that if he did bring in an award for political U-turns, I would be pleased to nominate him and the Tánaiste as joint honoraries.

Deputy Adams himself would meet that criteria as well.

I forget the full range of the title Deputy Adams has there.

It is to do with the expenses he has taken.

I am not sure how it arrived on Deputy Adams's desk and I do not know whether he uses it when he goes to Britain or wherever.

Baron of what?

Baron Adams, it sounds great.

I appreciate the question tabled by Deputy Keating and his strong and committed views, but I put it to the Taoiseach that the fundamentals of a republic are based on merit. The great success of the Gaisce programme is that it is a creative productive programme based on the merits of the young people who participate who reach certainthresholds of achievement through their lives.

The notion of honours and awards does not sit easily with a republican viewpoint and a republican perspective. That is a view I would have and would put on the record on the issue tabled. We should maintain our commitment to a merit-based approach to society which has stood us well. In other jurisdictions, not least in Britain, there have been times when the honours system has been brought into disrepute in a number of ways. Would the Taoiseach confirm that view?

That comment is very much in line with my own view. I would not like to see a situation where annually, because of who persons might be, some sort of honours or whatever were allocated on that basis.

We might consider at an appropriate time a merit achievement-based recognition — call it what one will — but not honours or the conferral of titles. In respect of real merit and real achievement by persons, perhaps there is a way of giving recognition. I would share Deputy Martin's view.

I call Question No. 10.

A Cheann Comhairle——

I want to move on.

Very briefly, 30 seconds.

We got an answer here, I am sorry.

I commend Deputy Keating on his contribution.

This is Question Time.

Rather than an awards system as in prizes, it would be an honours system as in recognition of lifetime service. It is a maturity, not merely something brief.

I thank Members and the party leaders for their contributions. The word "merit" is central to my suggestion. I would agree with the Taoiseach's suggestion and perhaps the wheels could be put in motion to see if all-party agreement is possible and then proceed if this is the case.

I have similar views to the previous speaker, having pursued this subject matter for many years. I did not allow the matter to rest just because there was nobody who would merit the order of merit. I wish to point out that France is a republic and it has an order of merit or the equivalent and this has been very successful.

Has the Deputy a question?

It should be borne in mind that in the case of people who have made a significant contribution to society over a long period of time, some means should be found to recognise this. On the other hand, there are many people who have made a negative contribution to society and we should, therefore, recognise those who have made a positive contribution.

In response to Deputy Keating, I will write to the party leaders and representatives about this matter. Deputy Durkan has been an advocate of some system for very many years. I am not sure whether he is talking about a sash down here and a sash in Northern Ireland or whatever but we might have a look at that.

Northern Ireland Issues

Micheál Martin

Question:

10 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his contacts with political leaders from Northern Ireland since 4 October. [28461/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

11 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the preparation he has made for the forthcoming meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. [28547/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

12 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with political leaders in Northern Ireland since the resumption of Dáil Éireann. [29742/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

13 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has raised the issue of the need for an inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. [29743/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

14 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has had any recent contacts with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29744/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, together.

I intend to visit Belfast in mid-November and a programme of engagements including meetings with political leaders is being planned. I am looking forward to the next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council on 18 November in Armagh. All arrangements have been made. I anticipate that the meeting will review progress across the full range of areas of North-South co-operation.

At the last plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in June, we had a broad-ranging economic discussion. We stressed that it makes good practical sense to continue to explore areas where efficiencies and economies can be achieved by working together, North and South. We discussed progress made on the satellite radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin. An update on the A5, north-west gateway to Aughnacloy and the A8, Belfast to Larne, roads projects was also provided and we agreed that a further payment of £11 million would be made in respect of this development. We agreed to finalise deliberations on the outstanding commitments under the St. Andrews Agreement at the forthcoming plenary meeting in November.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Thursday, 6 October. The sixth meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in institutional format was held in Stormont Castle, Belfast, on 3 October 2011. The Irish Government was represented by the Tánaiste with the Northern Ireland Executive represented by the First Minister, Peter Robinson, acting Deputy First Minister, John O'Dowd and the Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy. Both jurisdictions face substantial budgetary challenges and we discussed shared economic challenges.

Sectoral meetings continue to be held between Ministers, North and South, with meetings held on 12 October on the languages body and on inland waterways, a meeting on aquaculture and marine on 14 October and a meeting on transport on 21 October.

I spoke to the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, on 11 October in advance of his meeting with the Finucane family. The Prime Minister informed me that is was his intention to get to the truth of the matter quickly and to issue an apology to the family. This would be achieved, in his view, by the appointment by the British Government of Sir Desmond de Silva, a senior queen's counsel, to undertake a review of the case. However, I reminded the Prime Minister of the all-party motion passed by the House in 2006 which called for a full independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane as had been recommended by Judge Cory. As I have said previously in this House, that position has not changed and the Government fully supports the family in its long-standing campaign.

The Government continues to maintain close contact with the Finucane family. At my request and on behalf of the Government, the Tánaiste met with the family and their legal representatives on Monday, 17 October. Discussions with the Tánaiste focused on exchanges with the Finucane family prior to their meeting with the Prime Minister and how best to progress from this juncture.

The Finucane family expressed their deep disappointment with the outcome of their meeting with the Prime Minister as it fell short of genuine expectations. They are determined to continue to seek the truth through a full independent public inquiry. The Tánaiste undertook to pursue the matter with the British Government and to engage fully with them on this issue, having assembled a comprehensive summary and assessment of events to date. My office has also maintained contact with officials in Downing Street on the matter.

Finally, I reiterate the Government's position which is quite clear and which has been communicated to the British Government — the requirement for a full inquiry to be held as set out in the 2006 all-party motion adopted by Dáil Éireann and as expected by the Finucane family and the international community. I reiterated that view to the Prime Minister in a brief conversation at the EU Council meeting on Sunday.

I remind Members there are 13 minutes remaining to deal with five questions.

I asked about the position regarding the Taoiseach's contacts with political leaders from Northern Ireland since 4 October. I take it from his reply there have been no contacts with political leaders since 4 October. Will the Taoiseach agree that nothing can be taken for granted regarding the situation in Northern Ireland? Have meetings or contacts been deferred until after the presidential election in order to give the First Minister a chance to return to the day job? Is this the reason there have been no contacts? In my view it is important to maintain contacts with political leaders. It is not just enough to have the institutions established as a result of the Good Friday Agreement; it is important that politicians deliver for the people. Will the Taoiseach comment on a view that it is not the case that the Northern Ireland Executive is working very well and effectively and that over recent years it could have worked much more effectively, particularly from a socio-economic point of view?

I refer to the Finucane case and the inquiry. The Taoiseach stated he reminded the British Prime Minister of the Finucane case. Will he agree that there has been a breach of a solemn agreement between the two Governments as regards the holding of an independent inquiry into the Finucane case? Will he agree that the British position adopted regarding the appointment of a QC to investigate the murder represents a breach of an agreed position between the two Governments and a solemn agreement between the two Governments? Has the Taoiseach put this point in such language to the British Prime Minister?

There was not any particular reason for not visiting Northern Ireland since October. The visit is planned for November and I hope to undertake a number of engagements. I appreciate the Deputy's comment in respect of the effective working of the Assembly.

I spoke with the Prime Minister by telephone when he was to meet with the Finucane family. His view was he wanted to get at the truth and to issue an apology to the Finucane family. He said that his preferred method now was to appoint a QC. I reminded him in that telephone conversation that this House had passed a unanimous motion calling for a full public inquiry in the Finucane case and that this was still our view. I said that unless the Finucane family were happy with what was being offered, that remained our view. I reminded him of this view on Sunday in a brief conversation with him.

It is true that following the recommendations of Judge Cory that there should be inquiries into certain matters, this House followed through by establishing the Smithwick inquiry. It remains my view that the same should apply in the case of Pat Finucane, unless the family were to agree otherwise. They do not so agree so there is no change in the position of this House or of the Government in regard to having a full public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane.

I wish to take issue with the manner in which the Taoiseach has grouped these questions together. Leaving everything else aside, the issue of the Pat Finucane inquiry should have been dealt with separately. We do not have much time so I will not ask supplementary questions about the other questions but instead concentrate on the issue of Pat Finucane.

There was an agreement between the two Governments at Weston Park and it is called the Weston Park Agreement. The British Government has now broken that agreement. I welcome the fact the Taoiseach raised the issue of Pat Finucane's killing with Mr. Cameron on Sunday. That is good. However, if I understand properly what the Taoiseach told us previously, when he talked to the British Prime Minister on the day he was to meet with the Finucane family, it was the Prime Minister who telephoned the Taoiseach. Was that the first time the British Government told the Taoiseach — just an hour or two before it met the family — that it was not going to go ahead with an inquiry? What about all the contact between the officials, the Tánaiste and the British at Downing Street?

The last time the Taoiseach spoke about this was when the British Queen was here. While I accept entirely that the Taoiseach supports the family, this is a case on which the Government must be very proactive. With respect, I know how this works. I know how the British work and I know how the Government works. The Taoiseach must take this as a personal mission. Sometimes there is a lot of talk here about the North and sometimes the Taoiseach speaks about things he knows better. However, this is an issue he, as Taoiseach, needs to take on as a personal mission. He must say to Mr. Cameron that this is an agreement between two sovereign governments and that we want him to honour it. Even if there had not been a Dáil motion or any of the other issues involved, he must point out to Mr. Cameron that this is an agreement between two sovereign governments and that he is in breach of it. The Taoiseach needs to catch his attention. We will support him in whatever he does on this issue. It is not an issue on which to be passive, but one on which the Taoiseach must be proactive.

The situation is very clear. Judge Cory recommended a public inquiry into this. The British Government, for its part, has made it clear on a number of occasions that it does not want to go down a road of endless public inquiries into so many incidents——

It agreed to this. I was there.

I do not speak for the British Government. It has made it clear that it does not want to go down the road of endless public inquiries. I raise this issue on any opportunity I get with the British Prime Minister. I did not hear of the British Government's decision until the message came through to my office that the Prime Minister wanted to talk to me. I left a Cabinet meeting to take that call and spoke to him. I reminded him, during that conversation, that if what he was offering was not acceptable to the Finucane family, I would not agree to it. I reminded him the Smithwick tribunal was set up following the same recommendation from Judge Cory and that there was unanimous approval and endorsement of a motion from this House that there should be a public inquiry. We have been very clear about that and will continue to state that view.

I cannot stop the British Government appointing Mr. Da Silva QC to look at the million pieces of paper on this issue. I do not know whether he will come across something among those pieces of paper that may point to a real truth. I cannot say that. Obviously, my preference is for a public inquiry as was agreed between the two countries and as was recommended by Judge Cory.

It strikes me, from what the Taoiseach has said — I am not being partisan about this — that he did not remind the British Prime Minister that this inquiry was a solemn commitment from the two Governments. That is the flaw on how this case should be advanced. I know the Taoiseach is extremely busy, but I believe he should meet the Finucane family. The family was expecting to meet him and the Tánaiste, but that did not happen. This has been going on for 23 years and the Taoiseach, as leader of the Government, needs to make it a personal mission. I urge him to make a commitment here today that he will make it a personal commitment. The way to come at it tactically and strategically is that it is part of a solemn agreement made at Weston Park between two Governments and that he expects the British Government to keep to that.

There is no point in the British Prime Minister phoning the Taoiseach an hour or two before he meets the family and saying he is sorry, but he has changed this and for the Taoiseach to say that goes against the Dáil and that there is all-party support for it. It was a solemn agreement between the Government here and the British Government. It was not up to the British Government to go off on a solo run. It should have been kept to the commitment it made.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that central to this are Geraldine Finucane and her family and their quest for the truth of what exactly happened in respect of the murder of her husband. Were she to come here and say to me that she would be happy with a QC being appointed to examine all of these papers, she, as the person central to this——

The Taoiseach knows she would not do that.

I agree and I said to the British Prime Minister, that if Geraldine Finucane, on behalf or her family, was not happy with what he was offering, there would be no change in the position here.

I met Ms Finucane in Washington when I was there in March. It was not possible for me to be at the meeting with the Tánaiste and the Finucane family here. The Tánaiste had come back from Korea, I think, and I was somewhere else. I have no difficulty with arranging another meeting with Geraldine Finucane and perhaps I can do that when I have the opportunity to go to Northern Ireland in November, or I can make an alternative arrangement for here or somewhere else. I take the Deputy's point about the Weston Park Agreement. As I said, there is no change in our position here. I would like to see a public inquiry in the case of the murder of Pat Finucane and I will take the opportunity on every occasion I meet with the British Prime Minister to remind him of the position and how important it is in dealing with this to get at the truth and to have it dealt with conclusively.

I asked earlier whether the Taoiseach would agree that the action of the British Government in appointing a QC to investigate the murder of Pat Finucane was in itself a breach of a sovereign agreement between two Governments which was arrived at solemnly at Weston Park. Does the Taoiseach accept it represents a breach of that agreement?

In so far as it does not comply with the recommendation of Judge Cory — who was given the documentation to recommend that an inquiry should be carried out in a number of cases — that he felt an inquiry should be carried out and there was agreement that should happen. It is not happening in the case of Pat Finucane and from that point of view it does not live up to the agreement made.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.