This is the most important goal.
Amendment No. 11 seeks, in page 15, between lines 13 and 14, to secure the provision of full strategic policy and operational information for the Minister, the Members of the Oireachtas and the Joint Committee on Transport.
Amendment No. 57 seeks to extend this provision by ensuring that guidelines the Minister might lay down for the Dublin transport authority will be laid before and approved by each House of the Oireachtas. Amendment No. 58 is similar in that it seeks that documents laid before the Oireachtas should be approved by both the Dáil and Seanad.
Amendment No. 62 is the most important of the grouped amendments. It seeks to insert the following in page 36, between lines 15 and 16: "The Minister is fully and directly accountable to Dáil Éireann through standard Dáil procedures including oral and written questions and all forms of debate for all policy, strategic decisions and financial accounts of the DTA." This is the core amendment of the series. We want to ensure the authority will be accountable to this House through the Minister.
To date, all Deputies, including Government backbenchers, have had a very bad experience regarding accountability. We have experienced tortuous circumstances regarding the responsibility of the Minister for Health and Children to the House in respect of the HSE. We have tried to raise vital health issues morning after morning over the past four years but have been prevented from doing so and rebuffed by the Ceann Comhairle and his predecessor. We have been prevented from having the Minister for Health and Children answer our questions in the House.
This has happened in respect of many other agencies, particularly the National Roads Authority, NRA. We have frequently been refused permission to ask the Minister for Transport urgent questions on transport and road infrastructure in the House in so far as those questions concerned policy pertaining to the NRA. The main problem I have had in this regard, with which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Ardagh, will be familiar, concerns the Dublin Port tunnel. I have endlessly tried to raise the issue of safety in the tunnel, which issue has been highlighted by RTE, particularly "Prime Time", and newspapers such as theEvening Herald and the Irish Independent. I have tried to raise the issue of the accountability of the NRA, Dublin City Council and Transroute International to the House but, time and again, my oral and written questions have been refused on the grounds that they concerned strategic policy and operational matters of the NRA.
This must not be allowed to continue in respect of State agencies. I ask the Minister, through my proposed amendments, to break with the past and make all agencies responsible to this House. The Taoiseach has already outlined that he wants a rationalisation of agencies. He does not want a number of agencies performing virtually the same task and, in a sense, invigilating the same area of the economy. Their doing so does not seem to make sense and, in the current economic circumstances, seems insane. Along with the required efficiencies, we need full responsibility to Dáil Éireann. The Dublin transport authority must be fully responsible thereto and we must not allow for the circumstances that pertain in respect of the NRA, HSE and so many other agencies.
In other democracies, in Europe and further afield, there is no question but that all state agencies are generally accountable to their parliaments. Famously in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly, the counterpart of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, answers on all aspects of transport policy. She provides road safety figures directly to the UK Parliament and does not direct Members to the UK equivalent of the Road Safety Authority. She answers directly to the UK Parliament on key issues because it is clear that the death rate in the transport sector is a fundamental issue that affects the people and their public representatives.
My amendments seek to establish a definitive break with the bad and undemocratic behaviour that has obtained in the past. They require the Minister to accept full responsibility for reporting to this House. The Minister referred to operational matters but nobody wants the minutiae of operational issues to be debated in the Housead infinitum. This sometimes happens in respect of the health service because we cannot have discussions on major policy decisions on health.
On the question of transport, we do not want direct operational issues to be raised but we do not want to be fobbed off in respect of policy, major developments, crucial safety issues and key infrastructure, such as the Dublin Port tunnel. We want the Minister to be able to answer in the House for all agencies, including the Dublin transport authority, the NRA and Road Safety Authority. If we do not achieve this tonight in regard to the Dublin transport authority, we will have to do so in the future. Some future Government, which I hope will include my party, will try to do so and secure full accountability.
The Minister should break with the undemocratic regime that developed over recent years and allowed agencies to feel they are laws unto themselves and can do whatever they want. There was criticism of a State agency other than the Dublin transport authority today with regard to financial problems. We want agencies to be accountable to Members, the people's representatives. I ask, therefore, that the grouped amendments be accepted. Amendment No. 62, in particular, codifies very briefly what should be the way forward.
The Minister may refer to the role of the Ceann Comhairle and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I am a member of that committee and am aware, as a Whip of the Labour Party, that there are ongoing discussions on reforming the structure of this House. However, the subject to which I refer does not really concern the reform of the structure of the House but the Dublin transport authority and the Minister's reporting thereon to the House. We have the power to introduce the amendments to ensure the Minister will discuss in the House directives, guidelines and major policy decisions pertaining to agencies.
I accept the Minister has come before the House a number of times such as, for example, when he came before the House to discuss the recent wildcat rail strike, after the Ceann Comhairle had kindly given Members time to debate the issue. While I welcome such debates, the fundamental issue is that the agency must be responsible, through the Minister, to the House at all times in all debates and in respect of all questions without any equivocation or dodging. My colleague, Deputy Durkan, is to be commended on his raising of this issue on the Order of Business many times. When he and I were communications spokespersons for our respective parties, we used to come into the House with sheaves of disallowed questions regarding agencies under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, who then was Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. We simply were unable to get answers to questions which did not pertain to detailed daily operational matters but to major policy issues. The Minister was not prepared to talk to us and, to some extent, the Ceann Comhairle protected him and the aforementioned Department. It was neither acceptable nor democratic. Such practices should be changed through the acceptance of these amendments.