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Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 7 June 2011

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Questions (7)

Micheál Martin


7 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress report on the halving of the size of his Department as committed in the programme for Government; and the steps he has taken regarding same. [13620/11]

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Oral answers (28 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

The Deputy is correct in his assumption. The programme for Government is quite clear in regard to the reduction of the size of the Department of the Taoiseach:

We will reduce the size of the Department of An Taoiseach, transforming it into the equivalent of a Cabinet Office that oversees the delivery of a new Programme for Government.

At the end of January this year, 189 staff were employed in my Department and at the end of May, 166 were employed. Sections and posts in my Department which had been engaged in work that now comes within the responsibility of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have transferred to that Department. Arrangements are being made for the transfer of some support staff. The total number of staff involved is approximately 25. There will be further restructuring of my Department following the forthcoming appointment of a new second Secretary General post.

I refer to the new politics document of some months ago which contained fairly strong commitments to significantly reducing the size of the Department of the Taoiseach and also to increasing accountability. We are looking at downsizing and to a certain extent what we perceive to be a reduction of accountability of the Department of the Taoiseach. I dealt with this matter last week with regard to the establishment of the Cabinet sub-committees. The Fine Gael new politics document said that the Department of the Taoiseach would be converted into a Cabinet office——

Sorry, Deputy, the question relates to the programme for Government.

Yes, and I am dealing with that.

That would be a first for the Deputy.

I see Deputy Buttimer is back.

I have not gone away.

His presence at my side during Question Time——

I do not like interrupting a speaker but——

Is it the Taoiseach's intention to relocate responsibility for European affairs to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as indicated? He referred to the idea of turning the Taoiseach's Department into a Cabinet office to oversee the delivery of a new programme for Government. We do not see that transformation happening or the delivery of a new programme for Government. Has the Taoiseach any idea of what will be the final configuration of the Department of the Taoiseach when he has finished the various reforms he has articulated? Some would say the Taoiseach has taken a very extreme approach in the matter of answering and transferring questions from his office and such replies are central to the accountability of the Taoiseach's office. Last week, he refused to answer a question about his own personal approach to the European Commission, for example, and this question was transferred to the Tánaiste's office.

Please explain your question, Deputy.

The issue is that the number of questions transferred from the Department of the Taoiseach is growing in volume. It is an extraordinary number covering all sorts of areas——

The Deputy is straying a little bit now.

——which would lead one to the view——

Deputy Martin should have been over there for the past 14 years.

——that there are very few subjects left which one can ask about to the Department of the Taoiseach, given the reduced accountability and the transfer and displacement of a whole range of functions from the Department to elsewhere. What will be the final configuration of the Department?

The Deputy will recall that at the first Question Time in this Dáil I suggested that we might do away with one of the ordinary questions to the Taoiseach because such questions come up very often on a rota basis, as the Deputy is well aware. I was asking the same questions repeatedly for nine years when I was in opposition. Following this restructuring, the Department of the Taoiseach will oversee the implementation of the programme for Government. I chair the seven Cabinet committees which are intrinsically involved in all the important issues of Departments and which the Ministers attend and these are in addition to Cabinet meetings.

The Deputy's question concerned the provision of a progress report on the halving of the size of the Department, as committed to in the programme for Government. That referred to the Fine Gael document published before the election. Maybe whoever drafted the question for the Deputy got a bit excited. It is in the programme for Government.

Maybe we were giving your influence a bit too much weight.

The programme for Government is an agreement between Fine Gael and the Labour Party to bring about a situation whereby we rectify our public finances, sort out our banks and provide opportunities for people for the future in a country of which we can all be proud. It is a document, as Deputy McDonald is aware, of both parties and not one which belongs to a single party, something to which her question referred.

The Taoiseach may not have made the commitment to halving his Department. I accept it is not in the programme for Government. However, he said he sees the Department as becoming the strategic centre of Government, overseeing the delivery of the programme for Government. It is for the Office of the Taoiseach to bring coherence, clear communication, commonality of purpose and a oneness of will and action to matters. How does the Taoiseach think that is going, given that the events of recent weeks demonstrate that the left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing? Ministers openly contradict each other.

I thought we had a supplementary question.

I am curious to know how the Taoiseach intends to anchor this strategic centre. It seems to be far from centred, it seems to be all over the place. What does the Taoiseach propose to do to bring a sense of discipline, action and good communication to his team?

Take a leaf out of your own book.

A Deputy

You mind your team and we will mind ours.

I cannot comment on what commentators may say or whatever interpretation they put on words. We are not mixed up between personalities and shoes here, like the Deputy was in a recent comment she made in the House.

The Labour Party benches knew all about shoes.

In any event, as far as I am concerned the essential job of the Taoiseach in this context is to see that the programme for Government is implemented as rationally, logically and smoothly as possible. Some Departments are very big and have enormous responsibilities. Ministers are finding evidence on a daily basis of decisions which were announced with nothing to back them up, which sometimes does not make for pleasant reading. From that point of view, my job as the person who chairs Cabinet committees dealing with a range of issues from all Departments is to ensure that we implement the programme for Government.

There is no confusion about the target and objective in mind. Even within the Deputy's party there can be little see-saw activities in respect of words and their meaning. As far as the Government is concerned, we are very focused on the target and objective. We are not yet in Government for 100 days and a great deal has been achieved. There is a full programme lying ahead of us. The people concerned are now all at their desks making decisions and preparing memos for Government to decide on.