Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Ministerial Staff

Gerry Adams

Question:

1Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the names of the special advisors employed in his Department and the salary and other entitlements available to each. [39470/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the occasions on which he has intervened to secure the employment of special advisors in his or other Departments, on salaries in excess of the salary range guidelines for special advisors introduced by the Department of Finance; and the reasons in each case he intervened. [39471/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

3Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of employees of Fine Gael currently employed as special advisors to the Government and their names, salaries and other entitlements. [39472/11]

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

Five special advisers are employed by my Department, four of whom are my special advisers and one of whom is special adviser to the Chief Whip.

Under the supervision of my chief of staff, the special advisers employed by 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 each Department so that I remain informed on developments across government.

The details requested on the names and salaries of the special advisers employed by my Department are set out in a table which I propose to circulate with the Official Report. None of the salaries has changed since the special advisers were appointed. Other entitlements such as annual leave, sick leave and pensions are in keeping with the guidelines set out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

My Department provides office accommodation to three special advisers assigned to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and one special adviser assigned to the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs.

Questions relating to the salaries of special advisers are a matter of responsibility for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

As was the case with my predecessors, I am not accountable to the Dáil on the employment histories of my special advisers. Accountable issues on special advisers are defined in declarations to be made under the Ethics in Public Office Act. Declarations of current or previous membership of or association with a political party are not required. Regulations pertaining to civil servants and politics do not apply to special advisers, who are accountable to Ministers for their activities.

Name and Grade

Reports to

Annual Salary

Mark Kennelly, Chief of Staff

Taoiseach

€168,000

Andrew McDowell, Special Adviser

Taoiseach

€168,000

Paul O’Brien, Special Adviser

Taoiseach

€80,051

Angela Flanagan, Special Adviser

Taoiseach

€80,051

Mark O’Doherty, Special Adviser

Government Chief Whip

€80,051

With the Ceann Comhairle's leave, I would like a bit of time to tease out my three questions.

The Taoiseach ignored entirely Question No. 2 which asked how many times he had intervened to secure the employment of special advisers. I am also concerned he was not prepared to read the names of the special advisers in question into the record. The Taoiseach also cited that, like his predecessor, he is not accountable to the Dáil. That is probably the kindest thing he said about his predecessor in all my time here.

I put down these questions because people voted for change and we are living in times of great distress, constantly being told we are all in this together. Unfortunately, we are not all in this together. The workers from Diageo whom I met this morning in Dundalk after they were informed of losing their jobs, even after long service, are not in this with us. In a wonderful piece of news yesterday-----

I must remind the Deputy this is Question Time and not statements.

This is all about trying to get information, and answers to questions.

It is my job to get the Deputy to put the questions and it is the Taoiseach's job to answer them.

I will put them. There was an interesting scéal yesterday about an appointment of a special adviser by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine with a special salary of €130,000. At the time of his appointment, the Minister said the person "has a strong commitment to public service and is anxious to contribute at a national level in our drive towards recovery... he has a personal commitment to the country and is anxious to make a contribution by offering his knowledge and skills." He lasted five months and then left for England.

Sin an fhadhb atá ann. Conas gur féidir le saoránaigh creidmheáil sa daonlathas? How can people believe there is real change coming from the Government? How can people believe in the possibility of a real republic when the Taoiseach breaks his own rules by going against the salary bars set by him?

Will the Taoiseach inform the Dáil the number of occasions on which he intervened to secure the employment of special advisers in his or other Departments on salaries in excess of the salary range guidelines for special advisers?

I do not interfere or intervene in that process. Part of my responsibility is to sanction the appointments. Decisions on salaries for special advisers are a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The employment history of any person appointed to a job as a special adviser is immaterial. It is not required under the Ethics in Public Office Act. Ministers decide on the basis of their requirements and the credentials of the person in question employed. They then seek sanction for that.

As Deputy Adams spoke of being in this together, the real republic, wanting answers to questions and needing information, it interests me that in the Northern Ireland Assembly, of which his party is involved, such appointments are not subject to freedom of information and that no information is forthcoming on salary scales of ministerial advisers. In the case of Sinn Féin, it is the party that appoints the adviser, not the Minister. That seems to be a peculiar arrangement applicable only in Northern Ireland. Deputy Adams comes into the Chamber with two different standards.

Deputy Adams has three different standards.

He is stonewalling now.

He points out he wants a real republic, answers and information, yet the party which he leads in Northern Ireland has a very different structure.

Change is indicative here by the fact the chief of staff appointed to the Taoiseach is on a salary of €168,000. In 2009, the special adviser to the then Taoiseach was on €221,929. The total cost in 2011 of the special advisers to whom I have referred, which will be circulated to the Deputy, was €576,000. In December 2009, it was €1.085 million. If he wants to be upfront about this, perhaps he might look at his own party first.

I thank the Taoiseach for that advice but I would like to get back to the question. He said that he has not intervened or interfered. Let me not put words in his mouth and let him be clear to us. I refer to the preciseness of his reply to Question No. 2. He said he has not intervened to secure the employment of special advisers in his or other Departments and salaries in excess of the salary range guidelines for special advisers. Would he like some mature reflection on that?

I do not set the salaries-----

I did not ask that.

The Deputy talked about intervening or interfering.

I did not use the word "interfere".

Part of my responsibility-----

The Taoiseach has it in writing.

-----is to sanction the appointments.

The questions refers to "the occasions on which he has intervened to secure the employment of special advisers in his or other Departments on salaries in excess of the salary range guidelines for special advisors introduced by the Department of Finance and the reasons in each case he intervened". The e-mail that has been bandied about and referred to was sent from my office in regard to the sanction of the appointment of a special adviser to a Minister. The level of salary for that individual was not decided on my determination but in agreement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It was in breach of the guidelines and I have answered questions about why sanction was sought for that.

My job in respect of this element of my work is to sanction the appointments of the special advisers. I have pointed out to the Deputy that the cost of the advisers I have referred to, which will be circulated to him, is almost €500,000 less than during the previous Government.

The Taoiseach has intervened. Now that he has given us the accurate, truthful answer to the question, why did he intervene?

The individual involved had worked in the Department without pay for quite a number of months. I felt it time that a decision should be made about his position being sanctioned.

Was he a member of Fine Gael?

That is quite immaterial. For instance, the Deputy's party made a controversial appointment to the culture Minister in Northern Ireland. Was that person a member of Sinn Féin? The answer is "Yes".

Was the special adviser I referred to a member of Fine Gael previously? The answer is "Yes". He worked in a diligent fashion for Fine Gael in an important position for eight to nine years.

I believe in the importance of external advice to Ministers and to the Taoiseach. I do not see anything wrong with that. It is a valued part of how modern government should work and it needs constant reflection and so on. I am, therefore, not against it.

However, the problem is the Taoiseach's presentation of this issue is "Do as I say, not as I do". The controversy is showing that the Government says one thing in public but does a completely different thing in practice.

Can we have a supplementary question, not more statements?

Does the Taoiseach agree with the proposition that when the guidelines and salaries are broken for eight out of 15 Departments, this is a public relations exercise? I understand the argument about people coming from a highly competitive jobs market and one's desire to get some people in speciality areas in to advise government. However, that argument is disingenuous in the context of some of the interventions by the Government. I have no difficulty with a party member coming in in an advisory capacity. Was the Taoiseach worried that Fine Gael was paying too much to the individual and the Government would not be in a position to attract him to the job or did he believe that the party would try to hold on to him to prevent him being recruited? This is about his commitment and not about comparing numbers. He promised that things would be different but eight out of 15 salaries are in breach of the guidelines. Does he agree it is a public relations exercise?

No, it is not a public relations exercise. The Deputy was either the victim or the beneficiary over the years of having specialist advice made available to him in the many Ministries in which he served.

I never went beyond the guidelines.

Between 2009 and 2011 there was a reduction of almost €500,000 in the cost of special advisers and in the numbers eligible to be recruited to both Ministers and Ministers of State. I pointed out previously that the guidelines allow for a breach of the conditions in specific circumstances and they were outlined in the case to which Deputy Adams referred.

As Deputy Martin will be well aware, special advisers work on a 24-hour basis and they have to be available in respect of dealing with whatever responsibilities the Minister has in the Department. They are on call on a 24-hour basis as needs be. It is not a normal job and it demands enormous energy and commitment and an understanding of the responsibilities of Minister and the entire Government when it meets collectively in respect of their duties.

The Taoiseach was so understanding of that position when he sat over here.

Departmental Bodies

Micheál Martin

Question:

4Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the details of the proposed interdepartmental committee on European engagements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39474/11]

On taking office, the Government committed itself to restoring Ireland's standing as a respected and influential member of the European Union. We also set out specific commitments aimed at improving our engagement with Europe. The establishment of a new interdepartmental committee on EU engagement, to be chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Creighton, is one of a range of steps we are taking to bring the necessary drive and focus to the delivery of this commitment.

The committee's membership will include senior official representatives of all Departments, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The committee will maintain an overview of participation by Ministers in meetings of the Council and encourage closer engagement with the European Commission and the European Parliament. It will seek to support the engagement of the Oireachtas on EU affairs and promote initiatives to improve public awareness of the EU and the benefits to Ireland of our membership. The committee will examine our participation in the shaping of EU legislation from initial proposals to transposition into domestic law. It will have an important influence as Ireland prepares for the Presidency of the EU in the first six months of 2013.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Has the committee met? If so, how many times? The reason I tabled the question is that during previous Question Times, the Taoiseach indicated that this committee would be a core part of the new role of his Department in overseeing European affairs. He also claimed that every Department would be given a clear national role in terms of its objectives in pushing the EU. This supposed diplomatic initiative, which was announced last March and re-announced repeatedly afterwards, was clearly no more than a line for the media. Questions are being asked about how serious the committee is and what impact it will have. Has the committee done work on the new fiscal treaty and the demands it will impose on Ireland? Has it prepared any studies of its impact or has it written position papers on the treaty? Drafts of the treaty have been published. Has the Government a position on any of the issues outlined in the drafts? What work has the committee done in this regard over the past number of months?

The committee has not met because it has not been set up yet. It is in the process of being set up. I spoke to the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Creighton, before I came to the House. The first meeting will take place in the next couple of weeks. It is premature, therefore, to suggest that it should have prepared reports in regard to the fiscal compact and other issues. That work is being co-ordinated by the Second Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach. A great deal of technical work is being done and technical discussions are taking place between officials at a range of levels.

With regard to rebuilding our reputation, this has paid clear dividends in the diplomatic relations between Ireland and others not only within politics but outside because Ministers are required not only to attend European Council meetings but to have programmes around those meetings where they can meet and consult their colleagues, peers, working groups and so on in Europe. The interdepartmental committee will comprise senior officials of all Departments, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It will look to ensure Ministers engage to the maximum extent with their respective Councils.

It will encourage a closer relationship, at political and at official level, with the EU institutions, including the European Commission and the European Parliament. Often we discuss issues here without reference to what is happening in the Commission and in the European Parliament. It will promote the seeking of greater engagement at Oireachtas level in EU affairs. There is no reason we cannot have more regular interaction in the House about issues that are under discussion, be they legislative or whatever, at European Union level. It also will put forward a range of propositions for greater public awareness, both of the European Union and of the benefits to this country, not least in the context of an enormous workload which is building up for the 2013 EU Presidency, the first six months of which will be held by Ireland.

Can I ask a supplementary?

Another supplementary?

Did I ask one already?

The Deputy did. Go on, it is all right.

I think I had only one.

What is a supplementary between friends?

I only want to ask the Taoiseach if he can explain to the House why this committee has not met. The Government is nearly 12 months in office. I am genuinely shocked and taken aback at the fact that the committee has not met. We have been reminded time and again in this House of the gravity of the eurozone crisis and the enormous challenge facing Europe. Great Britain is staying out of a fiscal treaty, which was hurriedly agreed at the insistence of the German and French governments because of their domestic political agendas. It beggars belief that there has not been any interdepartmental response through this committee to the new fiscal compact treaty that, for instance, a position paper does not exist within the Department of Finance or the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in terms of the implications of this treaty which, on my party's reading of it, would suggest an impact on fiscal policy for the next 15 years and beyond. This is shocking. It probably illustrates more than anything the degree to which-----

A question please.

-----what we have got from the Taoiseach on Europe - the so-called diplomatic initiative - has been nothing more than empty rhetoric, month after month. In reality, nothing is happening in terms of engagement with Europe from the Government. This is a straightforward issue - the establishment of an interdepartmental committee. The Taoiseach has now admitted, because of a question here today, that it has not even met in 12 months.

There is no need for Deputy Martin to be shocked.

Maybe there is not, given the Taoiseach's record to date.

The committee has not been set up yet. It will have its first meeting in the next couple of weeks or in early February. I would point out to the Deputy, as I stated already, that we have taken from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade the personnel who are working in the European division. We have appointed a Second Secretary General, a very able person, in the Department of the Taoiseach, who is now co-ordinating those activities. In the meantime, every Minister and Minister of State is seen to be required to attend to his or her duties to live up to his or her responsibilities in this matter.

This committee will be of considerable assistance and back-up to the work that is going on at European level-----

-----under that co-ordination. The work that we do, at the level of Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Finance, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and every other Minister, in so far as the changes to the drafting of the proposed text for the treaty are concerned, is going on even as we speak.

The treaty is written.

This interdepartmental committee-----

The treaty is written.

-----has set out a range of functions and responsibilities for the committee.

The treaty is written.

That is important, both in terms of making Irish people aware of what is going on and for the Oireachtas to have a far greater input in terms of European Union affairs, Commission affairs and parliamentary affairs, and greater interaction between them.

The treaty is written. Does the Taoiseach accept that?

The text has not been adopted. The final text has not been presented for acceptance.

Come on, that is rhetoric.

As we speak, discussions are ongoing about that and there will be a number of meetings in that regard over the next fortnight. The treaty has not been defined yet.

The Taoiseach's answers were couched in the language of dialogue with the public and greater involvement of the Oireachtas etc. I could ask him 100 questions about all of that but-----

Please do not.

-----the Ceann Comhairle will not let me.

In his first response to the question, the Taoiseach did not mention the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. That struck me as rather strange. I wonder has the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, become an abstentionist once again.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has led the charge here in respect of the diplomatic restoration of this country's reputation and status and has done a great deal of work in that regard.

The Taoiseach should call a halt to that.

This interdepartmental committee-----

That is empty rhetoric at this stage.

Would Deputy Martin give us a chance?

-----will be chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Creighton. I have set out the terms and the nature of the work that will be conducted by that committee. It will be a powerful committee in the sense of providing a range of both information and proposals to enhance the work that is already taking place under the direction of the Second Secretary General co-ordinating European affairs.

Does that mean the European bit of foreign affairs has been taken off the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade?

Not at all. As I already set out in the terms of reference for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, of course, the co-ordination of European affairs in so far as Councils are concerned is the responsibility of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs has a specific remit in here. She will also chair this interdepartmental committee and is undertaking an enormous workload in respect of the preparations for the Presidency in the first half of 2013.

Cabinet Committees

Micheál Martin

Question:

5Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has attended any meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Health. [39756/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

6Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet sub Committee on Health has met since its establishment. [1919/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

7Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet sub committee on Health he has attended since its establishment. [1921/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

8Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet sub committee has met in relation to health matters. [1936/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet Committee on Health has met on three occasions to date - 5 October 2011, 24 November 2011 and 15 December 2011. I have attended and chaired all of the meetings of the committee to date.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. In an earlier reply, the Taoiseach stated that the Cabinet committee is supposed to work closely with the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and with the HSE. Given that the Minister has taken personal charge of the Health Service Executive, will the Taoiseach tell us whether the committee has considered the Health Service Executive's service plan and the issue of cutting up to 900 nursing home places which is causing enormous distress to communities throughout the country? Was the latter issue approved without consultation with the Taoiseach and other Ministers, or did the Taoiseach approve it without consultation with the sector itself?

This health service plan has not been considered in great detail by the Cabinet Committee on Health. The Minister is required under law to respond to the HSE presenting him with a service plan. He has responded to that plan. He has written his response to the HSE. Approval for the plan does not mean authorisation for expenditure. The Minister informed the Cabinet of his decision today to authorise the plan and, obviously, the plan and his letter are public.

If the Cabinet committee did not consider the health service plan, why does it exist? The most impactful decision on the health service for the next 12 months will be the health service plan. By definition, it will have an enormous impact on the level and quality of services that will be provided. It is an extraordinary admission to state that the Cabinet Committee on Health has not given any consideration to the health service plan.

Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the committee discussed the directorates that are to be established within the HSE that were announced in December by the Minister, Deputy Reilly? Will the Cabinet committee conduct a cost analysis on the universal health insurance proposition while it is preparing a White Paper?

I am prevented by constitutional restrictions from speaking about the details of discussions at Cabinet sub-committees. I stated it was not discussed in great detail.

The Minister, as I stated, is required by law to approve the plan or other. He has approved the plan. He has written to the HSE. He stated that he regards it as a dynamic document that will need to be reviewed on a regular basis in the light of emerging developments. As the pay and pension provisions in the plan are based on the exit of approximately 3,000 staff in 2012, the Minister intends that the first review will take place after February in the light of the exit of those who have signed on to accept the redundancy and exit from the service.

The plan sets out the main areas of investment, as follows: €35 million and 400 additional staff for mental health; €20 million primary care, which is very important; €15 million for GP cards for long-term illness claimants; €23 million to progress the HSE's national clinical programmes; a growth of over 100,000 medical cards; the expectation that approximately 3,000 people will leave the service by the end of February; a cost challenge of 7.8% in hospital budgets, with an expected reduction of 3% in activity; and an increase in income target for 2012 of €143 million in hospitals. I have referred to the indicative figure of 555 in respect of nursing home bed closures and the 1,270 net additional places for the fair deal scheme.

That is the essence of the programme. As the Minister has noted, this will need to be reviewed on a regular basis and his letter points out to the chief executive that approval for the plan does not authorise expenditure.

Bertie Ahern might well sue the Taoiseach for plagiarism. In response to another question about a Cabinet sub-committee, the Taoiseach stated that it was established to allow a deeper dialogue with the public and give the Oireachtas a larger role. This is a committee which has not met. In response to a question about this committee, he told us he is prevented from telling us what the committee discussed. This is a serious issue.

Earlier I asked the names of the nursing homes which are going to be closed because, obviously, if I am a patient in a nursing home and was told that between 550 and 900 public beds will be cut, I would think it might be me.

I can help the Deputy.

The Taoiseach has not helped me so far today. He is also signalling that some of these homes are going to be closed entirely. I ask him to help me on my terms because I asked a specific question. I may have missed the answer but I asked him to indicate whether he attended any meetings of the Cabinet committee on health and the number of times it met since it was established.

I will help the Deputy now. I already answered that question. The Cabinet sub-committee on health met on three occasions. As I chaired each of the meetings, the Deputy can assume I attended the meetings. I hope that is clear now.

There are differences between these committees. One is an interdepartmental committee comprising public servants from all Departments, including the Offices of the Attorney General and Parliamentary Counsel. The other is a Cabinet sub-committee, which I chair as Taoiseach and which comprises Ministers and public servants from various Departments. That sub-committee is entitled to call before it whatever persons it so wishes in respect of the matters it is dealing with.

These are two very different committees. The interdepartmental committee, which is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for European affairs, deals with the range of matters I have outlined. The Cabinet sub-committee is a constitutional sub-committee of the Cabinet and it deals with issues that can be recommended for acceptance by the Cabinet in full session.

We move on to Question No. 9.

I have one brief question for the Taoiseach.

I asked a specific question.

The Deputies asked the number of times the Cabinet committee met and if the Taoiseach had attended meetings. We are getting into the area of policy. They will have to table another question.

God forbid we should do that.

We will be here all day dealing with the same question.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow me to ask my question and he can decide if it is out of order.

Go ahead. I do not want to be finicky but there are other questions.

The Taoiseach indicated that the Minister for Health informed the Government about his plan, which I presume means that the Cabinet, when it did not dissent, agreed to it. Agreement has been reached on something that the committee established to investigate these matters has not seen. Who scrutinises the plan?

Nobody is hoodwinking anybody. Under law the Minister for Health was required to respond to the HSE when it sent him its plan for 2012. He has approved that plan. He has pointed out that it needs to be reviewed on a regular basis and that the first review will take place when the clear figures are known in respect of those who are going to leave the health service with a redundancy package at the end of February. He has also written formally to the chief executive to authorise approval for the plan and he informed the Cabinet of that this morning. The Cabinet accepted his recommendation to approve the plan subject to the aforementioned conditions.

We move on to Question No. 9.

May I ask a supplementary question?

I tabled two Parliamentary Questions. It goes to the heart -----

The Deputy asked a simple question -----

----- about the number of meetings and whether the Taoiseach attended them, and it has been answered. I have allowed supplementary questions.

This is very quick.

Can we move on to other questions -----

The point I am trying to make -----

----- which Deputies Martin and Adam have tabled?

I appreciate that.

If the Deputy wants to put down a separate question on other issues, he should do so.

That is not the point.

What is the point?

The Taoiseach gave a solemn commitment to the House.

He said he would not use these Cabinet committees or hide behind Cabinet confidentiality to avoid discussion on legitimate issues. He gave that commitment at the outset of Taoiseach's Questions. That is the point I am making. Increasingly, the ground on which we can ask the Taoiseach questions -----

We are into statements now.

----- is being restricted. That is a fact.

No, we are into statements.

We are down to once per week and we cannot discuss -----

The Deputy asked the question and as far as I am concerned -----

It is narrowing all the time.

----- as the independent Chair -----

I accept the Ceann Comhairle's independence but I am pointing out to the Taoiseach that the Government orders the business of the House and this is what is happening in reality.

The Taoiseach has answered the question and we are moving onto Question No. 9.

We are being denied opportunities to ask basic questions.

Official Engagements

Micheál Martin

Question:

9Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has had any meetings recently to discuss ongoing implementation of the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39757/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

10Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet with the British Prime Minister David Cameron. [1910/12]

Gerry Adams

Question:

11Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has with British Prime Minister David Cameron since the EU summit on 9 December 2011. [1911/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

12Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the way the Government proposes to intensify its relations with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1914/12]

Micheál Martin

Question:

13Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he had a bilateral with Prime Minister Cameron on the margins of the EU meeting on 9 December and if so the matters that were discussed; if he plans to have one in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1915/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 13, inclusive, together.

At the European Council meeting on 9 December I did not have a formal bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron although I did of course see him. Subsequently I phoned him to say how disappointed I was that it had not proved possible to get the agreement of the 27 member states.

Last Thursday I travelled to London to meet the Prime Minister in Downing Street. My visit to London also included making an address at Reuters and attending a number of business and Irish community related events. I had a very good meeting with the Prime Minister in which we discussed recent developments at European level. We agreed on the need to do everything necessary to move beyond the current crisis and to restore stability and confidence in the eurozone. Looking ahead to the next European Council meeting on 30 January, we both agreed on the importance of putting growth and jobs at the top of the EU agenda and on the need for a fully functioning Single Market. We look forward to keeping closely in touch on this matter.

We also discussed the excellent bilateral relationship that exists between Ireland and Britain and the strong ties and interdependence between our respective economies. Recalling the success of the visit to Ireland of Queen Elizabeth and how it highlighted the depth and normality of the relationship between our two countries, we agreed to explore opportunities for further deepening those relations, especially on the trade side, and to maintain close contact on all issues of mutual interest.

As the co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement we took stock of recent developments in Northern Ireland and noted the decade of significant historical events which are about to begin. With regard to the ongoing implementation of the Good Friday Agreement the most recent meeting I had was the plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council on 18 November in Armagh. At that meeting, which was co-chaired by the First and Deputy First Ministers, we discussed a wide range of shared issues, including the progress to date on the St. Andrew's review. It was agreed that proposals to advance the review would be taken at the next plenary meeting in June 2012, which I will chair. We also discussed ways to make progress on the North-South consultative forum, as well as welcoming the progress made by the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly towards a North-South parliamentary forum. The programme of work of the North-South Ministerial Council continues and Ministers approved a comprehensive schedule of meetings including an institutional meeting in Spring 2012, as well as the next plenary meeting on 15 June 2012.

I object to the way these questions have been grouped. Linking questions about the European Union summit with a question on the Good Friday Agreement is unacceptable and it stops us from asking questions in a proper way. With the Ceann Comhairle's permission, I will begin by asking questions on the summit and ask a supplementary question on the Good Friday Agreement.

The Taoiseach indicated that he did not meet the British Prime Minister at or in advance of the summit. There was no specific meeting on the margins. That is extraordinary.

For clarity, I stated that I did not have a formal bilateral meeting with him.

That is extraordinary given the enormity of the issues that were before that summit. There is no point in crying over spilled milk.

Hang on a second.

I just want to ask the question.

All right. I will answer the Deputy then.

The point I am making is that the UK was outside that treaty. It was a serious and profound moment for the future of the European Union. The comments of President Sarkozy afterwards were clear in this regard. He saw this as a new departure for Europe, without Britain. Those were the comments he made.

What context was there before the incredibly damaging outcome of the summit? Did the Taoiseach meet the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, at all to try to understand what he was asking for, or did he just accept the President Sarkozy line and his claims about what the UK was looking for? Did he take any steps to prevent the breakdown involving our most important neighbour and trading partner within the European Union? These are important issues. I would have thought, given the serious issues of our trading relationship and closeness with the UK, that we would have done everything possible to avoid a split that night. Now it seems we did not even meet in a formal way with the British in advance to try to understand their issues and work with them in preventing a split.

I assume the latest text of the treaty was discussed between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister at their recent meeting. The text does not include any of the broader proposals from the summit, it seems to be focused on the new fiscal measures for the eurozone. The Taoiseach says he had encouraged the British Government to sign up to the treaty. Can he confirm that he indicated to the British Government that he did not believe the treaty would necessitate a referendum? Did he have a discussion about that with the British Prime Minister in their recent meeting?

I attended a meeting of the European People's Party, EPP, in Marseilles before the meeting of the Council in Brussels. I travelled by commercial aircraft because the function in Marseilles was not a Government one. Arriving in Brussels, I went straight from the airport to the meeting at half past eight and left it at 5.30 a.m. There were no bilateral meetings between any parties. This was a particular kind of meeting, as the Deputy is well aware. I sat beside the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, and had numerous discussions with him during the course of the meeting. For the Deputy's information, when the break occurred between the views of the eurozone countries and that of the Prime Minister, I suggested there should be a political discussion about the difference of opinion with regard to the involvement of all 27 countries rather than the eurozone 17, but that, clearly, did not prove possible. I did not say that I would encourage the Prime Minister to sign up to the treaty. What I did say was that it was critical that the UK remain a central part of the EU. The EU needs Britain and Britain needs the EU.

When spoke to the Prime Minister in Downing Street I made a point to demonstrate the strength of the triangular connections between Ireland and the UK from a trading perspective. If, for example, there was a drop of 0.5% in our exports to Britain, it would more or less wipe out all the gains we have made in the BRIC countries. The Prime Minister shares this view. I also made the point, which the Deputy will accept, that one thing that has been lost in all the inter-institutional wrangling is the solution to the overall problem, which is the potential of the Single Market to cause growth in economies. We agreed in Downing Street that we would make proposals from both countries to our colleagues in Europe and to the Commission that the legislative and decision-making process in Europe should be viewed from a growth perspective at every stage. In other words, what comes through in Europe should have at its core demonstrable potential for growth in all the economies. This is of critical importance to us as an exporting nation. We agreed on that. As I said, I did not have a formal bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister in Brussels because of the reasons I outlined but I spoke to him frequently during the course of the meeting.

Sular bhuail an Taoiseach le David Cameron, chuir mé cúpla ceisteanna chuige agus dúirt sé liom go gcuirfeadh sé na ceisteanna sin, ceisteanna faoi Pat Finucane agus na pléascáin i mBaile Átha Cliath agus Muineachán agus na daoine a dhúnmharaigh na paras i mBaile uí Mhurchú. We need to remind ourselves that in October the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, speaking in Westminster, acknowledged that British state agencies had colluded in the killing of Pat Finucane. That is an important admission from the British Government. It then went on to refuse to honour an intergovernmental agreement with the Irish Government made at Weston Park in 2001. This is outrageous and is part of the spin-off to the meeting we are discussing. I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has raised this on a number of occasions.

Part of the spin about the meeting was that there was a difference of opinion. It is more than a difference of opinion, it is a breach of a crucial agreement between two Governments. I am seeking some indication from the Taoiseach that the Government will relentlessly press the British Government on this issue. Is he interested in the fact that it has admitted collusion? What was the degree of collusion and what part did the state play? What agencies were involved? How far down did it go and how far up did it go? Similarly, did the Taoiseach raise the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, as he has committed to do, and the Ballymurphy killings by the paratroopers?

The Taoiseach made it clear that he would not agree with the proposed financial transaction tax. Did he discuss this with Mr. Cameron? Did they jointly agree to oppose this new tax, and have they conveyed this to the European Council or the Commission? Could he outline what other discussions they may have had about fiscal matters?

I made it clear that we could not have a financial transaction tax that was applicable within the eurozone, which would affect us here in Dublin, but not applicable in the City of London. The Prime Minister has been clear about this himself. He says that if a transaction tax of this nature is introduced, it should be by agreement with all the countries and applicable in a global sense. As the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Clegg, pointed out, the authors of the report on the financial transaction tax said that it could drive 500,000 jobs out of the European Union. It is in order for the French President to introduce a financial transaction tax in France if he so wishes. I merely pointed out our position on this.

With regard to the legacy issues, I did raise the issues of Ballymurphy, the murder of Pat Finucane and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, as I indicated to the Deputy during Question Time already. I do not recognise any hierarchy of victims. I was around long enough to read and hear about so many murders and deaths on all sides during a 30-year period. Families in so many areas were deprived of loved ones and kith and kin. When I was at the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh, the point was made to me that this State should apologise for murders committed by or associated with the IRA. I said that the IRA, in that form and during that period, was the enemy of the Irish State and that members of the Garda and the Defence Forces as well as civilians had lost their lives as a consequence of that reign of terror.

With regard to the unfortunate and tragic death of Pat Finucane, I have made clear already that this is more than a difference of opinion. We had a unanimous decision of this House, on all sides and in all parties, that there should be a public inquiry into the case. That arose, as the Deputy is aware, from the Weston Park agreement, in which it was agreed by both Governments that there would be a public inquiry if this was recommended by Judge Cory. The judge made a recommendation with regard to another incident that took place in this jurisdiction, and this State responded by setting up the Smithwick tribunal, which is wending its way to finality whenever the sole member decides. I am as disappointed as anybody else that the recommendation of Judge Cory was not accepted by the British Government. I am conscious of the fact that the day after our meeting there was the High Court decision to grant a judicial review to the Finucane family. They took that case and I understand it will be held in the High Court in Belfast next May.

The Deputy has raised the Ballymurphy incident with me previously. I attended the Aisling Awards in Belfast, at which the recipient of the Person of the Year award was Pat Finucane's wife, and had the privilege of seeing the representatives of the families of the Ballymurphy victims accept the Culture and Arts award for the play Ballymurphy - The Aftermath, which they dedicated to those who lost their lives during that dreadful time. I have no objection to meeting with the representatives of the Ballymurphy families the next time I happen to be in Belfast, as I indicated to them that night.

I agree with much of what the Taoiseach said about the importance of the extraordinary relationship between Britain and Ireland, particularly the economic and trade relationship. For that reason it is almost incomprehensible that he did not have a meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, before the summit. All the indications in advance of the summit were that it would be a profound summit, with grave implications. If we accept that the trading relationship is vital to our national interest, I respectfully suggest that the Taoiseach should not have signed up to the treaty that evening with Britain outside it. There is no point in meeting the Prime Minister a month later and saying we have a vital alliance and relationship. Five o'clock in the morning is no time for this type of division. Despite all the rhetoric about a major diplomatic initiative, does the Taoiseach not agree his approach to diplomatic relations has been extraordinarily passive? There is a lack of engagement on the part of the Taoiseach personally.

Soundings from the Commission and other soundings indicate that smaller states are bystanders in terms of the Merkozy drive to change the shape and nature of Europe into the future. Does the Taoiseach not agree that the smaller nations must re-assert themselves in the context of the significant issues coming down the tracks with regard to the future of the European Union and the fiscal compact treaty? There has been far too much passivity on Ireland's part and I do not get a sense from the Taoiseach, despite all my questions, of what we stand for and what our position is on these issues.

We stand very clearly for being a central part of the European Union process and we intend to play our part fully in it. The Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, was not in Marseilles because the Conservative Party does not attend European People's Party, EPP, meetings. I attended that meeting and spoke to President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel, the Spanish Prime Minister-elect, Mr. Rajoy, the Portuguese Prime Minister, Mr. Coelho, and the other leaders of the European Council who were at the EPP meeting. However, I spoke to the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, on the telephone before I went to the meeting and he informed me of his intentions and what he wanted to put on the table at the Council meeting. I was sitting beside him and was aware of the implications and the legal advice he had. I spoke to him on many occasions during the course of the meeting. Actually, the break did not occur at five in the morning but much earlier.

However, it occurred.

If the Deputy asserts that we should not have accepted what was under discussion by the 17 states, he clearly wishes to set us on a different path. We are members of the eurozone and the European Union and the euro is our currency.

The Dutch did not want the break up either.

The British are members of the European Union but not of the eurozone and their currency is sterling. These things are interconnected and one is very important for the other. I very much regret that it was not possible to have the 29 states involved in this. I hope that whatever is agreed can eventually be merged into the treaties of the European Union so the power of the 27 can be seen to be implemented in the Single Market, which the Deputy supports, and can have a direct impact on the economies of all the countries, with beneficial consequences for Ireland as an exporting nation in jobs, careers and opportunities.

Does the Taoiseach agree that President Sarkozy does not run Europe? President Sarkozy proclaimed after that summit that we had got rid of the British and that this was great. He said the way forward is to leave the British behind.

Sorry, Deputy, this is Question Time.

Somebody must stand up to President Sarkozy and tell him he does not run Europe.

At the Council meeting I made the point that it would be preferable to have the 27 countries together-----

The Taoiseach signed up without it.

-----and that Britain is important for the European Union and vice versa. Obviously, I do not speak for President Sarkozy. There is a long tradition of competitiveness between France and Britain. This is a very serious matter for the European Union.

And for domestic French politics.

As I said, my clear preference was to have the 27 states, but we do not. We must make do with what we have.

The British are well able to stand up for themselves. The challenge for us is to get the Taoiseach to stand up for the Irish on a range of issues.

The Deputy need not worry about that.

I agree there should not be a hierarchy of victims. I have welcomed the decision of the court to allow the family to have a full judicial review. However, the family should not have to go to the courts for 20 years. That is our failure and the failure of diplomacy. It is the failure of the Irish Government using all its channels to get this family its demands, as well as in the other cases that were raised. It would be very revealing to get a sense of the letters, communications and the different means the Government has used to ventilate these issues with the British Government. I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach raised the issue but I am not assured that this forms part of a real diplomatic initiative by the Government. If the Taoiseach was doing that and fulfilling his responsibility for these citizens to have their entitlements and rights, he could lecture everybody else.

On the last occasion the Deputy raised this on Question Time I said I would raise it with the British Prime Minister and report back to the House again. I am not in a position to direct these things. I pointed out that there was a unanimous decision of the House and it was clearly the view of the Irish Government that there should be a public inquiry, and that I was disappointed that a QC would be appointed to examine these papers. I am not sure what will come out of this on the part of the British establishment. I met the Finucane family in Belfast and I discussed this with them. I indicated the continued support of the Government for a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. I also said that, as part of that process, I would raise this in whatever discussions I have with those who matter in the United States.

It was an intergovernmental agreement between the two countries at Weston Park that whatever Judge Cory recommended would be pursued. That is why there is a unanimous decision of this House on the matter, and I was disappointed it did not happen. I cannot give directions to another government but I strongly feel this particular case, while not having any priority for those who are unfortunately deceased, was a specific case, along with the Smithwick tribunal which resulted from the other incidents, which should be followed through. From that point of view, it is a breach of something that was agreed.

I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment to meet with the Ballymurphy families. However, he has made that commitment a few times and it should not wait until the next time he is in Belfast. He should invite the families down here. They would be very pleased to meet with him and would be very pleased if he agreed to do that.

Hold on, the Deputy has always said to me - he has some experience of this - that I should meet people on their own ground. In fact, when I did not have the opportunity the Deputy invited me to west Belfast to see what is being done in the communities. I intend to do that. This is a matter on which the Deputy has long experience. While there is political stability and peace, which is very important, there are many inter-community issues that must be addressed. It was for this reason that I expressed to the British Prime Minister my view that funding for inter-community engagement should continue to be provided through the PEACE III arrangement. When I visited the Short Strand and other communities I saw at first hand the commitment of people from diverse sectors to making young people appreciate that what was hard won should not be lost by going down the wrong route.

I only ask that the Taoiseach have a quiet meeting with the families.

I will meet them in Belfast.

I asked four of the questions in the group, two on the European Union and two on the Good Friday Agreement. On the latter, as the Taoiseach will agree, we are entering into a new and important phase in which the institutions of the Agreement have to be more fully entrenched. I have been struck by independent commentary recently - by which I mean independent of the political system - which has been critical of the constructive engagement of parties in the North-South political dialogue outside of the institutions. It appears there has been very little activity at political level beyond the formal North-South Ministerial Council meetings. I ask the Taoiseach to instruct his Ministers to increase their regular engagements with the Assembly, Executive and cross-Border bodies and to examine the North-South relationship. There has been considerable criticism not only of parties in the Republic, but also parties in Northern Ireland, that there has been a certain degree of inertia in terms of pushing the North-South agenda, which is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement. A fresh injection of energy and impetus is needed. I ask the Taoiseach to comment on this issue and assure the House that the level and quality of engagement will be improved.

I assure Deputy Martin that I do not have any problem encouraging and instructing Ministers to engage fully with the Executive and Assembly and the different organisations and groups which may be relevant to their responsibilities in a cross-Border sense. The North-South Ministerial Council meeting held in Armagh had a genuinely good discussion of the economic challenges facing the North and South and a range of topics was discussed. The Minister for Finance dealt with the issue of the National Asset Management Agency and the banks as well as opportunities to make savings through beneficial co-operation in both directions. The Minister for Education and Skills discussed educational issues and there was a discussion about collaboration in third level education. Cross-Border energy issues were also discussed, including when it would make practical sense to do so. The importance of the agrifood sector where a great deal of activity is taking place was also discussed.

The council approved the appointment of chairpersons, vice-chairpersons and members of the boards of the North-South implementation bodies and the directors of Tourism Ireland limited. As the Deputy will be aware, the Irish Open golf tournament, with all the champions from Northern Ireland, will go North this year. We discussed developments in the north-west gateway initiative, with a view to progressing the matter during 2012 and signed off on the admittedly reduced funding for the A5 and A8 road projects. We noted also that the relevant Departments will prepare funding for a new programme for them.

I do not have any difficulty accepting Deputy Martin's recommendation, which is already being implemented, that Ministers be very active in their work with their counterparts in the Assembly and Executive. The truth of the matter is that a great deal of activity in respect of North-South dialogue is often overlooked now because it no longer has the heightened sensationalism it once had as a result of the absence of trouble, which is in everybody's interests. Normal relations are very important and the Deputy can take it that Ministers and Ministers of State, in so far as committees are concerned, will work actively with their counterparts in the North.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.