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Parliamentary Questions

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 24 November 2015

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Ceisteanna (1)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he is satisfied that every effort is made in his Department to ensure that parliamentary questions are answered adequately and fully; the actions he has taken to ensure this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24526/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (71 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I make every effort to give a full and comprehensive reply to Deputies for each parliamentary question tabled to me. Each answer is checked for accuracy by officials in my Department before the draft reply is forwarded to me for finalisation.

When answering supplementary questions during Question Time in the House, if the information requested by a Deputy is not readily available, I regularly commit to forwarding the outstanding information to the Deputy in writing afterwards.

The reason I tabled this question is that for the past five years the Taoiseach has been saying there would need to be reform of Taoiseach's questions and that he would bring proposals to the leaders of the Opposition. Of course, he never did that; he just kept saying it week after week. One of the first measures he took when he became Taoiseach was to halve the amount of time for Taoiseach's questions. He got rid of the Wednesday slot, so he reduced the accountability of the Taoiseach in respect of his Department and policy issues by 50%. Then, when Tuesday afternoon sessions were cancelled for a variety of reasons, they were never rescheduled. Suffice it to say that he is perhaps the most unaccountable Taoiseach we have had, certainly since I came into Dáil Éireann. He ducks and dives and avoids questions to an extraordinary degree both in the House and publicly elsewhere. It is extraordinary the degree to which he does not engage in public debate. I give him credit for managing the media well in terms of identifying the particular programmes he slinks onto. He has a particular penchant for the nine o'clock news-----

Let us get back to the question.

-----but he will not do the "Six One" news, particularly when there is an inquiry report to be published. He might give the old newsreader 20 minutes to try to decipher a couple of hundred pages.

If questions were answered here, there might be less need for inquiries. If questions were answered about IBRC write-downs, there would be less need for inquiries. If questions had been answered about how the former Garda Commissioner was forced out of office, there would have been no need for the Fennelly inquiry. I believe the Taoiseach deliberately used the Fennelly inquiry to avoid answering direct questions in the House. We could not get direct answers from him on that issue because he kept saying he had lobbed it into an inquiry.

Would the Deputy put his question, please?

All of that inability and inadequacy in responding to Dáil questions leads to unnecessary inquiries. We actually never needed Mr. Justice Fennelly to inquire into the sacking of the former Garda Commissioner; we simply needed honest, straightforward answers from the Taoiseach to those particular questions.

Deputy Catherine Murphy deserves great credit for her work on Siteserv and IBRC. In the programme for Government, the Taoiseach said that this era would represent a democratic revolution. Most people are one hundred percent underwhelmed by the democratic revolution and unimpressed with the lack of any answers to basic questions that are put on an ongoing basis. On quite a number of occasions, for example, the Taoiseach has been asked about Project Eagle, but he has stonewalled and refused to provide any proper response. We only found out about it through media leaks in other areas or from Deputy Wallace, who had access to various sources. We found out nothing from the Government side, including from the Taoiseach, concerning that matter.

Why is there still a tendency in the Department of the Taoiseach and across Government to hold onto information, refuse to share it and hide it for as long as possible? Last week, when I asked when the latest interim report from Mr. Justice Cregan would be released, the Taoiseach said it would be some time this week.

We have had four minutes on this question.

There are 55 minutes left.

I am sorry, but there is a whole group of questions coming up, and then we have complaints that we are not reaching questions.

No sooner had I gone up to my office than the report was being released. The Taoiseach's attitude to the Dáil is that it does not matter. He will leak Government memos and stories, but the last place to find out about anything is Dáil Éireann, even when questions are asked about specific topics. Why is that?

I should do an analysis of Deputy Martin's record as a person who produced reports and never did anything about them. When the last two interim reports came in here - both the Fennelly report and the Cregan report - I released them immediately after receiving authorisation from the sole member and a report from the Attorney General that they were not in conflict with any existing court case. On many occasions in the House I have told Deputy Martin that I do not think the situation concerning Taoiseach's questions is very satisfactory. I have told him and Deputy Adams that if they want to table a Priority Question of their choice each week, they should do so, and I will facilitate them. Deputy Martin never took me up on that, although I have said it time and again.

The Taoiseach just keeps making up stories.

This would allow Deputy Martin to raise any question he wished. He would not be facing a situation in which hundreds of questions are tabled, some of which are taken in bulk because they are grouped, while others do not get answered for a long time. Maybe Deputy Martin wants me to be in here all the time answering questions. I take it he is not complaining that the reports of Mr. Justice Cregan and Mr. Justice Fennelly, both eminent justices, were published very quickly. I have asked Deputy Martin and others for their written observations on the issues pointed out by Mr. Justice Cregan.

It is not a case of holding on to information in the Department of the Taoiseach. We have had more referendums in the lifetime of this Government than any other. Deputy Martin was the person who called for an immediate commission of investigation in respect of Siteserv and IBRC. The judge has now pointed out a list of challenges that he sees there.

Deputy Martin also mentioned debating issues publicly. Good Lord almighty - everywhere I go I have to answer questions publicly.

In good time, Deputy Martin, myself and others will have an opportunity to debate the issues of the day.

"And others". The Taoiseach has it stitched up with RTE already.

Please hold on a second. We have now spent seven minutes on this simple question.

Deputy Martin now puts himself in the position in which he is the individual who has to be debated with every time.

As far as I am concerned, I have no difficulty at all in debating the issues of the day publicly - none whatever.

We do it in here every day.

Would Deputy Martin please address his remarks through the Chair?

Deputy Martin does not call me up beforehand and say he is going to ask me this or that question.

The Taoiseach does not debate publicly with anybody anywhere.

I am going to put an end to this. Does Deputy Adams have a supplementary question?

Very briefly, a Cheann Comhairle. I have a whole list of issues that I have been trying to get answers to.

Be careful what you wish for.

I just want to wait until the children are quiet.

Be careful what you wish for.

I do not envy you your job at times, a Cheann Comhairle.

Everybody complains that we are not getting through the questions. There is a simple reason - we spend all day talking about things that are not in the questions.

I have a series of questions on which I have tried to get clarity from the Taoiseach. The whole McNulty scandal could have been answered. We would not have needed the Fennelly report if the Taoiseach had answered questions. In addition, there was IBRC and Siteserv, and numerous health issues. Since 2012, I have been trying to get to the bottom of the health (transport support) Bill. These are all examples of the Government stalling and prevaricating. It is very bad on the breaking ball and is not coming up with the clarity that is required. I offer that up to the Taoiseach as a failure, or deliberate refusal, to deal with issues, particularly the health (transport support) Bill.

I have answered questions about that on the Order of Business about 40 times already.

The Taoiseach has not answered questions clearly.

As I said, the scheme in question was protected for those in receipt of assistance. Work is going on to devise the next stage of what will have to be put into legislation. I said that to the Deputy before.

I have been asking for three years.

The Deputy talks about answering questions here.

We have had occasion to ask Deputy Adams questions in the House and we got nothing but obfuscation, confusion and blind allegiance from those who sit around him on very serious matters.

The Taoiseach is ar eagla in respect of groups dependent on transport from the Government in future for three years. That is the problem.

Deputy Adams, please resume your seat.

It is about the adequacy and the preparation that goes into the answering of questions. The bottom line is that the Taoiseach has never answered the question in respect of the forced resignation of the Garda Commissioner in this House. That is the point I am making to the Taoiseach.

That is a separate issue.

This should never have gone into the Fennelly commission's terms of reference because the Taoiseach should have answered the questions straight out. We only learned from the media that the Secretary General had been sent out the night before.

That is a separate issue altogether.

The Taoiseach never told us that.

We are now moving on to Question No. 2.

A Cheann Comhairle, it has to do with the adequacy of questions. The final point I wish to put to the Taoiseach is-----

This question, in my opinion, should not have been allowed in the first place, because questions are addressed to the Minister or the Taoiseach, not his Department.

That is more of it. I asked the Taoiseach about it.

I know it got through the system, however.

It got through the system.

It should not have.

It did. The point I want to make to the Taoiseach is that at no stage in the past five years has he made any attempt to debate anything with anyone in the public domain. He does not debate in the evenings.

I think you have made your point, Deputy Martin. Let us get on because a series of questions is coming up.

I have been at numerous public meetings to which the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have been invited, but the Taoiseach never turns up. The Taoiseach referred to "Tonight with Vincent Browne" but he never turns up.

We are not talking about "Tonight with Vincent Browne".

In five years he has never turned up to such a debate, and neither have members of Fine Gael or the Labour Party in the recent past.

We are not getting into this, please.

It is an important point in terms of whether the Taoiseach is prepared to debate and discuss issues. In my lifetime in this House I have never come across a Taoiseach who will not come to the House to answer questions on the burning issues of the day. He simply does not do it.

That is a separate issue altogether from the parliamentary question.

The Taoiseach always seeks to avoid it. That is why I put down the question.

Please, resume your seat.

What Deputy Martin is saying, effectively, is that he never asks questions about the burning issues of the day. Deputy Martin has an opportunity in the House during Leaders' Questions to ask questions about the burning issues of the day. Now Deputy Martin is saying we do not debate them. Is that correct?

It is 12 months after the Fennelly commission, but the Taoiseach has answered no relevant questions.

Are we talking about Leaders' Questions today? The issues include a nurses strike, problems in accident and emergency units and overcrowding.

Deputy Martin cannot have it every way. He leads his party and he is entitled to do so. Good luck to him. I lead mine and I happen to lead the Government. In due course, Deputy Martin will have plenty of opportunity for debate and I look forward to what Deputy Martin has to say. I will remind him of his record and point out the fog of confusion that he is heading for in future.

Will the Taoiseach debate?

That is a separate issue.

Why can I not get an answer? He cannot answer a simple question.

Sorry, Deputy. Would you put your question through the Chair?

Will he debate with other leaders?

What am I doing now? I am listening to waffle from Deputy Martin.

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