Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 22a, motion re Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport; No. 23, motion re Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act, 2000 (Additional Functions) Order, 2001; and No. 6, Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 22a, shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 23, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion within 90 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and questions shall be taken today from 3.30 p.m. until 4.45 p.m. and in the event of a private notice question being allowed, it shall be taken at 4.15 p.m.; and the order shall not resume thereafter.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal to take No. 22a, motion re inquiry into mini-CTC and Esat-CIE cabling, without debate agreed to?

Members on this side of the House welcome the fact that this motion is on the Order Paper.

Is the Deputy opposing it?

Yesterday morning I sought to establish if the accompanying legislation—

Perhaps the Deputy could do so on the Order of Business. The proposal before the House involves the taking of the motion without debate.

In the minds of members of the all-party committee, both items are inextricably linked and we believe that accompanying legis lation is necessary. I merely wish to establish whether the Taoiseach has designated a Minister with responsibility to bring forward that legislation and if he can indicate when it might be ready.

Unless the Deputy is opposing the motion, it is not in order to speak to it at this stage.

We are trying to decide whether we should oppose the motion. We do not wish to do so but, in our view, both issues are connected.

Perhaps we can be of help. I welcome support for the motion. Whether the legislation, which is privilege legislation, is required is under consideration by the Minister for Finance and the Attorney General. I hope they will be able to make a decision on the matter shortly.

Is the proposal agreed to? Agreed. The next proposal deals with No. 23, motion re Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act, 2000 (Additional Functions) Order, 2001. Is it agreed to?

No, Sir. This side of the House will not agree to the ordering of normal business today until such time as an explanation is given as to the reason the House was treated with contempt by the Government in the past three days in withholding vital information available to the Cabinet since last Monday week on the dreadful state of the health service. The information was withheld while a litany of Ministers and Deputies painted an altogether inaccurate picture. The task for the Ceann Comhairle is to determine the difference between telling the House lies and withholding vital information in the course of a debate.

The Deputy should not use the word "lies".

When matters of the utmost seriousness and importance were debated in the House—

The matter cannot be discussed. The only motion before the House is one—

—Ministers withheld information from us—

Deliberately.

—contrary to all normal conventions and good order and with contempt for the House.

The Deputy has made his point. I call Deputy Sargent.

A Cheann Comhairle, the point is—

Only one Deputy may speak.

The Minister deliberately—

Order, please. I have ruled Deputy Rabbitte out of order.

A Cheann Comhairle, for the past three days, we have used Private Members' time—

I have called Deputy Sargent.

On the same matter, I add, on behalf of the Green Party, our absolute shock at the revelations that the Department of Health and Children—

We are not discussing the revelations.

We ought to.

We should discuss them.

It is not in order at this stage to discuss the revelations. Does the Deputy oppose the motion?

Certainly.

A Cheann Comhairle, can we have some explanation—

The Deputy cannot speak more than once on a motion.

Can we have some explanation—

The Deputy is completely out of order.

We have used scarce Private Members' time—

If the Deputy resumes his seat and the Taoiseach offers, I will give him the floor, but until the Deputy resumes his seat—

A Cheann Comhairle—

The Deputy is out of order. Only one Member can speak at this point.

It is in Standing Orders. That is why.

(Interruptions.)

That is not in Standing Orders.

I will put the question.

It is an abuse of Standing Orders.

The question is: "That the proposal for dealing with item No. 23, motion re Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act, 2000 (Additional Functions) Order, 2001, be agreed to." Is that agreed?

It is not agreed to.

Question put.

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.

Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian. Tá–continued

McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.

O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Rourke, Mary.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Barnes, Monica.Bell, Michael.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Carey, Donal.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.De Rossa, Proinsias.Deasy, Austin.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Gilmore, Éamon.Hayes, Brian.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Naughten, Denis.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Question declared carried.

The final proposal is the proposal on taking Question Time today.

Until an adequate explanation is provided as to the reason the House was misled and held a Private Members' debate in scarce Labour Party Private Members' time in order to listen to a litany of Ministers and Government backbenchers withholding information from the House, the Labour Party will not be co-operating with the ordering of normal business.

The issue of health spending is so urgent that it is impossible to consider other matters in the way they deserve until it has been clarified.

The motion concerns the consideration of the timing of Question Time today.

This matter overrides all others and should be clarified before we proceed to ordinary business.

It does not override the motion before the House.

It should.

As a result, I am objecting to the order.

Deputy Howlin has made a very serious allegation that Ministers have withheld information from the House.

It is not in order to discuss the matter.

That is a fact.

It is not a fact. How dare the Deputy.

The Minister should explain himself.

I want to raise a point of order. It is a very serious allegation and if true, Sir, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should consider appropriate action. The tribunals have been established because of the failure of Ministers to answer questions in the House.

Is the proposal in relation to the taking of Question Time today agreed to?

Maybe we can have some response from the Government.

Question put: "That the proposal for taking Question Time today be agreed to."

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Browne, John (Wexford).Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Barnes, Monica.Bell, Michael.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Carey, Donal.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.D'Arcy, Michael.De Rossa, Proinsias.Deasy, Austin.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Naughten, Denis.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Kirk; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Question declared carried.

We now move to leaders' questions.

In light of the revelations in today's newspaper about the recent special Cabinet meeting on health, can the Taoiseach explain his analysis that Ireland has an excellent and well resourced health service when we have the lowest per capita spend on health in the EU, waiting lists in the two main north Dublin hospitals, Beaumont and the Mater, have risen by 30% since he became Taoiseach and a 70 year old man in his constituency has had appointments to attend the neurological section of the Mater Hospital cancelled eight times and will now not be seen until September? Can the Taoiseach say why an 82 year old woman in his constituency had to wait 53 hours on a trolley in the Mater Hospital over the past two weeks?

Will the Taoiseach explain why the information in today's newspapers, which was given to Ministers last Monday week at a special Cabinet meeting, was withheld from the House during the debates on health in recent days?

Information was not withheld from the House. The Minister comprehensively replied to the motion asking him to account for the issues that had been raised in the health service over the past three or four years. The meeting last week was held to prepare the first review of the health service in seven years and to make sure we devise a comprehensive strategy for the future. We received nine presentations from officials in the Department of Health and Children and those consulted who work with officials in the Department. Some of the data in those presentations was in this morning's newspapers. Most of the issues were raised at the meeting. It excluded the first presentation which outlined in great detail the improvements in services, resources, the cancer strategy and areas such as mental health and physical and sensory disabilities, halving the cardiac waiting list, and the enormous capital programme which has helped many services not only hospital services, but extended community health services. In the limited time I had to check the article, it seems most of the other issues were addressed. Following on from what the Minister said, the Government is determined to move away from the type of hit and miss policy which has been often the case in the health services in the past. That is why we decided to have an indepth review of the issues which arise out of a series of reports the Minister for Health and Children has commissioned and to hear about the consultation process which is underpinning the new health strategy. There was a complaint in the past that the health strategies were rushed. We will not make the same mistake.

Eight weeks.

The Cabinet has had a positive and constructive discussion. Anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): “Questions and Answers”.

We have heard about the excellent series of presentations. We will push forward over the summer to make sure we have the most comprehensive and detailed health strategy ever launched in this country.

When will the Taoiseach address the problems?

We have heard that the priority we gave to health in our budget is delivering real service improvements on the ground. There are now 14,000 more staff. We have doubled the health budget.

The Taoiseach should ask the elderly; it is a scandal.

We have more doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists working in our system.

This is unreal.

We will continue to plan for the future so that we will improve the deficiencies that exist.

The civil servants were left waiting. The Taoiseach did not even ask them a question.

Obviously there are deficiencies but we will continue to address those—

The civil servants were left outside.

—and over the next five years, this Government will continue to implement those for the future.

Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that he is the second Fianna Fáil Taoiseach who did not know the facts about the health service?

Hear, hear.

Does he accept there is more space in St. Luke's in Drumcondra than in St. Luke's in Rathgar?

I heard what Deputy Mitchell said about the individual cases. I am probably dealing with the same individual cases, so we will see which of us work out the best on them. However, that is not a matter for the House.

That is hardly the point.

If the Taoiseach spent more time running the Government and not running his constituency—

The Taoiseach, without interruptions.

I am letting Deputy Mitchell do that for me.

The House should note that this Government has continued to deal with the issues. I heard Deputy Howlin this morning attack the Government for not dealing with the issues and not explaining matters this week. I would say to him that this Government has continued to deal successfully with the health service.

Mr. Hayes

The Taoiseach is some Florence Nightingale.

We will continue to do that.

The Taoiseach would want to ask the public. They do not believe him.

The health service needs more resources and services.

It is a shambles.

The health service is not a shambles. A total of 1.2 million out-patients are treated per year, half a million in-patients and quarter of a million day patients.

There is no service for the elderly.

Patients are waiting on trolleys for 72 hours.

Order, please. Deputies should not continue to interrupt.

The health service and all the staff who work in it should not have a slur put on them by Members of this House. They are working diligently to provide an excellent health service for this country.

The Taoiseach should not put a slur on the people on the waiting lists.

The Taoiseach should talk to the staff in Mullingar General Hospital.

It is wrong for people in this House, day in and day out, to try to put a slur on the people who are continuing to give an excellent service in this country.

(Interruptions.)

Will the Taoiseach confirm that he and the other members of the Cabinet were told last Monday week by the Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children and six of the most senior other officials of that Depart ment that Ireland's health status lags behind the rest of the European Union, that the gap under his stewardship is widening, that there are serious deficiencies in health facilities, that the evidence of serious deficiencies was presented to him regarding waiting lists, and that there were very serious shortfalls in capital investment? Can the Taoiseach confirm that information was presented to him and his Cabinet colleagues on Monday week last?

If that is the case, and those are the facts presented in this morning's paper, can the Taoiseach explain to us why the Minister for Health and Children, as recently as last night, hid those facts and presented a rosy picture of the health services to this House in his response to the Labour Party health motion? You, Sir, through the Chair, are distorting the information impartially given to you by the most serious officials in the Department of Health and Children.

On the leaking of this information now, will the Taoiseach determine how it came into the public domain? It is a welcome development but is it a case of a pathetic response from the Minister for Health and Children trying to begin the blame game?

According to Standing Orders the Deputy must ask a brief question.

He is entitled to ask the question.

Does the Taoiseach accept that it is now a process that has been started by the Minister for Health and Children to pass the buck in terms of responsibility and blame?

As he always does.

They have no answers to the crisis and what we have now is a process of apportioning blame within a lacklustre Administration.

The Minister leads it. That is very clear.

I call Deputy Jim Mitchell.

The Taoiseach has been Taoiseach for four years.

On a point of order—

It is not in order at this stage.

A Deputy

The Minister is not in order.

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle—

The Minister, Deputy Martin, on a point of order.

A terrible slur has been put on me in terms of leaking important and serious information that was discussed at a Cabinet meeting. I want to put on the record that at no stage did I leak any of that information or speak to any journalist after that meeting in terms of the documentation that was presented at Cabinet.

Mr. Hayes

That would be a first.

On a point of order, will the Taoiseach accept—

The Minister has made a disclaimer.

A Cheann Comhairle—

Deputy Jim Mitchell, is this a Leader's question?

Will the Taoiseach accept—

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle—

An allegation was made about the Minister. He has put a disclaimer on the record and that must be accepted. I call Deputy Jim Mitchell.

On a point of order—

What is the point of order?

How can you, Sir, rule that it was a point of order in the case of the Minister but it is not a point of order for anybody on this side of the House? Why did you do that?

A serious allegation was made—

The allegation was made against me.

The only allegation made was that he caused the document to be leaked.

That is not true.

Every fool knows that.

I did not leak it.

Of course the Deputy leaked it.

That is untrue.

He is the good guy and Charlie is the bad guy.

That is not true.

(Interruptions.)

Order, please. Deputy Rabbitte will resume his seat. The Deputy is out of order.

(Interruptions.)

Will the Deputy resume his seat? If Deputy Rabbitte does not resume his seat, I will ask him to leave the House. Deputy Rabbitte's intervention was out of order.

It was necessary.

The reality is that neither the Taoiseach nor the Government is coming clean on the health service. The reality is that after four years in Government as Taoiseach, we end up being the country with the lowest spend on health in the entire European Union. We are 22nd out of 29 countries in the OECD.

The Deputy is making a statement. He should put a brief question.

I am putting the question. Is the Taoiseach ashamed that he is prepared to spend billions of pounds on pet projects but he has ignored the health service?

As Deputy Mitchell knows, we are now spending about £5.4 billion on the health service—

The lowest in the EU.

Six per cent, at best.

—and we will continue to resource the health service in a very adequate way. The overall budget for the health services this year is more than £5 billion. That represents double what we were spending this time four years ago.

Minister McCreevy says it is enough.

Under the national development plan, £2 billion is being invested in the health services, with £1 billion being spent on acute hospital services and £1 billion on non-acute hospital services. Due to increased Government investment, more than 70,000 additional day cases and almost 12,500 additional in-patient cases are being dealt with in our hospitals. If there are deficiencies in our hospitals, which is probably the case in every health service in the world, it is a much better health service than it was this time four years ago.

We have people on trolleys all over the place.

Order, please.

That will continue. While I am on my feet, I might ask the Labour Party Members who are asking me questions, which I will answer—

The Taoiseach is supposed to answer the questions.

I will answer the questions but Deputy Howlin is going to answer this one. He might explain to me why he voted to cut back waiting lists expenditure in 1997—

Hear, hear.

—and why waiting lists increased by 27% during that time?

I will have a debate with the Taoiseach any time.

We have doubled funding, treated more patients—

The Taoiseach has not even got back to that level.

—hired more doctors and put in place a much better health service.

What about the elderly in north Dublin?

Order, please.

When the Deputy is giving his brief reply, that information might be given.

Reference was made to the waiting lists in particular areas. For the information of the House, the number of people on the waiting list for cardiac surgery has dropped by 55%, gynaecology by 46%, orthopaedics by 29% and ophthalmology by 27%.

Mr. Hayes

So there is no waiting list at all?

Waiting lists represent only 3% of hospital activity and in accident and emergency, there is a £32 million investment package to help alleviate anticipated service pressures and maintain services to patients in the acute hospital sector.

So the public have got it wrong? We are only imagining it.

Deputy Mitchell is out of order.

The investment package is targeted at a number of key areas. There is approval to recruit 29 additional accident and emergency consultants.

Is the Department of Health and Children wrong?

Deputy Mitchell is out of order.

I do not mind being out of order.

There is also approval to recruit 15 additional consultant anaesthetists. There is provision for contracting 761 additional—

On a point of order.

What is the point of order?

Is the Taoiseach agreeing with the officials of the Department of Health and Children or with the Minister, Deputy McCreevy?

The Deputy is being disorderly. The Deputy should resume his seat. That is not a point of order.

Perhaps the Taoiseach did not hear the question.

Deputy Rabbitte should not interrupt. The Deputy should resume his seat. The Taoiseach without interruption.

On a point of order, it is not in order for the Taoiseach to come into the House and deny the facts.

That is not a point of order.

There is a crisis in the health service.

That is not a point of order. The Deputy should resume his seat.

On a point of order.

I hope it will be a point of order.

I am seeking your guidance, a Cheann Comhairle. Is it necessary for Deputies to tell the truth in the House and be—

That is not a point of order.

What is more fundamental than that?

That is not a point of order. If Deputy McManus has a problem she should table a substantive motion. Accusations of that kind should not be made in the House. If the Deputy has a complaint to make, she should table a motion.

Is it necessary—

This is not a point of order. I have pointed out to the Deputy the action she should take. The Deputy should resume her seat and allow the business to continue.

Yesterday I pointed out—

Deputy McManus is not in order. I asked her to resume her seat.

(Dublin West): I wish to raise a genuine point of order. You allowed the Minister for Health and Children—

To make a speech.

(Dublin West):—to rebut what he said was a slur cast on him.

This is not a point or order. The Deputy should come to his point.

(Dublin West): Bear with me, a Cheann Comhairle. The Taoiseach cast a slur on Deputies on this side of the House when he said that we, by raising the crisis in the health service, were casting slurs on those who run the health service. That is a serious—

That is not a point or order.

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach should apologise to Deputies—

The Deputy should resume his seat. That is not a point of order. The Taoiseach without interruption.

On a point of order, yesterday I raised the fact that information given in a reply to a parliamentary question I tabled was not correct.

I have stated that this is not a point of order. The Deputy will resume his seat.

The problem is that the House is routinely misled.

The Deputy will resume his seat. Please allow the Taoiseach to conclude his reply.

After six weeks waiting for the reply we are routinely misled.

I will try to complete the reply to the questions I was asked. We now have 19 additional accident and emergency consultants and 12 consultant anaesthetists have been appointed, or have been offered. Last year twice as many new consultant posts were created than in the previous year.

Is the Taoiseach happy with the situation?

The Deputy is out of order.

There are 1,560 consultant posts in the public sector compared to 1,300 in 1997.

Is the Taoiseach saying he is happy with the situation?

Deputies should have some respect for the Chair and for Standing Orders.

I am trying to answer the points raised.

I ask Deputies to have some respect for the Chair and for Standing Orders.

We cannot have respect for the Taoiseach in these circumstances.

The Deputy should have some respect for the Chair and for Standing Orders.

The health service is in a shambles.

Deputies are being misled in this House.

The Deputy should not make charges of that kind. The Taoiseach without interruption.

More than £60 million has been allocated to date under the national cancer strategy.

The Taoiseach is like Kim Il Sung – great strategy.

A total of £6 million was allocated when the last Government was in power. Needless to say, at that stage, the current leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Noonan, was Minister for Health and the current leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, was Minister for Finance.

The Taoiseach was some Minister for Finance.

(Interruptions.)

The previous Government allocated £6 million compared to £60 million under this Government.

(Interruptions.)

Order, please.

The Taoiseach has been four years in office.

Under the rainbow Government, capital and non-capital spending on services for those with physical disabilities from mid-1995 was £10 million compared to £107 million now.

(Interruptions.)

An additional 51 residential places, 97 respite places and 400 day-care places have also been provided.

These are very long minutes.

Deputy Seán Ryan asked me about older people.

The situation for the elderly in north Dublin is a disgrace.

It is not in order for the Taoiseach to reply to questions from Deputies other than party leaders.

Well done a Cheann Comhairle. A bit of impartiality.

I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, but then if Deputies do not ask—

Disorderly interruptions should not be replied to.

I accept that, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Taoiseach sounds like the late Deputy Brian Lenihan – there is no problem.

The Deputy will have some respect for the Chair.

In reply to Deputy Mitchell, it is clear that the Opposition wishes to stop the Government from having discussions with officials about future health strategy.

Rubbish.

In spite of this Opposition, which would not resource the health service, we will continue to work with our officials to expand and improve the health service which was left in such a shambles by the Opposition. We will try to improve the health service for the future during the course of this summer.

The Opposition did not leak the document.

I will allow a supplementary question from Deputy Howlin.

In light of what we have just heard and the information which is now on public record, I will ask three brief supplementary questions. Why were the senior officials of the Department of Health and Children treated with such contempt when they attended the meeting in Ballymascanlon? Why were they not asked any questions by any member of the Government?

Will the Taoiseach agree that the presentation of the Ballymascanlon meeting by the Minister for Health and Children was a stunt?

It was a PR exercise.

Does the Taoiseach agree that his response to this matter in the House, and the response of the Minister for Health and Children to the crisis in the health service in the debates in the House over the past couple of days, echo nothing more clearly than the response of his mentor and predecessor, former Deputy Charles J. Haughey, who, when confronted by these matters during a general election, said he was unaware of them? Does the Taoiseach agree that the people will not be fooled a second time by a Fianna Fáil Administration?

I will allow a brief reply from the Taoiseach.

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach must also apologise for casting a slur on Opposition Deputies.

I have called the Taoiseach. The Deputy is out of order.

(Dublin West): If the Minister for Health and Children is allowed to reply, so too should the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach must apologise for suggesting that Opposition Deputies were casting a slur on the staff in the health service. That is an outrageous allegation.

The Deputy is being completely disorderly.

I will briefly answer the questions. However, I can see that Opposition Deputies do not really want answers as they know they will not suit them.

We can get the answers in the newspapers.

I want an answer about what happened to the £40 million allocated to Mullingar General Hospital. The hospital is short 100 beds. This money has been diverted from Mullingar General Hospital. Will the Taoiseach tell the people of County Westmeath where the money has gone?

The Taoiseach without interruption.

Will the Taoiseach tell the people where the money has gone?

Standing Orders prohibits me from answering the Deputy.

I will tell the Taoiseach about Standing Orders. Money was diverted from Mullingar. People and staff cannot get the necessary finance.

The Deputy is out of order. He should resume his seat.

Let us have the truth. I will give the truth.

Please allow the Taoiseach to reply.

Deputy Howlin asked three questions. The Deputy's information regarding the first question is correct. Ministers asked questions but there were presentations. It was not a question and answer session. However, questions were asked which officials answered during the course of the day.

The Government and the people will be grateful that this Minister is diligently and actively going about reviewing the 1994 health strategy—

Why did he not do it four years ago?

—and improving that strategy.

Why did he not do so before his term was up?

The Deputy should respect the rules governing leaders' questions.

This is review No. 59.

I ask the Deputy to respect the rules governing leaders' questions.

In reply to Deputy Howlin, the 1994 strategy was a seven-year strategy. If one adds seven years to 1994 one gets 2001. The Minister did not commence the review in 1997 because—

The Minister did nothing for four years. He is not doing anything now.

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach without interruption.

As regards Deputy Howlin's second question, the Minister has already put forward the manpower consultancy forum. He has already put in the public domain most of the data regarding the bed strategy report.

A total of 58 reviews.

He has also indicated that all other documents—

He told us it was not completed

A Cheann-Chomhairle, can I answer the questions or not?

I gave the Deputy the figures.

Please allow the Taoiseach to answer the question. Deputy McManus should resume her seat.

On a point of order.

There cannot be points of order when there is total disorder. What is the point of order?

The Minister said, in answer to a parliamentary question I put to him—

That is not a point of order.

In reply to the Private Members' motion the Minister stated that he only had preliminary figures from the bed strategy review.

That is not a point of order.

I gave the Deputy those figures.

To say the Minister is being economical with the truth is to be economical with the truth.

I have to read The Irish Times to know what is going on.

The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach does not even know there is a crisis in the health service.

Deputy McManus should resume her seat. If the Deputy does not allow the Taoiseach to reply I will adjourn the House.

It is frustrating for Members when they get their information from The Irish Times instead of in the House.

It is frustrating for the Chair when Deputies will not abide by its rulings.

In reply to the third question put forward by Deputy Howlin – I am sorry it has taken me seven minutes to answer but the Deputies keep interrupting – about the information of which, unfortunately, the Opposition is not aware, there is an ongoing consultative process to underpin the new health strategy. This information is being shared across the social partnership and the health service—

It could be shared with the House.

Why was that not said last night?

It is being devised and prepared—

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach is here to answer for the Government.

The Deputy ran out of the Department; everybody knows he could not stick it. Would he just listen to what I am saying?

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach without interruption.

This information is being shared across the health sector. The Minister will continue with his health strategy. Although he has doubled the resources, recruited 14,000 staff and done so much to improve the health service, more work needs to be done. This Government will continue to do that over the next 12 months and implement the next strategy over the next seven years.

Is that from the Fianna Fáil manifesto?

The Taoiseach's comments on the health service after the Ballymascanlon meeting contradict today's media reports. When will the opticians Bill be published? The Taoiseach is obviously looking at the breakdown of the health service through rose tinted glasses.

This is legislation to amend the Opticians Act, 1956. The heads of the Bill were approved by the Government in March and the Bill will be ready in the autumn.

Mr. Hayes

On 1 June the Government must submit its anti-poverty and social inclusion measures to the European Commission. The House has not had a chance to debate them. Will the Taoiseach allocate time next week for a short debate so the Minister can hear the views of all sides of the House rather than simply give the information to everybody outside the House?

That is a matter for the Whips.

Mr. Hayes

I am not seeking to be disorderly but there is only one week left.

I have a parliamentary question on this issue today. There is a widespread feeling among agencies who work to combat deprivation and disadvantage that the House and the committee on social affairs have not had an opportunity to discuss the plan. I am aware of NAPS but this House has not discussed it. Perhaps the Taoiseach would arrange for a debate on it before next Friday.

Questions about the arrangements for debates are not in order on the Order of Business. The Deputies should consult with the party and Government Whips.

I raised the issue of the transport railway infrastructure Bill yesterday morning. It will provide for a railway procurement agency. I asked if the Bill was being withdrawn or if it was due to be seriously amended before being brought to the Dáil because the Minister said it will not refer to or deal with heavy rail. I did not receive an answer to my question. We now have the extraordinary situation of having a railway Bill that will not deal with existing railways. Is the Bill being withdrawn or amended?

The Bill is being debated this morning in the Seanad. It will be brought before this House in due course.

The Minister said in the Seanad that it is not concerned with heavy rail but we do not have any other type of rail in Ireland.

She is speaking in the Seanad now.

Perhaps she is withdrawing the Bill.

I seek the Chair's guidance with regard to the North-South Bodies. I put down questions to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands who previously had responsibility for the waterways body but I was told Waterways Ireland is now the responsible body. Does the Minister no longer have responsibility for inland waterways?

The question is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

How do I find out? Is this another abdication of responsibility by a Minister?

The Deputy should consult my office where it will be explained.