Leaders' Questions

This morning, we should be discussing AIB's mortgage interest rate increase or the Exchequer returns. Instead, we find the sordid, grubby affair of primary care centre selection dominating the headlines again.

I have been trying to get clarity on this issue for some time. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, told the House that he consulted his Cabinet colleagues and officials and changed the criteria and selection process to ensure a broader selection of primary care centres, two of which were in his constituency. This morning came the revelation that there were close political ties between one of the owners of the site and the Minister.

Let us be clear. We just want to get to the bottom of this matter. I have a couple of questions for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, because the Minister for Health is avoiding answering them. We are concerned that health needs are being decided on a Minister's whim that is itself based on political ties rather than need.

Labour's way or James's way.

Let us be clear. It is not just I who is saying this. Deputy Shortall, a former colleague in the party of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, resigned and stated she had to throw in the towel because of stroke politics.

Fianna Fáil invented stroke politics.

(Interruptions).

The Labour mudguard.

If that is a good thing, we should all be-----

This clearly indicates there are difficulties in how primary care sites were selected-----

-----as well as concerns regarding close political ties between the owner and the Minister.

There are difficulties in the health services as well.

That the Minister's decision conferred commercial and financial advantage on individuals is a serious issue.

He does not know them, though.

A question, please.

I have three questions for the Minister for Education and Skills. Was he consulted about the changed criteria in the primary care site selection process, was he aware of the political ties between the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and the landowner of the Balbriggan site, and is he comfortable with the decision process and the fall-out from same?

As the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health, Deputy Kelleher is well aware of the background to all of this. He asked numerous questions and I understand he tabled questions to the Minister last week. If the Deputy is unable to table a question and pursue a correct and detailed answer from the Minister directly involved, it is more a reflection on Deputy Kelleher.

The Minister for Health will not answer.

What about today's revelations?

Cop on, Minister. You must be joking.

Deputy Kelleher is trying to-----

(Interruptions).

Would Deputies mind, please? Thank you.

If I were the Minister for Health, I would stay in Brussels for the weekend.

Would Deputy Dooley mind listening to the reply?

Deputy Dooley would never get the opportunity to go to Brussels.

(Interruptions).

Is that a good answer?

Let the Chief Whip answer.

Would Deputies please allow the Minister to reply without interruption?

It is Reilly's way or Labour's way.

Would you stay quiet, please?

Ernie and Bert.

I am quite satisfied, on the information I have received from the Minister, that the location of the site in Balbriggan is in accordance with the selection criteria. The story in today's edition of the Irish Independent is one that the Minister has dealt with satisfactorily. If Deputy Kelleher has detailed questions, which clearly he has, but to which he has failed so far to get a satisfactory answer from his point of view, I suggest he put them directly to the Minister.

The Deputy asked two questions.

He is not getting an answer now either.

So, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, does not have confidence.

What investigation will the Labour Party undertake?

It has no standards anymore.

With all due respect, the House deserves a better reply than that from the Minister, Deputy Quinn.

It was a disgraceful answer.

It was glib and trite. This is a serious issue. A Minister of State in the party of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, resigned and described what occurred as stroke politics. For him to pass it off glibly and to cast aspersions on my ability to ask questions is not good enough. I have tabled questions, but I have not been given answers. As the leader on the Government benches sitting opposite me today, is he comfortable with the fact that his former colleague resigned not only as a Minister of State but also as a member of the Labour Parliamentary Party because she failed to get support from her party colleagues in her attempt to get to the bottom of this issue?

The party's chairman sat on the fence.

No, Bert. Sorry, I meant Deputy Finian McGrath.

The Minister for Health has conferred financial and commercial gain on individuals with whom he has political ties. There were posters inside someone's house-----

A question, please.

-----and they pulled Christmas crackers with one another at chamber of commerce dinners-----

Does Deputy Kelleher realise that he is describing his own party?

-----yet the Minister, Deputy Quinn, glibly claims that this is not an issue.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Finian McGrath should cry a few more crocodile tears.

In the past, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, entered the Chamber looking for heads for lesser issues. He should at least hold the Minister for Health to account instead of blaming me.

I would like to give notice to the House that I have received requests for private notice questions on this matter. I have granted them. The matter will be addressed later today.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Deputy Kelleher has attempted to use the protection of this House to suggest there was some financial impropriety in-----

I did not. I said financial gain, not impropriety.

-----conferring a financial advantage on a political supporter.

The site in question was selected by Ms Mary Harney when she was the Minister for Health and Children.

Not on a public private partnership, PPP, basis.

(Interruptions).

When the Minister, Deputy Quinn's colleague-----

The ghosts are coming back to haunt Fianna Fáil.

Where was the site on Labour's list?

The former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, is sitting up there.

There were hundreds of sites.

I call Deputy Adams.

Labour has climbed to a new low.

(Interruptions).

Could we hear Deputy Adams, please?

The Ceann Comhairle would need a ladder to get down to Labour now.

Deputy Dooley, please.

It is the mudguard on the Honda 50.

Will Members allow Deputy Adams to ask his question without interruption, please?

Will the Minister explain precisely what Labour's role is in this Government?

Will he measure his party's record thus far against its election promise that it would stop the worst extremes of Fine Gael? The Labour leadership's silence on the Minister for Health's explanation for siting the two primary health centres in his constituency and its sacrifice of one of its own Ministers of State are in marked contrast to its attitude in opposition.

Then, Labour railed against cronyism, golden circles and the failed social and economic policies of Fianna Fáil. Anois, tá siad ag baint úsáide as polasaithe atá díreach cosúil leis na polasaithe a bhí ag Fianna Fáil. Tá siad á n-úsáid acu sa tslí salach céanna.

This morning we have the revelations - I make no judgment in this - that a supporter of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, owns the site on which the primary care centre in Balbriggan is to be built.

Thus far, the Minister for Health has failed to set out in detail the criteria for the selection of locations for primary care centres.

The Sinn Féin spokesperson for health, Deputy Ó Caoláin, formally requested a review by the Ceann Comhairle of the unsatisfactory reply he received from the Minister to a parliamentary question on the matters. Does the Minister for Education and Skills believe these issues need to be clarified and accept the need for transparency? Will he call on the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to make a comprehensive statement to the Dáil later today when he takes the private notice question tabled by Teachta Ó Caoláin? Will he also ensure the Minister for Health will release all documentation on this matter for full public scrutiny? If he fails to do so, will the Labour leadership demand that he resign his position?

Which question would the Deputy like me to answer?

He might answer mine as well. I am still waiting for an answer.

I am guided by the Chair. I have no doubt that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, will deal with all the questions around the issue of primary care centres when he deals with the private notice question. He has already done that on a number of occasions.

The fact that Deputies opposite may not be satisfied with the quality or quantity of the reply is for them to pursue. I have been asked whether I am satisfied that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, will deal comprehensively with the issues this afternoon, and my answer is "Yes".

I also asked the Minister to explain precisely what Labour's role is in this Government.

I will give way if the Minister wishes to answer.

The Minister may reply in time.

The Minister for Education and Skills------

What about the role of the IRA?

-----is defending a Minister who has completely failed to tackle the big issues in health. He has actually compounded the problems by bringing his own ideological and other baggage into this Department. He is up to his neck in the private health sector business.

That is a poor choice of words. A few people in here are up to their necks in issues.

He has failed to tackle consultants' pay and the price of drugs. He has imposed prescription charges on medical card holders and sliced funding from home help services. Where is Labour? Must the Labour Party wait? Is that what it is all about? This is not a question for Deputy Reilly but for the Minister who is present.

Could I have some order, le do thoil?

The Deputy should be allowed ask his question. Could we have some silence for two minutes?

We need it for more than two minutes.

Will the Minister explain Labour's role in this Government, particularly with respect to its record in opposition, when it correctly railed against this type of practice? Now the party is silent so will the Minister explain it?

They are all silent, including Deputy Ó Ríordáin.

If I were Deputy Adams, I would hesitate to refer to baggage and other Deputies in this House.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Answer the question.

Deputy Adams has plenty of baggage.

I would hesitate to refer to baggage.

Answer the question.

Get Roisín to answer.

Allow the Minister to respond.

The Labour Party and Fine Gael are attempting to rebuild the sovereign independence of this Republic following the disaster we inherited from the party opposite. That will not be done overnight. The last time we were in government we handed over a vibrant economy with a planned surplus.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Within 12 years, this was driven into the ground.

The parties opposite wanted more.

Deputy Mattie McGrath was one of them.

We never got any economic help or support from Sinn Féin-----

I see Deputy Coonan is here.

-----and we will continue with our mandate to repair the extraordinary damage done to this country. We lost over 250,000 jobs between 2007 and 2009.

Answer the question. The Government conned the people.

We are moving slowly but surely, and with great difficulty, to undo the damage done in the past. I am quite sure that all the Labour Party elected Members in this House and elsewhere will ensure that we will meet targets when we have to account for our service at the end of our mandate.

Does the Minister realise how much fear and anger there is in the country at this time? There is fear in the hearts of ordinary people that they will be pushed over the edge into poverty with cuts in child benefit, the imposition of property taxes and water charges, as well as more hikes in mortgage interest this week. There is anger that this should happen at the same time that €1 billion is handed over to unsecured bondholders in Allied Irish Banks, and at the same time the Minister for Health has torn up the criteria for locating primary care centres that prioritised areas of deprivation and instead bumped up locations in his own constituency to the benefit of a Fine Gael supporter, Mr. Murphy, who owns the land on which the centre is to be located.

The Deputy should be careful about using people's names in the Chamber.

The action would also benefit another Fine Gael supporter who gave a political donation to a Minister of State, Deputy Creighton.

The Deputy has all the facts.

Is this not reminiscent of the Fianna Fáil sleaze that the Government would have denounced so quickly a few years ago? Does the picture of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, with Mr. Murphy not look reminiscent of the pictures of Mr. Brian Cowen with Mr. FitzPatrick?

Pictures are not allowed in the Chamber.

They are for the Deputy's bedroom wall.

Is this not the sleaze that we thought would be left behind? It seems it has returned with a vengeance. Is this not proof that yet again, as with the last Government, we have a Government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich while ordinary people are being slaughtered with cuts and austerity. What is the Labour Party doing propping up a Government like this?

The Deputy has spoken about the fear and worry which people have across this country and I understand what he is saying. We have a right to be fearful because of the state in which this country found itself over 18 months ago.

What about the state it is in now?

Just press "play".

Let me answer. Deputy Boyd Barrett constantly railed against the adjustments, corrections and additional costs being imposed on this country by the troika because we lost our economic sovereignty. So far this year we have borrowed €11 billion, and we will probably have to borrow another €4.5 billion. Nobody else in the world will lend us money at rates we can afford and we are slowly, painfully but surely crawling back. It is hurtful but what is even more hurtful is that people like the Deputy and his colleagues incite resistance, confuse facts with fiction-----

The Minister was fairly good at that. He told a tale outside the gates of Trinity College.

-----and attempt to say that there is-----

He scared the students.

I do not need any help, Mattie.

He tried to play us.

What about the student fees?

Did that not instil fear and confusion?

Will the Deputies allow the Minister to respond?

There is a seat up the back for Deputy McGrath.

They attempt to say there is another way and the cuts can be avoided or we do not have to repay the €1 billion. The terms of the deal with the only group in town that will lend us the money is that we cannot burn the bondholders.

That is untrue. That is absolutely untrue.

(Interruptions).

It would cost nothing to stop cronyism. It is free to do it.

Labour stated it would burn the lot of them.

It is an outrageous statement to make.

It is not just us who are inciting protests. This week, in The Irish Times, Mr. Paul Krugman, the well known and respected economist-----

We know who he is.

-----stated that the protestors in Greece, Spain and elsewhere in Europe who resisted what he termed "cruel" austerity were absolutely right.

He argued that the troika is wrong and the policies are unfair, cruel and crippling for the European economy and economies like ours.

Will the Deputy pay his household charge?

Could we have a question?

The Deputy just seems to want to shout.

Does the Minister think people have the right to expect not to have what is displayed in these pictures?

The Deputy should not display pictures. He will not have the chance to finish his question as he will be outside the door if he does that again.

Do people not have the right at least to expect, when cruel austerity is being imposed, cuts in home help, property charges-----

Will the Deputy put his question as he is over his time?

-----and mortgage interest hikes, that a golden circle is not being protected and looked after with what a former Minister has called stroke politics? Do the people not at least have the right to expect that stroke politics would be ended and that the golden circle would be broken up so that it will not only be the poor and the working people who will suffer pain in the recession?

Deputies

Hear, hear.

What about the gold circle of tax dodgers?

Deputy Boyd Barrett and I share some things in common. We come from the same spectrum of ideological politics of this country.

They come from the same wealthy class.

Deputy Boyd Barrett from his knowledge of history will recall that even Leon Trotsky agreed with Lenin when they went into government-----

When he was in Ireland.

A Deputy

Was he in Ireland?

-----that a new economic policy was necessary to overcome the crisis before they get on the path of righteousness.

(Interruptions).

That is where we are. That is why we are doing it.

(Interruptions).