Tuesday, 18 May 2004
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Committee on Social Inclusion.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
The Cabinet committee on social inclusion last met on 25 February 2004. This was the tenth meeting of the committee in the past 12 months. The next meeting of the committee is scheduled for 26 May.
Is it not time the work of the Cabinet committee on social inclusion and drugs was stepped up? Is the Taoiseach aware that there is growing alarm among people in the community sector and those working with drug addicts that we are facing a disastrous increase in the use of cocaine?
I point out to the Deputy that his question simply asked when the Cabinet committee on social inclusion last met. As the Deputy knows, we cannot have a debate on what might be discussed at the Cabinet meeting. That is bound by Cabinet confidentiality.
I am aware of that. I asked the Taoiseach that question and now I am demonstrating why there is a need for the committee to step up its work rate and be more proactive. Will the Taoiseach confirm that he is aware that there is growing concern among people——
The Deputy knows he is out of order. This question has arisen a number of times over the years. Anything that might be discussed at a Cabinet sub-committee is ruled out of order. A question should be submitted to the Minister responsible.
It is my last attempt to make some breakthrough in regard to the barriers I must contend with. In a previous reply to this question — I presume that is within the ambit of what is allowed — the Taoiseach told me there is an interdepartmental group on drugs to co-ordinate the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy through partnership with Departments, State agencies and the community and voluntary sector to bring to the attention of the Cabinet committee on social inclusion——
I want confirmation from the Taoiseach — who responded previously to a similar question — as to whether he undertook to bring to the Cabinet committee the information before the interdepartmental group. Will he at least advise us if that has been done since we last addressed the issue on this floor?
As there has been a ruling on these questions for several years, I cannot go into details. I am just following the practice. It was ruled that the questions are internal to Government. If the Deputy puts down a question to the relevant Minister on the issues he wishes to raise, he will get a full answer.
I am not sure if this is a statistical or diary question. The Taoiseach might include it in his diary for the next meeting and might remind us about the format and when the decision was taken to have the next meeting. Will it be taken into account that the next meeting will be brought forward to a date which will mean the extra €350 million in tax announced by the Department of Finance will be taken into account?
That issue does not arise out of the question. I have already ruled Deputy Ó Caoláin out of order. The question submitted by both Deputies Ó Caoláin and Sargent is to ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion last met. It is a statistical question which demands a statistical answer. There is a long-standing rule that the work of a Cabinet sub-committee is not discussed on the floor of the House arising out of these questions. That has always been the position. I have ruled on it in regard to Deputies Ó Caoláin and Sargent.
It is not a question to the CSO about the number of cars imported last year or the number of non-national births in the country. It is a question on which, in previous practice, we would have been permitted to ask a supplementary on the substantive issue.
No, Deputy. There are two issues here. The first is the question of Cabinet confidentiality. The second issue is that questions appropriate to line Ministers should go to the Minister responsible, not to the Taoiseach.
I want to be clear in terms of future practice. I suggest with great respect to Deputy Ó Caoláin and Deputy Sargent — and it is none of my business — that they should desist from putting down questions like this in future if the Chair's ruling——
I am aware of that, and I was not asking for your opinion, I was offering my own. Are you telling me that the first two questions can only get an answer such as "three", "six", "five", "ten", "one" or "zero"? If that is the case, what is the point in putting down questions? I am sure if I had the time — I do not — there would be no difficulty in finding precedents whereby one could ask a supplementary question on the substantive issue that is addressed by the Cabinet sub-committee, not what happened at the Cabinet sub-committee or what the Taoiseach said to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, but the substantive issue. With the greatest of respect, I am sure that is true.
There is a long-standing rule and we debated this regularly in the House over the years. Cabinet confidentiality which arises out of the Cabinet sub-committee prohibits discussion of the issues. Questions that are more appropriate to a line Minister should go to that Minister.