1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has, following the appointment of the Second Secretary to his Department, given instructions relating to amending his Department’s role in European Affairs. [21083/11]
Vol. 740 No. 3
1 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has, following the appointment of the Second Secretary to his Department, given instructions relating to amending his Department’s role in European Affairs. [21083/11]
2 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail which members of Government carry authority to issue formal instructions to the Second Secretary in his Department. [21086/11]
3 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff that will be transferring to his Department from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. [21418/11]
4 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he still plans to half the size of his Department in view of the setting up of a new Office of the Tánaiste and the transfer of responsibility for EU coordination to his Department. [21419/11]
5 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the filling of the position of Secretary General of his Department. [24421/11]
6 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the administrative changes which have been made to the coordination by him of EU policy within Government. [24705/11]
7 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach which, if any, funding and other programmes have been or will be transferred to his Department following his reorganisation of its work. [24710/11]
8 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will outline all costs relating to the establishment and future running of the Office of the Tánaiste including the numbers of personnel to be assigned to the Office, the physical and support facilities to be made available to the Tánaiste from the Vote of the Department of An Taoiseach and the identity of the accounting officer for the office. [24711/11]
9 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the exact numbers of civil service personnel who will have been transferred to and from his Department as of the end of this year as a result of reorganisation. [24714/11]
10 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff working in his Department at the end of 2008, 2009, 2010 and the projected number for the end of 2011. [24715/11]
11 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff working in his Department who are on secondment from other Departments and the numbers of staff of his Department on secondment to other Departments. [24716/11]
12 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if any member of the staff of his Department reports primarily to another member of Government; and if so, if he will detail such cases. [24729/11]
13 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail the specific process employed in receiving and considering applications for the posts of Secretaries General in his Department; and if he is satisfied with the process. [24732/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, together.
That is an awful lot of questions being taken together.
Most of them are in the name of the Deputy and they all are related.
The programme for Government states, "We will reduce the size of the Department of the Taoiseach, transforming it into the equivalent of a Cabinet Office that oversees the delivery of a new programme for Government". Since taking office as Taoiseach and in keeping with that commitment, I have instituted a series of radical reforms to the operation of the Department of the Taoiseach.
Responsibility for public service modernisation and related industrial relations issues has been assigned to the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. As a consequence, 27 staff have transferred to that Department.
A new integrated European affairs division is being established within the Department of the Taoiseach. This will involve the transfer of approximately 19 staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who will work alongside existing staff from my Department in the new integrated EU division. The new division will support me in my membership of the European Council, as well as supporting the Tánaiste in his responsibility for overall co-ordination of European policy, together with the Minister of State with special responsibility for European affairs and including the Tánaiste's membership of the General Affairs Council. It will secure more effective strategic direction and co-ordination across the whole of government in all matters related to the European Union. I anticipate that the incoming staff will be in place by 3 October and that the new arrangements will be fully operational from that date.
The Government has also agreed to establish an office of the Tánaiste within the Department of the Taoiseach. This office will have a small number of support staff and avail of physical and support facilities which will be provided by my Department. Both the staff and the support costs for the office will be provided at no additional cost from within the existing resources of my Department. The office will be fully operational in the coming weeks.
In parallel with the major restructuring of my Department, the Government has also made significant new management appointments. As I previously informed the House, it has appointed Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason as Second Secretary General in my Department. She will have responsibility for the management of an integrated EU co-ordination function, engaging with other Departments, as appropriate, reporting to me and the Tánaiste, as appropriate, in respect of our particular responsibilities at European level, and working with the Minister of State with special responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Creighton, in respect of her duties; managing support for the Government Economic Management Council which is chaired by me and reporting to the Tánaiste on matters relating to the council; and also managing the office of the Tánaiste within the Department of the Taoiseach, with responsibility for co-ordinating support for the Tánaiste in his whole-of-government responsibilities.
On my nomination, the Government appointed Mr. Martin Fraser as the new Secretary General to the Government and Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach with effect from 1 August. Mr. Fraser is the Accounting Officer for the Department of the Taoiseach. Both the Secretary General and the Second Secretary General are members of the staff of my Department. They will work with and, as appropriate, report to me and the Tánaiste, as I have explained. As Deputies will know from their own experience, this model has worked very successfully in the past, notably in respect of the Northern Ireland peace process and Ireland's last EU Presidency.
As I outlined to the House previously, the filling of the post of Secretary General to my Department, in accordance with established practice, was a matter for the Government and does not come within the remit of the Top Level Appointments Commission. Expressions of interest for the post were invited from civil servants and all suitable officers, whether they submitted an expression of interest, were considered before the Government made the appointments.
Although the details are not yet finalised, there are likely to be two new appointments to vacancies at assistant secretary level in my Department shortly. These posts will be fully open and advertised in the national newspapers. The selection will be conducted by the Top Level Appointments Commission which the Government has reformed to include an independent chairperson and a majority of members from outside the Civil Service.
The changes I have made, alongside the establishment of the new Government Economic Management Council, serve to strongly reinforce the strategic centre of Government. I expect that the new management team in the Department will implement a number of further administrative changes in the coming months which will serve to supplement the strategic restructuring I have implemented and ensure the Department is modernised to meet the enormous challenges that the Government faces. These changes will focus on ensuring modern and effective mechanisms for implementing the programme for Government, the Cabinet Office model, and prioritising work on national priorities. They will draw on lessons learned from the recent past and international best practice. Tackling the economic crisis, with a particular focus on unemployment and jobs, will be of paramount importance. The new approach will be further elaborated on in the Department's new strategy statement and action plan under the organisational review programme. Both will be published before the end of the year. Apart from the changes I have outlined, it is not proposed to transfer any funding or other programmes to my Department.
There are six staff working in my Department who are on secondment from other Departments, while nine staff are on secondment from the Department of the Taoiseach to other public sector bodies. A number of staff in diplomatic grades in the new EU division will be seconded from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, while the general service staff will formally transfer to my Department.
The number of whole-time equivalent staff in my Department at the end of 2008 was 212. At the end of 2009 it was 198, and at the end of 2010 it was 191. Even following the transfer of significant numbers of staff to the new EU division, I expect that this figure will fall to approximately 187 by the end of the year.
The Department of the Taoiseach will fully comply with its obligations to make savings under the Croke Park agreement and also play its part in further reducing costs in the context of the decisions to be made by the Government against the background of the comprehensive review of expenditure which is under way and being conducted by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Following completion of the radical changes under way, the Department will be able to fulfil its many important roles more effectively but with a smaller staff complement and budget than in recent years.
Of this group of 13 questions, 12 are in my name. Under Standing Orders, if they were to be asked separately, I would be entitled to speak for approximately 72 minutes. Obviously, I do not expect this to happen.
I do not know where the Deputy got that idea from because he is not correct.
There are approximately four areas covered by the 12 questions in my name: the Taoiseach's promise concerning the staffing of the Department of the Taoiseach, the new office of the Tánaiste, the new arrangements for co-ordinating EU policy and the procedures for filling the post of Secretary General. I want to be able to deal with each of these and have enough of time to do so.
The Deputy need not worry, I will give him time.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. You are in good form because of Sunday's developments.
The Deputy is in better form than last week.
Actually, I am in very good form. Deputy Rabbitte has good experience of that kind of thing himself. The last time we discussed the structure and staffing of the Taoiseach's Department, the Taoiseach failed to inform the House that he would be moving an entire section from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under his control. In the Taoiseach's pre-election speeches, in the Fine Gael manifesto and in the programme for Government the Taoiseach stated he would dramatically cut the Department of the Taoiseach in size. In interviews earlier this year the Taoiseach described himself as a straight talker. Will the Taoiseach now formally confirm that he is abandoning the promise to dramatically slim down the Department of An Taoiseach?
Is Deputy Martin finished?
We thought there was a hard question coming.
The answer to the question is "no". Question No. 4 is from Deputy Micheál Martin. It is to ask the Taoiseach if he is still plans to halve the size of his Department. If Deputy Martin listened to what I said he would have heard the first sentence of my reply, that is, the programme for Government states we will reduce the size of the Department of the Taoiseach. Deputy Martin's question relates to something he seems to have heard somewhere to the effect that the Taoiseach still plans to halve the size of his Department.
The Taoiseach should go back over his manifesto.
What about the 25,000 civil servants?
My job is to implement the programme for Government and that is what we intend to do. The programme for Government is clear. It states that we will reduce the size of the Department of the Taoiseach. Deputy Martin referred to "dramatically cutting" and his question refers to a reduction in the Department of 50%. I have not abandoned anything and I do not know what Deputy Martin is blathering on about.
Let us consider the facts that the Taoiseach has just read out. There were 191 staff at the end of 2010 and now there are 187. That is a change of four people. It is about time we had some straight, honest talking here. We should stop the waffle, fudge and spin. If the Taoiseach will not be straight or clear about something he has announced himself through the figures, then when will he be clear about anything?
I have been clear.
The Taoiseach is not clear. He made all manner of ridiculous commitments during the election and before the election and he has abandoned them. The Taoiseach should acknowledge that he has abandoned them. That is all. There are no specifics in terms of the size of the office of an Tánaiste and how many staff are there and so on. I would appreciate if the Taoiseach could give us some real figures behind that office. The Taoiseach used the term "a small number of staff". Will he provide the actual number of staff who will be supporting the Tánaiste in that role?
In terms of the EU co-ordination the decision to transfer the entire European Union section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Taoiseach's control is rather surprising given that co-ordination between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of the Taoiseach was and always has been excellent. Indeed the 2004 EU Presidency was a model Presidency of the council and was described as such by all throughout Europe. The Taoiseach should explain why he has changed this successful formula. It seems to be a solution in search of a problem. I am keen to get the rationale behind the Taoiseach's decision because the EU section has a broader, wider and deeper integration throughout the entire operation of the diplomatic service. In practice our entire diplomatic service is focused on European matters and the sections in daily contact with our embassies in EU countries remain in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The integration and co-ordination pertaining to Europe within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will be significantly undermined by the Taoiseach's decision to take the specific section dealing with EU matters out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and land it in splendid isolation in the Department of the Taoiseach. I do not believe the Taoiseach has given a proper rationale for why he has decided to do that.
I remind the Deputy that this is Question Time.
I am asking the Taoiseach to give a clear rationale for that decision. For some reason, the last time we discussed this even though it was under way then he did not alert the House to such a fundamental and substantial change in respect of that decision. The Taoiseach will create an extra barrier to an integrated EU approach from Government.
The answer to Deputy Martin's question is that the Office of the Tánaiste will be supported by a small secretariat of approximately two staff from within the current staff numbers. I will give Deputy Martin the rationale behind the other change. Perhaps his view is as someone who was in the Department of Foreign Affairs and did an extensive tour of duty. The problem is that the matter of the co-ordination in respect of European integration is better handled from the Department of the Taoiseach in the sense of being able to draw the requirements from every Department to ensure that happens. It is not a taking over of responsibilities from the Tánaiste or from the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs. It is merely the co-ordination of the European process which, as Deputy Martin correctly points out, now goes across every Department. This is why the appointment of the Second Secretary General to the Department of the Taoiseach will manage it from the Department of the Taoiseach in an effective way, working to the Tánaiste in respect of his responsibilities, to the Minister of State in respect of her responsibilities and to me as Head of Government in respect of my responsibilities. I see this as improving a position which, as Deputy Martin pointed out, during various EU Presidencies did well under challenging circumstances. I am keen to make it even better. For this reason we moved the general staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade into the section in the Department of the Taoiseach dealing with the co-ordination of European matters. That is the rationale behind it and I believe it will work effectively.
Given the transfer of the EU section to his control, why is the Taoiseach still transferring EU questions to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs will have responsibility for answering questions in respect of European issues. I am not suggesting taking over responsibility for all European matters but for the co-ordination of the way we proceed to deal with European issues. I find it to be more effective coming from the Department of the Taoiseach as distinct from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in attempting to draw from all Departments the requirements needed. To put even greater emphasis on this approach the Government agreed to the appointment of a Second Secretary General in the Department of the Taoiseach with specific responsibility for managing that co-ordination and for dealing with the matters of the economic management council, reporting to the Tánaiste where appropriate and to me in respect of my responsibilities.
I wish to allow Deputy Higgins in for one moment. He has a question on the filling of the position of Secretary General.
This looks suspiciously like a Fine Gael coup with regard to the management of EU affairs by the Government. Is this the case? Has the Taoiseach elbowed the Tánaiste out to deal with far flung areas such as North Korea and so on while in essence corralling the critical policy and EU matters among himself as a Fine Gael Taoiseach and a Fine Gael Minister for Finance aided and abetted by a Fine Gael Minister of State for European affairs? I will repeat the question which the Taoiseach did not really answer. How are the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to co-ordinate intervention in critical EU matters? Will the Taoiseach explain this in greater detail and more clearly?
How many staff in the Taoiseach's Department and on the public payroll are doing constituency queries or like work? With regard to the secretary generalship of the Taoiseach's Department, what is the salary level of the new chief of the Department? In view of how outraged the public has been by the extent of the obscene payments to the predecessor, how does the Taoiseach justify continuing payment of such vast amounts to the tops of the public service when low and middle-income public sector workers are on the one hand struggling but on the other hand being tarred as if they were in the top echelons by the likes of Independent Newspapers and the rest?
Can we have a question?
The co-ordination section within the Department of the Taoiseach is not focused just on the Department of Foreign Affairs as the Tánaiste and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs retain their responsibilities and this could involve the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. All of these are now concerned directly with decisions that are being taken in Europe and by Europe in respect of directives and regulations and political issues.
The co-ordination of all of this is, in my view, more effective coming from the Department of the Taoiseach within the responsibilities I have in that regard, rather than having it situated in a specific Department. It is not a conspiracy, a coup or a takeover but merely a more effective co-ordination of the management of the affairs of Government across all Departments. That management can be more effective coming from the Department of the Taoiseach while the Ministers retain their responsibilities in so far as European affairs are concerned, in particular matters relevant to their portfolios and their Departments. The co-ordination of all of that is the reason I made this change.
The Deputy asked about the numbers doing constituency office work and their salaries. That matter is down for written answer today in response to a question from Deputy Ross, or perhaps another Deputy, which will be available to Deputy Higgins. The Deputy will be glad to know it has reduced from previous times and that, for higher public servants, these salaries have been capped at €200,000, in many cases having being reduced from €285,000, including a further voluntary contribution from €214,000 to €200,000. Of course, these are now being further reduced with the pension changes being brought in by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
It is still five times the average industrial wage.
The Taoiseach was being somewhat disingenuous in saying it is just a co-ordination issue. Fundamentally, he has taken the entire EU section, which is not just a number of people doing co-ordinating work but is actually the core unit that led for the Department of Foreign Affairs on EU matters and which has now gone to the Department of the Taoiseach. This has fundamental implications for how the Department of Foreign Affairs works in regard to other international bodies such as the United Nations, the OSCE and a range of other international bodies which have a daily interaction with the EU section.
The Taoiseach has not explained how the diplomatic service will fit into this new operation. It may explain the disquiet from some of his Cabinet colleagues in terms of how quiet the Tánaiste has become at the Cabinet table. It may be due to the rationale that he is getting less and less to do if various units and sections are being taken from him.
That has nothing to do with the question.
It has everything to do with it.
Cad faoi Labhrás?
There is a fundamental issue in terms of how that is playing out within——
Cá bhfuil Eamon? Tá sé an-chiúin, nach bhfuil?
The Taoiseach had considerable experience in June last year and he came out of it with flying colours. We all take lessons from time to time.
They were not talking about founding another party.
With regard to the Secretary General, the Taoiseach said earlier there were previous terms and conditions. Will he confirm that the terms and conditions of the new Secretary General reflect those of his predecessor?
While I do not want to interfere with Question Time, many of these matters relate to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
They do. The appointments have been made under the arrangements of TLAC, the Top Level Appointments Committee, which have been in place since 1987. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is reviewing the nature of the structure of these appointments.
He said something different half an hour ago.
He said something different earlier. This is the incredible spin the Taoiseach goes on with all the time.
Will the Deputy cool down and let the Taoiseach answer?
The Taoiseach is six months in Government.
I find Deputy Martin's comments about the Tánaiste completely off the wall.
They are not my comments. They were made by the Taoiseach's colleagues.
He is actually in New York speaking at the United Nations in respect of matters pertaining to the world outside and Ireland's situation in it. We will continue to do so in regard to other international issues. What I am talking about here is the more effective co-ordination of issues relating to the EU across all Departments. Obviously, all Ministers retain their responsibilities but the co-ordination of this will be managed by a Second Secretary General in the Department of the Taoiseach. I find that to be more effective.
I would like to move on.
I asked a specific supplementary question on the terms and conditions. Can I have a specific answer?
These are questions for the Minister.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform took written questions on that issue today.
From Deputy McDonald.
We have a Minister to deal with this.
Question No. 5 is "To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the filling of the position of Secretary General of his Department." That is the context in which I am asking.
That question was asked by Deputy Joe Higgins.
Yes, but I am entitled to ask a supplementary question in regard to the Taoiseach's reply.
He has already answered.
I am entitled to ask a supplementary question in regard to the Taoiseach's reply.
I never thought Deputy Martin would be looking for assistance from the leader of the Socialist Party. I answered the question from Deputy Higgins in regard to the appointment of the Secretary General and the Second Secretary General.
No, the Taoiseach did not.
The Minister, Deputy Howlin, answered questions in written form today.
I call Deputy McDonald.
For the record, what salary is the Second Secretary General on? Will the Taoiseach clarify that for us?
I cannot answer that question for the Deputy but I will have the details provided to her.
I answered a written question on that matter today.
I want it from the Taoiseach. This is Questions to the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach does not have to answer for every Minister.
He answered half an hour ago.
Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle——
We have to be reasonable.
The Taoiseach answered on this half an hour ago and made a specific comment. The hypocrisy of his response has been found out.
Will the Deputy cool down? Deputy McDonald is asking a question. I am just giving——
We are just asking the Taoiseach to answer for his Department.
The Taoiseach cannot answer for every single Minister. If there are detailed questions on matters of pay and so on——
With all due respect, I believe the Taoiseach can give a full answer to a very clear question.
With all due respect to the Deputy, it is my job to try to chair the proceedings fairly on both sides. I want to ensure Deputies get proper answers. If they are asking a question and not getting a full answer, I suggest they put down a question to the appropriate Minister. That is my function. If the Taoiseach has the information and wants to give it to the Deputy, by all means he may do so.
Yes, he does.
It is our function to question the Taoiseach in this section.
I have no problem with that.
I find it strange, therefore, and wonder does the Taoiseach not know the answer to this question. If he does, he might share it with us.
I have already said these are capped at €200,000 and the specific answer to Deputy McDonald's question is in written form because she asked a specific question of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The Deputy will have it in the pigeon hole when she leaves the Chamber.
Therefore, it is the same as the one of which the Taoiseach washed his hands earlier. That is the point.
Do not talk to me about washing hands.
The Economic Management Council will report to the Tánaiste. What is the mechanism for keeping the Dáil informed of the work of this group, or is there one?
The Economic Management Council reports to me, as Taoiseach, and to the Tánaiste in the context of determining the issues with which the council has to deal. Decisions made at the Economic Management Council will go before Cabinet and, obviously, Cabinet matters and decisions are confidential. Of course, when Government makes decisions, they become public and Ministers answer for the decisions that are made and will continue to do so. It is not a case of outlining for the House what is the agenda for any Economic Management Council meeting or any other Cabinet committee. Once the Government receives reports, proposals or recommendations from any of those meetings or committees and makes decisions on them, they become public and are answerable to this House and to the people by Ministers and the Government as a whole.
Therefore, there is no mechanism.
14 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of freedom of information requests he has received from members of the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he has examined these in terms of policy or administrative implications for his Department. [21087/11]
15 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has reviewed by the policy and administrative implications of freedom of information cases handled by his Department since 21 July 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24721/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 15 together.
One request from a Member of the Oireachtas was received in my Department from 9 March 2011 to 31 August. The answer was issued within the freedom of information timeframe and was part-granted. The functions relating to freedom of information are carried out in the Department by statutorily designated officials, as envisaged in the Acts, and these officials follow the guidelines set out in the Department of Finance's decision makers manual. This statutory framework is constructed in such a way as to keep the decision-making process at arm's length from the political head of the Department. Accordingly, I have no role in respect of the processing of freedom of information requests. Moreover, there are no plans to change this process.
First, during our last Question Time, the Taoiseach told the House he took no role in seeking the disallowance of questions. I subsequently made a freedom of information request and discovered the Taoiseach had written to the Ceann Comhairle's office 69 times in six weeks directly asking for Members' questions to be disallowed. In the same period, he transferred 98 questions to other Ministers in order that he would not be obliged to answer them. While the final decision was not the Taoiseach's, he followed a clear strategy of reducing the areas on which he is obliged to answer questions. I ask him to withdraw the statement he made in the previous Dáil session that he plays no role in seeking the large-scale disallowance and transfer of questions from Deputies. He should withdraw formally the statement he put on the record of the House on the previous occasion.
In addition, although the Taoiseach has been praising himself for six months for saying "No" to President Van Rompuy's text on corporation tax from the Council meeting last March, he has been refusing to show that text to anyone. In response to a freedom of information request made in August, the Taoiseach again refused to release the Van Rompuy text from the European Council meeting, claiming the rules of the European Council would not allow this. The problem for the Taoiseach is I also contacted the European Council, which stated it could not supply the text directly but would encourage the national Government to release it. In this context, will the Taoiseach release the Van Rompuy text? Will he desist from relying inordinately on freedom of information legislation to avoid putting relevant information before this House on foot of genuine requests from Members?
I have no intention——
Before the Taoiseach answers that question, in case anyone gets the impression from Deputy Martin's statement that the Taoiseach wrote to me 68 times, or whatever it was, and in case anyone thinks I am influenced by anyone writing to me, I wish to make it quite clear and to put on record that all Departments regularly, one would hope through the Minister, seek to have questions disallowed. It goes through a procedure and, in most cases, where possible, we ignore that request. Consequently, it is wrong to suggest or let the public feel that people lobby me in some way to disallow questions. This is not true and I do not wish there to be any misunderstanding in this regard. The only way in which a question is disallowed is if it is not in accordance with Standing Orders.
This practice has been going on for 90 years.
A Cheann Comhairle——
That is the procedure and I want that on the record. The Taoiseach should resume.
May I just——
What the Ceann Comhairle has just done is unfair.
No, the Taoiseach is replying. I have made my statement. I thank the Deputy.
No suggestion was made and there was no need for the Ceann Comhairle to say that.
I have every intention of saying it.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his clarification.
The point is, if the Ceann Comhairle listened to what I said——
Deputy Martin, you made a statement that the Taoiseach had written to me 68 times.
Yes, and he did.
That gives the impression——
It does not give that impression.
——that lobbying was carried out on me.
No, that is just the Ceann Comhairle's assessment of it.
I do not want that on the record of this House and I am quite entitled——
How does it give that impression?
The Deputy should resume his seat.
I seek an opportunity to respond.
I am quite entitled, as independent Chairman of this House, to put on record the facts. This is what I have done. I ask the Taoiseach to answer the question.
What the Ceann Comhairle is doing is not acceptable. He is taking sides on such issues and it is not good enough.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for clarifying a process that has been in situ for a great number of decades.
I thank the Taoiseach.
It is Deputy Martin who should withdraw his ludicrous charge. If his questions are placed more accurately in respect of the responsibilities of the Department of the Taoiseach, they will be answered.
I said no such thing as the Ceann Comhairle inferred. However, the Taoiseach did say something the last time.
The clear impression Deputy Martin gave is the Taoiseach was attempting to influence the Ceann Comhairle to transfer questions to other Departments. The system, as has been outlined by the Ceann Comhairle to the Deputy, has been in situ for a long time, as his own record proves.
I am unsure what is biting him regarding the secret of Fatima——
May I explain to the Taoiseach——
——in so far as the Van Rompuy text is concerned. He should at least recognise the interest rate reductions that have been brought about under the EFSF and EFSM are of significant proportions to the Irish people and taxpayers. While President Van Rompuy made a suggestion regarding a compromise in a difficult situation, it was not in a text that was circulated generally and I have no intention of commenting further on it. The result has been achieved and is highly significant for the Irish taxpayers and people. The Deputy should give up from trying to resurrect something that is now of no consequence.
In the first instance, the fact I read into the record of the House that on foot of a freedom of request, it was revealed the Taoiseach had written 69 times to the Ceann Comhairle should give no one any impression about anything other than this, namely, the reason——
What was the purpose of the statement?
I will explain the purpose if the Ceann Comhairle would listen to me. As I already stated, during the last Question Time, the Taoiseach told the House specifically that he took no role in seeking the disallowance of questions. This was untrue.
That is not untrue. Deputy Martin is aware the Taoiseach never even sees them.
He should have stated then——
This happens every day of the week.
——that he had written 69 letters. That is the only point I was making.
It is an administrative procedure.
I made no inference about influence, lobbying or anything else. The point is the last time the Taoiseach was in the House, he made a big song and dance to the effect he made no attempt to so do.
It happens every single day of the week that questions are disallowed.
He was oblivious to any attempts, giving the impression he is open to answer any question, but he is not. Since he came to office, the Taoiseach's full track record has been to keep avoiding the answering of questions. Questions are transferred and healways tries to avoid answering them. The same is true in respect of freedom of information requests.
The Taoiseach does not transfer questions.
He has been trying to.
Let me repeat——
Equally, may I state that in terms of——
No, the Deputy cannot. I ask him to resume his seat because he again has implied——
The Ceann Comhairle is interfering all the time.
——something that is totally and utterly inaccurate. Every day of the week, I receive a number of requests either to disallow or transfer a question. This is done strictly in accordance with Standing Orders. On numerous occasions, questions are being asked of the wrong Minister or of the Taoiseach. Sometimes, questions are not in accordance with Standing Orders. This is the only time a question may be disallowed. One should not allow people to think that questions somehow are being disallowed because people do not wish to answer them. Every effort is made by me and by my office to ensure a Deputy who asks a question in this House will get an answer. On many occasions, I request that the Deputy be contacted and a suggestion made to him or her that he or she should transfer the question to someone else in order that he or she may receive a proper answer.
Deputy Martin is on a steep learning curve.
Let us be fair about this. This has nothing to do with freedom of information or anything else and I wish to make that quite clear.
I also was in government and when I was asked questions as a Minister, I made it my business to answer them.
The Deputy made a bad job of it.
I did not seek to write to the Ceann Comhairle or anyone else to get them disallowed. My point merely is the Taoiseach made a statement in the House that he took no role——
There is a misunderstanding here.
——in seeking a disallowance. He wrote 69 times and these are the facts.
The Deputy is well aware the Taoiseach does not. It is an administrative procedure.
He wrote 69 times.
Why does Deputy Martin not ask Deputy Ó Snodaigh, who is well used to what the Deputy is learning for the first time?
The system is as it always was.
As for the Van Rompuy text, the Taoiseach should be aware that I will not give up.
Deputy Martin should go on a FÁS course.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh will give the Deputy a FÁS course.
Would the terms and conditions be the same?
The Taoiseach has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide the Von Rompuy text——
Deputy Martin's colleagues spent their entire lives hiding information. They had 15 years of practice.
——and to prevent it from coming out into the open. He will not even respond to a freedom of information request. This is a trend——
Deputy Martin, this is Question Time. Will you please ask a question?
A Cheann Comhairle, I am asking a question.
You are not; you are making statements.
I am responding——
This is Question Time.
A Cheann Comhairle, this interference is not acceptable.
I am here to control——
The Taoiseach responded to me by simply stating I should give up on asking the question. I again ask him the reason he will not put the aforementioned text before the House. Why will he not do so?
I ask the Taoiseach to reply as to the reason he will not put the text before the House.
Deputy Martin has been talking about questions being transferred from the Department of the Taoiseach to other Departments. Questions Nos. 14 and 15, which are in his name, pertain to freedom of information requests. I have answered that directly. A single request was received from the Deputy at my Department between 9 March and 31 August. It was nothing to do with the transfer of questions. I have already answered the question on President Van Rompuy who wanted to put forward a view in a difficult situation which was not generally circulated and is now completely and utterly irrelevant in that the matter——
Let us know. Publish it and let us see if it is irrelevant.
The public also knows that there are very significant interest rate reductions, something to which the Deputy referred many times during his supplementary question.
Is it not the case that the Taoiseach is afraid to publish it because it might reveal something about which he was not telling the truth?
Those interest rate reductions have achieved a saving of €1 billion every year. The Deputy will not recognise that.
It was nothing to do with the Taoiseach. Why will he not publish it?
16 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the amount he spent on thevisits here of Queen Elizabeth II of England and the President of the United States of America visit; the amount of that spent on food and beverages; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21136/11]
To date the total expenditure by my Department on the visit by President Obama is €125,838. Of this total spent on catering was €14,483. The projected cost of the visit of President Obama is approximately €600,000. The main area of expenditure was the organisation of the large-scale public event in College Green. To date the total expenditure by my Department on the visit by Queen Elizabeth II is €25,709. The bulk of this expenditure relates to the catering and transport arrangements for the wreath laying ceremony in the War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge. More than 570 guests attended the ceremony. The total expenditure on catering was €19,709. These costs must be seen in the context of the historic nature of the visits and the opportunities they presented not only for trade, investment and tourism, but also in enhancing Ireland's international reputation and profile at a critical juncture.
What was the total cost? Members of the Government have referred in previous questions to the overall cost of the visits being in excess of €20 million or €23 million. The Taoiseach might remind me of the full cost of the two visits. How much of the total expenditure was spent on food, beverages, entertainment for the various guests and so on? Does the Taoiseach think it is appropriate that a significant sums of taxpayers' money is being spent on wine, alcohol, food and big glitzy——
The Deputy is straying from the question.
——occasions with celebrities and personalities quaffing fine wine and eating fine food——
Does the Deputy have supplementary question?
——at the same time as brutal austerity is being imposed on people who are struggling to put food on the table or pay their bills? It is an aspect of the visit that some of us who were opposed to it are concerned about. Is it appropriate, given the suffering so many people in the country are going through?
I had to feed the meter at the time which cost me €4.
I cannot believe the Deputy is serious. The Minister for Justice and Equality indicated the overall cost of the Garda operation arising from the State visits of President Obama and Queen Elizabeth II to be in the region of €36 million. As the Deputy is well aware, some very unruly characters and dangerous organisations threatened to inflict their agendas on the Irish people.
The Taoiseach is not associating me with them.
No, in fairness the Deputy told his people to be very peaceful. I want him to understand that if he wants specific answers with the details of that nature, I am quite sure the Minister for Justice and Equality will answer them in some detail. The Deputy's question concerned the expenditure by the Department of the Taoiseach and I have outlined the figure to the euro.
At least €300 million in respect of beneficial coverage for the country was generated. It emanated from the many thousands of articles and media items given about our people and nation during the course of the two visits, and it will last for many years to come in terms of benefit to the hospitality and tourism sectors, not to mention business and a range of other areas.
In respect of the cost of the visit to the Department, flowers and wreaths cost €1,182.38; the gift to the Queen of a book on the horseracing industry with particular reference to English racing was €200; coach hire was €2,900; catering was €19,709.44 — for the rashers, I suppose; printing was €298; and equipment hire was €1,419. The coaches had to be hired from the evening before the ceremony in order to be security checked which added to the cost. For security reasons, there was no parking at Islandbridge so guests were transported by coach from the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
Did the Deputy want to ask them to bring their own sandwiches?
The Taoiseach did not answer one part of my question.
The Deputy got a comprehensive answer.
Was there red wine or white wine?
I asked about the appropriateness of such expenditure when austerity is being imposed on the people.
I wanted to raise something on the previous question.
Glitzy occasions and spending money on fine food for select invitees——
I call on the Taoiseach to answer Question No. 17.
I had a question about Question No. 16.
It was straightforward question asking about the particulars of cost. We are not discussing the overall visit.
My question related specifically to costs and the visits in question.
I ask the Deputy to stick to the question.
Is the Deputy sorry she did not take any of the sandwiches?
There were no sandwiches. There was much better fare.
I will raise an issue that is more important than sandwiches. I wish to refer to the €36 million cost——
That is a different question. Question No. 16 relates to the cost——
This is Question Time and the Taoiseach has raised the issue of the €30 million cost. What is the implication for the Garda Síochána and the budget? The much bigger concern is not sandwiches or cocktail sausages but that substantial public moneys were spent.
That is a separate question entirely.
It came out of the Garda budget——
The question asked was the amount spent on food and beverages.
The Taoiseach raised this matter and brought the figure into the discussion.
I do not care what he raised but the question was the amount that was spent on food and beverages. It was answered.
The Taoiseach and Government should consider the €36 million spent, particularly as it might affect the Garda Síochána and the service on our streets.
The Deputy should table a separate question.
The State and taxpayer have paid hundreds of millions of euro because of security requirements arising from the activities of illegal organisations in this country over the years.
That is a very cryptic answer.
17 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he plans to publish a revised programme for Government. [21195/11]
18 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a progress report on the programme for Government as a new Dáil Éireann session commences [24420/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 18 together.
There are no plans to publish a revised programme for Government and it is not intended to provide a progress report at the start of each new Dáil session.
I thought the Taoiseach might give that answer.
Then there was no point in asking the question.
I am surprised he would not consider publishing a revised programme for Government, given the fact that he has had several U-turns since the original programme was put in place. It is a fair point. The transparent thing to do is to set it down on paper. In the revised programme the Taoiseach might make clear his plans in respect of semi-State companies, such as the ESB and others. The Labour Party might help him set out what he regards to be strategic assets.
I helped the Deputy and she was very ungracious. She never acknowledged it.
Through the Chair, please.
——I wager I will never require help from your good self. In respect of the programme for Government, who pulls the string? The Taoiseach comes into the Chamber day after day and tells us about the constraints of the EU and IMF or decisions made by the previous Administration. It seems to be the Taoiseach's catch-all cover on every issue. Why not have a revised programme for Government? As the Government has now been in situ for six or seven months and it is very clear that its agenda is essentially that of the previous Administration, why not set this down in clear and transparent terms? The Taoiseach said he would level with the people. Would that not be part of the levelling process?
I thought the Deputy might give that answer.
It was a question, not an answer.
I do not want to give out about the IMF or the European Union, or the actions of the previous Government. The Deputy should know of some of the things the Government has done: it provided for a reversal of the cut in the minimum wage from 1 July; the lower rate of employers' PRSI was halved from 1 July; the VAT rate on tourism-related services was cut by one third from 1 July; the new national internship scheme with 5,000 places commenced in July; there is an extra 15,900 places in further education and training programmes; there is the new national employment and entitlements service to replace FÁS; there is an extra €75 million for shovel-ready transport projects to create 1,000 jobs; there is an extra €40 million for the 2011 summer works scheme for 453 schools to create 2,400 jobs; extra funding has been committed for an applied research centre in cloud computing and also a new energy research centre; there is a new support programme for home energy retrofitting to create an estimated 2,000 jobs; there is a visa waiver programme for certain short stay visitors; substantial work has been completed on the implementation of the NewEra investment plan; there is a new memorandum of understanding between China and Ireland on sharing expertise in food safety, laboratory controls, veterinary systems, animal husbandry and the seafood sector which will foster stronger trade links; the national procurement service website for buyers and suppliers was launched; there has been a comprehensive restructuring and recapitalisation plan for the banking system to release at least €30 billion in new domestic lending in the period 2011 to 2013; there has been the merger of AIB and the EBS; there is to be the commencement of tendering for a temporary partial credit guarantee scheme for SMEs, to be introduced in the autumn, with direct implications for small business; there have been significant advances in burden-sharing with bondholders; there has been ongoing replacement of pre-September 2008 bank directors; legislation has been published to tackle white collar crime; in respect of the public finances, a comprehensive review of expenditure has commenced and is practically completed; a review of the capital programme has commenced; borrowing targets are on track; there has been the enactment of the Finance (No. 2) Bill — the jobs initiative; there has been the publication of the Finance (No. 3) Bill dealing with civil partnership; we have delivered targeted payroll reductions under the Croke Park agreement; there has been successful completion of the first and second quarterly programme review mission with the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF; we have renegotiated the programme of support to accommodate the jobs initiative; we have secured the support of the troika for an interest rate reduction; we have secured troika support for a managed and orderly downsizing of the banking system to avoid excessive fire sale losses and limit taxpayer support; ambassadors have been recalled to Dublin for a summit on Ireland's response to the crisis; an extensive programme of bilateral meetings aimed at repairing Ireland's international reputation and re-engaging with key EU and international partners is under way; there have been pay cuts for the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Ministers; there has been a halving of the cost of ministerial transport; there has been new legislation for the effective banning of corporate donations, to cut the number of Deputies at the next general election, and on other political reforms, including increasing female participation in politics, new six-month time limits for by-elections and lower spending limits for presidential elections; there has been measures to increase the number of Dáil sitting days by more than 33% by cutting the length of Dáil holidays——
What about senior civil servants' pay?
The Taoiseach has one minute left.
——we have cut the number of Dáil committees; there has been the replacement of the board of the HSE, ahead of the introduction of legislation to abolish it; there have been reforms in respect of the Top Level Appointments Committee; additional staff have been allocated to the Garda vetting unit to tackle the backlog; in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food consultants have been engaged on a pro bono basis to assist both in the comprehensive spending review and the State assets review; agreement to pay a dividend to the State in 2011 has been secured from Coillte, while the local office reorganisation has been completed, saving €30 million annually; we have initiated the design of a new agency for child protection and the provision of family support; the new special delivery unit to tackle unacceptable hospital waiting lists has been implemented; there has been Cabinet approval for the establishment of a universal health insurance implementation group——
——some €5 million has been allocated to alleviate difficulties in unfinished housing estates; there is a new national co-ordination committee to tackle the problem of ghost estates——
——we have established a forum on patronage and pluralism in schools——
——the "Write to Read" pilot scheme has been extended——
——the Ryan implementation oversight group is now chaired by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs——
——there is a new dialogue with NAMA——
——on the use of some empty buildings for cultural purposes; there is agreement with stakeholders that turf-cutting should cease on designated special area of conservation bogs, a new compensation scheme and a peatlands council——
——we approved the deployment of approximately 440 Army personnel to Lebanon at the end of June; there is a competition under way for the appointment of doctors to the Defence Forces medical corps——
This is a great endorsement of the efforts of the previous Government; the Taoiseach should keep reading.
——and we introduced mandatory breath testing at the scene of accidents resulting in injury.
They are all our policies.
How many quangos is that?
And Ireland beat Australia.
These are some of the decisions taken by the Government in the past 20 weeks.
It is an amazing amount for six months.
Deputy McDonald will also be aware of the long list of items of legislation that must now be published which has been time-lined as a requirement of the memorandum of understanding with the troika. She will be a very busy young Deputy between now and Christmas, contributing to all of this legislation. I am sure she will study this partial list of achievements arising from decisions made by the Government as opposed to giving out about anybody else.
Did the Deputy anticipate that reply?
Perhaps Deputy Durkan might take another little break.
I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle.
The Taoiseach says he has no plans to publish a revised programme for Government as the new Dáil session begins. Why does he have no such plans when it is clear that the programme he borrowed from Fianna Fáil based on austerity is spectacularly failing the people? There are record numbers on the live register and record numbers of long-term unemployed. A policy of austerity has been widely discredited by bodies as diverse as UNCTAD, as well as by right-wing economists. Even defenders of capitalism now realise that austerity has been a disaster, cutting the market and creating massive unemployment by depressing the market.
Does the Deputy have a question?
Rather than continuing with these discredited and failed policies, should the Government not introduce a new programme for Government to reverse entirely these disastrous neoliberal policies of slash and burn to pay bondholders? The Government should take a different course.
I forgot to mention the retrofit programme under the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources——
The former Minister, Eamon Ryan, introduced it.
—— which has the potential to create 6,000 new jobs.
I do not intend to publish a new programme for Government. Even Deputy Higgins will have heard some of the soundings from international commentators and some at home who said a few weeks ago the country was going over the edge. They now see us in a different place from many other countries in Europe. For the first time there is a growing sense of confidence and our reputation is being restored because Ireland is making progress.
It is all about reputation in the markets and satisfying them, the sharks.
I agree with the Deputy that having 300,000 on the live register who are unemployed is not satisfactory. I need his help on this and I am sure he will give it. I am sure those in his constituency will be interested in the legislation dealing with the partial loan guarantee scheme which is to be introduced in coming weeks, the micro-finance system we will introduce, and our efforts to cut red tape, reduce administration, increase competitiveness and employ more people. While having to deal with the requirements signed off on in terms of numbers, our focus is on getting as many people back to work in the shortest possible time. This also affects the Deputy's constituency. As I said, I have no intention of publishing a new programme for Government. The programme for Government we have in place will restore the country's fortunes and the people's prosperity.
Does Deputy McDonald have a supplementary question?
I thought the Chair was not going to return to me.
How could he forget the Deputy?
Deputy McDonald should not be like that.
The Deputy has a question.
The Taoiseach could have added to his list——
A supplementary question, please, Deputy.
She should ask a question as these are questions to the Taoiseach.
She should propose a question for answer by the Taoiseach.
I will move to use the interrogative case — the Taoiseach could have outlined that his comprehensive spending review is like a sword of Damocles hanging over the population headed up by the cutback Minister, Deputy Howlin.
The Taoiseach could also concede, as others have suggested, that his strategy is failing in respect of people who are on the dole but he said he will not produce a revised programme for Government. I presume from that we will just have to put it together line by line, chapter by chapter, as he comes in here, fails the people——-
——and then points across the Chamber at Fianna Fáil.
This is a political speech.
There is a question in there somewhere.
When will the Taoiseach give us concrete information on his plans for the commercial semi-States?
I will take a final supplementary from Deputy Martin.
The Taoiseach has a long list of questions to deal with.
Micheál will deal with those.
Has Deputy Martin a quick supplementary?
I have a quick one. In regard to the progress report, surely there is a justification for it on the basis the Government now has about €1.5 billion to €2 billion more available per annum than was predicted because of the Greek crisis and all that has ensued from it.
In fairness, Fianna Fáil did not cause that.
You did not either. I put it to the Taoiseach that there probably is a need to review the programme. There are all sorts of commitments coming out about abandoning the Government's commitment to student fees. In terms of special needs education ——-
A question, please, Deputy.
——there is no need for what is going on there. A very small amount is needed to sort out that provision. What is required is a pragmatic response and so on. Can the Taoiseach indicate whether the comprehensive spending review, in line with the programme for Government, will be published in early October? There is a need to review it.
On the issue of the semi-State bodies, the programme for Government is clear that the requirement is to realise €2 billion over the lifetime of the programme for the appropriate sale of non-strategic State assets at a time that the Government considers opportune. A debate on that during Private Members' time will take place this evening and tomorrow. Deputy McDonald will have all the information that is relevant and on which she can comment during the course of that debate.
The question Deputy Martin asked does not change my view. We have a programme for Government; it is a very new and challenging one and we intend to implement it. The situation in so far as the eurozone is concerned is of very great interest to us and it is being monitored very closely by the Minister for Finance and by the Government in general. As we prepare for the next visit of the troika, the publication of a fiscal plan for the next three years and the preparation of the Estimates leading to the budget in early December, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will provide opportunities for the House to debate and discuss the decisions we have to take and consider.
Written Answers follow Adjournment.