Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 13 Feb 2002

Vol. 548 No. 3

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Departmental Bodies.

John Bruton


1 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the progress to date of the high level group on regulation chaired by his Department; the terms of reference of the group; the composition, agenda and reporting date; the cost of operation; and if he expects concrete results from this exercise. [1323/02]

Ruairí Quinn


2 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the progress to date made by the quality customer service working group within his Department established under the SMI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1466/02]

Michael Noonan


3 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the OECD report on regulatory reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4484/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

As the Deputies are aware, the high level group on regulation and the quality customer service working group are key parts of the public service modernisation programme in my Depart ment. As I informed the House in my reply on 27 November 2001, considerable progress has been made by the high level group on regulation since its establishment in May 2001 following publication of the OECD review of regulatory reform in Ireland. The group has met eight times to date and is currently overseeing progress in two main areas.

First, a public consultation document on better regulation is being finalised. This will be the starting point for a wide ranging consultation process on better regulation. This consultation process is scheduled to commence in late February and it is intended that it will culminate in publication of a national policy statement.

Second, the high level group is overseeing the development of a system of regulatory impact analysis. As Deputies may know, this is a systematic, rigorous assessment of proposed regulations before they are enacted. The group is examining the range of models of regulatory impact analysis used by other countries with a view to identifying the type of system that will best suit our particular policy making processes and structures. It is intended to bring forward proposals later in the year following further consultation with Departments.

Apart from these two major areas of work, the high level group is also monitoring the progress of regulatory reform measures and reviews in particular sectors and policy areas.

The terms of reference and composition of the high level group were notified to the House in the course of my reply on 22 May 2001 and are being circulated again for ease of reference. As can be seen from the terms of reference, the group has been asked to submit a final report to the Government within one year. I have, of course, received progress updates on a regular basis and met the group last October. The secretariat for the group is provided by staff in the public service modernisation division of my Department. Some minor non-pay costs are associated with the group's work, mainly relating to publishing documents, hosting a seminar and obtaining external expert advice.

The quality customer service working group was first established in 1997 on foot of a recommendation in Delivering Better Government. Its aim was to develop proposals to improve customer service in the Civil Service. Arising from these proposals, Departments and Offices prepared customer action plans, covering the years 1997-99, based on nine principles of quality customer service, QCS.

In 1999, a new working group was established, chaired by Dermot Quigley, chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, to chart the next phase of QCS. This group revised the original principles, adding three new ones: equality-diversity, official languages equality and the internal customer. New customer action plans, to cover the years 2001-04, have now been produced by most Departments or Offices. My Department has commissioned a desktop evaluation of these plans which will be finalised shortly.

As well as developing policy, the working group has provided practical support for Departments in their efforts to improve customer service. For example, the group published a practical guide on how to produce customer action plans. A network for QCS officers has also been established to help Departments deal with implementation issues. This network allows officers to share good practice and learn from each other. It has organised presentations, seminars and a training day to support this process. The working group has also published a support pack on the equality-diversity aspect of QCS and, through its benchmarking sub-group, has examined quality accreditation schemes and how they could be introduced to the civil and public service.

As Deputies may be aware, a comprehensive evaluation of the SMI modernisation programme is being conducted by PA Consulting. I expect that the results of this evaluation, due shortly, will provide a useful analysis of progress to date on the modernisation programme and make recommendations on the priorities for the next phase of the programme, including in the areas of regulatory reform and quality customer service.

I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive reply. He stated the OECD regulatory group, raised in Deputy John Bruton's question, has met eight times and is due to finalise its report. Was it consulted on the Government's recent decision to deregulate the pharmacy sector as it affects the location of chemists? If so, what was its view and advice? Has it been asked to advise on the operation, as it has now impacted across our country, of the changes in the licensing laws?

The Minister for Health and Children has responsibility for this area but a pharmacy review group is involved in this issue, though not on my side with the regulatory reform group. There would have been no communication with that group.

The terms of reference of the review group may be revised in view of current developments, in conjunction with the group's chairman and the Minister. The review group has been asked to report as quickly as possible in response to the new developments on the type of framework, statutory or otherwise, required for community pharmacy systems. That will be considered when the group reports.

Did the Deputy have another question?

Was the group to which the Taoiseach's reply made extensive reference consulted?

It would not—

So what kind of regulations is it reviewing if it is not reviewing something as central as the distribution of pharmacies?

It would be reviewing all kinds of regulations for the future but it would not have been dealing with regulations in the past in so far—

How can it review regulations for the future?

The pharmacy review group, which is under the Minister for Health and Children, is in operation. That is the group dealing with the pharmacy regulations. Regarding the group to which I referred, I have outlined its work and given a copy of its terms of reference. It is not involved in day to day issues but is planning better regulations for the country for the future, how we can have a national policy document and how, in future, we can have impact analysis for new regulations. It is not involved in day to day issues in any Department regarding existing regulations. To be helpful to the Deputy, a review group under Professor Mortell is dealing with the issues he has raised.

The Taoiseach has misinformed the House. Professor Mortell chairs the pharmacy review group and his work was ongoing when the Minister for Health and Children got a rush of blood to the head two weeks ago and deregulated the pharmacy industry. The industry was deregulated without the Minister knowing the recommendations of Professor Mortell's group, which was set up to advise on this matter.

Will the Taoiseach correct the record and then comment on the dangers that may arise because existing pharmacists say they may decide to refuse to sell medicine under Government contracts if the Government proceeds with the announcement made by the Minister for Health and Children?

I correct Deputy Noonan. I have not misled the House. I know this is a matter for the Minister for Health and Children. The pharmacy review group was established by the Minister to examine, among other things, issues raised in relation to the operation of the consent procedure granting new community pharmacy contracts and last year's OECD report on regulatory reform in Ireland. The terms of reference may be revised in light of current developments. That is the responsibility of the Minister for Health and Children, in conjunction with the chairman of the review group. As I stated, the group has been asked to respond as quickly as possible.

It was to report on this matter but before it reported the Minister acted unilaterally.

The Minister acted—

There is no point pretending Professor Mortell's group recommended this.

It did not—

Order, please.

I am not suggesting it did. The Minister acted on the advice of the Attorney General, that the statutory instruments regulating pharmacy location were ultra vires to the Health Act. There is very strong advice that the 1996 regulations were ultra vires which, in English, means beyond the powers of the Minister and were struck down. That is what happened in this case.

Regarding Deputy Noonan's question, the Minister is meeting the pharmacists' association to discuss a number of issues it has put in the public domain and I do not wish to comment on that.

The Chair may have to assist me as I am confused by the Taoiseach's reply. I refer to his reply to a similar question on 27 November 2001, when he said a high level review group on regulation was being established to give better coherence in implementing better regulation measures across the full spectrum of Government activities and that this would be done in certain areas of regulatory reform and highlight areas where further action is needed.

This was back in November. If this group was to record the good progress made in certain areas of regulatory reform and to highlight certain other areas where further action was needed, one area would be the distribution of pharmacies and chemist shops. Was it consulted? It appears from the reply of 27 November 2001 that it should have been consulted or may have had a view to offer on further regulatory changes. If the group was not consulted, why was it not? The initial reply from the Taoiseach seems to suggest it had nothing to do with this.

I have what I said previously, and the group is not involved in each legal issue that comes up. Regarding the reason the regulations were struck down as being ultra vires, there were challenges to the 1996 regulations. The statutory instrument relating to those regulations was challenged and the advice was that the matter was ultra vires, and the Minister changed it. There was no involvement from the regulatory reform group in that. The pharmacy review group obviously did not recommend this or have anything to do with it but it is doing a job in this area and is answerable to the Minister, so it is now.

The group in my Department will continue to examine regulations in that area and many others. Members will recall that the OECD report mentioned many areas but it stated that the pharmacy area required examination, not just because of the 1996 regulations being struck down but for other reasons also. That was highlighted by the OECD in its examination of our systems.

This group will examine regulations across the board and is not answerable to or working for the Minister.

I did not say it was answerable to the Minister. It is a group established by the Taoiseach's Department.

The group deals with the implementation of regulations and is comprised of representatives of key Departments and independent sectoral regulators, agents and officers with a particular interest in the role of regulation such as Forfás, the Competition Authority and the Director of Consumer Affairs. I would have thought the Competition Authority and the Director of Consumer Affairs would have had a central role in the distribution of chemist shops. If the group is representative of such a broad range of interests and is accountable to the Taoiseach's Department, what is happening in Government when a decision is taken by the Minister for Health and Children and he does not have the courtesy, through the office of the Taoiseach, to check with this group as to whether the deregulation proposal he is to make would be in accord with the recommendations of the group?

Through the normal system of governance that section would be aware of the decision of the Minister for Health and Children but it would have no influence over it. The Minister for Health and Children was told the regulations he was using to deal with pharmacies were ultra vires so the Minister could do nothing other than follow that advice. The regulatory group, which is working on the OECD issue, is examining some of the same areas but the court action has moved ahead of it. The group continues to deal with all the other issues but it is not consulted by each individual Department as to legalities. That is not its function.

Those regulations were drawn up in 1996 after consultation with the then Attorney General, Dermot Gleeson. The present Commissioner, David Byrne, did not seem to find anything wrong with those regulations when he was Attorney General. It was only when the current Attorney General took on a political role that the regulations suddenly became ultra vires as he went on one of his rants to deregulate the market.

The point is that Professor Mortell's group was set up specifically to advise on this issue but it was not consulted. The Government has been in office for five years, but the Minister decided to have a run at it over the weekend.

It was a decision of the Attorney General.

It seems to have been a decision of the Attorney General.

There was no consultation.

The Attorney General does not have the authority to decide that anything is ultra vires as that is a matter for the courts.

He may have an opinion that something is ultra vires, but his two predecessors held the opinion that the regulations were in accordance with law.

I want to move on to the deregulation of the electricity market. Does the Taoiseach know that BP, Scottish Power, E-Power and, most recently, Atco Limited and Bord Gáis have withdrawn from the electricity sector in Ireland because the structures and pace of deregulation are too slow? Does he accept that after five years in office there is an urgent need for the Government to act to deregulate the energy market? Otherwise, deregulation will become totally meaningless, the ESB monopoly will prevail and all those who could provide an alternative service will be out of the market.

Many areas are being considered. The group is involved in good regulation, not deregulation. It is not always the case that deregulation is the best way to go. We must honour commitments in the electricity and gas markets and in at least ten other areas under EU law. We are ahead of where we are required to be on most of those. The energy issue is one for the Minister for Public Enterprise.

EU Directive 96/92, which I presume is the one to which the Deputy referred, is being implemented by virtue of the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999, and the European Communities internal market electricity regulations which provide the overall legislative framework for the development of the electricity sector. Ireland has gone beyond the requirements of the EU electricity directive by opening 31% of the market since February 2000. Market opening will rise to 40% on 19 February, which is next week, and will move to 100% by 2005. Consideration has been given to the feasibility of an interim step of 66% of the non-domestic market by the end of 2003. The markets for green electricity and for electricity from combined heat and power have been fully liberalised since February 2000 and April 2001, respectively. We are beyond where we are required to be. We will move over the short or medium term, depending on which decision is made, to full liberalisation.

(Mayo): How does that body interface with the area of regulation? We have a regulator in the airline, telecommunications and electricity sectors. When the Gas Regulation Bill is passed, the powers of the regulator will be extended to deal with gas. Is there any interface between the two areas? Does that body oversee the performance of the different regulators? I assure the Taoiseach it is less than impressive from the point of view of the telecommunications sector. Not one local loop has been unbundled after many promises. We are quickly losing our place in terms of technology. Our competitors are disappearing over the horizon while we are playing catch-up. The Taoiseach gave the figures for the electricity market, but most competitors who want to get into the market, such as E-Power, have been frightened off. Some 15 who would have loved to have become involved in the business of generating electricity have gone away because of the failure of the regulator to open up the market.

The high level group on regulation will not supersede any of the powers mentioned. The aviation, electricity and telecommunications regulators, the Competition Authority, Forfás and the Director of Consumer Affairs are working with the high level group across a number of Departments. It is being driven by the OECD and by the European Union to a lesser extent and, domestically, by the National Competitiveness Council. It is a new practice as we look into the future. We are the second country, as France was before us the previous year. With the restrictions on monetary policy and in other areas, it recognises that good and better regulation is a way for the country to gain competitiveness. It is endeavouring to examine the points made in the OECD report, to discuss those with the various agencies and Departments and to introduce a new national policy document. It hopes to issue by the end of February its view of its work since last April and then to open it up for discussion over the next three months until the end of May. It hopes to introduce a national document on regulation sometime in the autumn.

Before a Bill or an order is introduced, questions will be asked about why we are doing it, if it is the right thing to do and if it is the best way to do it. There will be an audit of the issues. We and other countries have not done that in the past.

There have been eight meetings to decide it. They are busy people.

Yes. OECD officials were also here working for a year or more before that. The discussion document will be put forward. I know IBEC, the trade unions and other groups have set up their groups to respond to how it should be done. I met the OECD officials a few times when they were here and they said it is not always an issue of deregulation. One is better off without regulation in some areas, while it is badly needed in others. It is not always a question of taking the market position, which normally states that regulation is not required. In other areas, such as those related to health and consumers, we should have regulation. That is what the group is doing. There are senior officials on it from a number of Departments and from Forfás, the Competition Authority and the Director of Consumer Affairs as well as the regulators. They are doing their utmost in this regard. It is a new job which has not been done here in the past. They will set it out in the document in two weeks' time and then it will be opened up for three months of discussion.

We have spent time on Questions Nos. 1 and 3. I refer to the Taoiseach's response to Question No. 2 which deals with quality customer service. Is "the customer" a euphemism for citizens who use Government services? I presume it refers to a service to the citizens from the Government and that this means people will receive information about the delivery of a service they consume. Is that correct?

The QCS initiative which commenced in 1997 is part of the Better Government document published some years ago. It is an attempt to make Departments think about and change the culture of how they deal with the public. A review was carried out in 1999 and another review is ongoing.

Is it reasonable to expect that under the review the Department of Education and Science in Tullamore will publish the list of the 850 schools whose customers are teachers, parents and pupils? Is it reasonable to expect that under the quality customer service a request from these customers, as they are now called in the jargon, to find out where they are in the queue in terms of their request to have a roof mended, an extension completed, or a prefabricated building which is 25 years old replaced with a permanent building which was promised, will be answered by the Department of Education and Science? Will that fit into the new initiative of the Department of the Taoiseach?

Deputy Quinn knows the initiative is not designed to give lists of 850 schools. A Department would make information available to a school without the initiative.

I am not looking for the list of all 850 schools from the Taoiseach: I would not expect that from him. The Taoiseach is no doubt encountering the same tales as I am on visiting schools. The story from the schools is that they contacted the Department looking for information and were told the Department cannot give out any details by order of the Minister. Where is the quality customer service there?

Usually my office rings Tullamore to seek information. They get the details on whatever stage the school is at. That is the same system I have used for the past 15 years.

The Taoiseach's Department has taken responsibility for this initiative. The Taoiseach has put the reply to the question. We are all in favour of improving the service that citizens get, starting with information. In the context of collective Cabinet responsibility and in the spirit of quality customer service would the Taoiseach not ask the Minister for Education and Science to publish the list that he has promised so that all customers, teachers, parents and pupils will know where they are in the queue with regard to repairs?

I am sure the Minister will publish the information that is available to him.

Will the Taoiseach ask him to do so?

Will the Taoiseach not agree that there is an allocation for the repair and development of school buildings and the Minister is refusing to make announcements because he is hoarding the cash and the announcements until the election is called? The Taoiseach has that information also. Will the Taoiseach confirm that and let us move on from this hypocrisy?

That is an outrageous allegation to make against a Minister who is doing his best to try to promote as many schools as possible. He probably holds the record for the number of schools he has assisted.

(Mayo): Is the Taoiseach aware that one of the recommendations of the high level group addressing the area of regulation is that henceforth in regard to the availability of animal medicines a farmer must go to a veterinary surgeon in order to get a prescription from a pharmacy for the remedy in question? There will be an obvious additional cost involved in going to the veterinary surgeon. This will also impinge on the custom of farmers preparing their own home-made medicines, which were not always in accordance with best practice. Is the Taoiseach concerned about this development and does he not accept that bringing in a restriction like this is the equivalent of requiring someone with a headache who wants an Anadin to go to the doctor to get a prescription for the pharmacist?

I cannot answer the specifics of the question asked but better regulation is designed to ensure we do not have unnecessary regulations. It used to be called red tape and unless there is good reason we should not have too much regulation. As the Deputy knows, there are campaigns by consumer groups to bring in regulatory systems as to the use of a number of products. I agree that some areas are over-restricted while other areas may be in need of more regulation. This is not an area that can be changed overnight and it will take time for new legislation to be put forward. The interest groups have an enormous attachment to this but they have to be broadened to include consumer groups who also share an interest in this area.

(Mayo): The Taoiseach used two words that get to the nub of the problem –“red tape”. Does the Taoiseach agree it is the proliferation of red tape across a huge range of areas that has lead to business being stifled by the constant demands placed on it? In terms of the amount of form-filling alone, whether it be the agricultural sector, the service sector, the industrial sector or the most humble retail outlet, they are absolutely inundated with the current level required.

Does the Taoiseach agree this high level group should be investigating the possibility of reducing the amount of red tape? Does he agree that one of the key elements in determining how people voted on the Nice treaty was a resentment at the manner in which Brussels and its red tape and diktats were impinging on the lives of many people, particularly in the commercial sector?

There is a lot of truth in what the Deputy said but it can work both ways. There is a number of important areas in Irish life where we have no regulation at all and where they would be dangerous. As the high level group stated, regulatory reform is a process of reviewing the regulatory structures and processes to ensure they promote efficiency in economic life. The term "better regulation" is used to reflect a broadened agenda of regulatory reform and is focused on more than administrative implications and red tape. I read the document produced by the group, which will come out in the next few days, and it echoes many of the issues raised by Deputy Higgins.

Some of the points made in its regulatory checklist are whether the problem is correctly defined; whether Government action is justified; if regulation is the best form of Government action; an examination of alternatives such as economic instruments, voluntary agreements, self-regulation, information disclosure and persuasion of various types of performance-based regulation; if there is a real legal base for regulation; the appropriate level of Government to take action; if the benefits of regulation justify the costs; whether the distribution of effects across society is transparent; if the regulation is clear, consistent, comprehensive and accessible to users; if all interested parties had the opportunity to present their views; and how compliance will be achieved.

In some of the examples it gives, much of the time when legislation is brought in and put on the Statute Book, it is rarely altered. There is an enormous number of issues that have gone beyond what is necessary and this adds to the cost. In this debate there are those who say the area of consumer interests in particular, such as food hygiene and safety, should be regulated.

I agree with the Deputy's point and when one goes through the current regulations and looks at regulatory assessments, as the high-level group is doing, it says the issue is about good regulation not deregulation. There is an economic advantage for countries that follow this practice and get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy, as the National Competitiveness Council pointed out a few years ago when the OECD got involved in this area. The report will be available to everyone in about a fortnight and the Deputies will see that it is not a short-term issue and will take some years to do, but it is a job worth doing.

Does the Taoiseach agree that in the area of broadcasting, particularly in terms of multi-channel television, there is a great need for regulation of digital satellite signals coming into Ireland? This is a completely unregulated area and there are other multi-channel operators who are regulated and pay tax here. We need to establish a level playing field in that regard.

Perhaps that is a matter best addressed by the Minister for Public Enterprise.

Will the Taoiseach explain why regulation of the television and radio market results in a premier sports fixture such as the Ireland-England rugby match at Twickenham next Saturday not being shown on RTE? Only viewers with Sky Sports can see the match. Why has the Minister not used her discretion to ensure Irish viewers can see the match on the television stations for which they pay a licence?

As the Deputy knows, the reason for that lies with the Rugby Football Union in England, which has done a lucrative deal with Sky Sports. This has been the case for the past few years and it is not the first time the issue has come up. The matches are not shown on the British broadcasting stations, nor on their national station. Therefore anyone who broadcasts them commercially has to pay the market value of the event. One cannot do that. If one tries to regulate for the home sports, the sporting bodies concerned will object because it deprives them of a source of income. The main point in this issue is that it is a deal between British rugby authorities and BSkyB.

Are these matters not adjudicated by the European Union? Has the Taoiseach raised the issue at EU level? It is extraordinary that a decision made on a neighbouring island can prevent Irish viewers from watching their own team playing in an international match. Europe is partly about regulating markets.

It has been the case for a number of years that British viewers cannot watch even their own teams on their national broadcasting station.

I refer the Taoiseach to a reply he made on 27 November, when we last discussed this matter. He seems to be contradicting himself with regard to the Government's decision on pharmacies. His reply stated that the competition authority examining the professional services—

It is not permitted to read quotations at Question Time.

I am not quoting, I am referring. I do not want to do him an injustice. I cannot learn the information off by heart, I have to refer to some of it. I will not quote it, but I will refer to it.

The Taoiseach goes on to refer to pharmacies, liquor licences and telecommunications companies and states that once one touches on any of them there are difficulties because deregulation creates problems for the sectors involved. The Taoiseach said that is why vested interests in these sectors must be given the opportunity to argue their cases and outline how deregulation will work against the consumer. He said that on 27 November and specifically cited pharmacies. His reply goes on to refer in some detail to the fact that the group was set up in August, yet he suggests – or inadvertently gives the impression – that the courts found that pharmacy regulations were ultra vires. It was the president of the Progressive Democrats who discovered that. The Taoiseach goes on to state that, therefore, the Minister had no choice but to present everyone with a fait accompli and that he had nothing to do with it. How does he square that with his view that affected groups are entitled to be consulted and that they will trenchantly argue their cases? There seems to be a contradiction between the Taoiseach's reply of 27 November and what the president of the Progressive Democrats decided in his full-time – or part-time – capacity as Attorney General, which led to what the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, did. The Taoiseach was not involved, even though he is responsible for regulation and for the administration of this report.

I am not responsible for regulation in the pharmacy sector, the Minister for Health and Children is responsible for that sector. That is why we are talking about the health regulations of 1996. In this case there were a number of challenges to that. The advice of the Attorney General to the Minister was that he was acting ultra vires and that if those cases were fought they would not be won. I am not going to comment on that. The Deputy may put down questions to the Minister for Health and Children if he wants to know the advice he got.

I am responsible for the OECD report. I said the pharmacy sector was one of those sectors highlighted by the OECD as being in need of regulatory reform. In its report on regulatory reform in Ireland, the OECD suggested that reform of some of the pharmacy regulations could bring about lower prices and more efficient provision of services. It raised two main issues, the first being the restrictions under the Health (Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement) Regulations 1996 on location and the number of pharmacies that hold community pharmacy contracts. These regulations introduced, among other things, a system for granting community pharmacy contracts to supply reimbursable prescription medicines under the GMS system and community drug schemes. This is not a system of licensed pharmacists, since any person who meets the legal requirements of the pharmacy Acts may open a pharmacy. However, the level of business covered by the GMS means it would be difficult to establish a pharmacy without a contract. Various court cases have arisen in connection with these regulations.

The second issue mentioned is the restriction on pharmacists educated in other countries under the derogation incorporated in Article 2.2 of Council Directive 85/433/EEC on movement of pharmacists managing or supervising a pharmacy. The directive has been in existence for less than three years and the OECD recommended that this restriction be eliminated. The review group, which is reporting to me, at its first meeting on 2 November last, included in its terms of reference assessing and responding to the OECD's recommendations relating to restrictions on EU trained pharmacists and assessment of restrictions on location and numbers of pharmacies.

As Deputy Noonan rightly said, the pharmacy review group, chaired by Dr. Michael Mortell, is already in operation and is considering changing its terms of reference due to the changes the Minister has made following on the legal advice from the Attorney General. There is no contradiction or confusion.

(Mayo): The Taoiseach keeps referring to the advice of the Attorney General. Is this not the same Attorney General who told us, through the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, that there was no possibility of establishing a tribunal of inquiry to examine the McBrearty case and who has been proven wrong by Shane Murphy?

In the fifth year of the life of this Government, there is no solution to the traffic problem, particularly in Dublin. What progress has been made to introduce private buses in the city? That seems to be the only way to provide sufficient bus space to the travelling public.

That is a matter for the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke. The Minister has granted quite a number of additional bus licences in the past four years and continues to do so. According to the guidelines of the Department of Public Enterprise, applications are considered and systems are in place to allow people to make those applications. The Department makes the decision.

(Mayo): Did the high level commission take into consideration a case that was before the High Court in December, where the judgment of the court was decisively in favour of a Galway bus company, Nestor Bus, rather than for the monopoly currently enjoyed by Bus Éireann?

Matters of bus transport and transport generally are not yet part of the group's work.

I come back to the Taoiseach's contradictory and confusing reply. On one hand, he says there was a threatened legal action which required the Attorney General to come to a decision and advise that the pharmacy regulations were ultra vires. Yet, on 27 November, the Taoiseach said that people who are to have deregulation thrust upon them are entitled to be consulted. He went on to state that they would argue their cases trenchantly, because there could be consumer interests involved. I am trying to understand the system of decision making in a Cabinet for which the Taoiseach has total responsibility. When the Attorney General came to the decision that the legal action initiated would provoke a court judgment that the regulations in question were ultra vires, did anybody consult the Taoiseach, since he had already described his responsibility with regard to the OECD report? Did anybody pick up the point, clearly made by the Taoiseach, that bodies affected were entitled to be consulted? Was any attempt made by the Minister for Health and Children to consult the Irish Pharmaceutical Union prior to what appears to be his decision to unilaterally deregulate the pharmacy sector? He did not make a change to the regulations, he simply deregulated them. I am trying to understand how decisions are made in Cabinet.

The Deputy understands the process of what is going on in the question to which I was replying. There is a high level group on regulation trying to plan, organise and deal with things for the future. As the Deputy knows well, they are not entitled to cut across current legal action. The Health (Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement) Regulations of 1996, Statutory Instrument 152 of 1996, set out the criteria and procedures for granting community pharmacy contracts.

During the course of the legal challenges, which have been going on almost continually since 1996, the Minister for Health and Children sought the advice of the office of the Attorney General on the legal basis of regulations and the advice he received concluded that the regulations were ultra vires. It happened in the middle of a court case. When something is being arbitrated it is not a matter of going off consulting bodies on the fact that what one is trying to defend is ultra vires. That is what happened.

They are not OECD regulations. They are our own regulatory regime which we are now trying to update and modernise. I ask the Deputy to stop trying to confuse them with current legal cases.

That concludes Taoiseach's questions. We have run out of time.