Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Brendan Howlin


1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, last met; and when it will next meet. [53037/18]

Joan Burton


2. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, last met, and when it will next meet. [1704/19]

Mary Lou McDonald


3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee G, justice and equality, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [1706/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

There were three meetings of Cabinet committee G in 2018, that is, on 18 January and 16 April and, most recently, on 12 December. The next meeting of the committee has not yet been scheduled.

Cabinet committee G provides political oversight of developments in relation to justice and equality issues, including implementation of the Government's programme of reform for the justice sector.

In relation to justice reform, the effectiveness and renewal group is due to publish its third report shortly. This will feed into the committee's work.

Last month, the Government approved A Policing Service for the Future, its four-year plan to implement the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland chaired by Ms Kathleen O'Toole.

Cabinet committee G is part of the oversight architecture of the plan and will receive regular progress reports on its implementation. The plan also envisages two meetings per year of Cabinet committee G focusing on community safety in particular.

Has the Cabinet committee discussed the implementation of the new legislation on drink-driving? Despite what has gone on previously, I will venture into that area.

Does the Taoiseach agree with the view expressed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in writing in one of the national newspapers last weekend that Ministers who criticised the drink-driving legislation enacted by this House are not fit for office?

An interim report published last week found that An Garda Síochána failed to prosecute 3,500 children in respect of almost 8,000 crimes under investigation over a period of seven years. Some 3,400 victims were impacted by the crimes. I am sure that this shocking development must have been discussed by the Cabinet committee. What was its reaction to the issues highlighted in the report?

What progress has been made on the implementation of the 157 key recommendations currently under the purview of the Policing Authority? Is it normal for the chair of the Policing Authority to attend the Cabinet committee for discussion of these matters?

I too wish to raise the issue which emerged last week of the almost 8,000 criminal offences - 7,894 to be precise - committed by 3,489 child suspects between the years of 2010 and 2017 which were not progressed because of Garda inaction. There was a failure to progress 37 cases involving a particular child as well as 2,500 cases in which there were multiple offences. Some 55 of the offences identified were deemed to be of a serious nature, including a case of rape, another of sexual assault and another of child neglect. These are shocking revelations. It is scandalous that a person went to the Garda about a serious crime such as a rape or violent assault and nothing was done.

I do not doubt that there were systems failures which the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, must urgently address. Those responsible must be held to account. We must consider the chronic under-resourcing of the Garda and the consequences of its not having the tools to perform the functions expected of it. From the outside looking in, at least, the PULSE network appears antiquated and not fit for purpose.

Above all, it is very concerning that this might not be the end of the matter. The chairperson of the Policing Authority indicated that there might be additional issues, stating, "It must at least be an open question as to whether similar behaviours, and therefore similar lapsed cases and similar opportunities to reoffend, have occurred in relation to adult offenders." Is that the case?

There has been ongoing discussion in the House of policing reform for several years, in particular over the past 12 months. The Taoiseach may recall there was a specific focus last year on the Department of Justice and Equality and the necessity of its reform. He will remember that in December 2017 he stated on several occasions that the Department was not fit for purpose and that it needed a new structure and a new culture. Several internal changes have since been made at senior management level, including the recruitment of a second deputy secretary general. Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Department is fit for purpose? Has enough been done to ensure that the culture which he strongly criticised has changed?

On the car bomb in Derry last Saturday night, it was pure chance that a group of teenagers which passed the car was not caught by the blast. I ask the Taoiseach to indicate the security assessment regarding the potential of the organisations suspected of involvement and the degree of co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána in regard to the organisations' activities.

On the Garda Commissioner's announcement last week regarding thousands of offences by young offenders not being prosecuted, I ask that a detailed report on the issue be presented to the Oireachtas by the Minister for Justice and Equality. To a certain extent, the announcement came out of the blue. There was no advance indication that something of that nature or scale was developing. Notwithstanding the McCabe dossier, the penalty points saga and so on, the Policing Authority described this as the most serious issue to have come before it. In light of the scale and nature of the failure and what precisely it involves, there is a need and an obligation for a full report on the matter to be presented to the Oireachtas.

Many communities have been bedevilled by serious anti-social behaviour and very irresponsible and dangerous driving by young people. These are among the most difficult of issues with which communities must deal and particularly give rise to fears among older people as well as greatly affecting community building. Many community members and residents' associations struggled to understand why so many of the young people involved in such activities were not dealt with. The information about what was happening seemed to go into a black hole. I know many juvenile liaison officers who have been extremely assiduous in helping young people who get into difficulty with the law and may be going down a path which would end very badly for them and their families.

I welcome the investigation by the Policing Authority and the comments of the Commissioner but this issue leads me to again query the Government decision recently announced by the Taoiseach effectively to dissolve the independence of the Policing Authority, the establishment of which was eventually agreed to by the Fine Gael Party when it was in government with the Labour Party. The Fine Gael Party was not a great fan of the Policing Authority but I do not know the Taoiseach's personal views on it.

Communities feeling safe and young people who get into trouble with the law being properly dealt with are fundamental to our policing system. However, the Government is considering dissolving the authority which has produced a public report on this extremely important issue. I do not know whether the Taoiseach had sight of the report before the Opposition became aware of it through the media. Does he think he should reconsider the indications he gave some weeks ago regarding policing reform and recognise that an independent Policing Authority is critical to the safety of our citizens and the work of the Garda?

The Taoiseach has four minutes to respond.

The Cabinet committee has not discussed the implementation of the new drink-driving laws. It is important to remind the House that alcohol limits have not changed, although some people believe that they have. Rather, the penalties have changed. Although the legislation was piloted through the Houses by the Minister, Deputy Ross, it is not his legislation but, rather, legislation that was approved by Government and enacted by the Oireachtas.

Does the Taoiseach agree with what Deputy Ross stated regarding the Ministers who criticised the legislation?

I am 37 seconds into my response and I am already being interrupted. I will try to answer as many questions as possible.

Deputies should give the Taoiseach an opportunity to respond.

I will try to answer as many questions as I can-----

The Taoiseach should be allowed to continue without interruption.

-----but the number of interruptions makes it harder to answer.

The legislation was adopted by the Oireachtas. The vast majority of Members of this House and the Seanad voted for it. The Government supports the Garda in enforcing the law. If we do not want it to enforce the laws, we should not pass them in this House. The Garda has my full support in enforcing the law.

I do not believe that any Minister currently serving in government is unfit for office. If I did feel that, I would dismiss him or her.

But the Taoiseach is reviewing them-----

The Taoiseach must be allowed to continue without interruption.

I was asked about the practice of the chair of the Policing Authority attending Cabinet subcommittees. That has not happened, to my recollection, unless I am totally mistaken.

She did in the past.

Not recently anyway.

With regard to the crimes whose perpetrators were not prosecuted, along with everyone in the House I am very dissatisfied that thousands of crimes committed by young offenders did not result in prosecution. I really feel for the victims, who have not got justice. They went to the Garda, reported an offence - serious in some cases - and assumed it would be dealt with but it was not. In many cases, those offences are beyond the period specified in the Statute of Limitations so they cannot now be prosecuted, but in some cases they still can. It is really important that this now happens. In some cases, while the offenders might not have been prosecuted for the crimes in question, they were prosecuted for others and were subject to justice in that regard. We need to make sure changes are made so the problem does not arise again. Many changes have been made. The essential flaw was that young offenders considered to be appropriate for juvenile diversion rather than prosecution were referred for neither prosecution nor juvenile diversion. That should not reflect badly in any way on the juvenile justice programme or the juvenile diversion programme. The programme works very well and has been very successful but obviously is not capable of taking all offenders, particularly those guilty of the most serious offences.

Garda resources are improving all the time. The number of gardaí has now increased to 14,000, which is the highest in a very long time. The number will continue to increase, as will the number of civilians in the force. We have set aside a very substantial budget for investment in IT, vehicles and equipment over the next couple of years.

The reforms in the Garda and the Department of Justice and Equality are still very much under way. It is a work in progress. The reforms are very much under way in the Department of Justice and Equality in terms of restructuring, bringing individuals in from outside and refreshing the management team. The programme for the reform of the Garda is a four-year programme and is only getting started but I am satisfied that it is happening and that things are going in the right direction. We now have a real opportunity. We have new leadership in the Garda. There is a much better budget and a reform plan such that we can now make the changes that perhaps should have happened a long time ago.

With regard to the events in Derry, once again I condemn in no uncertain terms the car bomb and the subsequent violence. It is not wanted in Derry. I have been to that city many times in the past year or two and know its good people do not want to see this kind of violence back on their streets. We are blessed that no life was lost as a consequence of the events. We have rejected political violence as a people on countless occasions in the past decade and we still reject it today. There is very good co-operation between the PSNI and Garda Síochána on dealing with republican groups hell-bent on violence.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Joan Burton


4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, in January 2019. [1357/19]

Richard Boyd Barrett


5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent telephone call with Chancellor Merkel. [1384/19]

Mary Lou McDonald


6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent conversation with Chancellor Merkel. [2491/19]

Brendan Howlin


7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussions with Chancellor Merkel. [2544/19]

Eamon Ryan


8. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent telephone call with the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel. [2737/19]

Micheál Martin


9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to or met the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, since the vote in the House of Commons on the withdrawal treaty was defeated. [3041/19]

Questions Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive, are being grouped. The six relevant Members are in the House. I suggest that each have one minute when asking a question; otherwise we will be eating into the time for the next group of questions.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive, together.

I spoke by telephone to Chancellor Merkel on Thursday, 3 January. A focus of our discussion was my attendance at the CSU meeting in Bavaria but the main focus turned out to be Brexit and the importance of the withdrawal agreement agreed between the European Union and United Kingdom last November being ratified. We agreed that while we would be ready to offer additional reassurances and clarifications to the United Kingdom, there could be no renegotiation or contradiction of the withdrawal agreement, including on the backstop.

We reiterated our commitment to starting negotiations on the future relationship as soon as possible after the United Kingdom's withdrawal and our wish for that relationship to be as close, comprehensive and ambitious as the United Kingdom wants it to be.

We also discussed our work on preparedness, including contingency planning for a no-deal scenario, recognising that the closer we get to 29 March without ratification of the withdrawal agreement, the more urgent the work becomes. I expect to meet or speak to Chancellor Merkel again later this week.

I thank the Taoiseach. Has he and Ms Merkel had any discussion on the possible time extension under Article 50 and the withdrawal mechanism? With regard to the requirements of the UK's unwritten constitution, a lot of time would now be needed to put into effect any of the options being canvassed by Ms May as potential solutions. She changes from time to time, as does the main option. If, however, there were to be a Norway-style deal or some kind of EFTA arrangement, which would not involve the full withdrawal agreement, which was referred to by the Taoiseach, what would be the timeline required to put it into effect and to pass in the United Kingdom the legislation necessary to allow it to happen? If such an arrangement were put on the table, would the Germans, for example, support an extension of the time under Article 50?

The comments by Mr. Margaritis Schinas of the European Commission to the effect that Ireland will see a new hard border if Britain fails to approve the Brexit withdrawal agreement are extremely alarming and may suggest that the mask of EU solidarity with Ireland over preventing a hard border on this island is slipping a little. Equally worrying is the fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, said again today that without the withdrawal agreement, it will be difficult to stop a hard border. I would really like the Taoiseach to explain these comments. Who will put up this border? What does that mean? The agreement would seem to be bit of a dead letter at the moment but surely we have to make it absolutely clear to Ms May and the European Union that under no circumstances, irrespective of whether there is a deal, are we accepting a border. I would like to know what discussion the Taoiseach has had with the European Commission and Ms Merkel, or any other EU leader, on the suggestions that somehow a border will erect itself in the case of there being no deal.

On the same issue, it is important to clarify that we cannot wish a border away. I have said to the Taoiseach that, as a matter of simple logic, we seek the backstop to avoid a hardening of the Border. Therefore, as a matter of simple logic, if there is no backstop the Border hardens. It is not just a case of saying we are not doing it because it is not just about infrastructure; it is also about standards, regulations, customs and tariffs. If the Border hardens, the international rules kick in. That is how it is.

I am no flag-bearer for the European Union but we need to deal with the facts. The danger is very real indeed and I take the view that the remedy must lie first with the British. They need to come up with the goods that honour their pledges not to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and not to see a hardening of the Border. They may not do so and we may have a crash. In those circumstances, the Taoiseach could do worse than discuss with Ms Merkel and our German colleagues the experience of German reunification.

In the event of a crash and a hardening of the Border, which we cannot wish or shout away, there will be an obligation on any Government in Dublin worthy of the name to prepare for constitutional change. If we cannot mitigate the Border or avoid the worst excesses of the damage of Brexit, then we have to move to remove the Border, democratically, peacefully, by discussion and, ideally, by consensus. This is why the Taoiseach should establish a forum on unity and speak to our German friends for guidance in this regard.

Deputy Howlin has one minute.

I will take the same-----

No, you did not actually, because the clock ran on.

I said I will take the same time as everybody else so far.

We will deal with that.

I want to ask a very direct question of the Taoiseach because he has been very forthright in many of his utterances in recent weeks. He has stated it is not enough simply to say we will not have a hard border and that we have to have a legal basis to implement these words. They are meaningless just as a throwaway remark. I ask the Taoiseach to be clear and frank with the Dáil now. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, what is his arrangement and agreement with Angela Merkel and all of his EU colleagues? Does he have an understanding about how the EU, Single Market and customs union frontier, which will traverse the island of Ireland, is to be enforced, policed or ignored? What is his understanding? Please tell us.

We will speak later on this issue but I might give the same advice publicly as I have given in a private meeting, which is we should hold our position on the backstop. With regard to our discussions with the German Government or any other Government, I suggest using the argument that it is not just about protecting an Irish position. The Prime Minister, Ms May, seems to be clearly aligning herself with the European Research Group and DUP, who are the very hard Brexiteers in her Parliament. Effectively, she is aligning with the position that wants to deregulate and turn the UK into the Singapore of north-west Europe. It is not in the interests of Germany or anyone to do this. Those who hold that position think if they can remove the Irish backstop, it will also remove the regulatory alignment measures contained in the withdrawal agreement. For this reason, for a German Government as much as for Ireland, it is important we hold the line that the UK does not dumb down labour or environmental regulatory standards, which is what some want to do. We should hold fast and firm, not just for Ireland but for all of Europe in this regard.

Last week, I asked the Taoiseach whether he spoke to the President of the Commission about a no-deal scenario and the Border question. I did not get a reply at the time. It is important to make the point that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for all concerned, not just Ireland but the UK and the EU. Let us keep this in perspective as we discuss this. Today, for the first time, the Tánaiste has been a bit more frank than normal in terms of what no deal would mean for a border in Ireland. We can refuse to co-operate with the European Union, which is what I took from the Taoiseach's comments some months ago that we are simply not planning for a border and we will not put up one. How long that would last I am not quite sure. We did not get the full story on the discussion with Chancellor Merkel, which lasted 40 minutes. We may have to wait for the 30 year rule to find out exactly what was discussed.

I do not think any minutes were taken.

I do not think it took 40 minutes for the Chancellor to tell the Taoiseach nothing has changed and nothing will change. We know one of Chancellor Merkel's hallmarks as a politician is her capacity to be constructive and creative in seeking ways around roadblocks. Will the Taoiseach tell us whether she is proposing or thinking of any new ways of overcoming the refusal of the UK Parliament to ratify the withdrawal treaty in its current form?

In recent days, it was suggested in the Financial Times that one of the issues identified in the conversation between the Taoiseach and Chancellor Merkel was the Taoiseach may be personally concerned with how any change would reflect on him. I presume we can take it that this is not the case. I do not believe there is a question mark over German solidarity with Ireland. Equally, there is no doubt that Germany has, with other countries, asked what Ireland is willing to agree to help achieve ratification of the withdrawal treaty. The Commission's spokesman chose today to issue his clarifying statement. There is time yet to go on this and this is an important factor as we assess it. Clarity is important.

The phone call with Chancellor Merkel was very much an opportunity to talk through what might happen in various scenarios and try to work out what might happen next and what we could do in various scenarios. It was a very good and useful conversation in that sense, and one we have had more than once and no doubt will have again. We did not have any detailed discussion on extending Article 50 but we are all aware it is an option. Ultimately, that request would have to come from the United Kingdom. I have no doubt any request from it would be considered. In terms of conversations about Brexit, one thing I can say about Germany and German politicians is they understand borders, hard borders and partitions in a way that perhaps very few other people in the European Union do. They understand what an enormous challenge and threat Brexit is to Ireland and to all that has been achieved in the past 20 years.

I have always said, and I have been saying it for months if not years, that we cannot avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland simply through words, promises and good intentions. It requires a legally operable and binding agreement that aligns customs rules and market regulations. This is what the backstop is. It is exactly that. It is an alignment of customs rules and Single Market regulations so there does not have to be a border with physical infrastructure or associated checks or controls. Despite what others may say, no other proposal on the table at the moment does this, not one. The best that people who are opposed to the backstop and who, at the same time, state they do not want a hard border on the island of Ireland can come up with is a promise it will never happen or a promise they will sort it out over the next two years. This is not acceptable. The Irish Government and anyone in the House cannot accept this. The backstop is a legally operable mechanism to avoid a hard border by aligning customs and regulations and nothing else is being proposed by anyone else that does this, other than a promise to come up with something in a year or two or three. This is not something the Government can accept. This is why we have to hold so firmly to our position on the backstop.

In terms of what would happen in a no-deal scenario, it is always a difficult thing to speculate about. If, in a few weeks, we end up in a scenario where the UK leaves the EU without a deal we will have a real dilemma because Ireland is part of the European Union and we will have obligations to protect the Single Market, the United Kingdom will have joined the World Trade Organization and will have obligations to implement WTO rules, and the UK and Ireland will have an obligation to honour the Good Friday Agreement, protect the peace process and honour our commitment to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland that there will not be a hard border. What would we have to do in that scenario? We would have to negotiate an agreement on customs and regulations that would mean full alignment so there would be no hard border. We already have that agreement and that is the backstop. Nobody who is opposed to the backstop can credibly state he or she is also against a hard border unless he or she can come up with something else that aligns customs and regulations and allows a border to be avoided. Nobody else has done that yet. There is a reason it took a year and a half to two years to negotiate the backstop. It is because it was difficult to do. We have done it and we cannot give it up in return for a promise that it will be all right on the night or a commitment just to sort it out over the coming two years. It took us 18 months to sort it out. We have a proposal that works and we have to stand by it.

Departmental Expenditure

Joan Burton


10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the amount his Department spent on communications and advertising in 2018; the way in which this compares with the years 2011 to 2017, inclusive; and the proposed spending for 2019. [1359/19]

Brendan Howlin


11. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposed spending in 2019 by his Department on communications. [2545/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 11 together.

A decision was taken in 2017 to fund and run cross-governmental public information programmes centrally. As a result of this, in the period between the fourth quarter of 2017 and July 2018, several public information campaigns aimed at improving citizens' lives, such as the Healthy Ireland campaign, the Project Ireland 2040 campaign and the self-employed benefits campaign, were run and funded centrally by the Department of the Taoiseach. This was a departure in approach from previous years, when such campaigns were led and funded by the relevant line Department. The amount spent on these campaigns in 2018 was €1.8 million. Included in this figure is the spend on the purchase of space in various media, including print, digital, cinema and radio, as well as creative production.

This is greater than the amount spent between 2011 and 2017 but it is not a like-for-like comparison. That is precisely because of the decision to change the approach and to centralise such spending. Over 90% of spending in 2018 was incurred in the first part of the year prior to July 2018 as campaigns were being run and funded centrally during that time. Following a budget cut of €2.5 million in mid-2018, public information campaigns are now funded by the relevant line Department, as opposed to being funded centrally by my Department. This is a reversion to the former practice under previous Governments.

Spending on communications in my Department from 2011 to 2017, inclusive, varied significantly year on year, from a low of approximately €6,000 in 2014 to €580,000 in 2012 and €100,000 in 2011. That figure for 2011 includes expenses associated with the management of logistics for public attendance at the visit of President Obama and the National Day of Commemoration. The figure for 2012 includes a public information campaign on the fiscal stability treaty. Given the change of approach to the funding of campaigns, it is not intended to fund large campaigns from my Department in 2019.

Spending for 2019, therefore, will be significantly lower than that for 2018 and will be sourced from the administration budget of my Department. It is not possible to give an indicative figure as to what the outlay will be as this will depend on factors such as whether there are any significant inward State visits and if events, such as the outcome of the Brexit negotiations for example, require some additional expenditure on communication.

One of the most striking things about the Taoiseach's Government has been its absolutely dedicated focus on public relations and spin. The Taoiseach had to withdraw the strategic communications unit but I am not sure that his Government, overall, will withdraw from the field of public relations. We were told recently about the massive cost overruns in the national children's hospital. I believe the Taoiseach indicated that cutbacks in the Department of Health alone would amount to €50 million and that collective cutbacks in other Departments would amount to another €50 million.

How much of a cutback is the Department of the Taoiseach going to take to help with the funding of our badly needed, and badly budgeted for, national children's hospital? I ask that because the Taoiseach was the line Minister when these initial estimates were made. Does the Taoiseach intend to take any responsibility in his own Department, rather than making Departments which give vital services to people, such as education and others, bear the brunt of the cuts? Will the Department of the Taoiseach bear any significant share in these cuts that have been announced for other Departments? The specific cuts scaring many people concern indications that it may be impossible to replace worn-out machinery and facilities in hospitals that badly need such replacement.

I welcome the clarification that the Taoiseach is moving back to the traditional way whereby health promotional initiatives are funded by the Department of Health and education initiatives by the Department of Education and Skills. Notwithstanding the Taoiseach stating that his initiative was a new departure, taking the budget line away from line Departments, €290,000 was spent on promoting Healthy Ireland yet the Department of Health's own promotion was not diminished. It was a case of the funding being as well as, not instead of. There was also spending of €30,000 on videos promoting the budget last year.

What communication plan does the Taoiseach's Department have for this year? As the Taoiseach said, some things might be unknown. Will there, for example, be a referendum this year? Do we know and, if so, will the Taoiseach's Department be involved in expending money on that? Has that been decided yet? To be clear, in respect of normal line Department expenditure, is the Taoiseach telling us that his Department will no longer be involved in any expenditure to co-support or co-fund promotional videos or social media in that regard?

We have been seeking a statement from the Taoiseach for well over a year on what protections are being put in place to prevent the abuse of public funding to promote members of Government personally and to link communications to political rather than public priorities. Before the current Government took office, advertising was not undertaken for basic announcements and speeches but this is becoming common practice. This appears to be part of the Taoiseach's stated objective of finding a way of balancing journalists, whom he believes are too negative.

In the past, the Taoiseach promised me that he would publish guidelines on when paid promotion may be undertaken. He has so far failed to do this. Will it be done any time soon? In that context, who decides what publications get allocations to do magazines on various issues? Yesterday, there was a very fine piece in The Irish Times on the centenary of the Dáil. It was a large publication and I think it was funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Did other newspapers get the same access or what happened with the broadcasting of the event? Who makes these decisions?

I ask that question because I know when we got documentation under freedom of information provisions well over a year ago, it was clear that the then Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, was making the personal decision as to how much money each publication would get. That is open to abuse. No one is going to refuse public funding. There should be far more transparency, as well as set guidelines and set rules on how allocations of that kind are made. The Government is otherwise open to the argument that it is currying favour through that use of public money. Let us call a spade a spade. The last time I raised this issue certain people in the media world were annoyed that I did so but there needs to be transparency on this issue.

I have no issue with funding being put aside, in the form of a general sum, in order that public service obligations of the kind that I have just mentioned can be met by the print media. It does, however, have to be done at arm's length in a transparent way and not at the behest of a Minister or the Government itself. That is fair and that is where we should be heading. All of the advertising of the national development plan, NDP, last year was about various projects and specific plans and most mentioned aspect was the new children's hospital. That was the biggie in the NDP.

We know now that there has been a huge increase in the cost of that project, as I mentioned earlier. It is more than €1 billion than provided for in the NDP. It constitutes 9% of the total capital health provision. I will add that many of the plans for other hospitals have not moved at all. The Taoiseach mentioned that inflation was a factor in the cost of the national children's hospital. Does that mean then that the cost for the new National Maternity Hospital is going to go up dramatically? Does it mean that costs for other hospital projects are going to also go up dramatically? How stands that NDP in respect of health now and, in particular, the national children's hospital?

The Taoiseach will have about four minutes. I call Deputy McDonald.

Will the Taoiseach confirm when the referendum on the extension of voting rights in the Presidential election will be put to the people? This topic was already raised by Deputy Howlin but I would like a direct answer.

On these matters generally, the Government will continue to engage in what Government should do. I refer to policy formation, programme implementation and communicating with the public. All of those things work together. We cannot get our policies across the line if we are not willing to communicate them and programme implementation itself requires a degree of communication. The Government, therefore, will do all of those things as it always has. It will communicate and form policy and drive the implementation of those policies and programmes. They all marry with one another. They cannot just be separated.

On the national children's hospital overrun, the increased cost this year is anticipated to be about €100 million. Of that, €50 million will come from the Department of Health and the other €50 million will be spread across the capital budgets of all of the other Departments. I am sure that will include my own, although I am not quite sure what sort of capital budget we have for this year. It is important, though, to see that in context. The total capital budget for this year, the amount we have going to invest in our public infrastructure, is up 25%. It is now up to about €7 billion so we have to reprofile, defer or delay, however it is described, about €100 million out of €7,000 million.

That is in the early stages. The Taoiseach is being disingenuous.

Anyone who has been involved in government in running Departments will know there is regular reprofiling of spending.

A sum of €100 million out of €7,000 million is a reprofiling which will cause some projects to be delayed.

There is a lot of make-believe in all of this.

I guarantee that the level of scaremongering about what will not be done or what might be cancelled will go well beyond anything remotely connected to reality in terms of what we have to do to find that additional funding for the children's hospital.

It is the case that the costs of capital projects across the board are escalating and not just Government projects but also in the private sector. This has much to do with tender price inflation, construction going well, a shortage of construction workers, along with increases in materials and pay costs and professional fees. It is a just statement of fact that the cost of construction projects is rising, not just for the children's hospital. That is a cause of concern for us but it is not necessarily entirely under our control. One can really only know the cost of a project when it goes out to tender. One factor we will have to consider when it comes to large projects in particular is not making the actual final decision as to whether we are going to go ahead until we have the final cost. That has not been the practice in the past. The decision has always been made to go ahead. We may need to consider for a larger projects that we can only go ahead when we have the definite final cost.

The tender came in at €650 million.

No, it did not.

It did. Originally, the tender came in at €650 million.

That was for the Mater site.

That was not for the final complete project.

However, a tender came in.

It was a tender.

A tender came in and the Government went for it.

It was not the tender for the final cost of the project. That only came in more recently.

However, a tender came in.

There is a unique delivery system.

The Department does not have a communications plan for this year. I am sure there will be many things happening which will may require the involvement of the Department in communications, not least around Brexit. It can be done by my Department or by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The affordable childcare scheme will come in later in the year. We need to make sure the people know about that. It will involve a significant increase in subsidies for childcare and the extension of subsidised childcare to middle income families in particular. There will be many reasons we need to speak to the public over the next several months.

It is to buy somebody.

It will be running up to May.

Most of that will be done, however, by the line Departments. Where something crosses more than one Department, my Department may have an involvement in it.

Is that before or after May?

As I said, there is no communications plan. Deputy Micheál Martin asked who decides which publications get which advertising contracts. I do not know who decides that but I do know it is not me. I have never made a decision of that kind.

A Minister did, however.

The Deputy’s understanding of this and the way he is spinning it is not in line with the facts.

It is not about how I am spinning it. I had the documentation and it was black and white.

The referendum is still planned for May but we have to get the legislation through.