1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if there is a whistleblowing policy in his Department. [49442/18]
Vol. 977 No. 2
1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if there is a whistleblowing policy in his Department. [49442/18]
The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides a robust statutory framework which aims to provide protections to whistleblowers who raise concerns regarding potential wrongdoing in their workplace. These protections apply to workers in all sectors of the economy, both public and private. They protect whistleblowers from being penalised by their employer for reporting wrongdoing in the workplace or suffering any detriment for doing so. The Act requires every public body to establish and maintain procedures for dealing with protected disclosures and provide written information relating to these procedures to their employees.
In line with the Act, my Department has a policy on protected disclosures which sets out the procedure by which an employee can make a disclosure, what will happen when a disclosure is made, and what my Department will do to protect a discloser. My Department is committed to fostering an appropriate environment for dealing with concerns and assisting staff in speaking up regarding potential wrongdoing in the workplace and providing the necessary assistance for staff who raise genuine concerns. To date, no disclosures have been received from employees or former employees of my Department under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
If one looked at the recent RTÉ documentary produced by Ms Katie Hannon about the trauma that former Sergeant Maurice McCabe, perhaps our most high-profile whistleblower, went through, one would have been struck by a number of comments that he made. In particular, Mr. McCabe stated that if he had known what he and his family had to go through, he would not have made the original complaint in the first instance. That is something that must be worrying to all of us in that there is still a sense that if a person complains or makes a protected disclosure, he or she will pay for it in many ways.
Since then, all of us have been subject to many complaints or notifications of protected disclosures in different sectors of the public service. Standing back from it, what comes to mind is a sense that there should be a culture within each Department and State organisation that would, ultimately, if it was optimal, avoid the necessity for protected disclosures.
My worry is that protected disclosures are becoming more frequent. That, in itself, is an indictment of existing practices in terms of human resource development and mediation within State organisations and Departments, shows a failure to head off prospective difficulties, and in many ways reinforces the original negative behaviour to such an extent that it ends up on a protected disclosure.
That impacts on the productivity, well-being, efficiency and effectiveness of an organisation. Culture change within Departments is key. I ask the Government to reflect on why we are inundated with so many serious and profound complaints and why so many are made as protected disclosures. Very often, there is an absence of mechanisms within Departments for coping with protected disclosures. For example, very serious allegations about the heath, safety and well-being of Air Corps members have been made during the years. The complaints have been snarled in legalities, but the obfuscation and stonewalling in dealing with the original complaints demonstrates a lack of transparency and humanity.
The culture within Departments is an issue. I recently received a protected disclosure from a staff member in the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, who had previously made very serious allegations to management about ammunition and firearms in the service. An audit was carried out in that regard, but the results thereof have not been published. It is very concerning that a new standard operating procedure was put in place without any consultation with staff, as would normally be the case. It is alleged that the operating procedure is being used to take disciplinary proceedings against the individual who has made repeated claims about management, specific individuals and the policies of the NPWS which go so far as to suggest firearms and ammunition may have been missing or stolen. It is a very serious issue. It is very concerning that although procedures to deal with protected disclosures are in place, there still appears to be a culture such that the individual making a disclosure is the target of intimidation and harassment. There is a similar culture within banks. Senior members of certain financial institutions have made it clear that persons who bring forward protected disclosures will carry the burden. We need more than procedures and the current legislation. We need a dramatic shift in culture in terms of how such individuals are dealt with and protected.
The protected disclosures legislation was ground-breaking. It was modelled on best international practice at the time and very much in line with the open government initiative to which Ireland had signed up while the Labour Party was in government. The idea behind it was that it would allow disclosures to be made to the level of manager closest to the issue which had arisen. In other words, one would not have to go to the very top of an organisation. As it turns out, people feel inhibited and that they must either go to the very top of the organisation or, in many instances, a Member of the Oireachtas which is provided for in the Act, instead of having the cultural space within the public service to have matters addressed quickly in the workplace by one's immediate supervisor such that those making a disclosure feel confident that the disclosure and their confidentiality will be respected and the issue will be addressed seriously. We have not yet made that cultural shift and it will probably take some time for it to bed in.
I do not particularly consider the fact that there have not been disclosures in the Department of the Taoiseach, for example, as an indication that there are no matters worthy of disclosure. We need to ensure people are secure in making a disclosure. I am struck by the point made by Deputy Micheál Martin that the most significant whistleblower in our lifetimes stated he would not have embarked on the pursuit of the truth in the way he did had he known what the consequences would be for him and his family, which is shocking. It is incumbent on us to change the system such that a concern about a procedure, wrongdoing or any other matter could be brought to one's immediate supervisor without fear of being exposed, intimidated or in any way adversely affected and with confidence that the matter would be fully ventilated, checked out and addressed. I hope there will be an ongoing review of this matter because it is an important part of the suite of reforms to deliver openness in how public business is conducted.
In the context of the remarks made by Deputies Howlin and Micheál Martin and the new arrangements the Government has been making for Garda oversight, it seems that the head of an Garda Síochána was very often the recipient of disclosures, which put the whistleblower in an almost impossible position. That was certainly the position in the case to which reference was made. Has the Taoiseach given consideration to whether one of or both the new oversight body and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, the two bodies that will oversee the Garda, will be the appropriate location for the making of protected disclosures? In an area such as the security services where people must work very closely together the making of a complaint may be communicated to others in the organisation, with very difficult consequences for the would-be whistleblower. We must consider how we can engender a structure which is effective and fair and allows an organisation to deal with protected disclosures in the most appropriate manner such that they are heard and and given proper consideration.
The Deputies have asked several questions. The Taoiseach will have approximately five minutes to respond.
The Protected Disclosures Act was and is very reforming and innovative legislation. I think former Deputy Pat Rabbitte, the new chairman of Tusla, originally brought forward the legislation, although it may have been another Deputy. I remember supporting it from the Opposition benches as Deputy Howlin, as Minister, and other members of the previous Government brought it through the Houses. It was a good step forward in reforming our legislation, protecting whistleblowers and ensuring serious allegations were properly investigated. It was and is part of a suite of legislation to improve ethics in business and public office. The Regulation of Lobbying Act which is held up internationally as an example of the proper regulation of lobbying is another part of that suite of legislation. Lobbying is regulated far more properly in Ireland than in other countries. We also have legislation which delimits corporate donations and ensures transparency in that regard. Ireland is very different from the many democracies in which there is no protection for whistleblowers, lobbying is unregistered and very opaque and people can receive significant public or private donations. Some of the steps taken in Ireland in that regard in recent years set a very good example internationally, but we are far from perfect. No country is perfect. We must always get the balance right to ensure whistleblowers are protected, allegations are properly investigated and innocent and decent people and organisations are protected from being falsely accused. The latter has happened, as evidenced by the Charleton tribunal which had a module on Maurice McCabe and another on allegations made by Keith Harrison.
One can see how different those cases were. I do not want to go into that in too much detail but it does demonstrate to us the extent to which we need to support whistleblowers, listen to them, protect them and investigate their claims. We also need to be cautious and sensible enough to know all claims and allegations are not true and that when false allegations and claims are made by people and are propagated in this House and picked up by the media, they can do enormous harm to the falsely accused. We need to get the balance right. We are still learning as a society how to get it right.
There is EU legislation coming down the line. As Deputies will be aware, a European directive on whistleblowing will help to inform our legislation. Problems do arise. Having had a little experience dealing with some protected disclosures, I realise a problem can arise in particular when the protected disclosure is not the only track that the whistleblower is following. I refer to when there is a connected employment dispute or, as is sometimes the case, a connected court case where those concerned are suing for financial damages. It can get very messy where there is a case unfolding, potentially in the courts, or a case with solicitors for financial damages, with a protected disclosure being sent to a public body and with aspects of it being raised in this Chamber and the media. That can create a real mess in dealing with the matter. I wonder whether it would be better if protected disclosures were dealt with in their own right rather than ending up connected to other disputes. That is where it can get extremely difficult indeed. One could have people claiming legal privileges and so on because protected disclosures are also connected to a claim going through the courts. That is where it can get very difficult to manage.
Deputies Howlin and Martin were correct in their remarks on the cultural shift. We do not want the Protected Disclosures Act to become the way people make complaints. It should be something that is used in reserve cases. People should feel they can speak up, make complaints and call out wrongdoing when they see it. They should have confidence that their supervisors and managers will take their complaints seriously and investigate their allegations and that, if not, the individuals above them will deal with them properly.
The statutory review was published in July following public consultation. There were 25 submissions from a variety of public bodies, interest groups and members of the public. The review considered international developments, including comparative analysis of legislation in other countries, and it details some of the early results of the implementation of the Act. Across 212 public sector bodies, 370 protected disclosures were received by the end of 2016. The review shows the Act is viewed as setting a positive example internationally, and it has led broadly to positive outcomes. It highlights some implementation issues that are being considered by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, including providing absolute confidentiality to disclosers while balancing fair procedures for other individuals concerned, relating the Act to the GDPR legislation and other employment policies, as I alluded to, and also disclosures that are made through multiple channels. There is also a difficulty associated with how one can investigate anonymous disclosures when there is nobody to interview.
With regard to amendments, the matter is being dealt with by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Any further amendments to the Acts will be considered in the context of the discussion taking place at EU level on the EU directive on whistleblowers. As I indicated, we will most likely leave the Act as it is but when the European directive is finalised we will use its transposition as an opportunity to amend our own Act.
2. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the social media costs in his Department. [50454/18]
3. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he has updated his Department’s policy with respect to social media. [50554/18]
4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department’s social media policy. [51726/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, together.
It is important to communicate across a variety of platforms, including social media, to ensure transparency and clarity for all citizens. The Government Information Service is now required to provide a 24/7 service to media organisations, on all topics of public interest, and with short response times. It is also required to generate its own online content, including written, audio and video material, as well as live broadcasts on occasion.
Digital advertising includes advertising on search engines, to ensure the public is directed to the sites that deliver the services or information they are looking for; and sponsored posts on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, to ensure strong dissemination of Government information.
The expenditure on digital advertising in 2018 is estimated at approximately €450,000. This expenditure relates to major cross-Government public information campaigns that the Department funded centrally during 2018. Examples include Healthy Ireland, Global Ireland, Project Ireland 2040 and the campaign on self-employed benefits aimed at ensuring self-employed people are aware of the new and existing benefits available to them. The majority of this expense was incurred prior to July 2018, before the strategic communications unit was wound down.
Public information campaigns in the latter months of this year have been funded largely by the relevant line Department, as opposed to being funded centrally from my Department. As a result, expenditure for 2019 on social media is anticipated to be a fraction of what it was this year.
The current published social media policy for my Department requires updating to align with recent organisational changes. This is due in early 2019. The social media activity in my Department is governed by strict operating principles, however. The social media channels for my Department are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The central objective for these channels is to report objectively the work of the Government and, over time, to provide a valuable archive of information.
The following are the main operating principles governing the use of these social media channels: that the content consists of news stories and press releases; speeches and statements from the Taoiseach and Government Ministers; photos and videos from Government events and my engagements; live tweeting of Government events; and other content as deemed appropriate. The use of social media platforms is not intended as a means of contacting me or my office directly, or of submitting press queries. These activities are handled by other means. Following or retweeting another account does not imply an endorsement of any kind. All staff in my Department who update social media channels are bound by the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. It is fair to say that, since he became Taoiseach, expenditure on video production and social media generally has risen dramatically. It is close to €500,000, as reported in thejournal.ie and as the Taoiseach has confirmed. The largest item of expenditure relates to Project Ireland 2040, on which approximately €146,000 was spent when it was launched earlier in the year. There was a lot of controversy over it in terms of a political context as a background to the entire launch. There was €21,000 spent on the campaign for Ireland to host the Rugby World Cup. That was interesting again. The videos are of high production quality. All the videos tend to cut to images of the Taoiseach. In the case of the Rugby World Cup, the head of the Irish Rugby Football Union is shown, which is fair enough. According to thejournal.ie, also shown are "Frances Fitzgerald and Shane Ross in slow motion alongside scenes of the landscape of Ireland, Croke Park, Lansdowne Road and iconic rugby moments in our history." There are clear implications here in some respects in terms of the political positioning and promotion of Ministers, with music in the background.
We accept that social media are well established as a communications platform for official information. Unfortunately, however, they are also a means of spreading disinformation, in addition to being a means by which Governments can engage in publicly funded propaganda. The abuse of public funding in social media during recent election and referendum campaigns in Hungary, for example, is especially striking. That is why we have to be vigilant here. In the past, quite strict rules were developed about political content in official broadcast and print advertising. Rules concerning transparency in costs and outlets were respected until last year when documents released under freedom of information legislation showed at least one Minister personally decided on advertising allocations to individual newspapers. One could see the Minister's intervention in deciding on which newspapers and how much they got. In another case an official personally reporting to the Taoiseach held direct discussions with newspapers, including on how much money they would receive.
The Taoiseach has said repeatedly he has no problem with millions being spent on advertising that features him and Ministers to an excessive degree but this is at least partly back under control with the closure of the personal marketing unit, the strategic communications unit, that he advocated. The key issue in regard to social media concerns what rules are in place to ensure promoted activity paid for by the taxpayer and the public adheres to reasonable guidelines. An enormous difference between this activity and traditional advertising is that much of the population will not be exposed to it, and even if social media are used the advertising is seen only by those in a targeted group.
Who decides what keywords are bought, what platforms are used, which groups are targeted and what the messages are? For example, our campaign for the UN Security Council is targeted at a limited number of people in governments in other countries. One would think that is what we are doing generally and what diplomats do, yet for some reason money was spent promoting it to people here with a very expensive video production. Never before in our successful Security Council campaigns — we have had some successes in this regard — was money spent on advertising in Ireland. The domestic audience is not really in a position to influence the campaign. Is there a process whereby a senior person reviews promoted messages? What are the guidelines to ensure this publicly funded platform does not become dominated by the promotion of the Taoiseach or other political figures? All of the videos and online material show politicians left, right and centre.
It is recognised, and the Taoiseach acknowledged it himself on television, that he is very keen on social media. Some have interpreted this as his being obsessed with spin and social media rather than real content. The sum of €500,000 is quite a lot to spend on videos. We know of some of the videos. The cost of the Project Ireland 2040 video is indicated as being €146,000. This is very hard to understand, given the difficulty the Government is having in meeting serious targets before 2040. The children’s hospital is a shambles involving bad budgeting. The housing situation is causing enormous distress to people throughout the country. How much does the Taoiseach spend advertising on YouTube? He advertises a lot. As a patron of the cinema I see the Government messages that are obviously designed to appeal to young people. I am not sure that is absolutely correct as it is a very political way of getting across a political party message rather than a Government message, presumably to younger people as they attend the cinema.
How many staff members in the Taoiseach’s Department work on social media platforms for him as Taoiseach? Do social media comprise the primary current means of communication for the Taoiseach? The number of official photographs the Taoiseach has is well down on the number that previous incumbents of his office had. What plans does the social media section in the Department have to deal with the potential of Irish elections being contaminated in the future by foreign entities, in respect of which we have seen considerable evidence in America vis-à-vis Russia? There were some attempts to do it in the repeal campaign.
In the context of the forthcoming election at some stage in the years to come, will we take real action to ensure our election process is not contaminated in the way the American election process has been by the misuse of social media?
I thank the Taoiseach for his response. I want to ask about a separate angle. There is a message on the Department's website stating it will soon move to an online portal for Government services. When will this be completed? When will other Departments move to that portal? On a separate matter, a number of weeks ago the Taoiseach said the Minister, Deputy Bruton, was seeking legal advice from the Attorney General on the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill brought forward by my colleague, an Teachta Ó Laoghaire. Has that advice been received from the Attorney General? Will the Taoiseach give us a sense of what is included in the advice? As the Taoiseach is aware, the Bill has broad support, including from the ISPCC, the Children's Ombudsman and CyberSafeIreland among many other groups.
My view is that video is a very good means by which to communicate. I notice Members of the House are using video and screenshots from the Chamber more and more on Facebook, YouTube and other social networks to get messages out to their constituents as to what they are actually doing to represent them in the House. It is a good thing they are doing this because it is a good means by which to communicate. It is visual and audio and very accessible to people.
As Deputy Burton acknowledged, less is spent on other areas in which money was spent in the past, such as official photography and make up. If we are using video it may as well be high quality but they certainly are not all high quality. The personal ones I do are probably low quality but perhaps they get the message across almost as well. The figure of €450,000 is not for video production. It is the whole cost and includes production, advertising and VAT. It is the cost in its entirety. I do not make any decision on which news outlets or networks get contracts nor do I wish to. The UN Security Council campaign is not being operated by my Department. It is being operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, so any questions on the detail of that particular campaign would have to be addressed to the Department.
The general point I am making is valid.
It is good that the public should know a little bit about what the Government's foreign policy is and how their money is being spent-----
That is not what the video does.
-----whether it is through our involvement in the United Nations, peacekeeping efforts or international development. I guarantee the House it is much more important to me that we concern ourselves with the substance of that. There is a €110 million increase in the budget for international development next year, which is more than many people called for. It is a significant increase. Getting back on the trajectory to 0.7% of GNI is the most important aspect for me. That we are actually doing this is the substance of it. It is entirely appropriate that the public should know this because it is their money. Whether they agree or disagree, they have a right to know how their money is being spent.
That was not the purpose of the video. It was the promotion of your good self.
At least those who do agree with it as a policy are aware of it and they can form a view on it. It is not something that should be just buried away in a budget lying somewhere. We should tell the public how their money is being spent and what work the Government is doing on their behalf. If they choose to be supportive of it that is their choice. If they choose to be against what we are doing that is their choice too. This is why we are a democracy.
I fully appreciate that we have to separate Government communications from party political communications and that we need to make sure Civil Service staff do Civil Service work and political staff do political work. This is why all along I have kept merrionstreet.ie and the Merrion Street account separate from what I do in terms of my own accounts, which have no Civil Service involvement and do not involve the use of any public money.
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the grand secretary of the Orange Lodge; and the issues that were discussed. [50475/18]
6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Orange Order. [50555/18]
7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Orange Order. [52099/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, together.
I was pleased to welcome the grand secretary of the Orange Order, Reverend Mervyn Gibson, and a delegation of Orange Order members from south of the Border to Government Buildings on 26 November. The Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Helen McEntee, also attended the meeting.
We discussed issues affecting Orange Order members in Ireland, including Protestant schools, particularly in the Border area, and education in general, infrastructure and the cultural needs of Protestant communities in Border counties. We also discussed tourism projects, including further development of the Battle of the Boyne site and the possibility of developing a Williamite trail from Antrim to Aughrim to encourage more people to visit these places. Further topics included Orange halls and sporting and community facilities in the Border region.
The meeting also touched on Brexit, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration agreed at the European Council meeting in Brussels on 25 November.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I welcome the meeting. He is aware a process of systematically reaching out to the Orange Order has been in place for more than 20 years, including during periods when Orange Order marches were a dramatic source of tension in many more areas than they are today, thankfully.
It is important to continue that contact with the Orange Order, and with unionism and loyalism, in the various forthcoming historical commemorations. I did that when I was Minister for Foreign Affairs. We need to ensure it is a shared history that can be objectively recalled, with a view to enlightening and informing people. The recent Atlas of the Irish Revolution, published by Cork University Press at University College Cork, UCC, is a very good illustration of how this can be done with different perspectives from different backgrounds and traditions. I recommend the book to the House and the public generally, North and South, as a way of reaching some understanding of how different traditions approach history and milestones in the development and evolution of their respective political and cultural traditions.
The work of former President McAleese was groundbreaking. We should acknowledge that no subsequent gesture could even come close to the impact of her decision to host a 12 July event in Áras an Uachtaráin. We have to keep progressing such ongoing interactions. These meetings, however, are not at the core of what has been the gradual crumbling of relations between the Government and loyalism and political unionism. Even the Taoiseach has now accepted that having Arlene Foster's number in his mobile phone is nothing compared to having a constructive relationship. While a solid majority in Northern Ireland is against Brexit and in favour of the deal reached by Prime Minister May last month, the majority of unionists appear to believe the situation is being used to undermine constitutional guarantees to them. This view is reinforced by the attempt of one party, Sinn Féin, to directly and immediately use Brexit to undermine constitutional guarantees.
Does the Taoiseach agree that the continued absence of the democratic institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement is a major threat to stability and progress in Northern Ireland? That is something which should be a concern to all of us on this island. It is now four months since it was signalled to the media that a new initiative was under way to get the Executive and Assembly working. What happened to that initiative? Is it the case that the Government and all of the parties will await the ultimate resolution of Brexit before embarking on any new initiatives? The original reason for the collapse of the Executive and Assembly was the renewable heat initiative. We now know the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin were both involved in delaying its closure and so on. Given the imperative of Brexit, surely there is a need to get the Assembly and Executive back up and running?
I welcome the initiative and the return visit with the Orange Order at Government Buildings in November. I hope there will be further engagement. Is another series of meetings planned? I note from the official press release that the issue of Brexit was discussed. The meeting took place at a time of particular movement in respect of the withdrawal agreement. I also note that the Orange Order remains neutral on the issue of Brexit. Will the Taoiseach enlighten us as to whether the Orange Order offered an opinion on the deal that was on the table at that time and whether he had an opportunity to argue its merits? Was there any acknowledgement of it?
I listened to Deputy Micheál Martin who continues to snipe from the sidelines on this. After the Christmas break, perhaps he will consider whether his party will contest elections in the North. It seems he cannot make up his mind and actually play a constructive role. He continues to put misinformation on the record of this House in respect of the renewable heat initiative. There are serious allegations of corruption coming from the Democratic Unionist Party. Then again, with regard to corruption in Fianna Fáil, both those parties and corruption are quite linked. It is not surprising that the Deputy continues to dismiss the core areas that surrounded it.
Maybe somebody will enlighten us on the Northern Bank robbery and where all of the money went. It is still a great mystery.
His silence was deafening when former Ministers for Finance and Taoisigh had no bank accounts and had money stashed-----
-----under their beds and we had votes of confidence and all of the rest of it. I can rehearse all day the corruption in the planning authorities-----
Is the Deputy including his own party?
-----and everything else that went on in Fianna Fáil. We can talk about the Mahon tribunal and all of that if Deputy Micheál Martin wishes.
The reality is that Sinn Féin has played a constructive role in respect of Brexit. We have made it very clear that it is not an orange or a green issue. We have said, in the absence of a deal, that we are committed to making sure the withdrawal agreement goes through and we will use whatever influence we can to convince our European partners and those in the North to support the agreement. In the context of a no-deal Brexit, however, there is a demand in the North, as we have seen from recent opinion polls, for the constitutional question to be put. We have here a united Ireland party, the so-called republican party, which will not breathe a word on the issue of Irish unity. That is despite Prime Minister Theresa May having talked about her union only surviving with consent and a Tory MP challenging the Democratic Unionist Party in the House of Commons by telling it that the people of the North are looking towards Irish unity. We dare not breathe a word of that in the House, however.
I hope Deputy Martin will take the Christmas period to reflect on playing a positive role and doing what the former deputy leader of his party argued for, namely, contesting elections in the North. I ask him and his party to put some skin in the game, stand in the North and put the credentials of the Fianna Fáil Party out there by letting the people of the North decide, instead of sniping from the sidelines in a dismissive and non-constructive way.
I commend the Taoiseach on his contacts with the Orange Order and on his proposal to continue them, all of which are positive. The more dialogue we have on this island, the more we can bring people from different backgrounds, North and South, together in a democratic framework. I welcome that.
During the commemorations in the years ahead, we will remember and recall some very difficult periods in our history when, to be honest, there were atrocities on both sides. During my time in Government and as Tánaiste, a committee of historians worked diligently on the preparations for the commemorations held during that period. The commemoration of the centenary of 1916 was extremely well done and people gained an understanding of what was involved. We look forward to commemorating, recalling and remembering the War of Independence, the Civil War and other events. As I said, some terrible things happened on both sides. I have a question on what happened in certain parts of the country, including west Cork where there was a strong feeling that Protestants were ultimately forced out of the area. Has the Taoiseach asked the committee of historians to consider how those events will be recalled and analysed in order that we can learn from them? Other similar cases recalled to some extent those terrible events in west Cork. A former Member of the Seanad, Eoghan Harris, has written and spoken on this issue at many venues, particularly in the west Cork area. Has the Taoiseach or his Government given any consideration as to how we will remember that? We have to deal with the historical memories of both communities in order that we can bring people together. That is particularly important in respect of young people studying history and becoming familiar with our troubled past. Has the Orange Order indicated any interest in being part of any commemorative and recall process?
I concur with Deputy Micheál Martin's remarks about Atlas of the Irish Revolution. It is an excellent publication and the kind of book one would like to spend a lot of time with if one could find the time. Perhaps I will spend some time reading it over the Christmas recess. I also concur with him on what he said about the work of former President McAleese and her husband Martin. I very much agree that the absence of an Executive and Assembly is a serious problem.
There is a major deficiency at this time both in providing good government for the people of Northern Ireland and giving it a voice in the Brexit talks. The other institutions, the British-Irish Council and the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference, are working well.
On the future initiative to put the Northern Ireland institutions into place, it really has to be done when the time is right. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I are of the view that the best time will be after the withdrawal agreement is ratified at Westminster, assuming that it will be. We are also conscious that the local elections are coming up in Northern Ireland in May and the difficulties which may arise from them. We are also aware that the Ardoyne inquiry is ongoing. It is a case of trying to find the right time when the Irish and British Governments can both feel the two major parties are in the space where they might be able to compromise and come to an agreement. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit is a major difficulty, but it is not the only one. The renewable heat incentive, RHI, scheme and the loss of trust between the two parties are other factors, as well as the local elections in May.
It was my second engagement with the Orange Order. I visited the order in Schomberg House several months ago. The second engagement was at Government Buildings and we plan a third but no date has been set for it. In principle, however, I have agreed to visit an Orange Lodge in one of the Border counties to meet some people there. We did discuss the backstop, which is not supported by the Orange Order which has taken the constitutional view that it could potentially treat Northern Ireland differently from Great Britain. Therefore, it is an arrangement it does not like. We had a constructive, honest, good, mature, fact-based and thoughtful exchange on the issue which I found useful and which helped me to understand why the order had a difficulty with it. Perhaps I helped to give it some understanding of why it was necessary. It is one of the matters on which we agreed politely to disagree.
We did discuss commemorations but not the ones to which Deputy Burton referred. The Orange Order was particularly complimentary that the Government had done much work on commemorations related to the First World War. The delegation visited the sculpture “The Haunting Soldier” at St. Stephen’s Green on the day it was being dismantled before it met me. It expressed a genuine recognition and appreciation of the fact that most of us south of the Border were willing to acknowledge that part of our history and recognise the sacrifice of those who had died in the First World War. That has helped at a time of strained relations. The delegation suggested we might consider having a First World War memorial somewhere in central Dublin. Obviously, there is the one at Islandbridge, but there was a suggestion that there be something more central on Merrion Square or at St. Stephen's Green. I agreed to give the suggestion consideration.
On commemorations generally, obviously 2019 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the First Dáil and the Democratic Programme. The events are being led very much by the Oireachtas under the leadership of the Ceann Comhairle and others. Deputies are aware that an event will be held in the Mansion House in January which will be followed by the State reception there. It will be an opportunity for us to recall the events of the First Dáil. I had an opportunity to read the transcript of the first meeting of the First Dáil which made for interesting reading. While it was mostly in Irish and in a form that was somewhat different from what we use today, I was able to follow a lot of it. What I found most interesting was that the first meeting only lasted for about two hours. There was an event for the Dublin Fusiliers which had the Mansion House booked for that morning and there was a ceili that evening. The meeting of the Dáil was sandwiched between the two. Of course, the majority of Members were not present for one reason or other, with some being in prison, while others were not able to make it. It was interesting to read the transcript. From history, one would think it was different from what it was.
The expert advisory group under Dr. Maurice Manning still exists and advises the Government.