Thursday, 20 January 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 19, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 4 - Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Due to the antiquated Standing Orders that operate in here, I am precluded from making a proposal to change the Order of Business. Where is the Taoiseach this morning? Why is he not in the Chamber of the heart of our democracy to tell us what is going on?
A Cheann Comhairle, I have noticed in the past three weeks that on Leaders' Questions, you jump in within 30 seconds of me making my offering. You allow the Taoiseach to speak for 11 or 12 minutes uninterrupted on each occasion.
In the long history of this State, this situation has never obtained previously, where almost half of the Cabinet have resigned. This was plotted and planned to some extent for the past couple of weeks. The junior partners in the Government have been treated with contempt. Do the people over there not understand that the anger on the streets of our country is unprecedented at their carry on? Ministers resign for their pensions and their positions are not filled until they are given the say so. We do not know whether these resignations have been accepted, whether technically there is a Minister in charge of the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the Department of Transport or the Department of Health and Children, where there is a constitutional requirement to have a Minister in charge of these Departments. This would hot have happened even in the days of great dictators.
What the Government has done is unprecedented. It is about time that the Green Party stopped tweeting and stood up to the mark.
Before Christmas we offered the Government the opportunity to put through the Finance Bill. We came back a week early to discuss the Finance Bill. In the second week of this session, it is not even published and we are now told by the Green Party that it is not due to appear until next week.
Tánaiste, these are the last days of the worst Government in the history of the State.
It is a cowardly, disgraceful act of the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, in refusing to come in here today to tell the people of his country what is happening with a Government that has imploded, is dysfunctional, has disintegrated and let our people down.
I am constrained by these rules from voting on changing this proposal. I want to know from the Tánaiste where is the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, why is he not here-----
-----and why are we not being told what is happening. If the Green Party Members are listening up in their rooms, it is about time that they stepped up to the mark, name the date as 12 or 14 February for the conclusion of the Finance Bill, have a dissolution of this Dáil, and let the people have their say. This is the worst Government in the history of our State, and the Tánaiste is now sitting in the chair of power. I ask her to answer the question: where is the Taoiseach?
The issue is that in the main, I take the Order of Business on a Thursday. That has been the tradition unless-----
-----arising from resignations, he will do so to the House when the relevant constitutional arrangements have been complied with.
We heard on the news last night that the Minister for Health and Children has resigned. We then heard that three other Ministers - the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and the Minister for Transport - have resigned. There is speculation that another Minister is about to resign.
It has always been the case that when Ministers of the Government resign a statement is made to the Dáil by the Taoiseach informing the Dáil of the resignations of the Ministers or that he is informing the President to accept their resignations and indicating whatever arrangements are being made either for the appointment of new Ministers or the transfer of their functions.
We have a flu epidemic. We have people lying on trolleys in hospitals, and the Minister for Health and Children has taken to the hills. We have flights being cancelled in Aer Lingus, and the Minister for Transport has resigned. We have problems of crime in many parts of the country, and the two Ministers responsible for justice and defence are gone. We have had unprecedented commentary on this country by both President Sarkozy of France, and yesterday by the President of the European Commission, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs is gone.
We hear from interviews being given by one of the retiring Ministers that this was all being planned and talked about, even before Christmas, that there is an orchestrated resignation of Ministers going on. There is some kind of a political, cynical-----
Can we be told to whom are the Departments responsible? If the Garda Commissioner or the Chief of Staff of the Army has a serious issue of security or of crime to deal with this morning, to whom do they report? There is a clear issue of reporting required in those cases.
I am sorry if I am keeping you from your coffee and "biccies" but these are serious matters which require to be addressed. This started out as a matter of survival of the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, and now survival of Fianna Fáil, and that is Fianna Fáil's business, but the problem now is that it is seriously impacting on the way in which the country is not being run.
Deputy Kenny is right. We need to be able to vote on this issue. The Labour Party has a motion of no confidence before the House in what is now a disintegrating and dysfunctional Government. That can be taken today if the Government is so minded. Alternatively, somebody on behalf of the Government, presumably the Taoiseach, can come in here and tell us what will be done about what are now vacant ministerial portfolios, but we simply cannot go on. The idea that the Tánaiste can come in here and announce that the Order of Business is the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill in circumstances where the Government is disintegrating is eccentric.
I did advise the House that if and when the Taoiseach makes an announcement he will do so in this House when the constitutional arrangements have been complied with.
This reminds me of the dramatics of 1986 when the coalition Government denied the people of Donegal South-West their right to be represented after the death of my father.
-----of the Labour Party who walked out on the Fine Gael Party well before Christmas and we did not have an election until February.
A Cheann Comhairle, we have a Constitution and it is very clear that the appointment of members of the Government has to be approved by the Dáil. First, will the Tánaiste indicate if the Taoiseach intends to come in here at some stage today and propose the appointment of new members of the Government for the approval of the Dáil? Second, until that happens, can she tell us who is in charge of the Department of Justice and Law Reform this morning? To whom is the Garda Commissioner required to report now, this minute? To whom is the Garda Commissioner required to report at this minute? Who is in charge of the Department of Defence this morning? To whom does the Chief of Staff report now? We heard that the Department of Foreign Affairs has been assigned to the Taoiseach. That deals with that. To whom do we address our concerns about what is happening in Dublin Airport, the cancellation of flights and the inconvenience to passengers? Who has responsibility for the Department of Transport and-----
Who is in charge of the Department of Health and Children? Is it true, as we have been hearing, that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation is resigning? That is what we were being tweeted with from Government sources earlier this morning.
I cannot add to what I have said twice in this House, that the Taoiseach will come to the House when the constitutional issues have been complied with. The Taoiseach will revert to the House.
The constitutional requirements to which the Tánaiste refers are not matters that can be dealt with whenever the Taoiseach feels he can get around to doing so. They must be complied with now and they must be complied with here. Five ministries were vacant, one of which has been reassigned. Four are currently vacant, that we know of, to which no Cabinet Minister has been assigned. The Constitution must be complied with.
That is the swansong of this Government. It should be titled, "Can't you wait a few hours for the Constitution" It is like saying, "Can't the people who are lying on trolleys wait a few days before they get a bed" and "Can't the people who are out of work wait a few months, or even a few years, before they get back to work". We can wait no longer.
I am trying to address the Tánaiste, a Cheann Comhairle. This morning on "Morning Ireland" the former Minister for Transport, as we understand, Deputy Noel Dempsey, indicated that discussion of his resignation took place with the Taoiseach a fortnight ago. Were these resignations part of a plot organised by the Taoiseach so that in his subsequent one-on-one meetings with all his party members in advance of the vote of confidence motion he would have the opportunity to dangle before some of them the prospect of ministerial or junior ministerial promotion?
The question deserves to be answered. We are told the vote was extremely tight.
If this situation was being contrived a fortnight ago in order to dangle the prospect of promotion in return for support, a whole new dimension needs to be properly addressed, aired and explored. I believe it requires a very clear answer and not, with respect, from the Tánaiste, because she was not party to all of that, but most certainly from the Taoiseach on the floor of the House.
Some of our memories are not entirely lost and we know exactly why the Taoiseach is not here on a Thursday. That has to be highlighted here also.
I have always believed the Taoiseach should be here on every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The people watching this cannot not believe there are further strokes that can be played in advance of the general election. They are looking in astonishment at the unacceptability of what is unfolding.
Are those who shout loudest most favoured for promotion? We will watch and see. Watch this space for certain.
We are asking was this a contrived outrageous plot that puts our questions of the past couple of weeks regarding State board appointments in advance of a general election in the tuppenny ha'penny place. You will not fool the Irish people by this outrageous behaviour.
The comments of Deputies Ó Caoláin and Gilmore are valid, in the context of what is happening here. The demonstration in the last number of days of the Fianna Fáil Party's concern for the people of the country and for the country is best exemplified in the words of the previous Taoiseach, "Our ethics are to get in here and stay in here". A senior Government Minister thinks it is appropriate that the Taoiseach is not fit to be leader of the Fianna Fáil Party but is fit to lead the country. If that is how low the values of Irish politics have descended-----
This is unprecedented. There is a duty of notice of changes to Government and a duty of notice to the House of the transfer of constitutional responsibilities. I ask you, a Cheann Comhairle, to suspend the House for one hour and get the Taoiseach here to tell us what is happening.
I support Deputy Kenny in this. The sitting should be suspended until the Taoiseach is in a position to inform the House of the resignations and the arrangements for the transfer of the responsibilities of the Ministers who have resigned. When the Taoiseach accepted the resignations, I presume he transferred the responsibilities. We should be told to whom they have been transferred. We were not told this morning. I do not know if the Tánaiste is aware of it or not. However, the House and the public must be told who, for example, is in charge of the Garda. Who is in charge of the legal system, the courts and so on?
This is not something that one leaves vacant. I presume that when the Taoiseach was informed last night or in whatever discussions he had with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform that the latter was resigning, a transfer of functions took place. Members must be told this in the first instance and second must hear what the Taoiseach plans to do in the longer term. I support Deputy Kenny's proposal that this sitting should be suspended until the Taoiseach is in a position to come into the Chamber and tell Members these things.
Under the Constitution, Ministers have not resigned until such times as their resignations have been accepted by the President.
As I indicated, for the fourth time, that when these matters have been complied with, the Taoiseach will revert to the House.
On a point of order, the points raised by Members previously on the Opposition side are absolutely accurate. As a long-standing Member of this House, the Ceann Comhairle knows there never has been a situation in which there has been a major set of reappointments of Ministers to the Cabinet without the Taoiseach coming into the House and making a formal announcement. The Ceann Comhairle has the power to suspend the House, as already has been requested, to give some credence to this House in the face of the people, particularly-----
Particularly since the Tánaiste also, as a long-serving and experienced Member of this House, surely will not allow this House to be brought into further disrepute by refusing to allow the Taoiseach come into the House to make that formal announcement.
The Constitution is very clear in this regard. Article 13.1.3° states "The President shall, on the advice of the Taoiseach, accept the resignation or terminate the appointment of any member of the Government." Has or has not the Taoiseach advised the President to accept the resignations of the Ministers who announced their own resignations last night? Second, as the Dáil's business is a matter for the Dáil itself, I formally move that this sitting be suspended until the Taoiseach comes in here and clears up these matters.
-----or at least appointed to the position on the nomination of the Taoiseach of the day, has responsibility in this regard. On behalf of Members, I ask the Ceann Comhairle to ensure the constitutional provisions are fully complied with. I refer in particular to the confusion the Tánaiste now has introduced by stating that no one has resigned. Who is she trying to fool? She stated that no one has resigned.
On a point of order, in my experience, when there is no Minister for Justice and Law Reform or even when that Minister leaves the State, it is normal practice that a formal transfer order is made to transfer the functions of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to another member of Government. Has there been a formal transfer of the powers and authority of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to another member of the Cabinet?
I will state once more that as I have indicated a number of times, Ministers remain until such times as the President has accepted those resignations. I also stated-----
I seek clarity in order that Members will know the precise position in respect of a serious matter, namely, the role and responsibilities under the Constitution of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform. Is the Tánaiste formally informing the House that the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is, as of 11.10 a.m., fully responsible for the Department of Justice and Law Reform?
We are in an unprecedented situation here. In the past ten minutes, I sent the Taoiseach a letter to the effect that it would be appropriate that he attend the House and inform the people and the country what responsibilities various Ministers reputed to have resigned now hold. We need to know whether the President has accepted his recommendations for resignations. We need to know what background planning went into this situation. I understand that as we speak the Green Party leadership is now in direct contact with the Taoiseach and I understand the Taoiseach is in Government Buildings. I formally request the Ceann Comhairle to suspend the House until such time as the Taoiseach attends the House and informs the Irish public what is happening to his country.
I wish to support the request that has been made by Deputy Kenny that the House be suspended until we hear from the Taoiseach. There is no option or alternative to that. The Constitution is very clear as to what happens when Ministers resign. Clearly, from our earlier exchanges, the Tánaiste, at best, does not seem to know what is happening. A number of Ministers have announced that they have resigned and we need to know if the Taoiseach has accepted those resignations and if he has advised the President that he has accepted them. That is a matter or fact of which we need to be informed. Following on from that, we then need to know what arrangements are being made with regard to the responsibilities of those Ministers. As indicated earlier there are some serious responsibilities involved in regard to the Ministers for Justice and Law Reform, Health and Children, Transport and Defence. We need to know with whom these responsibilities now rest.
The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey - I am not sure if I should refer to him as former Minister or not because we do not know if he has resigned or whether, if he has done so, that resignation has been accepted-----
The Minister told the nation this morning that these discussions with the Taoiseach had been ongoing since before Christmas, which would suggest that a carefully orchestrated plan was hatched whereby Ministers would resign and new Ministers would be appointed, which is one of the most cynical and grubby exercises-----
-----in last minute jobbery by Fianna Fáil before the holding of a general election. All of these are matters in regard to which we need to be absolutely clear. People in this country and others who this morning may be considering investing in it and creating jobs here need to know if we have a Government and if so, if it is functioning.
The fundamental question that arises for anyone outside of this country who may be considering investing in or creating jobs here is, having watched during the past hour what has been going on in this House, "Is there a Government?"
This is extraordinary business. In my 20 years as a Member of this House I have seen some fairly significant changes in Government in dramatic days. However, I have never been here in circumstances in which I do not know whether we have a Government, who are the members of that Government and who holds responsibility for particular portfolios and the Taoiseach is not in the House to tell is what is happening. It would appear the Tánaiste does not know what is happening. We need clarity. The only way we are going to solve this is to suspend the sitting until the Taoiseach is in a position to come into the House. That is the minimum that needs to happen.
I ask other Opposition Members to respect my right, on behalf of the Technical Group, to participate. At every opportunity the Ceann Comhairle has called me, a series of points of order have been raised. I ask other Members to hold their points of order until we have had a chance to contribute.
We know well the reason the Taoiseach is not here. If Members want to go into all of that, we will do that for them too.
We know that new members of the Cabinet must be approved by this House. Yesterday, the Taoiseach took over the responsibilities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. As a sitting Member of the Cabinet, he did not need the approval of the House. However, if these five vacancies, including the vacancy in the ministry for foreign affairs, are to be filled by any one or more from those in the ranks of Minster of State or from the back benches-----
-----a formal motion must come before this House. We have the right to know when it is intended that this will happen, if that is the scenario that presents or is the Taoiseach on his way to the Phoenix Park to do what we have hoped for a long time?
The Minister for Foreign Affairs is scheduled to take Question Time in the House this afternoon. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is currently the absent Taoiseach of the day. Will the now Minister for Foreign Affairs take Oral Questions in this House this afternoon? Will the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, present to answer questions on foreign affairs matters?
It has been strongly suggested that the vote the other day was as close as 37 to 34-----
Has the Taoiseach been dangling out reward for support in his vote of confidence motion the other evening? We have the right to hear the truth in relation to that matter.
The Minister for Transport, Mr. Dempsey, confirmed that all of this was known and discussed over a period of two weeks prior to the Taoiseach's vote of confidence motion. Clearly, that is the question on people's minds today, not alone in this House but in the wider public. A more cynical exercise the people have never witnessed than what has unfolded during the past 24 hours.
Ministers will continue to discharge their duties until such time as constitutional matters have been complied with and the President has accepted their resignations.
I must refer Members to the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946 which states: "The Taoiseach may from time to time assign a particular Department of State to a Member of the Government and may assign more than one Department of State to that same person".
Those assignments are not a matter for the House. The House is only informed of them. However, the matter of appointments is a matter for the House. As indicated, if and when those matters have been finalised-----
On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, you have indicated that you can only suspend the House when there is disorder. I respectfully suggest to you that there is ultimate disorder in this House now. Half of the Cabinet have resigned.