Leaders’ Questions.

I hope the people of Ireland now understand the true nature of the IRA and what it is about following its statement.

However, I wish to raise the issue of the Travers report and remind the Taoiseach that I have not yet received a copy and that he has succeeded in his objective of being able to escape from the House for five weeks without having to answer detailed questions about it.

For shame.

The Joint Committee on Health and Children normally meets at 9.30 a.m. but, for reasons best known to the Government, it meets this morning at 11 a.m.

As the Taoiseach is aware, section 3 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 states clearly that Ministers are responsible for the performance of the functions assigned to their Departments. In the guidelines issued with the approval of the Taoiseach by his Department in 2002, Ministers were reminded of their responsibility for "ensuring that the systems are in place and operational to enable the Department to meet its goals and its objectives". This morning we are due to receive a report from Mr. Travers, commissioned by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, into "systemic maladministration" in that Department. We are informed that a senior civil servant is to be removed from his post.

The Taoiseach, as Head of Government, appointed Ministers to various Departments and assigned them political responsibility for those Departments as outlined in his own guidelines approved in December 2002. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, who is not here, has had a chance to read this report. I do not know if he attended yesterday's meeting at which the Government considered the report. Will the Taoiseach tell the House whether the Minister has tendered his resignation? If he has not done so, has the Taoiseach called him in or does he intend to call him in to explain the political failures in his performance at the Department of Health and Children? If the Minister has not offered his resignation, does the Taoiseach intend to sack him?

It is clear the Minister, Deputy Martin, was well aware of the situation, as was the Taoiseach's communications unit, now costing €300,000 per year to tell Ministers what is on the front pages of the newspapers. Will the Taoiseach call in the Minister and exert his authority as Taoiseach with political responsibility by making him answer for his failure of political accountability in running his Department, which will now cost the State €2 billion? At least €500 million of this sum has been accumulated since the Minister became aware of the situation, along with two other Members in the middle Government benches, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who sat at meetings and, like the three monkeys, saw, heard and did nothing.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

As I informed the House yesterday, the Government gave initial consideration to the Travers report into the handling of the issue of charges by the Department of Health and Children in regard to patients in long-term care in public residential facilities since 1976, a period of 28 years. On the advice of the Attorney General, the Government decided the method of publication should be through the Oireachtas and that we should move to publish the report without any delay.

There has been a delay.

The report was supposed to be published at 9.30 a.m.

This procedure is being followed for two primary reasons. First, it is in this House that issues relating to accountability and Departments are properly and correctly raised. Second, the House can adopt the report, debate its contents and authorise its public release and thus the report will constitute a publication within the provisions of Article 15.12 of the Constitution. This will ensure full, open and free debate on the important public issues raised by the report without the fear and risk of litigation.

Obviously, in the case of the publication of any report such as this, it is important that privilege applies to the report and to utterances made in regard to the report. Legal advice has been given on this matter many times and this is the correct procedure.

The same privilege would have applied yesterday.

Why was the report not published yesterday?

This is a red herring.

This is Deputy Kenny's question and he is entitled to hear the Taoiseach's response without interruption. Deputy Rabbitte will have an opportunity to speak shortly.

This is the legal advice of the Attorney General, used many times in the publication of such reports over the years. As I said yesterday, people should examine the report, copies of which will be given to all Oireachtas Members, and the Tánaiste will meet the Joint Committee on Health and Children to discuss it. It is a lengthy and detailed report deserving of careful consideration. It covers matters that have been ongoing for 28 years, since a circular was prepared in the Department in July 1976. It is not appropriate for me to make further comment at this stage. I and others will have plenty of time and opportunity to comment on the report.

The Taoiseach will have no opportunity to do so for five weeks.

Will the three Ministers involved comment?

There has been enough comment, it is time for action.

The Taoiseach's response is absolutely shameful.

It is a disgrace.

There is a debt of €2 billion to be repaid to those from whom charges were taken illegally over a long number of years. It is well known since 2001, when the Government introduced legislation in this area, that this was the case and the Supreme Court has made that absolutely clear. This amounts to the greatest political handwashing job since Pontius Pilate and it shows quite clearly that the true nature of the Taoiseach and his party is to protect party interests instead of public interests.

The Taoiseach has not answered the question as to whether he called in the Minister, Deputy Martin, or whether the Minister offered his resignation. What the Taoiseach is demonstrating is that he has no political courage. He is afraid to act as Taoiseach in terms of political accountability. The Taoiseach should call the Minister in and dismiss him and his two Ministers of State. This matter was their duty under the management guidelines the Taoiseach introduced in 2002 which state "ensuring that appropriate systems are in place and operational to meet the organisation, to meet its goals and objectives". These three Ministers have failed in their duty. We are now going to have a row about whether the Minister, Deputy Martin, was told or was not told about this by the Secretary General, but the fundamental fact is that the Taoiseach bears responsibility for ensuring his Ministers toe the line. In this case three Ministers failed abjectly to live up to their political responsibility and the Taoiseach does not have the courage to dismiss them.

Hear, hear.

It is always unfortunate that Opposition Members make comments on a report before they see or study it.

A Deputy

And see what culpability the Taoiseach has.

Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

What about the Secretary General — did he see the report?

On many occasions we are great about talking about justice and it being seen to be done——

Where is the justice for the taxpayer?

——and then Members are prepared to say that a report that they have not seen or read——

We did not get it.

Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

I have had a chance of going through the report.

Call him in.

I could be totally political about this.

Of course the Taoiseach would know nothing about that.

I could also quote references. A circular went out this morning with an instruction to come in and heckle the Taoiseach, but the public get used to that.

Like Roger the Dodger.

I could make political points and quote references made by many previous Ministers of Health if I was to be political, but that is not the issue.

He knew what was in the report.

This is a report dealing with important issues. We all know the basis of this decision did not have legal status. That is what happened. In 1976 when there was a High Court case we should have provided a legislative base. The then Minister for Health and the then Secretary General of the Department made a decision at that stage and produced circular 7 of 1976 and subsequently down through the years successive Ministers and Secretaries General looked at this issue but moved away from it. That is what happened.

Why did the Taoiseach sack the current Secretary General?

There is no point in making political points about the people in positions in 1976 who have long since left office and everybody else who has been in positions since then.

It is only the current Secretary General who is going.

What we are trying to do——

Remember the case of Deputy O'Donoghue and the fax machine around the matter involving Nora Owen.

Will the Members opposite listen? It is a case of the old rant.

It is the Taoiseach who is ranting.

A few Members who are hardly ever here have been sent in this morning with an instruction to keep interrupting the Taoiseach. People who never read a report——

The Taoiseach is a slow reader.

——and who do not care what it is about-——

Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

If they were asked what we are talking about they would not know.

What is in the report?

We are publishing the report shortly.

Why did the Taoiseach not publish it yesterday?

We will deal with the issue. We already dealt with the legislation yesterday. We will have to pay back a considerable amount of money to people because we had not got a legal basis. There are lessons to learn.

And Ministers to save.

We will also have to check other regulations and we will do all that. For Members to come in and simply jump up and quibble about things is not necessary.

(Interruptions).

Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

I hope when we debate this issue that some of these Members will say something constructive.

Hear, hear.

Will the Taoiseach come in here tomorrow?

The Taoiseach is repeating the canard that he needs the privilege of this House to publish the report. He had the privilege of this House yesterday. The report would have the same privilege if the Taoiseach published it yesterday, and he knows that. Now we hear that a civil servant will be removed. In this instance, the taxpayer could be exposed to a bill of up to €2 billion.

I recall the situation of Mr. Justice Dominic Lynch seeking Government approval to be retired from the Special Criminal Court. When a letter was not issued from the Department all these Front Bench Members danced up and down and I want to tell the House some of what they said. What did Deputy Martin say at that time about a letter not going out compared to the exposure of the taxpayer now to a bill of up to €2 billion in this shambles? He said:

From the findings of the Cromien inquiry, it is clear no one is taking responsibility for the sordid nature of this debacle. It seems that civil servants must take the fall for political failure and negligence on the part of the Minister, the Attorney General and others in Government.

Do the Members opposite remember that? We do.

What did the Taoiseach say at that time? He has just condemned people for jumping up and down. The Taoiseach said:

The inquiry represents an abdication of the Minister's constitutional responsibility for her Department . . .

The identification of serious deficiencies in the Department of Justice does not exonerate the Minister from political accountability.

The Taoiseach continued:

There is no valid distinction to be drawn between the Minister and the Department. ... The report is particularly critical of management in the Department but that cannot be divorced from the Minister who is appointed for the purpose of managing a Department.

Hear, hear.

I will not go on to the flowery bombast of the man who started it all, Deputy O'Donoghue, because I do not have time, but it is almost unbelievable — I will release it later.

In a separate volume.

The current Taoiseach, when Leader of the Opposition, said:

Ministers are entitled to demand the best service the Civil Service can provide but if civil servants fail they should not be scapegoated.

What did the doyenne of probity, the current Tánaiste, say at the time? She said:

Accountability means that a Minister must take charge, must exert authority over his or her Department, and must avoid doing certain things because they are wrong but must do other things that are required of them. That is what duty is all about: Ministers must take charge and discharge their duties. A Minister cannot become a prisoner of his or her staff.

The Deputy's time is concluded.

These were the sentiments of Members currently in Government because a letter did not issue on time from the Department of Justice. In this case the taxpayer is liable to a bill of up to €2 billion for this debacle and the Supreme Court said the Minister could not but have known about it. He said it was beyond doubt after 2001. We know that his junior Ministers and himself were minuted at a meeting on 16 December 2003. We know he got the minutes of the MAC meeting.

The Deputy has gone well over his time. He has had almost double the time allowed.

The Taoiseach has contrived to evade his accountability to this House by delaying the publication of the report until after Leaders' Questions today——

I ask the Deputy to give way to the Taoiseach.

——when he will escape for five weeks.

In the case of the terrible tragedy of the tsunami, public interest had abated in it after five weeks.

I ask the Deputy to obey the provisions of the Standing Order like every other Member.

The Taoiseach believes that the same public interest will be abated here, but the taxpayer has to pay the price for political culpability.

Hear, hear.

There are a number of brief points to be made. I have answered questions on this issue.

The Taoiseach has answered nothing.

In fairness to Deputy Kenny, since the House resumed after the summer recess, he probably raised this matter ten times, and I have answered questions fully on it, although obviously I did not have all the information at that stage and some of the information I had has been proved to be incorrect. I readily acknowledge that. I also answered Leaders' Questions on this matter yesterday from the two main Opposition parties and I have answered them today.

The Taoiseach has answered nothing.

Where is the report?

I am sure I will answer them again. I will make myself available on a daily basis inside and outside the House to talk to the media on any issues of the day, and I will make that a practice. What has been said in that regard is hollow political criticism.

In whatever debate we will have on this matter, I have no doubt the Minister, Deputy Martin, and others will have the opportunity, which I am sure they will welcome, to say their part and therefore I do not have to say it for them. They will give their account of issues.

Deputy Rabbitte is right in that this was known about dating back over a long period. From reading the report I think it was known about in the summer of 1976.

When Fine Gael and Labour were in office.

I also think it was known in the summer of 1986.

I think it was also known in the summer of 1994 and in other times when colleagues of mine were in power. Action was not taken and the process did not provide the legislative base required. That is what happened. We can jump up and down——

No better man.

The Taoiseach has spent a lifetime doing that.

——and say it will cost us a great deal of money, and it will. The Minister for Finance will have to solve a difficult budgetary problem in resolving how he will pay back an unquantified sum of money.

The taxpayer will have a problem.

We will have to do that.

The Government has done nothing about it.

No. This Government is taking action.

We will have to develop a process to do that.

The taxpayer has a problem.

We will resolve the issues that have existed for 28 years but have not been addressed, for whatever reason. People can study the reports and come to their own views. This Government will now resolve those issues.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The Government will be responsible for doing that.

The taxpayer will be responsible for doing it.

I accept Deputy Rabbitte's point that he can make political points about some people and not others. I will accept that. It is the right of an Opposition leader. He can say that in a democratic assembly. The fact is that we are where we are.

What does that mean?

The Secretary General is not where he was.

We took money from people for years——

Illegally.

——that everybody accepted we had a right to take but we had no legal base for taking it. Everybody believed it was right, but we did not have any legal base for doing it. Now we have to correct that. The politics of it and all the comments about people may continue but——

The Government is ignoring it.

——we have to sort out this difficult issue. We will do that.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The Government never sorts out anything.

It has covered it up.

The Taoiseach said he has answered questions, but he has not answered any questions. He said the existence of this problem was known in 1976. Was it known in 1978, when Mr. Ronan Keane provided legal advice to that effect? Was it known in 1988, or in 2001 when the Supreme Court said it was beyond doubt? Was it known in 2003, when the Minister, Deputy Martin, was late for a meeting of the management advisory committee? One sometimes gets the impression that the Department of Health and Children was on autopilot at that time. That Ministers were late for important meetings seems to bear that out. Will the Taoiseach permit a debate on the matter before he escapes for five weeks? That is the whole point of what the Taoiseach has been up to.

The Taoiseach has contrived, by the clever use of parliamentary tactics, to evade his responsibility to the House.

Hear, hear.

He has over-ruled the Tánaiste, who wanted to publish the report yesterday. He is sheltering an incompetent Minister.

Hear, hear.

He bears the responsibility.

I ask the Taoiseach, before he flits across the world, to tell the House whether he still has confidence in the man who is now Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. How can he reconcile the Government's action in this regard with his fine words in Opposition about the core of——

The Deputy's time has concluded.

I have a great quote from the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

We want to hear this.

This is worth hearing.

He said: "at the very centre of political character there has always resided the principle of accountability".

He keeps changing his mind.

Fianna Fáil is a bunch of total frauds.

Will the Taoiseach concede a debate in the House?

The Deputy's time has long since concluded. I ask him to give way to the Taoiseach.

Will he say whether he has confidence in the Minister, Deputy Martin?

I will be as brief as I can.

Deputy Rabbitte asked two questions.

Deputy Ryan should listen.

I will answer them. Deputy Rabbitte is correct that in all of those periods the matter was discussed as much as it was during the periods I mentioned earlier. People believed at all such times that the existing procedure was fair and that they had a right to take the money.

Not after 2001.

The problem was that there was no legislative right to do so. The Supreme Court said it was wrong to take the money in the absence of such a legislative basis. That is what created——

We understand that.

That was there since 1976.

There were other Ministers around.

That is the position. I would like to speak about the 2003 meeting mentioned by Deputy Rabbitte yesterday. First of all, the issue was listed at that meeting as just an item to be mentioned.

Not at all.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

Deputy Martin was mentioned.

I have the minutes.

Deputy Rabbitte should read the minute.

I have the minutes.

The minute is in the public domain.

He should read the agenda.

The Minister did not read it.

The officials said at that meeting——

I was not there — you were.

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

Did you read the agenda?

How could I read the agenda? You are the one who was there.

You have the minutes according to yourself.

You were there too — shut up.

Sorry, what did the Deputy say?

(Interruptions).

The Chair wants to make a point.

There is the arrogance.

Sorry, Minister, the Chair is speaking.

Where did Deputy Rabbitte get the minutes of the meeting?

Deputy Rabbitte is losing his temper.

This is a democratic assembly. Members on either side of the House are entitled to ask a question.

That is the way the Deputy wants it.

It is all right. The Minister will get over it.

He does not want us to speak.

They are entitled to ask it without interruption.

The old veil is slipping, Pat.

The Taoiseach or the Minister who is responding is entitled to be heard. No chairman in any democratic assembly in the world would allow the sort of barrage of interruptions we are hearing in this House at the present time.

Or the type of response.

I ask Members to allow the relevant member of the Government — the Taoiseach in this case — to answer the question without interruption. Deputy Rabbitte is entitled to hear the answer without interruption.

Are we entitled to a response?

I am certainly not trying to rise any heat or to dodge any issue. As I have said, at the conclusion of that meeting the Department had conflicting advice and decided to seek legal advice. That is the only point I will make about the matter.

Can I conclude by reminding Deputy Rabbitte of something? I do not want to get into an argument about the matter. I agree that there should be a debate on the report tomorrow.

The debate should take place before the Taoiseach leaves the country.

When is the Taoiseach going to America?

Can I have 30 seconds to speak about the matter? I am going to the United States next Tuesday morning. I will be there until Friday. I will work about 19 hours each day.

That is what the Taoiseach is paid to do.

Yes, I agree. I will be back on Friday, 18 March. I will not stay in the US for an undue length of time. There is a European Council meeting the following week.

The Taoiseach will be gone again.

What is wrong with tomorrow?

I resent Deputy Rabbitte's insinuation that I am going to Butlins on my holidays.

I take it back.

In fairness——

The Taoiseach is a very hard worker.

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

I will take that back.

I am not trying to dodge anything.

The Taoiseach is cleverly avoiding his duty of accountability to the House.

Hear, hear.

Deputy Rabbitte had his opportunity. The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

We should have a debate tomorrow.

We are having a debate.

It is a health issue.

It is an issue of responsibility.

I would not front such a debate. I will be here — I will be around — but I will not front such a debate.

Will the Taoiseach allow a debate tomorrow?

I accept what Deputy Rabbitte has said. I do not think we do ourselves any good by giving the impression that my colleagues and I are taking a holiday.

Hear, hear.

None of us is doing that. I do not think we should get into that. It is not very wise.

Why is the Secretary General going?

Will we have a debate tomorrow?

The Taoiseach should go to Butlins on his holidays so that he can learn a little bit about the daily reality of the lives of asylum seekers in this State.

Is the Taoiseach aware that parents of children with special needs——

What about the special needs of the McCartney family?

——especially children with autism, are deeply disturbed and distressed by the plight of a family, which has made national headlines recently? It seems that last weekend the Health Service Executive took the children from the family in question because the family had clearly indicated to the media that it was finding it difficult to cope in the absence of State support and resourcing. Does the Taoiseach realise that many thousands of families throughout the State are afraid to highlight openly the difficulties they are wrestling with? I am sure they have contacted Deputies from all sides of the House to express their fears. The Taoiseach should not doubt that this is a serious matter. The parents of children with special needs are struggling to cope because they are facing the difficulties and challenges encountered by the family I mentioned, which is now facing a terrible vista.

Does the Taoiseach agree that there has not been any substantial change since the publication in October 2001 of the report of the task force on autism? The report claimed that the State "is critically unable to meet the needs of children with autistic spectrum disorders in Ireland". Does the Taoiseach agree that the Government is duty bound to rectify the disgraceful neglect of decades and to provide these children and their families with all the resources they need? The State's response, by way of the provision of resources, must be in the critical service areas of education, therapeutic support and respite. It must also provide all the other supports that are needed. Instead of heaping blame on families for spelling out the reality and truth of their circumstances, will the Government and State not take their responsibility seriously? What guarantees will the Taoiseach give the family in question and all families in this dreadful situation?

I acknowledge the difficulties faced by the family. I know it has an extraordinarily complex family situation with which to deal. I am aware of the case. It was discussed by my colleagues yesterday at the Cabinet meeting and I have been briefed on the issues. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, has been fully aware of and involved in the case in recent days. She has personally spent a large part of the weekend dealing with the relevant issues. My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has been dealing with the family since it came to Ireland, at least for 15 months. I have been talking to him at some length about the case.

Any case involving children is distressing to everybody involved. For legal reasons, I cannot go into the details of the case in question. The Deputy has not asked me to do so. The Child Care Act prohibits the identification of children who are the subject of care proceedings. I agree with this because children are the most vulnerable people in our society.

The Deputy has asked me about the various facilities that are available. As I understand it, this has been discussed and there has been an effort to try to reach agreement on both the education and health issues in respect of the case in question. There has been an enormous effort made to try to reach agreement and I hope those involved will achieve this. A number of people are working in this regard.

Let me consider the funding for this sector generally rather than in respect of the case in question, given that the Deputy raised the matter. Additional revenue and capital amounting to €400 million has been invested in support services for those with intellectual disabilities, particularly those with autism. The Department of Education and Science is developing the network for special educational provision for children with autism. The extent of progress in this area can be measured from the fact that, over the past few years, when autism was recognised as representing a distinct special educational need, a number of special dedicated facilities have been developed. Pre-school classes for children with autism have been established, as have special classes for children with autism, attached to the special schools and mainstream schools. Special classes for children with Asperger's syndrome have also been established. Facilities have been developed and sanctioned on a pilot basis which are providing an applied behavioural analysis model, ABA, in response to the needs of children with autism. Another major landmark in the development of autism-specific services was the launch last autumn of the Middletown Centre for Autism by the Minister for Education and Science and the relevant Minister in Northern Ireland. An enormous amount of work has been done.

I hope the plan to deal with the particular needs of the family in the sensitive case in question will, if it is not already worked out, be worked out in the next few days. We are all concerned to see the case dealt with.

I welcome the Taoiseach's reference to the Middletown Centre for Autism on the Armagh-Monaghan border. Nothing better underlines the absence of priority and commitment on the part of this Government in respect of autism than the reality that, even now, despite the fact the British and Irish Governments have acquired the property at Middletown from the St. Louis order, the centre is not expected to be resourced and up and running until autumn 2006. If there was a real sense of urgency in this area, the project would be fast-tracked and the centre would be up and running in 2005. It should have been up and running a long time ago.

Will the Taoiseach indicate by way of response to the families who are crying out for further redress of autism, and in light of all that is now taking place in this area, whether he will fast-track the Middletown autism centre so it will be completed in 2005?

The minute allowed to the Deputy has concluded.

The Taoiseach should make no mistake about the fact that he could make a critical difference by recasting the Disability Bill. This would ensure that rights-based legislation — it must be such — will properly guarantee——

The Deputy's time has concluded.

——that children and people with special needs and disabilities will receive the services and resources they require and that these services and resources will not be taken from them at the whim of some future Minister for Finance.

Is the Taoiseach even aware that the task force on autism went further than this demand and indicated that there was a requirement to address this matter in respect of the Constitution?

The time is concluded.

Will the Taoiseach——

Sorry, Deputy——

——use this opportunity to respond positively to the affected families?

I cannot give Deputy Ó Caoláin the exact date of completion. The original date was to be in the autumn of 2006 and those concerned are working towards that.

The Deputy is obviously familiar with the Middletown Centre for Autism. There are a number of key facilities to be provided in the centre. There is to be a residential learning support service, which means the whole issue must be dealt with and the centre must be capable of taking people on a residential basis. There will be an educational assessment service, a training and advisory service, which is enormously important, and an autism research and information service.

The centre must be physically constructed and prepared. Most important, the expert staff in this area must be recruited. It is estimated that the project will be completed in 18 months but I hope it will be sooner. The plan has already been approved. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, is enormously supportive of it and has been driving it forward. It will be up and running next year. Obviously, all the other areas that I mentioned are already ongoing.

This is an area in respect of which the budget has increased, in a small number of years, from zero euro to over €400 million. There was no funding initially because the area had not been identified as a special area. This funding is mainly expended on professional staff who are dedicated to trying to assist families, such as the one to which the Deputy referred, in dealing with the educational and health issues associated with autism. They are trying to deal with the considerable difficulties faced by these families.

Will the Taoiseach recast the Disability Bill?

We must now move to questions for the Taoiseach. Question No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Kenny.

Did the Taoiseach say "Yes"?

Deputy Ó Caoláin, we have moved on.