Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions
Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach the duties and responsibilities of the special political advisers appointed by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28191/06]
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach the political staff currently working in his Department; if it is intended to fill the position of special adviser (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30872/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.
There are currently five special advisers appointed by me. The Deputies will be aware that one of my special advisers recently took up office with the Health Service Executive. No decision has yet been taken to replace this special adviser. There has been no increase in their number since I took office.
Under the direction of the programme manager, the primary function of the advisers is to monitor, facilitate and help secure the achievement of Government objectives and to ensure effective co-ordination in the implementation of the programme for Government. They are also tasked with giving me advice and keeping me informed on a wide range of issues, including business, financial, economic, political, administrative and media matters and performing such other functions as may be directed by me from time to time.
Each of the advisers liaises with a number of Departments and acts as a point of contact in my office for Ministers and their advisers. My advisers attend meetings of Cabinet committees and cross-departmental teams relevant to their responsibilities. They also liaise, on my behalf, with organisations and interest groups outside of Government.
In addition, a number of my advisers have specific responsibilities relating to speech drafting. My programme manager meets other ministerial advisers on a weekly basis. He monitors and reports to me on progress in implementing the programme for Government.
Given that we are now in the run-up to a general election, can the Taoiseach explain the position of the political advisers in his Department during an election campaign? Are the political advisers contracted to work to the end of the current Dáil, up to and including the general election or beyond that to the formation of a new Government? What is the position of political advisers in the period after a general election being called?
Does the Taoiseach avail of their services during the election campaign period? Do the advisers have a role and function in, for example, the preparation of public statements, policy positions or whatever other role they may perform in the ordinary course of the Dáil in place?
If it is the case that they continue in the service of the Taoiseach once the Dáil is dissolved, is there an obligation on the Taoiseach, under the reportage to the Standards in Public Office Commission, to advise of the services of these paid officials post the dissolution? It is a very important point and one that requires clarity at this time, given that we are facing a general election.
The position on this has been clear for many years. The contracts for advisers always run to the formation of the next Government. They cease their duties on the night before a Government is appointed, if they are not reappointed, as happened in the last instance. If they involve themselves on a full-time basis in a campaign, they must take leave. They are not allowed to be working in the normal course of their jobs and be involved in other activities. They must use their own annual leave according to the guidelines that were set down even before the introduction of the Standards in Public Office Act.
Tá ceist agam ar an Taoiseach. The Taoiseach says that the functions of political advisers are to achieve Government objectives. Aside from implementing the programme for Government, would one of those objectives be, for example, the retention of power? Can the Taoiseach give us any idea what other objectives might be involved? The Taoiseach also said that other functions may be assigned to political advisers as directed, from time to time, by him. I wonder if, in recent weeks for example, the Taoiseach was advised to say that the €50,000 loan was off the wall. Is that the kind of advice he received? Are the Taoiseach's political advisers covered by Towards 2016?
When I referred to specific departmental responsibilities I meant that each of them covers a number of Departments. One of them has responsibility for the Departments of Agriculture and Food, Finance, and Health and Children. They would liaise and keep in touch with the relevant issues. Another has responsibility for the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Transport, Social and Family Affairs, and Arts, Sport and Tourism. A third has responsibility for the Departments of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Education and Science, and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Another has responsibility for the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and Foreign Affairs. The vast majority of their work is involved in engaging and liaising with Departments on Government policy issues relevant to the meetings of the Dáil; they engage with departmental staff and Cabinet sub-groups relevant to those Departments. Predominantly, that is their job.
I also said they were assigned other duties from time to time. Regularly enough they meet groups on my behalf that would be seeking meetings with me. As the Deputy will appreciate, it would be impossible for me to meet all the groups that seek such meetings but if they can meet an adviser they can at least put forward whatever issues they wish to pass on to the relevant Government section.
The Taoiseach referred to the former special adviser who has now taken up a position with the HSE but no decision has been taken to replace him. Does the Taoiseach intend to replace him?
I read in the newspapers that the programme manager for the Tánaiste has departed. Will that position be filled? I am not sure why the Tánaiste would need a programme manager, as the Taoiseach has him where he wants him after yesterday. Will the post be filled anyway?
Is it true, as reported in one of the newspapers at the weekend, that another of the special advisers is taken up full-time in advising the Taoiseach and acting as a go-between with the various tribunals? On the face of it, that seems to be a fairly extraordinary mission. At the end of all of this, the man ought to be properly rewarded. I hope there is a bonus system in place.
Katherine Bulbulia, who was a special adviser to the former Tánaiste, left office on 13 September. She was programme manager to the then Tánaiste and was based in my Department. I assume she will be replaced.
My adviser has gone to the HSE. My thinking on that at this stage is that I will not replace that position but will reassign work within the Department. Some of the functions which we were undertaking will just revert to the Civil Service system.
Who determines the demarcation line between the role of political advisers after a general election is called and during the course of same? Who determines the demarcation line between their traditional role while the Dáil is in session, and that concerning not only the Taoiseach's responsibilities for the duration of the campaign but also those of a contesting candidate in a general election? It would be easy to see the waters muddied in such a situation. Where political advisers have a role or function complementary to the electoral effort of the Taoiseach and his colleagues, he has indicated that to have any such participation they would be obliged to take annual leave. Is it the case that by taking annual leave they could then give their services? Is that strictly correct or appropriate?
Annual leave is part of the terms of anyone's employment but in those circumstances it seems to be stretching their functions and responsibilities somewhat that they would have an electoral role. In that situation they are more than political advisers. In the Taoiseach's view, would they not also be electoral aides?
If somebody is contracted to a job and takes annual leave, outside of that they are entitled to do what they will, once it is within the law. They have to take annual leave, however, and cannot be involved in their day-to-day advisers' work during an election campaign when they are working on a party political basis. That is the distinction, so if they are working on a party political campaign they take their holidays. During the last election some of my staff worked on in the Department while others took their annual leave. It is a clear procedure and has been there for a long time. It works well and I do not think there is any room for any abuse in that. If somebody takes their annual leave, what they do during that time is not a matter for any of us. They could be down saving the hay or canvassing. That is not a matter for us.