Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.
I sit on the following Cabinet Committees: European affairs; climate change and energy security; science, technology and innovation; social inclusion, children and integration; health; Irish and the Gaeltacht; economic renewal; and transforming public services.
The necessity for and the roles and working methods of Cabinet committees are kept under review. Their primary function is to allow for engagement by Ministers with important policy issues of cross-departmental significance. They are supplementary to the engagement with these issues by the Government as a whole. Significant policy issues in all of these areas are matters for decision by the Government in accordance with the Cabinet handbook.
For the information of Deputies, the table lists all Cabinet committees and their membership following the recent changes of Ministers and Ministers of State.
|European Affairs||Taoiseach (Chair)Minister for Enterprise, Trade and EmploymentMinister for FinanceMinister for Health and ChildrenMinister for Foreign AffairsMinister for the Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentMinister for Communications, Energy and Natural ResourcesMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and FoodMinister for Justice, Equality and Law ReformMinister for TransportMinister of State for European AffairsAttorney General|
|Climate Change and Energy Security||Taoiseach (Chair)Tánaiste and Minister for Education and ScienceMinister for FinanceMinister for the Environment Heritage and Local GovernmentMinister for Communications, Energy and Natural ResourcesMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and FoodMinister for Foreign AffairsMinister for Health and ChildrenMinister for TransportMinister for Enterprise, Trade and EmploymentMinister of State for Science, Technology, Innovation and Natural ResourcesMinister of State for Horticulture, Sustainable Travel and Planning and HeritageAttorney General|
|Science, Technology and Innovation||Taoiseach (Chair)Tánaiste and Minister for Education and ScienceMinister for Enterprise, Trade and EmploymentMinister for FinanceMinister for Communications, Energy and Natural ResourcesMinister for Health and ChildrenMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and FoodMinister of State for Science, Technology, Innovation and Natural Resources|
|Social Inclusion, Children and Integration||Taoiseach (Chair)Tánaiste and Minister for Education and ScienceMinister for FinanceMinister for the Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentMinister for Health and ChildrenMinister for Justice, Equality and Law ReformMinister for Social and Family AffairsMinister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht AffairsMinister for Enterprise, Trade and EmploymentMinister for Children and Youth AffairsChief WhipMinister of State for Housing and Local ServicesMinister of State for Disability Issues and Mental HealthMinister of State for Public Service Transformation and Labour AffairsMinister of State for Older People and Health PromotionMinister of State for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration|
|Health||Taoiseach (Chair)Minister for Health and ChildrenMinister for FinanceMinister for Children and Youth Affairs|
|Irish and the Gaeltacht||Taoiseach (Chair)Tánaiste and Minister for Education and ScienceMinister for Enterprise, Trade and EmploymentMinister for FinanceMinister for TransportMinister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht AffairsMinister for Social and Family AffairsMinister for the Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentMinister for Foreign AffairsMinister for Communications, Energy and Natural ResourcesChief Whip|
|Aspects of International Human Rights||Minister for Finance (Chair)Minister for Foreign AffairsMinister for Justice, Equality and Law ReformMinister for TransportMinister for the Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentMinister for Communications, Energy and Natural ResourcesAttorney General|
|Economic Renewal||Taoiseach (Chair)Tánaiste and Minister for Education and ScienceMinister for FinanceMinister for Enterprise, Trade and EmploymentMinister for Health and ChildrenMinister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government|
|Transforming Public Services||TaoiseachTánaiste and Minister for Education and ScienceMinister for FinanceMinister for Health and ChildrenMinister for the Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentMinister for Justice, Equality and Law ReformMinister of State for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs|
|Strategic Directions for Local Government||Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Chair)Minister for TransportMinister for Social and Family AffairsMinister for Communications, Energy and Natural ResourcesMinister for FinanceMinister for Enterprise, Trade and EmploymentMinister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs|
Which Cabinet committee deals with banking, the financial institutions, the State guarantee and NAMA? Would the Taoiseach accept that given the huge sums of public money poured into the financial institutions, it is not unreasonable for people to believe he who pays the piper should call the tune? We have learned, however, that the Minister for Finance approved the top-up to the pension arrangements for the CEO of Bank of Ireland. The Taoiseach personally defended that decision in the Dáil last week. What Cabinet committee is addressing these matters?
Major strategic decisions are being taken on an almost daily basis, certainly in the recent past, by the Minister for Finance, yet there is no clear indication as to where is the prior engagement in this regard in terms of the collective responsibility of Cabinet. Without breaching Cabinet confidentiality, all of which I understand, will the Taoiseach give the Chamber an indication as to which committee is taking the overview and oversight responsibility along with the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach vis-À-vis the issues that are unfolding daily regarding banking, the financial institutions, the State guarantee and NAMA?
On a second matter, which Cabinet committee is tasked with addressing the issue of the promised referendum on the rights of children? Is it the case that there is a special Cabinet committee that deals with all referenda proposals or is it a particular Cabinet committee that deals with the particular remit of the referendum focus? For example, in terms of children's rights being placed in the referendum, would that come under a Cabinet committee dealing with health and children? Will the Taoiseach clarify this point?
Is there a Cabinet committee with responsibility for employment policy and strategy? We have all noted with some alarm that there is no longer a Department, a Minister or a Minister of State in whose title the word "employment" appears as a result of the Taoiseach's recent reshuffle. The word "employment" is crucial. Is it the case, as I have already inquired, that there are a raft of Cabinet committees addressing the issue of employment and that it has been piecemealed out in regard to specific sectors under the different Cabinet committees' roles and responsibilities?
Would the Taoiseach agree that, in regard to employment in particular, there should be a specified, stand-alone, dedicated Cabinet committee, given the serious situation this economy is facing today, with growing numbers of young people being offered only the dole queue or the emigrant flight or boat? Surely we should have a dedicated Cabinet committee dealing with all of the issues in regard to fighting unemployment, devising strategies to protect and save jobs and, very importantly, creating new ones.
No. On the issue raised by the Deputy regarding employment, the Cabinet committee on economic renewal would deal with all of the major issues in the economic area. Much detail is dealt with in the Cabinet, such as the detail on the banking institutions. From time to time, a related issue may arise at a Cabinet committee but, at the end of the day, Cabinet discusses the ultimate issues. These committees are called together where there are cross-sectoral issues that need to be resolved and discussed, and where policy decisions need to be co-ordinated. Then, as a result of discussion at committee, a proposal is brought forward to Cabinet for decision. That is the position.
With regard to the question on the referendum on children, as I said in the House yesterday on the Order of Business, the Minister of State with special responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, is at present engaged with the various Departments arising out of the report of the Oireachtas committee, which, as I said, did some very good work, to see in what way that can be progressed with the Attorney General's office before coming to Cabinet with a considered proposal.
The Taoiseach has only referred to two of the three questions in his reply and they hardly measure up as replies, with all respect to him. A Cabinet committee on economic renewal does not address the concerns I have expressed in regard to the existing terrible reality of unemployment in our economy and the growing threat that daily presents. I am not convinced this demonstrates any resolve on the Government's part as it has already failed to present a strategy to sustain current employment, let alone create new employment.
With regard to children, we want to see the referendum on children's rights brought forward in the current year. I was a member of the committee that brought forward the report and recommendations to Government of a specific wording that we would be all be willing to row in behind and urge endorsement of by the electorate. I again ask about the issue of the referenda. The Taoiseach was asked these questions yesterday regarding whether a referendum or referenda would be held in the current year, and no decision has been reached. Is there any address of these issues? There are a number of possible referenda that need to be addressed, most particularly the one on children in the current year. Will the Taoiseach tell us if this is being addressed and by what committee?
The question the Taoiseach did not address at all is in regard to what Cabinet committee currently has responsibility for addressing all of the areas concerning banking, the financial institutions, the State guarantee and NAMA. This is a huge area. With respect, given the particular roles of the Minister for Finance, there is a concern that there needs to be some Cabinet grouping with which-----
-----the Minister would engage on a continuous basis. On the one hand, he is responsible for, hopefully, bringing about a sea change in terms of the conduct and governance of the financial institutions but, on the other, we only discovered by a slow extraction, worse than any dentist's operation, the information that he had actually approved Mr. Boucher's €1.5 million pension top-up. I repeat the question. Is there a Cabinet committee dealing with all of these matters? Does the Minister for Finance engage with that Cabinet committee? Will the Taoiseach be specific?
I have the answered the question. There seems to be an assumption in the Deputy's question that all aspects of Cabinet have to be doled out to every committee or that the committee covers all of the role of the Cabinet. The Cabinet meets weekly and it is the place where the decisions are taken. The function of Cabinet committees arises where there are policy issues to be discussed in preparation for Cabinet discussions, in finalising positions between Departments or where there are varying views between Departments that need to be heard, discussed and resolved, or where some political input is required to progress the issue and get it to Cabinet with a view to having an outcome that is a coherent decision - that is what the process is about. There are weekly Cabinet meetings and, from time to time, as work is required or an issue arises, a committee is called. We do not just have meetings for the sake of having them. We have them if there is an issue to be resolved, and they are in place for that purpose.
With regard to employment, I made the point to the Deputy that the Cabinet committee on economic renewal was established to focus on the key policies and programmes necessary to ensure an appropriate and cohesive response to the scale of the challenges facing the economy. Out of that emerged the Government's smart economy framework for sustainable economic renewal. The committee continues to oversee implementation of plans for a return to growth within the parameters of our five-year consolidation programme for restoring stability to the public finances.
With regard to banking matters, I have explained that those issues are dealt with in the main at Cabinet. There are issues that are ongoing on a daily, monthly and weekly basis. Cabinet meets every week and sometimes it meets twice a week, depending on what it is we have to discuss.
There is no Cabinet committee on banking. There is a Cabinet that deals with banking. The Cabinet has been making many big decisions, as the Deputy said. The existence or otherwise of a committee is neither here nor there in that respect. As to this idea that one farms out all the work to all the committees and brings it back in as if one is out collecting sheep and bringing them in at evening time, that is not the purpose of committees.
Which of the committees has dealt with the issue of the carbon levy? In particular, has that committee addressed the promise the Government made that it would introduce a special fuel allowance to assist pensioners and the 300,000-plus families on low incomes who were promised at the time of the budget that an allowance would be introduced before the carbon levy was introduced? The carbon levy on heating oil is being introduced on Saturday which mean an increase of 9% in the price of heating oil. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, yesterday issued a statement saying he will do something about an allowance next October. The problem is a large number of pensioners, particularly elderly people, will have to buy heating oil between now and October and they were promised there would be an allowance.
Which of these committees has been dealing with the issue of the carbon levy and which of these committees has failed in its responsibility to bring forward the promised fuel allowance?
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the ghost housing estates all over the country, half-finished housing estates and empty houses that cannot be sold. NAMA is talking about demolishing some of these estates and dwellings. Has the housing committee been considering the issue of the ghost housing estates? Has there been any consideration given to how the so-called ghost housing estates-----
-----might address the problem of the numbers of people who are on local authority waiting lists, the provision of housing for returning emigrants and the need for sheltered accommodation for elderly people?
Has the health committee recently considered the Government's policy on co-location? The Taoiseach will recall this was the Minister for Health and Children's plan which she announced five years ago and which she said would fast-track the provision of hospital beds. Is the co-location policy dead or is it being actively considered by the health committee or by any other of the committees listed here?
The Deputy will be aware a statement was issued yesterday by the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, with regard to the fuel issue and that statement outlines the Government's position which is being dealt with at Cabinet level.
With regard to the housing issue, the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, has been actively engaged with local authorities on many occasions and has been recommending the option of leasing existing housing stock as a means of ensuring that councils can take up capacity where this is available and suitable. He has implemented various initiatives to take account of the new reality and to help local authorities meet their statutory responsibilities.
The health committee has been discussing the 2010 national service plan, finance and industrial issues, HSE restructuring and progress on the A Vision for Change strategy. There has been progress on specific matters regarding the capital programme but the financial situation has changed in respect of some of the private financing initiatives, the PPPs and co-location which is about ensuring we improve access for public patients and ensuring the hospital beds designated for public patients are given to them.
With regard to the carbon levy and the fuel allowance, the statement yesterday by the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, does not address the issue; all it does is state that the Government has welched on the promise it made to these 300,000 low-income households-----
-----that there would be a fuel allowance, a vouched fuel system introduced before the carbon levy. This was confirmed by the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin, last February. The Government has now welched on that promise to the poorest households in the country. It is a disgrace. The Government is telling them they will have to wait.
A total of 300,000 households will have to wait until next October. The Government is telling people with empty oil tanks who, if last year is anything to go by, will have to go through a number of cold months between now and October, that they will not be able to buy heating oil until next October when this promise is delivered. That is scandalous.
The Taoiseach has talked in general terms about the work of the health committee. Is the Government going ahead with the co-location plan? Is the co-location plan dead in the water? We know - the Taoiseach has effectively acknowledged this in the House - that because of the changed economic circumstances the private finance does not now appear to be available for the planned co-located hospitals. Is the plan over? Will any of these co-located hospitals be built?
No, it is about the health committee. One of these committees is the Cabinet committee on health. The Taoiseach has acknowledged that it has been considering the capital budget and the health capital programme, and this is part of it.
Those proposals are still being proceeded with. They have not been progressed as quickly as would have been the case in different financial circumstances. I do not have the detailed information to hand. I had the information with me on another occasion. I could update the Deputy as to the situation but a question to the Minister for Health and Children will obtain that information.
Since May 2008 the Cabinet committee on housing, infrastructure and PPPs met once, the committee on science, technology and innovation met twice and the committee on social inclusion, children and integration met three times. In view of the changed portfolios of some of the members of the Cabinet, is it intended to change the membership and the structure of the committees?
As I stated in my original reply, I have circulated with the Official Report for the information of Deputies a list of all Cabinet committees and their membership following the recent changes in Ministers and Ministers of State.
I have two further questions for the Taoiseach. What is the current situation with regard to public-private partnerships? Significant developments have taken place in the past eight years on major arterial routes and this is to be acknowledged.