Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Cabinet Sub-Committee Meetings.

11:00 am

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus last met. [25350/05]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus last met; when the next meeting is due; and the total number of meetings held to date. [26565/05]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 9: To ask the Taoiseach the membership of the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus; when it last met; and when it is due to meet next. [27695/05]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 10: To ask the Taoiseach the number of occasions on which the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus has met. [28682/05]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Question 11: To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus last met; and when it is next due to meet. [30211/05]

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 11, inclusive, together.

The sub-committee met on a total of three occasions, the last of which was 9 December 2004. There are no arrangements for it to meet again as its work is completed.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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There has been no announcement on this matter since the decision last May to sell the company. As Head of Government, does the Taoiseach agree with the Leader of the Seanad, who said she does not anticipate anything will happen on this until after the general election?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Detailed questions are a matter for the Minister for Transport. That ruling has been applied consistently by my predecessors and me.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I am not asking a detailed question, I am asking whether the Taoiseach agrees with the Leader of the Seanad——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's question is more appropriate to the Minister for Transport.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I do not want to know whether the Minister for Transport agrees with the Leader of the Seanad.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Unfortunately, Standing Order 33 is specific in that the Taoiseach is only responsible for questions relevant to his Department.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I am asking exactly that. As Head of Government, I ask the Taoiseach whether he concurs with the view of the Leader of the Seanad. I do not want to know what the Minister for Transport——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That issue does not arise on these questions.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Why not?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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If Deputy Rabbitte wants me to read Standing Order 33, I will be happy to do so. If he reads it he will see it is clear on this matter.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I ask the Chair to read the Standing Order.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Standing Order 33 states: "Questions addressed to a member of the Government must relate to public affairs connected with his or her Department, or to matters of administration for which he or she is officially responsible (including bodies under the aegis of his or her Department in respect of Government policy)." It is clear and specific. The Chair may at times have allowed the Deputy to go beyond that, but the Chair must apply the Standing Order.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Leader of the Seanad addressed this subject in a radio interview.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy not to pursue this.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Does the Leader of the Government agree with the opinion that nothing will happen on Aer Lingus until after the general election? I am not asking the Minister for Transport, I do not want to know his view, I want to know the Taoiseach's view.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Issues relating to Aer Lingus are a matter for the Minister for Transport. The question does not arise out of these questions.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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It is absolutely at the heart of the issue whether the Leader of Government endorses that view.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It may well be but the Deputy must find another way of discovering this.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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Did the Chair quote Standing Order 33?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will not get into a debate on this. I have read the Standing Order.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I do not ask for a debate.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will not have a debate on the Standing Order. I quoted it for the benefit of the House.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I do not understand how you can interpret Deputy Rabbitte's supplementary question in such a way, other than to draw a negative conclusion about your intentions in the matter.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Chair has ruled on the matter and I ask the Deputy to accept that ruling.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I do not accept the ruling, it is wrong.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to resume his seat and if he does not, he must leave the House.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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The Chair's rulings have been wrong regularly. He has made some strange rulings.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy must resume his seat or leave the House.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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In regard to the issue raised——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should not go too far down this road or he must leave the House. I ask him to resume this seat.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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How can we address this matter?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy calls to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle, I will be delighted to discuss this matter with him.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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When can I do that?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Has the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus addressed the substantive issue raised by Aer Lingus pensioners and those currently in service that their pensions would not maintain their value——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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This issue does not arise. The discussions of the Cabinet sub-committee are confidential.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I wish only to establish whether the sub-committee has addressed this issue. It is one of major concern not only to the existing but the former workforce of Aer Lingus and the wider community, particularly given that SIPTU has pointed out that an actuarial evaluation——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I suggest the Deputy submits a question to the Minister.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I ask the Taoiseach, in line with my question, whether this issue has been addressed. Surely that is not inappropriate.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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As the Deputy knows, matters discussed at a Cabinet sub-committee are confidential.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach can only confirm or deny whether it has been addressed. Will he give a simple "Yes" or "No" answer?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not appropriate for Deputies to frustrate Standing Orders every day. There may be another way to get answers to these questions, which include specific queries about dates and so on.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Against the backdrop of the actuarial evaluation of the Irish airline superannuation scheme, can the Taoiseach offer any solace or guarantees to the pensioners——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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This issue does not arise. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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——who have been in service with the national airline? Will the Taoiseach give a "Yes" or "No" answer?

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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On a point of order, the Standing Order which the Chair read concerns members of Government. There is, however, a separate Standing Order for the Taoiseach. Standing Order 36 states:

Questions addressed to the Taoiseach may be asked only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and shall be placed on the Order Paper before Questions to other members of the Government to be asked on the same day. The time allowed for the Taoiseach's Questions shall not exceed forty-five minutes each day. Any Question to the Taoiseach which appears on Tuesday's Order Paper and which is not disposed of shall be placed on the Order Paper for the following day before Questions to the Taoiseach to be asked on that day, save that a Question to be taken by the Taoiseach may be placed before Questions to be taken by a Minister of State at his or her Department.

I see nothing in that Standing Order that restricts me in asking the Taoiseach whether he endorses a statement by a Cabinet colleague or another prominent member of his party.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I absolutely agree with the Deputy, there is no such restriction in that Standing Order because it deals only with times. Standing Order 33, which I read to the House, is the appropriate Standing Order. As the Deputy well knows, if the Taoiseach were to answer detailed questions for another Minister, there would be no need for any Minister to come into the House. The Chair has ruled on Standing Order 33 and I ask the Deputy to accept the ruling. If he has a problem with it, he should accompany Deputy Stagg when he comes to discuss Standing Orders with me.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Standing Order 33 relates to members of Government, it does not refer to the Head of Government and I did not ask a detailed question.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach is a member of Government. We will not have a debate on this.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I did not ask a detailed question, I asked a general policy question.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I asked a question of the Taoiseach, to which his silence will give no comfort——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Chair allow the Taoiseach to reply?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am calling Deputy Kenny.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Taoiseach take the opportunity to reply?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I suggest the Deputy should submit the question to the line Minister.

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Standing Orders frustrate Deputies far more than Deputies frustrate Standing Orders.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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In view of the restriction of the Chair's ruling, a great deal of imagination is required to ask a question to which one might get a reply. It might be appropriate for the Government Whip to allow time for a discussion or series of statements on Aer Lingus. These, along with the consequences of the ending of negotiations of the EU-US open skies policy, could be discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee on Aer Lingus.

Will the Taoiseach bring to the attention of the sub-committee the issue of the comment made by the company's chief executive officer that any sale of a share in Aer Lingus would have to take place in 2006?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Again that does not arise.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am not asking was it discussed. I am asking will the Taoiseach bring this to the attention of the sub-committee. Will he also raise the matter of the pension deficit which exists at Aer Lingus with the sub-committee? This is a serious problem for the company and its employees.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Again it is not up for discussion.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Having got around the Standing Order restriction by the Ceann Comhairle, the Taoiseach must realise these are two important matters to which he must respond.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The sub-committee's work was to resolve the issues at the beginning of the year about the future finances of Aer Lingus. That work has been completed and the sub-committee no longer exists. In its work, the financing of pensions issue arose. However, this is a matter between the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Transport. There is a deficiency in the pension fund but it is being dealt with at ministerial level.

There are already parliamentary questions for the Minister on the recent decision made on Shannon Airport. When we were completing our work, the Government's decision was that there was a requirement for the company to get equity, which is Government policy.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Is there a prospect of this sub-committee coming out of retirement or is it in abeyance? In the event of a full business plan being developed by Aer Lingus, the Government may need to re-form the sub-committee. As the peak in oil prices continues to bite, the need may arise for the Government to address its overall aviation policy. Will the sub-committee have a role in such a situation, aside from the pension issue at Aer Lingus and so forth? Is there not a case for having the sub-committee on notice that it may need to be recalled, given the issues that are likely to unfold?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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There are some standing Cabinet sub-committees. Others are formed when an issue arises that requires cross-departmental involvement with several Ministers and which can take up a considerable amount of time. A Cabinet sub-committee is also established to address an issue that does not directly involve all Ministers. In this case, there was an issue surrounding the future of Aer Lingus. As part of the deliberative process, a Cabinet sub-committee was established. The Minister for Transport commissioned a report by Goldman Sachs on the options for the future of Aer Lingus. The Minister considered other aviation issues that he wished to bring to a conclusion. This is what the sub-committee worked on and it completed its work in May. Unless some other issue emerges, the process is back with the Minister.