Tuesday, 26 June 2007
I wondered for a moment if the Deputy had been appointed to the job of Ceann Comhairle. I wish to raise a matter that is of topical importance and of public interest, that is, the fact that in recent weeks we have seen the Taoiseach do a number of deals on behalf of the Government with a number of Independent Members in return for supporting him as Taoiseach. A number of these Deputies have said that these deals have cost hundreds of millions of euro. The Taoiseach is well aware that we have an established procedure here for the disbursement of public funds. Estimates are introduced, debated, discussed and passed. This is public knowledge. The taxpayer is entitled to know how every euro of taxpayer's money is spent. The taxpayer is entitled to know the decisions that underlie that process in the public interest and is entitled to know any agreement that is reached in respect of the use of public money for any such deal. One of the Deputies involved, Deputy Finian McGrath, has said that pressure is on him from Fianna Fáil sources not to publish the details——
Deputy Healy-Rae has said that his deal involves changes to the national development programme. Deputy Lowry has said that his deal involves access and very substantial moneys. Following an extraordinary statement by the Taoiseach, in advance of a court case that is being taken about another Independent Deputy, he has given what I understand amounts to a verbal commitment of very significant value.
If I may finish, the situation is quite clear. The Standing Order provides that the question from the leader of Fine Gael may last two minutes, that the reply by the Taoiseach may last three minutes, that the supplementary question from the leader of Fine Gael may last one minute and that the final reply by the Taoiseach will be of one minute's duration. The same facility and courtesy will be extended to the leader of Fine Gael. That is the Standing Order and it is only fair to other Members of the House that the Standing Orders should be enforced.
I again ask the Deputy to understand that we cannot under any circumstances breach the rules or dignity of the House in this manner. Every Deputy in this House, irrespective of which side of the House he comes from, will be treated fairly from this Chair.
The Deputy should be seated while the Chair is standing. The Deputy is not entitled to drag the Chair onto the floor of the House in matters of public controversy and he is not entitled to breach Standing Orders. That is all I am saying.
The Deputy will remain seated while the Chair is speaking. I am saying that the rules of the House will be applied fairly and in accordance with Standing Orders. If it is the wish of Members of this House to change Standing Orders, there are methods and ways of doing so.
I would like the Ceann Comhairle to clarify what he has just said, that it is not possible to raise matters in this House about events which occurred in previous times. Is that what he said?
It is not possible in this House to involve the Chair in relation to events that occurred prior to his election as An Ceann Comhairle because it is a long-standing precedent and in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House that a Deputy may not drag the Chair into matters of public controversy. I will insist on that point.
I might remind you that I already broke that rule on the formation of Government when I quoted you speaking about Green Party Members as whacky people who ate munchies and cereals and wore sandals. As that is your own quotation, I have already breached that.
In view of the arrangements that have been made between the Taoiseach, either as head of Fianna Fáil or on behalf of the Government, with a number of Deputies in the House — including Deputies Finian McGrath, Lowry, Healy-Rae and Flynn — and given that these involve substantial amounts of public money, changes to the national development plan, details of international significance and unknown verbal commitments, will the Taoiseach see to it that these arrangements are published in the public interest?
I confirm that as leader of Fianna Fáil I entered into political arrangements with Deputies Lowry, Healy-Rae and Finian McGrath. I have no arrangement with Deputy Flynn.
The issues discussed, as is normal and appropriate, are covered in the national development plan, Transport 21 and the multi-annual capital programmes for public expenditure. I have committed myself through my best endeavours to implement priorities for these Deputies over the next five years. The projects are not outside planned current or capital expenditure in the years ahead. I have endeavoured over the past ten years in good faith and as best I can to deliver on political commitments I have made during the lifetime of the Government. The issues are not outside what we are trying to do. Several times I have tried to bring forward initiatives more quickly and efficiently and I intend to honour these political commitments to the three Deputies.
Can I take it from the Taoiseach's reply that he has allocated sections of the national development plan that might be geographically based to individual Deputies who are or were Independent? If so, will he publish and indicate the sections of the NDP allocated to Deputies Healy-Rae, Lowry and Finian McGrath? Will he confirm that he has no agreement whatsoever with Deputy Flynn in view of the fact that it has been announced that he gave a verbal commitment to the good Deputy after making a truly extraordinary statement? It appears as if what the Taoiseach has announced is nothing more than regurgitated sections of the NDP and the deals or arrangements with these Members are political and nothing extraordinary. Will he confirm that none of the deals involves direct access to him or Ministers without hindrance? If that is not the case, Fianna Fáil backbenchers, including the Ceann Comhairle, will find that access to Ministers has been given to these Members to prioritise sections of the NDP and the Ceann Comhairle might be concerned about this in view of events in Kerry. Will the Taoiseach clarify the position?
I am glad to clarify it. I have entered into political commitments that concern priority issues for the three Members concerned. I have made political commitments to three Members, not four. The issues are covered by the programme for Government, the NDP, Transport 21 and other Government documents. These Members have issues they want progressed, delivered and implemented and, as I have done for the past decade, I will do my utmost to do that. Sections of the NDP will not be allocated. Members have a particular interest in issues in their own constituencies or on a wider basis, such as Deputy Finian McGrath who has a special and long-standing interest in disabilities. He wants issues progressed and delivered and he will be able to do that.
With regard to contact, the Members concerned will have direct contact with the Whip's office, as has been the case for the past decade.
It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak. Is there a record of these agreements? Is it the Taoiseach's intention to publish them and, if so, when will they be published? I have a sheaf of papers, which the former lenient occupant of the Chair might have given me time to read out, but I will rush through one or two of them. Deputy Healy-Rae stated he had secured commitments worth tens of millions of euros for his constituency and Deputy Finian McGrath said what he had agreed was worth hundreds of millions of euro nationally, including €300 million for services for people with disabilities. Deputy Healy-Rae stated it is a private, personal document and that there is no hope in the wide earthly world of us seeing it. This is all taxpayers' money and I would like the Taoiseach to indicate whether these will be published.
We have a number of Independent Deputies running around the House waving bits of paper, admittedly fairly opaquely. We know Deputy Healy-Rae seems to be ferrying around a piece of paper like the third secret of Fatima and all one can see is that the deal is with Fianna Fáil. We seem to have an extraordinary situation where there are four Independent Deputies in the House who think they have written deals with the Taoiseach and the Progressive Democrats, a party in Government, has no deal at all. The Taoiseach will not publish the four deals these Deputies have said are worth hundreds of millions of euro.
Is the Taoiseach stating these Independent Deputies are fools and they got nothing at all, as it was all in the national development plan, the multi-annual programme for the budget or Transport 21? If that is the case, what is the problem? What is it all about?
They want to see the commitments on which they were elected to this House delivered. They want to prioritise those issues and they have made a political agreement with me on them. From the experience of some of those Deputies and other Deputies who have entered into a similar arrangement over the last decade, it can be seen that I do my utmost to deliver on the issues, perhaps not to every last degree, but to a very good extent.
Deputy Rabbitte was right on practically every issue except one. The programme for Government outlines the deal the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats entered into. That programme has been published and is well-documented. The political agreements I entered into are not published but I will give my best endeavour to them.
Will the Taoiseach permit time to Deputy Finian McGrath to read into the record of the House his deal, as he told a number of public broadcasting media he will do? In today's newspapers he is quoted as saying he may not be given enough time today to read them all in. Will he be given a second bite in the event that they do not all fit on the first day?
Is the Taoiseach stating that the Government is embarking on a programme for Government which gave the Green Party, by its own admission, nothing? Is he stating that the Progressive Democrats sought and got nothing and that he now has the support of four Independent Deputies who were fooled into believing they got something, when it was already in the national development plan and existing programmes?
Is that the case? It is amazing that one cannot turn on a radio station but Deputy Finian McGrath is insisting he wants to tell us what he got.
The reality is that the Deputies from the Independent benches who are supporting the Government want to see their political priorities as laid out in the various Government programmes, the programme for Government, Transport 21, the national development plan and others, implemented. They have highlighted to me the areas that are of particular concern to them and the issues that they want to see addressed. Let us be clear about this. I intend, as I did for the past ten years to the best of my ability, to fulfil all those commitments.
We submitted four proposals for a matter on the Adjournment this evening, each of which the Ceann Comhairle has disallowed, which proposed addressing changing Standing Orders here on the floor of the House. I ask is that fair?
All I can tell the Deputy is that if Members want to change Standing Orders of the House there are methodologies for doing so and there are proposals which can be put in order to do it. My function here is to impose Standing Orders as have been agreed.
I understand that prior to the taking of the Order of Business the Taoiseach wishes to make an announcement for the information of the House.