Tuesday, 30 March 2004
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the names, duties and responsibilities of the special or political advisers or assistants appointed by the Attorney General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2850/04]
Mr. Loughlin Deegan, a qualified solicitor, was appointed to the position of special adviser to act as a liaison between the Attorney General and myself and other Departments on items relevant to the programme for Government as well as to keep the Attorney General informed on items arising in the Dáil and Seanad or media which could impinge on, or be relevant to, the role of the Attorney General.
Mr. Deegan attends meetings of advisers and monitors Dáil and Seanad business, especially the Order of Business and daily Question Time. He also attends meetings of the Government legislation committee. He does not provide legal advice or legal services.
As the Taoiseach is aware, the Attorney General is not elected and is not a political entity in the way that Deputies and Senators are. He does not have a programme or an agenda to implement, nor should he. He is the protector of the public interest, the legal adviser to the Government and a constitutional office holder. Did I understand the Taoiseach to say that Mr. Deegan operates as a liaison officer between himself and the Attorney General? What impact does a political adviser to the Attorney General have, particularly in view of the fact that the latter does not have a political agenda to implement and is a person of considerable experience having spent 25 years as a senior counsel? What advice or assistance can Mr. Deegan give to the Attorney General in terms of carrying out his constitutional remit?
He does not give legal advice to or provide legal services for the Attorney General. On behalf of the Attorney General, he monitors what is going on. The Attorney General cannot monitor what is happening in all Departments, keep in touch with the legislative programmes of all Ministers and with everything being dealt with by his office or monitor what is going on in the Dáil and Seanad. Mr. Deegan brings such matters to the attention of the Attorney General, otherwise the latter or someone else would have to monitor them. It is not for a political purpose that Mr. Deegan does this, it is so that the Attorney General can deal with the issues. Everyone understands that enormous demands are placed on the Attorney General and his office in terms of requests for information and data from all Departments. For a number of years, Attorneys General have appointed individuals to liaise with them on these matters.
The Attorney General's office is the key contact point between Departments and agencies in respect of the legislative programme in trying to ensure that it is dealt with in a smooth fashion. Somebody must liaise with Departments and agencies on that issue and Loughlin Deegan does so.
The Taoiseach has gone considerably outside the scope of what is a so-called political adviser in this instance. He stated that Mr. Deegan monitors what is going on. Are we not paying €20 million of public money for a communications unit which monitors what is going on and provides information in that regard to members of the Government? Does Mr. Deegan, in his capacity as political adviser to the Attorney General, possess or have access to the information gathered by the communications unit? The unit monitors what is going on and the public pays for that service. Why should Mr. Deegan have to sit in the Office of the Attorney General wearing a set of headphones and monitoring what is going on?
If he is the critical element in the legislative programme, Mr. Deegan would have known that the Taoiseach was assuming the high office of the Presidency of the European Union. The Taoiseach has made good progress in that regard and I congratulate him. However, would Mr. Deegan not be aware that Committee Stage of the terrorism Bill introduced here two years ago has not yet been taken? The Bill to which I refer deals with the funding of terrorism, the taking of hostages etc. How does he monitor what is going on? Does he have access to the communications unit? Does he relay the information provided by that unit to the Attorney General and does he then liaise with the Taoiseach in respect of what the Attorney General says? Does Mr. Deegan have a political value, given that the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, has considerable political and legal experience? What element of assistance does Mr. Deegan offer in terms of the smoother running of Government?
The Attorney General's office is independent and, therefore, Mr. Deegan is not a political adviser in any form. He acts as a special assistant and liaises between the Attorney General, me and other Departments and colleagues on items that are relevant to the programme for Government. He also keeps the Attorney General informed on items arising in the Dáil, the Seanad, committees and the media which are relevant only to the role of the Attorney General. Practically all matters are in some way relevant to the Attorney General, but Mr. Deegan does not offer political advice, he liaises on issues relating to the administration of the Attorney General's office. There is no political benefit involved. There is an administrative benefit in having a person who assists the attorney and his office by monitoring and keeping them abreast of what is happening thereby allowing them to do their job. There must be available to the Attorney General, a person to liaise on matters relevant to the legislative committee and other issues. Often, much of what happens is not relevant to that office.
If that appointment is relevant only to the Attorney General, would Mr. Deegan monitor public comment and discussion on, for example, the citizenship referendum in terms of the proposal to amend Article 9 of the Constitution as distinct from Article 2 in respect of which the Attorney General will obviously have to provide legal advice to Government? Does he monitor media coverage and does he know the communications department's views, as regards the Attorney General, on that matter?
When was the liaison officer appointed? The position is not one traditionally associated with the Office of the Attorney General. Was such a person in place during the term of office of the current attorney's predecessor? Admittedly, the previous attorney would have required a great deal of monitoring as he had a number of other jobs. Did he have the benefit of such a person or did this position arise from a failure to monitor the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, when he agreed a deal which exposed the State to extraordinary potential costs, computed by the Comptroller and Auditor General to reach approximately €1 billion?
Is it that type of breakdown between the Office of the Attorney General and a line Minister that has led to this appointment or was that a contrived breakdown of communications involving the then Attorney General who said he had been excluded in that regard? Is this appointment designed to mend the bridges in that regard for the future?
As far as I can recall, Mr. Deegan is the third appointment to this position. There may have been more appointments but Mr. Deegan is the third appointment I know of in this regard. Deputy Rabbitte makes the point that there is a necessity to appoint a liaison officer. Whether everything works perfectly at the end of the day is another matter. It is essential there is a person available to monitor the Government legislation committee, a complex job in its own right, and other ongoing matters which relate directly to the Attorney General. The appointment is useful in that regard and it ensures the Attorney General is not constantly chased. That would not be the best way of administering that office.
The reality is that management structures within the Attorney General's office, which brought together all sections of that office, have only been in place since Mr. Gleeson's time in office. That office was not technologically driven and the current form of legislation committee did not exist, nor did the link-back structures with the Departments.
This House processes 50% more legislation than a decade ago never mind the volume of committees now in place, which also amount to approximately three times more than a decade ago. There is an enormous volume of work and the structures are entirely different from what they were ten years ago. That is why this position is essential.
To whom does the adviser in question report in the course of the monitoring undertaken? Is it to the Attorney General or to his own office? Does he liaise with the legal agent in each Department, does he initiate or do they initiate? To whom does ultimate responsibility fall regarding the initiation of a proposal?
He reports only to the Attorney General. He is responsible to him, and any work he does is on behalf of the Attorney General. As part of the Government legislation committee, he reports to the Attorney General on any liaising he does.
The legal agent in a Department surely has some standing, particularly regarding the legality of legislation or proposed legislation and with regard to liability which might fall on a Department on foot of proposed legislation.
They have all those responsibilities, but with regard to the responsibilities in preparing legislation and dealing with advice they would not deal on legal matters other than with some of the legal officers and the Parliamentary Counsel people although they might deal with the individual concerned on administrative matters.