Leaders' Questions

We hear much talk about rural Ireland and about the need to bring employment to, and create opportunities in, rural Ireland but invariably Government and State interventions are becoming more negative and damaging by the day. The sharpest illustration of this in the past week or so has been the announcement by Bord na Móna to close the Littleton peat briquette factory. Politicians often wonder why people become disillusioned with the State and the political system. The manner in which this closure is being brought about would give those politicians some answers. I refer to the shabby manner in which the workers have been treated, the lack of dignity shown to them, the false promises and the fact there was no plan, agreement or deep consultation.

Bord na Móna was primarily founded to give employment to people in the midlands, to this part of Tipperary and to other counties, and to create economic development. Now the State is turning its back. I mentioned people's cynicism and disillusionment because two years ago at a meeting of the workers, the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, announced to them that there would be a combined investment in a new combined heat and power plant at Littleton.

He announced it. Word has it he picked it up from the chief executive officer on the way down and said he would announce it that night.

That happened more than once.

To be fair to Deputy Lowry at the time, he suggested the announcement was premature but that was very robustly refuted by the then Minister, Deputy Kelly. The workers thought things were going to be sound for the next ten years. To be fair, the chief executive at the time did not suggest there were any prospects of the factory closing. At an Oireachtas joint committee meeting of May 2015, the chief executive officer spoke of an investment of approximately €10 million to convert both plants - those in Tipperary and Offaly - to 50% peat and 50% biomass, and that this would be a long-term project. No wonder people become cynical and disillusioned when they are treated in such a way. The workers should be treated with respect and dignity. We are talking about third and fourth generation families now involved with these plants.

Deputies met the Minister, Deputy Naughten, recently and the workers want the closure date extended to a minimum of 2020. The redundancy package is unacceptable as this is compulsory redundancy rather than voluntary redundancy. The longer one worked in the plant, the more one is punished by the redundancy package. There should be significant retraining opportunities provided to the workers. The carbon tax has been doubled and the exemption for peat was removed by the last Government; this money should be put into a fund for enterprise and employment opportunities in these regions that have been so badly affected by this announcement.

I can agree with Deputy Martin when he says workers should be treated with dignity and respect, as they should be. This decision, however, was made by a commercial semi-State body and it is not the subject of direct instruction from the Government. If I am correct, my understanding is a very substantial amount of briquettes are unsold because of the change in the nature of the way things are now. This decision has been pondered for some time.

The Deputy states the redundancy package is not acceptable and I do not have the details of what that means. In respect of workers being treated properly with dignity and respect, I share the Deputy's view completely. Deputy Martin will appreciate that Bord na Móna is phasing out the manufacturing of peat briquettes over the next number of years. There was the closure of the Bellacorick station quite a number of years ago, as well as a number of others in the midlands, as a result either of the bogs being cut away or very little being left, leading to a change of use either for hospitality or tourism purposes. Other issues have also been introduced. The facts and figures with respect to these two plants led to the board decision to close one; this was made on the basis of projections and so on. That does not mean the workers should not be treated with dignity and respect, as they should be. I hope they will be. If the issue is they are not being treated appropriately, it is a matter for the board. I hope it hears this message.

With respect to what the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, committed to with a combined heat and power process at Littleton, I do not speak for promises made by him. Maybe in a moment of being overly enthusiastic as to what might be-----

There have been a few of those.

In any event, it has not come true. I share the Deputy's view about dignity and respect. A substantial amount of product has not been sold, which is a clear issue. It is determined in part by the change in the nature of the way fossil fuels are treated and the new methods of energy use for domestic houses and commercial premises.

The then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, was a member of the Taoiseach's Government.

The point is serious promises were made that there would be €25 million in investment for a combined heat and power plant.

An article on tippfm.com on 5 June 2015 stated:

Funding and a fuel supply will have to be sourced before the combined heat and power plant can go to planning. [It had not even gone for planning permission or anything like it]. Because of this Deputy Lowry says Minister Kelly's announcement was premature. The Environment Minister was quick to refute Deputy Lowry's comments. However they did both agree that the investment was ultimately good news for Littleton and Tipperary.

We wonder why people are so cynical about the political system and so on, but it seems, two years on, that there was never going to be a combined heat and power plant.

We need answers. The workers were as a consequence led down a false path.

I met them last night. They thought their jobs were secure as they had been given commitments. Bord na Móna is a Government agency. It was always an agent of the State to make sure there would be economic development in the regions, particularly those which did not enjoy significant foreign direct investment or other forms of economic development. Lisheen mines were closed. There has been a series of job losses in the Tipperary region, including, for example, at Procter and Gamble and this is a further body blow. There is a need for the Taoiseach, the Government and Bord na Móna to engage properly with the workers to extend the closure date and secure a proper redundancy package and proper economic opportunities in the region for them because they have been let down badly.

Derrinlough was chosen as the sole location for future peat briquette production and the new biomass briquette plant. The review of peat operations was prompted by the very significant decline in sales in the past few years. If the product is being produced but not sold and there is no capacity to sell it, it just sits there. That is not the way it should be. Increased competition, consumer trends, lower oil prices, carbon tax and other factors have all resulted in a serious drop in sales in the past four years. There has been no date determined for closure. There is to be an orderly wind down and the opportunity to engage in new training and acquire new skills or other options for the staff who work in Littleton. When the review was concluded, it was stated that in order to sustain the business in the future the Derrinlough plant, at which 61 people are employed, would be the optimum location for future investment to secure the future of the fuels business. The head of Bord na Móna fuels said:

This has been a very difficult decision following a period of uncertainty for employees. We took a great deal of care with this review to ensure that a wide range of factors were taken into account. Briquette sales have declined significantly in the past few years as we have encountered unprecedented market, financial and regulatory challenges. Ultimately we had to make a decision.

I take the Deputy's point. Bord na Móna is engaging with the employees. I hope it will take on board the view of this House that all of the workers should be treated with respect and dignity and that all options for them should be explored thoroughly, as I would expect Bord na Móna to do in the time ahead. I will not comment any further on the commitment entered into by the former Minister.

The Taoiseach has not done that.

He has tabled it as a Topical Issue for discussion later today.

Perhaps in a moment of exuberance-----

Did the Taoiseach say the date had not been determined?

A date has not been determined. It wants an orderly wind down in order that it can engage with the employees on other options, training, new skills, etc.

I note the comments of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in County Donegal at the weekend that there should be no economic border between the North and the South. He also said we should advocate that the North should stay in the customs union and the Single Market and that any customs checks should be at ports and airports, not at land borders. He added that most people in the North had voted to Remain, as had most Members of the new Legislative Assembly, MLAs. At the risk of undermining the Minister's chance of becoming leader of Fine Gael whenever the Taoiseach finally brings his long last lonesome goodbye to a conclusion, I welcome these remarks.

When is the Deputy going to join me?

That will be even longer.

Not for a while. I look to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to outline his position on this issue.

For over four months, the Taoiseach has denied there will be customs checks along the Border. In fact, he denied that the Government was looking for locations for such checks even though that was patently untrue and was verified by the Minister for Finance who confirmed that Revenue was looking for such locations. The position of the Taoiseach was also contradicted by Michel Barnier in his address to the Oireachtas last week, when he said, "Customs controls are part of the EU border management. They protect the Single Market. They protect our food safety and our standards".

The economic implications of customs checks for the two economies on this island, especially Border communities, are enormous. Currently, island-wide trade generates over €3 billion annually. Around 60% of exports in the North are to the Irish State. Over 30,000 people travel across the Border every day for work, study and recreation. Everybody knows that if Brexit leads to tariffs and customs checks the effect will be devastating, in particular beyond the Pale in rural Ireland. Jim Woulf, chief executive of Dairygold, said, "You'll have decimation in rural Ireland with the beef, and the dairy and the mushrooms, you have the drink industry".

The Taoiseach is bound to know this. Why continue with the fiction that there will be no customs checks? As far as I can establish, this is based on the wholly meaningless statement from the British Primer Minister that there will be no return to the borders of the past. As I said, Mr. Barnier said customs controls are part of EU border management, which the Taoiseach now knows.

Clearly, negotiations are going on as we speak before their adoption at the General Affairs Council on 22 May. There is time to press for the EU to take on board the proposition for designated special status for the North within the European Union. Would it not be better to do that instead of pedalling the pretence that there will be no customs checks when the Government is looking for such locations?

Maybe Deputy Adams and I could form an unprecedented unique partnership when he leaves. He might advise me.

In respect of the Single Market, Mr. Barnier spoke here last week and outlined his views on the outcome of the European Council, the paper from the European Commission and the recommendations from the European Parliament. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland want access to the Single Market, and the Republic of Ireland is in the Single Market and will remain so.

As we are speaking today, we do not what know the outcome of the trading negotiations that will apply will be. If, for instance, there are no tariffs between Ireland and Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic or the UK and the European Union, there are still two different jurisdictions and some arrangement to deal with that will have to be made. The point of agreement by the British Government is that there will not be a return to customs posts as we all knew them many years ago along the Border. The agreement politically is that whatever the outcome on the trading relationship, a different way of dealing with this would have to be found.

It is not impossible to have a situation like that to which Deputy Adams referred. The phrases "unique circumstance", "particular and specific circumstances" and "special cases" have been repeated in respect of Northern Ireland. That is why we have the peace process, peace funds and agreement on a range of areas about what should happen with Northern Ireland.

We do not yet have a Northern Executive, and I hope that after the British general election the parties will sit down and put an Executive together before the end of June. That will not sort out this problem, but at least we might have common ground that Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and the parties do not want a return to the border of the past with hard customs posts. Nor does the Republic, and we are not going to have that.

However, we do not know the answer to the question of whether there will be tariffs and, if so, to what extent. Even if there are no tariffs, there will still be two jurisdictions, namely, the European Union and the United Kingdom. As the Deputy is well aware, the Six Counties belong to the United Kingdom and will remain so under the Good Friday Agreement until the people decide by their vote, consent and democratic means to change it. If it becomes a reality, it will be accepted by both Governments and recognised by the European Union. Until such time as the divorce proceedings deal with borders, modalities, potential liabilities, citizens' rights and reciprocal rights, we will not get into the detail and complexity of what will arise.

In fact, the Six Counties do not belong to the United Kingdom under the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement removed that claim. It is a temporary little device until the people decide they want a united Ireland.

It is not a temporary device but the constitutional position.

The Taoiseach says we will not have a hard border, but he does not tell us how he will prevent it from coming about. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has rightly pointed out that there should be no economic border at all between the North and the South. Can the Taoiseach not say that? The Minister said we should advocate for the North to stay in the customs union and the Single Market and that any customs checks should be at ports and airports, not at land borders. He pointed out that most people in the North had voted to remain, as did most of the MLAs elected to the new Assembly. Can the Taoiseach not say that? He knows that Sinn Féin's resolve is to get the institutions back in place as quickly and as soon as possible. If the Border becomes a land border between the European Union and the non-European Union, there will be tariffs and customs checks along the Border and divisions on the island will deepen. However, the Taoiseach has yet to say this should not happen and point out why. He has yet to make it a negotiating priority. I invite him to do so now. Having heard the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar's position, does he happen to know what the position of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is?

I happen to know what the position is. An agreement has been reached with the European Council that Ireland will be recognised as having particular and unique circumstances which apply to it. The European Council has also recognised that it has no intention of returning to a hard border. Deputy Gerry Adams says there will be no tariffs, but he is not in a position to do so, given that negotiations on the issue have not yet commenced. I am telling the Deputy that even if there were no tariffs, we would still have two jurisdictions, namely, the European Union and the United Kingdom. There might be customs checks at Pembroke or Holyhead. If one looks at eastern European countries where border checks applied in the recent past, there were eight and ten hour delays. That is not what we want as it leads to inefficiencies, inordinate delays, paperwork, jobs issues and all the rest. We do not want that. We have a situation where freight and machinery can move throughout Europe on the basis of the invoices alone. That is the Single Market.

The British Government is stating it wants to have as close as possible a relationship with the European Union, albeit that is what we now have. The British Government made the decision that it wanted out of the Single Market and a changed status in respect of a customs union. These are matters which have not even been talked about in the detail that will lead to negotiations. The first issue to be addressed, as Mr. Barnier pointed out here, consists of liabilities and modalities, what that means and whether there is a figure. The second issue is citizens' rights and reciprocal rights, while the third is the Border. We have all of these things while Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland want to be part of the Single Market. However, there is an aggregate vote, as a result of which the United Kingdom decided to leave and which is causing all kinds of trouble. In the next two and a half to three years an inordinate amount of political time will be taken up in dealing with something we did not wish for in the first place. However, we have to respect it and deal with the consequences.

Last summer, the Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Simon Coveney, made a commitment that by 1 July this year no homeless families would be left in hotels. More than 800 families are still in this situation with six weeks to go. Maybe when the Minister made this commitment he was hoping that by 1 July he would have moved on to better things and some other Minister would have to take the flak. This target will not be reached despite the Minister's most recent assurances. Even with the development of so-called hubs, and I believe there is a plan to establish up to ten of these in Dublin, they will certainly not be ready for use by July. These hubs are in themselves a form of temporary emergency accommodation. Admittedly they are better than hotels or bed and breakfasts, but moving families from one form of emergency accommodation to another, often miles away from the schools their children attend, is not a solution and Niamh Randall from Simon Communities stressed this point this morning on "Morning Ireland".

The other key question about the hubs is how long will families be there before they are properly housed. We now know the rapid build modular houses, proposed originally as temporary homes, are to become permanent homes. Will the hubs become a permanent feature of this Government's dysfunctional housing policy? Given the absence of public housing these families will only get housing in the private rental sector, but this morning the Simon Communities announced on the basis of a survey it did that nine out of ten rental properties are beyond the reach of those availing of housing assistance payment, HAP, and other rent supports. On the other side of this, increasing numbers of families are finding themselves homeless month by month. On top of this, a number of families are living in overcrowded accommodation elsewhere.

I know the Taoiseach will come back at me with a load of figures and projections for house building, but they are not real. Next to nothing is happening, which is why we now have the incredible plan from the Minister to gift to private developers 800 sites on 20,000 ha of land, owned by local authorities in the main, on which 50,000 housing units could be built. This has been described as the sale of the century. I would describe it as the sell-out of the century, on a par with the rip-off of our oil and gas resources, the bank bailout and the bonanza for vulture funds represented by NAMA. Is it not time to end this madness, stop, take stock and commit to a programme of public housing, starting with the construction of 50,000 units on these State lands?

The Deputy's solution is facile to say the least. She could have said 50,000, 70,000 or 100,000 because she seems to imagine housing can be conjured up just like that. She stated these things are not real. What is real is population growth of 3.8% which is greater than the growth in housing stock, which is 0.4%. The average household size has increased for the first time since 1966. Overall housing stock increased by a net 9,000 units. Respondents reported 33,436 units built, admittedly since 2011. I understand 23,000 families and individuals are on HAP schemes. That is a real figure but they are also real people, families and individuals assisted through HAP and living in their homes. The unusual thing is I never hear of anybody being interviewed who has been moved into a house with which they are happy with their families. It is if they never existed. They have been moved out of hotels and out of homelessness and into sustainable long-term housing conditions. It is as if they are just figures who moved off into the darkness.

They are even being evicted from HAPs.

Planning permission has been granted for 16,375 new homes. That is a real figure. Unlike Deputy Collins, we have to build the houses. This means when we have the planning permission we have to have somebody with the blocks, concrete and facilities to be able to build the houses. This is why rapid build housing has been part and parcel of the five pillars for housing we have here. Am I to understand when the Deputy says this that George's Place in Dún Laoghaire, which is of interest to Deputy Boyd Barrett-----

They have been talking about that for years and nothing has happened. They are-----

There are to be 12 homes provided there. In St. Aidan's in Brookfield in Tallaght, 71 homes-----

-----tied up in the procurement process.

In Poppintree in Ballymun there are 22 homes, all of which are occupied.

If Deputy Collins and I went there I wonder if we would see those houses. Would we meet the families who are there? Would she tell me that they are not real, that they are a mirage-----

The ones in Dún Laoghaire are definitely a mirage.

-----or that there is something there that is not real? There will be 24 homes built in Cherry Orchard, 30 in Mourne Road in Drimnagh, 39 in St. Helena's in Finglas, and so on. These are real sites, real opportunities and places where construction is under way to provide rapid build homes for people who need them. I admit there are challenges facing the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in addressing the question of not resorting to the use of hotels by the end of June. I think the Deputy referred to 800 families. My information from yesterday's Cabinet sub-committee meeting is that the figure is about 600 and my information from the housing department is that she will see a very substantial drop in that number by the end of June. It is always a very difficult challenge to meet because it is exceptionally ambitious but they are really focused on moving this along.

As well as that, there are 28,000 vacant homes in the suburbs of Dublin. These are real dwellings but sometimes when one goes to look at them the figures might not be as accurate. There are 750 in the Finglas area but sometimes these are not habitable and have to be brought back to a good shape, and there are incentives and opportunities to do that, whether they be public or private houses.

The Taoiseach called my proposal facile. I call his policy a failure. As I expected, he has come back with figures, projections and plans, none of which add up. They are a fantasy. It is a fantasy to believe that the private sector, which was responsible for the problem in the first place, will now be the solution. I am talking about local authority homes.

I refer the Taoiseach and the Minister to proposals put forward recently by the Nevin Economic Research Institute, a body funded by the trade unions. It proposed the creation of a national housing company which could borrow off the books at low rates to build 10,000 public housing units a year to be rented on the basis of the European cost recovery model and at a level to recover the initial investment but below the market rates. That would provide one third of new housing units needed per year and take pressure off the private rented sector and it would also create a mixed tenure, which the Minister has described as desirable. I remind the Taoiseach also that it is in the programme for Government.

I attended a public meeting in Inchicore last night. It was a very well attended meeting and judging by the mood and the determination of the people present, who are absolutely opposed to public land being sold or leased to private developers, they intend to develop a campaign against this policy, The Better Way campaign, and build a significant opposition to selling off our public lands. I ask the Taoiseach again to please come forward with a proper proposal to deal with the thousands of people on the housing waiting lists and those who are waiting to leave hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation.

Yes, and that is part of the five pillars set out by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in his programme. The State land mapping process has concluded that there are over 700 local authority and Housing Agency owned sites-----

Blocked off for your developer friends.

-----totalling about 1,700 ha, which is a substantial amount of land. There is the potential to build, as Deputy Collins said, 50,000 homes.

By private developers.

The position is that local authorities are now tasked with preparing strategic plans to get on with that business. Twenty five or 30 years ago, local authorities always built more than enough houses and then they got out of that business entirely.

This Government has given money, facilities and incentives to local authorities to do their job. For instance, we are now making rental a more attractive proposition for investors. The Department of Finance has set up a working group on the tax and fiscal treatment of landlords, which includes officials from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. We are taking action to bring vacant properties back into use. The repair and lease scheme, under which local authorities will refurbish vacant properties and lease them from their owners, was rolled out in February. That is real. That will deliver 3,500 properties by 2021. It will cost €150 million. They are making money available through the Housing Finance Agency to higher education institutes. They can now borrow money to build student accommodation, which will free up those houses where students are currently located.

We support the build-to-rent development through pathfinder sites. In February, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, launched major infrastructural works at the Cherrywood site in Dublin, costing €35 million. We have requested the local authorities in rent pressure zones to use publicly owned sites to kickstart supply. In that regard, Dublin City Council brought forward a land initiative covering the three sites, at O'Devaney Gardens, Oscar Traynor Road and St. Michael's in Inchicore. They are seeking partners to deliver a mix of social, affordable and private housing. These are all real aspects of the progress being made in terms of housing.

Real plans but not real houses.

In respect of An Garda Síochána, in recent weeks the public has been informed of the rampant financial mismanagement in Templemore, the potential bugging of the political opponent of a Minister, highly unusual leasing arrangements between the OPW and a Garda-owned golf club, and the widespread distribution of a video of a young woman in a distressed state by a serving garda, apparently for amusement. These are only a fraction of the scandals that have enveloped the force under the current Government, Commissioner and Minister. The scale of the maladministration, incompetence and potential corruption that have come to light is staggering. It is obvious why public confidence in the force is in tatters but it is shocking that those in authority seem completely oblivious to this. Instead, the Taoiseach and his Government colleagues attack anyone who attempts to bring these failures to light.

Regardless of whether the Commissioner was informed of the issues in Templemore in a two-hour briefing or a quick chat over tea, her responsibility under the Garda Síochána Act is abundantly clear. It beggars belief to claim that informing the Minister of these issues was a matter of judgment. The Commissioner's failure to notify the Minister for 15 months was a complete dereliction of statutory responsibility to keep the Minister fully informed of any significant developments that might reasonably be expected to adversely affect public confidence in the Garda Síochána, as stated in the Act. The fact that the Tánaiste appears to believe this is a political attack on her and that raising these issues is to increase the pressure on her as Minister, as she said, is the height of arrogance. It speaks to a Minister well aware that the removal of the previous Garda Commissioner set in motion the chain of events that led to the end of her predecessor's time in ministerial office. It is looking very much as if history is going to repeat itself.

This, however, is not about one justice Minister or one Commissioner; it is about systemic dysfunctionality deeply rooted in one of the most vital organs of the State. No one here is looking for a head on a plate for the sake of it; what we want is real reform. It needs to happen now, however, and not after a commission of inquiry or another review.

There was a time, at the time of the setting up of the Charleton inquiry, when it would have been sufficient for the Commissioner to step aside without prejudice. That time is gone, however. What is desperately needed now is a change in culture that can come about only if the Commissioner and the senior management team are changed. That is what is required. Can the Taoiseach explain why he will not join all Members on this side of the House who have come to the conclusion that we cannot continue under the present regime with a Commissioner and a senior management team who do not understand the principles involved in accountability and being answerable to the public?

The Deputy raised questions about potential corruption, bugging and accountability, and she raised the most distressing issue of all, which was the video of a young woman who is no longer with us. We share the grief of her family over the tragedy. That matter is being investigated as a matter of urgency by the Garda. I understand from reports that the footage was taken on a mobile phone.

The Deputy made her point about that. She also made a point about bugging, an issue of particular importance and on which I have read the newspaper reports. As the Deputy will be well aware, there is a designated judge who deals with the question of listening to particular individuals. The Deputy does not comment on any of these cases because they are small in number. I have the last report from 10 November last year by Mr. Justice Paul McDermott in front of me. He states:

2. On 27th October, 2016 I attended at the Office of the Department of Justice and Equality ... and met with officials who made available to me documents and records relating to the operation of the Acts, as requested. I examined the files and records furnished and spoke to the officials responsible for the operation of the Acts and liaison with other authorities in respect of same. All documents requested by me were furnished and all questions posed by me in relation to the files and records produced were answered to my satisfaction.

3. On 27th October, 2016 I attended at the headquarters of An Garda Síochána ... I met with officers and personnel responsible for the operation of the above Acts. I examined computer records and hard copy tiles relating to the operation of the above Acts which were made available for my inspection and all documents and records which I requested were furnished and examined. All questions posed by me in relation to the operation of the Acts and the documents and records produced were answered to my satisfaction.

He concludes: "I am satisfied having examined the records and documents produced to me and from the information conveyed to me at these meetings that the relevant State authorities are in compliance with the provisions of the above Acts as of the date of this report".

What the Deputy referred to in respect of allegations of bugging goes back quite a number of years. I do not have the date, but obviously there was a situation where there were different Ministers for Justice for quite a long time. In respect of bugging, this is a very serious matter and the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day is not in a position to order that an individual be eavesdropped upon using telecommunications without having an official of the Department verify in the first instance that it would comply with the Act and that it would be overseen by the High Court judge with responsibility for this matter. There is a lot of stuff in the ether about which I would like to know the facts. As I understand it, the case the Deputy mentioned went before the courts not for bugging or eavesdropping but for personal injuries. It was a different matter and this was an element of the case. Be that as it may, it is a very serious allegation. I am giving the Deputy the result of the judge's most recent report on compliance with the Act in so far as the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána are concerned. All of the evidence, files and computers were made available and all of the questions were answered to the satisfaction of the judge.

The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána is the Accounting Officer for the Garda Vote. She is responsible to the Committee of Public Accounts for dealing with the Vote. The matter is being investigated by the committee and it is not for me or the Deputy to interfere with its work. In law, the Commissioner is responsible to the Committee of Public Accounts as Accounting Officer for the Garda Vote and we should let the committee do its work.

We are way over time.

On the Deputy's comment on dysfunctionality, this morning the Government approved the commission on the future of policing in Ireland with detailed terms of reference and a list of people who have great experience in the law, policing and other elements of society. The commission's report is not being asked for in 15 months. There will be a rolling report whereby the commission can make recommendations, on which the Government will act, on a regular basis. In other words, as recommendations come through in respect of policing, they can be dealt with by the Government, instead of waiting a full 15 or 18 months for a final report. The terms of reference are good, detailed and exact and the commission will give a different impetus to the way the culture in the Garda evolves.

The independent Policing Authority recently made an appointment as a new assistant commissioner of a policeman whom I happen to know from his work in the north inner city. He is the kind of person the Deputy would be proud to have appointed by an independent body. He has done his work in difficult circumstances in the past few years.

The Deputy shakes her head. Maybe she does not agree. The fact of the matter is that no senior appointment to the gardaí in future will be made by anything to do with any Commissioner or anything to do with any Government, but by an independent Policing Authority, which is the way that it should be.

That simply is not good enough. The Taoiseach is hiding behind the Committee of Public Accounts. No official investigation is going on within the Committee of Public Accounts. It is looking at this issue; there is no official investigation. It does not prevent the Taoiseach from acting and doing what he should be doing if he takes his political responsibility seriously. Rather than going off on a tangent, the Taoiseach might respond to the very fundamental issues that I have raised about political responsibility on the Taoiseach's part and on the part of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality.

We cannot wait for the results of yet another investigation, another review or another commission of inquiry while the Garda force continues to implode before our very eyes. It is clear the upper echelons of the gardaí are too embedded in the current unhealthy and unaccountable culture to do their job properly. The only way we will address the core failings of the gardaí is to appoint a new team. We cannot continue with the regime where it seems the objective is to obfuscate and defend the indefensible, while discipline in the gardaí is neglected, where morale continues to fall and where public confidence in the rule of law is at an all time low. We must have action from either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality. They need to do what needs to be done and to stop obfuscating.

The Deputy makes a comment and does not say what she wants. She said before that-----

It is very clear that I want the Taoiseach to remove the Commissioner and the senior management.

-----she was not looking for anybody's head and talked about dysfunctionality. Then she said to me to do what I am supposed to do.

The fact of the matter is that the Tánaiste accepts political responsibility for her actions here.

It does not address the issue.

All the recommendations of the interim report on Templemore have been implemented by this Commissioner. This is the Commissioner who has referred this to the Committee of Public Accounts to whom she is responsible as Accounting Officer.

She is accountable as Accounting Officer for the Vote to An Garda Síochána. While the Deputy says it is not being investigated-----

The Taoiseach is hiding behind the Committee of Public Accounts again.

The Committee of Public Accounts considered this the other day and whether it should expedite its analysis of all the reports it has received.

Deputy Kenny is the Taoiseach.

The changes that have been made are fundamental and it takes some time for a change of culture to evolve in an organisation like An Garda Síochána and Deputy Shortall will find that, over a period of time, as the independent Policing Authority makes its senior appointments, both civilian and from or to the force-----

-----there will be an increase in the public's confidence and trust because of the way the nature and culture of the gardaí will change. Of course there have been difficulties - so many - and not just now. The Deputy talked about bugging earlier and about a time back in the early 2000s. I do not have evidence of that. I am giving the Deputy the changed-----

It happened under the Taoiseach's watch.

-----nature of what has happened here from the report I received from Mr. Justice Paul Anthony McDermott about bugging-----

Independent appointments and a Policing Authority.

-----following comments the Deputy made earlier.

That concludes Leaders' Questions, which, incidentally, has overrun by 16 minutes today.