Wednesday, 16 November 2005
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Cabinet Sub-Committee Meetings.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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——
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.