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Tuesday, 3 Jul 2012

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Freedom of Information

Questions (25, 26)

Micheál Martin

Question:

1Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of freedom of information requests received in his Department in the past year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16220/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

2Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the freedom of information requests that have been received by his Department in 2012; the number that have been granted; the total fees for search and retrieval; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23769/12]

View answer

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

My Department received a total of 120 freedom of information requests in the year from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012. A total of 80 requests were granted or part-granted. In 12 cases the Department held no records. Six requests were refused and seven were withdrawn. A total of 15 requests are currently being processed. A total of 76 freedom of information requests were received by my Department from 1 January to 30 June 2012. Of those, 45 were granted or part-granted. In five cases the Department held no records. Four requests were refused, seven were withdrawn and 15 are currently being processed. To date, the Department has received €831 in search, retrieval and photocopying fees in respect of freedom of information requests made in 2012.

We are still waiting for the Government's proposals on the production of legislation to reform and extend freedom of information legislation, a clear commitment given in the programme for Government which committed to restoring the Freedom of Information Act on the basis that it had been undermined by the previous Government, a dubious proposition. When will this occur? Alternatively, Deputy Sean Fleming is introducing a Fianna Fáil Bill to extend the legislation to the National Asset Management Agency, the National Treasury Management Agency, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and other bodies. That Bill which will be debated this Friday will address many of the concerns the Government held in opposition. I invite the Taoiseach to support it in so far as it would meet the many concerns articulated by other Deputies.

What was the basis for the six refusals and are they being appealed? Despite the hue and cry about the Freedom of Information Act, the Taoiseach and the Government have relied on it a fair bit. For example, I sought information from the Taoiseach in the House on the pension levy, but I needed to use freedom of information provisions. I received the information months later. It seemed to be a deliberate ploy to delay giving me the information. I made a freedom of information request regarding the famous Van Rompuy compromise. Despite the European Union not having a difficulty with my request, the Taoiseach's Department refused me access to the documentation. I can list several examples of Deputies who needed to take the freedom of information route to access behind the scenes information. Hence, 80 freedom of information requests were submitted. Unfortunately, we are not getting answers through the parliamentary system and people are being economical with information. There is an unhealthy reliance by the Government on the freedom of information system to delay providing information on important matters of public interest for Deputies and the public generally.

I do not know the reason for the refusal of the six requests, but I do not have any hand, act or part in dealing with freedom of information requests. I will ask the section that deals with this issue - people do it in addition to their normal work - if there was a specific reason the six requests were not granted. I do not know what they were about or whether personal information or information that might have been particular to the Department or the State was asked for. I will have the Deputy's question referred to the freedom of information officer in the Department. If there is a specific reason they were refused, I will have it forwarded to him.

What about the utilisation of freedom of information legislation as a ploy to delay giving information to Deputies?

No. The vast majority of freedom of information requests are answered on time.

The Deputy mentioned Deputy Sean Fleming. I am aware of his Private Members' Bill which proposes to extend the remit of the Freedom of Information Act to include a number of other agencies. Clearly, there are some considerations in that regard. The Government has reflected on the issue and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will make an announcement shortly. He is dealing with the broader remit of the Freedom of Information Act.

It was mentioned in the reply that there had been 80 requests. Will the Taoiseach comment on this? The number and cost of freedom of information requests could be reduced if Ministers replied to parliamentary questions. The pension levy is a classic illustration, in that a simple question on whether the Taoiseach had received advice could have been answered in the House. However, he chose not to do so and we needed to go through the arduous freedom of information process to find out the answers. Lo and behold, we found out that he had received plenty of advice from the Department of Social Protection and other Departments and agencies. This cuts to the core of the lack of transparency.

We need to have a discussion about this matter in the House when the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform brings forward his memo on re-examining the Freedom of Information Act in general.

We can do it now.

For instance, individual letters are coming in with ten, 15 or 20 requests, which are treated as one request. The impact of a letter with an individual request could be very significant in terms of the time taken to address it. I would like to think that, in general, we give every Member of the House as much relevant information as is appropriate.

That does not happen.

I do not want the Deputy to believe there is a "they will not ask it under freedom of information legislation" mindset. If the request is reasonable and the information is available - if it is not sensitive to the State or a person and can be given - the response should be reasonable and appropriate.

Ministers refuse to do this.

The Deputy mentioned the savings that could be made. We will examine that matter in the context of what the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is doing in respect of the Freedom of Information Act in general.

Why examine it? The Government just does not do it.

Let us revert to the kernel of the issue. As the Taoiseach acknowledged, the Government committed not just to restoring the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was, undoubtedly, undermined by the previous Administration but also to extending its remit to capture other public bodies, including the administrative side of the Garda Síochána. What progress has been made in this regard? The Taoiseach referred to the work of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, but how stands the legislative process and the commitment to broadening the remit of the Act? To what extent does the Taoiseach believe it should be broadened? For example, should its provisions be applied to the Central Bank, the Financial Services Authority, NAMA and the NTMA? Sinn Féin published a Bill on how the Act should apply to NAMA. When will the Government's legislation be introduced? I hope the former has a sense of urgency attached. As the Act is restored and broadened, which public bodies does the Taoiseach believe should be covered by it?

I must remind Deputies that questions on the widening and deepening of freedom of information legislation should be directed to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Taoiseach referred to it.

I used to ask these questions when in opposition. As I told Deputy Micheál Martin, there will be a Private Members' Bill before the House on Friday, to which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will respond. He has done a great deal of work on the Freedom of Information Act generally and will outline his response in some detail.

Most of the complaints received in respect of the Freedom of Information Act relate not to the processes by which information is obtained but to the restrictions that apply to the information that can be released. That is why the Government undertook in the programme for Government to restore the Freedom of Information Acts to what they were prior to 2003. We intend to expand their remit to include additional public bodies.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform deals with the general scheme. This matter was discussed today by the Cabinet, but I will leave it to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to respond to Deputy Sean Fleming's Bill on Friday and take the discussion and strategy from there. Suffice it to say, we intend to adhere to the commitment in the programme for Government to restoring the Acts to what they were prior to 2003 and extend them to include a number of other public bodies.

The Taoiseach simply echoed what I had said. I understand a commitment was given. I also understand Deputy Brendan Howlin is the line Minister responsible in this respect. I asked the Taoiseach about the public bodies he believed should be under the umbrella of the freedom of information legislation.

I specifically mention the likes of the Central Bank, the financial services authority, NAMA and the National Treasury Management Agency because there has been a real and perceived lack of information and transparency with these key public institutions that were at the heart of very many decisions and the economic catastrophe that came to pass. There is a sense, grounded in reality, that these institutions are somehow in the shade and outside the Freedom of Information Act. I do not see any argument for maintaining that position.

I appreciate that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, will deal with the detail of this matter but I cannot see how the Taoiseach would not have a view. What about bodies like the Central Bank, the financial services authority and NAMA? Should those institutions fall within this remit and have the freedom of information process applied to them? The Taoiseach should have a view and answer the question.

I speak from this position as Taoiseach and Head of Government and my personal views are completely irrelevant. I speak from here about Cabinet responsibility and decisions, and in that sense it is my duty to let the Deputy know that the line Minister has done a great deal of work on this and will respond to the Private Members' Bill on Friday. It is not a case of an individual Minister having a view about what may be included in expanding the remit of the Freedom of Information Act. The Government will make a decision and explain it to the Deputy and everybody else when it is delivered by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

We intend to deliver on what is in the programme for Government and put these Acts back doing what they were supposed to prior to 2003. The Act will also be extended to a number of other public bodies. The Government will make a collective decision on the matter, so it is not a question of anybody's individual focus on an organisation or public body.

Departmental Bodies

Questions (27)

Micheál Martin

Question:

3Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when the National Security Committee will next meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19788/12]

View answer

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

Having regard to the confidential nature of the work of the National Security Committee, it would not be appropriate to disclose information about the dates of individual meetings or any of its proceedings. The committee is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government and comprises representatives at the highest level of the Departments of Justice and Equality, Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. It is concerned with ensuring the Government and I are advised of high level security issues and the responses to them, but does not involve operational security matters. The committee meets as required and will continue to do so. In addition to the meetings, the members liaise on an ongoing basis to monitor developments which might have national security implications, in particular in the international arena.

I understand the committee, by its nature, discusses confidential matters. I presume the committee still monitors dissident activity in the North and the Republic, especially given the arrests this morning. Is there any evidence of increased dissident activity in this jurisdiction, particularly in the Border region? I am endeavouring to ascertain if the committee is meeting more regularly, given the increased possibility of international threats arising from the upcoming Olympics in London this month. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether those issues have been a subject matter for discussion?

The matter has not been discussed at Government level but the Secretary General to the Government and the members of the committee keep in close liaison on a regular basis. The committee meets as often as necessary. With regard to dissident activity, it is fair to say the evidence of what has been happening over a period leads to an understanding that there must be heightened awareness and great collaboration between the Garda in this jurisdiction and the PSNI in Northern Ireland. The relationship between the Ministers responsible for justice matters is very strong in that regard. The Deputy may also be aware of activity by the Garda in thwarting a number of potential bomb threats and cases where bomb-making equipment has been discovered and confiscated. The issue is of concern to us all and we have discussed this at the recent North-South Ministerial Council at Farmleigh. As I mentioned, this committee meets as often as necessary, and the personnel involved keep in close contact. It deals with matters of concern to everybody on this island.

Consultancy Contracts

Questions (28, 29)

Micheál Martin

Question:

4Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his Department has recruited any consultancy service in the past year; if so in what area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21423/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

5Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the total cost of consultants hired by his Department in 2012. [23762/12]

View answer

Oral answers (71 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.

Expenditure on consultancy by my Department has greatly reduced in recent years. Since 2008 there has been an 88% reduction on consultancy spend, and consultants are only engaged when necessary, with all guidelines in engagement of consultants adhered to. In 2011 my Department engaged QTS Consulting to carry out a risk assessment and update the Department's 2011 health and safety statement at a cost of €1,271.

The organisational review programme, ORP, which was mandated to examine the capabilities of the Civil Service to meet the challenges ahead and deliver focused public services into the future, finalised its review of my Department last year. To assist in the preparation of my Department's action plan in response to the ORP report, Towers Watson Consultants was asked to facilitate a series of workshops with staff. The use of consultants in facilitating the workshops helped to assure staff of confidentiality and the independence of their findings. The total cost of the consultants was €12,100. The total spend by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.

Will the Taoiseach indicate that the experitse was not available in the human resources section of the Department to provide the seminars, in particular, and the workshops with staff, etc.? Does the Taoiseach envisage that more companies will be recruited over the next year? What will be the cost of same? An important point has emerged in the utilisation of consultancy companies to legally evade taxation obligations in this country. Apparently, this is now the case in the Department of Health, where two of the senior advisers on the team of the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, are, in essence, consultancies procured through arrangements and vehicles in the United Kingdom to evade legally any obligation to pay taxes in this jurisdiction.

I respectfully suggest that this has serious implications for social solidarity when we are asking everybody in the health service and across the public and private sectors to bear the burden of taxation and additional charges. It adds to cynicism and scepticism if this means of procurement and utilisation of consultancies by the Minister in particular and the Government in general is to be used. I ask the Taoiseach to consider this seriously, as it has the capacity to undermine public confidence in administration and the manner in which the Government procures advisory services.

The number of consultants employed by the Department of the Taoiseach is kept to a minimum and when it happens, the process is strictly in accordance with guidelines and proper regulations. QTS Consulting was engaged in 2010 following a competitive tender to carry out a risk assessment and review of the Department's health and safety statement, which is a requirement for all Departments. Section 20 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires the Department to have in place a written safety statement based on the identification of hazards and risk assessments carried out in the workplace. The reason is that while one may have competent internal personnel, in any Department having an objective outside independent view on the importance of a written statement on health and safety in the workplace is in the interests of all employees. That was the reason a competitive tender was sought and the consultants were appointed.

The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has employed several specialists on specific contracts because of their expertise. The Deputy should raise the point with him about consultants being involved in tax evasion or making recommendations. The subject requires a more detailed response in a Topical Issue Debate or to a priority question tabled to the Minister.

It was tax avoidance.

I imagine the Minister would be happy to respond in detail.

Will the Taoiseach give us the figures again? He gave a total figure of €21,074, some €12,100 of which was attributable to the departmental action plan. What did the health and safety review cost, that is, the work carried out by QTS?

QTS carried out a risk assessment and updated the Department's health and safety statement at a cost of €1,271.

The figures are €1,271 and €12,100. They do not come to €21,074. There is obviously something missing from the Taoiseach's script. I am trying to figure out the mathematics because I am puzzled. The health and safety review cost €1,271. Is that what the Taoiseach told me?

Yes, €1,271.

The departmental action plan cost €12,100.

That is correct.

The Taoiseach told us the overall spend was €21,074.

The total spend by the Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.

The Taoiseach has only itemised spending on two contracts, which comes to approximately €13,000. Clearly, there is something missing.

The EU communications contract was given to a media and public affairs consultancy firm for 60 days to deal with the EU affairs and co-ordination division of the Department of the Taoiseach. It was to assist in the development of a media and communications strategy in respect of Ireland's role in the European Union and to identify and advise on the media and communications challenges relating to the Union in a complex environment with increasing demands for public information. The work also involved identifying concrete actions to deliver on priorities and develop an initial communications plan, including logistics, for Ireland's Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers. Following a competitive tendering process, a person was appointed on 28 March to provide EU communications advice. She commenced work on that for 60 days. The person concerned, Ms Erskine, has completed her work and finalised her duties.

Does that account for the difference in the figures?

I assume it does, but I do not have the figure before me. As far as I know, there was no other consultancy contract.

I thank the Taoiseach for clarifying the matter. In the case of QTS and the EU media consultancy contract, competitive tendering procedures were applied. Is that equally true of Towers Watson and the work on the departmental action plan? I am calling on the Taoiseach to confirm that all consultancy work is subject to the standard and required procurement procedure. The media consultancy contract to assist the Department in communications on our position in the European Union and so on was for 60 days. Did it coincide with the referendum period? Will the Taoiseach clarify the matter?

It was about the key message to be communicated during Ireland's Presidency of the European Council and associated preparations. I confirm that the logistics and the preparations for Ministers for the Presidency are intense and will become even more so in the run-in from September. It had nothing to do with the referendum issue but with preparing for the EU Presidency which we will assume on 1 January next year.

I am sorry for getting up and down, but I was keen to clarify those matters. The Taoiseach was asked about the in-house expertise available and, no doubt, it is considerable within the Department. I understand there are matters which of necessity require consultancy support and for which the Department must buy in skills. It strikes me as rather odd, however, that the Taoiseach would need a media consultant to work with him on his political messages, to use his phrase, for the Presidency of the European Council. As the Head of Government, he and his departmental staff should be more than well equipped to crunch down on these issues and decide on the messages they reckon it will be appropriate to communicate in that time. Will he clarify the matter? He has stated this work started on 28 March and that it was a 60 day contract. I presume the work was finished in or around 28 May. There was a referendum held on 31 May. Will the Taoiseach be clear on the nature of that consultancy work? I find it odd that he required it to be done, but nonetheless he has suggested it referred solely and exclusively to the upcoming European Council Presidency and that it had no bearing on the treaty referendum. Will he tell the House off the top of his head, if possible, how much the Department spends per annum in dealing with European communications issues? Is it common practice for the Department to bring in media advisers for his public enunciation of the European message.

The Department of the Taoiseach only brought in personnel in the European section when the Government was formed last year. There was a unit dealing with questions on the European Union but to streamlinee matters and to be more effective personnel dealing with European issues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade came to the Department of the Taoiseach. There was a more hands-on approach as a result, with a specific Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs reporting both to the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I cannot indicate what was spent in the past in dealing with European affairs isues by the Department of the Taoiseach, although I am sure that figure is available for the Deputy. We try to keep costs to a minimum in the best way possible.

The Deputy referred to the date of the referendum and the period for completion of the work by the advisory service. I am sure that since the dates overlapped to an extent, there would have been some advisory work done in respect of the Government preparing for the referendum and the EU Presidency. Things will overlap, although the remit was specifically the EU Presidency and what it meant for us. It is fair to say the range of questions and requests for information to the Department is rather extensive. The Deputy would be surprised by the range of questions and what people ask about the European Union and how the Government intends to deal with issues as we prepare for this, our seventh Presidency which we want to be as effective as possible. Several matters may fall to be dealt with during the Irish EU Presidency. I am glad the Danes concluded on the patent agreement, the work on which lasted for 30 years. The multi-annual financial framework, which is the budget for the European Union from 2014 to 2020, may fall to be decided during the Irish Presidency. One cannot reform the CAP without having in place a multi-annual financial framework. That is of such importance to the Union, 80% of whose budget is related to the CAP, but also to this country in respect of the single farm payment and what it means for the agriculture sector and exports. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, was in France with 35 companies during the week. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, was in the United States following through on clear opportunities.

There is a need to update, in a complete fashion, the website on the Irish Presidency with a view to outlining what it means for Ireland and our relationship with our colleague countries in Europe. That was also part of the work. It is a matter of taking into account the fact that the Presidency offers an opportunity to send out a positive message about Ireland and how we are moving towards economic recovery, and about decisions that are being taken that affect our society and the Government's political vision on Ireland's place in the eurozone and European Union. It is also a question of determining where the European Union should position itself globally.

May I make a comment?

No. To be fair, I must call Deputy Martin.

May I come back in later?

Deputy Adams's question concerned the total cost of consultants hired by the Department in 2012.

This relates to consultancy costs.

There are other Deputies present who have tabled questions and we must try to reach them.

Perhaps the Taoiseach could explain why he did not give a full answer at the outset. He did not mention the media and public affairs consultancy in his initial reply to my question and that of Deputy Adams.

I gave the full amount.

The figures were wrong.

The Taoiseach did not mention that a media and public affairs consultancy was used. He mentioned QTS, the ORP and Towers Watson, but he did not mention the other company. Is it in the official reply? Will the Taoiseach undertake to forward to us the exact details of the consultancy contract given that they may not appear in the formal reply prepared for the question I tabled? I do not know whether there was an attempt to hide the information. In response to a supplementary question, the Taoiseach articulated the information to the House. There may have been a genuine misunderstanding. It is incumbent on the Taoiseach, given the questions asked, to give the full answer. For some reason, we-----

I hope the Deputy is not suggesting I was hiding something.

Can the Taoiseach explain why he did not give the information?

These are oral questions and the Minister or Taoiseach replies orally. It is not a question of a written statement.

I gave the official answer and I gave Deputy McDonald further information, which is in the official brief.

I asked the Taoiseach "if his Department has recruited any consultancy service in the past year; if so, in what area; and if he will make a statement on the matter". In his answer, the Taoiseach, for some reason, excluded any mention of the EU media messaging consultancy.

I said "only engaged when necessary, with all guidelines in relation to engagement with consultants"-----

I am saying the Taoiseach excluded that information in the beginning. There was an attempt not to mention it, although I do not know why. The Taoiseach just did not mention it; it is not included in the answer. We are, at least, entitled to receive answers to the questions we ask. I hope there was not an attempt to bury the information because of the sensitivities associated with European issues and the referendum.

This is Question Time.

Exactly. I want an answer to the question I tabled but I did not get one.

May I offer an apology to Deputies Adams, McDonald and Martin? I forgot to read page 3 of the three-page response.

Questions Nos. 1 to 5 deal with the ORP report. Questions Nos. 6 to 17 deal with the media and public affairs consultant and Question No. 18 deals with the health and safety statement. When I finished at the end of page 2, I stated total expenditure by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.

Let me read the next three paragraphs, which state:

This includes a payment of €19,803 to Ms Caroline Erskine, media and public affairs consultant who was engaged to provide an EU communications advisory service to my Department following a competitive tendering process. This is a particularly intense period of EU-related activity for Ireland. Preparation for Ireland's Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers has intensified since the start of the year. A major Government information campaign was also launched to inform the public ahead of the referendum on the stability treaty, which had not been foreseen at the start of the year.

The Government is committed to building public understanding and knowledge about Ireland's EU membership.

A payment of €1,271 was made to QTS who carried out a risk assessment and updated the Department's 2012 health and safety statement.

I apologise again to the Members. Page 3 got stuck to page 2 and, inadvertently, I did not read it out.

I accept the Taoiseach's apology. I will now ask the supplementary question I was to ask before the misunderstanding. With regard to my question on the utilisation of consultancies to avoid paying tax, which avoidance is illegal in this country, I suggest that the matter be a broad Government policy issue. The bottom line is that it appears that in the Ministry for Health and Department of Health, consultancies are now being used as a basis for hiring senior advisers to the Department, with companies located in the United Kingdom avoiding the payment of any income tax. That is unacceptable. Does the Taoiseach agree it is unacceptable? Will he, as Taoiseach, take up this issue with his Ministers?

I will take it up with the members of the Government. I do not believe it is acceptable to have consultants involved in work if it has the effect described. Obviously, in the financial world, people often prepare reports on how to lessen the impact of tax payment. When the Deputy talks about tax evasion or avoidance, he should note these are other matters. I will certainly raise the issue with the Minister for Finance. There may be technical reasons requiring a response and I will revert to the Deputy.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

There are only 20 minutes left. We have spent 40 minutes on the first few questions. The next grouping contains questions Nos. 6 to 66, inclusive.

It relates to the matter at hand.

I ask the Deputy to table a further question. I have spent enough time on this and must move on, in fairness to other Deputies.

The Taoiseach made a statement to the Dáil that requires a response. Whatever about one page being stuck to another, his figures still do not add up.

In that case, the Deputy should table a written question, in which case she will receive a full answer.

The question is tabled and it should be answered accurately and fully. While I realise there are bigger issues further down the agenda-----

It is not that; it is that I am trying to be fair to everybody.

We have a legitimate expectation to receive a full answer.

I am just trying to be fair to everybody.

The Taoiseach stated that EU consultancy work did pertain to preparation and advice in respect of the referendum. He did not say that at the outset. I am working on the broad supposition, probably incorrectly, that the use of public moneys for that was fully in accordance with the letter and spirit of the McKenna judgment. The Taoiseach did not give a full answer although I acknowledge his pages stuck together. His figures still do not add up, however, because his revised figures give him a total of more than €32,000, rather than €21,074, as first articulated. I am more concerned about the fact that it is only in response to further questioning that the Taoiseach clarified the EU consultancy work was not simply about the Presidency, as he indicated at first, but also related to the referendum campaign. The work was concluded on 28 May and the people went to the polls on 31 May. The Taoiseach needs to clarify for the Dáil that the use of public moneys was in accordance with the McKenna judgment.

If one adds up €1,271 and €19,803, one gets the princely sum of €21,074.

What about Towers Watson?

I said that, at the end of the page that got stuck, it is stated the total expenditure by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074. The next sentence stated this includes a payment of €19,803 to the media and public affairs consultant.

Could we bring in someone from sixth class maths?

The consultancy payment of €21,074 includes the payment of €19,803 to the media and public affairs consultant. That, together with the payment of €1,271 to QTS, gives one €21,074.

Where is Towers Watson in the departmental action plan mentioned a few minutes ago?

What did I say Towers Watson got?

He said €12,100.

That makes €32,000.

I think it is a sign.

The total cost of the consultants was €12,100.

Two questions were tabled. The first, from Deputy Martin, asked the total cost in the past year and the second asked the total cost of consultants hired by the Department in 2012.

I think that clarifies it.

I do not think it does.

At the moment we can only separate the questions.

European Council Meetings

Questions (30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89)

Micheál Martin

Question:

6Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there is an informal European Leaders’ dinner arranged for an open exchange of views on how best to prepare matters for the June EU Council Meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22696/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

7Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if has been in contact with Prime Minister Cameron recently on EU issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23754/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

8Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he will prioritise at the EU summit meeting on the 28-29 June. [23869/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

9Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will attend an informal meeting of heads of Government in the EU on 23 May in advance of the June European Council meeting. [23870/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

10Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has submitted any proposals to the informal meeting of European Leaders on 23 May. [23871/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

11Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the issues he intends to prioritise at the informal meeting of EU leaders on 23 May. [23872/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

12Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for the informal EU Council meeting on 23 May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23873/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

13Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has submitted any items for discussion at the informal EU Council meeting on 23 May. [23874/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

14Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the President elect of France Mr Francois Hollande; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23879/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

15Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has been in contact with Ms Angela Merkel since Mr Francois Hollande’s election in France; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23880/12]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

16Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the issues he intends to raise at the EU leaders’ summit on 23 May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24035/12]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

17Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he intends to raise the issue of debt write down for Ireland at the EU leaders’ summit on 23 May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24037/12]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

18Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he plans to raise the Troika policy of promoting privatisation or sale of State assets and natural resources particularly in programme countries at the EU leaders’ summit on 23 May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24038/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

19Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has had discissions with Chancellor Angela Merkel since the Bundestag decided to delay ratification of the fiscal treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24817/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

20Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has he been in contact with the Spanish Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24820/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

21Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has any bilaterals planned for when he attends the informal EU Council meeting on 23 May 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24821/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

22Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has any bilaterals planned for when he attends the EU Council Meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24822/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

23Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed EU growth issues with Prime Minister Cameron recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24827/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

24Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met or sought a meeting with Prime Minister Juncker recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24986/12]

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Patrick Nulty

Question:

25Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Taoiseach the job creation proposals and proposals for stimulus he will be bringing to the EU summit in Brussels on 23 May; the contact he has had with other EU Governments on proposals for job creation and an EU wide stimulus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25061/12]

View answer

Joe Higgins

Question:

26Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters he intends to raise at the European leaders meeting on 23 May. [25360/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

27Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has had any contact with the new French President Francois Hollande. [25361/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

28Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has had discussions with President Van Rompuy recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26237/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

29Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if bank regulation was discussed at the EU Council meeting on 23 May or at any of the bilaterals he attended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26238/12]

View answer

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

30Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach if he has met President Francois Hollande since his election; if he will report on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26281/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

31Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he plans to meet with President Hollande; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26438/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

32Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there were any discussions about contingency at the informal EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27694/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

33Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed reform of the ECB with Prime Minister Cameron recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27698/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

34Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met with President Hollande at the recent informal EU Council meeting; if he will outline the matters discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27699/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

35Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met with Prime Minister Monti recently; if they discussed areas of common interest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27701/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

36Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the proposals he tabled at the informal EU summit on 23 May. [27702/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

37Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he held at the informal EU summit on 23 May. [27703/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

38Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with other EU leaders since the informal EU summit on 23 May. [27704/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

39Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with Francois Hollande since his election as President of France. [27708/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

40Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy since his election as Prime Minister. [27709/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

41Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed EU bank regulation at the informal EU Council meeting; if it is going to be discussed at the forthcoming EU Council meeting in June; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27710/12]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

42Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the June EU leaders meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28062/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

43Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has trips abroad planned other than EU Council meetings in this session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28957/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

44Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of EU Leaders to whom he spoke on 31 May after the Fiscal Treaty referendum results were known; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28959/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

45Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the content of their discussion and response he had from Chancellor Merkel during their conversation on 31 May 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28960/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

46Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Prime Minister Cameron since 31 May, 2012; if so, the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28961/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

47Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has requested a meeting with president Hollande; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28962/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

48Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Prime Minister Rajoy recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28963/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

49Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has requested a meeting with President Van Rompuy before the next EU Council meeting in June; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28964/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

50Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the proposals he has tabled for the EU Summit on the 28 and 29 June in Brussels. [28968/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

51Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he intends to raise the issue of the Anglo promissory note at the EU summit on 28 and 29 June. [28969/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

52Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has sought a meeting with Chancellor Merkel to discuss the economic situation in the eurozone. [28971/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

53Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to or requested a meeting with Prime Minister Monti; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30397/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

54Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has recently spoken to President Barroso in relation to any issues concerning Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30537/12]

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Gerry Adams

Question:

55Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has had any contacts with the new Greek Prime Minster since the Greek Election. [30538/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

56Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he held any bilaterals at the June Council summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32035/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

57Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he held any separate meetings before or after the EU Council dinner in June; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32036/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

58Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met with President Barrosso in June; the matters that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32037/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

59Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there were discussions regarding a fiscal union at the EU Council meeting in June; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32039/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

60Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there were any discussions regarding tightening bank regulations at the June EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32040/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

61Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there was any discussions regarding severing the link between sovereign debt and banking systems at the EU Council meeting in June; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32041/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

62Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there was a discussion at the June EU Council meeting regarding Eurobond project; if any progress was made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32042/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

63Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there were any discussions at the EU Council meeting in June regarding a Eurozone wide bank resolution mechanism to the crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32043/12]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

64Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed protecting the International Financial Service Centre at any of the bilaterals he held during the June EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32044/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

65Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the areas of growth and the actions that were and discussed at the June EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32045/12]

View answer
66.Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the areas of growth on which he spoke at the June EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32046/12]

Oral answers (42 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 66, inclusive, together.

On a point of order, are we seriously expected to take 60 questions together?

That is a matter for the Taoiseach.

We have spent an hour dealing with five questions and now the Taoiseach is proposing to take 60 questions in ten minutes.

If they are on the same topic but worded differently, it is a matter for the Minister or Taoiseach to decide how to take them.

It is called Dáil reform.

These questions all pertain to the same subject. The amount of repetition is bad enough as it is but it would be even worse if I answered them individually because many of them are the same but phrased in different ways.

If we had Taoiseach's questions on two days of the week, as was the case in the past, we would not have this problem.

We changed that for good reasons.

Perhaps we should use the bit of time that is available to us.

To prepare discussions on the growth agenda for the European Council on 28 and 29 June, President Van Rompuy convened an informal dinner meeting on 23 May, which I attended, for an open exchange of views. The Government has consistently argued that for Europe to move beyond its current difficulties, measures to ensure stability must be complemented and supported by an equal focus on the growth and jobs agenda. Ireland has much to gain from this debate and we are playing a full and active part in it. I set out my thinking on this when I spoke to President Van Rompuy by telephone ahead of the meeting. As I have already made a statement to the House on the outcome of the 23 May meeting, I will merely give a summary of its findings.

While we did not adopt any formal conclusions, there was sufficient consensus to enable President Van Rompuy to identify a number of key themes and issues for the discussion. First, it was clear that all member states subscribed to the view that actions aimed at growth must complement rather than detract from efforts to ensure fiscal consolidation. Second, the process of structural reform through the Europe 2020 process must continue. Third, President Van Rompuy identified the following pillars of growth: mobilising EU policies to fully support growth, including making urgent progress on important legislative proposals such as the Single Market Act and the energy efficiency directive; stepping up our efforts to finance the economy through investments and better access to credit, especially for SMEs, including project bonds and increasing the capital of the European Investment Bank for financing projects; and job creation involving better synergy between European and national instruments, including Structural Funds, to combat youth unemployment in particular. At the end of our meeting we also had a discussion on eurozone developments, including with regard to Greece and Spain. There was strong support for Greece remaining a part of the eurozone and an equally strong wish to see it press ahead with implementation of its programme.

I had no formal bilateral meetings while at the informal European Council meeting on 23 May. With regard to my other recent bilateral contacts, I spoke by telephone to President Hollande on 9 May and congratulated him on his victory in the presidential elections in France. Our discussion focused on the stability treaty referendum and the reorientation of the European agenda towards a strong growth future. I also spoke to President Hollande on 1 June following the outcome of the stability treaty referendum.

As the House will be aware, I met Prime Minister Cameron in London on 12 March. In addition to our joint statement, we discussed a range of other issues over the course of our meeting, including the economy and Europe. We are both firm supporters of the Single Market and will continue to consult each other on key EU policy issues. We also discussed the most recent European Council and we strongly agreed that growth and jobs should remain at the centre of the EU's agenda. We briefly discussed the financial transaction tax and I repeated the Government's clearly held position that it could not be allowed to introduce competitive distortions. I updated Prime Minister Cameron on the stability treaty and on the referendum. I explained our position regarding our efforts to reduce the costs to the State as a result of promissory notes. I was pleased by his comments in support of our continuing efforts in pursuit of our economic recovery. I also met him at the British-Irish Council summit in Edinburgh on Friday, 22 June.

I spoke by telephone to Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Monti, Prime Minister Rajoy, President Van Rompuy and President Barroso on 1 June to convey the result of the referendum on the stability treaty. I wrote to the new Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Antonis Samaras, to congratulate him on his success in the recent elections and to wish him and his new Government well in their endeavours. In addition, I met all my European Council colleagues, including Prime Minister Juncker, President Van Rompuy and President Barroso, at the European Council Summit meeting in Brussels on 28 and 29 June. As I will be making a full statement on the June European Council tomorrow, I will not go into detail now.

Conclusions for the June European Council were prepared in the normal way and Ireland set out its views and proposed amendments in the usual manner. Building on our work on 23 May, last week's meeting decided on a compact for growth and jobs, which is intended to provide a coherent framework for action at national, EU and euro area levels. This is a very welcome development. The Government has been actively working towards this for some time now. The compact has the potential to boost investment in the Union by approximately €120 billion, or 1% of GNI. This will be done through the mobilisation of the European Investment Bank, with €10 billion in extra capital, project bonds and the Structural Funds. The Government succeeded in ensuring the investment will be available to all member states, regardless of size.

The meeting also invited President Van Rompuy to develop further the ideas in his report, Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union. This report set out the four essential building blocks for the future economic and monetary union, as follows: an integrated financial framework, an integrated budgetary framework, an integrated economic policy framework, and strengthened democratic legitimacy and accountability. President Van Rompuy will now develop, in close collaboration with the President of the European Commission, the president of the eurogroup and the President of the European Central Bank, a specific time-bound roadmap for the achievement of a genuine economic and monetary union. He will examine what can be done within the current treaties and which measures would require treaty change. Member states will be closely associated with and regularly consulted on these considerations. An interim report will be presented at the October European Council and a final report will issue by the end of the year.

Last week's European Council concluded the second European semester by endorsing country-specific recommendations. Leaders also addressed the external aspects of the EU's economic policy and considered how the EU can deepen its trade and investment relationships with key partners. In addition, the European Council also discussed the new multi-annual financial framework and took stock of progress in major justice and home affairs files, including Schengen governance and asylum, as well as nuclear energy, safety and security issues. Consideration was also given to the evolving situation in Syria.

A euro summit meeting took place after the discussion of 27 June on Thursday night into Friday morning. The outcome of this meeting was of particular significance, with leaders of the euro area affirming that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns, which is precisely what the Irish Government had sought going into the meeting. Towards this end, euro area leaders agreed that work should be advanced urgently on a single supervisory mechanism for banks, following which the ESM could be enabled to directly recapitalise banks. As Deputies will recall, this is something that the Government has sought for some time. In a development of great significance for this country and its taxpayers, it was agreed that the eurogroup will now examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with a view to improving further the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme. This work will start at the eurogroup meeting next week. Importantly, the principle that similar cases will be treated equally has been fully established and agreed. This was a vindication of the approach the Government has taken to negotiating with partners on lessening the load on the Irish taxpayer resulting from banking, including that arising from the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, promissory note. It reflects the urgency of the need to deal definitively with the link between banking and sovereign debt as set out in the letter I wrote to my European Council colleagues ahead of last week's meeting. I am confident that what has now been agreed will be of significant benefit to Ireland and Irish taxpayers over the years to come.

I have not yet finalised plans for foreign visits outside of the European Council for the rest of this year, although I will attend the European Council meetings on 18 and 19 October and 13 and 14 December.

It is ludicrous that we are taking Questions Nos. 1 to 65 together. We should return to a position of having Taoiseach's questions on two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, as was the case until the Taoiseach arbitrarily decided to reduce the number to one day.

On the summit meeting, I concur with the Taoiseach that the decision to break the link between the sovereign and bank debt is welcome, although much more remains to be revealed. The devil will be in the detail or, as Colm McCarthy wrote this morning: "The devil is in the principles." Clearly, the position in Italy and Spain is critical and Prime Minister Mario Monti basically had to cry halt. He went into the summit meeting and called a halt to the Italian situation and received the backing of Prime Minister Rajoy. In fairness to President Hollande, he supported both Prime Ministers. The fundamental issue was the separation of sovereign and banking debt but, more than that, the need to take decisive action to save the euro. From the Irish perspective, the latter is the most important outcome of the summit. It is worth saving the euro.

The Finnish and Dutch Governments have voiced concern about the element of the agreement which suggests the European Stability Mechanism may buy bonds on the secondary market. Colm McCarthy notes that, in essence, this means the European Central Bank is being replaced with a buyer whose balance sheet constraint is known, which is a retrograde step. The Dutch and Finns are not trying to be awkward or opposing the outcome of the summit but expressing legitimate and rational concerns that this may not be the best route forward. While some useful decisions were taken, it is their view that the crisis will prevail until the central question is addressed, namely, how does one develop a lender of last resort - my party has consistently argued that the ECB should be the lender of last resort - in order that one has a mechanism, either the ECB or an agency thereof, that is decisive and can take action with conviction on the bond market. That issue remains to be decided upon. The ESM buying on the secondary market has not worked thus far and is unlikely to work in future given that it only has some €500 billion at its disposal.

I do not agree that the devil is in the principle here. The principle was very clear. As Deputy Martin knows, the European Council discussed, decided, agreed and signed off on its conclusions. The page in respect of the euro area summit statement is very clear: "We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns." This principle, which had not been accepted before, has been agreed and decided. As I stated, nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. In respect of the ESM, I note the comments of the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, and the Finnish Prime Minister, Jyrki Katainen, both of whom spoke at the meeting in regard to their views on this matter. However, this is what was agreed and signed off on. We now have a great deal of work to do on the detail of working out the implementation of this principle, what that means in respect of the ESM and how it can be adapted here.

Does the Taoiseach believe it is a good idea that the ESM will buy on the secondary market?

As the Deputy will be aware, the statement notes the following: "We affirm our strong commitment to do what is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area, in particular by using the existing EFSF/ESM instruments in a flexible and efficient manner in order to stabilise markets for Member States respecting their Country Specific Recommendations and their other commitments including their respective timelines, under the European Semester, the Stability and Growth Pact and the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure." As we are in a programme, our country-specific recommendation is to continue with our programme. That is the conditionality attached to us, with which we intend to deal. The breaking of that principle is important for us. The anxieties or concerns of the Dutch and Finnish Prime Ministers were expressed at the meeting but the meeting signed off on the-----

Is it a good idea that the ESM will buy on the secondary market?

We can discuss the detail when we have statements in the House tomorrow.

It is clear that Spain has had a problem for some time. Spain's formal request under the ESF for €62 billion and a cushion of up to €100 billion for its banks clearly presents a challenge for Prime Minister Rajoy in respect of dealing with his country's deficit while borrowing at rates of almost 7%. Prime Minister Monti discussed with me on the telephone last week before I went to the meeting the virtuous circle of which Italy is a member, given that it has to roll over €20 billion in loan repayments every month, which is an enormous challenge. The meeting, in its discussions, decided that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. The process of the meeting was to start with different segments, including the jobs and growth agenda, multi-annual financial frameworks and a report from Denmark, before moving into the discussions on the eurozone.

We all accept that the decision to recognise the necessity to break the vicious cycle between banks and the sovereign is long overdue and very welcome. I have a couple of questions on the turn of events which the Taoiseach described as "seismic". Who wrote the reference to this State? The view articulated in this reference is that there will be a review. There is also an inference that while the level of debt is sustainable, sustainability needs to be improved, and it is asserted that the programme of adjustment is performing well, which will be news to people who are struggling under the agenda of cutbacks. I find some of the language worrying and would like to know who wrote the reference and what collaborative process was involved.

What does the decision to unhitch the burden of bank debt from the sovereign and people mean in respect of the promissory note and Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide? The Minister for Finance has made clear it will not mean anything in respect of the next budget. Much has been said about the stimulus package, investment in jobs and so forth. The new money in the package amounts to only €10 billion. With 25 million people unemployed across the European Union, €10 billion by any stretch is not seismic or earth-shattering.

Is it not the case that European leaders were staring into the abyss last week and had to produce something new or face going over that abyss? Is it not also the case that when one examines the detail or lack thereof in the so-called breakthrough, there is good reason to believe it may be something of an accountancy trick, especially in light of the statement by the Minister for Finance immediately after the great declaration that there will not be any easing of the burden of austerity to be imposed on people this year? Moreover, given that we own the banks, does shifting the burden from the sovereign to the banks not mean re-imposing it on citizens in another form?

The European Stability Mechanism, the fund that is supposed to bail out the European banks, has a capacity of only €500 million and it is estimated that the hole in the Italian and Spanish banks alone is €2 trillion. Does this not guarantee that Ireland will have to fork out the entire €11 billion called on this country under the ESM to bail out these banks? We do not know the size of the hole in the rest of the banks. One of the major problems in Europe and Ireland at present is the failure of the banks to lend and to put credit into the system. Is it not the case that shifting this burden from one place on the accountancy balance sheet to another will simply mean those banks we have recapitalised will be even less likely to invest and lend into the economy-----

-----after all the money that has been poured into them? Therefore, this will do next to nothing to stimulate economic growth or the job creation that would be something one could really celebrate.

I refer to the sentence, "The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme". Apart from being a commendation of the savage austerity imposed by the troika, does this mild aspiration in any way justify the elation expressed by the Taoiseach following the summit meeting? I appreciate the Taoiseach probably was seriously sleep-deprived and perhaps a little disorientated-----

That is not fair.

He is not the only one suffering from that complaint.

-----but that elation was carried into the pages of much of the capitalist press. What justification is there for such elation? Will the Irish people as a whole be responsible for a euro less as a result of this sentence? Second, on foot of this agreement, what will happen to the approximately €30 billion that has been put on the shoulders of the Irish people to salvage Anglo-Irish Bank ? Will this €30 billion now come from the European Stability Mechanism, ESM? Must someone pay back that to the ESM and, if so, is that the Irish people?

On Deputy McDonald's question as to who wrote this, she will recall I wrote to all the leaders some weeks ago setting out the position. Ireland was the first country to suggest the ESM should be licensed for direct injections into banks, an idea which then became common currency. Before attending the meeting, I made clear there was a twin objective in this regard. The first was to reach a conclusion on the growth agenda, which was highlighted by President Hollande during his election campaign, and which was agreed. The second objective was there should be a response to the banking crisis with particular reference to the legacy debt problem faced by Irish families and communities. In that regard, I refer to the acceptance of the principle about which I spoke last week in this Chamber, namely, if one had European direction and European liability, that needed a change in respect of what happened in Ireland where there was a direction with the liability being taken on by the Irish people and Irish families.

I pay tribute to the group of officials from all the countries who reflected on the clarity of Ireland's case, which resulted in Ireland being one of only two countries mentioned in the euro area summit statement in order to avoid any opportunity for not understanding what this was. Deputy McDonald was on a different side during the referendum campaign but I must tell her that the decision of the Irish people, in its clarity and decisiveness, certainly was credit in the bank for Ireland, to use a pun, with regard to the manner in which other leaders considered our problem and our country.

In that sense, there was a willingness to understand the challenge and the difficulty our people have had in shouldering that liability in recent years, as well as the acceptance that breaking this would lead to a particular relevance for our country, as it has.

So, Irish officials wrote the Irish reference. That is what I was getting at. I was not talking about the entire statement.

Sorry Deputy, please, through the Chair.

I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle.

My point is a group comes forward with agreed papers. It is not a case of one person dictating what goes into it at a particular point. These groups of officials present papers to leaders, who then decide on the principles and the detail eventually is worked out. I note that before we ever got to that meeting, the Government had made it perfectly clear what was the Irish position. As I told Deputy Martin in response to a question earlier, we seek a top line, rather than a bottom line, namely, the maximum benefit for the country.

Deputy McDonald also mentions the promissory notes. All that information and all the discussions that have taken place will now feed into the process which the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, will lead from next Monday, 9 July. As the Deputy is aware, the last line of the statement states, "We task the Eurogroup to implement these decisions by 9 July 2012." That is impossible and the process will start at that point. However, I hope it can be concluded within a relatively short time.

Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned the ESM and the promissory notes, which feeds into that discussion. There is a case before the courts at present in respect of the ESM and I do not wish to make any comment about its outcome because I understand the justice will give her decision before 9 July-----

That is not what I asked about.

-----which would allow for Ireland, in whatever circumstances, to be able to attend the first meeting of the ESM.

I asked about the €11 billion.

This is good news for the country and represents an opening of the doors of potential.

Deputy Higgins mentioned being disorientated at 5 a.m. I have never suffered from that but were I disorientated, I would have begun to talk about travel expenses. Moreover, I might tell the Deputy the only evident elation was the buoyancy in the markets, which reflected the decision of the European Council and which is in Ireland's interest.

Would the Taoiseach care to discuss the €4.5 million Fine Gael received in public funding last year?

I hope such a progression will continue, whereby there has been a serious fall in interest rates for Ireland, as others consider us from abroad and conclude this is a country that is making steady progress in difficult conditions. As the Deputy is aware, markets anticipate and feed into their investment decisions how they view countries in respect of political stability, in the context of the engines to drive their economies and the decisions that are being made. Consequently, there was no disorientation. Here was an understanding of a major decision made by Europe, which opens a door for this country on which I hope we can build. If the Deputy has even a single constructive suggestion to make, I would be delighted to hear from him.

For a start, I would not run to the sharks in the markets. Moreover, I remind the Taoiseach that Fine Gael received €4.5 million from public funds for his party last year.

The Deputy has been encouraging sharks all his life.

As Gaeilge nó Béarla.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

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