Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Publication of Government Decisions.

2.

asked the Taoiseach whether he will arrange, whenever a Government decision is taken which will involve a charge on public funds, to have notice of every such decision published in the next issue of Iris Oifigiúil.

3.

asked the Taoiseach (a) whether he will change existing arrangements in order to secure that the minutes of Government meetings shall be accessible to inspection by the public five years after the date of meetings, excepting only such parts of the minutes as relate to matters of national security and relations with other States; and (b) alternatively, whether he will change existing arrangements so as to secure that such parts of the minutes of Government meetings as relate to decisions involving a charge on public funds for purposes other than national security and relations with other States shall be accessible to inspection by the public five years after the date of meetings.

I propose, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

I am satisfied that the existing arrangements in relation to publication of Government decisions are adequate. I do not believe that it would be desirable to open the minutes of Government after only five years.

I hope the Taoiseach will accept from me that I do not seriously mean what Question No. 3 purports to say. But it appeared to be the only way I could extract any kind of an answer about this topic from the Taoiseach. Might I ask him this: what are the existing arrangements for giving notice or publishing Government decisions? I am certainly not aware of them and I have been trying here for three weeks to discover what they are. What existing arrangements are there for giving formal notice to the public of decisions taken by the Government particularly those which will involve a charge on public funds?

In some instances there is a statutory requirement that decisions taken are published in Iris Oifigiúil but, apart from that, there are just the normal parliamentary procedure obligations whereby any form of Government expenditure must sooner or later find its way to this House for explanation.

Does the Taoiseach accept — his memory cannot be so short that he may have forgotten — that I have been trying here for three weeks to extract from him, in various contexts, information which would enable me to make up my mind whether a particular commitment, later supposed to be a Government commitment, had in fact been the result of a Government discussion and decision? I am finding it impossibly difficult to find this out. I am now asking the Taoiseach if he can direct, advise or help me about how I can satisfy myself or be certain that a commitment, for example — and I beg his pardon for mentioning something so contentious — resulting from the Talbot negotiations was discussed and agreed to by the Government?

The Deputy knows my reluctance to go into Government detail of this sort because, if I do it on one occasion, the precedent would be there for doing it on all occasions and I genuinely do not think that that would be desirable. I feel sure that the Deputy, as a constitutional lawyer, might perhaps agree with me if he were taking a non-party view of this matter. Having said that, I just want to say that in relation to the Talbot agreement entered into, that matter was discussed at great length by the Government and the decisions taken were Government decisions. I also want to assure the Deputy — in case there is any doubt about it — that in any instance where a Government decision is necessary, a Government decision is procured by this Government. I think the Deputy himself, from experience in government, will know that there are occasions when decisions not requiring formal Government decision, can be taken by a Minister or group of Ministers with the Taoiseach.

There are two questions being taken together here and there are two or three other questions I want to ask about this. Would the Taoiseach explain how it is that a contrast can arise of the following kind: between, first, what he said on one day last week when the question of Deputy Shatter's Bill first arose — when he volunteered to the House that the publication of the Government's Bill on the same matter had been discussed by the Government on Tuesday and publication had been agreed for Thursday — that he was able, on the one hand, go give that kind of detail but I got nothing but evasion when I inquired from him whether, prior to the reaching of agreement terms on the Talbot deal the substance of those terms had been discussed and agreed by the Government. I think the Taoiseach will agree that he did not give a straight answer to that question. He merely asked me to accept that the usual formalities had been gone through. I wanted a simple answer only: did the Government discuss those terms before they were put to the other side or not; and did they agree them or not?

I have one more question to ask. While I accept of course that there cannot be complete goldfish bowl transparency about Government proceedings would the Taoiseach not agree that there is a lamentable contrast between the publicity given to all court and parliamentary proceedings in this country and the virtual impossibililty of seeing what goes on behind the doors of the Government, or of being able to rely on anything except a post hoc assurance from a Taoiseach that the formalities have been observed? Surely that is an unsatisfactory contrast as between the three arms of the State?

The procedures that this Government follow are those that have been followed by every Government heretofore. I am quite satisfied that they constitute the best way of doing our business. Other Governments down the years have followed them. The rule now is that after 30 years Government documents are published. I believe it would be quite impossible to carry on Government business in any other way.

No one wants to overhear Government proceedings but we do want to know whether a commitment, subsequently advertised as a Government commitment, has in fact been given on the basis of a Government decison or whether someone, and let it be the Taoiseach even, has gone out ahead and made this offer——

I have already assured the Deputy that on an occasion when a Government decision is required in regard to Government business that Government decision is taken.