Commissions of Investigation Expenditure

Questions (1)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the projected costs of the Commission of Investigation into the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC. [47365/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

Following consultations with the Opposition parties by the then Minister for Finance, the IBRC commission of investigation was established in June 2015. The commission is entirely independent in its work and Mr. Justice Brian Cregan is its sole member.

The commission was originally due to issue its final report by the end of December 2015 at an estimated cost of €4 million, excluding any third-party costs.

The commission is required to investigate certain transactions, activities and management decisions at the IBRC. In its first module, it is investigating the Siteserv transaction, which has been identified as a matter of significant public concern in Dáil Éireann.

In the commission's sixth interim report, dated 27 March 2019, Mr. Justice Cregan requested an extension of the deadline for reporting until the end of March 2020. He also responded to several issues I had raised with him in December 2018 following consultation with other Oireachtas parties. These concerned the estimated final cost of the investigation, the timescale for completion of the commission's work and whether it would be possible for the commission to reach interim findings.

On 31 May last, following completion of consultations with Opposition party representatives, I agreed to extend the commission's timeframe for reporting until 31 March 2020. I also arranged for the commission's sixth interim report to be published on my Department's website and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Other than what has been published in the commission's interim reports, I have no information on the status of its investigation, as the commission is completely independent in its work.

Regarding costs, from the time of its establishment to the end of October this year the commission spent approximately €6.7 million. This does not include third-party legal costs that have been incurred by the commission but not yet paid.

The commission's sixth interim report provides an estimate of the final cost of the completion of the first module of its investigation, which concerned the Siteserv transaction, of between €11 million and €14 million. However, this estimate assumes the investigation is completed in accordance with the timetable set out in the interim report and excludes costs or delays associated with judicial review hearings.

The commission also acknowledges a substantial degree of uncertainty regarding the amount of costs actually recoverable by parties before the commission and assumes the commission's legal costs guidelines are not successfully challenged.

As I have informed Opposition party representatives, my Department continues to be of the view that the final cost is likely to significantly exceed his estimate and could be of the order of €30 million.

I thank the Taoiseach for that reply. We are now well into the fifth year of the commission of investigation into the IBRC and the controversial Siteserv transaction. Despite six interim reports to date, however, the commission has revealed no substantial detail surrounding the controversy. The reply the Taoiseach just read out confirms that this remains the case. To be frank, people are scratching their heads. The affair surrounding former Deputy Dara Murphy has seen somebody who has now gone off to a well-paid job in Europe fail to comply with the basic rules of the Dáil and get away scot-free. Now that the Deputy has left the Dáil, can the Taoiseach tell us whether is he in any way accountable for his actions in the context of fobbing in?

The latest deadline for completion of the work of the commission of investigation has been set as the end of March 2020, as the Taoiseach just confirmed. The overall cost of the commission of investigation will be €30 million. Last March, however, the former chief of the IBRC suggested that costs could reach €100 million. Can the Taoiseach comment on that? We cannot allow the truth to be buried or allow the surging costs to undermine the credibility of the commission. Given the fresh legal actions that are under way, is the Taoiseach willing to further extend the deadline beyond March? If so, under what conditions? Can the Taoiseach provide an updated figure for the projected costs? I heard him refer to €30 million but, as I said, knowledgeable commentary is now suggesting a cost of €100 million. This Government is facing a crisis in the context of its credibility in dealing with significant matters of public interest. We really need an answer from the Taoiseach. The Dara Murphy affair has cast a pall on the Taoiseach's reputation. He probably had nothing to do with it other than facilitating Dara Murphy in going to Europe, which is really strange when the latter's job was to be a Deputy here. What has been revealed this week is causing outrage among the general public.

We have an issue here. The Taoiseach has outlined costs of €6 million to date. The commission, which was set up to investigate various IBRC transactions beginning with that involving Siteserv, has been in place for longer than the IBRC or the interim body it replaced. The individual transaction of greatest public concern happened over a period of months, but it has now been investigated for a period of years. Every single email, text message and document generated within the IBRC and those approaching it could have been examined by now. The Taoiseach adopted a stance of studied indifference when this was raised in June. The fact is that this commission is investigating a matter of major public, not just Opposition, concern. While the Oireachtas has set the terms of the legislation, it is the Taoiseach and the Government which have direct responsibility for communication with the commission on all matters. This was matter was a political scandal before the last election and it appears that we may go through another Dáil without getting basic answers to fundamental questions.

Has the Taoiseach asked the commission when it intends to produce a substantive report on its core work? Has he asked if it is on target to meet the deadlines under the extensions it has asked for, that is, the time it has given itself? When will the public know an answer to the basic question of whether State assets were sold below value? This is separate to the more contentious issue of who was responsible for this if it happened, and the role which lobbying may or may not have played. As a member of the Government, is the Taoiseach proposing to take any measures to secure extra information for the public in the next few months? Deputy Burton has identified potential future costs and no one has any real notion of when this investigation will end. This is deeply unsatisfactory. We need answers to some very basic questions that were asked about the transaction in question.

The cost of this investigation is problematic to say the least. The Taoiseach stated that the spend so far has been approximately €6.6 million. On several occasions, he has cited an estimate of the cost, which I imagine was presented to him by his officials, of up to €30 million. There is an obligation on the Taoiseach to outline what this figure is based on and how it was arrived at. It would be an extraordinary amount of money to spend to continue with this commission of investigation. The Taoiseach has previously brought party leaders or spokespersons together to try to get a consensus on how we should move forward in respect of this issue. What was the quid pro quo when the deadline was extended to next March? In other words, what was the expectation on the part of the commission of investigation which underpinned the extension? I imagine the Taoiseach will have to come back to party leaders some time next year to once again consider what to do next. Can he confirm this?

People will be concerned about the escalating costs and on what the figure of €30 million cited by the Taoiseach is based. I am aware that there are third-party and legal costs which have not yet been paid. Those are part of it, but there is a big difference between the judge's estimate and what the Taoiseach's officials are telling him it might cost. It is important that he clarifies the position in this regard.

Charles Dickens' best book was probably Bleak House. It starts with the tale of a legal case Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which had gone on for generations to the point where nobody knew what the case was about anymore. One thing that is clear in Jarndyce and Jarndyce is that the lawyers make an absolute fortune out of the whole thing, such that the original issue and any moneys that might have arisen from the case would all be hoovered up by the legal profession and the reason for starting the case would fade into the mists of time. This is also the kind of problem in this matter. On the one hand the Siteserv and IBRC issue is something we need truth and clarity on because there is a lot at stake in it. These costs, however, cannot be allowed to escalate to a point where they are, if some of the figures being bandied around are credible, far in excess of the sums of money that were being investigated by the investigation. That would be bizarre and unacceptable to the public. It will be interesting to hear what the Taoiseach has to say on that front.

The Taoiseach has up to five minutes.

I can be shorter than that on this occasion. This is a commission of investigation and I need to be careful what I say about it. I answered a question earlier with regard to former Deputy Dara Murphy. I can confirm, however, that the Standards in Public Office Commission can investigate a former Member in relation to his or her conduct as a Member. The former Deputy, Dara Murphy, has said that he is willing to co-operate fully with any statutory investigation. I believe he should do so and I said this to him last night.

The Cregan commission is a commission of investigation established by the Dáil. It was demanded by the Opposition at the time. There was some reluctance in Government to do it, but the Government acceded to the demands of the Opposition at the time to establish the commission. As it is a commission of investigation that operates independently of Government - it is a little bit like a court or a tribunal in that regard - we cannot interfere in its work. The figure of €30 million is an estimate by my officials. It is based on the costs incurred to date and the costs trajectory of other commissions of investigation. We accept that it is only an estimate.

With regard to the timeframe for reporting, the accountability for the commission of investigation is set out in the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. The establishment of a commission is by way of a Government order that has been approved in draft by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The order identifies a specified Minister who is responsible for receiving the interim and final reports, for granting any extensions of timeframe, and for other administrative tasks. As the Members are aware, the previous Taoiseach and I consulted Oireachtas representatives at every stage where a decision was required on IBRC. Following a request from the commission in its fourth interim report, which I received on 10 June, I extended the reporting deadline to the end of this year. I have no information to indicate that the deadline will not be met. Based on this, we anticipate another report before the end of this year, and we will see if that happens.

British-Irish Council

Questions (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the 33rd British-Irish Council. [48539/19]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his hosting of the recent British-Irish Council summit. [47640/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if corporation tax was discussed at the British-Irish Council when it met in Farmleigh recently; and if comments were made about corporation tax in Northern Ireland. [48831/19]

View answer

Joan Burton

Question:

5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his hosting of the recent British-Irish Council summit. [48844/19]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his hosting of the recent British-Irish Council summit. [50113/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, together.

I was pleased to welcome the administration heads from Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey and the British Government to Dublin for the 33rd British-Irish Council on 15 November. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the British-Irish Council, BIC, and it was agreed that the council continues to be a valued institution of the Good Friday Agreement. It offers opportunities to engage on matters of mutual interest across our respective competencies.

The council discussed the political situation in Northern Ireland and regretted that Northern Ireland will not be represented politically at this important forum until the Executive is restored. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was present, as were civil servants from Northern Ireland.

The summit heard from health ministers from each administration who met that morning to discuss health and social initiatives to combat substance misuse, in particular the enhanced, innovative addiction treatment and rehabilitation services that will be central to tackling problematic drug and alcohol use in Dublin's north-east inner-city. The Ministers explored the links between health and social initiatives and community policing, and their long-term social and economic benefits to communities. In advance of the summit meeting on Thursday evening, health ministers from the travelling delegations visited the Dublin north-east inner-city inclusion health hub, a project that focuses on the transformation of the delivery of health services for drug users in the city.

The issue of corporation tax was not discussed, but the BIC summit provided an opportunity for ministers to update the council on their actions regarding Brexit and to discuss the latest domestic political developments across their jurisdictions, along with topics of mutual interest such as the economy, trade and ongoing relations with the European Union. I had a bilateral meeting with First Minister Sturgeon, during which we discussed Brexit, political developments and the ongoing review of bilateral relations between Ireland and Scotland.

The Taoiseach chaired the 33rd British-Irish Council last month, and we are celebrating - or noting - the 20th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of council. We are in a period of immense change one way or the other, as we are all aware, with regard to the future relationships between the UK, Ireland and the EU. There are questions over the constitutional futures of both islands. It is necessary that we have a forum to continue to forge the east-west relationship. No matter what the changes will be, it is essential to maintain strong links between both islands during this period.

For the past two meetings of the BIC, however, the UK Prime Minister in office, Theresa May, and more recently, Boris Johnson, have failed to attend the summit and have had deputies attend on their behalf. This is regrettable, particularly given the Taoiseach's own dedicated attendance.

Yet again there has been no elected representation for the people of Northern Ireland because of the ongoing paralysis at Stormont. I welcome the hints at the moment that there could be another set of Christmas discussions. Christmas discussions at Stormont have provided positive outcomes on previous occasions, albeit for limited periods of times. I welcome any move by the two parties in Stormont perhaps to begin serious conversations when the British general election is over.

It is 20 years since the first meeting of the council. Does the Taoiseach feel it is now appropriate to review the role? If the British-Irish Council is to have a serious future, does the Taoiseach have any confidence that the next Prime Minister of the UK after the current election will attend the 34th summit in Scotland next year? We would all look forward to it also if the Northern Ireland parties, especially the DUP and Sinn Féin, could indicate that they might foresee their presence in Scotland next year. Will the Taoiseach outline his own view of the future role of the BIC, particularly in the context of Brexit, and will he commit to stressing this view and pressing the importance of the British-Irish Council to the next UK Prime Minister after the election on 12 December? I am conscious that polls appear to indicate the current incumbent has quite a good chance of remaining in office. Does the Taoiseach feel that any engagement will be likely from him with regard to the council?

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the British-Irish Council. Ministers with responsibility for health policy visited the north-east inner-city health hub, which I welcome. It is very important that these types of visits go ahead and that legislators can see what is being done on our behalf in these centres.

The Taoiseach also had a bilateral discussion with Nicola Sturgeon, which I welcome. Will the Taoiseach indicate if the issue of Scotland's independence and a potential second referendum came up during those discussions? The Taoiseach is aware that for some time we have pressed him and his Government to engage in the conversation on a united Ireland and for a Border poll at some time in the State.

The difference between the Scottish and Irish situations is that Scottish leaders are actively engaged and participating in the debate on Scottish independence and a potential referendum. That is not the case in this State, be it on the part of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. We would like to see that change. The elements that we have sought - a White Paper on Irish unity and an Oireachtas committee to consider the practical steps to arrive at a final destination - are important and necessary in that regard.

As part of that fringe meeting, did the Taoiseach hold a discussion with First Minister Sturgeon on the potential for a second referendum on Scottish independence?

During yesterday's Question Time, I asked the Taoiseach about the future arrangements for a more systematic engagement between members of the Irish and British Governments following Brexit. I pointed out the familiarity that had built up over nearly 50 years of common membership of the EU and how essential that was to good relationships between the two Governments and peoples. The Taoiseach's reply was a very general one that did not go beyond what had been said for well over a year, that is, some form of altered British-Irish Council was being considered. I would have thought that, at this stage, this matter should have gone beyond generalities. The number of areas where regular contacts are required to maintain the broad features of, for example, the common travel area is wide and cannot be addressed by having a few more set-piece summits. Is it the Taoiseach's intention to consult on this matter or publish anything? Has he discussed a process with the British to start getting something more specific? We have mentioned the Nordic Council as a potential model for future British-Irish structures post Brexit.

We will soon reach the third anniversary of the collapse of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland because of a controversy surrounding a heating scheme. It is a great pity that the Dublin media has paid so little attention to the details of the inquiry into that heating scheme, given that it has confirmed to everyone the core dysfunction that was operating in the DUP-Sinn Féin controlled Executive. One element of this was the secret structures whereby Sinn Féin ministers were controlled by non-elected people. The even more pervasive point was how each party was allowed to promote its own interests and other parties were systematically excluded.

Should the two parties find a way to work together again, and I hope they do, what cannot be allowed to happen is the continued marginalisation of other parties and groups. An essential part of ensuring that is to restore a civic forum. This is not an option - it is a requirement of the agreement. Another essential move must be an end to the practice whereby the leaders of the two larger parties in the Executive and their advisers get to control even basic information and the flow of same, denying others the right to debate issues before everything is agreed between the two larger parties. Will the Taoiseach assure us that the Government is seeking the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, not just those parts of it on which the two larger parties are focused?

I note that health ministers met as part of the British-Irish Council. I would be interested to know whether they were aware of the alarming similarities in the crises in the health services in the North, South and Britain. Today, health workers in the North are on strike. On 18 December, nurses will come out on strike. They are on work to rule today. Other health workers are already on strike because of a shocking inequality between health workers in the NHS in the North and those in Britain. Health workers in the North get paid less - they have caps on their pay - than their equivalents in Britain. This shocking inequality was initially supported by DUP health ministers in the Assembly and maintained by Ms Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Féin when she was health minister in 2017. Just as People Before Profit said to nurses when they went out on strike for decent pay and conditions in the South, we fully support health workers in the North fighting for pay parity. What is at stake is the quality of health services in the North, which are suffering exactly the same problems as ours are, namely, massively high waiting lists, huge overcrowding and terrible conditions for health workers. As a result, they cannot recruit enough health workers and others are leaving to work for agencies or leaving the country altogether. That sounds familiar, does it not? In the worst way, there are similarities between the North, South and Britain in terms of the mistreatment of and underinvestment in our health services. We should all support the nurses and other health workers in the North who are taking industrial action to remedy that inequality.

When it comes to the British-Irish Council it has not been the norm for the UK Prime Minister to attend since its inception. I think that Mr. David Cameron may have attended one of the meetings, perhaps in London, or a few during his term of office, but it has been the norm since its inception to send a different senior Cabinet minister to attend the British-Irish Council to represent the UK Government.

In terms of the future role, I believe that both the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council can have an enhanced future role after Brexit, with the British-Irish Council perhaps taking responsibility for monitoring issues around the common travel area, maybe even security co-operation as well as co-operation among the regions, and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council, which really operates on an ad hoc basis, becoming more permanent and more structured with regular meetings, perhaps one summit once a year involving the two Heads of Government, with bilateral meetings involving ministers and their teams. When the UK leaves the European Union, we will still have a lot to talk about and we will not have the opportunity to meet four or five times a year in Brussels as we do now.

I know Deputy Micheál Martin mentioned the Nordic Council as a potential model. I think that is a something that we need to examine. The intention now is to take it up with the Prime Minister after the British elections, which will happen next week.

Regarding the Scottish independence referendum, First Minister Sturgeon took the opportunity to brief me on her thoughts and plans about it. She informed me that it was her intention, and the intention of the Scottish Government, to have a second referendum in Scotland on independence in the next number of years. Of course, the Scottish Government will need the consent of the UK Government to do that. That may depend on the outcome of the elections next week as well.

On the general situation in Northern Ireland, it is very dynamic at the moment. There are a lot of moving parts. One is the outcome of the Westminster elections next week, which will impact on who will be the Prime Minister and in the Cabinet and whether the next Government has a majority or not. Also, there is still uncertainty about Brexit and whether the withdrawal agreement can be ratified. There is a potential in the next couple of weeks for us to get some certainty, both on the composition of the UK Government and also on the UK's intentions with regard to Brexit. I think that creates the opportunity for talks to resume in Northern Ireland around re-establishing the institutions and getting them functioning again and also around the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the problems that were being experienced in the health service in Northern Ireland. I make a point of at least looking at the front pages of all the Northern Ireland newspapers every day. He is absolutely right. There are major problems in the health service in Northern Ireland that are not dissimilar to the ones faced here, in Britain or, indeed, in very many jurisdictions around the western world. The front page of the Belfast Telegraph for the past three or four days has been leading with health stories around the strikes, problems with cancer tests, problems with waiting lists and access. It is sadly a feature of the vast majority of public health services in the western world to different extents. The extents do vary, but the problems are very similar - waiting times, overcrowding in emergency departments and difficulty recruiting and retaining staff. I know that the German health minister is currently seeking 50,000 more nurses. The UK's NHS talks about, I think, 100,000 vacancies. Even the whole issue of overspending - health trusts and so on not being able to stick to budget - is very similar, albeit to different extents and different levels of severity in different jurisdictions.

We should say one thing about our health service that often gets missed. The focus is always on overcrowding and trolleys, and I understand why that is the case, but we do not focus on - this is unfair on our health service and our health service staff - patient outcomes enough.

For example, somebody who gets cancer in Ireland has a better chance of survival than somebody who gets cancer and is treated by the NHS in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. We are seeing real improvements in patient outcomes with regard to stroke, heart attack and life expectancy. All of these patient outcomes and indicators in our health service are going in the right direction. This does not happen by accident. It happens because of investment, good strategies, good policies and the phenomenal work of the staff in the health service. This should be recognised more.

Fianna Fáil-led Government cancer and heart strategies.

We will pat you on the back.

Departmental Functions

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Sitting suspended at 2.07 p.m. and resumed at 3.07 p.m.

Questions (7, 8, 9)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit in his Department. [47831/19]

View answer

Brendan Howlin

Question:

8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the parliamentary liaison unit. [48733/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the way in which his Department supports the Independent Ministers of Government as outlined in the Statement of Strategy 2016-2019 of his Department. [49131/19]

View answer

Oral answers (42 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, together.

My Department assists the Taoiseach and the Government, including the Independent members of Government, through the Government secretariat, the programme for Government office, the Cabinet committee structure, and the parliamentary liaison unit. As outlined in my Department's Statement of Strategy 2016-2019, these business units work to ensure Government business is managed to the highest standards. The business of Government is co-ordinated by the Government secretariat, which has responsibility for the preparation of the Cabinet agenda, the circulation of papers, and the communication of the Government's decisions to the relevant Ministers and Departments.

The programme for Government office provides assistance to Government in delivering on its ambitious programme of work through monitoring the implementation of the commitments contained in the programme for Government across all Departments. The office prepares progress reports and an annual report setting out progress made across all of Government in implementing the commitments in the programme.

The Cabinet committee system is an important part of the machinery of Government and a core part of the work of the Department. It provides a co-ordinated whole-of-government approach to issues as necessary. The scope of the Cabinet committee system encompasses the Government's national priorities and the challenges Ireland faces in the coming years.

The parliamentary liaison unit was established to help ensure that Ministers and Departments are properly informed of the responsibilities and procedures in the 32nd Dáil. The unit provides assistance to Ministers and their Departments on Oireachtas matters, with a particular emphasis on assisting Departments with Private Members' business. The unit liaises with advisers to the Independent members of Government to ensure they are informed of Oireachtas issues and to assist them in engaging with the new processes arising from Dáil reform. The parliamentary liaison unit provides detailed information on upcoming matters in the Dáil and Seanad and highlights any new Oireachtas reform issues. The chief strategist for the Independent Alliance and the political co-ordinator for the Independent Ministers in Government are also based in my Department.

The Government press secretary acts as a spokesperson for the Taoiseach and the Government and is supported by the press office in his role of co-ordinating the media relations of all Departments. The deputy press secretary, who is also based in my Department, has responsibility for co-ordinating communications for all the Independents in Government. My Department continues to monitor these supports, enhancing processes as appropriate.

I asked about the parliamentary liaison unit in June in the context of the Bills being blocked by money messages. There are 55 such Bills, including all of those of People Before Profit, which have all passed Second Stage. The Bills include the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill, the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill, the Anti-Evictions Bill and the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill.

What I am curious about is how the Government assesses what requires a money message. It seems there is clearly an abuse of the money message provision and it is being used for political purposes. There seems to be no consistency or objectivity in deciding what supposedly has a cost. Even though the Bills clearly are not Bills about spending money or raising taxes, arbitrarily the Government declares there will be costs, but there is no consistency in that application. The only rationale appears to be political. I would like the Taoiseach to admit this and that politics rather than actual costs is dictating the use of the money message by the Government.

I will give an example because I asked the Clerk about this. I asked him what Bills do not require money messages. He said referendum Bills do not. I said that was very strange because referendums cost a lot of money. Why would they not require a money message while a Bill to stop issuing fossil fuel licences to oil and gas companies, which would cost the Government hardly anything, does require a money message? This exposes the abuse, and there is no other word for it, but I want the Taoiseach to prove me wrong. There are actually no objective fair criteria for the deployment of the money message other than partisan politics, because some things do not require a money message even though they could well be argued to have a cost and other things do require one even though they clearly would not have a significant cost other than minor incidental costs.

I want to speak about some messages to the Taoiseach in particular in the context of the parliamentary liaison unit. The Taoiseach may be aware that hundreds of women were outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday with the slogan "SAVE OUR BINGO". I have to say I was astonished last week and earlier this week when I heard the Government intended to go to war on the simple pastime of a lot of older women. Some very elderly people enjoy a game of bingo, for the most part in former cinema halls and theatres throughout the country.

Yesterday, the women outside wanted to be able to give this petition, which I have with me, to the Government but they were not able to do so. I will mention one woman whose name is in the petition and whom the Taoiseach may well have met locally in Dublin West. Kathleen Reynolds has a severe disability but nonetheless manages to play table tennis and manages to go every week to a couple of bingo games. As she has said and as have many other women, it is her pastime. Many of the women do not drink or smoke. They go to bingo. I am sure the Taoiseach must have been brought to bingo by his mother or grandmother when he was a child, as many people were.

Are we all on the same page?

This is about communication. The question is about the parliamentary liaison unit. The Taoiseach listed a rake of people from the Government Information Service and other offices who are all in the business of communicating and, it is presumed, being communicated with.

The Deputy is stretching it now.

There were more people than we would find on stage in the list of people the Taoiseach gave, yet the women with the bingo petition could not find one person in the busy Government who could come out and accept it. I do not generally do this and I apologise but, being honest, what has got into the head of the Government that it is waging war against bingo at a time when we have an unbelievable homeless crisis?

We have the gist of the Deputy's question.

I share a lot of Deputy Boyd Barrett's views on the money message.

We will not get an answer.

Mr. Justice Simons gave a clear warning in his comments to the court that the Government is on very thin ice, never mind bingo, with regard to the money message.

We will not get an answer.

We need a more comprehensive answer than the Taoiseach has just given us.

Please leave some time for the Taoiseach to answer. I call Deputy Martin and ask him to stay within the confines of the question.

I certainly will, but may I express my admiration for Deputy Burton, who brought all of her experience to bear on a very important issue that generated a lot of activity and concern outside the House yesterday?

There is no harm in it.

I am saying "well done".

It is baffling that the Government is declaring war on it.

As an observer, I must admire the Deputy's capacity to do that.

The clock is ticking and it is costing the Deputy time to admire her.

It is an important issue.

I know. I have played bingo myself.

As a young fellow I sold bingoettes on a Thursday night in the Savoy in Cork and in the City Hall, where about 1,500 people used to play at that time. I understand the centrality of bingo to many people's lives and the Government should make a statement that bingo is not threatened. My understanding is that it is not and that there are exemptions that will certainly facilitate the continuation of bingo. At some stage, the Taoiseach and the Government should confirm this.

It is important to point out that when the parliamentary liaison unit was first set up, the Dáil was informed that it was intended to make sure the Government kept in touch with the Dáil as a whole. That is what was said. Subsequently it was confirmed that it is in fact there to service the inquiries of Independent Deputies who have, or might have in the future, agreements to vote with the Government in divisions.

In the past, the Taoiseach was asked to list the Deputies who are covered by the unit's work. He claimed that he did not know the exact answer. Now the Taoiseach has had time, can he tell us exactly who the unit works with? Are services provided by the unit to anyone other than the four non-Independent Alliance Deputies who voted for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy? I am aware that there was apparently a lot of activity with Deputy Mattie McGrath yesterday. I might be wrong there but apparently there was a great deal of engagement that came to naught in the end.

Maybe he is a bingo player.

The Taoiseach will also be aware of reports this morning that specific arrangements may have been entered into to get the Minister through the vote. Specifically, there are reports that Ministers may have been busy making promises on individual projects. Considering the Taoiseach's past commitment to transparency on these matters, will he publish the list of projects discussed yesterday with Deputies in the interests of trying to secure their votes?

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

I asked my question already.

I call Deputy Cullinane.

I can speak again if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle wants me to do so.

I know Deputy Boyd Barrett would. I call Deputy Cullinane.

I wish to speak to question No. 9. The Department of the Taoiseach is obliged to have a statement of strategy. My understanding is that the statement of strategy for the Department will reach its end date this month. We do not know how long this fractured Government has left as we move into 2020. It might be a month, two months or three months. We know that in the by-elections, to use a bingo analogy, the Government got neither a full house nor a line. In none of the four constituencies did Government candidates win seats. I would like to know what the thoughts of the Department of Taoiseach are for 2020. As stated, it is obliged to have a statement of strategy in place. As the Taoiseach acknowledged in the past 48 hours, housing is one of the big challenges facing this State. It is a huge issue that is pressing down on people. Despite the fact Fianna Fáil Deputies sat on their hands last night and abstained, they were unable to express confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. This is the big issue. It is one of the major challenges we face, as are health, childcare and a host of other matters. The issue regarding housing is enormous. The statement of strategy, which reaches its end date this month, notes that the Department "has a responsibility to ensure that policies developed uphold the Government’s commitment to develop Ireland in a sustainable way which fosters economic development and social progress". From our perspective, the big issue in the context of social progress is housing. As already stated, I would like to know if the Department of the Taoiseach intends to put in placed a new statement of strategy for 2020 or is the Taoiseach accepting that this fractured Government is dying on its feet and might only have a couple of weeks left as we go into 2020?

I confirm that no promises were made to Independent Deputies in return for votes on the confidence motion and there is nothing to publish. However, Independent Deputies and plenty of Opposition Deputies are in touch with Ministers all the time looking for help on issues and we try to help them as best we can.

As the Deputy stated, the statement of strategy will expire at the end of this year. We will have an election next year so the most appropriate thing is that the new statement of strategy should be for the new Government. Hopefully, it will not be for a new Taoiseach but that is a matter for the people to decide in May.

On Private Members' Bills, it is worth pointing out that, under this Government, the current Dáil has allowed and facilitated the enactment of more Private Members' Bill than any previous Dáil in the history of the State. Nine Private Members' Bills have become law. In the previous Dáil, the figure was only four and it was zero in the Dáil before that. No Dáil in modern Irish history has been so willing to facilitate the enactment of-----

That is because of my reforming zeal at the commencement of this Dáil. We drove Dáil reform.

-----Private Members' Bills. I pay tribute to Deputy Micheál Martin's reforming zeal and self-congratulation in that regard. It is also worth saying there are 300 Private Members' Bills in the system. Most of them do not require a money message. Probably only about 50 of the 300-----

The Government blackguarded it.

-----require money messages. In some cases, money messages have not even been requested. I have seen suggestions that there are 40 or 50 Bills awaiting money messages. However, a money message must be requested first and the matter is then processed by the Department before a decision is made. It is all covered under Article 17.2 of the Constitution, which states that a Bill which involves a cost to the Exchequer cannot be enacted without a money message being agreed by the Cabinet and signed by the Taoiseach. We have a memorandum of understanding as a protocol that outlines the grounds on which a money message can be refused. Essentially, there are four grounds. First, if it requires money that has not been voted for by the Oireachtas. For example, the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 would establish two new Government agencies. It is not just about medicinal cannabis but it proposes to establish two new Government agencies. The cost of establishing two such agencies-----

We said we would delete those sections.

-----would be substantial. The second ground relates to whether a Bill is unconstitutional. Some legislation put forward is unconstitutional. On the advice of the Attorney General, I cannot grant a money message for legislation I know to be unconstitutional.

The Taoiseach has 30 seconds to get the bingo answer in.

The third ground relates to whether the legislation is contrary to European law or international treaties. Again, I cannot sign a money message for legislation that is contrary to European law or to international treaties to which this country is a signatory. The fourth ground relates to circumstances where the Government is introducing legislation that supersedes a Private Members' Bill. It is common for the Government to agree that a certain Bill has a good idea behind it but that it is flawed in some way and that it will, in conjunction with its own team, experts and the Departments, with all of their resources, put forward legislation which is better and which does much the same thing. The National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017 is an example in this regard.

I answered two questions on bingo earlier. However, out of respect for the Deputies, I would be happy to comment on the matter again. I have been to bingo with my-----

I am sure the Taoiseach has.

I have been there on the odd Sunday night in recent times not too far from here. I am happy to confirm once again there is no threat to bingo halls or bingo nights. The change in the law is to require operators to give 25% of the money to charities, as they are supposed to. There are some large, profitable and commercial bingo halls that have not been giving any money to charity at all or that have only been giving paltry sums. The law will require that 25% of the proceeds of the bingo halls go to charity. I do not see why anyone should be against that. I can understand why the operators are against it because they would rather keep the money but they are wrong in that regard. The 25% to which I refer should go to charity. I hope Deputies will vote for the legislation and call out the operators because some of them have not been giving that money to charity, even though they are required to do so.

My Department receives petitions all the time. They can be delivered to the office at the entrance to Merrion Street Upper.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Sitting suspended at 2.07 p.m. and resumed at 3.07 p.m.