Leaders' Questions

The report on paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland comes to a very stark conclusion that the IRA army council still exists and the report endorses PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton's assessment that the IRA exists, that some of its members were implicated in the murder of Kevin McGuigan and that the Provisional IRA, PIRA, members believe the Provisional IRA army council oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with an overarching strategy. The fundamental question for our republic that we must answer and which the report does not ask is the threat to democracy from an organisation that is involved with politics but which retains a military structure, with an active intelligence gathering department and access to weaponry. Those fundamental questions leap from this report, no matter how uncomfortable and unpalatable they may be, and we need to respond to them. We need full honesty and transparency in that regard.

Additionally, the report indicates that individual PIRA members remain involved with criminal activity, such as large-scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders. We know from the report of the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána that the Criminal Assets Bureau, since its establishment in 1996, has raised approximately €28 million from the proceeds of crimes, actions and tax assessment with respect to over 50 individuals with connections or associations with the Provisional IRA in the past. Other investigations are proceeding.

I put the fundamental question to the Taoiseach yesterday. This illustrates the absolute need for the British and Irish Governments to establish a strong, well-resourced joint agency to tackle, once and for all, the organised crime being undertaken by paramilitaries. In the context of the Provisional IRA and its members, we must ask whether people are absolutely certain that any of the proceeds from the organised crime being committed by alleged individual provo republicans is not finding its way to the political project. I do not say that lightly.

The Galway tent, the Deputy means.

That is shameful. The Deputy is a gurrier, a political gurrier.

Does the Deputy have a question?

I have been labelled certain things now by people who do not like what I am saying.

We are way over time.

I refer the Taoiseach to the proceeds of the Northern Bank robbery. I indicate to the Members on my right to check court records from 2010, which show that three members were prosecuted and found guilty of handling proceeds from the Northern Bank robbery. One was an unsuccessful candidate for Sinn Féin and the other was a fund-raiser for the party. The third member in the courts pleaded guilty and described himself as a republican and Sinn Féin member. My point is there is form in this respect. People may not like what I am saying but it happened.

Sure everyone is talking.

We cannot turn a blind eye to this. There is a fundamental question. I have described this as a "twilight zone", with people being individuals one day and "good republicans" the next day. It is very difficult for people in our position to work out which is which.

The Deputy should respect the Chair. He is almost two minutes over his time.

I thank Deputy Martin for his question. I remind him of what I said at Cambridge some time ago about this matter that 21 years after the IRA ceasefire, it is past time that it should have any capacity for any threat.

Statements to the effect that the IRA has gone away or left the stage are simply not credible. The reports speak for themselves. I spoke with British Prime Minister, David Cameron, last evening about this. The return of the DUP and First Minister Robinson to the talks currently under way and including the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party is a positive sign, given the two reports from the PSNI and the Garda.

I pointed out yesterday that the Criminal Assets Bureau had brought 99 individuals before the Special Criminal Court and, as the Deputy noted, €28 million was confiscated as a result. The impact of the report presented by the three members yesterday, to the effect that the members of the Provisional IRA believe that an army council now controls the Sinn Féin Party, both in political and electioneering terms, is certainly a matter that must be responded to by the president of Sinn Féin. I have said to Deputy Adams on many occasions that I have never accepted that he was not a member of the IRA over those years or a member of the army council. He has denied that on umpteen occasions.

Suffice it to say that the Deputy's question is about a particularly well-resourced cross-Border unit-----

It is about an election.

-----involving both governments, dealing with the Garda and PSNI. I am not opposed to this and the suggestion is valid. I pointed out yesterday that we have two cross-Border task forces currently that are proving to be very successful, both in tackling diesel and fuel laundering and tobacco smuggling. I gave the evidence of this. I suggest that this is part of the process of talks now under way and it is partly the reason talks are under way. There is no place for the kind of activity referred to in the PSNI report in this society and democracy and on this island. The Garda Commissioner has pointed out that there will be no truck with this kind of carry-on from the remnants or divergent groups of the Provisional IRA, which has poisoned so many people in society over the past 35 or 40 years.

I accept that the Deputy's question is valid, given that operations are currently ongoing with the two task forces operating across the Border to deal with drug and tobacco smuggling, fuel laundering and so on. If emerging from the process there is acceptance that there should be a further development in having an agreed joint cross-Border unit or agency, I would not be opposed to it. I would like that to be considered in the talks, as if it comes from that, it would have an enhanced status.

I am happy to report to the House that the work of the two joint task forces is currently very successful. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, is representing us at the talks. If representatives of the people feel it would be appropriate for both governments to have a different agency, well resourced with all the facilities to deal with this once and for all, I would have an open mind on it and be supportive if it came from there.

I appreciate the Taoiseach's positive response to the basic question I have asked, and I am obviously quite prepared for the talks to consider that and for a proposal of that kind to emanate from the talks process. The peace process belongs to us all. It does not belong to one political party, as has been asserted from time to time. We have all invested heavily in the peace process, none more so than the people of Ireland themselves, who voted on an all-island basis for it, but no one expected that 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement we would essentially have an organisation whose strategy is overseen by an army council, according to this report, and that retains access to weaponry and has a military structure and an active intelligence-gathering department. That is what we are up against in the Republic.

"They haven't gone away, you know."

A question, please.

That is what we are up against in the Republic. The situation has always been one of denial, denial, attack, attack. I have just been called a gurrier by Deputy Mac Lochlainn.

That is because he is. He is the prime gurrier in these Houses.

That is the type of intimidation-----

Plausible deniability.

-----that people engage in when they are challenged, and remember-----

Deputy Martin is more hardline than MI5 and the DUP. He is worse than the DUP.

Deputy Martin should put his question. Deputy Mac Lochlainn should stay quiet.

If I could put it to the Taoiseach, would he not agree-----

Fianna Fáil is the republican party.

Would Deputy Mac Lochlainn please stay quiet?

It is the Chief Constable's assertion, which has been endorsed by this report, that Provisional IRA members were implicated in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, which has created this crisis in the peace process.

I thank the Deputy.

It was not anything I have said or anything anybody else has said.

We are over time.

The final question I want to put to the Taoiseach is about the 50 individual members of the IRA who have had tax assessments against them arising out of criminal proceeds and so on. I understand the need for in camera rules in terms of tax and so on. However, given the extraordinary nature of this issue and its importance for both jurisdictions-----

Please put the question.

-----is there a need to review, in this specific context, how the in camera procedure is being used to protect or hide the identities of many of these individuals whom CAB has assessed as having major issues regarding the proceeds of crime and who are making tax settlements with CAB, but under cover and in a way that is not transparent, so we do not get a picture-----

Fianna Fáil set up the legislation.

We do not get a complete picture of what is actually happening.

There is always the issue of natural justice. In respect of the CAB, which has proven to be very successful in following the money trail over the years, I am quite sure Deputy Martin is not implying that because an individual might be named, they might be guilty. The issue here, as I am sure he will appreciate, is probably worthy of consideration, but CAB has proven to be extraordinarily successful in following the money trail.

I have differences of opinion with Deputy Martin on many matters, but I have never descended to the level of what he has just been called from the far side.

While we might differ and argue in our politics-----

Two peas in a pod.

Please, please.

-----we do not have to descend to that level. It is fair to say that the culture of intimidation and fear-----

Two knees in a pants.

-----that has been generated in many cases speaks for itself.

Did you hear the Blueshirts?

It is worth saying that talks are going on. The First Minister is back in there, the Ministers are reconstituted and the UUP and all parties are engaged as we speak, and that is the place where these things have to happen. There are questions arising from the Northern report, which states that based on intelligence the provisional army council is deemed to be overseeing both the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin. This is based on reports from Provisional IRA members. It is an issue that needs to be addressed by the Sinn Féin president.

Very good. MI5 would love that.

Whatever way we are here - Deputy Martin as leader of his party, I as leader of mine, and the Tánaiste as leader of the Labour Party - we are not subject to direction from any army council.

They are only subject to bankers and developers.

I hope those at the talks will discuss these matters and both reports in a rational way and that the talks can conclude reasonably quickly.

For the record, Sinn Féin has advocated the type of cross-Border grouping approach that is now being proposed, and we very much support that. For the last few years, the political institutions in the North have been on the verge of collapse. Let us remember that the heart of the current contrived crisis is the murder of two men, Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan. The Fianna Fáil leader's contribution to this crisis was an idiotic call for the suspension of the political institutions.

The basis of the very welcome recommencement of the talks today is the publication of a report by the British and another by the Garda Commissioner. Some elements of these reports have been seized upon by opponents of Sinn Féin, not least the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil. I want to deal with two aspects of this. One is that Sinn Féin is totally and absolutely opposed to criminality of all kinds, and we stand with communities across this island and with the police services against criminality. We have paid a price for that: my home has regularly been targeted with bomb alerts, and I and other Sinn Féin representatives are under active death threats. That is a matter of fact. We have had property attacks. We have had one young man, Frank McCabe junior, blinded in one eye because of our party's and his family's stand against criminality.

This is not an academic exercise for us and it is not electorally driven point-scoring. We put our lives on the line against those who are engaging, in the name of republicanism and otherwise, in criminality. Second, like all other Members, Sinn Féin Members are accountable to one grouping - that is, the electorate. They are the people who give us our mandate. Our leadership is the Ard Chomhairle. It is elected democratically annually at our Ard-Fheis.

A question, please.

We are not accountable to any other group or organisation. The business of making peace is challenging and the business of societal change is challenging, but that is our priority as a party, consistently and constantly, alongside our effort to build genuine republican alternatives to austerity and building support for a united Ireland. Led by Martin McGuinness, we will engage positively in these talks. We will deal with all issues, including those cited by the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader, to build a real future-----

Please put the question.

What I am asking the Taoiseach, as I have done many times, is whether he will prioritise his engagement with the British Prime Minister with the objective of stabilising and sustaining the political institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement.

The answer to that question is yes, of course, at every opportunity. I spoke to him last night about this matter. I accept that Deputy Adams has been the target of intimidation and attempted assault and I have condemned that unreservedly. I expect that the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, will deal with questions in respect of the report. There are matters there that need to be dealt with and the talks that are currently going on are the forum for that. All the representatives are there now.

Peace is always challenging. That is why this Government has made a point of making the resources and facilities available to the Garda to do its job. We had the murders of Adrian Donohoe and Tony Golden. The Government decided quite some time ago to reopen the Garda training college in Templemore. We have 600 recruits coming through that next year. Government has put up €27 million or €30 million for new vehicles, with more to follow. Today the Minister for Justice and Equality is announcing an extensive Garda programme in terms of proper facilities, buildings and infrastructure for the Garda to do its job. The Commissioner has made changes in terms of extra personnel in the Border area following the murder of Garda Golden.

I take the evidence of CAB and the two joint task forces which have been working very effectively over the past number of years on the extent of fuel laundering, cigarette smuggling and other acts of criminality, and I am glad to hear Deputy Adams say that he supports these efforts completely. As I said to Deputy Martin, if it comes from these talks that there is a request, agreement or proposal that there be a revamped or different joint agency resourced and financed by both Governments to deal with criminality in all its forms, I will have an open mind on that.

Deputy Adams's party has come under some scrutiny in respect of claims of illegality and illegal activity either in respect of safe houses and sexual abuse or property-based programmes indicating access to extraordinary levels of finance. Deputy Adams is his party's president and that is for him to answer.

In that sense, the answer to Deputy Adams's question is "Yes". I am happy to engage with the British Government and with the Prime Minister directly as often as needs be in respect of the issues that need to be sorted out here.

With respect, a 15-minute phone call every so often with the British Prime Minister is not enough. I have said to the Taoiseach that it needs a consistent strategic involvement on an ongoing basis. I deplore, as I have here and in the constituency, the killings of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe and Garda Tony Golden - one could not do otherwise - but let us not blame republicans for the failure of the State to tackle the type of crime that is being visited in urban and rural areas, not least in the Border counties. My constituency has been starved of gardaí. Garda numbers have been cut by this Government and I welcome the fact that that has to some degree been rectified.

I repeat the point that the Sinn Féin Party, and no other organisation, is the only party which is engaged in republican activism and in the republican struggle-----

That is rubbish.

Incubating terror.

A question please.

-----and we are wedded to peaceful and democratic means. By the way, it was us who forged out a peaceful and democratic way to achieve republican and democratic objectives.

How many people were killed in the meantime?

I ask Deputy Adams for his question,

I am finishing, a Cheann Comhairle. All parties have a responsibility to tackle criminality and I will not take weasel words from the Taoiseach stating he welcomes that I am against criminality.

Could Deputy Adams please put his question?

The Taoiseach knows I am against criminality. He knows this party is against criminality. He knows that. What we need to do is to-----

A Deputy

Deputy Adams can pass it on. He is a hypocrite.

-----ensure that those who commit crimes against the community or against the state, irrespective of whatever part of the island it happens in, are brought before the courts and let the courts, not this Dáil Chamber, make their judgment on all of this.

There are pressing issues, such as Tory cuts. Did the Taoiseach raise that with the British Prime Minister?

Would Deputy Adams please put his question?

There are the attacks on working families and on welfare and dealing with the legacy of the past. The very people who produced this report also brought in a veto to stop the families of victims of British terrorism from looking and finding out what happened to their loved ones.

This is Leaders' Questions.

What about the victims of the IRA terrorism such as the late Mrs. Jean McConville and her family?

We will work positively with all the political parties and with the two Governments but, as I have asked the Taoiseach on many occasions, will he, as co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday and other agreements, engage with the British Prime Minister with the required and constant focus and consistency?

I will talk to the British Prime Minister as often as is necessary. I have said to him, and we both agreed, that responsibility is devolved to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. That was their request and this is what has been granted. This is their responsibility. These talks have dragged on since after Christmas of last year and they have had difficulties, up and down, in respect of welfare reform and other issues. Now we have the talks arising from the comments of the PSNI Chief Constable, that report and the report from the Garda Commissioner.

Is Mr. Paudie McGahon wrong? Is Maíria Cahill wrong? When Deputy Adams says that anybody out there who has information about these matters should bring them to the notice of the Garda or the PSNI, he, as the president of his party, knows many of the people who live in the Border area. It is a close-knit community. It is so close-----

Is the Taoiseach going to demonise the whole community?

It is actually so close-----

Is the Taoiseach going to look for votes off those people-----

It is actually so close-----

-----he demonises?

Sorry, please.

It is actually so close that nobody speaks out. Nobody will speak out because-----

That is ridiculous.

The Taoiseach does not know the communities.

-----the message is out: "If you speak out, we will deal with you." When Deputy Adams states his party is against criminality in all its forms, there are a range of issues there that he needs to deal with as president of his party, and I hope he does.

I hope that the talks in Belfast today will bear fruit. As I said, if there is a request for a different form of joint force or joint action group to deal with cross-Border criminality in all its forms, I will not be opposed to it. I would like to see that it would come from the representatives of all the people, North and South, who are now involved in those discussions.

On budget day, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, stated that education is the engine of economic growth, and I agree. When it comes to Ireland's future stability and prosperity, our education system is our single greatest asset. The Minister went on to state that this Government over the past five years has supported education but, of course, that is not the reality. The Government has effectively abolished the career guidance counsellor role and it has increased class sizes. It has imposed wide-ranging cuts to resource teachers. Higher education has seen cuts of one third and capital investment in higher education has been cut by over three quarters. What is the result of this support from Labour-Fine Gael?

Only five days ago, a mother chained herself to the gates of the Department of Education and Skills protesting at the closure of her son's autism unit. In 2011, when the Taoiseach came into power, Ireland had two universities in the top 100 ranked globally. Today, we do not have one in the top 150 ranking globally. One university president described what this Government has done to the university sector as "asset stripping", and the same can be said for what has happened to the primary and secondary education systems.

Then came the budget last week. Up until now, Labour-Fine Gael has been following a Fianna Fáil troika programme but last week's budget was the Government's opportunity to set a vision for Ireland for the future. When it came to education, big claims were made in the form of 2,200 new teachers and smaller class sizes, but when one follows the money none of that stacks up. In last week's budget, of the €1.5 billion available to the Government, it invested €24 million in the entire education sector, that is, less than 2% of the budget available and less than one fifth of 1% of the education budget.

How much is the capital programme?

This Government, in last week's budget-----

A question, please.

-----did not put a single euro into higher education. By contrast, the Government allocated €561 million to the universal social charge. My question is this: when the Republic's future is dependent on us having some of the best educated school leavers and college graduates, and when the Government acknowledges that education is the engine of economic growth, why did it invest 25 times less in the entire education system than it did in one tax cut?

I disagree with Deputy Donnelly. The vision for Ireland has been set out not only this year, but for quite some time. He will appreciate the extraordinary economic mess that this Government inherited.

I have just left CHQ on the docks where a company, Pivotal, is investing €100 million in the creation of jobs, both here in Dublin and in Cork. The company's central point was that the reason for it choosing Ireland to invest an extra €100 million was not based on the question of the 12.5% corporate tax rate but on talent. It was based on talent coming through an educational system that, despite all the challenges, has measured up to the range and the kind of quality that companies look for, be they in the financial services, pharmaceutical or ICT sectors. Their words are far more powerful than those of the politicians because they are the ones who make the decisions to invest in this country. They find it a place to be, given the range of our talent pool.

Although there were recessionary times in education, the moratorium has been lifted and the Minister for Education and Skills will, in the coming weeks, announce the capital programme for the building of primary, secondary and third level education institutes. I do not share the Deputy's view of a depression in the education system.

I do not know where the Taoiseach is living.

It is a challenge. The Deputy mentioned the allocation of one fifth of the budget. The other four fifths of the budget goes to look after the teachers and those who provide education for our children and young people. The Deputy knows the extent of information available over the Internet. The job of teaching and the qualities of teachers have had to change. They are now directors, counsellors and guides. They must consider how to identify the flair in young people and how to put them in the direction of where the challenge is going to be met and where they can have a career and ambition. I do not share the Deputy’s disillusion.

The other day, I was in a school with 28 nationalities and a €6 million extension. The Deputy should hear those young people talking about living in this country, their ambitions to have a career here and what they want to do. Best of all was that the 28 nationalities, with their music, dress and traditions, were all talking about Ireland. Two of the most animated talks were those shared between the young people from Iran and the United States. I do not share the Deputy’s view at all. There are challenges and we would like to have more to invest. We cannot have it until we have an engine to drive it. At last, the Government, working with the people, has brought our country to a different spot.

Where is the interest in Castlebar?

By the time we reach 2017, with the deficit eliminated, the country will have far more to resource such social challenges. The criteria set for top global universities change all the time. The Deputy should go to the universities and talk to the young people, technologists and institutes. They are meeting these challenges every day. I do not share the Deputy’s disillusion.

While the Taoiseach may not share my disillusion, the numbers do not lie. I talk to teachers. I have three young children. I talk to lecturers, parents and students. It is great that the Taoiseach met a multinational class. It is fantastic. However, did the Taoiseach tell them the Government cares about them so much that it has invested practically nothing in their education out of the €1.5 billion?

That is not true. It is nonsense.

(Interruptions).

Would the Taoiseach tell them the Government has increased the education budget by less than one fifth of 1%? Go and talk to the lecturers in our universities about their growing class sizes. Talk to the woman who chained herself to the gates of the Department of Education and Skills.

She was waiting for the sheriff.

The numbers do not lie. The Taoiseach talks about innovation and entrepreneurship.

A question, please.

The Taoiseach let the Web Summit go to Portugal and has invested nothing extra in education.

The Social Democrats proposed a budget using exactly the same fiscal space.

Could you put your question, please?

Rather than investing €24 million, we were able to propose a €200 million investment. That is investment in education, our children and higher education. I will ask the Taoiseach again, given that he ignored the question.

Do not ignore the Chair.

The Taoiseach had a choice. Although he said the resources were not available, €1.5 billion was available.

I ask the Deputy again not to ignore the Chair. Could you put your question?

Of the available resources of €1.5 billion, why did the Taoiseach allocate 25 times more out of the available resources to a tax cut aimed at the election than he invested in the entire education system?

It is Government policy. Governments make decisions. The universal social charge was a brutal instrument introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government. We have agreed that, if re-elected, we will abolish it over the coming four or five years.

Like universal health insurance five years ago.

Last year, when the Government made a decision to reduce the tax burden on people, the spend began to increase out through the community. We broadened the tax base by having property charges and water contributions. The more people are working, the less tax they pay and the greater the opportunity to deal with the social challenges we have. The figures do not lie. This is why interest rates have fallen from 15% to less than 2%. This is why unemployment has decreased from 15.2% to 9.4%.

What about forced emigration?

This is why we have beaten the deficit targets every year since the Government was elected and our national debt is approaching European norms and will continue to do so in the time ahead. This is why more than 125,000 new jobs have been created. This is why the Government made its decision. The tax level was too high. It is the first time since 2009 that the tax burden is less than 50%. If the people want a continuation of this, they can vote for it in due course.

I discussed the Web Summit. The organisers made their choice. It was a commercial decision. We are disappointed and we hope they return. The Deputy mentioned growing class sizes. It is why the Government decided to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio at both primary and secondary level. The Minister will announce a capital programme to abolish prefabs and construct new buildings in order that teachers can do their best to meet the demands of so many firms and opportunities that lie ahead.