1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the European affairs committee of the Cabinet has held since Christmas. [14764/14]
Vol. 848 No. 3
1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the European affairs committee of the Cabinet has held since Christmas. [14764/14]
2. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet committee on European affairs has held since the winter recess. [19934/14]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
The Cabinet committee on EU affairs has met three times this year to date, most recently on Monday, 30 June and also on 31 March and 24 February. This year is a time of major institutional change in the European Union. The new European Parliament officially took up office last week in Strasbourg, and we will have a new European Commission, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and President of the European Council in coming months.
The Cabinet committee on EU affairs will continue to meet throughout the year to discuss and shape Ireland's strategic approach to our EU engagement. The committee will work to ensure a coherent approach across all policy areas, particularly on priority issues for Ireland and above all to anchor Ireland's influence and interest in Brussels. This strategic approach at EU level will continue to include bilateral engagement with fellow member states and alliance building with key partners.
Is the Taoiseach satisfied with the number of meetings of this committee that have taken place? Is he confident there have been enough to enable the Government to have a proper focus? He has said that part of its remit is to set priority issues for Ireland. Clearly our relationship with Europe is vital for the State. There are other issues that should be priority issues which are not entirely domestic or even internal EU issues. I am thinking here of conflict-resolution necessities. For example, when the EU heads of mission Jerusalem report was published recently, I asked for the Government, which then held the EU Presidency, to give leadership on this vital matter of international concern and to act urgently on the information and recommendations made by EU officials.
This heads of mission report on Jerusalem indicted the Israeli Government of violating international humanitarian law but, sadly, nothing was done. I was unable to establish whether this was discussed at any pertinent meeting or forum within the leadership of the European Union and, this year, Members can see a repeat of all the sad and tragic events of 2012 and 2009. Does the issue of conflict resolution constitute a priority for this State? Members should revisit for a moment or two the fact that within a short period almost 200 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip as a result of the Israeli assault. Human rights groups have stated that 75% of the dead have been non-combatants and the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has stated that more than one quarter of them have been children. Moreover, 70,000 people have fled their homes, particularly in northern Gaza. While there is now a possibility of a sos on foot of the proposition being forward by Egypt, this could just become another lull, as has been seen in the past. Surely the Irish Government and the aforementioned committee could focus on these matters and ensure that all efforts are made to assist and encourage peacemaking in the Middle East, to uphold the rights of the people of the Palestinian territories and to use our good offices within the European Union to ensure this is not just another temporary lull before violence resumes once again.
Obviously, issues like this that arise are monitored constantly by the European Union and are the focus of much attention from the High Representative. To date, Baroness Catherine Ashton has been very active in dealing with a range of difficult situations arising in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Crimea, Ukraine and now, Israel and Gaza. Clearly, this situation cannot be allowed to get out of hand. Members see the reports on a daily basis of the numbers of innocent women and children being killed here, as well as hearing of reports of indiscriminate firing of rockets from areas in Gaza, which is a contributory factor to this matter going the way it has. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has made contact with a number of personnel involved in this. No one wishes to see this happen and, ultimately, they clearly must sit down around a table and work these things out. The solution here has been proposed for a very long time, which is a viable two-state solution that represents the only sustainable basis for a just resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. However, it will not be an easy task to get from the current position to that point. When I attend the European Council meeting to be held tomorrow and on Thursday in Brussels, a great deal of attention will be given to this matter. One does not desire a situation in which another conflict gets out of hand with the horrendous maiming and deaths of innocent women and children.
At the three meetings to which I referred, this matter was not discussed in detail because it is discussed as part of the European Council focus. There always is a special section given over to issues that arise in which the High Representative makes her case and gives an up-to-date report on whatever conflict is around at the time, be it in Ukraine, the Crimea or wherever. I hope that sanity can prevail in this regard and it is not a good situation when, as I understand, citizens are being put in situ around buildings that subsequently are blown up. We wish to avoid deaths that are unnecessary - not that any of them are necessary - but this is a situation that requires clear heads, sanity and negotiation to allow people to get on with their lives. The situation that applies in Gaza and Israel now is exceptionally difficult.
Deputy Higgins has Question No. 2.
I ask the Taoiseach to restate briefly the role of the European affairs committee of the Cabinet. Does it have any particular role with regard to the issue of the retrospective repayment by the European banking system of the tens of billions of euro with which the Irish people were forced, by the institutions of the European Union and the European Central Bank, to bail out Irish and European bondholders and speculators? Does it have a role in reviewing the outcome of the summit of June 2012 when the Taoiseach stated the special position of Ireland had been recognised and that a seismic shift had taken place in European policy with regard to bank recapitalisation? This clearly suggested that the huge moneys that were taken from the pockets of our people, with the resultant disastrous austerity that was imposed, would be recouped. What is the role of the aforementioned European affairs committee with regard to progressing this matter because no progress has been seen over the past two years. Lest Members did miss a manifestation of the seismic shift since then, can the Taoiseach tell Members when and where did it happen? I ask in particular against the background of some studies stating that more than 40% of European bad debt was forced onto the shoulders of our people, which was totally unsustainable as we have seen.
Second, I refer again to the European affairs committee of the Cabinet and the issue of the Middle East. Is one of the roles of that Cabinet committee to review European policy and, more importantly, European actions by the Commission and the bureaucracy of the European Union towards the whole Israeli-Palestine crisis? In that regard, why does the Taoiseach tolerate a situation in which the European Union as an institution continually favours Israel in trade matters, for example, as well as in other areas, in view of the horrific affliction of repression and enormous suffering occasioned by the bombardment of the Palestinian people, 1.8 million of whom are imprisoned in a tiny strip of land in the most horrific circumstances? Does this not cry out for an absolute cessation of the Israeli bombardment and repression and for an entire change in policy?
I will state, in order that I am not misunderstood, that rockets fired by Hamas are indefensible.
Deputy, we are straying a bit now.
Any indiscriminate firing towards a civilian population is utterly taboo. However, they have not killed anybody, thankfully, but nearly 200 Palestinians have died.
Is it not incredible that a State that is supposedly democratic and civilised and is put forward as such by the European Union and United States believes it is okay to massacre innocent relatives - women, men and children - when targeting a police official? If the European Union believes any of what it says about standing for civil and human rights worldwide, must it not take very strong action on this matter?
I have been a little liberal in allowing the discussion to stray from questions on the number of times a Cabinet committee has met.
The Deputy asked two questions in respect of whether the Cabinet committee considered recapitalisation and the decision taken by the European Council in 2012. The committee does not reflect in detail on these matters as they are dealt with by the Department of Finance. Notwithstanding the comments made here, including the statement by Deputy Higgins that nothing had happened in two and a half years, the facts are that the promissory notes have been replaced; the former Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society are being liquidated; the minimum wage has been reinstated; the interest rate on European Union funds has been reduced, which will save taxpayers €9 billion; the EU loans to Ireland have been extended; and agreement has been reached to allow half of the proceeds from sales of State assets to be retained for investment in jobs.
Following on this detailed work, the Eurogroup agreed that retrospective recapitalisation may be decided on a case-by-case basis in line with the decision that was made on 29 June 2012. The euro area Heads of State and Government confirmed this position and mandated EU finance Ministers to prepare an operational framework to deal with this matter by mid-2013. The European Stability Mechanism direct bank recapitalisation instrument, the technical mechanism that provides for this, has been approved. We have succeeded in having specific provision for retrospective recapitalisation included in the main features of the operational programme, which states: "The potential retroactive application of the instrument should be decided on a case-by-case basis and by mutual agreement." This agreement gives Ireland the option of applying to the European Stability Mechanism for a retrospective direct recapitalisation of the Irish banks. An application can only occur, as Deputy Higgins is well aware, after the single supervisory mechanism becomes operational, which is most likely to occur towards the end of 2014. Any application for retrospective recapitalisation will be considered in light of the potential returns to the State from alternative options for realising the value of the State's bank holdings. The agreement on the single resolution mechanism between member states will protect European taxpayers from the costs of bank failures.
Deputy Higgins should note that of the total national debt of €203 billion, €40 billion relates to banks and the cost of servicing this part of the debt is now less than €1 billion. Sometimes figures are used to suggest that all the national debt is related to banks whereas bank related debt accounts for €40 billion of the total of €203 billion.
The position in Gaza is exceptionally difficult. I happened to visit Gaza a number of years ago with other public representatives and I recall that an Irishman, Mr. John Ging from Dublin, was in charge of UN operations in Gaza in respect of providing water, education and food services. Mr. Ging did an extraordinary job.
I agree with Deputy Higgins that rockets are indefensible and any death is one death too many. This issue will be discussed at the European Council meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Egypt has made a proposition that may or may not be acceptable to some of those around the table. No more than in any other conflict, the current conflict will not be concluded by aggressive military action. It must be concluded by an agreement on a set of conditions for a ceasefire that allows people to get on with their lives. People in this country, where 3,000 people lost their lives over a long period, know this only too well. Peace was concluded with the Good Friday Agreement when people were in a position to talk, negotiate and discuss. It was a fragile peace in the beginning and while it remains fragile in many ways, it has been kept on track.
The Cabinet committee does not deal with the detail of these issues. The Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs deals with these issues as they arise at European level. They also come before the European Council meeting at which regular reports and updates are provided by the High Representative and I expect this will be done again this week.
I remind Deputies that this is the final time we will have questions to the Taoiseach in this session. I ask them not to stray further from the questions because we want to dispose of some the remaining questions.
I will try not to stray.
In the context of the meetings of the Cabinet committee on European affairs, has consideration been given to specific individuals who may replace the President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, or High Representative, Baroness Catherine Ashton? If so, to what extent has the Government engaged with these potential replacements on the issues that have been raised in respect of retrospective recapitalisation? Will the replacements be announced at the forthcoming summit meeting or are further delays anticipated?
In terms of the Taoiseach's engagement with the replacements, may the House assume that his support for a new High Representative and, more important, a new President of the Council, will be contingent on the level of support the candidates will give to Ireland on retrospective recapitalisation? In terms of the timescale for this vital initiative, may we also assume from the Taoiseach's reply that the Government may make an application for retrospective recapitalisation towards the end of this year? If that is the case, when does the Taoiseach expect our EU partners to make a decision on the matter?
We all welcome the intervention in Gaza by Egypt as it attempts to broker a ceasefire and all of us will use this occasion to condemn the slaughter of the innocent we have witnessed recently. As an Irishman and a European, it has saddened me greatly on this occasion and on many previous occasions that, time and again, it is the Americans who are at the centre of intervention, whether on the issue of Ukraine or on the age-old problem of Israel and Palestine. The European Union must appoint a High Commissioner on foreign affairs who will actively engage on the issue of Ukraine given that he or she is more likely to be successful in terms of an approach to the Russian authorities.
On Gaza, Palestine and Israel, it is horrific to note the decline of the Palestinian economy. Is there an opportunity for the Cabinet committee to engage in discussions on the economic crisis facing 1.8 million people in Palestine and how the Palestinian economy could be developed to meet their needs? I understand a critical problem is developing in the water supply to Palestinian people. If, in addition to a failed economy and energy supply system, the water supply fails, it will spell disaster.
I am trying to get my head around these matters and the sub-committee. It may be helpful if the Taoiseach could spell out the terms of reference for the European Affairs Committee. He said the issue that I raised was not discussed at this meeting on the EU heads of mission Jerusalem report. He went on to say that the issue of the Middle East would be dealt with on Wednesday, but who gives the guidance to our representatives for that meeting at which these matters will be discussed?
I think both the Taoiseach and I are agreed that the EU has a vital role to play in helping to end conflict, but that needs leadership. The Taoiseach remarked earlier that he hoped the insanity will end. Let me tell him, however, that the insanity will not end - it has to be ended. Therefore, politics has to be made to work and these international fora are a perfect mechanism for asserting the peacemaking imperative, particularly when the EU itself has reports from its own heads of mission, which point the way forward. If these matters were not discussed within our Cabinet sub-committee and if, as far as I can establish, the Government has not raised them, then who gives guidance? As I am trying to get my head round all of this, it would be useful to get the terms of reference for the European Affairs Committee.
I hope I am quoting the Taoiseach properly, but in his response he said that civilians are being put in situ around buildings which are then blown up. Can he clarify that for the House in some way? All the independent agencies as well as the UN, other human rights agencies and NGOs, are not saying that. The Israeli Government is saying it.
The Taoiseach also said that the two-state solution, which I accept, is the solution but the Palestinians do not have a state. Surely, we as a State which has experience of peacemaking can use our good offices to try to expedite, encourage and assist the process of peacemaking and peacekeeping in the Middle East.
I understand from some reports that people have been placed in situ around buildings and are subsequently used as shields around buildings which, unfortunately and tragically, are blown up. There are different reports coming through on that basis which is why I made that comment.
Deputy Ó Fearghaíl raised a question about retrospective recapitalisation. He is aware of the fund that is left aside from the ESM for that purpose. All the different elements and pieces of the jigsaw have to be put in place, including a single supervisory mechanism. This is principally driven by skilled officials from the Department of Finance in co-operation with their counterparts. That was accepted by the Council of Finance Ministers and adopted and approved by the European Council. All those structures have now been put in place. To make it kick in, the mechanism has to be operational which it will be towards the end of the year. That means that Ireland, or any other country that thinks it might qualify, can then make an application.
As I told Deputy Adams, the Eurogroup already agreed that retrospective recapitalisation could be put forward on a case by case basis against any alternative options for realising the value of the State's bank holdings. That requires not so much the support of representatives at various levels, such as the President of the Commission, the President of the Council or the High Representative but - while these are very important positions - the board of the ESM which will, or will not, approve an application for retrospective recapitalisation. It has got to be a unanimous decision. For instance, if the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council or the European Union's High Representative were to offer support for a recapitalisation application, it does not follow that it would happen. Much more important is the fact that the European Council has already adopted, approved and reiterated on a number of occasions that decision of 29 June 2012, and that there should be the option and possibility of direct recapitalisation following an application made by a country being approved. The point is that all those sections are now in place. When it becomes operational at the back-end of this year, Ireland will then consider lodging an application. For that application to be successful it will require the unanimous endorsement of the ESM board. That is the important point to bear in mind. It has already received the full consent from the European Council which has been reiterated on many occasions.
I am not sure what time the vote is today for the approval by the European Parliament of Jean-Claude Juncker to be President of the Commission. Deputies will be aware that there was an EPP congress in Dublin, including a selection contest and a vote. Mr. Juncker defeated Michel Barnier and thus became the EPP candidate. The Lisbon treaty provides that the outcome of the European Parliament elections must be taken into account. The outcome was that the EPP bloc happened to be the largest grouping in the Parliament, so Mr. Juncker became the EPP's nominee and I expect he will be backed by the socialist grouping today to become President of the Commission.
The Deputy asked if the EU committee discussed the appointment of the President of the Council or the High Representative. No, these matters are discussed by the Council of heads of state and government, which will be reflected again this week. It is important that a decision be made on the High Representative this week because that is an important position. It allows the President of the Commission to move on with the appointment and endorsement of Commissioners, as nominated by the various countries. In this case, the former Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, has been nominated by Ireland. In consideration of what portfolio might be given to him by the President of the Commission, Mr. Juncker, that goes before the European Parliament for assessment, scrutiny and engagement with the different nominees. From that point of view, the naming of a person to be the High Representative will be dealt with this week because it allows President Juncker to move on with his business.
The whole geopolitics of the Middle East is changing, as the United States becomes more independent in terms of energy. Europe has got to look differently at the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and all those countries. That issue is becoming prevalent. Clearly, Russia supplies huge amounts of gas to Hungary, Germany and other countries. This issue is of great concern to Europe where energy costs have risen by 60%, while they have dropped by 60% in America.
The supply of water was also mentioned. The former Minister, Deputy Shatter, had an ongoing engagement seeking consent in respect of Turkey, concerning the situation in Gaza and Israel, for the supply of quality water to Gaza. That has become very difficult with the current situation but I hope to take it up again when things, hopefully, improve.
Deputy Adams mentioned diplomatic interventions by the EU High Representative and the member states. Of course it must be asked how can any conflict be ended unless politics works. Who knows better than Deputy Adams the difficult situations that can arise. In so far as the EU is concerned, we will attempt to drive that further this week in asserting peace and the right of people to live without fear of being blown into oblivion.
It was remarked that rockets from Gaza are directed by Hamas, while there is a response from Israel. Some 200 deaths have resulted, so we want to see this ended. People should be allowed to get on with their lives in so far as that can be asserted in Gaza. Of all the places I have ever been, I have to say that I found it exceptionally difficult to see how an economy can function there or to see how people can have a life to live, given the difficulties they have to encounter.
On the other hand, citizens in Israel, whether Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or anywhere else, have the right to go about their business without fear of stray rockets coming from whatever quarter.
Deputy Mattie McGrath, who tabled Question No. 3, is not present.
3. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Taoiseach the role he or his office or Department played in communicating with former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan immediately prior to his resignation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16083/14]
4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the communication he had with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan prior to his resignation. [19969/14]
5. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he had any communication with former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan before his resignation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30902/14]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, together.
I have already outlined to the House how the Attorney General brought matters of serious concern relating to An Garda Síochána to my attention on Sunday, 23 March and the actions I took as a consequence. On Monday, 24 March, I asked the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Equality to convey to the then Commissioner my deep concern about these matters and the fact that I would be reporting them to the Cabinet and the Dáil.
The Fennelly commission of investigation, which was established by the Government in April is currently investigating the sequence of events leading up to the retirement of the former Commissioner on 25 March, as well as the other matters covered in its terms of reference. I look forward to discussing the relevant issues fully in this House when the commission's report is available.
The Fennelly commission was established by the Government to review the bugging of telephone conversations in Garda stations, as well as the background to and circumstances of a letter sent to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality from the former Garda Commissioner on 10 March. The commission also has the task of investigating and reporting on the sequence of events that led up to the retirement of the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, on 25 March.
As part of the process of establishing that commission, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality wrote to the Taoiseach to request that the terms of reference for the commission be amended. It wanted to ensure that the sequence of events leading to the resignation of the former Commissioner would be front loaded to the first eight weeks of the commission's work and that the evidence would be taken in public, if possible. The Taoiseach refused this entirely reasonable request. It would be useful to hear and understand his reasons for refusing. We then had what was described as a farce when the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Mr. Brian Purcell, appeared before the committee and refused to answer questions about his role in the events that led to the resignation of the former Commissioner. In the interest of fairness and trying to understand all of this, I ask the Taoiseach to explain to the Dáil why he refused the committee's requests to front load the first eight weeks of the commission's work and to take evidence in public.
I do not have the authority to direct any commission of investigation to do its work in a particular way. Obviously it is the responsibility and the right of the sole member to do as he or she might wish. It is true that the committee made a request that specific terms of reference be included for the commission of investigation regarding matters leading up to the retirement of the former Commissioner and to deal with the furnishing of a letter to the then Minister, which was sent by the former Commissioner on 10 March. These were the two specific requests from the committee. The Government accepted both of the requests and they are included as specific terms of reference for the Fennelly commission. It is not a case of refusing anything; it is a case of not having the right to direct the sole member to act in a particular way. It is, of course, open to the sole member to decide in what form and when he might wish to deal with any element of the commission of investigation. That is his right and I have no authority whatsoever to interfere in that. In respect of the request made by the committee, the specific wording requested has been put directly into the commission of investigation and I leave it to the sole member to follow that through.
The question put to the Taoiseach pertained to the role that he played in communications with the former Garda Commissioner prior to the latter's resignation. As the Taoiseach did not answer the question, can he tell us what was his role and what were the reasons for the communication? He knew that the Commissioner would have no option but to resign in view of the messages sent through the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. Is it not true that the aim of the intervention was to secure the resignation of the Garda Commissioner and divert attention from the disastrous handling of many controversial issues by the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and by the Taoiseach, in endorsing the huge misjudgments, mistakes and arrogance evident in the then Minister? Why did he choose 24 March to send his message when for weeks and, indeed, months before that he had stood over the actions of the Minister and the Garda Commissioners in terms of their abuse of whistleblowers who had attempted to bring irregularities to their attention and to the attention of the Government? Why did he chose that particular time when the issue about which he communicated the supposed concerns of the Government, namely, the secret taping of conversations in certain Garda stations, had been well known to Members of the Government for several months and was being discussed by representatives of the Government and the former Commissioner? Can he give us an explanation that is credible and in accordance with the facts? It is just a matter of confirming what everybody knows but it is important that the Taoiseach confirms it.
I disagree with the Deputy. I have already answered the question that was asked. I said that I was made aware by the Attorney General of serious matters relating to An Garda Síochána. These were brought to my attention on Sunday, 23 March. I outlined to the House on many occasions the actions I took as a consequence of that. On Monday, 24 March I asked that the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality would convey to the then Commissioner my concerns about what had been revealed to me by the Attorney General.
I disagree with the Deputy's assertion on what I had in mind because it is not open to me as Taoiseach to remove anybody from office. I do not accept his assertion in that regard at all. This matter was brought to the attention of the Attorney General by the updating process in regard to sensitive cases that had to be reported to Government. Clearly a discovery process was in train regarding an unsolved murder in Cork, in respect of which material to be discovered to the legal team of Mr. Bailey was to be sent to that individual on the Tuesday of that week, and the extent of what transpired to be the taping of conversations in certain Garda stations over an extended period, in terms of not knowing what was in any of these. In that sense, the available options were, first, to convey to the Commissioner my concerns about the material that had been presented to me by the Attorney General and, second, to hear from the former Commissioner what action had been taken in the meantime and what actions he was taking under his responsibility for the matter.
These were a number of options open to the Commissioner but in the following period, he announced his retirement. The material due to be discovered to the Bailey legal time was sent to it. Deputy Joe Higgins is aware that the Government previously commissioned both the Cooke and Guerin reports.
The Taoiseach indicates he does not have the authority to direct the commission and I accept that entirely, as it would be absolutely self-defeating if he had such authority. I may be in ignorance so perhaps the Taoiseach could put me right. When the Government establishes a commission, does it not set out the terms of reference?
It is within the gift of the Government to set out terms of reference to deal with all these issues. My question was quite direct in asking the Taoiseach the communication he had with the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, prior to his resignation. The Taoiseach ignored that question and gave more information in response to the question asked by Teachta Higgins. Why does the Taoiseach not make a full statement on these matters here and clear up the issues? The Secretary General indicated he would not answer any questions about his role in these events after months of controversy and of arguing back and forth here and in the media. We saw undermining of whistleblowers and other citizens who put their heads above the parapet. Citizens see all this developing, with the Government taking its position and the Secretary General not answering questions before the justice committee.
I am not suggesting the Taoiseach has done anything wrong with this but I just want to be clear about what has occurred. When the Taoiseach indicates he looks forward to being asked to go before the commission, would it not be more simple to spell out, as I asked, what communication he had with the former Garda Commissioner prior to this resignation?
There was none, other than to say that when the information was brought to my attention by the Attorney General, as I indicated in the House before, I felt it only appropriate heading to a Cabinet meeting two days later that I should have the Garda Commissioner appraised of how seriously I viewed the report given to me. It was not for me to call the Garda Commissioner, as that would have brought a very different response. The normal method of communication would have been through the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality.
I suggest it would have been through the Minister for Justice and Equality.
That would have been the normal method of communication and I wanted the Garda Commissioner to understand my concerns and to hear from him his proposed action. etc., in the knowledge I would attend a Cabinet meeting on the Tuesday morning. There was also the need for the information relevant to the taping in Garda stations and so on to be sent to discovery for Mr. Bailey's legal team.
It is the responsibility of the Government to set the terms of reference and they have already been published. The final term of reference is that the commission of investigation is "directed to conduct the task assigned to it under these terms of reference and to report to the Government no later than 31st December 2014, subject to section 6(6) of the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004." The terms of reference are clear and explicit. They include two specific terms of reference at 2(n) and 2(o) that were the formal request of the Oireachtas justice committee. The Government signed off on the terms of reference in consultation with the sole member and it will report to the Government by 31 December this year. It is a matter strictly for the sole member as to how the business of the commission would be conducted, including how the modules take place. I do not have any right or intention to interfere with any of this as it is not my area of responsibility. Specific terms of reference requested by the Oireachtas committee are included and have been accepted by the Government. There is a direction that the commission of investigation would respond by 31 December 2014.
I will not impute any malintent from the Taoiseach in all of this and I take many of his points. We look forward to the commission reporting. Nevertheless, two issues arise. There was a meeting on the Monday night before the Secretary General was dispatched to the Garda Commissioner. Were there notes or a record of that meeting? The Taoiseach is on record speaking about the meetings concerned with the banking issue and he has expressed some concern about the lack of notes, as he described it. Were notes taken on that occasion, given the importance rightly attributed by the Taoiseach to the issues? This involved recordings at Garda stations and the appalling case of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder, which continues to hang over the country like a black cloud.
Does the Taoiseach accept that what is really at issue is public confidence in the system of government and the rule of law? There is a public view that the Taoiseach dispatched a senior civil servant to the Garda Commissioner with a message to take himself off the pitch.
A Cheann Comhairle, could I make the point?
I want to get to the other questions.
The Ceann Comhairle could give me 30 seconds.
It would be unfair to other Deputies.
There is no law, Standing Order or custom I can identify which prevents the Taoiseach from clearing the air with all of this and letting the public and Members know what happened.
We are dealing with two specific questions.
I have dealt with this up-front with Deputies Ó Fearghaíl, Adams and Higgins, as I have done on many occasions already. As somebody who will in due course be called before the Fennelly commission, I will attend both as a citizen and with respect to my responsibilities.
I know the Deputy does not intend any malice. I had a duty and responsibility when the level of revelation was brought to my attention. What was I to do? Would I do nothing, leave it aside when I attended a Cabinet meeting the following morning and not tell anybody I had been appraised of this? Would it not be natural to say that we should find out what has happened and convey concerns about the matter to the Garda Commissioner?
As I stated to Deputy Adams, the process of discovery was under way and all the material relevant to an unsolved murder in Cork and tapings in Garda stations, etc., was being transmitted to the legal team on the Tuesday, although the date was subsequently put back by a few days. I had a duty and responsibility to say I was concerned about the matter, have the former Garda Commissioner apprised of it and hear what action he was taking. That became obvious in the subsequent letter of 10 March. It is not a case of me not making a statement. That was the position. As somebody who will go before the Fennelly commission in due course, I will be happy to attend.
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet committee on justice reform has been held. [17507/14]
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when the first meeting of the Cabinet committee on justice will take place. [17511/14]
8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the new Cabinet committee on justice reform has met since it was established. [19916/14]
9. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings held of the Cabinet committee on justice. [19935/14]
10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on justice reform has met. [19966/14]
11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on justice reform has met. [26751/14]
I propose to take questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform has met on three occasions to date, 28 April 2014, 20 May 2014 and 30 June 2014. A further meeting is scheduled for 24 July.
I thank the Taoiseach for his answer. This is a very important committee, given the series of scandals and crises which led to its establishment. There was at that time serious public disquiet and a loss of public confidence in the senior management of An Garda Síochána as well as a lack of confidence on the part of rank and file gardaí in their senior management. How often does the Taoiseach expect this committee will meet? Can he clarify whether the recent Cabinet changes will impact on its membership? I do not know if my next question is in order but I am trying to get to terms with the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014-----
That is a separate issue.
Will the committee have a role in that and can it invite recognised experts in the field of policing and if so, would the Taoiseach consider bringing in the people involved in the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, the Patten commission? Does the committee intend to examine the Patten process in order to find a way to put in place the type of reforms necessary to have an accountable civic policing service, one that lives up to the expectations and sacrifices of members of An Garda Síochána and their families as well as citizens of the State?
It is a matter of great importance that the public has faith and belief in the integrity and credibility of the Garda Síochána. It is equally important that the members who serve in the force can have pride in the force they represent, in the way they engage with the public and that facilities are put at their disposal to enable them to do their job as one would expect. The day to day running of the Garda Síochána is a matter for the Commissioner at all times. The Commissioner of the day advises Government through the Minister for Justice and Equality, in respect of preparation of budgets and requirements for facilities.
The committee has met on several occasions as I have outlined. It has dealt with the terms of reference for the commission of investigation into the Guerin report. That matter has not been finalised yet. It dealt with the preparation of a draft scheme of a Bill to deal with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and with the process for a review of how to deal with a couple of hundred cases that came in covering a range of issues about, complaints against and matters relevant to the gardaí, going back over a very long period.
The Government made two decisions, one, to advertise for a Garda Commissioner and a process for doing so, including advertising internationally. I think those advertisements will be placed this week or next week. It also decided to establish an independent Garda authority. That is a major decision on the part of Government and will bring about a new way of making appointments to An Garda Síochána.
A seminar was held in Farmleigh dealing with the groups and organisations which wish to make submissions and give their views on how an independent authority might function, how it should be set up, its terms of reference and so on. These are important matters to consider. I expect that when the committee meets next week we should be in a position to make recommendations as to the sort of structure, nature, composition and work of the independent policing authority. In the latter part of the year we want the process for the appointment of a Garda Commissioner and the process for the setting up of the independent Garda authority to coincide. It would be appropriate for the person to be considered for the position of Garda Commissioner to have some capacity to reflect on the structure of an independent statutory authority.
All of that is being done to improve the perception, relationship and reputation of An Garda Síochána to allow it have standards that apply across the board of which it can be proud. The public will know that this process is removed entirely from the political process and that the police force can do its job as befits a modern democracy in the appropriate way.
Does the Taoiseach envisage the structure of the Cabinet committee changing in the aftermath of the reshuffle?
Does he accept that the Acting Commissioner, Noirín O’Sullivan, has done a superb job having taken up her post in very difficult circumstances, probably the most difficult circumstances the force has ever been in?
Does the Taoiseach have any principled view of the appointment of a new Commissioner? Would it be important to him that the person come from inside or outside the force?
It must be without precedent that the Minister for Justice and Equality has not expressed confidence in the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. Does the Taoiseach have confidence in him?
Could the Cabinet committee take on the following issue? Substantial numbers of people in this State feel they have been grievously wronged, and many have, by elements of the justice system, the Garda, the Judiciary, solicitors etc. and that they have no redress and come up against blank walls. Lives are ruined. I am sure the Taoiseach receives letters from people, whose lives are ruined by injustices of this kind. When the Taoiseach received files sent by Sergeant McCabe he asked a senior counsel to look into them. He found there was serious substance in the files and the Minister for Justice and Equality resigned. That is because the files were brought to the Taoiseach’s attention in a very controversial and particular way. Ordinary people around the country do not have such access to the power in this society. Does the Taoiseach see my point? Does he not think some kind of appeal system should be set up for people who find themselves innocent victims of grievous injustice and that there should be redress for them?
The Taoiseach failed to answer my question about the Patten process and commission. One of the Sinn Féin submissions to the Patten commission, which I thought was crucial, was to invite it into neighbourhoods and communities to listen to people and hear their experience of policing. That changed the entire chemistry of the commission’s engagement. That is why the majority of people, despite the history of the place, support the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. Could the Taoiseach deal with the question about the Patten process? Would he consider an initiative such as the one I have just outlined?
I do not envisage any great change in the structure of the Cabinet sub-committees. Personnel will change because some Ministers have changed. I find the Cabinet sub-committee structure a good way to force things onto the agenda so that matters that might have been hanging around for a long time can be concluded.
I agree that the Acting Commissioner of An Garda Síochána is doing a remarkable job in the sense of being open, very different and engaging with different groups. She has visited many Garda stations and has invited gardaí to give her their views of the force and so on. I also note her comments that people with a different voice or view are quite entitled to have their say. That is a very commendable way to restore morale to the Garda force, which is very important for us.
I do not want to speak for the Minister for Justice and Equality. Every Minister is entitled to a period of engagement and reflection in respect of his or her working arrangements with any Secretary General of a Department. I am sure the Minister for Justice and Equality will speak on that in due course.
Deputy Higgins's contention that no redress is available in the justice system and lives have been ruined as a result is true in more than one sector. That is why the Government has moved to change the responsibilities of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, set up an independent Garda authority and put in place an independent structure for the appointment of a suitable person as Garda Commissioner. It is clear that when the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is revamped and reorganised, the public and the gardaí themselves will have a different opportunity to see that things are as they should be.
I will reflect on what Deputy Adams has said about an important element of engaging directly with communities. It might be appropriate to go through the process with the independent authority, which can look at engaging with communities depending on how they see that engagement taking place. When we examine the recommendations for the process, procedure and structure of the independent statutory authority at next week's meeting, we will consider whether it would be better to do it before or after. Clearly, it is important to engage with the public, which is what the interim commissioner is doing. It is all about engagement with people. If the issues that have been raised over the years are to be dealt with, the public must believe in the integrity and credibility of this professional force and know that it is acting professionally in the duties it has to carry out.