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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Mar 2017

Vol. 942 No. 1

Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Gerry Adams


1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagement with first Vice President of the European Commission, Mr. Frans Timmermans, on 21 February 2017. [11420/17]

Brendan Howlin


2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach his plans to include items, or if he has sought the inclusion of items, on the agenda of the next European Council meeting of the EU Heads of State or Government; and if he will report on his plans for this meeting. [11756/17]

Eamon Ryan


3. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with EU officials in Brussels on 2 March 2017. [11784/17]

Gerry Adams


4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Brussels on 2 March 2017. [12045/17]

Micheál Martin


5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on each of the meetings he attended in Brussels on 2 March 2017 and the issues that were discussed. [12050/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

Since the UK referendum last June, I have had an intensive series of bilateral meetings with my counterparts in EU member states and with the heads of the EU institutions. I have attended all formal and informal meetings of the European Council. At all my meetings, I have highlighted and explained Ireland’s particular concerns arising from Brexit, including those relating to Northern Ireland and the peace process, the common travel area, our interwoven economies and the future of the EU. I met first Vice President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, in Government Buildings on 21 February last. His visit followed those of other Commissioners, including Mr. Moscovici and Ms Vestager, which have served to underline the Commission's understanding of Ireland's particular concerns and support for our approach.  The meeting was constructive, with Commissioner Timmermans demonstrating a good understanding of Ireland's concerns and offering strong Commission support for our approach in addressing them. I visited Brussels on 23 February to meet the Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. I also participated in a business event organised by the Ireland Belgium Business Association and supported by the Irish Embassy and Enterprise Ireland.

As I continued this strategic programme of engagement, I travelled to Brussels again on 2 March for separate meetings with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, the recently elected President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, a number of key Members of the European Parliament and the chief Commission Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. The focus of these meetings was on Brexit as well as the future direction of the EU. In addition to setting out our concerns around the economic and trade implications of the UK departure, I again explained in detail the peace process in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement and the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland that must be recognised from the start and reflected in the final agreement.  President Tusk, President Tajani and Mr. Barnier understood and acknowledged these issues and expressed their openness to working closely with us in the forthcoming negotiations. It was useful to highlight these issues to key MEPs. As the European Parliament will adopt a resolution on Brexit in the coming months and will ultimately have to approve the final exit deal, it is important that we continue to engage to seek support there. With regard to the debate on the future of the EU, I underlined to all my interlocutors the need for unity and the importance of our core European values, which are central to our continuing peace and prosperity. We must deliver for our citizens and, in that context, press ahead in areas of particular relevance, including jobs, growth, investment, the Single Market and the digital single market. I will continue to make these points in the build-up to the summit in Rome at the end of this month and into the future.

The next European Council meeting will take place on 9 March next. The draft agenda that has been published by the general secretariat of the Council envisages that the Maltese Presidency will provide an overview of progress on the implementation of earlier European Council conclusions and that the European Council will look at a number of the most pressing issues, including those relating to jobs, growth and competitiveness; security and defence; migration; and external relations. Decisions are also to be taken on the position of the President of the European Council and the establishment of a European public prosecutor's office. The agenda is in order from Ireland's perspective. Therefore, I have not sought any particular items for inclusion on it. I will be making a full statement in advance of the European Council meeting, as I always do, after Question Time this afternoon.

I ask Deputies to keep within time if they can.

The Taoiseach has indicated to my party leader, Deputy Adams, on several occasions that the Government intends to publish a White Paper on Brexit. The British Government is expected to trigger Article 50 next week if it overcomes the obstacles that have been erected by the House of Lords. That will create a step change in respect of Brexit, as it will mean we will move away from talking and speculating about Brexit and into the formal negotiation process. In light of the urgency of this matter, will the Taoiseach tell the House when he intends to publish the White Paper on Brexit? In his address to the Institute of International and European Affairs at the Mansion House several weeks ago, the Taoiseach told his audience the Government intends to seek EU funding to help businesses affected by Brexit.

The Government expects to fund the stabilisation and adjustment measures and the Taoiseach stated that he would seek support from the EU for this. Did the Taoiseach raise this matter with Mr. Timmermans when he met him two weeks ago? Did he raise the matter with Mr. Donald Tusk, Mr. Michel Barnier, Mr. Antonio Tajani or others he has met in Brussels? What response did he get?

What focus was given to the issue of the North being afforded special status within the EU during the course of the meetings? The Government has opposed this notion of special status but there is increasing support for it both here and in the North. The Taoiseach can see from the Assembly elections that the majority of its new Members, who represent a majority of citizens, believe in the need for the North to be protected from what could potentially be the devastation of Brexit. Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party all support some form of special status for the North. As we know, a motion to that effect was supported by this House.

I thank the Deputy. Her time is up.

Will I get to come back in?

If there is time.

Right. That is very expansive.

It is the reform committee.

All the parties are represented on that.

I am just explaining it as it was explained to me.

The Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit met this morning at 8 o'clock and we went through all the preparatory work that has been ongoing for quite some time. When the British Prime Minister triggers Article 50, it means she will write a formal letter to President Tusk of the European Council indicating formal notice of Britain's intention to leave the European Union. The Government will respond to that directly because at least we will have some further clarity - particularly with regard to trade and the customs union - on what the British Government is seeking. We have agreed that what it will look for is as close a relationship as is possible with the European Union. That would suit Ireland. Clearly, if a country is removed from the Single Market, with a changed status in respect of the customs unions, these issues become politically very challenging. The Government will respond in considerable detail directly after Article 50 is triggered on how we intend to negotiate our position. I have set out the priorities on this already.

I wish to ask about the future of Europe and the Taoiseach's discussions in that regard, particularly at the meeting on 2 March. The European Commission has set out five options for the future of Europe. These include: carrying on; having nothing but the Single Market; those who to do so doing more; doing less more efficiently; or doing much more together. Has the Taoiseach had any sense in his discussions as to which of those five scenarios the Irish Government would see as our future? I am conscious of his statement to the effect that he will press ahead in respect of areas of common interest and that these are all economic. I have a slight concern that we are not looking at social, environmental or other issues, and that what the Taoiseach referred to all relates to one area. Did the Taoiseach give an indication of what would be the approach of the Government in responding to the Commission's scenarios to set out our vision of our role in the future of Europe?

I was shocked to see some VoteWatch analysis recently which identifies Ireland as probably the most negative country on just about any suggestion for the development of Europe. It is opposed to economic integration, tax harmonisation and defence co-operation. There was also a categorisation of the responses from governments to date. Eastern countries are very nervous about a segregated or two-speed approach but western governments are possibly in favour of that. Northern and Scandinavian governments are looking for neither of those. Where did the Taoiseach place us when he spoke with either members of the Commission or President Tusk on the future of Europe White Paper?

With regard to Deputy McDonald's latter point, we have special status as we stand in that we are the only country with a peace process supported by the European Union and an international legally-binding agreement. We want to build on that and we will have a much clearer view once Article 50 is triggered. I made the point that there can be all-island agreements in respect of a number of areas if there is a willingness shown in that regard. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, is in Belfast today working with the parties and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and we hope an Executive and an Assembly can be put together.

In respect of the issues that Deputy Eamon Ryan raised, from a European perspective, the critical issues, particularly for the western Balkans, the countries of which are experiencing pressure from Russia, are migration, security and defence and NATO matters. We must also consider comments made by the new American Administration about participation in NATO in future if spending does not rise to 2% of gross domestic product. There are implications for Germany in this regard - a strong economic power - which might mean it being obliged to allocate €50 billion or €60 billion per year. The German people have been very reticent about this for good historic reasons but that is a matter for discussion.

The Deputy mentioned a two-speed Europe. Ireland will be placed at the front and we do not want to be left behind in any way. We want to be part of a social Europe. We will not be left behind because we have put our point as being central to Europe and the eurozone. That is where we intend to stay.

It is fair to say that there has been welcome reassurance from the European institutions that they understand the Border issue on this island and that it is unique in the context of the Brexit negotiations. There is no evident move to go beyond very broad generalities. British Prime Minister May has stated she wants a red, white and blue Brexit, which is not very reassuring to all those who do not share her British nationalist policies. Mr. Tony Connolly spoke about the Border issue on RTE last night and he is among the correspondents who have made the consistent point that there has been comment in Brussels about how Ireland has been successful in raising concerns but that so far we have not offered concrete solutions. For some reason, we have not finished an economic impact assessment. At this stage, I am concerned we are not offering the level of detail needed to guide negotiations to a good outcome.

The civil dialogue confirms that businesses on both sides of the Border are terrified of the impact of the new customs and trade regulations that are now inevitable. With regard to supply chains, queuing at Border crossings is not the issue but rather the paperwork and multiple duties. Mr. Connolly captured that well last night in discussing similar border issues in different parts of the EU. The only way we can realistically tackle that is with some form of special economic zone or customs zone to be established for Northern Ireland, or at the very least for Border counties. Is the Taoiseach proposing anything specific for the negotiations on these issues? Are there any required technical papers being prepared at this stage?

I have a related question on Article 50 being invoked and the Taoiseach's discussion and contact with Mr. Michel Barnier and Mr. Guy Verhofstadt who represent the European Commission and the European Parliament, respectively. Does the Taoiseach have any sense they are prepared to deal with Ireland's special circumstances up-front and that once Article 50 and the framework for discussions are agreed, with people making their opening statements in the European Parliament or wherever, Ireland's special position will be recognised in that framework of discussions? That is both from the perspective of the Commission and Parliament. There is increasing talk of a multi-speed Europe, with more sentiments expressed during the week about that from those who want to press ahead with further integration in a two-speed Europe. What is the Irish Government's view on that?

It is not in the spirit of why Ireland joined the EEC and, subsequently, the EU. I would welcome a clear statement from the Taoiseach about these ongoing suggestions of a two-speed Europe.

As I have said on many occasions, we are still not clear about a number of issues regarding the British Government's position. When the Prime Minister writes the letter on behalf of the British Government and triggers Article 50, we will respond to it in detail. A great deal of preparatory work has been done, as the Deputy is well aware. All the options in the different sectors have been set out and considered. We need to know what we are dealing with so we can respond to it. The negotiations are led by the Barnier task force and the Commission and we feed our concerns into it. The Government will respond in detail when Article 50 has been triggered.

No work is under way regarding the acquisition of land for Border customs posts. There was some talk about it some time ago. Our political position is that there will be no return to the Border of the past, and this is agreed and accepted by the British Government. It is a political challenge. It is not a technological or a paper issue. It is a political priority. I was in Kiltyclogher in County Leitrim recently. During the Troubles, Leitrim was the only county from which one could not get to Northern Ireland. Every road was blown up. The people there who are in their senior years never want to go back to that situation, and neither do we.

The Deputy mentioned a special economic zone. These are matters for consideration. My starting point is that there would be no return to that Border. There is political agreement on it that whatever will happen will be consequent on the nature of the relationship the UK wants with Europe from then on, clearly with implications for Ireland.

One of the four priorities set out by Michel Barnier, as head of the Brexit task force, is to deal with the question of Northern Ireland and the Border. He is well aware of the difference between this and Catalonia, which is a Spanish issue, or Gibraltar, which is a Spanish-British issue. Ours is the subject of an international, legally binding agreement.

Deputy Haughey asked a good question about the multi-speed Europe issue, which has been around for a while. Various ideas and proposals, so-called "variable geometry", have always arisen in discussion about future developments of the EU. They are again being mentioned in the context of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. We have already had such a variable geometry regarding the euro and the Schengen Agreement. Enhanced co-operation has been included in the treaties for this reason and the provisions can be used to allow a group of states to move ahead if they wish with co-operation without all members supporting it. We want to stay in the vanguard, right up at the front. If it transpires that there are two speeds operating in Europe, we want to be at the higher speed and central to it.

Northern Ireland

Micheál Martin


6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Ms Arlene Foster or Ms Michelle O'Neill since and in view of the results of the election in Northern Ireland on 2 March 2017. [11614/17]

Brendan Howlin


7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach his plans to engage with the political parties in Northern Ireland following the Assembly elections. [12046/17]

Micheál Martin


8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Secretary of State Brokenshire or Prime Minister May since the Northern Ireland election results. [12053/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, together.

I spoke by telephone to Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday following the outcome of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. We agreed to speak again when we meet tomorrow, Thursday, at the European Council in Brussels. During our phone conversation we agreed that early engagement by the political parties in Northern Ireland is required with a view to re-establishing a functioning Executive as soon as possible, and to address outstanding issues under the agreements. We also agreed that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, would engage together with the parties over the coming days. They are to meet in Belfast today, and are probably meeting as we speak.

There is a three week window for the formation of a new Executive. The political parties have each received fresh mandates. Particular responsibilities attach to the two parties, the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and Sinn Féin, which are entitled to nominate a First Minister and deputy First Minister to engage with each other and to advance discussions with all eligible political parties on the formation of a new Executive. Dealing with outstanding issues from previous agreements will be necessary to create confidence at this critical moment for devolution in Northern Ireland. All parties eligible to nominate Ministers to the Executive will be invited to participate in these discussions which, in accordance with previous agreements, will be facilitated by the two Governments. That is why the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State are there today.

The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has spoken to party leaders to congratulate them on the electoral mandate they have achieved and to encourage them to play their part in creating the conditions that allow for the formation of a new power-sharing Assembly and Executive. The heart of the Good Friday Agreement is its interlocking political institutions. However, they can only be sustained on the basis of partnership, equality and mutual respect. As a co-guarantor, the Irish Government is determined to uphold the principles of the Agreement and to protect its institutions. In the coming weeks, we will work with all concerned to see the power-sharing Assembly and Executive restored to effective and harmonious operation. I hope it can happen.

The Taoiseach will agree that the fundamental duty of everybody elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly last week is to work with others to get the institutions functioning in the interests of the people. Reports last night stated that the first day of discussions resulted in a Sinn Féin walk-out on funding for legacy issues. This is a far from encouraging start, particularly given that it does not relate to the specific issue which brought down the Executive and on which the election was triggered. There is no evidence, so far, of any significant changes in the positions of any of the parties, and the opening dynamic is not good, to say the least.

The drift and growing tribalism in the Executive during recent years happened at exactly the time when London and Dublin took a decision to step back and leave it to the DUP and Sinn Féin. If there is one clear lesson from recent years it is that disengagement by the two Governments is damaging and must be permanently reversed. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is participating in the talks. Will the Taoiseach assure us that he will continue to participate up to the point where a conclusion is reached? If the Northern Ireland Executive is not re-established soon, what arrangements will be made to ensure Northern Ireland has a voice on Brexit? At the recent civic dialogue on Brexit, the very clear message from those who spoke for Northern Ireland, representing the civil dialogue, was the absence of a coherent voice from Northern Ireland on Brexit and real alarm about the fact that people were not engaged in the most important issue to face Northern Ireland and the entire island in a generation.

I agree with the Deputy that it is the duty of everybody elected the Northern Ireland Assembly to see that the Assembly operates, an Executive is set up and that it sets out an agreed set of objectives to be implemented. In the previous Executive, the then First Minister, Arlene Foster, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, agreed on a set of objectives and forwarded a formal notice of it to the British Prime Minister and to me. The Deputy's point is important. A democratic decision has been taken. There are changed numbers in respect of the parties. They have a duty to get together and I hope they can do so.

The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, will continue to engage on behalf of the Government as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and successive agreements. We will see the negotiations through. I do not like to assume the Members of the Legislative Assembly would automatically seek an extension beyond the three weeks. I have agreed with the British Prime Minister that a return to direct rule would not be in anybody's interests. I hope it can be dealt with in the three weeks. If not, legislation will be introduced to extend the time or introduce direct rule. If it is not dealt with in the time, the voices that were heard at the all-island sectoral forum will have to be transmitted as part of the negotiations.

I have reflected on that so I hope that it will be possible for the Executive to be set up and to have a First Minister and deputy First Minister.

It is not simply that the numbers have changed in the composition of the Assembly, although that is true as Deputy Micheál Martin has noted. Something much more fundamental and significant has happened, not least the fact that the Unionist majority in the Assembly is now gone. This changes everything and there needs to be a moment of reflection, as the Taoiseach urged earlier, for people to absorb that fact.

Another thing has happened, which is the absolute demand on the ground, not just an expectation, that agreed matters should be implemented. Sinn Féin does not need a pep talk from anybody in that regard. We are up for doing business. We want the power-sharing institutions to work. They can only work, however, on the basis of delivery. The Taoiseach is the co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement and the Fresh Start agreement - the list is very lengthy - but the fact is that Dublin and London are in default in respect of commitments entered into and this needs to be fixed. From Sinn Féin's point of view it is not a case of us being obstructionist; we want the institutions. The message from the ground, however, is clear. Matters agreed must be delivered. I believe this to be a reasonable expectation in a democratic society.

On the issue of the legacy inquests, we welcomed the remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, at the Pat Finucane lecture in which he urged the British Government to resource the legacy inquests and he backed the proposal of the Lord Chief Justice. This is essential. It would be £10 million in monetary terms and it is a confidence measure that is needed.

I would like to make one other point if I could have a chance to come in.

The Deputy is out of time, I am sorry.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the deep consideration of critical issues. It is noted and appreciated.

This set-up is mad. To have two minutes to speak on issues such as this is crazy.

This is the procedure that has been in place for a period of time.

I appreciate that.

I did not invent the procedure.

I fully appreciate that, and I am simply expressing a view on it.

I resent the Deputy's insinuation.

The Assembly numbers have changed but it is very clear that there was a Brexit element to the vote and people were very clear in that. Obviously the parties will now get together. I am glad to hear the deputy leader of Sinn Féin say the party does not want to be obstructionist, that it wants an Executive set up and an Assembly functioning. We all share the view that what has been agreed here should be implemented. I engaged with the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, on the Fresh Start agreement around legacy issues of the past. In dealing with Ballymurphy, the hooded men, Pat Finucane, the Birmingham Six, Kingsmill and so on, the Fresh Start agreement contains the opportunity and the potential to address these. It has got to be tested. The theory is that if someone has lost a loved one or a family member and wishes to have the information supplied to him or her about all of the issues and circumstances surrounding that, then it should be made available. That is the agreement. It could be made available through the independent, objective adjudication of international and other figures. That is an issue we need to get back to. It was not possible to do it in Fresh Start but that is contained within that agreement. I agree that what has been agreed should be able to be implemented. There have been difficulties with this is in the past but it must be dealt with.

Commissions of Inquiry

Micheál Martin


9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of commissions of inquiry under the remit of his Department. [11615/17]

The two commissions of investigation currently under way for which I am the specified Minister under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, are the Fennelly commission, which was established in April 2014 and is chaired by Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, commission, which was established in June 2015 and is chaired by Mr. Justice Brian Cregan.

The commissions are independent in the performance of their functions and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any aspects of their work.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Has he any indication as to when the Fennelly commission will report? It has been going on for quite some time now, if I am not mistaken. Is there an update from the judge on the progress or lack thereof? As for the IBRC commission, will we have an interim report from that inquiry at some stage? Has the Taoiseach had a further update on Project Eagle since the all-party meeting some months ago? As the report by the Committee of Public Accounts on Project Eagle is imminent, the terms of reference on Project Eagle should be finalised as soon as possible. I thought we had agreed broad outlines of terms of reference at those meetings. My final question for the Taoiseach is around current inquiries. He will recall we had some discussion on this the last time. How many inquiries has the Government under its compass, overall, at the moment? How many inquiries are ongoing as we speak? Perhaps the Taoiseach will forward the information to me because I know it is not contained in this parliamentary question.

And their costs.

Yes, and their costs. I would appreciate if the Taoiseach could send on a written note to me in that regard. During our last discussion on this issue, the Taoiseach said he was looking into the idea of a permanent unit to have responsibility for inquiries. We need to do some reflection - away from the issue of today - as to a template around the whole area of inquiries and how they are conducted. It is not easy but I know there were proposals in the past. In other jurisdictions there are specific departments to focus on this area. Equally with regard to performance within organisations, all of these matters arise because they give rise to issues that have not been dealt with internally by organisations or by various other organisations that are meant to cover this. For example, it is extraordinary the degree to which the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission does not seem to have the capacity - and nor do people have any confidence in it - as one agency that is supposed to deal with all the issues that arise from An Garda Síochána. In the area of health, for example with the Grace case, we are dealing with the lack of any internal dynamic that should kick in when something wrong takes place. The same has happened with the Tusla file in respect of Maurice McCabe. I read that file and the casualness with which it was dealt with internally by the organisation is quite shocking and striking. All of this is leading to-----

The Deputy needs to conclude.

The Fennelly commission is due to report this year by the end of March 2017. There may be some slight delay on that depending on the responses received by Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly. It is due by the end of March and the cost to date has been €3.106 million. On IBRC, the timeframe on the final report for the first module of its work regarding the Siteserv transaction is the end of December 2017. With regard to Project Eagle, I met the party leaders on all of that. We felt it better that, as the report of the Committee of Public Accounts is pending publication, we should wait to see what its observations or recommendations are in respect of Project Eagle. We need to consider the findings and conclusions of that report when it is published. It may contain information that would need to be factored in to terms of reference for the commission of investigation we have already agreed on. We would need to consider the likelihood of a commission of investigation being able to get any further relevant information for the commission about the issues involved, bearing in mind the large amount of evidence it has already received from NAMA and from other interested parties. It is an important point to bear in mind given the substantial funding involved. There is €4.7 million in the Department's Vote for 2017 and this includes provision for the Fennelly commission due to report at the end of March, as I have said, and the first element of the Siteserv module of IBRC, due by the end of this year. While there was an element of €10 million provided for the proposed commission of investigation into Project Eagle, based on the estimated cost of the IBRC commission it is not possible at this stage to be sure what might actually fall due for payment in 2017. If the funding available is not sufficient, we will have to find the resources from within the Department or somewhere else.

I have referred before to the permanent structure. The Law Reform Commission made recommendations on this and considered it was not appropriate. However, it did consider there were some other valuable elements and I am considering those.

I want to raise two issues. First, in respect of the commission on NAMA and Project Eagle, I hear a kind of reticence in the Taoiseach's presentation that there is somehow a question mark over whether there will in fact be a commission. When we undertook our examination in the PAC, it was never understood or intended to be an alternative to the commission we had all agreed to and signed up to in principle. I would like the Taoiseach to confirm for us that the commission will in fact go ahead. I understand the Taoiseach needs the report from the PAC to be factored into the terms of reference and I think that reasonable. However, he should not be using the PAC as a means of not carrying forward the commission. I would like him to confirm that.

Second, on the mother and baby homes, I earlier raised the issues around Tuam with the Taoiseach. I think he made a commitment, although he might confirm this, that he would meet and consult with victims, survivors and advocacy groups. As he does that, one of the core things that needs to be considered is the particular issue of legal representation for survivors because they are currently cast as onlookers or spectators in an inquiry that has had the most traumatic consequences for them and their lives.

I met on 4 October last year with the party leaders. We agreed in principle that the Government will establish a commission of investigation under the Act of 2004 to investigate any significant matters of public concern in regard to NAMA. The party leaders also agreed then that there will be limitations on the commission's work, given the location of potential witnesses, documentation outside the jurisdiction and ongoing criminal investigations. Since then, the Committee of Public Accounts, which is not an alternative to a commission of investigation, has been holding hearings in regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. It received a very large amount of evidence from NAMA and many interested parties, including parties from outside this jurisdiction. We await the report of the PAC.

After the PAC report is published, we will see what it says, and the Deputy will know more about that than I do, given she is a member of the committee. We will need to consider any findings, conclusions or recommendations that may be made by the committee. For example, the PAC report may contain information that would need to be factored into the terms of reference that would be proposed for the commission. As I said, we will also need to consider whether the commission of investigation would be able to find out other information beyond what has been considered by the PAC report. If information or personnel are outside the jurisdiction, or if there are criminal investigations, that puts limitations on what a commission of investigation might be able to do.

That is not resiling from the decision in principle to have a commission of investigation into this matter. It is being realistic in the sense of what will be in the PAC report, what are the matters it has considered, what are the recommendations, whether all work would be replicated by a commission of investigation and where are the areas that neither the PAC nor a commission of investigation has been able to go into because of the limitations of jurisdiction, documentation or whatever. That is where the matter stands.

I think most Members would welcome a report in regard to the number of tribunals of inquiry and commissions of investigation that are underway at present, or even if we could be told where to find that information.

While I appreciate it is not under the ambit of the Department of the Taoiseach, I want to refer to the possibility of a commission of investigation into the Stardust fire in 1981. I welcome the fact the former Deputy, Mr. Justice Patrick McCartan, has been appointed to do a scoping exercise. In the Taoiseach's capacity as head of Government, can he give an assurance that Mr. Justice McCartan will be allowed to carry out his work independently, given there are suggestions previous scoping exercises were interfered with by the relevant Department. Hopefully, he can carry out his work independently. Then, should he find that a commission of investigation is necessary, I ask that this proceed without delay.

I will have a report circulated or made available to all Members on all the tribunals and commissions of investigation that are under way by Government across the entire spectrum. The Moriarty tribunal began 20 years ago and we are still paying for it.

I can confirm for Deputy Haughey that the appointment of the former Deputy, Mr. Justice Patrick McCartan, was on the basis of his being a person of integrity and credibility who is trusted by the relatives of Stardust victims as being a fit person to carry out this scoping exercise. It is important to say that the issue which was flagged very strenuously at Government by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, was that the scoping exercise of Mr. Justice McCartan is to investigate the new evidence that has come to light through the relatives of the victims of the Stardust fire. Mr. Justice McCartan will be allowed to do his work completely independently and there will be no interference from the Department in his work. I understand he will be able to do this pretty expeditiously. If he decides and recommends, on the basis of that new evidence, that a commission of investigation is warranted, then that is the decision of Government. However, it was only right and proper to reflect, analyse and scrutinise the new evidence available and to see whether that warrants a new commission of investigation. If his recommendation is that it does, that is what will happen.