The Labour Party campaigned in the election 12 months ago for the re-election of the outgoing Government and at the first meeting of the Dáil honoured its election pledge by supporting the nomination of the Fine Gael candidate for Taoiseach. However, we voted against the arrangement cobbled together by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, supported by Independents, that brought this Government about. We did that because I predicted at the time that it would not last 12 months. That has yet to be fully tested.
At a time of great challenge for our nation, we have a Government which is intrinsically weak. The responsibility of governing is too important to lie with a Government that has neither the authority nor the capacity to govern. When the very notion of collective Cabinet responsibility appears to have been thrown out the window, we can truly begin to see through the crumbling edifice. A Government that was delivering progress in Ireland would have much work to do with a health service in clear need of remediation, a housing crisis that seems unremitting, rent increases that continue to spiral and, of course, Brexit, the shadow of which looms large over our future prosperity. On top of all that, we have a range of issues this intrinsically weak Government has not even considered tackling, including water charges, the eighth amendment, the funding of third level education, the baptism barrier in our schools and, of course, whistleblowing in An Garda Síochána. There is no issue the Government seems sufficiently to believe requires resolute and real action. My party believes the power of the State should be an enabler of good. In those circumstances, this weakened State is profoundly depressing.
Over the last week or so, things have gotten more serious. From doing nothing, the Government has actually begun to do harm. Over the last week, we heard a great deal about the anguish and agony imposed on the McCabe family. We are beginning to hear similar stories from elsewhere, including from the Harrison family. In truth, the fumbling by the Government on this critical issue has only added to that agony. Faced with a crisis of this nature, one would expect a Government to gather together to discuss openly the best way to tackle such an important issue and to propose measures that could reassure the public as well as give solace to the victims. Instead, we have seen senior Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil figures stop just short of calling each other liars. More worryingly, we have seen the Taoiseach and one of his senior Ministers do exactly the same. Yesterday, this tawdry mess managed to get even worse. The Taoiseach stood in this Chamber and gave two versions of the same event within 15 minutes. After a week of public disquiet, the debate we are having this evening has become all about the Taoiseach.
I worked closely with the Taoiseach for five full years and more in a Government which has been maligned but which will, in time, be recognised for its significant achievements. During our time in government, we disagreed on many points. We come from different traditions and we were not afraid to trash those differences out. Since the election I have had cause to reflect on our failings and mistakes as well as on our achievements but on balance I still believe we did a great deal of good. Some of the good we did is in this actual territory. The whistleblower legislation we implemented is recognised as world class and the creation of the Policing Authority was a ground-breaking move which had long been sought. Despite our many disagreements, we got a great deal done together. Participating in this debate tonight, it gives me no joy to see the position in which the Taoiseach now finds himself. There are many on the Taoiseach's side of the House as well as on this side who are waiting for his time as Taoiseach to come to an end. Some of them, perhaps, share the Front Bench with him. If this debate proves to be a tipping point which brings that end closer, the Taoiseach should know that he has made a significant contribution to the State. He should also know, however, that the events of the last week are not an acceptable way for a country to be governed.
I emphasise an important point that has been aired too little in the debate over recent days. Article 28.4.2° defines how collective Cabinet responsibility shall operate in Ireland. There are many other clauses in our Constitution which lawyers and academics dispute and which can be debated in different contexts, but this is not one of them. To remind the House, Article 28.4.2° reads: "The Government shall meet and act as a collective authority, and shall be collectively responsible for the Departments of State administered by the members of the Government". This is not optional. One cannot decide that some issues are decided collectively and others are not. One cannot decide that one does not want to hear any more about an issue when one's own Minister mentions it. It is not acceptable. Too many people over recent days have suggested that the notion of collective Cabinet responsibility is some sort of historical nicety. It is not. It is the highest law of this land and it is being flagrantly ignored by members of the Taoiseach's Government. I was genuinely shocked to hear yesterday and today how this Government does its business. It is one thing to bring a sensitive memo to Government under a Minister's elbow. I have done it myself. It is quite another when that sensitive memo proposes a Government order for a commission of investigation based on a judge's report which has not been circulated. How on earth can anyone in government be expected to know what he or she is agreeing to investigate?
The Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, presumed her concerns were included in the terms of reference. She was entitled to assume the Tusla affair was included in the protected disclosure referenced in the terms of reference, but she never got to see the protected disclosure so she never got to know her presumption was right. Everyone in government is now citing the law to justify their failure to inform colleagues but there is nothing in the law to prevent the Tánaiste from sharing details from the protected disclosure with her colleagues in government if they needed to know them. As the former Minister who introduced the Protected Disclosures Act, I remind the Government that section 16 specifically allows information to be disclosed where that disclosure is considered necessary to investigate the matter or is in the public interest. Neither does the law prevent Deputy Zappone as Minister from demanding information from Tusla and sharing it with Cabinet. It is the only way collective Cabinet Government can work. Nevertheless, the Taoiseach continued to insist today that he was restricted by law from asking questions about the protected disclosure. There is no such restriction because there is no such law. That has as much basis in reality as the Taoiseach's advice to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to take a good note.
I said at the outset that I had no confidence in the Government when it was formed. After the events of the last week, I cannot in conscience support the Government now. Therefore, the Labour Party Deputies will oppose the Government's motion.
It is difficult to listen to Sinn Féin talk about policing and justice matters. When Sinn Féin held its annual conference in my home town, Wexford, the family of Garda Seamus Quaid, who was murdered by the IRA, asked for the plaque in his memory in the Wexford Opera House to be removed from the venue before Sinn Féin arrived.