Leaders' Questions

It is good to see the Tánaiste and Labour Ministers back on the Front Bench this week. They were certainly notable by their absence for the past two days.

It would seem that every effort is being made by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and others in Fine Gael to move on from Mr. McNulty's appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art to allow him to qualify for the Seanad by-election. This is not going to happen until the basic questions are answered about the whole debacle. Some are saying this is an internal matter for Fine Gael when, in fact, it is far from that. We have the ludicrous situation in which the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has not addressed this House or taken questions about her involvement in this matter, yet she was able to address the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party last night. She issued a press release on Tuesday night which said she had appointed Mr. McNulty to IMMA on his merits and she was aware that he was one of many people being considered for the Seanad vacancy. The Taoiseach is blaming unnamed Fine Gael officials and has apologised for what he wants us to believe is a complete coincidence, with Mr. McNulty's selection for the Seanad by-election being entirely separate from his appointment to IMMA. This is the IMMA board which had its membership extended to facilitate such an appointment.

Last week the Tánaiste stated her preference for a public appointments board to make State appointments but, other than that, the silence from the Labour Party has been deafening. Does the Tánaiste believe that Mr. McNulty's appointment to the IMMA board was a coincidence and not linked to the Seanad by-election? Had she reservations about this appointment and did she speak to the Taoiseach about it? Does she find it acceptable that the IMMA board was increased in size to facilitate this appointment in such a short space of time rather than waiting until a vacancy arose? Are we to believe that this is yet another coincidence? Does the Tánaiste not agree that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, should come into the Dáil to answer questions on this issue? Can the Tánaiste confirm whether the Labour Party will be voting for Mr. McNulty?

The Deputy asked whether I had met the Taoiseach. I met the Taoiseach, along with the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, briefly on Monday following a Cabinet sub-committee meeting. As the Deputy probably knows, there are a lot of Cabinet sub-committee meetings on a Monday. What I was focused on and remain focused on in regard to this particular series of events is that we should have in this State a system of appointment to State boards which actually ensures that the people appointed are the best range and mix of people to carry out efficiently and effectively the functions of the State board. I am happy to say that, in the brief discussion on Monday between myself, the Taoiseach, Deputy Noonan and Deputy Howlin, I proposed, and it was accepted, that we have a memo for Government, which the Minister, Deputy Howlin, was preparing at that point, in regard to appointments to State boards. I am happy to say the Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday agreed to that.

With regard to State boards, if we look at the volume of public business, the volume of turnover and the thousands of people who are employed in different State organisations, we can see that it is important to have really qualified people on State boards, coming from a range of backgrounds. It is important that they come from business backgrounds and have experience of HR or public service, and, indeed, that they do not all, for example, come from Dublin 4 but from right around Ireland. We need a blend and a mix of people. The jobs of tens of thousands of workers in the public sector depend on efficient and effective functioning of the State board by which they are employed, and so do the public finances.

The Deputy also asked about my view in regard to the number of people on the IMMA board. I have always been a very regular visitor to IMMA. It is one of my favourite places in Dublin, as I am sure it is for lots of other people. To be honest, I do not have a view other than that I want to see the collections that are held by IMMA-----

How many northsiders are on the board?

-----which are of international importance and which attract a huge number of visitors to Kilmainham on a weekly and a yearly basis, remaining very much part of Ireland's cultural offering. A range of people need to be members of the IMMA board, including, obviously, people with experience and a background in the arts, but also people with business experience. More than that, I have never had any involvement in regard to the IMMA board except that, as I said, I am very fond of the work that IMMA does. It is a very fine national cultural institution and I wish it well.

Not many questions answered there.

The Tánaiste and her party made a virtue of and won votes in the 2011 general election based on the promise of reforming the political system.

In the last number of days, while canvassing in Roscommon and Dublin, I saw that cynicism about the political system is rife.

Created by the Deputy's party.

What the Taoiseach has done in the last number of days, and been helped to do by the Tánaiste, has done nothing to dispel this.

High moral ground.

Is the Tánaiste's silence over the last number of days on this piece of stroke politics-----

Fianna Fáil invented stroke politics. They were past masters at it.

-----a consequence of her own party's involvement in appointing political cronies to State boards? Does the Tánaiste agree with the Taoiseach's explanation over the last number of days that everything that has happened since this appointment has been coincidental? The Minister, Deputy Howlin, came out on Tuesday, after the Cabinet meeting and after the Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday, and confirmed that the Labour Party would, in fact, be voting for Mr. McNulty as the Government candidate in this by-election. Can the Tánaiste confirm whether that is still the case? Will the Labour Party be voting for Mr. McNulty in this by-election?

It is a secret ballot.

The Tánaiste talks about the political appointments process and how it is important to ensure that the right calibre of persons serve on political boards. I agree with the Tánaiste on this. However, since 2011, the Tánaiste herself, in her own Department, has appointed 13 people and only one of those has come through the public political appointments process.

That is wrong.

That is in reply to a parliamentary question that was submitted prior to the summer. Perhaps the Tánaiste can confirm that, or else the reply to the parliamentary question is inaccurate.

Or else she misled the Dáil in the reply to the parliamentary question.

Will the Deputy ask a question, please?

Will the Tánaiste confirm also, in regard to the political appointment to IMMA of the former Labour Party councillor in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, that she too meets the required standard to serve on that board?

I am really glad that a little progress is being made here by Fianna Fáil, notwithstanding the fact that it appointed 182 people to various boards in a rush between January and March 2011. I wonder why? I do not think Deputy Troy was a Member of that Dáil, so I welcome the fact that, as a fresh face in Fianna Fáil, he has now obviously agreed to an appointments system.

In respect of my own appointments, the details of which I will send to the Deputy, I appointed Mr. Eugene McErlean, an individual who spoke very forthrightly about banking issues, to the board of the Citizens' Information Board. I appointed him and was delighted to appoint somebody independent about whom I had only read previously through the media. I also appointed people to the board of the Pensions Authority, but the appointments to that board are set out in statute and it may come as a surprise to Fianna Fáil to learn that three women were appointed to the three-person board of the Pensions Authority. Again, I am prepared to stand over the appointment of women in very significant numbers to a State board.

Finally, Deputy Troy made a comment about former councillor Jane Dillon Byrne. I am not sure if the Deputy would be aware of this, but Jane Dillon Byrne has a lifelong involvement in sculpture in Ireland. She is a recognised person who is extensively and intensively involved in the arts, particularly sculpture and the visual arts, and also in theatre, particularly theatre in the Dún Laoghaire area. If she is not qualified to be on a board of a national cultural institution, I suspect that almost none of the many Fianna Fáil people who were appointed would be qualified.

(Interruptions).

I ask Members to respect the Chair.

As each day passes, the detail of the McNulty debacle becomes less and less clear. The Taoiseach says that mistakes were made, that he apologises, that standards were not kept and that he takes full responsibility for what happened, but when he is pressed to provide details, all we hear from him is waffle. On Monday, the Tánaiste confirmed that she had detailed discussions with the Taoiseach on these matters - not a brief discussion, as she has asserted here this morning. On the basis of her detailed discussions, can she tell us what exactly the Taoiseach is taking responsibility for and what role he personally played in the appointment of John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art? Answers to these questions from the mouth of the Taoiseach have been as clear as mud, so we still do not know what happened and who was responsible for the clear abuses that took place. Has the Tánaiste raised these questions directly with the Taoiseach? As Tánaiste, has she demanded the clarity that in public the Taoiseach has failed to provide, and is she satisfied with the response that he has given in this Chamber and to the public?

I have explained this previously. My objective in respect of this issue is to ensure that a long-standing Labour Party policy on an application process relating to State boards is adopted. My discussions with the Taoiseach were very much concerned with that. On Friday evening, the Taoiseach made some comments of apology and explanation which, at that time, I welcomed warmly. Equally, I welcome the statements subsequently made by the Taoiseach.

On the day in question, when the body of a young man has finally been found for his distraught family, the action of the Taoiseach of this country in taking responsibility for something with regard to which he acknowledged a definite wrong existed is in marked contrast to the absence of Sinn Féin's leader. This was a very young man who has spent a long time in a lonely grave. I know his family are grateful to the people who came forward and gave that information, but Deputy McDonald's moral tone of outrage, when she has nothing to say about what has been revealed in that bog in Meath, means that she certainly has two separate sets of standards, unless she wants to clarify that now.

The Taoiseach's response to this episode of stroke politics is one of incoherence - studied incoherence - while the Tánaiste's response is one of studied evasion. She had detailed conversations with the Taoiseach on this matter. I find it hard to believe that in the course of those detailed discussions she did not ask the Taoiseach directly what his involvement with the appointment of Mr. McNulty to the board of IMMA was. I find that astonishing. Is the Tánaiste trying to tell us that she did not ask the Taoiseach that very obvious question? To the public looking on, the Taoiseach's fingerprints are all over this piece of stroke politics. He has been incoherent and has taken responsibility in a generalised sense, but for what specifically? He has avoided in a studied way answering clearly about his involvement with the appointment of this man - a political colleague, or crony, depending on one's vantage point - to this board. So the Tánaiste had these conversations with the Taoiseach. Did he tell her about it? Did she ask him? Has she got a clear sense of the sequence of events? Does she know precisely what happened, and if she does, is she prepared to share it with the Dáil?

This is not an internal Fine Gael matter. The Fine Gael piece is a matter for Fine Gael, but stroke politics and pulling a fast one in appointing a person - who I am sure is a fine person - to a board are not acceptable. The Tánaiste has said that repeatedly. What was the Taoiseach's involvement? What did he tell the Tánaiste, and will she share it with the Dáil?

The Taoiseach has now explained on a number of occasions the circumstances relating to this course of events. He has done so at various media opportunities and on several occasions in the Dáil. I have not heard anything beyond what I have heard or read in the media or the Dáil.

(Interruptions).

The Deputy should allow me to answer. She is speaking about silence, evasion and refusal to answer questions. I have a list of ten members of Sinn Féin who have been appointed to various boards recently. I will repeat it slowly so the Deputy can understand it. A very serious reform process is to be undertaken in respect of appointments to State boards.

Some time in the future.

Deputy Tóibín can disagree with my approach, but what is important is to bring about an appointment process to State boards that actually sets out the skill sets required, because these are very important public investments on which a considerable amount of taxpayers' money is spent and in which many people work. We are not talking about trivial point scoring. We are talking about important boards.

I am explaining this to Deputy McDonald. I want to see an appointment process that sets out for each Department the boards under its remit, the skill sets required in regard to those boards and the diversity required of different boards, whether that involves regional, gender or other diversity. I make no apology for saying that has been my approach. We have to consider this in terms of the reform process. In my view, that is the way to go, and I am happy to say that the Taoiseach has agreed. The memo was agreed at Cabinet and published shortly thereafter by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Howlin. It will mark a new stage regarding clarity, appropriateness and transparency in regard to the public and citizens in respect of board appointments.

Where there have been public board appointments in my Department, I have always used the public appointments system. The Department does not have a huge number of boards so there are very few such appointments. It is a system which, while not perfect, will work well in drawing out the best people for appointments to boards. All parties, particularly Sinn Féin, have shown a heavy preference, for reasons they have always explained, for appointing their own supporters to boards where they had an opportunity to do so. I have a full list-----

Can we have clarity in regard to Mr. McNulty's appointment and the Tánaiste's knowledge of it?

-----of all of the different appointments Sinn Féin has made, presumably because it believed its party people were the appropriate ones for particular boards.

The Tánaiste is refusing to answer the question.

Sinn Féin is not unknowing in regard to board appointments in its own party. As the leader of the Labour Party, I have set out to have a clear system. At the end of the day, Ministers will still make a selection, and it is important that they do so because tens of thousands of jobs depend on the proper functioning of State and public boards to give service to citizens and ensure proper terms and conditions for the people employed in those bodies.

I am allowed a point of order.

Yes, if it is in order.

I wish the record of the House to reflect that the Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party has deliberately evaded the question again.

(Interruptions).

That is not a point of order.

Either she does not-----

That is not a point of order.

Either she had not the wit to put the question to the Taoiseach or she is refusing to share the detail.

That is not a point of order. I call Deputy Wallace. I ask Deputy McDonald to resume her seat.

(Interruptions).

Order, please. Deputy Wallace has the floor.

The Government has boasted of late about the economic recovery. The media have acted as cheerleaders. For whom is the recovery? I attended a public meeting in Wexford on Tuesday. Many of those who attended wondered why the recovery had not touched their lives. There was much more a sense of fear than of recovery.

They are paying the Deputy's taxes.

The idea that the recovery is for everybody is not true for the majority of the people in this country. There is no doubt that there has been a recovery for some, probably about 20% of the population. People are genuinely afraid that they will not be able to pay for water. The Taoiseach's jobs-for-the-boys debacle has added to their disillusionment, making Fine Gael look as grubby as Fianna Fáil.

"Grubby" is not a word I would use too often.

Fine Gael has achieved an incredible feat by making Fianna Fáil look good through this episode.

On topic, please, Deputy.

No problem. A man who was angry about the McNulty affair telephoned me on Tuesday and told me about an appointment the Taoiseach had made, namely that of his good friend Michael McGarry to Sustainable Energy Ireland. Politics in Ireland has not changed. The people voted for change in 2011 but they did not get it; they got more of the same. Only last July the Tánaiste said this Government would embark on a new cycle of political reform to restore trust in our institutions and public life. That trust is in tatters. Will the Tánaiste do the country a service and pull the plug on the coalition to give the people an opportunity to pass judgment?

The Deputy stated that there had been some recovery but it had not been felt by everybody. Yesterday we had the best figures for the live register and people returning to work for more than five and a half years. We still have a long way to go, but unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in five and a half years and now stands at 11.1%. I spoke to people yesterday from the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, on which the Deputy is an acknowledged expert. In Grangegorman a huge number of people are now at work on what had become a derelict site in the centre of Dublin, which is now being transformed by some of the best building work in Europe. I discussed with the representatives of the CIF the issue of apprenticeships - something about which the Deputy has spoken to me on several occasions, when he demonstrated his extensive knowledge of the subject - and trainees getting back to work. That is all positive.

The Labour Parliamentary Party meeting took place in Wexford, during which I took the opportunity to walk around Wexford and open the Intreo office. I do not know whether the Deputy knows that there has been a significant fall in the number of people in Wexford who are unemployed and an increase in the number of people at work. Is it as high as we would like? No, it is not. We have a way to go over the next four or five years to get our country to full employment. We will have a budget in two weeks' time in which, for the first time since we inherited from the former Fianna Fáil Government an economy, a country and a society in meltdown, we will reach the level of deficit that is required. We now have 75,000 more people at work, compared to the 350,000 jobs the country lost in the three years following the bank guarantee. I agree that the country has a long way to go to put everybody who wants to work back to work. Approximately 80,000 people who were employed in construction, as the Deputy knows, are on the live register. My objective is to get as many of them as possible back to work by building up the construction sector from its current level of 6.5% to double that, which would be the normal level of construction activity in a country such as ours, in order to build homes for families who need them.

The Deputy is correct; these are the important things for people in Ireland. It is also important that the system of governance that we have should be as good as we can make it. In regard to the public sector, which is run by State boards, we need to make sure we have the best people we can, from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances and with a variety of skills, on those boards. That is what the Taoiseach has now agreed and confirmed to me, as leader of the Labour Party, which is a positive step forward for the country. I very much welcome the support of the Taoiseach and both parties in government for that. It will help to rebuild this country.

On the issue of jobs, there are 45,000 people on short-term schemes and 130,000 on part-time schemes. In total, there are more than 500,000 people looking for a full-time job in the State. The figures are being helped, as the Tánaiste well knows, by the huge emigration of young people. What we have seen in the last few years has been a great erosion of public services. There is no denying it. There has been a race to the bottom in terms of social protection. Many of the jobs the Government created are on minimum wage with no contracts. Things are not as they were and Labour has been part of it.

It surprises me that Labour has gone along with so much of the neo-liberal, right-wing philosophy of Fine Gael. Neo-liberalism has been the order of the day. It surprises me that the Tánaiste is okay with that. Ireland must take a different direction. We have put the interests of large financial institutions and big business before those of the citizens. That is the fact. It should not be that way, as the Tánaiste knows. A majority of the people are sick to the back teeth of how things have developed. They are sick to the back teeth of the cronyism that has surfaced in the last couple of weeks. I am surprised that so many are surprised by it, but people are angry at what they are witnessing. The people would like Enda's head on a plate and the Tánaiste can deliver it. There is huge anger on the street. Is the Labour Party okay with that?

In relation to the Deputy's comments on social protection, the ESRI produced a report a short time ago by Professor John FitzGerald and others. The professor was widely interviewed in the media and he pointed out that the level of income inequality in Ireland had decreased since the onset of the economic-----

Sorry, but if I gave figures or impressions of my own, the Deputy would not be inclined to believe them. I went to a jobs fair on Monday in Ballsbridge at which large numbers of businesses were recruiting. While we have not got to the stage of employment we want, it is a great deal better than where we were. Professor John FitzGerald and the ESRI, which is an independent research organisation, said as a matter of fact that income inequality in Ireland has decreased since the recession.

They also said that budgets were regressive for three years.

The ESRI has commended the Government for maintaining core social welfare payments and benefits.

Inequality has increased.

The Tánaiste to reply.

We have done that in contrast to other countries which have experienced banking crises and collapses. We have done that as a society. As the country recovers, I hope to see the dividend from progress spreading out in particular to people on middle and low incomes and to retired people and pensioners.

I am surprised the Tánaiste believes that guff.

I made that very clear in terms of my objective. In terms of the banking crisis which drove the country to such a state, preceded by a crazy bubble which never made sense, which the Deputies opposite know all about, we have achieved a reduction of €10 billion in the costs of the banking debt and an overall reduction of €40 billion in relation to the debt and contingent liabilities of the country.

The Tánaiste still does not get it.

The national debt is €200 billion. That is progress.

The country has progressed very significantly in terms of its total exposure to banking debt from the situation we inherited.

The Government is happy to let €25 billion fall on the shoulders of Irish people. It is gutless.

Could we hear the answer? I thank the Tánaiste.

We now have so many people going back to work.