Cabinet Committee Meetings

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if Cabinet committee C (European Union including Brexit) met in June 2019. [25596/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of times Cabinet committee C (European Union including Brexit) has met in 2019. [26860/19]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee C (European Union including Brexit) last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [27549/19]

View answer

Brendan Howlin

Question:

4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if Cabinet committee C (European Union including Brexit) met in May or June 2019. [27636/19]

View answer

Oral answers (25 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

The remit of Cabinet committee C covers EU and international issues, including Brexit. Cabinet committee C last met on Thursday, 21 June 2018.

Given the significance of Brexit for the country, it is important that all Cabinet Ministers are fully across what is happening. Consequently, over the past 12 months, Brexit has been discussed more than 25 times at full Cabinet level rather than Cabinet committee level.

Several other important EU and international issues, including the EU budget and future strategic direction, and Global Ireland 2025, have also been discussed at full Cabinet level in recent months.

I also meet regularly with individual Ministers, or groups of relevant Ministers, to focus on particular issues, including those relating to Brexit and other EU and international issues, with a view to seeing how Government can best ensure the delivery of priorities and commitments.

I do not think the Taoiseach quite answered the question. Did he mention the number of times Cabinet committee C met in his reply? I think he said the committee met on 21 June but the question I asked was how many times did it meet in 2019. The Taoiseach might answer that in his response to my points because it is important.

Today, for the second day in row, we have had front-page stories in newspapers briefed by Government about how it is supposedly now stepping up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit. These stories are indistinguishable from the ones which were briefed to newspapers this time last year. In fact, on at least four occasions now, the Government has announced it was redoubling preparations for a no-deal scenario. However, the evidence is that, on 29 March last, Ireland was not ready for a no-deal Brexit. The question is what has been done to ensure that the gaps that were evident in March are fully addressed in time for the new deadline. Why has no new survey been published on levels of preparedness in Irish businesses? These surveys were supposed to be regular but, for some unexplained reason, stopped last year.

If preparations for a no-deal Brexit are serious, they have to include a target and the baseline assumption for the number of businesses that are prepared for handling a no-deal situation on 31 October.

Will the Taoiseach give the figures to the House?

In an intervention during the local elections the Commissioner, Phil Hogan, announced funding for Brexit-related payments to farmers. I note that the Government has today recommended his reappointment. It was the first time a Commissioner had chosen to intervene on a significant issue during an election campaign here. In many respects, it was quite irregular. What was not announced at the time was the conditions attached to the scheme. Will the Taoiseach outline the final details of the scheme announced seven weeks ago? Will he tell the House how many times the Brexit committee has met in 2019? I noted his comments last week about Cabinet sub-committee meetings and his preference for general meetings. That is an important indicator of how seriously the Government has taken this matter since March.

I understand a briefing of opposition parties is taking place on the most recent contingency plan for Brexit. There is a feeling of Groundhog Day. At first glance it does not appear that contingency planning has moved forward to a significant degree, still less that it has taken leap forward that is necessary as we face the real possibility of a disorderly Brexit. Information on the extent of contingency funds which must be made available for the initial impact of Brexit's economic shock has not yet been forthcoming from the Government. Sinn Féin proposed a fund, initially worth €2 billion, to make provision for the shock effect. Will the Taoiseach enlighten us on whether it is part of the package on which we are being briefed today? I put it to him that he could and should put a stop to the Mercosur trade deal as a means of protecting the rural economy, farm families and the consumer in a Brexit scenario. It is extraordinary that the Government has reappointed Phil Hogan as Commissioner with Brexit looming. He is the man who has described the deal as "fair and balanced." It is anything but; it may prove catastrophic for many people's livelihoods and that is without considering its effects on the Amazon and the damage caused to the planet. Part of the preparations for Brexit must be the provision of adequate contingency funds for the initial shock. The second part is to see off the Mercosur trade agreement. Should a crash-out Brexit happen, the absolute priority must be ensuring there will be no economic border on the island and that we will not step backwards. The only way we can do this is by having a conversation on constitutional change.

This morning the chief executive of the Irish Exporters Association stated the obvious, that very few companies were 100% ready for an increasingly likely no-deal scenario. In planning one hopes for the best, but one must plan for the worst. The Government has not properly addressed the lack of readiness at Rosslare Port and Cork Port and the knock-on implications for Dublin city and the greater Dublin area. The Labour Party has called for Rosslare Port to be re-ranked as a tier 1 port in the context of Brexit, yet it has emerged that the site where checks are to be carried out after Brexit was only purchased in March, only weeks before the United Kingdom was originally due to leave the European Union. We do not know what will happen in Dublin if almost all freight in Ireland passes through Dublin Port. Will lorries be parked on the hard shoulder of the M50, northbound and southbound? That would be deeply worrying, particularly since the M50 is effectively clogged up on any given day at peak time. What leadership is the Government prepared to give? Does the Taoiseach appreciate that many people involved in business are very concerned and that some are absolutely terrified of the implications of a hard Brexit for their hard won business.

The likelihood of Boris Johnson taking over as leader of the Tory Party and becoming Prime Minister, God help us, is ironic. The upper class Etonian twit who harks back to the great days of the British Empire could be the person who will help to facilitate the break-up of the United Kingdom, but intelligence is not his strong point. It creates a dangerous scenario for us in that it increases the possibility of there being a no-deal Brexit. I have not yet read the entire briefing document - I will look at it - but I was alarmed by something the Tánaiste said. He gave reassurances that the European Union would not seek to protect the Single Market by imposing Border infrastructure, but he did say the tariffs that would be demanded to protect the Single Market would do immense damage to the all-Ireland economy. We have to say two things in response. The all-Ireland economy should not be scarified to protect the Single Market. We must tell the European Union that we want a special dispensation because of the damage it would do. It also raises the very serious prospect, as even Simon Hoare, MP, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster said, that a Border poll could result from this. If even Tories and unionists are discussing the possibility of a Border poll, we should also talk about it as a basic democratic demand in the event that there is a hard Brexit to give the people of the North the opportunity to say "No" to the madness of Boris Johnson and the Tory wreckers.

The Brexit Cabinet sub-committee has not met in 2019. The Tánaiste and I found it unworkable. Cabinet sub-committees involve Ministers, advisers and officials. When so many Ministers are involved in preparing for Brexit, having 60 or 70 people there made it unworkable. As I have told the House before, we decided to have Cabinet committee meetings to deal with Brexit. We have had 25 so far. Today, we dealt with it for over an hour, while yesterday there was a meeting with the Tánaiste and his officials to talk through some of the issues. I appreciate that Deputy Micheál Martin is a big believer in Cabinet sub-committees as it is a way to get things done or believes the number of sub-committee meetings or reports is a measure of how important something is.

No, it is not that.

That is not my assessment. The best way to get things done is through having meetings of Ministers, advisers and officials and the Cabinet.

The Taoiseach is wrong. I did not ask that question. The reason I am concerned is-----

I will allow the Deputy in after the Taoiseach responds. We have a little discretion when it comes to the time allowed.

I am restructuring the Cabinet sub-committees to make them more workable by having quarterly meetings. I propose to put Brexit, EU affairs and global Ireland together in a new committee.

I do not have the terms and conditions of the beef package before me, but I understand the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has made farmers aware of it. If he has not, I am sure he will do so as soon as possible.

Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke about a special dispensation from the EU customs code. There is no such special dispensation. The European Union is a union of treaties and laws and there are no special dispensations. It is in our interests to defend the Single Market and the customs union. The economy, jobs and trade are based on them and we will not allow Ireland to be pulled out of the Single Market and the customs union because of a decision made by the people in Britain.

With regard to Dublin Port, Rosslare and Dublin Airport, the temporary infrastructure is ready. It was ready for March and it certainly will be ready for 31 October. The Port of Cork does not arise as an issue. To the best of my knowledge, there are no vessels going from Cork to Britain. They go from Rosslare and Dublin. There are vessels going from Cork to Spain and from Waterford to the Netherlands. We have looked at the capacity between Ireland and mainland continental Europe, and there is a lot of available capacity to allow people to send their goods directly to continental Europe by sea, acknowledging that it would be slower than going over the land bridge.

The staff of 700 have been identified and are in place. They are in Revenue, customs, the HSE and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. A lot of the work they will do is contacting businesses. Any business that trades with the UK that does not yet have an EORI number will be contacted by letter and followed up by phone to encourage them to get that number so they can be ready for customs procedures. It is important to say that while 40,000 companies have a number, another 40,000 do not. It appears those that do not are those that do not do regular trade with the UK. They may have ordered only one or two boxes of things from the UK in 2018. Those that are regular or weekly traders with the UK seem to have them in place but we will still contact every business, by phone and letter, that traded with the UK in 2018 to encourage them to make sure they are ready.

In terms of more general business preparations, we are encouraging businesses that have not yet done so to engage. It is not a case of saying it will be all right on the night. Some people may assume there will be a deal, and I hope there will be. Some people may assume there will be an extension if there is no deal but I do not think businesses can make that assumption and I would encourage any business that has not engaged to do so. There is still time between now and 31 October but not as much time as people may think.

The Getting Ireland Brexit Ready campaign was launched back in September. A total of 104 stakeholder events have been held in 21 counties so far, with many more planned. With regard to financial assistance for business, there is a €300 million Brexit loan scheme with affordable loans of €25,000 to €1.5 million for eligible businesses impacted by Brexit. There is also a €300 million future growth loan scheme for SMEs, including farmers, to back strategic long-term investment after Brexit. Enterprise Ireland has its be prepared grant of €5,000 to assist client companies develop strategic plans to respond to Brexit. InterTradeIreland's start to plan vouchers of up to €2,000 will help SMEs to get professional advice on Brexit. There are also Enterprise Ireland's market discovery fund and agile innovation fund, and the LEO financial supports, such as technical assistance and micro-export grants. There is also a rescue and restructuring scheme for SMEs that has increased from €20 million to €200 million to allow the Government to offer rescue aid and temporary restructuring aid to SMEs that need it. Practical assistance also includes the Brexit scorecard, the Brexit readiness check for tourism, the Brexit advisory clinics, the Brexit barometer and the trader engagement programme.

I will allow the briefest of comments because we have run out of time.

I asked a question about the number of times the Cabinet committee met and when the Taoiseach said 21 June, I understood that to be this year. I assumed there had been one meeting this year but we now learn there were no meetings in 2019. There has been no meeting since June 2018 of a key co-ordinating mechanism for Brexit. The Taoiseach is saying all of the interdepartmental committees that work to lead into a Cabinet sub-committee add nothing and the core co-ordinating mechanism involving all Ministers responsible in the case of a no-deal Brexit means nothing.

It is extraordinary and it suggests that what we have been reading in the media over the past two or three days is hype and spin with no substance behind it.

Deputy McDonald had one minute and a half extra and I will not allow comments from everybody.

There is a contradiction at the core of what the Taoiseach is saying and I share the alarm that the June meeting was last year and there has been no meeting this year. The Taoiseach is saying the sub-committee does not work as a mechanism and his proposal is to put Brexit in with EU affairs and global matters. To extend the scope makes absolutely no sense.

To be fair, I am allowing the briefest of comments from Deputies Burton and Boyd Barrett.

The Taoiseach's dismissal of Cabinet sub-committees is wrong constitutionally and foolish because they are a mechanism for people and senior officials such as Secretaries General to share information and become more broadly advised on important topics. I mentioned Rosslare Port and the Taoiseach did not refer to it in his reply.

I will not allow that. I am just allowing a brief comment.

I would like an answer to the question as to whether it is a reasonable basic democratic request to suggest there would be a border poll in the event of a hard Brexit.

We are not going back on anything.

To explain, the Brexit Cabinet sub-committee is just one mechanism by which people can meet. I do not believe Cabinet sub-committees exist under the Constitution. The Cabinet is the main mechanism by which Ministers meet. We have had 25 detailed Cabinet discussions on Brexit. Ministers, officials and advisers meet, and we did so only yesterday with a meeting of my officials and advisers and those of the Tánaiste.

There is no Brexit committee.

The senior officials group also meets. This is the main co-ordinating body on the Civil Service side. The main co-ordinating body on the political side is the Cabinet.

On Rosslare, the matter to which Deputy Burton referred falls into the TEN-T regulation and that is revised periodically. We would have to wait for the next time the TEN-T regulation, which is connected to the connecting Europe facility, is revised to make any changes to which ports are designated as tier 1 and tier 2. There is a set of criteria matched to that connected to road links, rail links and the volume of trade.

Freedom of Information Data

Questions (5)

Micheál Martin

Question:

5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of freedom of information requests his Department has received in the past two years; and the number granted, stalled and refused, respectively. [25602/19]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

From 1 January 2017 to the end of May this year, the Department received 1,069 freedom of information requests. Of these, 230 were fully granted, 502 were partially granted, 89 were refused and no records were held in relation to 182 requests. A total of 62 requests were either transferred, withdrawn or handled outside the freedom of information process, while four requests are ongoing.

There has been a significant increase in the number of freedom of information requests received in the Department since the new Act came into operation in 2014. In 2013, the Department received 92 requests, while this figure rose to 290 in 2015 and to 490 in 2018. This represented an increase of 533% in the five years since 2013 and the upward trend is continuing this year.

Regarding records part granted or refused, material is redacted for a variety of reasons, as provided for under the Act. Examples of grounds commonly used by freedom of information decision makers in the Department for withholding material include where Government records are less than five years old, where the material, if released, could have an adverse impact on international relations or the economic interests of the State, where commercially sensitive information is involved and where it is necessary to withhold personal information, such as personal email addresses or mobile numbers.

The majority of requests submitted to the Department are non-personal requests from the media. All requests received in the Department are processed by designated officials in accordance with the Freedom of Information Acts. If a requester is not satisfied with a freedom of information decision he or she can seek an internal review, followed by appeal to the information commissioner. The freedom of information statutory framework keeps the decision-making process at arm's length from the political head of the Department. Despite what is often reported, I have never personally refused the release of any document under freedom of information. I have no role in the decision-making process for requests received in the Department nor do I see copies of decision letters issuing.

There are two members of staff working in the Department’s freedom of information unit, both of whom perform other duties. Staff from throughout the Department are also involved in processing requests in addition to their routine duties, for example searching and retrieving records and making decisions on requests received. At times, complicated and detailed freedom of information requests are received, which involve significant time and resource implications for the staff involved.

Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 requires each freedom of information body to prepare and publish a publication scheme. The Department's scheme is published on gov.ie and sets out a range of information about the type of records it holds.

While the day-to-day operation of the freedom of information legislation is a reserved Civil Service function, there are many dimensions to it that directly concern the political head of each Department and each is responsible to the Dáil when it comes to the overall approach. Equally, while the Freedom of Information Acts set a legal minimum on what must be released, the political head of a Department is, with very limited exceptions, fully entitled to instruct officials to be less restrictive.

The Taoiseach will be aware of a curious story which has appeared in recent days concerning a freedom of information request made to his Department regarding communications between him and his political appointees and media owners. Apparently the person who submitted the request has been contacted by the Department to suggest that gathering this information is a huge undertaking and to ask that the request be limited.

This suggests that either there is a wish to not release something or that there is a volume of correspondence with media owners far beyond anything seen in the past. In this age of searchable emails and a requirement that all documents be maintained on a departmental server, how is it credible to suggest that it would take more than a short time to comply with such a request? Can the Taoiseach provide clarity on this issue? Is he satisfied that all members of his staff are maintaining records as required by the Act? Have the Taoiseach and his officials stopped the habit that we saw in 2017 of using personal email accounts for official communications?

Over the past year there have been two landmark cases concerning the freedom of information legislation that fundamentally impact on its principles and will, potentially, have far-reaching consequences. I refer to the cases involving University College Cork, UCC, and Enet. These cases are undermining what should be the starting point for freedom of information and that is a presumption in favour of disclosure. That is at the heart of the Act and constitutes the spirit and the word of the legislation. Does the Taoiseach believe these two judgments should be appealed to the Supreme Court? Does he support legislation to deal with the dilemmas and the damage arising from these cases, if necessary, in order that we can get back to a situation where the presumption in favour of disclosure is protected within the legislative framework?

I also want to refer to the case in April where the High Court overturned a decision by the Information Commissioner ordering UCC to release records under the Freedom of Information Act. This ruling against the Information Commissioner and in favour of the organisation making the appeal, namely, UCC, has, potentially, wider implications for the application of the Act beyond the reasons of commercial sensitivity which were quoted regarding interest rates connected with a loan. The ruling does not seem to honour the universal principle of freedom of information laws around the world which is, as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, and other bodies have pointed out, presumption in favour of disclosure. Removing the presumption of disclosure from public bodies threatens access to information in Ireland on a wider scale. Does the Taoiseach have an opinion on the outcome of that case and how does his Government intend to respond to protect the integrity of the Freedom of Information Acts? Since the general data protection regulation, GDPR, legislation came in, many public bodies are finding it difficult to deal with any information at all because the name of a party may be involved. The Government also needs to address this issue because it is becoming a routine reason for turning down the release of information. That is a new development concerning the public's right to access information.

I am not familiar with the specifics of the freedom of information request to which Deputy Micheál Martin referred. I imagine there has been little contact with media owners and probably a lot with individual journalists and editors. I will, however, check on that because it is not something that I am familiar with or that I have been briefed about. Regarding personal emails, the Department has a policy on the use of personal emails. I am complying with it and I expect everyone in the Department to be complying with it. There is no absolute prohibition on the use of personal emails. That is not practical. Occasionally, the email system is down but, more often, people email other people on their personal email when they really should not be doing that. They should be using their work email. It is the practice, however, that where something is a matter of public record then a public record must be created. That is usually done by forwarding or copying the email to an official to ensure that the public record is created.

I am not fully briefed on the case law to which the Deputies have referred. I understand that one of those cases may already be on appeal. I got a note on it, which I read last week. This is complicated legislation that does not fall directly under my remit and I am not sure that I fully understand the implications of the legislation. My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, is responsible for the Freedom of Information Acts. I am told that he is well aware of the recent court judgments and he has informed me that the central policy unit for freedom of information at his Department is closely monitoring the situation to determine the impact these judgments will have on the system in reality and in practice. I also understand that the Minister is satisfied that the updated and consolidated freedom of information system introduced under the 2014 Act is operating well. He does not see a basis on the currently available evidence to consider amending legislation at this time. He assures me, however, that appropriate action will be taken, if necessary, in order to ensure its effective functioning now and in the future.

Departmental Operations

Questions (6, 7)

Micheál Martin

Question:

6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of whistleblower complaints in his Department since the legislation was introduced in 2015. [25603/19]

View answer

Brendan Howlin

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the number of whistleblower complaints in his Department to date. [28114/19]

View answer

Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.

The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides a robust statutory framework which aims to provide protections to whistleblowers who raise concerns regarding potential wrongdoing in their workplace. These protections apply to workers in all sectors of the economy, both public and private. They protect whistleblowers from being penalised by their employer for reporting wrongdoing in the workplace or suffering any detriment for doing so.

The Act requires every public body to establish and maintain procedures for dealing with protected disclosures and to provide written information relating to these procedures to their employees. In line with the Act, my Department has a policy on protected disclosures, which sets out the procedure by which an employee can make a disclosure, what will happen when a disclosure is made and what my Department will do to protect a discloser.

My Department is committed to fostering an appropriate environment for dealing with concerns and assisting staff in "speaking up" regarding potential wrongdoing in the workplace and to providing the necessary assistance for staff who raise genuine concerns. To date, no disclosures have been received from employees or former employees of my Department.

The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 is one of many reforms implemented by the Government in recent years and is putting Ireland ahead of many other countries in changing how politics works and how whistleblowers are protected.

The high-profile whistleblower, the former Sergeant Maurice McCabe, exposed many wrongdoings. This is, therefore, important legislation and should hopefully lead to significant cultural change. I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, last month how many protected disclosures he and his Department had received. He informed me that 52 protected disclosures had been received. That included protected disclosures directed to the Minister from workers in An Garda Síochána and the Irish Prison Service. In addition, the Irish Prison Service, the Legal Aid Board, the National Disability Authority, the Courts Service, An Garda Síochána, and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, all have their own protected disclosures policies in place and report separately on disclosures received. That is a significant number overall and there is a need for resources to be provided. Has the Government undertaken a review of how the Act is working, how effective it is and the level of resources required to deal with the numbers of disclosures? Does the Taoiseach believe there are sufficient protective measures in place to protect whistleblowers who have tried to do the right thing in the Irish Prison Service, An Garda Síochána or other agencies?

Last year saw a doubling in the number of cases reported to GSOC. That clearly shows that the culture in respect of people being prepared to utilise the whistleblowers' protection Bill is leading to a rise in complaints. There is, however, a question concerning whether there is sufficient funding to allow for adequate follow-up on protected disclosures. We cannot allow a perception to the contrary to develop among the public, especially among potential whistleblowers. That is because they and their families risk much personally, as we have heard repeatedly. Were those people to feel their claims will not be properly acted upon, it would discourage everyone, except the very brave, from making such disclosures.

It is very worrying that the watchdog has repeatedly raised concerns about a lack of resources to investigate what are often complicated and time-consuming cases. Will the Taoiseach provide an update on the number of protected disclosure cases currently outstanding, and the staffing and funding that will be allocated to GSOC to investigate these claims in a way that will make the legislation and will raise the confidence of those who are making disclosures that it is the good and right thing to do where they have seen something wrong within their particular experience?

In late 2015 and early 2016, three whistleblowers made protected disclosures to the Department of Defence outlining concerns on a lack of training and protection from the chemicals used in Casement Aerodrome at Baldonnel. Informal research by one of the whistleblowers raised questions over a number of deaths of former Air Corps personnel with 73 deaths occurring amongst former personnel aged under 66 years, with the average age of 50 years. This led to an independent investigation and in response to a parliamentary question on this last year in his capacity as the Minister for Defence, the Taoiseach stated he had "sent the report of the independent third party to those who had made disclosures for their views" and, having received those views and in the context of ongoing litigation, the Taoiseach was considering the next steps in the process. I understand that the whistleblowers concerned, as well as the Defence Forces, have had this report since 2017 and that nothing has been done since. What does the Taoiseach propose to do now with this report and what are the next steps he is considering?

As I said earlier in relation to my Department, there are no protected disclosures on hand at present. With regard to GSOC, I do not have that information to hand but I will inform GSOC that Deputy Burton has raised these questions here and I will ask GSOC to provide a reply to her.

Deputy McDonald raises some issues about particular protected disclosures. I am conscious that protected disclosures are protected and there are limitations on what can be said about them. Where litigation is under way it further complicates matters. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to correspond with the Deputy to give her an update and some answers to her particular questions.

I was asked if there has been a review of the Act. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform published a statutory review of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 in July 2018. That followed on from a public consultation. This solicited 25 submissions from a variety of public bodies, interest groups and members of the public. The review considered international developments, including comparative analysis, with legislation in other countries. It also detailed some early results of the implementation of the Act across 212 public sector bodies.

A total of 370 protected disclosures were received by the end of 2016. The review shows the Act is viewed as setting a positive example internationally and has had a broadly positive outcome. It highlights some implementation issues, which are being considered by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. These include: providing absolute confidentiality to disclosers while balancing fair procedures for others concerned, including those against whom allegations have been made; the interaction of the Act with the GDPR legislation and other employment policies; and disclosures made through multiple channels and anonymous disclosures.

Following the publication of the review, the Government decided to set up an interdepartmental committee to capture views regarding the operation of the Protected Disclosures Act. The committee was composed of officials with responsibility for the handling of protected disclosures. Representatives were drawn from all Departments and key stakeholders, including local authorities, the HSE and An Garda Síochána. Six meetings of the committee were held between October 2018 and March 2019. Topics considered by the committee included confidentially and record-keeping, data protection and freedom of information and the operation of disclosure channels following upon protected disclosure, interactions with other workplace policies and reporting obligations. Arising from these discussions, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will, in the coming months, issue a number of guidance notes, to assist public bodies in dealing with certain common issues that have arisen in dealing with protected disclosures. Priority will be given to guidance dealing with disclosures concerning misconduct by a head of an organisation, balancing the obligation of confidentiality with effective follow-up of a disclosure and reporting obligations under the Act. In addition, and as highlighted in the statutory review, there is a need to update the list of competent authorities designated to receive protected disclosures under section 7 of the 2014 Act, and work on a drafting order is currently being advanced.

I would add that European legislation is now being developed on protected disclosures and we are very much involved in that and are monitoring it closely. We may need to make amendments to our domestic legislation depending on how that EU legislation lands and how it might require us to change ours.

At six minutes, we have only a short while left. The next grouping of questions is quite big from No. 8 to No. 19, inclusive. We will not get through that.

I believe it is just three questions.

Generally it is just three questions.

Okay. I had thought we might get on to it, but that is it.

That next group is very long.

Yes, we would not have completed it.

No. In that case, can I ask another supplementary question?

There is no provision for a supplementary but we have a few minutes. With the agreement of the House we can, if we finish on time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I believe the Taoiseach is unintentionally brushing me off slightly with the response he gave. I am looking at a question that was put to the Taoiseach by my colleague, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, for a written response on 22 February 2018. The Taoiseach responded as the line Minister, where he set out that he had appointed an independent third party to review the allegations made. The Taoiseach also said that he had sent the report of the independent third party to those who had made disclosures, for their views, and that the Taoiseach as the relevant party - not the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe - was considering the next steps in the process, having received those views. Almost one and a half years have passed and it is not really sufficient for the Taoiseach to say to me that he will get someone else to write to me with an update. I want to know from the Taoiseach - as the responsible party - what he going to do next on these serious allegations.

As the Taoiseach is the Minister for Defence, this is specifically his responsibility. It is not really something that can be handled by his Minster of State. We have seen a lot of comment about the Minister of State, which would indicate a striking lack of confidence by key people within the Defence Forces regarding his capacity to deal with very difficult issues. I ask the Taoiseach, in his capacity as Minister for Defence, to take it upon himself to address these complaints because it is absolutely part of the destruction of the morale in the Defence Forces, which are so important to everybody in Ireland.

I am the Minister for Defence but the Government has delegated responsibility for defence and almost all of the associated functions to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. I will get an update on those particular matters from the Minister of State and I will respond, in my name, to the Deputies' queries.