Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Ceisteanna — Questions
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the arrangements in place in his Department for providing assistance to certain Members of Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43906/06]
Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach the procedures in place within his Department for providing special assistance to certain Members of Dáil Éireann; the Members to whom this assistance is available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3862/07]
Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach the criteria for providing assistance to certain Members of Dáil Éireann based on their support for the Government, over and above the facilities provided to all other Teachtaí Dála; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6767/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.
Several Independent Deputies offered invaluable support to the previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. While in regard to this Administration, their support is not as critical to the Government's majority, given the support they have provided in the past, I have tried, and will continue to try, to be as helpful as possible to these Deputies.
A staff member in my office assists the Government Chief Whip's office in liaising with these Deputies. This official meets with these Deputies on a regular basis and arranges to keep them briefed on issues as they arise.
I want to confirm that there is no additional cost to the taxpayer in dealing with these Deputies. One assistant principal officer deals with the Deputies and assists the Chief Whip in this matter. In seeking to be as helpful as possible to the priorities and issues of concern to the Deputies, this is managed within the expenditure on programmes within the programme for Government and the national development plan and will be within the parameters of planned expenditure within departmental estimates.
I welcome Speaker Quinn from New York City Council and her entourage to Ireland and thank her for her courtesy in recent weeks.
The Taoiseach's categorisation of the value of Independent Deputies seems to have declined since Deputy Healy-Rae described himself as the fourth wheel on the ministerial Mercedes in Kerry, much to the amusement of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Does the assistant principal officer consult with some or all of the Independent Deputies? Is it possible to name these slightly favoured Independent Deputies in the House?
I am sure the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Seán Power, has looked into the future too and can see that the end is nigh. Who are these Deputies and how often does the principal officer discuss current affairs and other matters with them?
The Taoiseach's office is the most important in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Following Seachtain na Gaeilge does the Taoiseach's Department offer any assistance to a Deputy who wishes to have correspondence about the Taoiseach's Department or business translated into Irish? Many people would like to try to do this but do not have the capacity to do so. This may be a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, for which the Ceann Comhairle is responsible.
It is well known that four Independent Deputies continuously supported the last Government. The two remaining Deputies in that category are Deputies Healy-Rae and Fox. Contact with them is as required. In the last Dáil there was regular contact because the Government did not have the numbers between its two parties without their support, so they were kept in touch with on a regular basis. Contact is not as necessary for each Bill as it was but whenever it is necessary to brief them on legislation arising this is done. Members of my office and that of the Chief Whip deal with issues raised by Deputies, not only Independent Deputies. Not a week would go by without some Deputy from some side of the House having a request, whether regarding a visitor or some other issue.
In response to the Deputy's second question, within my Department we endeavour as best we can to deal with correspondence in Irish relevant to the Department and to ensure at least one person in each section is fluent in written Irish. There is no particular service in the House for that purpose. That would be a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
Would that be open to Deputies who want to translate what has been transacted between the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the people of Dingle, or Daingean Uí Chúis? I was down there recently and none of the residents can figure out, in either language, what the Minister said to them.
I wonder if that service will be available before the general election because there are many people in the Corca Dhuibhne peninsula trying to figure out what the Minister was saying to them. They are very concerned about the impending tourism season and the implications of the madness under way in the region.
If the Taoiseach is less reliant on Independent Members of the House, as he said, why should he discriminate in favour of the small number of Independent Deputies who receive the service and against the rest of the Members of the House? Not many Deputies have an assistant principal officer available to them at a fairly serious level. When the Taoiseach says the service is only available now, as required, one must ask by whom it is required and for what purpose. Now that Deputy Blaney has been drawn on to a sucker punch and has rejoined the old family, will the service still be available to him or will he now be ignored like the rest of the Fianna Fáil backbenchers?
Once a person is in the parliamentary party, he or she, like everybody else, gets the briefing on legislation from the Whip and is well informed. When one is not in the parliamentary party, it is not as easy to be briefed on legislation. Most of the briefing in question is on legislation in respect of which individuals would want to be aware of the Government's position or issues that arise. It would be very odd if somebody supporting the Government did not have that courtesy available to him or her.
The last time we had this question — such questions seem to be arising more frequently — the Taoiseach said his office and that of the Whip assist all Deputies on a daily or weekly basis. He asked me to appreciate that if he found someone helpful and constructive over five years, he would not just turn over the book and say the numbers are different and that he is not interested any more. He said this is not the way he works because it would be disrespectful. I took note of this because I presume he is considering the post-election circumstances. If, for example, the Progressive Democrats is not in a position to be in Government, will it be in the favoured position of having been formerly helpful, thus resulting in a new tranche of partially favoured Opposition Members, bearing in mind that we cannot say what the outcome of the election will be? Would that be too many partially favoured Opposition TDs and would the Independent Members have to be dropped as they would then be a distant memory? Is there a limit to the number of partially favoured Opposition TDs the Taoiseach puts in that special position?
As I explained, and Deputy Sargent has correctly reported what I said previously and today, there is a small number of Deputies who supported the Government throughout the last term and those Deputies continue to be briefed where necessary even if their support is not as crucial in this Dáil. What happens in future Dáils and what happened in past Dáils is a matter for another day or for history.
Are civil servants directly involved in these briefings or the outworking of the special relationship that exists between the Government and certain Independent Deputies? If civil servants are involved in these special advices, is it not inappropriate because civil servants are meant to offer an unbiased and unfavoured service to all in the community and all elected representatives? Will the Taoiseach elaborate on that and indicate whether any such special advices would still be available once the general election has been called and up to the advent of the new Dáil?
First, I welcome Deputy Ó Caoláin back to the House and wish him every strength and success. It is good to see him back working again.
The assistance mainly relates to legislative matters or matters that Members from political parties would be briefed on in the normal course of affairs when legislation is before the House. It is no more than that. Sometimes Members might want to see a Minister or Minister of State but most Members would do that on their own strength. Ministers are always very accommodating to people on all sides of the House.
No. The House would not be sitting and no legislation would be going through. The questions that normally arise would not apply. One of the two Deputies who is normally briefed is not running for the next Dáil so it would not arise in that case and I do not believe that Deputy Healy-Rae will come to the House to seek advice on legislative issues during the course of the campaign in south Kerry.