Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 28 Nov 2017

Vol. 962 No. 3

Ceisteanna - Questions

Northern Ireland

Micheál Martin


1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Prime Minister May regarding the 1987 Enniskillen bombing recently in view of the fact that it is 30 years since it occurred and persons have not been held accountable. [47901/17]

Joan Burton


2. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday, 12 November 2017. [48975/17]

Michael Moynihan


3. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his Department's strategy statement commitment on implementing the all party Dáil Éireann motions of 2008 and 2011 relating to the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombing. [49421/17]

Eamon Ryan


4. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with Ms Arlene Foster MLA. [50206/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

While I have not had detailed discussions with Prime Minister May on the Enniskillen bombing, I have raised the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and other legacy cases with her. I have stressed to her the importance of making progress on legacy issues and the overall arrangements for dealing with the past. The Government is strongly committed and working to achieve, as soon as possible, the establishment of the legacy institutions provided for in the Stormont House Agreement. The Government will continue to engage with the British Government on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and pursue all possible avenues to achieve progress on this issue consistent with the request made by the Dáil and in the hope that it will bring some measure of closure to the families.

The Enniskillen bombing was one of the worst atrocities carried out during the Troubles. It was a barbaric act which resulted in the pointless murder of many innocent people. I attended Remembrance Day ceremonies in Enniskillen on Sunday, 12 November, which also marked the 30th anniversary of the bombing. I laid a wreath at the Cenotaph and attended a Remembrance Service in St. Macartin's Cathedral before visiting the Royal British Legion hall for lunch. In the afternoon, I visited the South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen, for a tour of the facility with local representatives and had a private meeting with staff, many of whom cared for the victims of the 1987 bombing. During my visit to Enniskillen, I also took the opportunity to meet with DUP leader, Ms Arlene Foster, to discuss the ongoing political situation in Northern Ireland and Brexit.

On a Sunday in November 1987, as the Taoiseach said, the Provisional IRA brought an unspeakable horror to a picturesque Fermanagh town with a proud military tradition. Its bomb, left in a community hall, was timed to explode as people of all ages gathered to pay their respects to the dead of two world wars and later campaigns. When the dust finally settled on the scattered debris and the mangled poppy leaves around the Cenotaph, six men and five women lay dead or dying and a seventh man would remain in a coma for 13 years before succumbing to his injuries. The 40 lb bomb had been brought across the Border by several terrorist cells working in relays to avoid detection. They placed the deadly device in a building known as the Reading Rooms adjacent to prime vantage points for those attending the annual service. Subsequent statements from the IRA attempted to distance the organisation from the full horror of the slaughter. Initially, the IRA claimed, falsely, that the bomb had been detonated by electric equipment carried by members of the security forces. It then stated that a UDR colour party was the intended target.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, the softly spoken words of Mr. Gordon Wilson, the father of 20 year old nurse, Marie Wilson, who died at the scene, set a conciliatory tone which, in public at least, became synonymous with the town's Protestant population. He said: "I bear no ill will. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie."

The reason I have asked my question on Enniskillen is twofold. First, the event illustrates the unspeakable horror that occurred; a horror which calls into question how anyone could support, cheer or endorse that kind of violence. Second, however, is the fact that out of that event came the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness which Gordon Wilson personified in his life. Nevertheless, no one was ever convicted of the bombing. Related to this issue are attempts to introduce an effective amnesty for many different groups from the Provisional IRA, the DUP and members of the British establishment. Recently, there was an attempt to introduce an effective amnesty for British military personnel, which is a disturbing development. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings were horrific bombings carried out by loyalist paramilitaries where, again, no satisfactory convictions or conclusions have occurred. In fact, inquiries have been stymied by the British establishment and Government. Can the Taoiseach update the House on legacy issues? Has he spoken to the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, about any amnesty, in particular to ensure that nothing like that can occur?

It is ironic that Enniskillen is on one side of the Border while Monaghan is on the other side. I commend the Taoiseach on attending the commemoration, as the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, did every year. Did he speak with the leader of the DUP and former First Minister, Ms Arlene Foster, about Brexit, conscious of the fact that her party has a different view of Brexit from most if not all parties in the Republic and the majority of people who voted in the referendum in the North? Going back to Enniskillen and Monaghan, Brexit is equally threatening to both towns. It creates the risk of significant job losses over a long period and risks a potential return of a hard border.

Following the complete confusion and chaos in government arising from the questions put by my colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly, not being answered properly, the Taoiseach has said he will concentrate his efforts in the next couple of weeks on Brexit and protecting the interests of everybody on the island. How does he propose to undo the damage potentially caused to our and his reputation by what has happened in the past week? He will have to negotiate in a hardball way at the end of the next two weeks at the European summit. Did he receive or seek any assurance from Ms Foster on whether the DUP might address and be mindful of the interests of the people, not just in the North but all of the people on the island? Did he discuss the dangers posed to agriculture and trade, particularly in the North but also in the South, as well as the dangers posed to tens of thousands of jobs by a hard Brexit or the return of a hard border?

I echo the comments made in memory of the Enniskillen bombing. What was the nature of the conversation the Taoiseach had with Ms Arlene Foster regarding Border issues post-Brexit? The preferred option of the Irish Government, that the United Kingdom as a whole remain in the customs union, does not now seem to be a real option. Of the remaining options, is it our preferred position that there be some border arrangement in the Irish Sea such that all east-west trade, that is, trade between the island of Ireland and Britain, would be treated in a similar manner? Did the Taoiseach discuss such an arrangement with Ms Arlene Foster and what response did he receive? How does he see it playing out as we approach the European Council meeting on 15 December? Does the Government have an effective veto on what the UK Government does in that regard? How do we maintain communication with the DUP and others in the North to ensure we will not antagonise them and can break the impasse as we broke the impasse here yesterday and this morning? How do we break the deadlock on this Border issue?

The victims of the conflict have been very much in our thoughts in recent weeks and I, too, commend the Taoiseach for his attendance at the cenotaph in Enniskillen to commemorate the attack in which 12 innocent lives had been claimed. He may be familiar with the documentary "No Stone Unturned" which was made by Mr. Alex Gibney about the killing of six men in Loughinisland in 1994. It brought substantial new attention to the level of collusion between British state forces and unionist paramilitaries. I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that, at the start of the month in a victory for the victims of the Glenanne gang, the High Court in Belfast confirmed that it was making an order to compel the Chief Constable of the PSNI to complete an overarching investigation into the activities of the gang which, as the Taoiseach knows, was implicated in the Dublin-Monaghan bomb attacks. Thus far, the British Government has refused to co-operate with the Irish Government - indeed, successive Governments - on these matters. The programme for Government specifically commits the Government to actively pursue implementation of the all-party Dáil motions of 2008 and 2011 on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Has the Taoiseach raised these issues with the British Prime Minister? What is his view of the British Government's intentions to include a Statute of Limitations or an amnesty for members of the British crown forces in its soon-to-be-published legacy paper? He will be aware that at the time of the Stormont House Agreement we managed to reach agreement on the architecture and mechanisms for truth recovery to begin dealing with legacy issues but at no point was an amnesty for any combatant of the crown forces or other force even considered, much less agreed to. I have spoken to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade who has very strongly indicated his opposition to any suggestion that there be a Statute of Limitations or an amnesty. Can the Taoiseach offer to the House his assessment of that proposition?

It was a real humbling experience to attend in Enniskillen a few weeks ago. I had been there before but not to attend Remembrance Sunday. When one stands there on a very cold day and sees people gathering around the cenotaph to mourn the dead in two wars, one can only imagine in one's mind's eye what it must have been like when people suddenly experienced a bomb going off and all of the horror and carnage that must have gone with it. I was only eight years old when the bombing happened, but I remember it well. Gordon Wilson is one of my memories of the Troubles for the way he showed such extraordinary leadership to us all by responding to such an atrocity with forgiveness. I am really proud that he subsequently became a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I also had the opportunity to meet a person who had kept one of the wreaths from the day, a wreath that had been partially damaged by the bomb and which was going to a museum. I met one man and his wife who had to have 44 operations in the past 30 years as a consequence of the bombing. I am conscious that the next day the UDA carried out a revenge attack in which one person died and 60 others were injured. I do not think it is inappropriate to use this opportunity to encourage the incoming leader of Sinn Féin to agree with me that the men who planted the bomb were no heroes and should be condemned and brought to justice. I invite the deputy leader of Sinn Féin to take the opportunity in this House, given that questions have been tabled by others, not by me, to say that.

I spent most of the day with Ms Arlene Foster, not one to one but with lots of others, at the cenotaph, the church service, the cathedral and the British legion. At her invitation, I then visited South West Acute Hospital where I had the opportunity to meet other public representatives, including the local MP Ms Michelle Gildernew and MLAs from different parties. It is a fabulous new hospital in Enniskillen, but, if anything, it is underused. We discussed ways by which we might enable more patients from counties Donegal and Sligo to use its facilities to help us to deal with our capacity shortcomings.

We also had a one to one meeting and the topics of conversation were principally the ongoing efforts to get power-sharing back up and running in Northern Ireland and Brexit. Ms Foster always says she wants to have a sensible Brexit. She is certainly open to the idea of a new customs arrangement or partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union as one of the mechanisms that might allow us to continue to trade more or less as we do now, at least when it comes to merchandise. It would, of course, cover the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Northern Ireland. It is not hugely dissimilar to the proposal recently put forward by the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, which has a lot of merit. However, for the United Kingdom to enter into any meaningful new customs partnership or customs union arrangement with the European Union, it would not be possible for it to then negotiate bilateral trade deals with third countries. We remain unable to square this circle. It is still the desire of the British Government to be able to trade freely with the European Union as though the United Kingdom were still in the customs union but also to conclude deals with third countries. However, that is just not possible.

It is important that, when we talk about special arrangements and measures for Northern Ireland, we reassure the unionist parties in the North that we do not want to undermine the union in so doing.

We respect the Good Friday Agreement and that Northern Ireland remains in the United Kingdom until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise. It is important that we reassure the unionist parties there that any efforts we try or any measures we propose in relation to the Border with Northern Ireland are not about changing the constitutional status of Northern Ireland but about ensuring ordinary people, businesses and farmers can go about their lives as they have for the past 20 years. We are much more likely to have them as advocates for the type of solution we want if we do not put them in a position where they feel threatened about Brexit undermining the union.

We also need to recognise that one of the things they do not want is to disrupt the trading relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. What she would say to me is the main single market Northern Ireland wants to stay in is the United Kingdom single market, and the main customs union it wants to stay in is the customs union of the UK, and it does not want anything that would diminish this. Of course, the counterpoint I would always make is the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted the other way, to remain in the European Union. The level of understanding and the commonality in position may be closer than some of the rhetoric I have heard in the last couple of weeks.

The issue of the Statute of Limitations came up last week. We do not agree with it. We very much disagree with the proposal and we have informed the British Government of our opposition to it.

We will try to endeavour to get the three groups in today, but we are losing some time.

Strategic Communications Unit

Micheál Martin


5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the role of the strategic communications unit in his Department in the winter ready campaign. [48170/17]

Brendan Howlin


6. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the planned campaigns on which the strategic communications unit will work. [49110/17]

Brendan Howlin


7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if will report on his Department's planned budget in 2018 for purchasing advertising and sponsoring posts on social media. [49172/17]

Gerry Adams


8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of the strategic communications unit in Government information campaigns. [49291/17]

Micheál Martin


9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the moneys received from other Departments to fund the strategic communications unit within his Department. [49416/17]

Richard Boyd Barrett


10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the strategic communications unit and its role in Government information campaigns; and the way in which it works in relation to the Government Information Service. [50208/17]

Michael Harty


11. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Taoiseach the practical benefits that will accrue from the new strategic communications unit established in his office. [50380/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 11, inclusive, together.

Staff of the strategic communications unit met with the Office of Emergency Planning to discuss the winter ready campaign and provided it with the Government of Ireland identity, which appeared on the cover of the winter ready booklet. The Government of Ireland identity replaced 17 logos of Departments and State agencies whose names were listed instead. This serves to simplify the message and illustrates to the citizen how Departments and agencies are working as a whole to deliver a co-ordinated approach to Government communications. The booklet, which incidentally has some excellent tips and advice, assists households in preparing for severe weather and coping with it when it actually happens. Merrionstreet.ie also provided social media support when the booklet was launched.

The Cabinet has approved that the unit in my Department will work on the following campaigns in the coming months: the ten year capital plan, a campaign related to Brexit and the consequences thereof, the national children's hospital, the Healthy Ireland campaign, the Creative Ireland campaign, global Ireland and rural Ireland. Further campaigns will be added to this list in due course.

The role of the unit is to streamline communications by working with other Departments to deliver on these major cross-Government campaigns. It will help us to ensure simple citizen-focused communications, so that it is evident when the Government of Ireland is communicating or delivering a service. This will lead to more co-ordinated and cost effective communications that will generate efficiencies and increased value for money.

The costs associated with the unit, since its establishment in 2017, have been met from existing resources within my Department. No moneys have been sought from other Departments to fund the unit.

In 2018, my Department's budget will decrease by 2% compared to this year. The unit’s budget of €5 million is from existing resources within my Department's budget for 2018. The vast bulk of the budget is being earmarked for major cross-Government information campaigns, which I have already outlined. These campaigns will include an allocation for media buying across all media platforms, both traditional and digital. This will maximise efficiency and provide value.

It is intended that the unit will drive savings across all Departments over time through efficiencies generated by, inter alia, cross-governmental collaboration on major campaigns, more efficient use of technology platforms, consolidated media buying, efficient third-party contract management, rationalising design projects, streamlining participation in national events and increased communication capacity within Departments.

The press and communications function in my Department has evolved and grown significantly over many years. This reflects the growth in demand for the service, longer hours, the large increase in media outlets and, in particular, the growth of social media. The Government press office will continue to operate as it has before in dealing with day-to-day media queries, under the direction of the Government press secretary.

The practical benefits of the unit will be to simplify Government communications and increase efficiencies across the public sector when dealing with the Irish public. It will achieve this, as I mentioned, by streamlining communications for citizens, developing and delivering major cross-Government communication campaigns and improving communications capacity across Government.

The Taoiseach's original explanation for the creation of this highly staffed unit has changed over time. Initially, he claimed it as a major personal initiative but then said it was really a Civil Service initiative. He also informed the Dáil it would be in addition to the Government Information Service but changed his position to stating it would take over from it.

What is extraordinary about the unit is it has undertaken research on what it should do, but it has already decided on what it will do. Will the Taoiseach explain how it was decided to spend €5 million on marketing to promote a select series of initiatives before any work was undertaken to get feedback from the public on what it would like to receive information on? The entire purpose of the unit, if we are to believe what we have been told, is to fill a gap in terms of information which the public wants, but the Taoiseach has decided unilaterally what the public wants. He announced the various communication campaigns. I wrote to the Secretary General of the Department and I received a comprehensive reply, and the objective of my letter was to raise and identify my main concern in terms of the party politicisation of Government communications.

The Taoiseach referenced the buying of media advertising in digital and print, and there is a huge danger of the blurring of the demarcation lines between bona fide departmental campaigns and full-blooded political campaigns. The Taoiseach mentioned the national building programme, and I challenge anyone to distinguish between an objective information campaign and a full-blooded political campaign. We have got a small taste of this, and I have not fully got the background of it, but recently the unit tweeted #generalelection18. What the business of the communications unit has to do with politics and elections is beyond me, but it gives us a small sense of the dangers that can unfold when something like this is developed.

The Secretary General of the Department has made it very clear to me he will do everything he possibly can to ring-fence and have a demarcation line, but I have to say that even what the Taoiseach has announced today concerns me in terms of the degree to which this will be about promoting individual Ministers and a broader party political message, rather than the provision of basic information. I understand the social welfare booklet going out in terms of information for citizens, but we are all fairly open-eyed here, and if it is a campaign about someone getting a road or getting this or that, then I know what that is and it can be dressed up in any shape or form. There is a huge danger here. Will the Taoiseach give us any assurance this is not simply to promote Ministers and their political campaigns and that the €5 million will not be used in this way?

Has the Taoiseach considered recasting this unit as a strategic advice unit in the context of the debacle about the questions asked by my colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly, to which he failed to get answers? The simplest and most required form of communication from the Taoiseach is that he and his Government answer the questions that are properly asked of them. This is the essential function of Parliament. I was very concerned to hear some information given about costs, which are being met within the budget of the unit, in respect of sponsoring posts on social media. In my view, and I think in the view of most people, this is political. The Taoiseach is the Taoiseach of the country, and as such he is the head of the Government, but he is also a political leader. As we know, until yesterday or the day before yesterday, he appeared, unless it was misquoted or miscommunicated, to be heavily in favour of an early general election.

He acted and presented accordingly. This work on posting on social media along with party political messages, including those by office holders who are members of different parties or of none when they are in Government, has always been regarded as political, and rightly so. It is political. The Taoiseach is accountable to the Dáil because he was elected Taoiseach by virtue of the support he commands in the House, which is political.

Will the Taoiseach reconsider the propriety of this? The State funds political parties to put forward their political messages. The Taoiseach has strayed into new territory and reach as no other Taoiseach has done. It is dangerous territory. If this is to be done, it should be done entirely in the context of it being open to every Member and political party in the House. It also should be done through the political funding that is given by the Government to political parties and voted on in this House. That is the right and proper way of doing it. I have asked the Taoiseach this question previously. Obviously, he now has more experience of how communications can work, but also of how communications can be difficult and end in extremely destructive outcomes for this country at a time when Brexit is taking place and when we must put our best foot forward.

I advise Members that we will not reach the third group of questions.

I will try to be brief. Am I right in saying that additional resources of €900,000, in addition to the €5 million, have been allocated to this unit? Perhaps the Taoiseach will clarify that.

I share the concerns articulated about the blurring of the distinction between what might rightly be considered a straight information campaign and straying into matters that might be party political. Who sets the work plan and programme for this unit? How is it decided what matters are appropriate to be dealt with by the unit? Is the unit involved in the commissioning and receipt of polling data, running focus groups and so forth? What controls and oversight are there for this? In setting it up, and let us accept for the purposes of this discussion the Taoiseach's bona fides that it is purely a matter of quality information and that he envisages it as a cost saving mechanism in some way, how has he gone about setting controls to ensure that it does not turn into a propaganda unit and that public moneys are not used inappropriately?

Frankly, I do not understand why the Taoiseach needs this strategic communications unit for any purpose other than political propaganda. He has the Government Information Service. Why does he need this? How will he prevent the blurring of the lines in terms of the Taoiseach just getting out a political message that is convenient for him as against information? We have Ministers who are responsible for different Departments. They are supposed to answer questions. They make announcements about what they do. Why does the Taoiseach need another highly staffed, costly, so-called strategic communications unit? Where are the lines drawn between information the public objectively needs to know about what the Government is doing and the Taoiseach just putting out spin that suits him? For example, most people's perception of what happened over the past few days is that the Taoiseach had information which the public would have wished to have known about the extent of knowledge of the former Minister for Justice and Equality and within the Department of Justice and Equality about a hotly debated issue regarding the treatment of a whistleblower. As soon as that information comes into the Taoiseach's possession, is it the job of the strategic communications unit to get that information out and inform the public or is it something the Taoiseach does when it suits him, as turned out to be the case, or when the media leak certain information the Taoiseach then puts a spin on it? I do not understand where the information begins and the spin ends for this communications unit. Certainly, I believe, and it is the public perception, that this is just a spin unit, and a highly resourced and expensive one at that.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. Initially, it was a personal initiative but I stepped back from it to avoid unnecessary controversy. As I explained last week, decisions relating to the budget and staffing have been left in the purview of the Secretary General of the Department. The unit will not be doing any party political work. I have given that assurance on a number of occasions. It will inform the public of the work the Government is doing. In the aftermath of the budget, for example, it ran information campaigns and some meetings around the country to tell people about the budget and what it meant for their lives and their regions. While these things might have been done in the past by line Departments, the budget is about much more than a single Department. It is an attempt to break out of that silo, the idea that the budget is just a creature of the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It also involves €15 billion for health and the changes that arise from that and €10 billion for education and the improvements that arise from that. It is about pulling things together and taking a more strategic view of how we communicate the work of the Government to the public so that it is not just about departmental silos but about how the work of Government affects people, their regions and different groups in society in a more thematic approach. I believe that is a better approach.

One of the first things the unit did was the back to school campaign. What the Government does to support families during the back to school period does not come from a single Department. It ranges from school meals and the back to school clothing and footwear allowance from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to the school books programme run by the Department of Education and Skills and to what the Department of Children and Youth Affairs does for preschool. Many of these things happen across Departments and this is an attempt to break out of that silo and, in that case, speak to young families about what the Government does for them, but not from the old-fashioned perspective of what an individual Department does with an individual scheme.

That is the Constitution. It is old-fashioned, but it is the Constitution.

The ten-year capital programme will be explained to people in a similar way. None of these things is a party message. It is entirely reasonable for the Government to tell people what the Government does on their behalf with their money, just as any other big organisation does.

Will it ever say what the Government does not do?

In terms of the winter ready campaign-----

It will be a good news campaign all the way.

The winter ready campaign is a good example of how it can bring things together and save money in the medium term. We went from a winter ready campaign which was very much the old way of the Government doing things with a booklet having 17 different logos on it and everyone having their logo and identity represented on it to a single identity. This really started in 2016 with the national commemorations. Instead of having 20 or more different logos-----

The Taoiseach should be careful. This is not North Korea.

-----there is just one. People understand it better when they see a single identity which is telling them what the Government is doing on their behalf, particularly when it is something that brings together 17 different agencies and Departments. Surely there should just be one logo and identity rather than 17. Over time one can see, as was done in Holland and the United Kingdom, for example-----

Is the Taoiseach really spending his time on this stuff?

-----huge numbers of websites being collapsed into a smaller number. Savings obviously arise from that as well.

The unit does not have a role in answering parliamentary questions. It does not have a role in dispensing political advice and obviously had no role whatsoever in the political controversy in the past few days. That is simply not its remit.

I must disagree with one of the assertions made by Deputy Burton. I have never favoured an early election and certainly not an election before Christmas. I can guarantee everyone in the House that the events of the past week or two were not in any plan I had or anything I ever imagined happening. This is not a day for celebration in my party or for me personally given that it saw the resignation of a member of my Government. I know I am ascribed all sorts of motivations and levels of genius but I can assure the House and guarantee that the events of the past ten days were never part of any plan to have an election or to have it early. We have much to do before this Government is in a position to seek a new mandate and we have a three-year deal with the main Opposition party, one that I intend to honour and one I believe it intends to honour it as well. Deputy Boyd Barrett asked where the unit comes in. It comes in for cross-Government activities and campaigns.

There are seven minutes left. Do Members wish to have a round of short questions or to move to the next question proper?

Regarding social reform, could the Taoiseach indicate whether the Government discussed potential dates for the proposed referendum relating to the repeal of the eighth amendment of the Constitution? If memory serves, while the Taoiseach has indicated that the matter might be dealt with in the period from April to June, could he indicate if he has firmed up his view on when it might be appropriate to hold the referendum?

I am not sure whether I am to ask something relating to the current question or another question. I do not know whether the Taoiseach answered the question regarding polling date, focus groups and his strategic communications unit, whether that matter falls within the unit's remit and whether or it has commissioned that kind of research. The Taoiseach might shed some light on that.

I still do not understand what is the independent information that might be put out. Over the past few days, everybody wanted to know what information was in the possession of the Government about the extent of knowledge within the Department of Justice and Equality and the former Minister about the campaign against Maurice McCabe. Is it the Taoiseach's decision when we find out what he knew and when or it is down to the strategic communications unit to independently state that the public needs this knowledge and that it is going to put it out there regardless of the Taoiseach's political considerations? The signs are that the Taoiseach only acknowledged that when it suited him politically. I asked how we can know whether this strategic communications unit will be genuinely independent and operate objectively to get information out and who decides what information the public needs to know in an objective manner independent of the political considerations of the Taoiseach or other members of the Government.

Does Deputy Eugene Murphy have a question on the communications unit?

Can the Taoiseach indicate how much of the €5 million marketing budget has been allocated for the health area next year? What troubles me about this is that if one takes the national children's hospital, it appears that it has its own budget and public relations set-up so one could ask why this new communications office has to come in again on the matter. Most Departments seem to have their own budgets for advertising. This seems to be a doubling up and there is a lot of money involved so could the Taoiseach address that query regarding the example of the national children's hospital?

I do not have a specific date for the referendum on the eighth amendment. I intend it to be held in May or June. That is a tight timeline but I want to achieve it. Establishing or meeting this timeline is, of course, not entirely within my control or that of the Government. We are waiting, first, for the all-party Oireachtas committee to produce its report. It has set a deadline of 20 December. We will then need to agree wording for a referendum and, quite possibly, legislation which we may not need to enact but which we may need to publish. We then need to establish a referendum commission - or have a referendum Bill - and allow time for a campaign before the vote happens. That is the process by which a referendum occurs. I know Deputies already know this but for others outside the House reading the Official Report, there is probably no harm in putting on the record the fact that this it is not something which is solely within my control or that of the Government. It will require the co-operation of these Houses to meet the deadline I have set of May or June. I am very serious about meeting the deadlines. I hope and, indeed, I am confident that the committee will be able to come up with its report by 20 December, which is the next deadline that needs to be achieved.

The strategic communications unit has commissioned research. I do not know whether that involves focus groups but it definitely involves quantitative research. That was done by public tender and has already been discussed in this House. The unit is not independent; it is part of the Government and part of the Government's wider corporate communications and, therefore, it is not intended to be independent. It is intended to be a unit of the Government. I think I have already explained the role of the unit to the Deputy with regard to the recent controversy, which is none whatsoever. This is not what it does. It carries out information campaigns. It is not involved in day-to-day politics and, therefore, had no role at all in advising me or anyone else on the controversies of the past couple of weeks, in putting any information into the public domain or in concealing any information from the public because that is not the role of this unit, full stop.

I do not have a breakdown as to how the budget will work in the context of health. I know one of the matters that will be prioritised next year is the Healthy Ireland agenda in terms of trying to encourage people to lead healthier lives and make people more aware of Government action in this area probably starting with the anti-smoking campaign and running through to other things. Again, this is an area that is not just about the Department of Health; it is about other Departments as well. It is involves the Department of Education and Skills and what happens in schools and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in the context of sport and greenways. It makes a great deal of sense to approach Healthy Ireland and the campaign, with which I want to be very much associated and which I want to see us doing in respect of living in a healthier Ireland next year, as a cross-Government or whole-of-Government initiative and not just one that is just seen as a project of one Department.