Ceisteanna – Questions. - Agreements with Members.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the nature of the agreement or understanding between the Government and Deputy Healy-Rae; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15229/03]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

6 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the nature of the agreement or understanding between the Government and Deputy Fox; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15230/03]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

7 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the agreements or understandings which exist between the Government and Deputies Healy-Rae and Fox; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16666/03]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the nature of the agreement or understanding that exists between the Government and Deputies Healy-Rae and Fox; if a similar agreement or understanding exists between the Government and other Deputies who are not members of the Government parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17500/03]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

9 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the nature of the agreement or understanding between the Government and Deputy Blaney; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18603/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive, together.

Both Deputy Healy-Rae and Deputy Fox offered invaluable support to the previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. In that context, I refer to the support given to the previous Administration I was privileged to lead by the Independent Fianna Fáil organisation in the constituency of Donegal North-East represented in the 28th Dáil by Harry Blaney and in the current Dáil by Deputy Blaney.

As regards the current Administration, the support of Deputies Healy-Rae, Fox and Blaney is not as critical to the Government's majority, given the support they have provided in the past. However, I have tried and will continue to try to be as helpful as possible to these Deputies. A staff member in my office assists the Government Chief Whip's office in its work in liasing with these Deputies. This official meets these Deputies on a regular basis and arranges to keep them briefed on issues as they arise. In addition, Deputy Gregory is invited to the Whips' meetings each week which he regularly attends.

I know it is almost the silly season, but it appears to make a mockery of the equality of elected representatives here to represent the people given that the Government is giving specific and direct support to named individual Deputies. Surely everyone under the Constitution should be equal in terms of their representation here? What type of invaluable support did Deputies Healy-Rae and Fox give the previous Administration which the Taoiseach had the honour to lead?

I can answer that.

Who is the staff member in the Taoiseach's office who liaises with the Government Chief Whip's office about these matters? How often do they meet?

All danger and temptation.

Am I to understand that officials from the Department of the Taoiseach were dispatched to Kerry on various occasions not just to consult Deputy Healy-Rae but his son and to walk the beaches and the roads while discussing events in general? I understand he offered advice to the Taoiseach in a threatening manner and said that he should have his bicycle chain oiled up at all times. Does that not represent an insurance policy paid for by the taxpayer in the event of the Taoiseach having an unhappy relationship with the Progressive Democrats?

We do not complain about the way the Deputy manages his Independents.

It makes a mockery of the good use of civil servants for them to have to consult and liaise with named Independent Deputies as an insurance policy for the future in case the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, for example, has an eruption in Government and has to leave. That is what it represents.

The Deputy is being repetitive.

I remember being here in January 1982 and I learned from watching a previous leader of the Deputy's party how not to handle Independents. I have not forgotten it. In light of the last Government, I decided to learn the lesson. I appreciate the fact that the Deputy's party taught me the lesson.

The Deputy should ask a question.

I recommended that former Deputy Rockall Loftus should have been taken aside and tutored in that Government, but that did not happen. Is the Taoiseach allocating valuable Civil Service time to politically massage certain Independents so that they will remain sweet and in tune if the Government needs them? This came to a point a number of months ago when some of the Independent Deputies said "get ready, we're going to be called back into the front line again". As regards the waste of Civil Service time, given that civil servants have a job to do in the public service, does the Taoiseach believe they are properly employed when they travel on a weekly basis to meet and consult named Independent Deputies?

It is not done on a weekly basis.

As a result of their representations, has the Taoiseach made individual Government decisions, which affect them in their constituencies, to keep them sweet?

As I pointed out, there was regular contact between the Government Chief Whip and the Independents in the previous Dáil for good reasons in relation to the numerical issue. That is not the case now. The contact is not as frequent. However, these and other Deputies look for assistance on different matters and we always try to deal with them. Government decisions are not made on that basis. The Deputies I dealt with in the last Dáil were totally realistic about what a backbench Deputy could or could not get. They did not look for totally unrealistic things.

Will the Taoiseach extend the same facility to Members on this side of the House?

I do that all the time but usually people ask me to do something or other. One of the Fine Gael Members yesterday asked me to meet a whole delegation of people from his constituency, which I did, and they are very nice people.

For many years, many in this House have been fighting against apartheid. Apartheid is now breaking out again among the Independents.

The only colour here is green.

They are green with envy.

It is breaking out because of the informal meetings held by the Government with Deputies Fox, Healy-Rae and Blaney. Deputy Fox says the Government does this as a courtesy. If it is just courtesy, has the Government a problem with being courteous to other Independent Deputies, whatever about anybody else who is not in the Government?

It is a two-way street.

Will the Taoiseach spell out the arrangements with the Independents during the last Government and how they relate to the current arrangements? How informal are the meetings? Is there a particular game-plan on either side of the table of which the Taoiseach is aware?

In the last Dáil there were weekly meetings attended by the Government Whip and, regularly, the Minister with responsibility for an issue before the House. We try to assist the Deputies with some of the bigger issues, for example in terms of getting replies more quickly from Departments, but that happens less frequently now. I have no problem with helping other Deputies and I have already confirmed to Deputy Sargent that I have arranged a meeting about his office accommodation.

I thank the Taoiseach.

I accept that the Taoiseach has learned lessons, as he said. What has been the price of these lessons for the taxpayer? Is there a civil servant devoted full time to servicing these Independent Deputies? Are Deputies James Breen and McHugh on the inside or the outside of this loop?

This plan.

Is it not true that the Taoiseach is taking out an each-way bet on the Progressive Democrats becoming discomfited? Is this not excessively cautious? There is no sign of this happening.

Despite the Opposition's best efforts.

The Tánaiste appears half-detached from Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, is as happy as Willy Wonka in the chocolate factory.

Or Harry Potter in Hogwarts.

There is no need for a spare tyre in the boot in the form of the Independents. It is very unlikely that the Government will get a puncture. Why are we spending taxpayers' money in mollycoddling selected Independent Deputies when there is no necessity for it?

I was talking about the arrangements during the last Dáil. The position is less formal now – it is part an individual's job. As I said, other Deputies contact us from time to time, some of them Independent Deputies, although they may not be in contact as frequently as those who supported the Government throughout the last Dáil – they do not always vote with the Government in this Dáil, but do so on a regular basis. I do not want to say who is within the Government's sights, although until Deputy Rabbitte was given his present job last October, he moved around so much that he was always within my sights, but I mention Deputy O'Connor.

I have a supplementary that could have come from the Taoiseach's side of the House. It concerns the frequent coincidence of Deputy Healy-Rae welcoming various announcements in respect of south Kerry, sometimes slightly ahead of the official announcement of the Minister for Arts—

And tourism.

Deputy O'Donoghue is the Minister for tourism also, although one would not know that from looking around the country.

He is in Boston asking people to come to Ireland for God's sake and bail us out.

Does that information come from the Government Information Service or from the Fianna Fáil press office?

What information?

The information that enables Deputy Healy-Rae to get in ahead of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, locally in south Kerry.

It is Kerry intuition.

He has the inside track.

It certainly does not come from the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

The Taoiseach spoke about being as helpful as he can be in relation to the Deputies with whom he has what he would regard as a special relationship.

Even Deputy Ó Caoláin himself.

What is the corollary of—

We meet members of the Deputy's party more than any other party in the House – hour in, hour out, night and day.

I wonder what the benefits of this have been over the past six years.

We have had more phone calls from the Deputy's party in the past 24 hours—

Perhaps some of my colleagues with whom the Taoiseach is meeting do not directly represent an electoral challenge to Fianna Fáil within constituencies. It is easy to be nice when they are outside the jurisdiction, but many of the people he faces here offer a very different prospect.

My office had a meeting with Councillor Nicky Keogh on Monday.

I am delighted, and I hope the Taoiseach took good counsel from him. Is it not the case that some—

Was it about sharing office space?

I hope he is not responsible for the booing.

You would not put it past some of them.

Has the Deputy a question for the Taoiseach?

I have. Is it not the case that the other side of the coin of the Government's special relationship with certain Deputies is that, for Opposition Deputies, particularly those from certain constituencies, there is a structured unhelpfulness from certain Ministries? This is the reality faced by many on the Opposition benches – I am not the only one who has observed this.

We have been on that side of the House too.

The Deputy is making a statement. Has he a question?

Yes. As the Taoiseach is willing to confirm the existence of a special relationship in a positive sense, perhaps he would also confirm the reality that it also applies in the negative to certain Members of the House.

I can only answer for myself. I do my best to help Members from all sides of the House.

Is there any truth in the allegation that—

Can we hear the question first?

We have heard rumours all morning.

I knew the Minister had strange powers, but I did not know that he knew what Deputy Kenny was thinking.

It is not one of the Minister's fleet I am talking about anyway. Is there any truth in the allegation that an unidentified aircraft left Kerry last Sunday and flew over Croke Park with a banner saying "Well done Bertie" flying from the back of it, as a reward for things delivered in Kerry South?

I do not think so.

That does not arise from this question.

From where does it arise?

It does not arise from this question.

From where did it take off?

Deputy Kenny probably organised it.

It would need air clearance from the Minister for Defence.

It would have needed clearance to be allowed to fly.

The Taoiseach said at the end of his reply that I am invited to the Whips' meetings each week. Perhaps the Taoiseach will clarify for the record that I attend the Whips' meetings each week as Whip of the 22-member Technical Group and I am there as of right. I am invited in the same way as Deputy Durkan or Deputy Stagg is invited – under Standing Orders. It has nothing to do with anything else.

Does the Deputy have a question?

That is the question, a Cheann Comhairle.

There is a traditional rule in the House that the Whips' meeting is attended by the main parties. As I understand it, the Technical Group is made up of a number of groups so it should have one member attending. Does the Deputy attend in addition to representatives of the Green Party? Under the long-established rule of this House, only one Deputy can attend from that group. Either Deputy Gregory or a member of the Green Party is invited – they can work that one out among themselves.

I know Question Time is not for me, but may I just reply to the Taoiseach?

The Deputy cannot reply. The Taoiseach was out of order asking the Deputy a question.

I am only concerned about myself and the Taoiseach's reference to me.

We thought the Deputy was representing the Technical Group.

I attend as Whip of the Technical Group. If the Taoiseach would like to address his question to the Green Party or Sinn Féin he can do so, but that is why I am there.

All right.

Will the Taoiseach further clarify the special arrangement that exists between the Government and the detached Members of the Independent group? What exactly is discussed at these informal meetings? Are contracts entered into or promises made?

They discuss PPPs, European convergence—

Yes, all high-powered stuff.

—and globalisation.

It is all in the national interest.

Is there anything akin to the kind of arrangement that existed in a previous administration whereby roads and rail services were discussed and promises were made in relation to delivery? Are issues such as planning permission and major investments discussed?

The Deputy is just talking about sport – football.

If it is purely an informal meeting, what exactly does it do? Is it a kind of love-in where they look into each other's eyes?

Counselling.

The former Chief Whip, Deputy Brennan, may be able to elucidate further what exactly it does. Do the detached Independents have the benefit of the Government's spin doctors? It is important to have the benefit of the Government's spin doctors. Maybe the Taoiseach will be able to elucidate further.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, has a certificate in therapy.

It is a bit like meetings between the Deputy and the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin – sometimes they are polite and sometimes they are not.

Really? How does the Taoiseach know what Deputy Hanafin is like?

Are any minutes of these meetings kept? If so, would they be available under freedom of information legislation as personal information or would it be non-personal information if people were asked to pay a fee to get it?

On a serious note, if one expects Independents who are not part of a party structure to go along with the Government side and vote for a Bill – it has not arisen much in this Dáil but it did during the last Dáil – one has to explain the merits of and reasons for the legislation.

And what they will get in return.

One cannot expect such people to support a proposal without such an explanation since they have not had the benefit of attending a parliamentary party meeting where legislation is outlined by the relevant Minister. Therefore, a Minister or Minister of State will attend such meetings to explain forthcoming legislation. It is not as relevant in this Dáil but it happened on a weekly basis during the last Dáil.

It is happening now.