I remember Deputy McDowell climbing a pole during the election campaign and promising to be a watchdog on Fianna Fáil. One way of doing that is to arm the watchdog with information. In fact, if the watchdog gets enough information, it can turn into a bloodhound and serve democracy well. The bone for the watchdog and the bloodhound is in subsection (a) where information requested by Opposition parties will be put out of bounds. The dog will be killed and stuffed, however, by the second part of the section because the really serious information to which we are entitled anyway - the supplementary information concerning parliamentary questions - will no longer be provided to us. It is a pity that the Progressive Democrats in their appointed role as watchdogs have been missing for this part of the caper. To continue the canine analogy, it is invidious that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats should attempt to muzzle Parliament by refusing to supply information which has made the quality of debate in this country far better as a consequence of the information being available.
Due to how well the economy has done and because of our need for significant infrastructure, the Government is spending large amounts of taxpayers' money. In order for Parliament to operate properly, however, it is critical for us to have information about that expenditure, for example, whether it goes on health, education, the Garda Síochána or the national pension reserve fund. There is no point in providing the information six months after the end of the year to which the information refers because at that stage we will only be investigating past history through political archaeology.
Parliamentary questions enable us to put queries to the Minister for Finance about the economic issues of the day and how Ministers generally are performing in their Departments. For example, in the ongoing debate over the Government's failure to fulfil its promises about new or refurbished schools, all the Opposition spokespersons routinely ask the Minister for Education and Science about expenditure on such schools that were promised by Fianna Fáil. From now on, however, an Opposition spokesperson who poses questions will not be able to obtain the supplementary file which shows the real spending levels and where the money is being spent. Instead, the Minister has put up a puny website which lists eight or nine spending levels. It resembles an algebraic construction, which apparently provides information but is designed to confuse people even more. In that context, therefore, the right of parliamentarians to ask parliamentary questions is even more important, as is the right to obtain background information. The Minister's decision to place essential supplementary information off limits is a bad day's work.
In his arrogance, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, decided he did not wish to be associated with some of the supplementary information his civil servants give him by way of briefing notes because it is so poor. How arrogant that is. If that is what the civil servants do, then that is what they do. If a briefing note is particularly poor it is up to the Secretary General of that Department to say to the civil servant involved, "Look, that was not terribly useful to the Minister".
Two months ago, I tabled a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform seeking details of the allocation of community gardaí in the greater Dublin area. That is a big issue for working class communities in the city. The Department, however, is unable to give me that information. Our spokesperson on justice will be asking for the information in an oral question, unless I get the information soon, yet the Minister will be putting the background information out of our reach. He will claim, meanwhile, that this is because of the incompetence of civil servants who have provided him with a poor reply. The Civil Service is to be the patsy and because the briefing notes may not be up to the Minister's standards he will not give us any information. That is pathetic. In fact, it is Orwellian for the Minister to say that since civil servants' briefing notes are so poor he will not even release them. It is a fantastic excuse for hiding his incompetence and failure to deal with policing issues and, thus, escape proper scrutiny by Dáil Éireann. Consequently, the Labour Party is opposing resolutely the entire section.