Leaders' Questions

The office of the Minister for Justice and Equality is probably the most sensitive office in Government. This sensitivity arises from the roles and relationships that he or she must have with some of the most important institutions of State. The Minister for Justice and Equality has responsibility for An Garda Síochána and to provide for the Judiciary, and receives confidential and private information, often pertaining to the security of the State.

On 15 May last the Minister, Deputy Shatter, received a report from the Garda Commissioner on the penalty points investigation and report. That concluded that there was no evidence found to suggest any criminality in the cancellation of fixed charge notices. The Minister then appeared on RTE's "Prime Time" on 16 May and even though he was armed with the facts of the report, he decided to divulge private information about Deputy Wallace that was given to him by the Garda Commissioner. He clearly crossed the line. He showed contempt for the democratic norms for his personal political gain. Everyone but Fine Gael believes that this was inappropriate use of private information. When the Taoiseach replies, I want him to outline his response to the inappropriate use by the Minister, Deputy Shatter, of this private information.

On Thursday last, 23 May, after questions were raised in this House, the Minister was forced to make a statement about when he was stopped on Pembroke Street at a routine checkpoint. He stated that he was unable to fully blow the breathalyzer due to asthma and that he was also returning from Dáil Éireann. Amazingly, when speaking on this matter over the weekend, the Taoiseach stated that the Minister stated that he twice failed to fill the breathalyzer and he expressed confidence in him.

These are the questions I have for the Taoiseach. Has he since spoke to the Minister? Given today's report in the Irish Independent of which I am sure he is aware and given the Minister, Deputy Shatter's, statement this morning released at 6.31 a.m., is the Taoiseach concerned that a report on Deputy Wallace could find its way up the Garda chain of command to the Minister and into a television studio and be broadcast nationally, yet, apparently the incident in Pembroke Street was not reported at all?

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has apologised for the comment that he made on a national television programme in respect of Deputy Wallace. The Minister has already made a statement to the Dáil on this and he has answered questions about it. He will confirm this evening again, in respect of a motion of no confidence, that, as a person who suffers from an asthmatic condition, he made two attempts to blow into the mandatory breath testing facility at the mandatory checkpoint.

He will blow into a bag this evening.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has the full confidence of the Government in respect of the reforming strategy he has set for the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Defence, as well as the legal profession. He will answer this evening in that regard. I have absolute confidence in the Minister to do his job. As I stated, he apologised for the comment.

He has clarified that the original charge that this happened between the election and the appointment of a new Government was not true and he clarified the matter in respect of the mandatory checkpoint. As he released his statement this morning, he verified what has been confirmed by the Garda Commissioner to the Secretary General in the Department of Justice and Equality in that inquiries were made by Garda management as to whether a report existed. A search of the computer system failed to locate any such report. Speculation and allegations can appear in newspapers but the Minister, Deputy Shatter, has been very clear and upfront about the matter. In the reform programme set out in his work as Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence, he has the full support of the Government and we will be here this evening to answer any further questions people have.

The Taoiseach stated that the Minister apologised but I did not ask about that. I asked for a response to the Minister's use of private and confidential information for his political advantage. He was privy to such information because he was briefed by the Garda Commissioner, and the Taoiseach has not addressed that point. What does this say for the working relationship between the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day? Can the Garda Commissioner feel confident and secure that he can brief a Minister on confidential matters? I do not believe so as the relationship has been breached. The Taoiseach has not addressed that matter.

All of this erodes public confidence. What message is sent out when a Minister for Justice and Equality in waiting is stopped at a mandatory checkpoint by An Garda Síochána, citing that he is travelling from Dáil Éireann, with all the implications and constitutional privilege that go with it? Is that appropriate?

What should he have said? Should he have said he was going home from Croke Park?

The Taoiseach is talking about an apology and having confidence in a Minister who is reforming. These were not the questions, although we can argue about reform tonight. He is no more reforming than any other Minister for Justice and Equality. The Taoiseach should deal with the issue of his judgment, about which the Taoiseach has not commented publicly. The Taoiseach twice made comments from afar - in Boston and elsewhere at the weekend - without having spoken to the Minister. That is not good enough, and at the very least, the people are entitled to hear from the Taoiseach. Does he believe the use of private and privileged confidential information was appropriate? It is a straightforward question.

Of course, I have spoken to the Minister for Justice and Equality, who has clarified the exact circumstances surrounding the mandatory checkpoint issue, including the time it occurred. In answer to a question from the Deputy's leader last week, I made the point that the Minister's comment was made in an attempt to undermine the argument being made by Deputy Wallace as opposed to undermining the Deputy himself. The Minister for Justice and Equality responded to that in the House last week with statements and a question and answer session, and he apologised for the action.

The Minister has set out the most extensive change programme for the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Defence and the legal system in the past 100 years. Considering that his life in these Houses has been involved in dealing with the rights of people, particularly the rights of families and children, his judgment speaks for itself. He is the Minister who has made arrangements for additional prison spaces and continued reductions in payroll and operating costs across prisons. He brought about the immigrant investor programme and start-up entrepreneur schemes-----

He closed many Garda stations as well. There is not much good about that.

-----as well as the new visa waiver programmes, the clearing of the backlog of applications for citizenship and new formal ceremonies for people who become naturalised citizens of the country. Instead of having such people attend in the middle of court cases, they can have a formal ceremony and swearing-in with respect to the flag, our national anthem and the Constitution. He streamlined immigration procedures and has brought forward the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, as well as the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011-----

What about the Garda stations?

-----that makes it clear that a person may use reasonable force to defend himself or herself in the home.

Many of these were already in the pipeline.

Has the Taoiseach forgotten about them?

Giving the GRA a voice.

It would be nice if they had a voice.

The Criminal Justice Act 2011 provides improved powers for the Garda in combating white collar crime. The Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Act 2012 provides for the issuing of search warrants by gardaí in exceptional circumstances of urgency. The 2013 criminal justice Bill will provide the power to temporarily close down mobile phone transmissions where there is a serious terrorist bomb threat. Deputy Dooley may laugh about it but it would be no laughing matter if the event occurred, believe me.

There was much laughing about Garda stations over there.

The Taoiseach could answer the questions put to him. It would be more in his line than giving us the full history of the Minister.

Apparently it is all right to close Garda stations.

Zero tolerance. Does the Deputy think the Minister will run in south Kerry?

He brought forward the Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges' Remuneration) Bill, the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2012 and the Courts Bill 2013, which will enhance the role of the District and Circuit Courts-----

-----and provide for the appropriate reporting of family law cases. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill facilitates the rehabilitation of once-off offenders.

He is like our Lord.

A Cheann Comhairle, seriously-----

What about finding Garda Donohoe's killers? Where does that stand?

He is the Minister who brought forward the opportunity for the people to vote on the setting up of a court of civil appeal and next year, please God, for the people to have the opportunity to set up a whole new system of family courts.

Is it not amazing how he is so unpopular?

The Deputy knows the feeling.

Those opposite will know it soon enough when they have to go before the people.

These innovative and far-reaching proposals and changes by the Minister for Justice and Equality, if adopted by the House and the people, will bring our legal and justice system - with all connected to it - into the 21st century.

What about the questions we asked of the Taoiseach?

Many Ministers over many years failed to act in this area.

Match that, any of you.

He would not even say hello to anyone.

(Interruptions).

Is that a necessary role?

Perhaps that could be put in legislation.

Is that a resigning matter?

The Taoiseach has again stated that he has full confidence in the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and he clearly knows something the rest of us do not, as the facts in so far as we know them are very straightforward. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, made use of privileged information he received from the Garda Commissioner in an attempt to smear an Teachta Wallace. He has acknowledged that. The Taoiseach and the Minister have indicated that he was merely pointing out that an Teachta Wallace had been protesting about discretion being used by the Garda while he had availed of it himself. He stated that an Teachta Wallace was wrong not to point this out.

At the same time, the Minister appears to have benefitted from this discretion. Has the Taoiseach sought an explanation from the Minister about the issue? It appears a bit strange in the real world when one Deputy, an Teachta Wallace, gets a nod from a garda at traffic lights and it ends up with the Garda Commissioner and the Minister whereas another Deputy, an Teachta Shatter, can be stopped at what the Taoiseach described as a mandatory Garda roadblock without a similar outcome. There would have been an actual exchange with a garda or number of gardaí and an incomplete breathalyser test, but we have been told there is no report. Was there a report or has the report gone missing? Has the Taoiseach asked the Minister if he co-operated with gardaí when he was stopped?

Did he use privilege on the basis he was travelling from the Dáil to avoid completing the breathalyser test?

The Deputy knows a bit about this I think. Deputy Wallace was very clear in his comments that he was using a mobile telephone in his car, a Garda car pulled up beside him and there was a short exchange. From this point of view Deputy Wallace had committed an offence by using a mobile telephone while driving.

Deputies

Alleged.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, was very clear in his statement that when driving home he came into a line of cars where there was a checkpoint and breathalysers. It is mandatory and set out in the Act that every car or every second, third, fourth or fifth car as determined by the chief officer must be pulled in and whether one is a pioneer or not one is breathalysed. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, was very clear that he made two attempts to blow into the breathalyser and failed to do so.

Will he give us a demonstration tonight?

The Act states if a person is unable to complete the breathalyser requirement-----

One goes to the station.

One is brought to the station like Deputy Clare Daly was.

-----the Garda retains discretion and the authority to take the matter a step further and this is clearly set out in the Act. If one were to believe reports the Minister, Deputy Shatter, drove off in a cloud in the middle of this. Nothing is further from the truth. Does Deputy Adams believe the formal letter from the Office of the Garda Commissioner? It confirms to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality that the Garda Commissioner made inquiries and caused inquiries to be made by local Garda management as to whether a report of the incident was made at the time, and he was informed that no such report was generated by the garda in question. Despite a further search of the computer system no report was located. This is the official confirmation from the Office of the Garda Commissioner. I believe this and I accept it. I hope Deputy Adams does also.

I must accept what the Taoiseach has read out, but I ask, "Why?". As I pointed out, in the case of Deputy Wallace a report was made. It seems to be a matter of form that Ministers, particularly those with responsibility for justice, obtain information from senior gardaí on their political opponents. This has been going on for decades and there is a long list including Sean Doherty, Deputy Willie O'Dea, Michael McDowell and the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter. This is the way it works. There is a big argument for an independent police authority and we will return to this issue.

The Taoiseach referred to mandatory roadblocks. I am advised that at a mandatory roadblock a Garda report must be made on the checkpoint itself and this is the law. The Taoiseach stated there is no report on the actual incident involving the Minister, Deputy Shatter, but there must be a report about what occurred at the checkpoint. If there is not, as the Taoiseach suggests there is not, why is there not? Can the Commissioner not ask the gardaí involved to clarify this matter and seek a report from them? As far as I understand it, it is the law that there must be a log and a written report of what occurred at a mandatory checkpoint.

There is a difference here as I pointed out. Deputy Wallace was using a mobile telephone which is an offence under the law. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, committed no offence.

I cannot believe the Taoiseach said that in the House. It is unbelievable. He did not co-operate with a breathalyser test.

Please allow the response.

Deputy Shatter was driving home and came to a checkpoint operated by the Garda on a public street with lines of cars waiting to be checked. In accordance with the setting up of the checkpoint a garda instructed which cars were to be checked on that occasion.

Is this not in a log?

Deputy Shatter committed no offence.

He failed to complete a breath test.

As a person who suffers with an asthmatic condition he made two attempts to complete the breathalyser test.

It is an offence not to co-operate with a breathalyser test. It is an offence under the law.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn please allow the Taoiseach to reply.

We are hearing nonsense.

The law is very clear on this.

The law says to go to a Garda station.

If the person in question is unable to complete the breathalyser test-----

One is taken to the station.

-----and there is a reasonable excuse here-----

How do we know this?

Without a report the Taoiseach has a lot of information.

-----it is the decision of the garda in question in consultation with his or her superior as to what to do.

How does the Taoiseach know?

Deputy Shatter committed no offence at all.

He knew his constitutional privilege.

There is a difference between this particular incident and that of Deputy Wallace. Let me remind Deputy Adams that no report was generated by the garda involved.

There should have been.

We have a report of a checkpoint.

This is a matter for the garda involved. Contrary to all of the assertions made here, clearly no report was put together by the Garda.

What about the checkpoint? There has to be a report of the checkpoint.

Deputy Shatter will be here this evening to deal with the Fianna Fáil motion of confidence and he will answer everything.

Was his asthma an impediment to blood and urine tests?

Deputy Adams has long experience of dealing with gardaí-----

Listen to the experts on checkpoints.

-----and there is a difference between the cases of Deputy Wallace and Deputy Shatter-----

What is the difference with my case?

One used Dáil privilege and the other did not.

-----in that an offence was committed by Deputy Wallace which he understands, and in Deputy Shatter's case no offence was committed-----

How does the Taoiseach know?

-----and the garda was entirely entitled to do as he or she did.

I will wait for the Minister to attend the House this evening and perhaps he will give us the answers I asked the Tánaiste for last week.

Last week in his closing statement, the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children explicitly stated the protection of life during pregnancy Bill as it stands-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath must not have much confidence in his allegations.

If Deputy Rabbitte wishes me to change I will.

Please proceed and do not mind the interruptions. Deputy Mattie McGrath has a two minute slot.

Does Deputy Mattie McGrath have any confidence in the allegation he made?

I am tempted to come back. I have plenty of confidence.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is being interrupted.

I know. I am telling him to keep going.

He is entitled to speak without being interrupted.

Put out the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte.

I will look after this, do not worry.

I beg the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence. I do not think any cow would pass a crossroads that would not be milked by the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte.

This is a serious issue and if the Ceann Comhairle does not mind I will start again.

Last week in his closing statement, the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children explicitly stated the protection of life during pregnancy Bill as it stands only provides a framework but not the detail. He stated it is not the final Bill, it is not the new law and is a preliminary document. The next morning, less than 12 hours later, during an interview on national radio the Chairman explicitly stated provision will be made in the Bill for a woman to obtain an abortion on the grounds of risk of suicide during pregnancy. This is a deeply conflicting state of affairs and shows the Chairman had already decided to ignore the testimony of those psychiatrists and legal experts who have demonstrated such a provision is contrary to the best medical and legal practice. Such comments confirm to those of us who oppose the main thrust of the Bill that this process of so-called investigation had been marked by political expediency from the outset and was never serious in its intention to objectively examine the heads of the Bill.

Given that the Chairman of the Oireachtas committee acknowledged the purpose of the hearings was as a pre-legislative consultative process to facilitate further consideration when drafting the Bill, will the Taoiseach agree it is very worrying that the Chairman could, less than 24 hours later, undermine this very statement by laying out in the national media very specific elements which he states will be in the Bill regardless? Will the Taoiseach also agree that despite the impressive quality of the contributions from those on all sides of the debate who came before the committee, and those women hurt by abortion who unfortunately were not allowed come before us, it was wasted breath since the outcome was already determined?

The Government was very conscious of the fact that it would put in place a process that would not divide the country. In my view, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, did a first-class job in chairing that committee's hearings.

You might get the job yet, Jerry.

As he requested, the hearings were temperate, considered and well-meaning from different perspectives. As the Deputy is aware, the Chairman of the committee does not prepare the Bill. The purpose of the hearings was to have reflection, analysis, views and a consideration of the heads of the Bill that were approved by Government. The heads of the Bill were based on a number of important principles, first, to provide legal clarity on the circumstances where a medical termination is possible where there is a real and substantial risk to the life as opposed to the health of the mother. That is required by the European Court of Human Rights' judgment in the A, B and C case. Second, the legislation, which is currently being prepared, will remain strictly within the parameters of the Constitution and the Supreme Court judgment in the X case. It will cover existing constitutional rights only, as I have said on many occasions, and it will not create any new rights. The third principle is that the equal right to life of the unborn will be upheld. The obligation on the medical profession to save both lives, where that is possible, is quite clear and will be confirmed. The medical termination of a pregnancy can only be permitted in situations where the doctors involved in the assessment process have unanimously certified that it is the only treatment that will save a woman's life by averting a real and substantial threat to her life. The fourth principle was that because of the subjective nature of the assessment of suicide risk, the legislation will provide for a demonstrably more rigorous process of assessment in such cases.

The Bill is now being worked upon and when it is prepared, the Minister for Health will bring it before the Government. Assuming the Government accepts it or changes it, it will then be sent off in the normal way to the committee for Committee Stage, which will be followed by Report and Final Stages. It will, therefore, stay within those parameters and principles only.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Deputy Buttimer might well get the nod for the Minister of State post, by all accounts. It is looking good.

I acknowledge that we will have to have further time to debate this issue when the Bill comes before both Houses. Whether those debates will be equally ignored remains to be seen.

Even Fianna Fáil would not have you.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about his insistence that we must legislate on foot of the Supreme Court judgment in the X case. The X case itself cannot lend to this proposed legislation a justification that makes head 4 legally justifiable, not to mention legally compelling. While head 4 is faithful to the details of the test laid down in the X case, it is not faithful to the later developments of that test in the Cosma case, for instance. On the Cosma case reading of the X case test, head 4 would fail to meet the necessary standards because it does not require evidence of a treatment plan or consideration of other means of avoiding the risk to life and because it does not take into account, as the Minister insisted we should, the public policy arguments that are relevant in addressing claims of suicidality.

Will the Taoiseach undertake to review the myth that we are legally compelled to legislate on foot of the X case? Will he acknowledge that legal precedents overtook the judgment in the X case many years ago? If not, will he admit that the Bill is being pushed through to satisfy a political requirement and not a constitutional one?

No. The position is that we are required to clarify the circumstances under which a medical intervention is possible where the life of a mother is threatened. We are required to provide legal certainty in respect of the X case. The general prohibition on abortion in Ireland is restated in the heads of the Bill. This Bill is about saving lives, not ending them. It does, and will, provide legal certainty and clarity in all of these sensitive cases. Obviously, there will be ample opportunity for Members of the House to have further discussions and views on the Bill when it is prepared, presented to Cabinet and comes back to the Dáil and the committee for further detailed scrutiny and analysis. As I said, however, it will comply strictly with the requirement for clarification under the A, B and C case and in respect of the constitutional parameters set out in the X case. No new rights are being created here. It is about saving lives, not ending them.

That completes Leaders' Questions for today.

I was wondering why you backed away from it, Finian.