Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Office of the Attorney General
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
I have been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that, as of 30 June 2012, the number of staff serving in the office was 122.2. Two competitions are under way to fill essential legal positions, so it is expected that the staffing level will increase to 129 in the coming months. The number of staff serving is regularly reviewed with a view to ensuring that there are sufficient resources available to carry out the necessary functions of the office. The current competitions arose from such a review. Further, in the context of the public service agreement review mechanisms, the office regularly updates its targets and objectives and part of this process is to address efficiency.
I have two specific reasons for asking this question about staffing. The Taoiseach may recall that last November, he agreed to meet Opposition leaders to discuss demands for an independent inquiry into sexual abuse allegations in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. At that time, the Taoiseach said he was taking advice from the Attorney General but that he would meet Opposition leaders. Dúirt an Taoiseach go mbeadh an cruinniu sin againn roimh Nollaig. That did not happen. I asked for a meeting in January but it did not happen. I again raised the issue in March. On each occasion the Taoiseach said he would meet Opposition leaders on the matter. I also asked the Minister for Health a series of written questions and to each he replied that he was consulting with the Office of the Attorney General. The last time I raised this issue was in May. The Taoiseach has given me and other Opposition leaders four or five commitments to meet us, but we have not met.
I ask the question because I am concerned there may be a capacity issue in the Office of the Attorney General. It is 17 years since complaints of sexual abuse in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda were first made. The longer the matter remains unresolved the more the victims are traumatised.
Can that meeting be held? What has the Attorney General been saying about these matters and what has delayed the process?
The point the Deputy makes is not directly relevant to the question he asked about the number of staff currently employed in the Office of the Attorney General and whether or not assessments of staff numbers and efficiencies have been carried out. I have answered both those questions.
There are matters relating to the issue raised by the Deputy that I do not wish to discuss in public. I will give the Deputy a private briefing on the difficulties that arise in this case.
The point is fully relevant. I was told at the different times I raised these issues that the Government was waiting for advice from the Attorney General. Not having been advised otherwise, I was concerned that there may be pressures on that office. The Taoiseach also noted on a number of occasions that there are pressures on the Attorney General's office due to the demands of the EU-IMF programme. At one point, he noted that this meant that vitally important legislation, such as comprehensive legislation on domestic violence or to recognise the collective bargaining rights of workers which was promised in the programme for Government, was delayed. These are issues that have no sensitivities attached to them. They are commitments made by the Government. What steps are being taken to deal with these outstanding matters?
I thank the Taoiseach for his answer that there is no problem of pressure in the Attorney General's office.
As Deputy Adams is aware, the Government publishes a list of proposed legislation to be drafted, adopted, published and dealt with in the House. The vast majority of that legislation comes through the Department of Justice and Equality.
The staff of the Attorney General's office is in two sections, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the legal advisory section, serviced by a common administrative secretariat. The same personnel vet and prepare legislation. They have been working continuously for the past number of months dealing with a range of legislation that has been published. Some of that legislation is required by the troika and therefore time-pressured but some is to comply with the requirements of Ministers wishing to push through priority legislation that is part of the programme the Government. We try to achieve the best result from that list but it is not always possible to do so. Some of these things, when one delves into them, are discovered to be more complex than was previously envisaged.
The staff of the Attorney General's office does extraordinary work. There are two vacancies to be filled in accordance with a normal competition. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has 29 sanctioned positions and arrangements are being made to recruit two assistant parliamentary counsel, grade 2, and one legislative editor, which will bring staff levels in that office up to its full complement. The office has met the challenges presented in recent years to produce significant amounts of legislation. Last year, for example, the office drafted 55 separate pieces of legislation. It produced 52 Bills in 2009 and 39 Bills in 2010. This year it has, so far, produced 24 Bills. The complexity and extent of the Bills varies. That takes up a deal of time.
It is proposed to comply with the Government's published list of proposed legislation. Both sections of the Attorney General's office are working exceptionally hard, often at weekends, to meet the requirements here.
A review is carried out on a regular basis to see that staff numbers are at maximum level and that staff give of their best, which they do.