Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21)

Enda Kenny

Question:

1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the progress to date of the implementation of those elements of the programme for Government for which his Department is responsible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1019/04]

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Denis Naughten

Question:

2 Mr. Naughten asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1391/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Question:

3 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of those areas of An Agreed Programme for Government for which his Department has responsibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2898/04]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

4 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress made to date in implementing An Agreed Programme for Government. [3707/04]

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Simon Coveney

Question:

5 Mr. Coveney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4884/04]

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John Deasy

Question:

6 Mr. Deasy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4885/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

7 Mr. Durkan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4886/04]

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Olwyn Enright

Question:

8 Ms Enright asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4887/04]

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Phil Hogan

Question:

9 Mr. Hogan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4888/04]

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Dinny McGinley

Question:

10 Mr. McGinley asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4889/04]

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Gay Mitchell

Question:

11 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4890/04]

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Olivia Mitchell

Question:

12 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4891/04]

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Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

13 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4892/04]

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Michael Ring

Question:

14 Mr. Ring asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4893/04]

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Billy Timmins

Question:

15 Mr. Timmins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4894/04]

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Richard Bruton

Question:

16 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4895/04]

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Paul Connaughton

Question:

17 Mr. Connaughton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4896/04]

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John Bruton

Question:

18 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4897/04]

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Bernard Allen

Question:

19 Mr. Allen asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4898/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

20 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on progress on implementation of those aspects of the programme for Government for which he is responsible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5643/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Question:

21 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on progress made in the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5656/04]

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Oral answers (109 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 21, inclusive, together.

Progress on the Government programme is kept constantly under review. Deputies will be aware that for every full year of the last Government's term of office, we published an annual progress report. Last summer, we published the first annual progress report of the current Administration and it is my intention to publish a further report this year.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a statement to the House on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. Our programme for Government is both clear in intent and specific in detail. It is the agreed agenda for this partnership Government over five full years. The starting point for the current programme for Government was rooted in a recognition that in an ever-changing world the reform process is never over. As a Government, we are determined to keep driving forward.

In implementing this programme for Government, we will not rest on past successes. Instead, we will build on the solid foundations we have put in place since 1997. In setting out to implement our commitments, we will bring forward and progress the many ambitious legislative proposals. Since the present Government took office on 6 June 2002 to the return of the Dáil for this session, 65 Bills have been published, 58 Bills have been already enacted into law and there are currently 35 Bills before the Oireachtas.

Given the scale of the Government's legislative programme and the large number of specific commitments set out in An Agreed Programme for Government, it would be impossible in the time allotted to fully detail the amount of progress already delivered. The details are, in any event, more appropriate to be addressed to individual Ministers.

The cornerstones of An Agreed Programme for Government are based on our desire to build a better Ireland for everyone and our promises to protect and expand prosperity for all, to strengthen peace and reconciliation, to guarantee improved pensions, to reform and develop our health services and to invest in better public services. Without economic strength, there will never be an Ireland where everyone can prosper and fulfil his or her potential. A key objective of the programme for Government is to sustain a strong economy and keep the finances of general Government close to balance or in surplus. In that regard, an Exchequer deficit of €980 million was recorded in 2003. This compares with the budget 2003 target deficit for the year of €1,869 million.

In the year ahead we will make no apologies for continuing the process of prudent management of public expenditure in order to protect the significant gains we have made over recent years. We know that it is simply unsustainable to continue to increase spending without regard to the resources available to fund it. That is why in the year ahead we will continue to hold firm to a prudent approach and greater prioritisation of spending. This will enable us to capitalise on the upturn in the global economy, signs of which are already evident in the United States.

Our overriding priority as set out in the programme for Government is to secure lasting peace in Northern Ireland and we have worked intensively towards this objective. We will continue to apply all our energies in support of the Good Friday Agreement as it remains the template for political progress.

Other key commitments which have been delivered or where major progress has been made include our commitment to submit the Nice treaty on enlargement to the people in a referendum in a way which addressed the concerns of the people as expressed during previous referenda and in the National Forum on Europe was delivered on last year; our commitment to play a full part in the European Convention and the Europe-wide debate on the future shape of the European Union which is being spearheaded by the Government; our commitment to establish an agency to finance major public projects saw the enactment in December 2002 of the National Development Finance Agency Act 2002, and the Government on 1 January 2003, established the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA; our commitment to address Ireland's infrastructural deficit in a coherent determined way which is the reason the Government has committed itself to capital investment of €33.6 billion over the next five years; our commitment to implement a multistranded approach to addressing housing needs right across the spectrum with up-to-date figures showing that house completions nationally of 47,758 units for the first nine months of 2003 were up by 18.3% on the same period in 2002; our commitment to encourage a better spread of jobs throughout the country and people should not forgot that our rate of unemployment is amongst the lowest in the EU; our commitment to bring forward a programme of fundamental reform of the insurance industry and I refer to the comprehensive set of interrelated measures designed to improve the functioning of the Irish insurance market brought forward by the Tánaiste; our commitment to rural development and, in particular, our delivery on our pledge to widen the CLÁR boundaries as a result of the relevant data from the census; our commitment to ensure the implementation of the penalty points system at an early date and the impact this has made on road safety in the country; our commitment to ensure the putting in place of open access broadband on a national basis and the roll-out of a new €65 million national broadband scheme which will deliver high-speed Internet access to 19 key towns around the country; our commitment to complete the national spatial strategy; our commitment to introduce a proceeds of corruption Act modelled on the proceeds of crime legislation; our commitment to gain the maximum benefit for public patients from private hospital capacity through initiatives such as the treatment purchase fund which has treated over 9,000 patients from its inception in July 2002; our commitment to implement the national health strategy and to significantly reform our health services which has seen the Government announce decisions regarding a new Health Services Executive that will include a national hospital office, a primary and continuing care directorate and a shared services centre; our commitment to ensure that every school building attains modern standards which means that this year the budget for school buildings will be €387 million, in our primary schools, spending on buildings will exceed €200 million; and our commitment to protect the fundamental principles of CAP underlined by the strong stance we have adopted in defending the benefits achieved under the Agenda 2000 agreement in the current CAP reform and WTO negotiations.

On social partnership, the negotiations on the successor agreement to the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness concluded last February and each of the four social partner pillars has now formally ratified the new agreement, Sustaining Progress. The new agreement covers the period 2003-05 in respect of the wider policy framework and provides for an interim pay agreement of 18 months duration.

The Taoiseach gave an extensive reply. The programme for Government refers specifically to the provision of funding for local authorities, stating that the Government will earmark specific funds which will be available to them for the achievement of defined environmental targets. I have a press release in the name of Councillor Eleanor Roche concerning the county managers' levy scheme, as proposed for local authority funding in County Wicklow. It states that the list of priorities provided by the council is little more than "our work of fiction" and that the scheme put before it by the county managers is entirely unacceptable. This press release was issued from the office of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach.

I am reluctant to intervene but these 21 questions to the Taoiseach are of a general nature. I am not even sure if the question the Deputy is raising is appropriate to the line Minister and that it is not one for the local authority itself.

The Ceann Comhairle is sure of many other things.

It may well be a matter for the local authority itself, not even for the line Minister.

I want to ask the Taoiseach a question about this. This press release was issued from the office of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach about local authority funding. It says to contact Deputy Dick Roche for information.

That does not arise in the context of these questions.

It does.

It does. Does the Taoiseach not consider this an abuse of political power?

That does not arise.

This is a statement issued from the office of the Minister of State.

The Deputy has made his point and it does not arise out of these questions. The Chair has ruled on the matter.

It does arise.

Is the Taoiseach aware that this is happening in his Department?

That does not arise.

The Taoiseach wants to answer the question.

Will the Taoiseach investigate how many hundred thousand of these press releases were sent out?

The Deputy is going well outside the scope of the 21 questions.

The Taoiseach wants to answer the question. This deals with a section from the programme for Government referring to local authority funding.

These questions do not relate to specific matters.

This statement refers to funding of local authorities as "our work of fiction" and it was issued from the Department of the Taoiseach.

It is a matter for the local authority in the first instance and I am not even sure that is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is definitely not a matter for the Taoiseach.

It was from ministerofstateroche@taoiseach.gov.ie.

It is a contradiction of the programme for Government.

What is the Taoiseach's view of the section of the programme for Government dealing with funding for local authorities?

We are entitled to a reply.

The Taoiseach wants to answer the question.

A document by a councillor, regardless of who that councillor is, should not issue from the Minister of State's office. I will check that because it should not be the case.

Name the councillor.

It should not be the case regardless of who the councillor is. The Deputy named the councillor; it was the wife of the Minister of State. Irrespective of who it is, a Government office should not be used. I will check the matter. On the broad question, the allocation of the fund and the procedures for it in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are working well.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the heading in the Government's programme concerning an integrated transport policy is a work of fiction in that we do not have such an integrated system and there does not seem to be any plan for one? The Government has plans for the integration of smart cards, a greater Dublin land use authority, co-ordination of housing development and, where public transport is to be provided, facilities for poorly-serviced areas. Does the Taoiseach agree that none of that has happened to date and that neither the Minister nor the Government has any plans to bring it about?

No, I do not agree. With the integration of transport into the national spatial strategy, transport infrastructure has greatly improved in recent years. The Government has created an integrated Department of Transport for the first time. It is a major element of the national plan and transport infrastructure continues to contribute to economically and socially-balanced regional development. We should be thankful that, for the first time in recent years, we have been able to put in the resources to provide roads, airports and other infrastructure. Such infrastructure is directly related to the improvement in transport and it is working. It is all planned in an integrated way. The latest rail document and the plans for Luas and the airport represent some things that we have not yet achieved. There are issues surrounding a metro in Dublin and an improved road structure to Shannon. Those are priority areas and must be taken into account.

Spending on infrastructure now represents 5% of GDP. If we sustain that investment we will make an enormous difference. A total of 37 projects have been completed in just over three years. About 17 projects are being constructed at present, with several others due to start this year. It is the continuation of such a policy over several years, along with investment in rail, that will make the difference.

I refer the Taoiseach to the section of the programme for Government which refers to achieving:

a complete and lasting cessation of all paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and throughout these islands, including punishment beatings and shootings, and the transformation of movements linked to paramilitary organisations into exclusively democratic organisations and completion of the process of putting arms beyond use.

To what extent does the Taoiseach believe those objectives have been achieved? I refer to today's Order Paper which contains several statutory instruments relating to regulations on decommissioning. If I recall the original regulations were due to expire in May 2000 in line with the Belfast Agreement and, among other things, they confer immunity on members of illegal organisations engaged in the process of decommissioning. According to my reading of the orders, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has decided to extend those regulations, or introduce new ones, for another year. Is that being done by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the basis that the Government genuinely believes there is some prospect of success within that period?

Extending the order is provided for in the legislation which was passed by the House of Commons and the Oireachtas. It was passed in the hope that we would have resolved the issue of decommissioning of all weapons several years ago as specified in the original Act. We have not succeeded in achieving that and this is to provide for the extension of the order under the original legislation. Admittedly, it is a longer timescale than we intended at the outset.

On the first question, I set out the Government's position in Coleraine. It is the Government's view that we have not seen an end to paramilitary activity from many sources. If we are to move on, we must try to end paramilitarism in all its forms on one side. Thequid pro quo for that, which is the essential element on the other side, is that we secure a comprehensive agreement that the power-sharing executive, administration and institutions, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, are implemented. The review is ongoing but the House will be aware, and I have said it a number of times recently, that we are unlikely to make the substantial progress required unless there is implementation of the acts of completion policy that both the Irish and British Governments have been following since autumn 2001. That is the Government’s belief.

We will do all we can to secure full implementation of the agreement and to ensure the issues of equality, criminal justice and so forth are dealt with. However, to get a comprehensive settlement we must get a clear position on the end of paramilitarism in all its forms. At present, we are not at that position. The review talks are taking place today and I did all I could over the weekend to ensure everybody stayed at those talks. As I speak, I hope everybody is at the talks but that has proven quite difficult in recent days. However, that is what we are endeavouring to do. I consulted all the parties in an effort to get people to stay at the talks but, obviously, we will not get to where we are trying to go unless there is a clear position on the end of paramilitarism from all quarters. That is essential but we have not yet reached that position.

A Cheann Comhairle——

A total of 21 Deputies submitted questions today and the Chair wishes to facilitate as many of them as possible.

The Government pledged in the programme for Government that it would continue to examine and address legislative or administrative barriers to voter registration and voting and that a drive to encourage voter registration for the 2004 polls would be undertaken. Is the Taoiseach aware that a major barrier has arisen for thousands of people who have moved into new homes, especially in recent months? The full register of electors has been published but people who are not included on it and wish to register for the supplementary registers between now and the June elections must get their forms stamped at the local Garda station, produce identification and so forth. It is a cumbersome way——

The Deputy's question might be more appropriate for the line Minister responsible. It does not really arise from the 21 questions before us.

Yes. I will not go into further detail but it is a crucial part of the Government's policy. Will the Taoiseach consider how this could be addressed by legislation to remove this barrier so thousands more can be on the register by 11 June?

I do not wish to go into the detail. The reason was that under the old system, the rules governing the supplementary register were extremely tight and only a small minority of people could get on such a register. The rules were changed some years ago to allow for a late register. The main register is fine and is published. It allows time for people to check the register and to authenticate the process. The supplementary register is subject to correction for, I think, 12 days right up to the election period. There is no possibility of anyone being able to check that register. Therefore, if there was no police or similar check, anything could be on the supplementary register. The reason for this was to help people to register. It was to allow people to register late but to check the register.

It is cumbersome.

It is necessary. In my constituency during a previous election 18 people on the register had an address at a derelict site. I hope those 18 people were not in the house when it was knocked down but they were on the register.

Lots of work and overtime.

We cannot have a situation where 12 days before an election, we bring in a supplementary register which will leave no opportunity for it to be checked by anyone.

Did they own the site?

People could then just pack in names and we cannot allow that. I am not arguing with the Deputy. That was the reason. The police station connection was to provide for some kind of authentic check to protect the system.

In his initial reply the Taoiseach produced a lovely phrase. He said, "In an ever-changing world the reform process never ends." It sounds like the makings of a good election manifesto but we will not go into that. Has the Taoiseach evaluated the performance of the various Departments to which he referred in his initial reply with a view to determining the degree to which the targets set in An Agreed Programme for Government are deliverable within the period in question?

Yes, in general. The reason we publish an annual and interim report each year is for the purpose of checking against delivery. Perhaps it is not always possible to do everything over a period but Departments, Ministers and the system are working towards delivering what is set out as fully and completely as possible.

An Agreed Programme for Government mentions a commitment to examine, in conjunction with the Commission, the possibility of extending disadvantaged area status to all of the BMW region. I take it that this was included in the programme at the behest of the Progressive Democrats, because this commitment is the only difference between the Fianna Fáil manifesto and the programme for Government. In many responses to me on the issue, the Minister for Agriculture and Food has stated that the Commission has pointed out to officials of the Department that there may be a risk associated with this issue. If we seek reclassification of the area, there could be a difficulty ——

That is a question for the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

I understand from the Taoiseach's body language that he is familiar with the issue. Could he put these people, particularly those in Laois, Offaly and Monaghan, out of their misery and tell them that there will be no reclassification?

The Deputy has made his point.

He is going to don the wellies.

I appreciate the point the Deputy is making. Generous grants were paid out last year under various schemes to disadvantaged areas. We have now agreed, as the Deputy knows, to a system which will continue to put substantial resources into agriculture until 2013. I do not see major changes in the disadvantaged area system.

They are not getting it. The Taoiseach referred earlier to balanced regional development in the context of the national development plan. An independent consultant's report on the expenditure and investment in the roads system for the first three years of the plan revealed that 150% of the allocation for the greater Dublin area was spent while only 57% of the allocation for the Border, midlands and west region was spent. What kind of balanced regional development is that?

Given the weekend statements by unions on decentralisation, will the Taoiseach indicate if the decentralisation programme was driven by political motives or for spatial strategy reasons, which is what we understood lay behind it? Will the Taoiseach comment on the utterances of unions at the weekend?

And this morning as well.

The Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, is not yet Taoiseach. He should let the Taoiseach speak for himself.

What happened this morning?

On the first point, as I said earlier, 37 projects involving 255 km. of road were completed in the past three years and a significant number of other projects are already under construction. There are 16 new start-up projects, including Ennis, Sligo, Dundalk, Naas and Fermoy. A large number of new projects are coming on stream. What affected the balance, as the Deputy rightly stated, was the sum of more than €500 million spent on the Dublin Port tunnel, which is a huge construction.

There is always something.

There is not.

There is always something.

Deputy Connaughton should allow the Taoiseach. He is denying his colleagues an opportunity to speak.

Looking at the public private partnership programmes, a project that will suit Deputy Connaughton as he travels to and from his home is the new road from Kilcock to Kinnegad.

We are a good while waiting for that.

That 55 km. will be the longest stretch in the country.

When the M50 is built, will the Taoiseach ring-fence it?

Deputy Connaughton should allow the Taoiseach speak.

As the Deputy knows, the other part of that road is being fast-tracked and that will substantially help him on his journey from Kinnegad to Athlone.

Are we not waiting for it for 50 years?

Deputy Connaughton should allow the Taoiseach speak without interruption.

Work is taking place on the Loughrea section. The Deputy will soon be able to travel home in no time. I am assisting his quality of life in a major way so that he will be able to travel to the Dáil more easily.

That is a sleight of hand. We are 50 years waiting for this project. If the Taoiseach's party had its chance, that road would not have been built either.

It is a good job we got back that field in Loughrea.

What is more important, the project could not have been done without it.

The fact is we got it back and got on with the work. It is proceeding well.

The other issue raised was the current element of the decentralisation programme. I do not consider decentralisation to be new because the largest number of civil servants were moved from Dublin ten years ago when I was Minister for Finance. The current element is another block of the programme. We must continue with it as part of the national spatial strategy and our decentralisation programme to bring balanced regional development to the country.

The way things are going, the Taoiseach will need to go back to the Department of Finance if the civil servants are to move this time.

We must move this block of civil servants over the next number of years as well.

Would the Taoiseach not agree that it might be more appropriate to describe the decentralisation of the Civil Service as the disintegration of the Civil Service, with the risk that normal policy-making interactions that occur between civil servants on a daily basis when they inhabit the same capital city will become much more difficult if they are dispersed by up to three or four hours' journey apart from one another?

In regard to the Border, midland and west region, would the Taoiseach not agree that the Government decision to rely on PPPs to finance most of the road infrastructure by definition skews development in favour of wherever profits can be earned in terms of toll income and that, therefore, any regional policy of the Government is sub-contracted to the commercial needs of PPP contractors and that regional policy isde facto abandoned by virtue of the choice to go for PPPs?

I do not believe that decentralisation to locations outside the capital, in what is a relatively small country, in any way affects the service. The division of the Revenue Commissioners that deals with corporate Ireland is decentralised. It is considered, even by corporate Ireland, to be one of the most valued advanced technological services.

They are not policy-makers, they are implement policy.

Many of our public servants are not on the front line in everyday activity or people dealing with social welfare. The service is for citizens as well as for this House and other agencies. Let us look back 20 years, as Deputy Bruton and I can easily do, at the quality of the service to the citizen that obtained when all the service providers in question were in the heart of this city, within walking distance and compare them to the service offered today, whether it is by Revenue, social welfare or any of the licensing agencies. Even though the service providers are now in Sligo, Galway, Killarney, Ennis and different parts of Tipperary and Limerick, it works because——

It is because they are operational agencies.

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

——we have modern technology. Offices are well based and well able to communicate with the other offices. While the services in question might not be national services, as Deputy John Bruton said, they are in offices linked to Finance and Revenue. This system works extraordinarily well. The Central Statistics Offices, deals with all agencies and all Departments and is in Mahon in Cork although there was a big controversy about its location. I do not believe there is a difficulty.

On public private partnerships, we use a small part of the national roads infrastructure. As I said in a reply to Deputy Rabbitte last week, I do not regard public private partnerships as pertaining to anything other than some of the longer and larger contracts that are available. I do not foresee our having large tracts of the country under development by way of public private partnerships. There is neither the demand nor the capacity for that.

The first sentence of An Agreed Programme for Government states that the Government's overriding priority will be to secure lasting peace in Ireland through the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the consolidation of its institutions. Given that commitment, does the Taoiseach not agree it is totally unacceptable that the British Government maintains the suspension of the institutions arising out of the Good Friday Agreement? Given that the Government is a partner with the British Government, is it not incumbent on the Taoiseach to employ every means to impress on the British Government the importance of the restoration of the institutions at the earliest possible date?

If the Taoiseach has not sufficiently impressed on public opinion that he is pressing this matter in the most vehement, rather than confrontational way in the interest of all Irish people and all traditions — to my mind, he is not — he will have to realise that the primary responsibility of the Government is to the people of this island as a whole, despite the requirements of diplomacy and all the other arts of political engagement with the British Government. There is unquestionably——

Has the Deputy a question? A number of Deputies have questions submitted.

I have a number of questions already asked. Does the Taoiseach not accept that the willingness of the British to repeatedly suspend the institutions emboldens anti-Agreement Unionism and those who are opposed to the outworking of the promise of the Agreement.

The final commitment in the section of An Agreed Programme for Government dealing with the peace process promises to improve North-South infrastructural links and facilitate cross-Border planning. Does the Taoiseach not agree that the progress that has been made has been far too slow? As somebody who lives very close to the Border, I am particularly conscious that there are so many areas——

It is not necessary for the Deputy to give his own opinions at this stage.

——that are not being addressed in a real and definite way.

Would the Taoiseach not agree that, in addition to co-operation, we need to continually work across all relevant aspects of daily life so that people in Border counties and those involved in the North-South axis can see a real difference with real meaning in their lives? That is not evident today.

The Deputy must acknowledge that the road to Dundalk has improved substantially in recent years. There have been many contracts involving the airport road, Lispopple, the road to Swords which opened last July, and other areas, such as the Dunleer section which was completed a few years prior to that. Last week the contract was signed for the Dundalk bypass and the remaining section from the other side of Dundalk to Ballymascanlon is being closely examined and will be dealt with soon.

There has been significant investment in the Dublin-Belfast rail line. I have raised with our Northern colleagues the need for them to proceed with their part because the road on the other side of Ballymascanlon needs upgrading. On this side of the Border the work is under way.

The Taoiseach is referring to the eastern corridor but the Border and the North-South interaction involves much more than just access between Belfast and Dublin.

I accept there are other roads but we are also doing the——

It is not just about roads.

I thought the Deputy referred to infrastructure. There are many other issues but the road and rail infrastructure is important too.

I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin on his first question. As I said earlier to Deputy Rabbitte, the fact that it is almost six years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and that the process has stopped four times, is not good for the institutions or for stability. We cannot say that there is a sustainable democracy when we are constantly up and down for one reason or another. Deputy Ó Caoláin does not need me to list why these stops and starts have occurred. I am more interested in moving on to the next position. We held a detailed meeting in the past week during which we went through all aspects of the Agreement including the equality agenda, the criminal justice agenda, the various rights commissioners, the police ombudsperson and the Garda. We continually monitor, press for and demand that the various oversights and structures built into the Agreement work.

Deputy Ó Caoláin must agree that when all these factors are taken together it is a very substantial development. Perhaps some day during Question Time I will outline the entire project for the House. One would then see the substantial number of people, functions and organisations involved in these processes. The number of interactions, all of which are necessary, are not commonly recognised, North or South. They are in place and they work. A great deal is being done continually through our secretariat and at ministerial level to make it function. Although the North-South bodies do not function as we planned, we continue to work with them and we recently published the annual report where one can see just how much is happening in that regard. I am not happy that the institutions are not in place because we could make much more progress if the executive, the assembly and the institutions were up and running. The Deputy must agree that two issues remain outstanding in this regard but I will not give a lecture on either. I am saying that I genuinely do not see — and I have racked my brains more than once a week on this issue — how I can find a way forward unless I can deal conclusively with the acts of completion around paramilitarism on the one side and then try to convince the parties on the other side that we can have an inclusive executive and functioning democracy. People must realise that I cannot do one without the other. It is no good people jumping right, left or centre around them. They are the two issues that must be addressed and it will not change. If we want it to work, we must address that. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the British Government and I cannot do it on my own. I need the parties in Northern Ireland to do it. If the British Government was not there, I could not do it. We might as well be honest about that.

Is the Taoiseach ordering——

That concludes questions to the Taoiseach.

I wish to ask a question.

We now move on to questions to the Minister for Transport.

If somebody has a question, why is it not possible to take that question?

Some 21 Members tabled questions and it was not possible to call them all.

Not all of them were present. I have been present from the start.

If the Deputy's colleagues in the Technical Group could be more concise——

Is the Ceann Comhairle blaming Deputy Ó Caoláin?

Some people took four minutes to ask a question.

Other Members received long-winded replies.

Interruptions prolong the questions. The Chair tries to facilitate everybody.

I am afraid the Ceann Comhairle did not succeed.