1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the programme for Government commitment on Cabinet confidentiality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37632/14]
Vol. 865 No. 1
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the programme for Government commitment on Cabinet confidentiality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37632/14]
As I have stated in the House on a number of occasions, Cabinet confidentiality is provided for in the Constitution and I have no plans to legislate on the matter.
Will the Taoiseach explain why it is in the programme for Government that legislation relating to Cabinet confidentiality will be changed? It is in black and white and I have asked the Taoiseach about this before. Will he explain why he bothered putting this into the programme for Government at the outset? What was the objective and the intention behind its inclusion? Why did the Taoiseach feel it necessary to include it? In light of the Taoiseach's reply, will he formally remove this from the programme for Government? It is in the section dealing with political reform.
It is on page 19.
We will radically overhaul the way Irish politics and Government work. The failures of the political system [...]. Government is too centralised and unaccountable. We believe that there must also be a real shift in power from the State to the citizen.
These were the heady days of 2011. The next line states "We will legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality" and other issues. Will the Taoiseach explain what was meant by "We will legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality" in the programme for Government?
The intention in the discussions that took place about the formation of the Government was that it would be possible to legislate for Cabinet confidentiality. As I stated on a number of occasions, it is contained in Article 28.4.3° of the Constitution. The Government is not proposing to legislate for Cabinet confidentiality. I think that is the third or fourth time I have answered this question for Deputy Martin.
No. When negotiating a programme for Government, parties outline their objectives. They might list X, Y and Z, indicating that they will deal with freedom of information or the Official Secrets Act, which the Government indicated it would amend, for certain reasons. For some reason, both parties agreed to formally insert a commitment as follows: "We will legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality." What would the legislation do with respect to Cabinet confidentiality? What was the intention behind those who put the programme for Government together? Why was the line inserted and why did the Taoiseach sign off on it? I take it he signed off on every sentence with the then Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore. What was in his mind?
We know Cabinet confidentiality is provided for in the Constitution. Everybody knows that and the Taoiseach knew it before the Government was formed. Why was this included? Must we reach the conclusion that the Taoiseach did not know what he was doing when the line was inserted and he did not have the foggiest notion of why it was put in? He still does not have an idea. It is a formal item in the programme for Government which states: "We will legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality." All I want to find out is what this is for and why has it not been done. Somebody must have had the intention to do something and now the Government has decided not to do it.
Nobody in this House is any the wiser about the intentions or objectives of the Government with respect to Cabinet confidentiality when the programme for Government was put together. Was it meant to relax Cabinet confidentiality? Was there to be a constitutional amendment relating to Cabinet confidentiality? We know the banking inquiry cannot breach it because of the format that has been designed and was proposed to the House by the Government. What was the intention? Was the proposed legislation with a view to a referendum on relaxing Cabinet confidentiality? Will the Taoiseach enlighten me in any shape or form on the motivation behind the provision in the programme for Government, or the objectives which the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and others in the Government had at that time? It is a very straightforward question.
I would say it was a good intention-----
The road to hell.
-----that people would keep matters that are discussed at Cabinet to themselves.
He has given up on it.
The Deputy knows this well himself. He served in many Governments with the same constitutional provision and that did not seem to keep people quiet either. The intention was not to remove the constitutional provision or amend it. It was probably to embellish the fact that people should keep confidential matters discussed at Cabinet.
So it was to be reinforced?
It was a good intention and it will not be legislated for.
That is very strange as the Labour Party, while in opposition for years, would have railed against Cabinet confidentiality. It articulated strongly against it because it was too restrictive, it prevented inquiries and it was always used as a basis for not getting answers to questions. Now the Taoiseach is saying the Labour Party was conspiring with him to legislatively reinforce and re-embed Cabinet confidentiality, the Government was concerned about leaks from previous Cabinets and was determined that no member of the Cabinet should leak information. Laws were to be passed to ensure this would not happen. Is that what the Taoiseach is now saying? Was the Labour Party in favour of that? I doubt it very much. I would like to form a view that the Taoiseach did not know what he was doing. Clearly, he did.
I do not want to waste any more time on it. I have already stated it is a provision in the programme for Government that is not being carried through. We do not intend to legislate for Cabinet confidentiality.
Were there any more good intentions?
The Taoiseach stated quite bluntly, "I have no plans" to legislate on Cabinet confidentiality. The appropriate piece from the programme for the Government states:
We will radically overhaul the way Irish politics and Government work. The failures of the political system over the past decade were a key contributor to the financial crisis and the system must now learn those lessons urgently. Government is too centralised and unaccountable. We believe that there must also be a real shift in power from the State to the citizen. We will legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality.
In reply to Teachta Martin, the Taoiseach indicated that the real intention was not to remove the Cabinet confidentiality aspect of the Constitution when it is clear from the preceding paragraphs that was the intention. The Government indicated it would overhaul the way politics and the Government would work because of the failures of the past and so forth.
The banking inquiry is under way and there are good bits in it. For example, documents which Ministers relied on come under the compellability umbrella and are not subject to Cabinet confidentiality. We have seen individuals questioned on decisions, which is to be welcomed. Some of the information, particularly around the 2008 meeting during which the crucial decision on the banking guarantee was made, is off limits because of Cabinet confidentiality. The citizens of this State who are saddled with a debt they did not incur are potentially being denied important information. That is one of the reasons the Government had this in the programme for Government.
If this was at the behest of the Labour Party, one might argue it was very naïve. Who knows? It rolled over on all the other commitments it made. The Taoiseach indicated this arose from good intentions, and the road to hell, as the Taoiseach knows, is paved with good intentions. I can see this only as a "Pat Rabbitte promise".
It is not a serious commitment in the programme for Government. Will the Taoiseach explain to the Dáil what exactly is the purpose of commitments in the programme for Government, including an unambiguous commitment to legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality, when he can come to the House some time later and simply say he has no plans to legislate on this matter?
Deputy Adams spoke about clarity. If the intention was to remove the constitutional provision on Cabinet confidentiality, the insertion in the programme for Government would have said that the Government would hold a referendum on the abolition of the article concerned.
The Taoiseach gave a commitment on the voting age and on presidential elections.
When the discussions were taking place on putting together the Government and on its programme, one of the issues was legislating for Cabinet confidentiality. As the Deputy is aware, it is provided for in Article 28.4.3° of the Constitution. The Constitution is the highest legal edifice in this country, and this is already in it. As I said to Deputy Martin, the Government is not proceeding with that particular element of the programme for Government.
Deputy Adams made a comment about a particular Deputy. The programme for Government was an agreed position on a range of areas between the two parties. I do not agree with the Deputy that this was the work of any one particular Deputy, so he might withdraw his reference to Deputy Rabbitte when he replies next.
It would be excusable if it was the work of one Deputy, but it is worrying that is the work of more than one.
The Deputy mentioned the banking inquiry. The issues being addressed by the inquiry are of great importance to the public, and the Department of the Taoiseach will co-operate fully with it. I can assure the Deputy that the Department intends to provide the committee with as much information as is lawfully permitted and with as few redactions as possible. In responding to requests from the banking inquiry, my Department must have regard to the law. Cabinet confidentiality, as the Deputy is now aware, is a fundamental principle of our system of government, and Article 28.4.3° provides for that, except in very limited circumstances, which do not include the banking inquiry legislation. It is likely that some records may have to be withheld or adapted in order to ensure that the constitutional provisions regarding Cabinet confidentiality are adhered to.
The Department of the Taoiseach will liaise very closely with the Office of the Attorney General regarding any requests that come from the banking inquiry committee with a view to ensuring that as much transparency as is possible is provided. Therefore, it is far too early to draw any conclusions as to whether provisions on Cabinet confidentiality will be a serious impediment to the work of the inquiry. Let me assure the Deputy that the Department of the Taoiseach will be as open as possible to any requests from the banking inquiry.
The Taoiseach has enlightened us on an entirely new departure in Irish politics. He has now cast establishment party leaders - Taoiseach and Ministers - as gifted artists who shower embellishments on their citizenry instead of a solid plan as to what they will do to try to improve the circumstances of the people and the country. Can the Taoiseach share with us what other embellishments are contained in this very weighty document? Since he has shown himself, along with others, to be such a gifted artist and embellisher, we can assume that there are quite a lot of embellishments in this document, but he might point them out to us now so that we do not waste our time trying to call him to account any more for what is to be implemented under it.
We used to take for granted that the political party programmes of the establishment in the election phase were largely an embellishment, but in terms of what a government or the parties going into government put together, we used to have some hope that there would be some reality to it. This impinges on the banking inquiry. The Taoiseach's programme for Government - perhaps he will tell me this is also an embellishment - states that the Government is too centralised and unaccountable. It further states that the failures of the political system were a key contributor to the financial crisis, that the system must now learn those lessons urgently and that the Government would legislate on Cabinet confidentiality. There was a clear logic in this.
The Taoiseach set up a banking inquiry, although, of course, too late. The legislation totally circumscribes its membership. The only benefit is that people who were central to the blowing up of the bubble pre-crash can be called in and questioned. However, the Cabinet meeting around the bank guarantee, for example, is absolutely critical. We do not know yet what answers we will be given when the people who were central actors in that are called before the committee and questioned. How long will that confidentiality cover? It was a night of long phone calls, was it not? The extent of those discussions will obviously be very central to what people want to find out through the banking inquiry. I am afraid, in light of what the Taoiseach said, that he will point blank refuse to have any change of Cabinet confidentiality. This writes the whole thing off as a pretty useless embellishment.
The Constitution did not always have an explicit provision on Cabinet confidentiality. That was provided for in 1997 following a referendum. It was the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution. It was published on 1 May 1997, following the general election, restored to the Order Paper by the incoming Government on 10 September 1997 and, subsequently, enacted on 14 November of the same year. The relevant Article of the Constitution, Article 28.4.3°, states:
The confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter -
i. in the interests of the administration of justice by a Court, or
ii. by virtue of an overriding public interest, pursuant to an application in that behalf by a tribunal appointed by the Government or by a Minister of the Government on the authority of the Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into a matter stated by them to the public importance.
It took quite a long time to get the banking inquiry set up. Deputy Higgins said it was too late, but I do not agree. It is an important issue in respect of the people of the country-----
Why did the Taoiseach not set it up in the first year?
As I said, in so far as the banking inquiry committee is concerned, my Department will be as open and transparent as it can be in accordance with the law. That means a small number of documents may be withheld or redacted. Obviously, the Department will liaise with the committee in respect of the requests it makes.
I do not know what information the Deputy has about the bank guarantee that he knows it was a night of long phone calls. Obviously, he will have an opportunity to give his information about that in due course.
It is not a case of showering the citizenship with embellishments.
It is not a case of that at all. This was an agreed intention in respect of the programme for Government, and it is not being followed through in terms of legislating for confidentiality. It is already in the Constitution and I am happy that, with those two provisos, it is a very good reason, as endorsed by the people in 1997.
That is not correct. Cabinet confidentiality was in place long before 1997. What happened in 1997, and I stand corrected, was that there was an amendment to facilitate the breaching of Cabinet confidentiality in circumstances of a tribunal of inquiry going to a High Court in matters of public interest and getting access to Cabinet documentation. If I am not mistaken that was in regard to the tribunals of inquiry. The Taoiseach is incorrect in saying that it is something that just came along in 1997. That speaks to the error in setting up the banking inquiry within this House because the Taoiseach took away that facilitation. If he had gone a tribunal of inquiry or a Leveson-type inquiry route, and there was legislation published amending the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, the 2005 Act, he would have retained that facility for a banking inquiry to go to the High Court to get permission to breach Cabinet confidentiality, get access to the Cabinet memorandums and allow former Ministers to speak at an inquiry without being fettered by the rules of Cabinet confidentiality, which all the Cabinet I have met would be more than happy to do. In fact, it would add value to such an inquiry. The fact that that is not now available is a limiting factor in getting at the full truth, and I can never understand why the Government decided to go down that particular route.
I do not know why the Taoiseach put in that we will legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality because prior to his Government coming into power most Opposition parties had been saying for ten years that they wanted to relax Cabinet confidentiality and create situations where people should be able to find out what happened in Cabinet on certain occasions. That is why the referendum on the 1997 constitutional amendment took place. The Taoiseach has created an impression that it was creating Cabinet confidentiality for the first time.
I would also make the point to the Taoiseach that there has been very little discussion on the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill that will come before us on Thursday. The Taoiseach must have known about this before he set up the banking inquiry. That has extraordinary limitations on what the Central Bank can reveal or what the members of the inquiry team can get from the Central Bank in terms of documentation because of European Union directives. One of the institutions that is central to any investigation will be extremely limited now in terms of the documentation that could be accessed by the committee of inquiry. There is a question mark in terms of 60% of the documents. Even if it accesses those documents it will not be able to name corporates or individuals. It can only deal with the material from the documents in aggregate, which is a phrase used by the parliamentary legal adviser to both the inquiry team and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
This is a very serious issue for the operations of the inquiry but no one has focused on it. The Government produced it last week to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and it was explained to our Whip that there are huge restrictions in terms of what can be revealed from the Central Bank, and huge limitations to the powers of the inquiry team members in terms of the questions they can ask, how they can ask the questions and the documentation they can access. Apparently, they will all have to go to a central storage facility. They can only access them without getting copies of them, and they will have to pluck bits and pieces from them. It is very unsatisfactory from what I have heard so far and the least the Taoiseach could do is to undertake for someone from the Oireachtas to make a comprehensive presentation on that issue to the Members of the Oireachtas before we consider the Bill on Thursday, because along with that there will be an amendment to Standing Orders to the effect that members of the banking inquiry - Deputies and Senators - could be subject to sanctions if they treat the material wrongly or mention either corporate names or individuals. That is my understanding. That is how it has been explained to us by our Whip. It was explained to him that there is a proposal from the Government side to amend Standing Orders to penalise any members of the inquiry team into the future if they treat that material wrongly or contravene the legal restrictions that will be on them.
In the context of the issue of Cabinet confidentiality, it appears the way that inquiry was set up was to reinforce Cabinet confidentiality and not relax it or facilitate Members who would love to be of a view that, for example, the memorandums at the time and the memorandums of the meeting the following morning would be revealed, and also that all legal advice given to the Government at the time would be revealed, and other such advice. My understanding is that much of that will not be made available to the inquiry team, and that is potentially very undermining of its work.
That is a statement the Deputy has made. My information is that the Constitution did not always have an explicit provision on Cabinet confidentiality-----
-----and that that was inserted in 1997 following a referendum.
In the two cases mentioned here where there is the interest of administration of justice by order of a court or where, in terms of an inquiry or a tribunal, there is an overriding public interest, the issues relevant to Cabinet discussions can be disclosed in those situations as contained in Article 28.4.3o.
Deputy Martin is well aware of the sensitivity in terms of the triggering of the holding of an inquiry into the banking situation. It is not being directed by the Cabinet but is the setting up of a specific committee to deal with the CPP in the setting up of its terms of reference and the circumstances in which questions can be raised, the nature of those questions and the material to be provided, and how that should be dealt with. Clearly, the members of the committee and of the inquiry into the banking matter operate on their own without direction from either Government or from individual parties. There is a very clear position for them to be able to do their duty and carry out their responsibilities in respect of the banking inquiry.
But we are being asked to pass the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill this week.
If the Deputy is inquiring about the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill and looking for a presentation on that, we can provide that in respect of the detail of the question he is asking.
The entire House should get a presentation because the House passed the terms of reference-----
-----for setting up the banking inquiry. It is reasonable to say that at that stage people should have been made aware-----
The members who serve on the inquiry-----
-----of the limitations on what could come from the Central Bank. I do not think anyone is aware of the extraordinary limitations now in place, and that will be in place. All I am asking is that a comprehensive presentation would be made to all Members of the House, including legal advice and everything else because every Member of the House voted. That is only reasonable because they did not get that information at the time.
They are used to voting with their eyes closed.
I appreciate the-----
I call Deputy Adams and Deputy Higgins to ask a brief question. We are not making much progress on this question.
I used the term "a Pat Rabbitte promise" in my earlier question to the Taoiseach and he asked me to withdraw the name of an Teachta Rabbitte. I used that term to describe this commitment in the programme for Government because, famously, when an Teachta Rabbitte, who was then a Minister, was asked about all the promises the Government had made and then broke, he said that that is the type of thing one says during an election campaign. The use of the term "a Pat Rabbitte promise" is absolutely appropriate in terms of describing the promise to legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality and the Taoiseach's assertion today that he has no plans to legislate on Cabinet confidentiality. I will not withdraw the use of an Teachta Rabbitte's name.
It is not every day that a Taoiseach would come into this House and vindicate the view of those who think that everybody in Government is a shower of - it is a word that begins with a P and finishes with an S - artists, even though the Taoiseach used the word "embellishments".
There are very few of those.
This is an important question.
Does the Taoiseach not agree that Cabinet confidentiality should come very much behind the need and the right of citizens to know what happened in Cabinet at crucial times, for example around the time of the bank guarantee?
That is allowed for in the constitutional amendment that was inserted back in 1997, which refers to-----
Yes, but not by the Oireachtas.
-----an inquiry that has been approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas or by a Minister to deal with matters "of an overriding public interest".
No, it has to be a tribunal.
Deputy Adams took a circuitous route in failing to withdraw his remark. He mentioned a promise made by the former Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. De Valera promised a long time ago to drain the Shannon, and it did not happen either. The point I am making is that this matter was discussed during the formation of a programme for Government after the general election. Deputy Adams referred to what the former Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, said about "what you do at election time", but this was after the election when the people sat down to put this together.
It is all a matter of time. The Taoiseach's timing is great.
I have said to Deputy Martin that we do not intend to proceed ahead with this element of the programme for Government by legislating for Cabinet confidentiality. It is already in there.
2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37633/14]
3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39840/14]
4. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach his views on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43818/14]
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the implementation of the programme for Government.. [44836/14]
6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47832/14]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, together.
The programme for national recovery, which was published in 2011, is a five-year plan that sets out the Government's detailed and ambitious work programme to restore the country’s finances by building on a platform of strong economic management, job creation and a comprehensive reform agenda. Much has been achieved since then. Ireland successfully exited the bailout programme in December 2013. The Irish economy has returned to sustainable growth. Some 80,000 new jobs have been created since the first jobs action plan. Unemployment continues to fall and is now at its lowest rate since 2009. The number of homeowners in mortgage arrears is falling. More than 89,000 permanent restructures have been achieved. The Government has set out a range of measures under the Construction 2020 strategy to get the property market moving, to generate building activity and to increase supply, thereby easing the pressure on those in negative equity. A major programme of public service reform has delivered significant pay savings, increased working hours, increased efficiencies through use of shared services and centralised procurement. A new Civil Service renewal plan has been launched. The significant reform in how services are delivered has already seen the streamlining of local government structures, the establishment of a new Court of Appeal to reduce waiting periods for complex cases and the overhaul of bankruptcy legislation.
Last July, the Government published its statement of priorities for the period from 2014 to 2016, which sets out the key priorities that will continue to drive forward the agenda for the economic and social recovery of Ireland. These additional actions, building on the commitments in the programme for Government, will ensure the recovery translates into meaningful and positive change that affects the lives of people and communities. In March of each year, the Government publishes an annual report in which it sets out the progress it has made in implementing the commitments made in the programme for Government. It has published three reports to date, reporting progress on 80% of those commitments. Work is under way on the fourth report. This will incorporate the progress made on the additional commitments set out in the new statement of the Government's priorities. As in other years, this report will be published in March. As a Government, we have and will continue to work hard to implement the commitments in the programme for Government to ensure Ireland remains firmly on the path to full recovery in the time ahead.
We have four Deputies wanting to ask questions.
I appreciate that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Taoiseach. I submitted this question because I have been puzzled for quite a long time about the enormous gap between the reality on the ground regarding the implementation of the programme for Government and the actual programme itself. Nowhere is this more evident than in the "health and mental health" section of the "fairness" chapter of the programme for Government, which begins by saying "this Government is the first in the history of the State that is committed to developing a universal, single-tier health service, which guarantees access to medical care based on need, not income". That was supposed to happen under this programme during the duration of this Government. The programme for Government continues:
This Government will introduce Universal Health Insurance with equal access to care for all. Under this system there will be no discrimination between patients on the grounds of income or insurance status. The two-tier system of unequal access to hospital care will end. The Universal Health Insurance system will be designed according to the European principle of social solidarity: access will be according to need and payment will be according to ability to pay.
It contains a promise that the Government "will act speedily to reduce costs in the delivery of both public and private health care and in the administration of the health care system". I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that the cost of private health care has soared in the past four years. The programme for Government also promises that "a Special Delivery Unit will be established in the Department of Health". That was set up but has now been run down. The programme also talks about "reducing waiting lists". We saw today's survey across Europe, which illustrates that public faith in statistics pertaining to waiting lists has collapsed. The programme for Government states that "a Patient Safety Authority, incorporating HIQA, will be established" but the Taoiseach has informed me that this will not happen now. The programme also states:
The Health Service Executive will cease to exist over time. Its functions will return to the Minister for Health and the Department of Health and Children; or be taken over by the Universal Health Insurance system. Staff will be deployed accordingly.
There is a whole page of commitments in the programme for Government with respect to primary care. In light of the promise that "Universal Primary Care will remove fees for GP care and will be introduced within this Government’s term of office", the entire population should be looking forward to the removal of fees before the Government's term of office comes to an end. This section of the programme continues:
The legislative basis for Universal Primary Care will be established under a Universal Primary Care Act. Universal Primary Care will be introduced in phases so that additional doctors, nurses and other primary care professionals can be recruited. During the term of this Government, GP training places will be increased. GPs will be encouraged to defer retirement and will be recruited from abroad, and the number of practice nurses will be increased [and so on] ..... Access to primary care without fees will be extended in the first year to claimants of free drugs under the Long-Term Illness scheme ..... Access to primary care without fees will be extended in the second year to claimants of free drugs under the High-Tech Drugs scheme at a cost of €15 million.
None of this has happened, of course. The Government has reversed its position in respect of the latter two promises. The section of the programme dealing with the proposed new GP contract provides that "under Universal Primary Care, GPs will be paid primarily by capitation".
A full page of the programme for Government deals with universal hospital care. It promises that "a system of Universal Health Insurance (UHI) will be introduced by 2016, with the legislative and organisational groundwork for the system complete within this Government's term of office". I will not go through all the issues because I know others want to contribute. This section of the programme states that "Exchequer funding for hospital care will go into a Hospital Insurance Fund which will subsidise or pay insurance premia" and that "The legislative basis for UHI will be established by the Universal Health Insurance Act."
The next page of the programme, which deals with hospitals, refers again to the hospital insurance fund. I went through all of these matters with the Taoiseach previously. This section of the programme states that "the Minister for Health will be responsible for hospitals policy" and suggests that insurers will "take over the running of hospitals" and "negotiate directly with hospitals to help control costs". The programme also speaks about the pathway to universal hospital care and the "legislative basis" for it.
The next page of the programme for Government, page 6, deals with care of older people and community care. It states:
Investment in the supply of more and better care for older people in the community and in residential settings will be a priority of this Government. Additional funding will be provided each year for the care of older people. This funding will go to more residential places, more home care packages and the delivery of more home help and other professional community care services. The Fair Deal system of financing nursing home care will be reviewed.
This page of the programme for Government also sets out the Government's plans for integrated care, cost control and health administration. The following page deals with capital developments in health and mental health. It promises to "review the Mental Health Act 2001" and "end the practice of placing children and adolescents in adult psychiatric wards". That has happened in some instances, although much of that work was done before this Government came into office.
In terms of bioethics, there was to be legislation on assisted human reproduction and stem cell research. I have written to the Taoiseach and asked him during Leaders' Questions about the Government's implementation in this regard. The bottom line is that little has been implemented. There comes a point at which the Government needs to be honest with the people and the Oireachtas. There is no point in printing an Alice in Wonderland-type programme for Government that will never see the light of day in terms of implementation. We have had reversal after reversal, breach of promise after breach of promise and a shambles of a scenario, as witnessed in today's damning indictment by the European survey.
I asked the Taoiseach about one line in the programme for Government relating to Cabinet confidentiality and read a couple of pages in a short section dealing with health. None of this has happened and there has been no attempt to make it happen. When the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, took over for the former Minister, Deputy Reilly, the current Minister stated that he would ditch much of this. The Taoiseach then took him to task and told him that he should not and could not ditch it. Will the Taoiseach confirm that none of this will happen before the Government's term comes to an end? The vast majority of commitments in health simply will not happen. It makes a mockery of the concept of a programme for Government. It is meaningless, and this is only one section. I could go through sections on education and so on, but the health section is a disgrace in terms of what it says will be done compared with what has actually happened and what the Government is doing. One need only consider the crisis in accident and emergency, the 800 people in beds who could not be discharged because of the lack of home care packages and the fact that this year's Estimate has reduced the number of beds in the fair deal scheme by 1,400 compared with 2013's figure. Some 1,400 fewer beds will be provided in 2015 than were provided in 2013 despite what the programme for Government says about more beds and more packages. The thing is a complete farce and the Taoiseach should acknowledge that.
If the Deputy wants a detailed response from the Minister for Health, he will get it in respect of many of the things he has commented on here. In respect of the Department I have myself, which is the Department of the Taoiseach, there were 44 commitments entered into in respect of the programme for Government and 40 and four in the revised statement issued last July. Three quarters of those have been completed or are substantially complete and work is ongoing in the other eight or ten.
The Deputy also mentioned the survey produced from a European perspective during the course of the week. As I understand it, this was based upon analysis of different surveys carried out by organisations as distinct from figures produced by the HSE. While the Deputy has always decried the references that parties have made to the Dutch health system, it is interesting to note that it comes out on top in most of these assessments. Ireland can be seen to perform well in patient outcomes - as well as France, Belgium and Denmark and better than the United Kingdom. These include important objective measures, Deputy Adams, such as death from stroke or cardiovascular diseases, cancer survival and infant deaths.
Those were all strategies from before the current Government came to power.
Ireland comes joint first when it comes to access and appropriate use of medicines and performs better than average on prevention, such as vaccination and smoking prevention.
That is all from before the Taoiseach's time.
We perform poorly in access and waiting times as well as patient rights and information. I think that has been acknowledged and accepted by the Minister, who is working at that now.
In many ways, the survey confirms that the Irish health system is actually very good once one can get access to it. That has always been the challenge here. I suppose that, at the end of the survey, it is also worth noting that some of the measures are very subjective. Our worst score in this survey is for our low rates of abortion. Many people would see that as a matter of opinion and ethics rather than something to be scored on in a survey.
The White Paper on Universal Health Insurance was published and the programme of health reform was progressed, including the roll-out of the concept of money follows the patient, the opening of many primary health care centres around the country on a continuing basis,-----
-----the establishment of the hospital groups, which will eventually move into hospital trusts, the progress that was eventually made on the national children's hospital, which will go for planning permission as one of the most major pieces of infrastructure in the country for very many years, and of course the difficult enactment of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
There are many other areas where progress clearly has been made, but I am the first to admit the challenges that are there for the Department of Health and the HSE. That is an ongoing challenge. I hope that the efforts now being put in place by the Minister for Health and by the Minister of State will regularise the delivery of health systems and health services that will deal with the challenges that are out there in a way that people will get their medical attention as rapidly as possible and based on their needs. It has never been something that one can just deliver overnight, as Deputy Martin is well aware. I suggest that we can get him a more comprehensive response to all of the many issues that he has raised on the four pages.
I got those responses. According to all of them, nothing that I have mentioned will happen.
In respect of-----
Many of the legislative measures and proposals in the programme will not happen. There has been a change in policy. The programme for Government should be realistic.
It is true to say, though, that, in respect of the Department of Health, the entire question of universal health insurance is one that is contingent upon a whole range of things happening, like money follows the patient. The issue that has been outlined on so many occasions, the legislative base for it, the insurance companies, the negotiations directly with hospitals, the setting up of hospital groups evolving into hospital trusts, the provision of an adequate community series of health services from home care packages to nursing homes, all of these areas-----
Less is being made available. Does the Taoiseach not know that?
I must make some progress.
We have been upfront about it,-----
The Taoiseach is not being upfront about it. There is less.
-----saying that the introduction of universal health insurance is not possible in the lifetime of this Government because all these segments have to be put back into place. The White Paper has been published. Obviously, there will be a follow-through on that. Many of those issues that Deputy Martin read out are contingent upon the entire process of universal health insurance - competing insurance groups, people having the right to choose between the insurance companies, the requirement for hospitals to compete with one another on an equal footing, the compensation for public hospitals and so on. It is not a sort of black and white series of issues that one can just put together like that. It is an evolution of an entire series of structural changes in the interests of the people and of the taxpayer so that they might get the very best quality of health service delivered to them as locally as is possible.
I will have to group questions because we are running out of time. Deputies Adams, Higgins and Boyd Barrett are next.
I commend and thank the Taoiseach for the unusually clear way in which he dealt with the question about Cabinet confidentiality. Under the programme for Government, that was to be legislated for, but the Taoiseach has stated that he has no plans to legislate. He could be of some service to the State if he entered the Chamber one day with the programme for Government and took the same approach. That would save all of us a large amount of time. I commend this suggestion to him.
I will deal as briefly as I can with two important issues contained in the programme for Government, one of which is health. There is a range of measures and promises to provide for a new health system. The results of this are evident in the Euro Health Consumer Index, which sees the placement of our health services drop by eight points from 14th to 22nd. Furthermore, it finds that the Government's waiting list data "lacks credibility". Last Friday, the Minister for Health produced his health priorities.
His seven priority areas and 85 specific actions or deliverables are basically the same, and as many as were in the programme for Government for almost four years. Clearly, therefore, the programme for Government is not delivering on matters concerning health.
In respect of economic recovery, the programme states that, as a long-term goal, "The Government is committed to tackling Ireland's economic crisis in a way that is fair, balanced and which recognises the need for social solidarity". That commitment has not been delivered upon, however, for the 500,000 taxpayers who have been forced to flee overseas. Neither has it been delivered to the one third of our children who live in poverty, nor to the one third of citizens who cannot afford the basics. Instead, we have had water charges, property tax, cuts to child benefit, and extensive cuts to health and welfare. Thousands of vulnerable families have been traumatised by the Government's disgraceful handling of the medical cards issue.
I will not take up time because two other Teachtaí Dála want to contribute. I wish, however, to commend what I said previously. There is only so much the Taoiseach can do in a Government's term of office. Would he therefore not be better off telling us the things he is not going to do? That would allow us to focus on the things he is going to do.
The Taoiseach should learn from the history of implementing previous programmes for government, particularly concerning his target of raising €2 billion through the sale of State assets. Does he agree that traditionally the privatisation of State assets has been extremely destructive for our economy and for the public? The Telecom Éireann privatisation debacle, for example, was sweated by a succession of vulture capitalists. There was then a huge under-investment in broadband which is still a problem. Similarly, Team Aer Lingus resulted in the disaster of losing 1,300 highly skilled jobs after a few years of privatisation in the airmotive industry.
Will the Taoiseach rule out the sale of the State's share of Aer Lingus? A major international capitalist getting its hands on this crucial sector is a huge threat to jobs and the facilities at Heathrow. An island nation should have control over its air transport facility and, therefore, the Taoiseach should rule out selling the rest of what was the national airline. In fact, he should move towards re-nationalisation.
In the section dealing with the economy, the programme for Government states that, "The parties to the Government recognise that there is a growing danger of the State's debt burden becoming unsustainable and [I want to underline this bit] measures to safeguard debt sustainability must be urgently explored". That is a clear injunction.
Many of us are extremely disappointed and depressed by the Taoiseach's - to put it mildly - muted response to the election results in Greece. They are a beacon of hope to people who have been victims of austerity right across Europe. They have been battered for six years with what Paul Krugman rightly called "the fantasy economics of the troika". "Fantasy economics" is one of the Taoiseach's favourite phrases. Paul Krugman said it was the troika who were guilty of fantasy economics in believing that one could batter an economy, cut its public services to pieces, slash people's incomes, and have any other result than creating a nightmare for that society. How right he is.
When someone is finally willing to challenge the failed consensus of austerity, as the people of Greece have now been willing to do, and ask the question, "Can we explore debt sustainability?", the Taoiseach fails to endorse that call. In failing to do so, he is breaching his own commitment in the programme for Government to "urgently explore any opportunity to improve debt sustainability".
We are effectively acting as the scabs of Europe in breaking solidarity with debtor countries which have been crippled by austerity. In doing so, however, the Taoiseach is also breaking promises made in the programme for Government. In light of his commitments in the programme for Government, I ask the Taoiseach to reconsider the question of a debt conference and urgently exploring debt sustainability.
The consequences of that failure to explore debt sustainability are most acutely felt in sectors of society where the most vulnerable are at risk. As has been mentioned already, the state of our health service is one of the starkest examples of that. It is a serious breach in the Taoiseach's government commitments.
In the programme for Government's section on health, it states, "We must reduce the cost of achieving the best health outcomes for our citizens and end the unfair, unequal and inefficient two-tier health system". How does the Taoiseach square that with the fact that the Minister for Health had to admit last week that, in order to deal with the crisis in accident and emergency departments, waiting lists will lengthen, including those for non-emergency surgery? People who are already waiting intolerable periods for important operations, will now have to wait longer.
I do not know if the Taoiseach listens to his car radio but we are bombarded, literally every day, with advertisements from the Mater Private Hospital and the Blackrock Clinic saying, "Come to us. You can get immediate treatment. Whatever it is you need, you can get, if you can pay for it." Those who cannot pay, however, will be on public waiting lists for even longer because health budgets have been slashed.
That is a clear example of where the Taoiseach has failed in a commitment to end a two-tier health system wherein by dint of having money one can get decent health services, but otherwise one will languish on a waiting list or on a trolley. What will the Taoiseach do to fulfil that promise?
Deputy Adams raised issues he has raised before. I know he has to put on his-----
-----public political face when he does his orations to the people. He will appreciate, however, that emigrants are returning to Ireland with new experience to avail of new job opportunities here. He recognises that unemployment has fallen from 15.2% to 10.6%. He also knows that unemployment lists have fallen consecutively for 30 months.
What about all the people who have gone away?
They are on their way back through Kerry airport.
He does recognise that interest rates have fallen from 15% to an average of 1.25%. He also recognises that while there is ferocious demand for housing at the moment, property prices are beginning to rise. He recognises a much stronger public confidence, as is evident in so many sectors. However, as I have said openly, that recovery is fragile. It cannot be fully completed if there is any complacency or any situation whereby we will lose those hard won gains.
Deputy Higgins mentioned the sale of State assets. He is quite right that the sale of Telecom was accompanied by loud shrieks and calls from all over the world at the time. It was subsequently asset stripped. This Government has made it clear that any State asset would be sold only in the interests of the public and the taxpayer.
When the troika was here, the agreement was that the majority of the moneys realised from any sale of State assets could be spent on the development of sustainable employment. If the Government examines the possibility of selling any State asset, such a sale will only proceed following careful consideration and will be in the best interests of taxpayers and the Irish people in general.
I answered questions earlier about Aer Lingus, a company which the Government does not own and in respect of which it must take into account a much broader set of circumstances other than a mere valuation of the extent of its shareholding of 25.1%. Deputy Higgins is well aware that the Government is but one component of the ownership of Aer Lingus since the company's privatisation by a previous Administration.
I must inform Deputy Boyd Barrett that I do not agree with Mr. Krugman's assumptions. This country has come through an extraordinarily difficult period. As stated earlier, Ireland chose to follow a route of constructive engagement and negotiation and this has resulted in our being able to achieve changes of the order of €50 billion through changes in the terms of the promissory notes, interest rate reductions and approval to buy out €18 billion in loans borrowed at higher rates from the IMF. Said buy-out will save taxpayers €1.2 billion in interest charges over the period of those loans. It is through negotiation that changes such as those to which I refer are hammered out, agreed and approved. This means that the challenge accepted by the Irish people is now being vindicated and is evidenced by our being in a much stronger position, with confidence rising. I reiterate, however, that all of this is quite fragile. The programme for Government states that we must explore measures relating to debt sustainability. There has been an ongoing battle in this regard in the form of a series of consultations with the European institutions. Putting together a banking union, developing supervisory mechanisms, etc., form part of the negotiating process. Of course, the option of lodging a claim for direct recapitalisation, which has been on the table since June 2012, remains open to the Government if it considers this the appropriate and best course of action to take in the interests of Irish taxpayers. As the Deputy is aware, there are other options to be considered and evaluated.
Far from offering a muted response in respect of the debt issue, we have proven that the progress made to date has been in the interests of both our people and our country. Deputy Boyd Barrett was not present when I stated that I had already sent a message to the new Prime Minister of Greece wishing him and his Cabinet well. I hope the enormous challenge faced by the Greek people can be met. We were lectured by many individuals to the effect that we would not be able to change one iota of the troika programme, but that did not prove to be the case when the Government engaged in negotiations over many of the elements contained in the programme. The elements to which I refer remain extremely difficult for our people. That is why I have made the point that Ireland needs to hear the European Central Bank's side of the story. I hope the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis will be able to capitalise on the progress made in this regard in order that the latter can actually happen.
These are extremely important issues. I would like to think that as the year progresses we will establish a budgetary committee in the Houses and that the parties in opposition will be able to debate - in open forum - the challenges the economy faces and set out their stalls in respect of the budget for 2016, which will be introduced next October. Such a committee would enable everybody to have access to the relevant statistics and allow people to outline their priorities and the choices they propose to make.
So the Taoiseach is up for a debate. Will he be appearing on Vincent Browne's television programme?
Those in opposition will find that outlining such priorities is not always as simple as it sounds.
Deputy Martin might not be appearing on Mr. Browne's programme.
They can lecture us from the opposition benches about what should be done. Did I not hear Deputy Adams saying last night that he would give back all of the water contributions, amounting to €3 million?
Will the Taoiseach go on Vincent Browne's programme for a debate?
Not at all. He is afraid.
Deputy Adams would want to get his figures right.
"Tonight with Vincent Browne" has been waiting four years for the Taoiseach to debate these issues. Is the Taoiseach providing confirmation that he intends to go on television to debate them?
That concludes Questions to the Taoiseach.